Monthly Archives: March 2013

Restaurant Cal Pep, Barcelona

Assorted fried seafood – crispy deliciousness

An absolute must-go for tapas when in Barcelona. Get to Cal Pep early – you can’t book, and the word is out – the 20 stools in the front room were full as soon as the doors opened for lunch at 1.

We chatted to the waiter at the counter, asked for our favourites (pimentos, clams) and then left it to him to recommend, based on what produce they had that day. There didn’t seem to be an enormous range – the waiter explaining that ingredients are kept to a minimum, with the emphasis on freshness. Just the way we like it.

Every dish was a stunner. Josep Manubens Figueres, the chef and owner (“Pep” is a common Catalan nickname for Josep), ensures the seafood at his tapas bar is the freshest that is available every morning at the fish auctions along the nearby Costa Brava every morning.

Cooks wait patiently until the first order comes in, and then they come in flying, thick and fast, with no reprieve, and what I can only describe as “organised chaos” ensues.

Chick peas with fried spinach and jamon

The dish of deep-fried seafood – lightly floured small fish, squid, calamari rings and small prawns – came out crispy and tasted of each individual piece of seafood, not just randomly of oil. The chick peas and vibrantly green spinach (not at all overcooked or gloppy) had bits of fried jamon, imparting the dish with its flavour and providing a nice contrast in texture.

There was just one meat dish – a speciality of the house – botifarra de porc amb foie d’ànec fresc, pork sausage with foie gras and port wine, served in inch-long slices over white beans.

Saffron milk cap mushrooms cooked on the grill

We also tried for the first time some mushrooms we saw at the Boqueria, the saffron milk cap. Bright orange in colour with deep green stains (which apparently appear when the mushrooms have been handled) – the flavour is mild and the texture is almost “crunchy”.

Simplicity is the key to the beauty of each dish – with every plate, there was nothing that didn’t absolutely have to be there.

Remember to get there early – or be prepared to stand impatiently behind diners like us. Their schedule is complicated, so check their website to find when they are open.

Cal Pep
Plaça de les Olles, 8, Barcelona
Tel: 011-34-93-310-7961


Las Estrellas Mirador San Nicolas, Granada, Spain

The entire Alhambra was too big to capture in one picture – this is just one third of the spectacular view from our table

En route from Seville to Barcelona, we stopped off in Granada to visit the breathtaking Palace, the Alhambra. One thing to note if you are visiting – be prepared for hoardes of tourists (of which we were, as well), which to me, slightly diminished the experience of the beauty and tranquillity of the Palace. I have to say that the Alcázar of Seville – although not on as grand a scale as the Alhambra, is (in my humble opinion) equally beautiful, and you get to appreciate the beauty of the palace at your own pace, in peace and quiet, rather than jostling amongst tour groups and photographers.

But I digress.

The Alhambra is not only amazing inside, but can be viewed from a spectacular vantage point across the mountains. And perched on top of that vantage point, is Las Estrellas Mirador San Nicolas. Book ahead in advance and ask for the table next to the window.

Our hotel in Seville was kind enough to not only recommend this to us, but booked it for us as well, and we found ourselves in the enviable position of being smack bang in the middle of the window, watching the sun set behind the Alhambra. Nothing quite like it, really. And so amazing that I only remembered to take a photo after dark, and it certainly does not do the view any justice.

Creamy rice paella with lobster and seasonal wild mushrooms

Is the view enough to make Las Estrellas Mirador San Nicolas a must-visit ? The food is good…just not great. I’m being super picky here, but I thought the presentation seemed a bit dated, and to be totally honest – and I do understand that it’s a completely different type of restaurant than the nearby tapas bar Kiki (which you should also visit if you are in Granada) – but the seafood at Las Estrellas just didn’t seem as fresh.

The food we did have was certainly not bad at all, and the service was impeccable. For an amuse bouche we had a cold cauliflower cream with white chocolate and pistachios, starters was a beautifully balanced home made foie gras terrine with a tangy red onion confit (which was actually my favourite dish of the evening).

Vanilla ice-cream profiteroles with a hot chocolate sauce

My main was a creamy rice paella with lobster and seasonal wild mushrooms and for dessert we had vanilla ice-cream profiteroles with a hot chocolate sauce.

Having said all that, I do actually think that if you are going to Granada, go to Las Estrallas Mirador San Nicolas. It’s a nice treat for the taste buds and a spectacular treat for the eyes. Ten stars for atmosphere. Remember to book “that” table !

Las Estrallas Mirador San Nicolas
Callejon Atarazana Vieja, 1
19010, Granada, Spain
Tel: +34 958 288 739
E: estrellasdesan-nicolas@hotmail.fr


Bar Alfalfa, Seville, Spain

Provolone al horno – molten baked cheese

Seville is a compact town where walking around is feasible, and for us, preferable, as you get to appreciate and soak in the atmosphere of new cities faster. As we walked to and from our gorgeous hotel AlmaSevilla – Hotel Palacio de Villapanés to the sights around Seville, we passed by many, many tapas bars, of which one was always full, with people spilling out on to the street late into the night (which was probably just normal for the Spanish as they really do eat late).

Chicharrón – deep-fried pork rinds

On the corner of Alfalfa and Candilejo, and with the easy-to-remember name, it was easy to see just to be there.

In Bar Alfalfa we found a few dishes which we hadn’t seen as often in other bars. A Moroccan-inspired pork belly stew with apricots and raisins, artery-clogging (and of course delicious) chicharrón – seasoned and deep fried pork rinds, and a simple dish of marinated sardines on toast, dressed with a good glug of olive oil. And the amazing Provolone al horno – baked cheese.

Marinated sardines on toast

Add funky tunes and ice-cold beer and sherry and that was a happy afternoon spent in Seville.

Bar Alfalfa
Corner of Calles Alfalfa and Candilejo
Seville, Spain

Open: around lunchtime till late


Beetroot Risotto

Inspired by Frugal Feeding’s gorgeous golden beetroot risotto, here’s my red beetroot risotto, which is adapted from Maggie Beer’s recipe. That gorgeous brilliant colour that beetroot imparts in dishes, also likes to stain, so make sure you have gloves handy unless you want pink stained fingers. Make sure the stock you add is hot – you need it to continue to cook the rice as soon as it hits the pan, and regular stirring will bring out that wonderful creaminess from the grains.

Ingredients makes 4-6 servings

  1. 1 medium beetroot
  2. 1 onion, diced
  3. 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 1/2 cup Arborio rice, uncooked
  5. 2-3 cups hot chicken stock
  6. good handful of grated Parmesan cheese
  7. salt and pepper to taste
  8. Wedge of lemon and chopped flat leaf parsley to serve
  9. Optional: horseradish to serve

Method

  1. Cook the beetroot first. In a saucepan of cold water, cover and bring the water to boil. Lower temperature and simmer until beetroot is tender – approximately 20-30 minutes
  2. Once the beetroot is cooked, grate and set aside. Reserve some of the cooking liquid
  3. Saute onions in some oil on low heat until translucent
  4. Add garlic and cook for a few more minutes
  5. Add the uncooked rice and stir well to coat the grains with the fragrant oil and cook for a few more minutes. This will give you time to make sure your stock is hot
  6. Add the stock, a ladle at a time, and stir, stir, stir, until it is absorbed – you can also use some of the reserved cooking liquid
  7. When you have added 3/4 of the stock, stir in the grated beetroot
  8. Continue till the rice has a rich, creamy texture, taste for seasoning
  9. Serve hot, topped with the grated Parmesan, the flat leaf parsley and a good squeeze of lemon – these add depth and freshness to the earthy flavour of the beetroot and really bring the dish alive
  10. Optional – serve with a dollop of horseradish

El Rinconcillo, Seville, Spain

Hand-carved Jamon Iberico Bellota and our tapas bill in chalk on the counter

So last year’s European trip for D and I was Spain.  We have heard so much about this country – and when we started doing some research into where we wanted to go, the first thing I realised was how much I underestimated the size of this country.  With just two weeks we decided to eat our way through just three cities, Seville, Grenada and Barcelona.

Coquinas – small clams cooked on the grill with garlic and flat-leaf parsley

My previous experience of Spanish food has of course been tapas, of which there seem to be many, and if you think about the basics of tapas, shouldn’t really be that difficult – good produce, simply cooked. But similar to my experiences of tapas outside of Spain, even in Spain, there’s a clear divide. If it’s good, then it’s GREAT. If it’s not, well then it’s pretty disappointing – there wasn’t really any inbetween.

We started in Seville. The city where there are over 4,000 tapas bars. Home of sherry and from where apparently tapas originated. Our first night we went on a recommendation of a friend to visit El Rinconcillo – the oldest tapas bar in the region. The tavern is packed to the gills with tourists and locals. Family-run, the men that run the bar (and I assume those in the kitchen – all we saw were hands) are ultra efficient – turnover is the key to this place. Not a lot of smiling goes on here – this is serious business. The interior is dimly lit, lots of dark wood and barrels for people to gather around, and the ubiquitous legs of Iberico ham hanging from the ceiling. We were lucky to score some space at the counter, and there, as each of your order is served, they write the cost down on the counter in chalk.

Slow-cooked pork cheek

Guidebooks tell you that you should go from tapas bar to tapas bar, sampling different things at each, as each will specialise in one or two things. We had so much fun at El Rinconcillo that we racked up a ridiculously long tab, what with all the food we kept ordering while the ice-cold cerveza (beer) and fino (sherry) kept flowing.

Bacalao – battered salt cod

Our favourites ? Coquinas – small clams, simply cooked a la plancha (on the grill) with lashings of garlic and flat-leaf parsley, slow-cooked pork cheek, bacalao – salt cod with a crispy light batter and of course, hand-carved jamon Iberico bellota. This is the best ham in the world, made from free-range pigs which feed on black acorns, cured for five years, giving it a deep, rich, intense flavour that seems to get better the more you chew it.

Definitely a recommendation if you want to get a true experience of Spanish tapas – the atmosphere, service and of course, the food here is excellent.

El Rinconcillo
40, Gerona St. and 2, Alhóndiga St. 41003 SEVILLE.
Tel: +34 954 223 183.
Email: info@elrinconcillo.es

Open: 1 p.m. to 1.30 a.m daily


The Farmer’s Markets @ Loewen Gardens

We’ve been hankering to go wandering around a farmer’s market for while now. Living in Singapore – a small island where there are effectively no farms and everything is imported – it was always going to be a challenge to find true farmer’s markets.

The Farmer’s Markets at Loewen Gardens certainly has the same feel as a traditional farmer’s market (albeit a lot warmer) – with small, specialty importers bringing in produce from France, Italy and New Zealand – at least the ones we bought from.

Dinner tonight ? Oven-baked Mont D’Or with slices of French Baguette from Gourmet Shop. This seasonal cheese, which is only available from September to April, is matured in its box, giving it a uniquely woody aroma, as well as conveniently being able to stick the entire cheese, box and all, into the oven.

Just 20 minutes in a hot oven (22C/400F) from room temperature, and you have yourself a sweet, molten and quite frankly magical cheese, to smear on slices of baguette. I had roasted a head of garlic to have with the cheese, but honestly – nothing is required except a glass of wine, and a big appetite.

The Farmer’s Market @ Loewen Gardens
75E Loewen Road
Singapore

Open the first and third Saturday of every month