Behold the best tapas I’ve ever had. Two weeks ago I was in Barcelona, and was lucky enough to be taken to Cuidad Contal. Ciudad Contal is the old name for Barcelona, and also a beautiful and popular tapas bar.
Arriving in the afternoon, we avoided the worst queues and were seated rather rapidly after a quick, ice cold beer in the bar (and very cheap at that). The bar had a beautiful display of some of the cold, prepared tapas, and I fell straight away for a beautiful creature resembling a black egg with pink stuff coming out of it. Once seated, Victor managed to decipher my description and ordered fig with mascarpone and jamon (montadito de higo, mascarpone y jamón ibérico, below).
If it’s possible to pick one favourite from the various tapas dishes, this would be it. The sweet, crispy fig mixed with the velvety and rich mascarpone posed a perfect contrast to the salty jamon. It’s no revolutionary dish or combination, but proof that classics are classics for a reason.
Aside from my personal star of the table, a favourite between the three of us was the black rice (arroz negro con sepia). This was also displayed at the bar, steaming and glittering, and quickly vanishing. Just as the other dishes, it was very simple: rice with squid ink and gently cooked octopus, served with a dollop of allioli. It was also accompanied by small pieces of bread rubbed in tomato, olive oil and salt (pa amb tomaquet), which were perfect for scooping the rice. This staple way of making bread has won my heart over, after a long struggle against indulging in olive oil.
We also ordered in some grilled green peppers, doused in sea salt flakes (pimientos del padrón). The grill made them smoky in a mellow way, which contrased very well to the sweetness of the pepper and the salt.
The deep fried baby squid (calamares a la andaluza) was incredibly tender and juicy, perfect with a little dash of lemon. We finished this very, very quickly. Such a simple dish, yet with the added lemon, one of the most bite-friendly things ever.
The seafood at this place was so tender it’s difficult to compare it to anything. The gambas (gambas a la plancha) were no exception. I would assume these were steamed, then quickly dressed before going onto the table. They were too hot to hold when they arrived. Again, delicious.
Victor’s personal choice was a little entrecote on a stick (montadito de solomillo). It was charred in the edges and oozing red inside, absolutely perfectly cooked. Blissful.
All in all this was a near-perfect meal (I’m not sure what could be changed gastronomically to improve it). If you’re in Barcelona, you should ignore the fact that this magnificent place is placed at the bottom of touristy La Ramblas, as well as the fact that it’s packed nearly all the time. You should just dive in, and gratefully accept a cold beer (or three) while you wait for a precious table. Our meal landed at 17 euros each with was a bargain given the high quality of the food, and I simply cannot recommend it highly enough. 9,5 meatballs out of 10.
Working full-time leaves far too little time left over to cook. In my utopia we’d all be working three hours a day, followed by two hours food shopping at a cheaper version of Borough market, before cooking all afternoon and eating all evening. But before that’s been turned into a workable economic model, we have to make do with simpler things, like Swedish rösti with caviar. Quite a light supper, it’s a perfect snack before going out (don’t worry, that kebab in the wee hours of the morning will keep you from starving).
Making rösti is very easy, and you can take it quite far from its humble origins if you top it with fresh Swedish ingredients like gräddfil (sour cream), dill, spring onion and caviar. What with IKEA’s food empire being spread all over the world, you can buy Swedish caviar very cheaply. This isn’t fancy caviar in any sense (it comes from the herring), but it’s still salty and delicious.
- 1 tub of sour cream (creme fraiche also cuts it, but best of all would be gräddfil)
- Fresh dill, finely chopped
- Fresh spring onion or chives, chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 6 large potatoes, grated
- 1 egg
- A selection of caviar glasses – theses are about €1.50 in IKEA. They only have red, black and vegan caviar, so if you want nicer stuff find a Swedish shop where they will have Stenbitsrom or Kalixlöjrom.
Start by chopping and frying half of the onion on a low heat. Peel and grate the potatoes, and mix in the onion. Also add half of the dill, the egg and salt to taste. Form the mix into flat rounds, about half a centimeter thick, and carefully place in a non-stick pan, on a medium heat with plenty of oil and butter (a mix makes for the best flavour – it’s not meant to be a health meal). Flatten the cakes with a spatula once they are in the pan, as that makes them stick together better. Let them fry about 4 minutes on each side, until they are golden. Carefully lift them out of the pan onto kitchen roll, and keep frying these until you’ve used up all of the mix.
An easy way of eating them is to just place all the condiments on the table and let everyone make their own caviar creation. However, if you want it a bit nicer, place two rösti on each plate, add some of the chopped onion, a generous dollop of creme fraiche, the caviar of your choice, and top with chives, dill and spring onion. Serve with cold, light beer, and vodka if you are going out.
To me, lobster always sounded like lots of fuss for little, and expensive, food. I have no problems with seafood that makes you work for your nibbles: anyone who’s attended a Swedish crayfish party knows the joy of devouring small red sea creatures for a small fingers’ worth of white meat. But since crayfish is cheap and lobster isn’t, I out of hand dismissed lobster. Now I must change that tune, having celebrated the end of university (forever!) together with Miss Salted Cod and some friends at Soho’s newly opened Burger & Lobster. Because it was ridiculously nice. And while it wasn’t cheap, it wasn’t really expensive either.
We arrived to our reserved table for four in the afternoon and the queues and stress I’d been warned about were nowhere to be found. After ordering in a round of Asahi we were offered to choose between a lobster, a lobster roll, or a burger. All would be 20 pounds each. The waitress also suggested a fourth option which we ended up going for: sharing a ten pound lobster between us, with unlimited fries and salad. She even brought him out on a tray whilst he was still alive, saying she’d named him Brett.
As Brett was steamed and grilled off to perfection (we were told he died by a swift cut through the head) we were kitted out with bibs, little lobster-tools and more Asahi. Once cooked and prepared for us, Brett was so large he had to come in on two different trays. He arrived together with bowls of shoestring fries, salad and garlic and parsley butter sauce. The sauce was simply divine dripped onto tender lobster meat, and as we fought away over the best claw meat we almost forgot about the fries and salad, although these were also very nice. A few more rounds of Asahi and lobster picking was loads of fun, and it turns out eating a massive lobster is a nice group activity if nothing else. As we started using Brett’s claws as gloves (see Kristine’s hand above) we decided it was time to move on to a boozier establishment. But as for the quality of the lobster, the price and the overall experience, burger and lobster get a unanimous nine meatballs out of ten from both me and Miss Salted cod.
I have to thank miss meatball for actually making this review possible. Back in April she introduced me to a person who would give me a freelance job, which would then turn into a full-time job (with two weeks training in Boston) which turned the poor salted cod student into a working salted cod who can now spend more on food!
I’ve been in Boston for a few days now, but due to jetlag and weird tropical weather, I have only just managed to try clam chowder (or chowda as Bostonians say) and lobster roll – Boston’s two iconic dishes. So I decided to head out to nearby Faneuil Hall and try both at Chowda, famous for its clam chowder and cheap lobster rolls.
I had never tried clam chowder before so I had no point of comparison, but this was good! While it looked less than appetizing (imagine pale yellow goop) it tasted extremely fresh and fishy. It was full of clams and white fish and had a great consistency – not too thick, not too thin. As you can see I only bought a very small portion, but this was extremely filling! I could easily have done with that and a bit of bread on the side.
But, the temptation of a clam chowder and lobster roll combo was too much to resist and I ordered the lobster roll too. Unfortunately this paled in comparison to the chowder. I regretted it as soon as I ordered it…The lobster roll was not made to order but was actually the last one standing in a refrigerated section of the stall. I don’t know if this is simply because I came in at a time when they had run out of fresh lobster or were not busy enough for the lobster roll to be made fresh to order, but what I experienced was a very cold, too sweet lobster roll. Despite the great amount of lobster in the roll it was drowned in mayonnaise and lacked in seasoning. I ate some of the lobster and left the roll which tasted cold and old.
I also have to point out to the horrible service. Having been a waitress myself I think I am allowed to be pretty strict with service. I would say that Chowda has some of the worst service I have ever experienced. Despite being empty (I came in at 5) the two people working there carried on their conversation for a good minute before attending to me. Second, the person serving me actually took a call from his phone while he was serving me. He did not try to end the call or make it brief, he was on the phone the whole time! I found this extremely rude and almost gave up on the food… but the chowder smelt too good and I was hungry.
While the clam chowder was great, I am pretty sure I will not be going back to Chowda anytime soon. I had heard that Faneuil Hall was a bit of a tourist trap for food and this only confirmed it. I will be trying more lobster in the coming days and I hope it is as good as the amazing 10 pound lobster me, The Swedish Meatball and some friends had last week at Burger and Lobster.
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.