Ever wondered what kind of food Brussels bureaucrats eat? Probably not, but I’m going to tell you anyways. I moved to Brussels a few weeks ago for a traineeship, and this has massively changed my food habits. Gone are the student days of lounging around in the kitchen, watching food shows on iPlayer whilst slow-cooking Coke & BBQ pulled pork. I now spend most of my awake hours at work, in heels and a suit, munching away on bananas and coffee and whatever else I can cram in between my supervisor’s various requests. However, there is one saviour through this new anti-food culture: the EC’s subsidised Plat du Jour.
Plat du Jour means plate of the day, and is the most basic of the canteen-food that gets served here. It is normally a plate with some kind of meat or fish, additional carbs (rice or potatoes normally), sauce and vegetables. There is also a soup that comes with it, and a bit of bread. This canteen feast keep you from suffering with blood sugar depression, and only costs €3.75! (Don’t worry, precious tax money are only used to subsidise the food of starved stagiarires, not well-paid bureacrats). And it isn’t always a feast.
My worst plat du jour experience so far was in our neighbouring building at Berlaymont, where I was served incredibly dry slices of beef (just look at the threads hanging off it in the picture above) with cold cauliflower and potatoes with thick skin. At EEAS it tends to be alright, as you can see from the other images (all but the above are from there). And at my first day at Madou, I had a delicious bloody steak with gratin dauphinois and decent béarnaise sauce.
The soup you are served with the Plat du jour is often a bit of a token soup, I would guess it’s flour mixed with stock and some dried vegetables. It does not taste of much, but it comes free with the plat du jour so I’m not complaining. I just don’t eat it. So far, I’ve been grateful for the canteen standards, especially with the discount, however I have a feeling they do not meet Berlin standards. In the German capital canteens are often open to the public. The best canteens in Berlin are apparently the Nordic Embassy ones (I’m saying this without bias, it’s just what I’ve heard), and I can’t wait to visit them for some of their €5 venison ragout with home-made mash. In any case, attempting to pass the security staff at the EEAS, as a member of the public, would be overkill no matter what they were serving.
As long as the weather allows it, the best option for eating around the Commission buildings in Brussels may be to get a good baguette or sandwich and enjoy the autumn weather in a park. There are sandwich bars spread out both inside and outside the Commission buildings, and they serve nice stuff – the last weekly special in the EEAS was a carpaccio and parmesan sandwich. But since the weather seems to have definitely turned this weekend, I suppose that will be a preserve for the summer stagiaries. Until then, it’s all Plat du jour for me.
After a little break in blogging due to my move to Brussels, I’m breaking my silence with snail soup, aka Caricoles comme à Bruxelles (like everything else, it sounds a lot more appetising in French). My landlady claims this is one of the most common kinds of street foods in Belgium alongside waffles and frites, but this is highly disputed by Miss Salted cod. Either way, my curiosity got the upper hand, and I felt obliged to try a pot. An old lady sells these from a stand in the daily market at Parvis in St Gilles, which happens to be my local square (a market which is really lovely by the way, and also open on Saturdays). You can buy twelve escargots in broth for 4 euros, which isn’t too bad if you just want a little try.
Now, I’m a massive fan of French Escargots de Bourgogne, which tend to be smaller, slightly more tender snails drenched in parsley and garlic butter sauce. The soupy Brussels snails, however, did not quite fall to my taste. The broth was great for a cold afternoon in the ubiquitous Brussels rain: warm and spicy, with loads of celery and white pepper. However, the snails were a bit too large and chewy for me, and did not quite hit the spot for my slightly tender weekend post-beer stomach. Perhaps it was the fault of this particular snail soup stand, but my next culinary street food adventure is probably going to be more safely frites-based.
Now, if you do want to try out the snail soup, or just visit the lovely Saturday food market in St Gilles, you can find it below on the map:
This is the best burger I’ve ever had in London. I would say it’s the best burger full stop, but I’m too sentimental about In&Out burgers in San Diego to give that title away. But seriously, this is one of the juiciest and most perfectly balanced burgers I’ve ever come across. It comes from Dirty Burger, which is a newly opened burger shack at a backyard in Kentish town. The area is a bit unwelcoming, but for the amazing burgers, this is absolutely worth the detour.
There’s only three things on the menu: cheeseburger, fries and onion rings. We ordered all three. The burger was made up of a perfect patty – perfectly sealed, made of finely ground mince and hot but rare in the middle. The meat was tasty, juicy and very well spiced – and dare I say it, one notch better than Meatmarket! The cheese was strong, and added a savouriness to the whole thing which I find is unusual for cheeseburgers unless you go for a black & blue variant. It was topped with a creamy dressing, lettuce, thinly sliced tomato and pickle. And then there was the bun, which I read (madly enough) held a 15% fat content. It was glazed, and when you bit into it it oozed a little. In all it’s unhealthiness this is simply sublime, and a bargain bite, given how gourmet it is, at £5.50.
The chips were nice, double fried and crinkle cut which made them very crispy on the outside but nice and soft within. The only drawback were the onion rings. Both me and Mr Meatball could have done without them: they just tasted of batter and weren’t salty enough. Thus I must disagree thoroughly with Timeout’s raving about them. But perhaps it’s me who has a problem with onion rings, I always find there’s too much batter and not enough salt.
The lovely staff gave us two free milkshakes as they messed up our order, and the vanilla Milkshake was loose and sweet, which I like. Not stodgy and frozen like McDonald’s. Dirty Burger has a cute shack eating area, but sadly it doesn’t have the same people-watching view as Meatmarket. The sides aren’t quite as brilliant either. However, given the affordable price and the insanely nice cheeseburger, it is awarded 8.5 meatballs out of ten.
As mentioned in my previous post I took it as my mission to taste as many of Boston’s food trucks as I could. On Sunday I walked all the way to the South End to SoWa Market – a big market that takes place every Sunday. I quickly moved to the food truck section which was already crowded with hungry Bostonians. I started my lunch with a pork taco at BBQ Smith.
For $3 you got a taco filled with crispy and smoky pulled pork topped with avocado salsa and a spicy sauce. This was incredibly tasty and a really good start to my lunch. They also had really good looking sandwiches but I had to save my stomach for my next truck: Lobsta Love.
Lobsta Love’s lobster slider was all that Chowda’s slimy lobster roll wasn’t: fresh, not drowned in mayo and made to order. The lobster was mixed with mayonnaise and tarragon but kept its strong flavour. The brioche bun was lightly toasted and seemed to be brushed with butter and was the perfect accompaniment to the lobster. Lobsta Love offered many lobster options including a lobster mac and cheese which I will absolutely have to try before I leave Boston. By this point I was pretty full but could not leave before trying famous cheese melts from Roxy’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese.
Roxy’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese are a bit of food truck royalty as they have won many prizes and have taken part on the Food Network’s Great Food Race, so I knew I was in for a treat. I thought I might as well go all out so I went for the Mighty Rib: Fontina cheese, braised back ribs and caramelised. Yes, ribs, in a cheese toastie! After 20 minutes waiting with other 50 people the beast finally came out. It looked glorious, all cheese and and pork amazingness. This toastie completely changed my idea of what cheese toasties should be and I am definitely recreating this at home. The only thing missing was a bit of spice like some sliced jalapenos or a salsa I could dunk the toastie in. Aside from that…fatty perfection!
All I can say is that Boston is a great city if you like food! Now I can’t wait to go back to London and explore the food truck options there.
After the disillusion of Chowda’s lobster roll I took it to my online bible of American food – Serious Eats – to find some tasty food for my next few weeks in Boston. I began my search for a place to have lunch around my office – Downtown Crossing – and came accross Chacarero’s, a small place that serves enormous Chilean sandwiches called Chacarero’s. I came back to the office and quickly messaged Miss Meatball to tell her about one of the best sandwiches I had ever had. This thing was gigantic and so so good. It’s basically and white homemade bap, smeared with avocado, topped with your choice of beef, chicken, or both (I tried chicken but really should go for both next time), munster cheese and then runner beans (yes, runner beans), tomato, lettuce, and an incredible mistery green spicy sauce.
All the ingredients were incredibly fresh and every sandwich was made to order. A large chacarero came to 8 dollars (that’s roughly 5 pounds) which fed me for both lunch and dinner (it is a really big sandwich). This made me think about the amount of times I had a horrible sloppy sandwich from Pret or worse, Sainsbury’s, simply because there are no other affordable options around (read Holborn). If only I could have walked five minutes from LSE and pay five pounds to have a gigantic, fresh and made to order (no Pret making your sandwiches in the morning doesn’t count as ‘fresh’) for five pounds. But on to more food from Boston.
On my third day of work I was asked by my boss to replace someone at a talk at MIT.It was a conference on food trucks and mobile payments (yes these exist) and while it was totally useless from a work point of view I got to find out a lot about the Boston food (and fashion) truck scene. I found out that Boston is one of the cities in America with the most food trucks per capita and I have made it my mission to try as many as I can. I started by having my leftover sandwich with some rosemary french fries from Clover – one of Boston’s most famous food truck enterprises (they have over 5 trucks and a restaurant) which has one of its trucks close to my hotel on the Boston Common. These fries were so good – crisp outside and soft inside and speckled with fried rosemary. At first I thought the rosemary was just a gimmick but then I started thinking about all the possibilities of dishes that could be sprinkled with fried rosemary – which made the herb milder than usual and very crispy.
My next food truck experience was my next day’s lunch at Bon Me. Sadly I have no picture of my food so you will have to drool on this image of their menu from their Flickr page. Bon Me is a Vietnamese food truck and serves three main dishes plus some extras (no more noodle soup). You choose your base then add your filling. I had the Bahn-mi with bbq pork which was incredible. Fresh bread, pork pate, punchy pickled carrot and daikon and smoky bbq pork topped with fresh coriander. This was amazing and incredible value for $6. The truck stops quite close to my work on Fridays so I will be sure to try the other options next week. Now I’m off to SoWa open market to test as many food trucks as I can.
If you, like me, have been enjoying the insanely hot weather in London this weekend, you may have been wondering where you can grab a cheap lunch that you can bring out into the park with ease and enjoy in the sunshine. Yoshino sushi is such a place. It’s perfect for the hot weather – just grab a bagfull of maki and nigiri and go sit in the park.
You order at the counter where different kinds of nigiri and makis are packed up in groups of 3, 4 or 8, and you also have special salads and sauces, such as Yoshino’s special carpaccio sauce. One plate of 4 maki is usually around £1.20-1.50 and three generous nigiris around £2.20-2.40. For best value get lots of maki, but make sure to get at least one pack of their perfect nigiris. The salmon here always tastes round and fresh, and never has that refrigerated chewy texture. It’s simply delicious. Since Yoshino sell lots of sushi their chefs (which you can see working behind the counter) continuously fill up the stocks with new rolls, and therefore the rice is always freshly made and soft rather than hard and tightly packed. The New York Roll with tempura is very tasty, as are their various california rolls. The eel and cucumber maki is strong in flavour and not for the weakly fish-hearted. Personally I’m not a fan of the spicy fried tuna or chicken katsu sushi, the former being too fishy and the latter being… chicken. But the plates are so cheap that you may want to try out for yourself.
Yoshino used to be part of the Japan Centre, as part of promoting and introducing Japanese food and culture to the London audience. Maybe that’s why it still serves strangely cheap, authentic sushi in their small shop at Shaftesbury avenue. Admittedly the quality varies – sometimes it is spot-on, and sometimes just ok. But for the price I’m happy to go there any sunny day. 7 meatballs out of 10.
Yoshino can be found on the map here:
Looking for a cheap and cheerful place for lunch close to my flat I searched my endless list of food blogs for a dim sum place I had a vague idea about close to Earl’s Court station. Thanks to the ever knowledgeable Mr Noodles I found Dragon Palace, a little gem of a place on Earl’s Court Road.
As recommended by Mr Noodles we decided to go for dim sum with a side of Singaporean Needle Noodles. Mr Salted Cod also had a Won Ton soup to start the meal, which was perfectly light and tasty. We had Gar Herng Yee Mai Gor (Village Dumplings) which were beautiful parcels filled with red tilapia and vegetables, Ha Gau (prawn dumplings) filled with incredibly fresh prawns, Char Siu Cheung (BBQ Pork Cheung Fun) thick rolled noodles filled with lovely barbecued pork and War Tip (Shangai dumplings) which were pan fried and filled with pork and vegetables. The dim sum was all really tasty and the parcels beautiful and thin as they should be. The accompanying noodles were definitely not necessary towards the end but were still amazing. Completely transparent and cut in small pieces, the noodles were smoky and salty and mixed with fresh vegetables and prawns in a slightly dry sauce.
Service was also really good (always an important point for me) with the waiters being extremely attentive but not too invasive. The total came to £24 for two people with service included and way too much food. All in all this is a great choice for lunch in Earl’s Court and would be great for dinner with friends as there are a few big tables.
On a recent visit to Berlin, I came across Oderquelle, a well-recommended diamond for German cuisine in Berlin. Having gone through poor kebab and sushi experiences all weekend, I was desperate for some sturdy German cooking and did my research before going out. As they single-handedly re-gained my faith in worthwhile eating I figured the initial East Berlin guide would have to be amended – with a strong review for Oderquelle (if meatballs were awarded this would be an 8.5/10), and a few warnings issued for the well-recommended but terribly dry places I also happened to come across.
Oderquelle has a seasonal menu that changes daily and they don’t post anything about their food on their website, so you have to go on the day and see if anything takes your fancy. I’m sure it will. We had starters of smoky broccoli soup and handmade cumin cheese with chopped onion and parsley vinaigrette. At 3 euros these were a bargain, because they were huge portions for a starter – I was told this is the German size. The handmade cheese came with some bread and butter at the side and tasted very similar to Swedish cumin cheese eaten at Crayfish fests coming up now in August – so I was over the moon. And also rather filled up by the first course together with the generously sized southern wheat beer.
For mains, my veggie friend Tim had risotto stuffed peppers with goats cheese, Mr Meatball had veal with fried potatoes and béarnaise, and I had duck with apple and red cabbage sauerkraut and spätzle. It was all delicious, and again, very generously sized. My duck was braised to perfection and broke off beautifully with the sweet and sour red and apple sauerkraut. While I find spätzle (a homemade kind of German pasta) a little bland, it worked wonders with the strong sauerkraut and red wine sauce.
Oderquelle is close to Mauerpark and sees a rather lively nightlife pass by even on a quiet night – so we had to put up with a lone guitarist busking a screechy version of Radiohead’s Creep for twenty minutes before Romani accordion players pushed him away and started serenading individual guests at the restaurant. If you can deal with all this, Oderquelle is definitely the place to go in East Berlin for traditional German cooking in some fresh new clothes. The service was lovely and we ended up forking out only 25 euros each for the massive starters, mains and two large jugs of German beer.
If you, after eating, fancy to play some games whilst drinking more of that cheap German beer, a place around the corner (to the right as you face Mauerpark) without sign has a pool table, darts, ping pong table, playstation and other fun things to have a go at with beers starting a 1.50. Like a mix between a youth club and drinking hall for grown ups, its also worth a visit.
Avoid: The German restaurant November in Prenzlauer Berg – expensive and shabby, the kebab places close to Mauerpark (of course, there may be some good ones but in that case we missed them), and the Japanese restaurant Tabito in Friedrichshain (they supply fun toys to play with, but the Sushi wasn’t worth the price tag, and atmosphere was too sticky with a chef dressed in a “Will buy drinks for sex” t-shirt. Eww.)
Indian YMCA is a new meatball and salted cod favourite find. Situated in the slightly unlikely neighbourhood of Fitzrovia, it is super-cheap, friendly and very unpretentious. The atmosphere is nice, especially if you like talkative neighbours. It’s a bit like a school canteen – if only canteen food had ever been delicious and the food ladies were nice old Indian chefs instead of intimidating force feeders.
On the day we went, we had a good meaty mutton curry (long cooking made it taste very rich and full of lamb, but given the price one shouldn’t expect too much from the meat), a tarka dhal which was smoky and delicious, and a tangy and spicy Goan fish masala, which made the Salted Cod recollect Portuguese fish stew (stemming from historical links between Goa and Portugal). To this we had rice, chapatis and popadoms, which were fine, really tangy mango pickle, cooling yoghurt (needed for the fish!), wonderful herby raita, and onion bhajis which were nice but not freshly made (the only thing that suffered for not coming straight from the fry).
We had lots to eat, beside which there is also a chicken curry, vegetable lentils, chickpea curry, mango chutney, mixed salad and mango lassi to choose from.
If you go two of you, pick random curries and condiments and make your own little thali at the table. But if you are on your own you are still in good company: there are lots of lone-eaters here and going on your own would not feel awkward. There is probably higher likelihood someone tries to start conversation with you, though. The chefs behind the food counter are helpful, and you just pick and mix whatever dishes you like (they are already dished up in small bowls, but it’s all newly made and given the lively queue it is doubtful much of it stands for long). Water is free and already placed at the table. We paid 11.50 for both of us, were very satisfied and absolutely stuffed leaving the place. In fact, we couldn’t finish it all.
Given the home-cooked flavours and the friendly atmosphere coupled with the incredibly good-values price, we award it 8 meatballs out of 10. As usual, you can find this place through the Meatball and Salted cod map of London here.
When the pavements are boiling and the parks are full of happy families with loud children running around, sneaking away to the partly abandoned “pho-belt” at the bottom of Kingsland road is quite nice. Normally busy Song Que was half empty on my last visit, a nice break from the normally bustling atmosphere in there. Song Que tend to be the critics’ favourite out of the Vietnamese options around here, and not without reason. It is cheap, friendly and the standard is consistently high (at least every time I’ve been).
Vietnamese may also be the perfect food for hot days like this, at least refreshing summer rolls and tangy vermicelli. We started off with four summer rolls to share, and they arrived incredibly fast but tasted fresh and juicy, so I doubt they had been waiting around. They were crunchy and the dipping sauce was perfectly spicy, however I lament the peanut sauce that used to be serve with them. Nonetheless, these are the best summer rolls I’ve tasted in at least a year.
My brother had the mixed seafood stir fry, which he argued was the best out of the lot of what we ordered (me and his girlfriend disagreed, however). They came with fried crispy onion on top and whilst looking rather plain, they were savoury and satisfying. Katrin had the tofu with crispy noodles, which generated an immediate “ah!” and thumbs up to the waiter (which I assume is a good sign).
Having tried all three dishes however, I felt like my vermicelli with grilled pork, shredded pork and spring rolls was the true winner. For all the extras that went into it, I found the £7.90 very reasonable. It was refreshing and incredibly aromatic, whilst also perfect summer food with the cool glass noodles at the bottom, the sweet chili sirup and the filling wholesomeness of the newly baked spring rolls. All the fresh herbs and the cucumber made me feel like summer is actually here, whilst sitting inside a quite Song Que and looking out on the busy Kingsland road flashing by. Song Que also do a £5.90 lunchtime special which may come in handy for cash-strapped students, so it’s all thumbs up for this soothing and light restaurant in the summer heat. 7.5 meatballs out of 10.