Budapest – a whistle stop tour

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I’m the first to admit I’ve been a bit lax in my blogging lately – a few other things on my mind… I can’t let a trip to Budapest go unmentioned though! Not that I was expecting it to be the culinary highlight of my year…

Which to a certain extent was true. If you’d have asked me at the end of day 3 (of 4) what I thought of Hungarian food I’d probably have tried some witticism about the country having a fitting name. At that point, the highlights were the proliferation of non-alcoholic beer and ice cream! Or so I thought…

For on Monday, day 4, I had booked us in for a Taste Hungary tour of the grand market and surrounding area. What a fantastic day! A four hour walking tour through the market then surrounding shops, sampling the best of Hungarian produce, which included (in order):

- a shot of Unicum (I sniffed only – that was enough. Everyone else drank…at 10am!)
- Langos – a kind of savoury doughnut eaten for breakfast
- 4 types of sausage including horse meat (she didn’t tell us until after we’d eaten it – at which point I was delighted that I had just said I didn’t really like that one)
- goose crackling (like pork scratchings)
- 4 different types of artisan cheese – all a lot like cottage cheese and feta
- sour cherries
- artisan chocolates – porcini mushroom truffles and tarragon flavoured ones
- a traditional Hungarian lunch of sausage, duck leg, cabbage, pickles, pork and paprika stew, fried potatoes and bread – none of which I would have ordered before then, but was excellent!
- a selection of traditional pastries and cakes
- A sample of candy – bit like Brighton rock
- 3 different wines (or in my case an enormous fresh lemonade which everyone was jealous of ironically as it was so hot!)

It was a real eye opener and I’m so glad we did it – good value for money and really gave us a feel not only for the cuisine but also the culture and history of this beautiful city and its people. Wish we’d done it on day 1!

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera that day, so can only share with you the beer and ice cream highlights!!

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A new discovery

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The friends we met for dinner in NYC were over in London this weekend so on Friday it was our turn to show them a good time. Mr K booked a little bistro somewhere near Baker Street he “thought he might have had lunch at once but couldn’t really remember”. I wasn’t overly optimistic until he sent me the name and I did some googling. Galvin’s Bistro de Lux, set up by the Michelin starred Galvin brothers but aimed at the bistro rather than fine dining market had some fabulous reviews – now I was excited.

We arrived at 645 to a quiet restaurant and were greeted by French staff and impeccable service. It didn’t stay quiet for long! The menu is concise but well balanced – intriguing without leaving you thinking “what on earth is that?!” I opted for crab lasagne followed by Seabass with aubergine and basil oil.

I didn’t know quite what to expect from the crab lasagne but my goodness it was delicious! More like a baked crab mousse between two fine sheets of pasta with a herbed buttery sauce. Delightful!

The seabass was equally good – served on a bed of caponata and sprinkled with kalamata olives, capers and pea shoots before being drizzled with the basil oil. My kind of food! Mr K in his infinite wisdom had ordered pommes purée for us all to share. I would call it mashed potato – but that wouldn’t really do it justice. I reckon equal parts potato to butter. It was like silk…

All that demolished, none of us really needed dessert but after the customary polite “we’ll take a look” when asked if we’d like one, we all ordered one! The selection was that good. For me, a sticky tarte tatin with chantilly cream. Sigh. Yum.

I really should mention the presentation and service – both of which were fine dining-esque with less of the formality and awkwardness and far more smiling. The prices – whilst more than your local cafe rouge were true to the bistro market, working out at about £60 a head for three courses with water and wine. Conclusion – a real find! Definitely one to try…

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A touch of the big apple at home

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After the food delights we experienced in New York I’ve been keen to try some of the recipes at home. Tried to recreate the tuna salad from Bryant Park tonight with some success! I cheated a bit on some elements but it tasted nearly the same! If you want to have a go, pop in your trolley this weekend…

Tinned tuna
Capers
Fennel
Baby salad leaves
Green beans
New potatoes
Jar of artichoke hearts
Jar of aioli (one day I’ll learn how to make my own but not today!)
Jar of tapenade (as per aioli!)
Mayonnaise

I actually had some left over new potatoes I cooked the other night, which sped this up no end. First step was to get these browning and warming through in some olive oil in a frying pan. Then I got the green beans on to blanche – for about 4 minutes in boiling water.

Meanwhile I mixed up the tuna topping – 1 small tin for just me, with 2 tsps capers and a bit of the brine and 2 heaped tsps of mayo. The mixture in the restaurant was fairly loose – so the caper liquid helps to thin the mayo out a bit. Season with pepper, shouldn’t need any salt.

After draining the beans (keep an eye on the spuds!) leave then to cool and start plating up the salad. Start with a bed of baby leaves and then add some fennel shavings (using a potato peeler) and some artichoke hearts – I used 5 pieces for me, but I love them so add whatever you like. Add the warm beans on top and then spoon over the tuna mixture.

Finally, pop the potatoes around the side and drizzle (dollop?) some aioli and tapenade randomly here and there. Start to finish, 12 minutes tops!

Take your time to enjoy – trying different combinations of ingredients in each mouthful… Yum.

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New York – days 3 and 4

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A little after the fact, but I can’t miss out the other highlights from our trip to the big apple. I’ll spare you the blow by blow account of every bite eaten and step taken and focus on the two stand out meals.

Firstly, we were lucky enough to secure a table at the NYC branch of Bar Boulud, the mid range restaurant belonging to Daniel Boulud, a French legend up there in the crush stakes with Raymond Blanc (Oh la la!). After sharing a charcuterie platter, I opted for the hand dived scallops, despite the smoked trout roe mentioned on the menu. My theory – the guy’s a genius, if I can’t try roe here, I never will. And wow as my bravery rewarded. Not only pretty as a picture, but stunningly delicious. The crowd cried out for more. It didn’t stop there – we shared a dessert that Mr K was too tipsy and me too tired to really remember clearly, but I remember saying the phrase “it’s like a really posh trifle”. Definitely recall almond sponge, coconut meringue and kiwi sorbet in there… Photo below!

The second highlight came at lunchtime on our final day after a trip up the Empire State Building. Mr K had been pestering me all week for a chicken shwarma from one of the many street corner stands. Repeatedly declining such a serving of listeria, I couldn’t deny him the middle Eastern restaurant we stumbled across near the flat iron building. What a find! We split a chicken shwarma, a falafel wrap, some houmous and phonecian fries from the fixed price lunch menu, washed down with mint lenonade. Now, I really have no idea where Phonecia is but they make amazing fries! Triple cooked and dusted with soumak spice – they are among the best I’ve ever eaten. A fitting end to a fabulous foody trip.

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New York – Day 2

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Day 2 in NYC was another beautiful sunny day. We started the day at Blue Fin – the restaurant attached to the W hotel in Times Square for breakfast. I had a beautiful bowl of Greek yoghurt (with a wry smile from the waiter at my pronounciation) with muesli and berries. Mr K, never one to do thinks by halves, had lobster benedict – think eggs benedict with half a lobster tail and avocado (and fried potatoes on the side!) the waiter complimented me on my restraint… It was that kind of place.

Full and content we headed down town to the September 11 memorial, which after an hour of queuing is a beautiful tranquil place with two enormous pools marking the plot of each of the twin towers. We walked around each, reading the names and where they were at the time, and thanked our lucky stars. From there we took a meandering route to little Italy via the hurricane sandy ravaged south seaport and china town. Two very hot and hungry wanderers sat down at the organic Spring Cafe some 3 hours later, to fresh lemonade sweetened with agave syrup and huge sandwiches and salads. Right on the corner on Lafayette and Spring, it was a great spot to watch ‘real New Yorkers’ go about their day!

After a slow journey home via Bloomingdales, we got ready for a night out with friends of Mr K’s. Sharing his passion for great steak, they had recommended the independent Benjamin Steakhouse. We arrived to an absolutely heaving restaurant – but one with enough waiting staff it didn’t feel so busy. The menu emphasised their strengths with ‘steak for two, three or four” featuring highly. The others opted for steak for three (which included sirloin, ribeye and filet) whilst I had my own little portion (ha!) of sirloin to enjoy, cooked to a perfect medium well. I can honestly say that despite having to cook it to death for Baby K’s benefit, it was still one of the tastiest steaks I’be ever eaten. The whole meal cost a small fortune though, so it’s a good job too!

Another meaty day for Mr K though, and I’m getting an insight into how he must eat when travelling here on business. Think I’d better start packing broccoli in with his socks!

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New York, New York

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Mr K and I are spending this week in the Big Apple for some quality time together before our lives change a little… (!). Just by chance the episodes of Masterchef Australia aired last week showed their trip to NYC, leaving me more than a little inspired about the food ahead of us. Here’s the round up of day 1′s dining, where the promise held is already being delivered!

The day started early for us with jet lag and hungry bellies waking us up at 6am. After unpacking and getting sorted for the day, we ventured outside the hotel (we’re staying at The London on west 54th) towards 5th avenue in search of breakfast. Now, as it turns out the don’t serve breakfast at Tiffany’s (I’m kidding – I did know that disappointing fact) so we ended up walking almost in a complete circle back to a diner on 7th with a queue for coffee and pancakes – always a good sign. The service mad, the coffee terrible but 4 blueberry pancakes later and I was set for the day! Mr K had some cheeky bacon with his too – but paid the price with food guilt all morning!

After a morning spent exploring the stores of 5th avenue and trying to capture grand central station on the camera (epic fail) I was beginning to conclude that New York never stops. That is until we sat ourselves down at a cafe in Bryant Park for lunch. This was one of the places we went yesterday where time slows down, if only for a short while. Still feeling the effect of our pancakes we opted for a tuna salad each and were delighted with what arrived! A bed of lettuce topped with green beans, artichoke hearts and shaved fennel, topped with a mixture if tuna, spring onions, capers and a light mayonnaise – all drizzled with garlic aioli and black olive tapenade with warm new potatoes on the side. Mr K’s also included a tomato and half a boiled egg, which I had opted out of, but both were fantastic. Renewed vigour in our stride we set off for the afternoon!

We started the afternoon in Greenwich Village – starting with the cherry blossom and tulips of Washington Square Park then exploring all the back streets around the area. A much slower, more relaxed part of town. With the afternoon turning absolutely beautifully sunny, we then hopped on the metro to Central Park and spent a couple of hours getting delightfully lost. Here my pregnancy survival guide came up trumps as I whipped out a bag of almonds and dried apples and a bottle of water – not only perfect sustenance after a long afternoon walking, but also good squirrel food!

After a couple of hours rest back at the hotel, we headed a couple of blocks up 7th Ave to Trattoria del’Arte – an Italian restaurant Mr K has frequented on his many business trips here. I forgot my phone so couldn’t capture this one for you, but I can honestly say one if the best Italian meals I’ve had, including in Italy!

We started by sharing a generous portion of aubergine caponata with a huge ball of Burrata (like very soft mozzarella), which is made daily on site from pasteurised milk (hurrah). Mopped up with whole meal focaccia – I wanted to cry. I followed with a pasta dish with fennel sausage (also made on site) stringy with cheese and so full of flavour. I couldn’t finish it, again, I wanted to cry! I would normally rely on Mr K in such events to save me from embarrassment but he was battling with a veal parmigiana that literally covered a small platter. Like a pizza with meat as a base. Insane, but he was one happy boy! Accompanied by the warmest welcome and service I’ve ever seen, I really felt like I’d seen one of the very best sides of NYC.

Too full for dessert, we picked up some melon from the deli on the corner and ate it in bed watching trashy American sitcoms. Not sure we’ll be coming home…

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Popping up

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I met two friends for dinner last week, on one of the sunny evenings that got London all excited about summer coming. After a drink on the south bank at the Royal Festival Hall we spent a good 15 minutes marvelling at the extraordinary queues at all the nearby restaurants. Then turning a corner around the back of the festival hall we happened upon a pop up street food restaurant open for it’s last day. This was my first time in a pop up place, and I for one definitely walked in with the sense that I wasn’t 100% sure what we were meant to do!

I needn’t have worried – three hungry wanderers met with a choice of three ‘buns’ – chicken tandoori, potato and pea samosa and Keralan pulled pork. After a recommendation from the bar maid we all opted for the pork, with a couple of sides, all of which arrived about 3 minutes later. So far so good, but then it all got even better! The pork was so tender it just oozed out of the bun – and really subtly spiced. The two sides – a kind of sticky Bombay mix and a spiced yoghurt with potato (and banana chips we think) – were fantastic accompaniments.

I’d love to recommend it to you, but a) I can’t remember the name or exact location and b) it’s already closed. But I would definitely recommend popping in to a pop up venue when you get the chance!

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