Unrivaled fish and chips at Bia Mara, Brussels

Fried sea bass with truffle mayo and seaweed salted chips

Bia Mara is a neat little fish and chips place near the sleezier streets around Boulevard Anspach. They have a simple concept: doing cheap, sustainable fish and chips, and doing it really well. Having visited a couple of times, I’ve found the weekly special at 12€ to be innovative and tasty, even though one would think fish and chips is a rather basic, and perhaps limited, concept. Recent combinations have included Korean Style Ling with hot red pepper crust and kinchee sauce, Rogan Josh crusted special with lime, mint and coriander sauce, and Malaysian Special Sea Bream with sambal and tamarind sauce. Last time I visited, we tried sea bass with with truffle mayo, and it was just the perfect thing for a slightly hungover sunny stroll on town. Their penchant for curry feels like a true reflection of modern cuisine from the british Isles (although I’ll include the caveat that this in my opinion is true for England – I can’t speak for the quality or popoularity of Irish curry houses).

Curry salmon

The owner is incredibly friendly in that nice, Irish way, and makes me wish I had that special skill of making effortless small talk. The menu changes weekly depending on what fish is available, and great care seems to be taken to ensure that the fish is sourced by sustainable methods. In addition to this, they serve Pellegrino and a beer of the week from a local Belgian brewery. On Sundays, they serve Brunch from 12-16 which consists of their weekly special and a bloody mary. So many good things! Seven meatballs out of ten.

Bia Mara can be found here on the map:


Ode to a beautiful, messy herring sandwich

Fjällgårdens matjessill

This is a rather short post, just a little shout-out to the best herring sandwich I ever had (I wrote about this Swedish delicacy and how to make it at home a while back). Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending my cousin’s wedding in the Swedish mountains, at Hotel Fjällgården in Åre, close to the border of Norway. The scenery is, as might be expected, breathtaking, but being an utter food-pig this sandwich was the star of my weekend. (Apart from the beautiful bride, of course).

Summer ski slope

This sandwich was more voluptuous than a normal matjessillmacka, as it was much bigger and, frankly a bit excessive. It had all the key building blocs: delicious matjes herring (the best kind, in my humble opinion), Swedish soured cream (gräddfil), red onion, chives, potato, warm sweet dark bread and boiled eggs. In addition, it was sprinkled with small bits of beetroot and capers, which sharpened the salty-sweet scale. But the magic ingredient was clarified butter, which was doused (very generously) on top and gave it a sweet, even caramelised flavour. Hardly healthy, of course, but ridiculously delicious. Not that one passes by Åre every other day, but if you do, make sure to take a trip up the ski slope to Fjällgården, for this sandwich is absolutely worth the hike.


Swedish Christmas

julbordI’m currently hiding away in a little cottage in the vast forests of Småland, after six consecutive nights of heavy Swedish Christmas dinners. The next few days I intend to eat only pizza and salad, and possibly a curry if I can be bothered making one. But it’s Christmas, so most likely I won’t. Since I’ve had the pleasure of being served food by everyone I’ve visited this Christmas, I will not present any recipes in this post, but rather a little run through of what Swedes eat at Christmas, and why it’s amazing despite its gluttonous repetitiveness (at Christmas, we tend to eat a variation of this for all too many nights).

Swedish herring selectionThe basis of Swedish Christmas food is our love for sandwiches – its basically sandwich food, just a bit over the top, and without much bread. Southern Christmas food (Skånskt julbord) tends to be the most over-the-top of them all, in line with the Southern tradition of exaggerating and bragging through food. You must start with the fish dishes (it’s always a buffet, all you can eat-style), and here the herring takes up most of the space. It’s normally eaten with eggs, caviar, boiled potato and dark bread. You will have several versions of home-made pickled herring (inlagd sill) and the guests are normally expected to contribute with a few kinds of their own. One of the tables I visited this year had ten different varieties, including the classics with mustard and onion. My undisputed favourite remains my stepdad’s curry herring with apple. It sounds weird, but it’s amazing.

Gravlax and gravlaxsås

The second staple of the fish table is gravlax. Ambitious people make this by themselves, by rubbing a salmon in sugar, salt, dill and pepper, and leaving it to ferment lightly under something very heavy in the fridge for a couple of days. The method of making gravlax actually stems back to VIking age, when people used to bury fish deep into in the salty banks of beaches, as a way of preserving it until they wanted to eat it. It tastes somewhat similar to smoked salmon, but with stronger hints of spices. The sauce that goes to it (gravlaxsås) is sweet, tart and full of dill.

Smoked eel

However, the real star of the fish table is the smoked eel (rökt ål). It’s normally served with scrambled eggs, and its delicate smoky creaminess is simply sublime when done well. The conscious reader will know that due to over-fishing, fishing Baltic eel becomes illegal every now and then. However, stubborn traditionalists will still sneak it up on the table for Christmas with a sly smile to the general applause of other traditionalists. I’m not too bothered with tradition, but eel is one of my favourite kinds of food ever… and my aunt promised me that this year’s eel came legally, from a nearby lake.

Köttbullar

Now, moving on to the meat table, the meatballs (köttbullar) are obviously a key feature, served with beetroot salad. The meatballs are so central that in some families, you will have several different batches of meatballs. One year my mother, gran, aunt and cousins had all set about making meatballs, with the obvious competition to go with it. Some opt for modern takes on meatballs, like putting thyme and parmesan in them. Others go with revival recipes from the 19th century which include sweet anchovy brine. My favourites remain my mothers: she makes them small, juicy and hot with white pepper. One thing is clear: never make them all beef, and never, ever, replace the butter with olive oil.

Julskinka

The Christmas ham (julskinka) is another central feature of the meat table, with different strong mustards (home-made, as seen in the background, makes for the strongest kind), cheeses and dark, sweet bread. One of Sweden’s most famous Christmas songs is about a julskinka that ran away. Julskinka is also the reason why you will be served so many home-made hawaii, capricciosa or other ham-based pizzas after New Years eve. No matter how much ham you eat, it just never ends. Adding to this equation, people tend to assume that the larger hams are tastier.

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Danish paté (dansk leverpastej) with Cumberland sauce and cornichons is a sandwich-linked must-have on the Southern table. With home-made cumberland sauce it’s one of my favourites, as the aroma of the orange peel is delicious together with the creaminess of the paté and the salty pickle.

Janssons frestelse

Janssons frestelse (The temptation of Jansson) is a creamy, potato based dish with onion, breadcrumbs and anchovies. Sometimes people sneak caviar into it for the perfect amount of saltiness. It’s eaten with the ham, meatballs or eel, or just about anything on the table. Beside the köttbullar and julskinka, Janssons is one of the most common things found on any Swedish Christmas table. No Janssons, no Christmas.

Lutfiskpudding

Lutfiskpudding is a weird one. This dish, prepared with white dried fish, butter and rice, is loved by many of the older generation but sadly not quite understood by me. But apparently there’s something irresistible about the crusty surface and the lutfisk flavour eaten together with loads of butter.

KorvNo julbord would be complete without sausages (julkorv). There are normally a few varieties of these, including reindeer, wild boar and normal smoked salami with green pepper. They are normally accompanied with four or five kinds of cheese as well.

All the savoury food is served with beer and frozen snaps of course, which is taken every five minutes with a rowdy or happy Christmas song. If you’re confused regarding which snaps to go for, always opt for Linie aqvavit, which is a safe bet and enjoyed by most. Try Piraten or Beska droppar at your own peril.

RisgrynsgrötThe dessert of the julbord is called risgryngröt and is a form of sweet porrige. In Sweden, it’s tradition to eat risgynsgröt with an almond smuggled into in. Whoever eats the almond is said to get married the following year. My aunt tends to cheat and add four or five, so that people have a bigger chance of getting married. 25 years and it still hasn’t worked. And for someone who’s not into desserts much, I have little love to spare for risgrynsgröt. It’s quite heavy, with lots of cream, and in the South it’s normally served with raspberry sauce (normally just wild raspberries, in the freezer since summer, and then gently simmered with some sugar on the stove). The anomaly on the picture is the Norwegian way of eating it, with butter and cinnamon (as preferred by my stepmum).

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Of course, this is far from a comprehensive overview of what Swedes eat at Christmas, as I’ve left out dopp i grytan, rödkål, brunkål, svampgaller, lutfisk and many other dishes. But since it’s Christmas and I’m feeling lazy, I leave you with this for now. God jul!


Breakfast Fetishism pt. 3: Kedgeree

Kedgeree is a slightly odd Anglo-Indian dish stemming from the Colonial era, encapsulating smoked haddock, curry powder, rice and milk. I know those taste combinations sound odd, but it is actually really nice: imagine a lemony and fresh biryani with smoked fish. The oddness of the dish, married with the fact that it is a breakfast classic (indeed so much of a classic people don’t make it much anymore), meant that it was predestined to end up as a Breakfast Fetishism item on the blog. I made my first attempt at making it this morning. This was brought on by Mr Meatball’s grandmother’s reminiscing about the dish the other day: born in Shanghai in 1928, she recalls this dish being served on silver plates in houses that had butlers!

The end result was very tasty: savoury and mellow through the smokiness of the fish but refreshing with the spices and the lemons. Admittedly it would perhaps not be the first thing I’d think to eat in the morning, but rice and fish are good ingredients to last you through the day so I may have to reconsider that. You need:

  • 400g smoked haddock (I bought frozen dyed haddock from Waitrose – theirs is sustainable and good quality but much cheaper than the stuff you get in the fresh section)
  • 450 g basmati rice (preferably good quality as rice is central to the dish)
  • 2 green chillies, chopped into rings with their seeds
  • 1 large onion (a sweet Spanish variety would work nicely)
  • 1 large tablespoon mild curry powder
  • 2 crushed cardamom pods
  • A handful of chopped coriander and chives
  • 3 hardboiled eggs
  • 1 lemon, cut into slices
  • 140 g butter (this is important, I did perhaps not use quite enough in my first attempt)
  • Nutmeg (optional, to sprinkle on top in the end)

Start by putting the rice in cold water and let it stand for up to half an hour. There’s a whole school on being able to cook basmati rice properly and I’m still a novice, which explains why I use Mr Meatball’s coffee brewer to rinse the rice (some people have an angel’s patience with my kitchen experiments…). While the rice soaks, poach the defrosted fish gently by putting it in a pan on low heat, and cover it with 50/50 cold milk and water. After ten minutes (or until the fish is done, you want to be careful not to over-cook it), take it off the heat. Preserve the liquid milk/water is was cooking in.

Now, depending on if you want your kedgeree to be dry and fluffy, or wet and buttery you proceed through the next two steps differently. I made mine dry and fluffy, but Delia’s wetter version sounds quite nice and I think I might go along that next time.

For a wet kedgeree, you fry the butter in the pan, add your onions to soften for a few minutes and then add the curry powder, green chili and cardamom pods to fry for a few seconds. Then add your rinsed rice, and pour in 450 ml of the milk/water liquid. Bring to boil, and give a brisk stir before putting on a tight-fitting lid and cooking on low heat for 20 minutes.

If you want a fluffier kedgeree, you fry the onion and spices in the butter separately to the rice, and cook the rice with a tight-fitting lid on according to your harshest basmati-instructions (these are usually on the packet: for me it included not opening the lid of the pan for 25 minutes and then letting it rest on a wet towel, still with the lid on, for five minutes).

Once the rice cooking is done, for both methods, you add the flaked fish (which you remove the skin from whilst the rice is cooking), boiled eggs and lemon juice. Serve with mango chutney and scatter coriander across the top.

(If possible, find some silver in the house, stream Downton Abbey from itv player and pretend your name is Phyllis or Marguerite, and the butler just brought this to your table.)


Classic Swedish herring sandwich (sillamacka på kavring)

As any Swedophile will know, herring beats meatballs for the title of the quintessential Swedish dish. This recipe (if it can even be called that) is a Swedish classic, perhaps the ultimate herring sandwich. There’s a wide selection of spiced herrings in the land of frost and darkness: onion, mustard, tomato, curry, dill, crayfish, garlic… the list goes on. But the simple matjessill is my favourite. It’s both salty and sweet, spiced with cinnamon, sandalwood and allspice, and sometimes I get cravings for it which knows no boundaries. Every time I go to Scandinavian kitchen in Oxford circus I come home with several tins of the stuff, and then I try re-create this sandwich with English sour cream, imported Swedish bread, red onion and chives. Having served it to several people in London, I’m convinced you don’t need to be Swedish to appreciate the complex fresh flavours of this dish. It makes for an excellent starter in the summer. Or in the winter for that matter, it is always delicious.

For the sandwich you need:

  • 1 tin of matjessill (can be bought at IKEA or Scandinavian shops around the UK)
  • Sourcream (all the better if you can get a hold of gräddfil which is the Swedish variant)
  • Red onion, finely chopped
  • Chives, finely chopped
  • 1 slice of dark sweet Swedish bread, kavring. This can be substituted with any sweet, dark rye you can find at Nordic bakery shops or anywhere else for that matter. In desperate times any darkish bread can do (in the picture below I used a walnut rye bread). Just make sure it’s not toast, we’re not dealing with shrimps or crayfish here!
  • Bolied sliced new potatoes, cold (optional)
  • Sliced hard boiled egg, cold (optional)
  • Dark Swedish caviar (optional). This sounds posh but it’s just lumpfish roe. It has a delicate salty flavour to it and looks nice.

Another sillamacka, with light walnut bread and some dark caviar.

The making of this sandwich is very simple. For the base of the sandwich, you need a slice of kavring bread. This is hard to get a hold of outside of Sweden, so you can substitue with with a sweet rye kind, or make your own*. If you want to add potato or egg to make it more filling, you add them first. Spread some red onion on top of these as well as on the plate. Then add a generous dollop of sourcream on top of this, and add three juicy pieces of matjessill on top. Scatter generously with chopped chives.

* Making traditional kavring at home takes two days and lots of Swedish ingredients. I found an alternative which I refer to as fake kavring:


Good thing is it only takes one hour to prepare and bake! You need:

  • 1 oven-proof pan for bread loaves
  • Butter and bread crumbs to make it non-stick
  • 3 deciliters sour cream
  • 1 1/2 deciliters dark sirup
  • 1/2 deciliters water
  • 2 deciliters plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 deciliters sifted rye flour
  • 1 tablespoon bicarbonate
  • 1 tablespoon lingonberry jam

Butter and bread the pan for the oven. Put your oven to 180 degrees. Mix all the dry ingredients together and then add the sour cream, sirup, water and lingonberry. Pour into the pan up to 2/3 for a high loaf. Put in at the bottom of the oven for 1 hour until it is a dark golden brown. Let rest and then slice up thinly.


Review – Yoshino Sushi

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:


Review – The Roebuck

Yesterday I ventured south of the river for a few drinks with my friend Nelson and stumbled across this little gem. We were originally set to go to Elephant & Castle but I failed to meet Nelson’s challenge of finding a nice after-work place to eat and drink there – is there not much in Elephant & Castle or does someone know of some diamonds in the rough? Recommendations are appreciated (especially by Nelson who lives there). Either way we went to Borough instead, and found the Roebuck.

The Roebuck is a lovely little pub with airy rooms and a chilled out atmosphere. They have a very thoughtful selection of flowery British ales and wheat beers on tap, sourcing from local breweries such as Meantime in Greenwich and Sambrook’s in Battersea (on a related note, pardon the blurry photos…). Their food is excellent too. Nelson who is veggie had the Celeriac rösti burger with kidney bean salsa and sour cream. Having been a veggie all his life, he said the burger in itself was an 8.5, as the flavours were lovingly planned and it was freshly prepared from scratch. If anything it was a little too rich in the cheese, but given the fact that it was a veggie burger, I can’t seriously take the “too rich” as a problem. The portion of chips was in the smallest category, sadly, as this would otherwise had been quite a bargain at £7.75.

Happy Nelson and his celeriac burger

I had an absolutely delicious pan fried coley (a regional white fish which happens to be a sustainable alternative to the over-fished cod) with cauliflower puree and courgette batons with garlic butter sauce (pictured at the top). The skin was crisp and packed full of flavour, and melted incredibly well with the tender fish and subtle cauliflower puree. The garlic butter sauce felt lush and a bit lavish, and was lovely. I often complain over England not being fish-loving enough (in comparison to my fish and seafood-obsessed Swedes), but this little revelation will certainly make me try fish in gastropubs more often. The coley at the Roebuck holds gastropub standards, and at £11.50 I thought that was rather cheap – but then again, the portion was quite small, so it’s more of a tasty treat than a filling main for a starving person.

Helpful restroom signs

All in all, the Roebuck is a very nice little pub. A real effort has clearly been put into creating interesting, locally sourced and freshly prepared food, and the ale selection is very satisfying. Go for a mid-week treat when you want to chill and have some good food, as the atmosphere seems a bit south of the river too – not too stressful, never packed, but very friendly and relaxed. If the portions had been of slightly bigger size me and Nelson would have given it 8 meatballs out of 10, but we settled for 7.5/10.

The Roebuck, 50 Great Dover Street, SE1 4YG

On the meatball and salted cod map: