Dinner at Din Tai Fung Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Whenever I am in a city with a branch of Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung, I tend to go there for a fix of one of my favourite dishes in the world – the famous soup dumpling, xiao long bao.

Din Tai Fung’s Marina Bay Sands branch is one of the best I have visited (maybe that’s a general Din Tai Fung Singapore-thing though) of the Din Tai Fungs I’ve visited over the world so far. The above xiao long bao pork soyp dumplings were great. Filled with broth and minced pork, then dipped in a chilli-vinegar-soy-ginger dipping sauce, they make your taste buds do the happy dance.

Almost as good as the soup dumplings is the dan dan noodles. Chewy, elastic noodles in a creamy spicy sesame-peanut sauce, sprinkled with spring onions. Mmm-mmm!

Pork buns meets Singapore’s national dish, the famous chilli crab in a – you guessed it – pork and chilli crab bun. This was quite good, although not as good as above dishes.

In the foreground a spicy cucumber salad, in the back – another all time favourite – Din Tai Fung’s Taiwanese pork chop with perfect, slightly oily, egg and scallion rice. Incredibly tasty.

Finally we tried pork and prawn gyoza. Flavour wise it was good but nothing out of the ordinary. Texture wise, however, one of the best gyozas I’ve ever had. Insanely crispy bottom, and light, slightly chewy top.

Delicious lunch at Leib Resto ja Aed in Tallinn

Visited the Estonian capital Tallinn earlier this Summer. We went to a really nice restaurant called Leib ja Aed, and I’d thought I’d share some pictures from the very delicious lunch we had there. Above, and served before the meal was a very delicious traditional Estonian black bread with chive butter.

Carrot tartare.

Slow cooked pork ribs with jus and vegetables was really good.

59 °C Siberian sturgeon fillet from Härjanurme with green vegetables and butter sauce.

Crème brûlée with black bread, paired with a Pearu IPA made by Leib Resto ja Aed themselves. Probably the best brulee I’ve ever had.

“Rhubarb rhubarb”. Rhubarb pannacotta, honey oat milk cookie crumble, mint, violet and rhubarb compote.

A really good lunch, and quite affordable too. We paid about €90 with drinks for a shared starter and one main and dessert each.

Leib ja Aeds website

What to eat in Visby on Gotland

Recently spent three days on the beautiful island of Gotland, just a short flight south east of Stockholm (or a shortish ferry ride).

Since my time on the island was quite limited, a food agenda was needed. Even though the island of Gotland and its main city Visby (where the airport is) are quite small in population numbers (all island is approximately 60 000), the number of visitors from both mainland Sweden and abroad means there’s plenty of good restaurants, at least during summer. In fact popular mainland restaurants such as Surfers (despite what the name might imply they serve Sichuan food) and Supper (South American:ish) have local branches in Visby. Below is what I managed to shovle down during my short trip.

Surfers Visby
First up was a Sichuan dinner at medium prized Surfers. Dishes are all 88 sek (2017) or roughly $10. We were advised to share 6-8 among the two of us. Everything was really tasty and service was great. There was quite a wait for a table so a reservation is adviced, at least in July when we went.

Surfers’ website

Dumplings.

Spicy (really spicy) fried chicken in red chilli oil.

Prawn meatballs with coriander, lettuce leaves and a tasty dipping sauce.

Five spice ribs. Falling of the bone tender, sweet and spicy at the same time. Mmm.

Pork belly and coriander salad. Sort of like a banh mi without the bread.

Scallops in XO-sauce. Fishy in a good way. Perfectly cooked scallops.

Sesame chicken with cucumber and deep fried tofu. Delicious.

Creperie & Logi
Lunch at Creperie & Logi. Awesome crepes or galettes with in above case skagenröra meaning a mix of shrimp, mayo, dill and usually creme fraiche. Also there was cheese, bleak roe, rucola and lemon. Sooo good. Price was about 200 sek or $22.

Creperie & Logi

Café Gula Huset
When on Gotland, a Gotlandic saffron pancake (made with rice porridge) served with whipped cream and salmbärssylt (dewberry jam) is sort of mandatory. We had ours at Café Gula Huset (the yellow house café) and it was awesome. Can’t remember the price more than it was not hideously expensive.

Café Gula Huset

Mille Lire
By chance I spotted Mille Lire on Instagram a short while before leaving for Gotland with a comment such as “Best pizza on Gotland”. Being a huge pizza lover, I naturally had to pay them a visit. Mille Lire comes from the Italian phrase for “some change” asked by the owner to his mother so he could get some pizza after school while being a child back in Italy (if I recall correctly). According to Google it means something like a “thousand dollars” though. The prize of a pizza at Mille Lire is actually close to that (oh well), being almost borderline excessively expensive with 160 or so sek for a pizza. But it is also indeed very good. And, you also get a 20 sek reduction if you do take away. I had a ‘Norcina’ with provola cheese, mozzarella, tomato and fresh salsiccia which was molto bene.

Mille Lire Visby

Glassmagasinet Visby
After pizza, what comes more natural than ice cream, right? A visit to Glassmagasinet in Visby’s harbour treated us to some nice local ice cream. Above is one scoop each of chocolate-peanut, and local flavours saffron and honey. Trivia is that Glassmagasinet is Europe’s largest ice cream bar, at least according to themselves. It’s not a huge place however, so the crown should be relatively easily up for grabs.

Glassmagasinet Visby

Brooklyn Visby
My last day on “öijn” as mainland Swedes affectionally ridicule the local pronounciation of “ön” meaning “the island” was on the 4th of July which is sort of a big day in a land slightly west (as in an 8 hour flight) of Sweden. Hence, a burger felt appropriate. More so because the venue was named Brooklyn (which is basically where you end up after the 8 hour flight). The burger at Brooklyn Visby was surprisingly good to be honest and came with fries and a nice truffle dip. The bread was made in a local bakery and the meat perfectly cooked. Prices were okay with roughly 120 sek for a burger. Minus points for forcing us to a dark corner bar table despite the place being nearly empty (and stayed that way till we left).

Brooklyn Visby

Supper Visby
And finally there was Supper. As in supper at Supper. At Supper (sorry), which is a restaurant with a party vibe the focus, as so many places these days, is on “share food”. We were advised to share four to five dishes on the two of us and decided to go for four. Food is sort of South American-Mexican-Tex Mex-y and relatively decently priced.

Pork belly tacos.

One of Supper’s signatures, their sweet potato fries that are crispier than anywhere else I’ve been. Topped with coriander and parmesan cheese they are delicious.

Tuna tartare with avocado, soy sauce mayo and cassava crisps.

Steak tartare made with chopped flank steak meaning it was a little bit tougher than regular ground tartare (but still delicious) served with peanuts, mustard seeds and mayo. Worked like a charm wih the not-included sweet potato fries.

Supper’s chilli had been slow-cooked for five hours in beer and chocolate and came with a pretty little ‘egg’ of whipped (?) sour cream and corn crisps. Like the rest of Supper’s food it’s very tasty even though it’s not terribly creative.

Supper Visby

144 stairs Cafe in Tbilisi

144 stairs Cafe

Our first meal in Tbilisi was enjoyed at “144 stairs” close to the Nariqala Fortress of Tbilisi. You walk up a few sets of stairs before reaching the restaurant, which, justifying the semi-steep climb, offered amazing views over Tbilisi, and as far as the Caucasus mountains we visited a few days later (more about that trip below).

144 stairs had, apart from nice views, great food. Prices were decent and the Georgian white wine was cold. As we had just arrived we ordered a lot of food. The khachapuri, the Georgian cheese bread, sort of similar to pizza, was delicious. As was the Georgian salad, with crispy cucumber, sweet juicy tomatoes, mild onion and creamy walnut dressing.
Website

Pastorali restaurant in Tbilisi, Georgia

 


Pastorali

The one place we actually went back to was a restaurant called Pastorali. Pastorali, like most (all) places we visited served tasty and affordable Georgian food. Located on the cozy slightly touristy Erekle II street, they served up the best Georgian khinkali we had during our trip. Khinkali are large dumplings, like my favourite dish in the entire world xiao long bao, they are filled with both meat and a spiced broth with a dominating flavour of coriander. You begin by sucking out the broth, then you proceed to eat the dough and meat, don’t eat the top though, that is used as a handle to hold the khinkali.

Apart from the khinkali we also had delicious Adjeri khachapuri (the famous cheese bread again, this time with a runny egg on top). We also had baked eggplant with mixed walnuts and pomegranate seeds as well as a Imeruli khachapuri which is a round cheese bread and with the cheese on the inside. Everything very delicious and prices were good.
Website

Barbarestan restaurant in Tbilisi, Georgia

One of the few places that I had looked up in advance was newly opened Barbarestan. Founded only one and half year ago by the founder, according to him after finding the book of an old cooktress, Barbara Joradze, in a market and then re-inventing her old recipes with the best produce and ingredients, served with great Georgian wine. Something like this was the story, told to us by the very friendly manager, who actually walked around the restaurant with the actual book in a glass cover. There are a few tables outside on the street and on street level and several ones in the restaurants super-cozy wine cellar.

I wanted to try most things on the menu, but being one of the few pricier places we visited, we controlled ourselves slightly.

First up a mixed starter plate with different dips and GREAT flatbreads. The dips were: caramelized onions and walnuts; broccoli and walnuts; cheese and yoghurt, and finally an eggplant dip. So, so good with the accompanying Georgian red wine.

Of course I had to sample the fancy(ier) restaurant-version of a khachapuri. The Georgian red continued to work well.

Georgian meatball with potato puree and pomegranate sauce.

Our server pooring us wine. Amber in colour but still considered a white wine. A peculiar taste, but nevertheless very nice.

Barbarestan was incredible. Exactly the kind of restaurant I like. Great ambience, great food, not too fancy, but not too un-fancy either. Attention on food, drink and that everyone feels good. Loved it. Go there.
Website

5 days of food and adventures in amazing Georgia

Just got back from a five day trip to the amazing little country of Georgia (not the U.S. state) nestled between Russia and Turkey in the Caucasus. I’ve been wanting to go to Georgia for quite some time. The reasons for it being the scenic countryside, Tbilisi as a city, rumours of friendly people, and most of all; the Georgian cuisine.

We flew Air Baltic from Riga, which were pretty decent apart from the final leg on our return to Sweden when I got stuck next to a space-stealing seat neighbour on Air Baltic’s cramped Q400.

 

Tbilisi is mostly a beautiful city, as can be seen on the Old Tbilisi building above.

We also took a day trip to Northern Georgia and Mount Kazbek, about a three hour drive from Tbilisi. Due to two (!) flat tires, either by unfortune or lacking maintenance from our tour operator, the whole day took forever to get through. We were picked up at 9.40 am and was back in town around 10 pm. Nevertheless, the trip was actually worth it, despite most of the day was spent on the road.

Our first stop: Ananuri fortress, situated about 70 kilometers from Tbilisi.


The main attraction for the trip, apart from amazing mountainous scenery for a good part of the trip, was the Gergeti Trinity Church, situated at almost 2200 meters height, and still surrounded by massive Caucasus mountains towering over it. To get there we took a four wheel driven jeep from Stepantsminda to reach the Gergeti Trinity Church. After a 30 minute off-road drive we reached the church, and my god what a place it was. Probably top five of the coolest places I’ve ever been, and that’s despite that they, not sure how, actually has rolled up an ugly little food truck selling burgers just outside the beautiful church.


Mount Kazbek, 5074 meters tall as seen from the Gergeti Trinity Church.

 

The following day, back in Tbilisi, we visited the Dry Bridge Market where everything from Soviet memorabilia to knives, old army surplus, wine jars and cutlery are sold. A fascinating place, for me perhaps more for the ambience than the actual shopping.

Jack London restaurant Tbilisi
After the shopping, more food was needed. The name Jack London did not sound too promising, but the menu looked nice and the food on the other diner’s plates did too.

We ordered a sulguni cheese (the cheese used in khachapuris) stuffed kabab and chicken shashlik, both served with mild raw sliced onion. The fries at this place looked great, I still regret not having them.

 

Since I try to visit as many new and different countries as possible, I of course had to visit neighbouring Armenia. Through Envoy Tours, we booked a “de-tour to Armenia” that took us through the green Lore region of Northern Armenia. I had not really understood just how beautiful Armenia would be with its rolling green hills, canyons and monasteries, some of them constructed in the 10th century. That’s pretty old. During our tour we visited Sanahin and Haghbat (or Haghpat) monasteries situated along the Debed canyon, both of them Unesco World Heritage sites and built somewhere around 966. We also briefly visited the old factory town Alaverdi with abandoned factories, train cars and cranes. Felt like something out of a zombie movie, very cool. Our last sight of the trip was akhtala fortress-monastery which was as old and cool as the two previous, but not a UNESCO world heritage site. Finally, before going back to Georgia and Tbilisi we stoped for lunch at a local family’s home. Sat down around a table with mile-long views of the valley and mountains below the 12 or so of us were served delicious home-cooked Armenian food. We started with a couple of vegetable dishes such as a carrot fritter, different pickled vegetables, bread, cheeses, spinach fried with eggs and fresh vegetables from the area. For main we had a great grilled pork, served with raw sliced onions and thick deep fried potato slices. An excellent meal in an equally excellent setting. Also bonus points to Envoy Tours for including this stop instead of just feeding us in a touristy place somewhere along the way.

A very cool tour that was quite affordable and with a great flexible and knowledgeable guide. You can find Envoy Tours website here.

Then it was time to fly back, but not before cashing in my drink voucher I received upon checking in at Mercure Tbilisi Old Town which’s sky bar was to be the last we saw of Tbilisi before heading back home.

So in summary, wow, what a place Georgia is. It’s beautiful, the food is amazing, the prices are low and you can go to an off the beaten track country like Armenia over the day. Now I’m really keen to keep exploring the rest of the region. All the good restaurants we visited are posted after this post. To just keep on reading to get inspired to visit one of my new favourite countries. 🙂

Japanese style curry at Curry House CoCo Ichibanya in Shinjuku

One of the days in Tokyo we had been walking for ages in the rain. We were cranky, tired and hungry. That is usually not an ideal situation to start discussing where to eat. We stood outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building when it struck me; “Curry, I want Japanese curry”. After a quick look at Google maps, it was almost to good to be true, we were a block from one of the higher ranked curry places in Tokyo, the interestingly named “Curry House CoCo Ichibanya” which is part of a chain with the same name. After a approximately 30 second walk, we found ourselves in a small curry smelling paradise.

Japanese curry is a gravy like sauce flavoured with curry, served on top of rice and usually paired with some kind of deep-fried protein. We opted for deep-fried chicken with our curry which came with pickles, rice and mentioned curry sauce. The food was hot, savoury, crunchy, salty and just plain delicious. Price was really good too, and we left a lot happier.

Price ($) and website
I honestly can’t remember more than it was very affordable. They have an English website with a menu that you can find here. We had lunch at their Shinjuku location close to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (that by the way has free entry) and the Park Hyatt Hotel. Shinjuku station’s main hall is a 5-10 minute walk away.

Two really good tonkatsu restaurants we visited in Japan

One of my favourite Japanese dishes is tonkatsu. Tonkatsu or panko crusted deep-fried pork cutlets is a dish similar to a schnitzel with juicy pork covered by a crunchy panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) crust. 

During our recent trip to Japan, we had tonkatsu twice; once at Wako, where we went last time in Tokyo, and once at Maisen, a place I’ve been reading about a lot and what usually show up when you google “Tokyo’s best tonkatsu”.

Wako tonkatsu in Kyoto Station
We went to Wako in Kyoto Station, situated on the upper floors of the Isetan department store inside the station. Bonus trivia is that you can go outside from the restaurant floor where Wako is and up a couple of stairs/escalators to reach a nice rooftop area with views over Kyoto, although with a wall in the way of proper photos.

At Wako we opted to try one of the more expensive premium versions of pork for our tonkatsu. I believe the cost was around 1800 jpy, meaning roughly $16. According to the staff, it was juicier with a higher fat content and hence slightly more expensive. After a round of frosty beer mugs, our tonkatsu arrived. Since the tonkatsu came as a set meal, which it usually does in Japan, we also got rice, pickles, cabbage slaw and grated daikon radish. The tonkatsu pork cutlet was, just as advertised, nicely fatty and soft, as well as the breading crunchy. A nice thing with tonkatsu is that it, when done properly, lacks almost any excess oil. So given the relative healthiness of the sides, it doesn’t feel that bad to eat. Despite being a couple of hundred grams of deep-fried fatty pork. Wako’s tonkatsu is a really nice one and in my mind well worth a visit.

Price ($$) and website
We paid roughly 2500 yen a person with premium pork tonkatsu set meals and a beer. Website with sample menu in English (scroll down to Kyoto and then Wako JR Isetan for address): click here.


Next place to enjoy tonkatsu was, as mentioned above, the legendary Maisen or Mai-Sen. We went to their outlet close to Tokyo Station in Daimaru shopping mall, located on the 12th floor. Bonus trivia for this place is that the view from the restaurant floor’s restrooms is quite spectacular. We went quite late, so we could snap a few sneaky restroom pictures since no one else was there.

Bathroom views from the restaurant floor of Tokyo Daimaru shopping mall.

Anyway, the food. As per usual, we ordered a round of beers and a set meal each, opposed to Wako, this time with fillet instead of loin, meaning slightly less fatty meat and also a slightly smaller amount. I think it was 100 grams of fillet instead of 150 grams of loin, for the same price. The tonkatsu was served with rice, miso soup and cabbage slaw with a tasty lemony yuzu dressing. Once again, the breaded pork was not at all oily from the deep-frying. The meat was slightly less juicy compared to Wako, but that did not really matter as the crust was so crunchy and delicious. It actually felt more balanced than with the premium high fat content-pork tonkatsu at Wako, since it was almost overwhelming with both fatty pork and being deep-fried.



Katsusando from Maisen. Tonkatsu in white toast bread. Good stuff.

Maisen’s katsusando – tonkatsu sandwich at Tokyo Foodshow
Another thing we tried and that you probably should too if you like tonkatsu is Maisen’s katsusando. Katsusando is a tonkatsu sandwich, which means sliced cold tonkatsu in a white bread sandwich with some tonkatsu sauce spread on. We had Maisen’s katsusando that we bought at Tokyo Foodshow in Shibuya, a whole floor of food where different outlets sell their different types of food and where you can both pick up take-away as well as dine in at a couple of communal stand up tables.

Price ($$+) and website
Maisen is slightly more expensive that for instance Wako, and we paid about 1600 yen a person for one of the cheaper set meals on the menu. Maisen’s website, only in Japanese. Address (google maps link).

Kobe beef dinner at Gyu-an Ginza


One of the best meals of the trip, and probably one of my best meals ever was enjoyed at Gyu-An in Ginza, Tokyo. Gyu-An specialise in meat, as in good quality stuff, such as wagyu beef and the world famous kobe beef. After quite thorough research we decided that Gyu-An felt most bang for the buck for our relatively tiny kobe beef budgets and we managed to score a reservation with the help of our hotel concierge a few days later.

As we arrived Gyu-an, after a stroll through the neon lit Ginza district of Tokyo, they couldn’t find our reservation, and I had a few seconds of panic, before they found us a table, and my greatly anticipated steak dinner was, fortunately, a go. While prices are decent given what you get, there is still a considerable price for a meal, depending how you look at it. To have some reference, and to save some money, the two of us decided to share a slightly less pricey wagyu steak set menu as well as the swankiest of the kobe sets which meant you got 200 grams, 100 grams each of kobe fillet and kobe sirloin. Included was a couple of starters, a tiny dessert (below) as well as coffee or tea. Drinks were extra but was relatively decently priced.


We had a couple of starters, but the only really exciting one was this incredibly delicious beef sushi with a thin, fatty piece of beef covering the rice. A great bite that like the beef was washed down with house red.


The matsusaka wagyu beef was just a tad less delicious than the kobe beef. Hadn’t I had the kobe beef, this would’ve been the best steak I’ve ever had. Extremely flavourful and tasty with a great tender texture.

The steak of steaks. Kobe beef fillet and sirloin. Not really sure which one I liked the best. The fillet was of course a bit leaner and softer than the sirloin, but that was barely noticeable given how tender both were. The fat in the kobe beef is not at all chewy, but rather melts in your mouth. The best comparisson I’ve been able to make is, to think of how you bite into a ripe mandarin orange and how it kind of bursts with fruit juice when you bite into it. This was like that, only that the fruit juice was kobe beef fat. It was incredibly good. It was also incredibly rich, and it was almost a struggle to eat everything given the two starters, rice, soup and salad that you are also served. No doubt this was the best steak I have ever had. My expectations were really high. I’ve been eating some really good meat the last years, churrasco in Brazil, grilled bife de chorizo in Argentina and great French steak au poivre. But this beat them all, easily.


For dessert we were served three perfect strawberries. Although it is almost insulting calling this a dessert in normal cases, we were so full that we did not really mind. And the strawberries were in fact extraordinarily tasty.

Price and location
We paid roughly $280 for our two steak meals (one wagyu at 8500 jpy, one kobe combo at 15500 jpy), a caraff of red wine, and water. The restaurant is located in Ginza, easily accessible with a couple of subway lines.