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.

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Rich chocolate and salted caramel cake

Salted caramel

I detest dry chocolate cake. The sugary sponge desserts found in some supermarkets or school canteens would put anyone off it for life. Yet chocolate mousse and elegant souffles are difficult to make, and often require lots of equipment. I found this recipe to be a perfect middle ground: it incorporates some of the stickiness of a Swedish kladdkaka, yet with all the richness of French chocolate creations. For all this, it’s still very easy to make.

Crushed chocolate

The ingredient list is rather simple, although the golden rule with chocolate-based desserts mustn’t be forgotten: the better the chocolate in the base, the richer the cake. Having the luxury of living in Brussels, I brought several slabs of almost smoky dark, as well as milk chocolate with me home to Sweden this winter (or, they were a gift for my stepmother, but she didn’t mind them being used this way… at least not once she got to try the result). I used light and nutty milk chocolate for the cake itself, and a dark, almost bitter chocolate for the topping.

Chocolate cake ingredients

For the cake, you’ll need:

  • 6 eggs
  • 250 g unsalted butter
  • 2,5 dl Sugar
  • 60 g flour
  • 250 g milk or dark chocolate, depending on taste

For the dark chocolate cover:

  • 100 g unsalted butter
  • 50 g honey
  • 100 g dark chocolate

And for the salted caramel topping:

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt flakes
  • 1 dl Muscovado/brown sugar
  • 100 ml double cream
  • 50 g unsalted butter

Melting butter and chocolateStarting with the cake ingredients, melt the butter, and mix it with the chocolate until the chocolate has melted entirely and you have a smooth mix. Put the oven to 200 degrees, and use some of the butter to grease the spring form tin.

Chocolate and whisked eggsIn a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until fluffy (you can use an electric whisk if needed), and then fold it into the chocolate-butter mixture.

Sifted flourFinish making the base for the chocolate cake by sifting the flour into the chocolate mixture, folding it carefully so not to lose the fluffiness.

Cake in tin

Pour the mixture into the spring form, and bake in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes, but be careful not to overbake it. The cake should have just started to settle when you take it out, and sway lightly if you move the tin around. Leave it to cool uncovered. Once it has cooled to room temperature, put it into the freezer for a couple of hours, but remember to remove it from the freezer at least two hours before you plan on serving it.

Making caramel

When the cake is in the freezer, you can start making the chocolate topping, which is pretty easy: melt the butter and pour it into the dark chocolate, and mix around until you have a smooth cream. Add the honey into the mix, and put to the side to cool.

Then start making the salted caramel.

Melt the muscovado sugar in a dash of water on the stove. Be careful: just swirl it with large sweeps of the pan, and don’t use any tools in the pan with the sugar. Add the butter, and let it melt, again just swirling the pan. Once the butter has melted, add the cream, and let it bubble away for 5 minutes until it has thickened slightly. It will thicken more once it cools down, so you don’t want to thin it down too much. Finish by adding half a teaspoon of sea salt into it. Put to the side to cool.

Salted caramel sauce

Just before serving, spread the dark chocolate sauce evenly across the cake. Then add the caramel in long streaks across the cake, spreading it as elegantly as you can (as you can see below, artistry is not my strong side). Top off with a small dusting of sea salt flakes. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. It will be dark, creamy and deliciously over-the-top, with a perfectly balanced saltiness in the topping.

Salted caramel cake


Salted caramel brownies

This recipe comes from a Guardian fashion+food piece, optimistically announcing the time for picnics in British parks. Current gale winds and rainy temperatures sadly suggest otherwise. But this recipe looked amazing, so I made these little beauties inside, in the cold. Completely agreeing with Nigella, I think salted caramel is about the best thing to have come out of chocolate invention… basically, ever. The saltyness and the rich, creamy caramel added with sweet chocolate is just bliss. Even if you think you don’t like mixing sweet and salty, I bet you will enjoy this. And whenever picnic time actually comes along, they will be on top of the list together with sweet white wine, blankets and good books. Just be very, very careful not to overdo the salt, because that will definitely spoil them.

For the caramel, you’ll need:

  • 90 g caster sugar (original recipe says golden caster sugar but that would have involved me buying three different kinds of sugar for this recipe so I just went with normal caster. I think it will taste nuttier and more flavoursome with golden, so go for that if you want to do it proper. But normal caster seemed to work just fine)
  • 60 ml double cream
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt flakes
  • 60g unsalted butter, in cubes

For the brownie mix:

  • 200g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
  • 250 g unsalted butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 150 light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 120 g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt flakes
  • 20 g cocoa powder

Start by making the caramel by melting the caster sugar in two tablespoons of water. Stir until it dissolves, but then be careful to let it bubble away and make a sirup completely undisturbed, moving the pan in swirly moves rather than stirring. Do this until it has bubbled together to a thick, golden brown and reduced a bit. Then add the butter, and let melt, then stir in the cream and butter. Let cool at the side.

Prepare for the brownies by lining a tin with butter and baking paper, and put the oven to 190 degrees. Melt the chocolate and butter. I did this in the microwave, together, but letting it in for 20 second stints and then stirring before continuing. Towards the end the butter is so hot that it melts the last of the chocolate outside of the microwave, and you are therefore safe from burning it by mistake. Then beat together the eggs, vanilla and sugars until they’ve turned fluffy. You can do this by hand (as I did) but it is best done by a electric whisk. It is quite tough on your arms by hand.

When this is done, sift in the flour, baking powder and cocoa, add the salt, and then fold in the melted chocolate and butter. Pour half of the mixture into the tin, and dot it with spoonfuls of salted caramel. Then add the second half of the mix, and top off with more sated caramel. You can stir through the whole thing with a spon or something to make sure the caramel swirl reaches all round the cake. But be very careful not to mix too much, of course, for the joy lies in the contrast.

Put this into the oven, and, depending on how deep or wide your dish is let it stay in there for 40 mins to 1 hour. Mine took an hour because it’s a deep dish, but I also think I left it in a little bit too long. It should be only almost firm in the middle when you take it out, so don’t worry if it looks a little wobbly.

Once you’ve let it rest and cool down, cut it into about 18 brownie-sized bits. If you feel like being overly lush, and of course you do, serve with some whipped cream (for what else are you going to do with the rest of the double cream you used to make them…?)


White chocolate ricciarelli

Perhaps these ought to be called bastard or fake ricciarelli, if they can be called ricciarelli at all. Real ricciarelli are meant to be this beautiful, and not have white chocolate anywhere near them. Perhaps think of this as the rural cousin of the ricciarelli, with a weird accent, ugly dress and too much make-up. The white chocolate adds an almost buttery base to the fresh and sweet almond crispness of the biscuit, and they are perfect snack size for your afternoon coffee. They are also quick and easy to make!

For the recipe, which is based on this Swedish post, you need:

  • 250 g almond flour
  • The peel of 1/2 lemon
  • 150 g sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 drop of bitter almond extract
  • 100 g white chocolate

Start by mixing the almond flour and half of the sugar in a bowl. In a different bowl, whisk the egg whites into a foam , then add the other half of the sugar, whisking along until you have a shiny kind of meringue base. Carefully add the lemon, almond-sugar mix and almond extract. You’ll get a sticky mix, which you can shape into little rounds or whichever shape you prefer (these are the quick and dirty sort of ricciarelli after all). Put them into the oven at 160 degrees for no more than 10 minutes, and keep a careful eye when they bake as they easily dry up. Take them out of the oven and let them cool whilst you melt the chocolate in a water bath. Dip the bottoms in the chocolate (or smear it on if that’s easier), and then let them rest on a sheet of baking paper. If you’re the restless kind, you can hurry up the stiffening of the chocolate through putting them in the freezer.

Enjoy a handful of them with your afternoon coffee.


Review – The Delaunay Counter

(photo from the Delaunay website)

Since we are students we have not amassed the funds necessary to review the newly opened Delaunay restaurant yet (a relative to the widely respected fancy eatery The Wolseley), but its separate counter is a student-friendly, surprisingly cheap slice of central European café decadence. The Delaunay serves German/central European/Austrian food with a hint of New York, and since Meatball and Salted Cod are convinced that German food is underestimated this is most likely our new hangout around LSE.

Their sachertorte at £4.50 is according to Timeout the best sachertorte in London, and after a try we can confirm that it is perfectly soft and velvety, not too sweet, with an apple streak in the middle for perfect tangyness. Chocolate bliss for us who are a little dazed by the current trend of incredibly sweet and large American bakery. In fact, it might be best chocolate cake ever eaten by a meatball.

Their apple and poppyseed cake at £3 goes along the same trend of tasty while not too heavily reliant on sugar, and it is also amazing. It incorporates good and generous use of poppyseed, and the apple sauce really tasted of apple and not of artificial flavouring.

Their noisette at £1.90  and Melange £2.10 feel like the best coffees around Holborn, and as you can see from the photo, they are very beautiful too. Very mild, without even a bitter or sour tone.

The picture at the top of this entry is their salt beef pretzel. Whilst £6.50 is not exactly a student price for something the size of a sandwich, it comes with a side of creamy potato salad and is made up delicate, juicy beef, mustard (although not enough according to Mr Meatball) and gherkin. A nice lunch if you are treating yourself.

They have a cheaper lunch option in their hotdog which is £4. It comes with sauerkraut which is salty, sweet and tangy, and not too sour. Whilst I added more mustard to that as well, it tasted just like my childhood Swedish hotdogs (that might of course be an insult, but for me its a good thing).

The only minus for this place (and unfortunately it is a rather big one), is the service. Two of the three times we’ve visited it has bordered on rude, and it is not made better by the confusing counter system of large trays that you carry to your own table, only for it to be picked up by one of the waiters in the middle of you eating your food. It is rather disruptive of the otherwise lovely Delaunay experience. 7 meatballs out of 10 (with good service this would definitely be an 8.5/10).

Window view from the Delaunay. Salted cod in the foreground.

The Delaunay  Counter, 55 Aldwych, London WC2B 4BB

http://www.thedelaunay.com/counter


Ella’s mars bar brownies

My friend Ella is a trainee-journalist master brownie-maker from the North, and taught me how to make these amazing bundles of lavishness. Still can’t make them as well as she does, and I failed miserably two nights ago by forgetting eggs and making them with hard flour (see photos below: they were simultaneously liquid AND horrifically burned. Awarded myself the first crushed meatball on the 1-10 scale).

Anyway, the second, successful attempt, included the three missing eggs and normal plain flour. Ella usually has them in the oven for 40 minutes but mine were in for 1 hour and could probably have taken another 10 minutes but I chickened out. You simply have to feel your way there.

They are not the cheapest sugary treat to make, but everyone deserves a bit of luxury for special days. My ingredients came to about £7 for one batch. You need:

140 g dark chocolate
225 g butter (unsalted)
450 g caster sugar
110 g plain flour
55 g cocoa powder
1 mars bar (added an extra to mine to compensate for not having any cocoa powder, but really sticking with Ella’s recipe is a safer bet)

+ 3 eggs, don’t forget!

Heat the oven to 190 degrees and line a tin with baking paper (smudging some butter underneath it makes it stick). Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (I did this in the microwave, which works as long as you take it out every 30 seconds and stir so it doesn’t burn). While the chocolate is melting, put the butter and sugar together in a pan on the stove and make that melt together too. Take them off the heat and stir in the eggs, then the flour and roughly chopped mars bars. Pour the mix into the roasting tin and bake for 30-40 mins until the top of the brownies is firm but the inside feels soft. Let them cool off in the tin, and serve them with your preferred creamy, milky addition: vanilla ice cream, cream, raspberries? Or just on their own with a coffee. They steal all the attention anyways…

PS. You are doing something wrong if they look like this: