Eight luxury treats at La Buvette, Brussels

Potted rabbit and celery

I had my first eight course dinner this week, and given my complete inexperience with these kinds of luxuries, it is possible that this review will be a bit biased. But it was so much fun! When you eat eight little meals, it feels like you’re eating the Eurovision song contest. Each dish has its own character, and looks nothing like the previous one. Given the tiny size of the dishes, it’s more about tasting than eating – sometimes an investigation, trying to figure out what is on the plate. Although we were left the menu at our side, we had very vague ideas about what we were actually eating at times (and had to google some of the ingredients like sorrel and verbena).

Seaweed and trout

But aside from my excitement at the four-hour activity of eating eight little dishes in one evening, La Buvette in itself is a lovely place. It’s placed opposite its sister restaurant, the brilliant Café des Spores, but feels a bit more upmarket. When I asked for a nice red wine at Café des Spores, I was served a glass of their excellent house wine. At La Buvette you can only order by to the bottle, and if you ask for advice, the waiter goes to fetch the sommelier.

Carrot, sorrel and ricotta

La Buvette is a tiny resturant, a little bit like someone’s house – the front still looks like the old butcher’s shop it’s housed in, and the upstairs like someone’s living room. The decor is simple.  Getting lost trying to find the toilet, I ended up in someone’s artist studio at the top of the house. While the location far away from the centre, it is obvious that La Buvette doesn’t need a grand location to attract customers. The clientele seemed like local Bruxellois food lovers, not eurocrats.

Leek, plaice and potato

As soon as we were seated, we were given sourdough bread with candied sunflower kernels and truly delicious porcini butter. We ordered a bottle of red organic Merlot at the recommendation of the sommelier, which was probably the biggest disappointment of the evening – it was a bit too dry, and not very special. The first dish, however, was very exciting: sea trout, seaweed, cucumber and some kind of vinegar-y wasabi-flavoured dressing.

Confit lamb and red cabbage

The second dish was delicious, and perhaps the most visually appealing – potted rabbit with celeriac and lemon creme. The crunch of the celeriac against the tender, savoury rabbit was lovely. Fredrik, who opted for the vegetarian menu, was was served beetroot with blue cheese and celeriac, and wasn’t the biggest fan of the composition. However, the rest of the evening, I was impressed by how well they catered for a non meat-eater. The third dish was pretty: a colourful salad of sorrel, carrot, red onion, squash and ricotta cheese. Although we were delighted by the sorrel, which we used to eat in Sweden as kids, I thought the ricotta was too heavy, and there was not enough salty tangyness to the dish. It felt like a dessert-salad.

Vervier sorbet

The fourth dish was one of our favourites: plaice with hay potato in a buckwheat broth. The fish was perfect: crispy brown on the outside, but falling apart into creamy little flakes, and soaking up the flavoursome broth perfectly. This was followed by the second main, which was confit lamb with aubergine cream and red cabbage. This was absolutely delicious, and I savoured every little bit of it. Fredrik’s option was also very tasty: Peeled, fried aubergine in some kind of soy vinaigrette. We were both very pleased with our mains, and I began to feel a little full.

Rice pudding

The first dessert was absolutely perfect: white chocolate ice cream, meringue, blackberries and verbena sorbet. I think it was one of the nicest desserts I’ve ever tried. The fresh verbena sorbet unlocked a whole forest of flavours, which contrasted beautifully with the blackberry and the crispy meringue. The second dessert was a rice pudding with buckthorn sauce and salted caramelised almonds. This was also nice, but the least special dessert for me. The final dish was incredibly heavy, so it was lucky it was so small: dark chcolate tart with salty hazelnut praline. It was a grand finish of the evening, with very heavy flavours.

Dark chocolate tart,  salty hazelnut praline

We finished off the evening with a small acidic coffee each, which was best combined with some sugar – somehow very apt for the kind of meal we’d had. While the eight course dinner in itself is not entirely unaffordable given the high quality of the food (45 euros), the wine, water and coffee upped the bill quite a lot. But for a very special treat, I would completely recommend La Buvette – great service, beautiful food, and actually quite exciting entertainment for a couple of hours. 8,5 meatballs out of ten.

Advertisements

Swedish roast chicken with pressed cucumber salad (kyckling på Djurrödsvis med pressgurka)

Swedish roast chicken

This is my great grandmother Rut’s recipe, and perhaps my favourite recipe of all time. My grandmother, who would make this on Sundays, was born in a small unpronounceable village called Djurröd in Skåne. Only 84 people live in Djurröd. The centre of Djurröd looks like this, and perhaps the desolate nature of Djurröd explains why my family still eats chicken with plums and apples when other Swedes save it for medieval themed-feasts. But who cares – the sauce accompanying this chicken is superbly savoury, creamy and sweet, and the cucumber pickle goes beautifully with it.

Apples and prunes

You need:

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 apple
  • 12 prunes
  • Chicken stock cube
  • 2 dl cream
  • Flour
  • 50 grams butter
  • Chinese soy
  • Sugar, salt and white pepper to taste
  • Boiled potatoes, to serve

Start by cleaning and preparing the chicken. Untangle the wings if they’ve been tucked into the back, cut off unnecessary fatty bits (by the neck and back), and remove any leftovers of feathers. Cut the chicken in half through the filets with a sharp knife, and rub it all over with the salt and white pepper. It’s handy to keep it in a mix on the table as you prepare the chicken.

Trimming chicken

Trimming chicken

Cutting whole chicken Rubbing chicken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you’re done preparing the chicken, melt the butter and some tablespoons of oil in an oven-safe pan on the stove (it’s good if it has a lid, and can be put into to over, but you can also start in a frying pan and move the chicken to an over-proof form later). Add the chicken to the pan, and let it fry gently for about five minutes on each side. Brush it with chinese soy whilst it’s frying. Then add three decilitres of water, one cube of chicken stock, and put it into the oven on 200 degrees. In the meantime, peel the potatoes and let them rest in cold water. Start making the cucumber salad (recipe further below).

Chicken with stock

After about 30 minutes, take out the pan, prick the chicken and pour the juices from the pan all over it (make sure the filets face upwards). Add the prunes and apples to the pan, and put it back into the oven. Try to push the apples and prunes towards the bottom of the pan, or below the chicken. After another 15 minutes, take it out again to again douse it in juice. Put the pan back into the oven, this time without the lid on. After about another ten minutes, the chicken should be done and ready to take out. Watch the chicken carefully if it’s smaller, as the cooking time may range from 40 minutes to over one hour depending on size.

Chicken with apples and prunes

Remove the chicken from the pan, leaving the juices inside. Let the chicken rest by the side as your prepare the sauce, keeping it somewhere where it keeps its heat. Also remove the potatoes and the prunes and put somewhere else ( they’re not pretty, but you can serve them as condiments to the chicken later on). Sift the leftover juices if you prefer the sauce thin (I never minded random bits of chicken in it), and then carefully scoop out excess fat with a slotted spoon, holding the pan at an angle. Mix in some flour with a whisk, as well as sugar, and let it come to the boil and thicken. Then add two deciliters cream (or to taste, depends on how strong you want the sauce), and spice is more with salt, white pepper and soy according to taste. Remember that the sauce should be a little bit to strong in flavour on the tongue on its own, as it needs to liven up both the chicken and the potatoes. Serve the newly boiled potatoes with the pickled cucumber, chicken pieces and sauce right away.

Pressgurka is a classic component of Swedish traditional food (husmanskost) and can be served alongside most dishes where lingonberry jam would also feel at home. It is sweet and tangy, and contrasts perfectly to salty Swedish dishes such as roast chicken, fried herring, or even meatballs. You need:

  • Half a cucumber
  • 1 dl water
  • 1 tablespoon ättika. Ättika is a form of Swedish vinegar, you’ll be able to get it at any Nordic shop. I haven’t tried making pressgurka with other kinds of vinegar, but perhaps that would work too. The proportions would have to be different, though: ättika is 24% acetic acid, and is therefore very strong and inedible to use just as it is; malt vinegar is typically 3% acetic acid, balsamic vinegar about 6%.
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  • A small bunch curled leaf parsley (flat leaf is also fine, as the taste different isn’t huge: however the curled leaf smells more like fennel and dill to me, which is closer to the Nordic cooking tradition).

Making pressgurka is very easy. Slice the cucumber with a cheese-slicer, and squeeze it gently with your hands for about one minute. Mix together the ättika, water, salt, white pepper, and parsley, and put in the fridge for at least one hour. Serve alongside the chicken.


Toffee soaked rhubarb and apple crumble

Crumble is in many ways the best dessert ever, for it’s so easy to make and you usually have the necessary stuff for it at home. Most fruits or berries will do, and then you just need butter, flour and sugar in the base recipe (and oats if you fancy a bit of crunch). This is a slightly fancier version, called smulpaj in Swedish, with a toffee sauce in the base and rhubarb mixed in with the apple. It is sweet, sticky and very, very scrumptious. If you’ve planned to spoil someone with dinner this is a good dessert – you can prepare it hours before, and just leave it in the fridge for when you want to bake it. It is of course very unhealthy, but it doesn’t feel too heavy since the apple and rhubarb gives some freshness to it all. Served really hot with ice cream is the best, but this is also nice cold as the toffee gets a bit chewy then.

You need:

  • 2 large sticks of rhubarb
  • 1 large bramley apple
  • 2 decilitres light brown sugar
  • 1 decilitre light sirup
  • 125g sugar, at room temperature
  • 2 decilitres plain flour
  • 1 decilitre oats
  • 2 tsp vanilla sugar

Start by peeling your rhubarb (carefully unpick the thin skin off from bottom and pull it down in slithers) and cut it in smaller bits. Also peel and cut your apple. If you were given an incredibly unnecessary apple peeler for christmas present a few years back, this is the time to get it out.

Set your oven to 220 degrees. Place the fruit in the bottom of an oven-proof dish, and make the crumble through mixing half of the sugar, all the flour, the oats and the butter in a bowl. If the butter is at room temperature you can just tear it off bit by bit into the dough mixture. If it’s still a bit hard then cut into little squares with a knife and rub into the dough mixture until you’ve got a grainy mixture.

Then make the toffee sauce in a pan: melt a small knob of butter, and mix in the sirup together with the rest of the sugar and well as the vanilla sugar. Bring to the boil carefully and then pour it over the apple and rhubarb. Be careful with tasting the toffee – it’s delicious at this stage, but it may also burn your finger terribly (…speaking from experience).

Apple the grainy mixture evenly on top of the toffeed apple and rhubarb, and place in the middle of the oven (at 220 degrees) for about 25 minutes or until the top layer has gone golden and stiffened up a little. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream. Indulge and await sugar rush.



Ugnsbakad falukorv (roasted falu sausage)

This dish is probably as far away as you can get from the New Nordic cuisine and the ideals of Rene Redzepi. But its loved all over Sweden, and despite the fact that it probably consists more of fat than meat and comes pre-cooked, roast falukov is really delicious. It comes from the arch-Swedish region Dalarna, and is spiced with onion, white pepper, ginger and nutmeg. In order for it to be called falukorv the meat content has to be over 40% (which, lets face it, hardly sounds a quality-stamp) and inside there can be a mix of beef, pork and veal, so you might not want to look too closely on the ingredient list. It was invented by copper miners trying to make German Lyoner sausages in the 17th century, looks like a giant Frankfurter, and tastes somewhat similar. It is often eaten raw (by impatient children), or grilled over fire in the forest, or fried in slices and eaten with stewed macaronis. Always with ketchup. But my favourite is the oven-baked kind, which is far superior to the other ones (although grilling sausage over fire has its own dimension which is hard to beat). For this you need:

  • 1/2 Falu sausage (can be bought frozen at IKEA, or at Scandinavian kitchen close to Oxford Circus tube)
  • 1 large apple, de-seeded and sliced thinly
  • 1 onion, sliced thinly
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Grated cheese (cheddar is actually really nice for this, even if it’s not a Swedish cheese)
  • Potatoes for mashing (adding butter and milk, however you prefer your mash)
  • Nutmeg

You bake the whole (or half, in this case) sausage by slicing it (about 1 cm between each cut) and stuffing it with thinly sliced apple and onion, finishing with a layer of ketchup, mustard and cheese. Whatever apple and onion you can’t fit into the sausage you leave next to it in the pan. You can also add some extra veggies to bake with it, but key is onion and apple which melt together during cooking, creating a sweet puree at the bottom mixing with the juices from the sausage.


When done stuffing, bake it in the oven for about 40-50 minutes on 230 degrees. In the meantime, make your potatoes and mash them with butter and milk. It is important to spice the mash with a light dusting of nutmeg, because this is crucial in marrying the mash to the sausage. Serve together with the leftovers from the apple and onion (which you roast alongside the sausage in the pan). Delicious.


Hot smoked salmon salad with apple and dill

Here comes another post about Swedish food, as I’ve been stuffing myself with it for the last month. Seafood is central in Nordic cuisine, and one of my favourite everyday fishes, described as “salmon candy” by the people at The Local, is hot smoked salmon (varmrökt lax). It is supposedly the inferior, cheaper version to what is known as smoked salmon (or gravadlax if you’re eating somewhere pretentious where they a) can’t spell to gravlax and b) are trying to overcharge you for something that tastes and looks just like smoked salmon). But despite its pitiful wikipedia entry, hot smoked salmon is in fact WAY better than cold smoked salmon. It is less greasy, less oddly textured, less likely to leave an unpleasant smell on your fingers. And it is more fully flavoured, richer, warmer in its toners and just generally more moreish. Incidentally, it also goes incredibly well with tangy apples and buttery King Edward potatoes in a creamy dill and dijon dressing. So here is the best salad I’ve tried for at least a year.
You need:
  • 500 g hot smoked salmon
  • 5 king Edward potatoes (or some other soft kind, this is important as it draws up the dressing)
  • 3 large green apples
  • 1 lemon squeeze (for the water you put your apples in if they’re waiting around to be mixed in the salad)
For the dressing
  • 5 tbsp rapeseed oil (as mentioned in previous posts, olive oil is not at home with Swedish flavours)
  • 2 tbsp white vine vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 large bunch fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 1 pack of chives, finely chopped

Start by peeling and cutting your potatoes into the salad size you prefer, then boil under a careful eye as they really shouldn’t be overcooked – King Edward is a sensitive sort for this. In the meantime peel, core and and thinly slice your apple slices, and put them in a bowl of water with little lemon juice in it to keep them from browning. Make your dressing by mixing everything but the finely cut herbs in a jar, and give it a good shake. Then add the herbs, and put to one side. If the potatoes are done at this point, you may want to mix them with your drained apples and softly mix in the dressing (be careful not to crush the potatoes whilst doing this). If you want the salad to look pretty, cut out a beautiful part of the salmon and place on top of your potatoes and apples, with some dill decorating it. However, it tastes better if you – again, carefully – mix it all together as the round smokiness of the salmon then infuses with the apple.

Serve with some rye bread and blonde beer. Enjoy.

Just look at that beauty.


Nigella’s apple & almond cake

This cakes really melts in your mouth, because it contains no flour. It contains no flour because it is Nigella’s cake for passover. However, flourless, eggless and yeastless as it is, it is absolutely delicious and therefore you should make it. Imagine a dense, slightly coarse mousse made out of tart apple and ground almonds. This looks like a cake but in fact it tastes very little like one, and therefore I love it (because most of the time I don’t really like cake). It should be noted that this is the kind of cake I make when someone else is paying for the ingredients: almond flour is expensive (but so incredibly flavoursome and lush to bake with) and 8 eggs for one cake may seem a bit frivolous (although as a southern Swede I feel some affinity with this*). But it’s a winner for special occasions (or if you need to make cake for a gluten-allergic, with different frosting it could definitely pass for a posh birthday cake). You will need the following ingredients:

  • 376 g almond flour
  • 250 g sugar
  • 8 eggs (!)
  • 3 apples
  • 1 lemon
  • Flaked almonds
  • Pearl sugar (optional; Swedish topping as described in this post)
  • Plus a spring form, baking paper and a food processor/mixer for making it. Lacking this it might be difficult to make. Although perhaps one can experiment with muffins tins and stuff.

Start by melting the apples together with the sugar and some lemon juice on the stove. While they are bubbling away, mix all your other ingredients (apart form the pearl sugar and flaked almonds) in the food processor (if you, like me, only have a mixer, you can pre-mix the stuff in another bowl and the blitz as much as you can get into the mixed bit by bit). The apples should be a bit cooled down lest they start cooking the eggs prematurely, so after they’ve softened ont he stove for ten minutes you may want to create a makeshift cold water bath int he sink to speed up their cooling process before you mix them with the rest.

Once you’ve blitzed all your ingredients and put them in the cake tin (greased and lined of course), put it in the over at 180 degrees for about 45 minutes. The result will be a bit gooey and wet, but it’s meant to be. Nigella says to eat it whilst it is stilla little bit warm, but I actually preferred it two days old. It’s so juicy the concept of “stale” goes nowhere near it.

* Swedophiles may be interested to learn that old southern Swedish cooking usually involved obscene amounts of eggs. Partly this was the result of an attempt to distinguish southern cuisine as rich in eggs, cream, and butter from that of the starving North, and particular the bastard Stockholmers. (The Treaty of Roskilde making Skåne Swedish was signed in 1658, but not everyone is over it yet).