A weekend of eating in Helsinki with a visit to Ravintola Saaga

 

Last weekend I visited the Finnish capital Helsinki for a 70 year birthday party. Since Helsinki is such a short flight from Stockholm (approximately 45 mins) you can go straight from an (almost) full day work and still have a decent evening out. Many airlines fly this route so you’re usually able to score decent priced tickets during campaigns. We flew Norwegian and just barely had times to finish our sparkling wine before landing (not included in ticket). The only gripe is that Helsinki’s an hour ahead, so you’ll lose an hour due to the time difference, although you get it “back” on your return.

 

For our first night I was so lazy so I just scanned google maps for a good-rated restaurant near our hotel Glo Hotel Arts. I managed to find Ravintola Saaga or Saaga restaurant, which is a semi-fancy and sort of touristy Lappish restaurant. We started with a glass of sparkling wine topped with cloudberry liquor and some free nibbles from the kitchen consisting of reindeer jerky on rye crispbread with horseradish cream and pickled onion.

 

For main, fried sea pike with king crab from the Arctic Ocean, roasted butter sauce, cauliflower purée and crisp malt bread. I also had a delicious slow-cooked reindeer shank with mushroom purée as well as pickled mushroom, the picture of it in the dimly lit restaurant however, wasn’t as delicious.

 

For dessert we had iced cranberries in an ice bowl. The bowl was, as the name implies, made out of ice, which was a quite cool (sorry) feature. The caramel-liqourice sauce that came with it was delicious. The main problem with this dish was when the sauce started to cool (sorry) and was poured over the even cooler (sorry) iced cranberries. It of course did not defrost them as the general idea of the dish was, and that meant you had to eat frozen cranberries with cold caramel sauce for the last part of the dessert. Great idea though, and very tasty as long as the sauce was warm. Eat fast in other words.

 

We also tried the Lappish squeeky cheese with a pine-tar cream, cloudberry crumble and cloudberry sorbet. This was also a very clever and unique dessert with the tar flavour shining through the dessert’s different components, giving a tar-y smoky taste, contrasting the sweetness of the cream and sorbet. The cheese did not taste that much but had a nice texture.

Price for a meal €€+

Prices were semi-expensive, but not that bad considering Helsinki is a quite expensive city. We paid about €130 for 2 mains, 2 desserts, 2 glasses of sparkling wine with cloudberry liquor and a bottle of the least expensive wine on the menu.

Service was friendly but a little bit slow.

Website (menus and online booking in English available – through a form)

 

The rest of the trip was spent walking Helsinki (above is the beautiful Helsinki Cathedral) and attending the birthday party.

 

Where we stayed

We stayed at Glo Hotel Art a few blocks from the city center. The rate was about €90 and we had a very small but comfortable room with wifi, motorized bed, shower and flatscreen TV as well as breakfast included.

Website

Bonjour, Paris!


Last weekend we visited a place I should’ve visited a long time ago. By some reason, the closest I’ve been to the City of Lights is seeing the Eiffel Tower from a plane, when transiting at Charles De Gaulle airport. But now it was time, at last, for Paris! Since we’re as usual saving up on our vacation days, we left straight from work Friday, and got back home late Sunday, so it’s possible to do a weekend in Paris (at least from Stockholm) without using any of your precious days off. I though I’d share a couple of pictures from our short weekend visit.

Since we are silver level members of Accor’s Le Club programme we were treated to a complimentary drink in our hotel’s, Hotel L’Echiquier Opéra Paris MGallery by Sofitel, 1920s style “Le 38 Bar Lounge“. We were very delighted to find out that champagne was one of the possible selections, and we ordered a glass each of  Veuve Clicquot to start the party.

Our hotel had a very nice breakfast, that was served in the same room as the bar was in during night time. The spread was great, and what I had hoped for would be included on a Parisian breakfast buffet. There were numerous French cheeses, charcuterie, great bread (very important), decent scrambled eggs, bacon, fried mushrooms, fancy French butter in little paper wrappings and nice juice and coffee. Definitely my kind of breakfast. Très bien!


Since we only had one full day in Paris we had pre-booked Louvre tickets through Viator to save some time. I think the price was a Euro or two more a person than buying a ticket at the actual museum, but using this method, we could walk straight in (after the security check) instead of course queing to the ticket booth in the museum.


A famous lady in the Louvre.
After the Louvre, we walked to the small island on where the Notre-Dame de Paris is located.


The Eiffel Tower, or in French: Tour de Eiffel, opened in 1890 and a symbol for Paris and France. It was quite a walk from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower. But we walked mainly along the Seine and enjoyed the views and the walk despite there was actually snowing. So much for my idea of “meeting Spring in Paris” when I booked the tickets last fall. This shot is taken from Trocadero, where you get a nice elevated position for a good picture of the Eiffel Tower and views over Paris in general.

After the Eiffel Tower, we walked to the next sight, the Arc de Triomphe and the fancy boulevard Champs-Élysées. At this points our feet hurt and the step-tracker showed roughly 30000 steps or 20 kilometers. It was time to use the Paris Metro. We bought one single ride ticket each (€1.90 in 2017) and navigated our way back to our hotel.


Feet resting-champagne on our hotel room’s Parisian balcony.


Day two we sort of cheated and took an Uber X (worked really well in Paris by the way) to the Sacré-Cœur where we were treated to grey but great views over the city. Again, a great place to snap some pictures over Paris. We were told the area was a little bit rough, but we walked down through Montmartre towards the more central parts and thought it felt very safe.


Our walk ended at “Paris’ answer to Harrod’s”: the Galeries Lafayette department store. Here we found Angelina where we had an okay but honestly a bit dissapointing steak tartare with pommes frites and salad. The tartare was served quite cold, and felt a little bit soggy and almost wet. I might be wrong but I think I noticed a hint of ketchup in the flavour. I was not impressed, but on the other hand my travel companion liked the tartare.

One for the road. A final cocktail at the hotel bar before our transfer back to the airport and reality of another work week.

Two days of eating in Las Palmas

 

Our final days on Gran Canaria was spent in the capital city of the island, Las Palmas. After deciding to catch a bus from Maspalomas to Las Palmas, our taxi driver, taking us from our hotel to the bus station, catched us in our laziest baggage-hauling moment and offered us a only for you my friend-price for a door-to-door delivery to our hotel in Las Palmas. The seats were comfy, the price felt okay, and hey we were already in the taxi. So we took the offer of 56 euros for the trip and arrived about an hour later at the Santa Catalina hotel.

Santa Catalina Hotel, Las Palmas

The Santa Catalina is, I guess, the ‘grand olde lady’ of Las Palmas hotels, which we hadn’t really realized when booking. The exterior was impressive, as can be seen above with the magnificent 1890s building which was fronted by a nice garden. This felt like a place where presidents and kings (at least used to) stay. And apparently for instance Winston Churchill had done so fifty odd years or so ago. Our standard room at the Santa Catalina was a bit old and worn, but at the same time with a certain ‘old world’ charm such as actual room keys in addition to more recent stuff such as decent wifi and a flatscreen tv.

Segundo Muelle, Las Palmas

After a bit of exploring in Las Palmas, we needed food. As the Santa Catalina is a bit away from the city center, we were happy to find Segundo Muelle, a Peruvian restaurant, nextdoor to the hotel. Segundo Muelle is, as we found out, apparently a global restaurant chain with outlets in Miami, Lima, Quito (Ecuador), and of course, in Las Palmas.

 

When in Peruvian restaurants, drink Pisco Sour. Also featured in the picture is toasted salty corn. NO, it is not popcorn!

 

Ceviche with corn, cilantro/coriander, onion, chilli and possibly the star of the dish: a glazed, baked piece of sweet potato. 

 

I almost always eat lomo saltado in Peruvian restaurants. It’s so good in its simplicity as is it great in the clever combination of two of world’s greatest kitchens. It’s woked beef fillet with chilli, tomatoes, sweet pepper, onion and potato chips(!), served with rice. Asia meets South America. Yum.

 

To finish some kind of yummy cake with chocolate, peanuts and praline.

 

No bed-going before a night cap dry martini if you live in a hotel built in the 1800s.

 

No breakfast without cava and lots of delicious food on gold-plated… Err, plates, had with golden cutlery. When, exactly, staying in hotels built in 1890. Our time in the golden days of travel was now over. Back to the 2010s.

 

Hotel Reina Isabel, Las Palmas

Our last hotel of the trip, booked six months in advance in a time when we thought we’d spend our last night of vacation after seven crazy days in West Africa in some Gran Canarian style. Oh well, the Reina Isabel was a really nice hotel, despite being our fourth in the same island in 9 days. Views from the rooftop pool and bar was amazing over both the city as well as the Las Canteras beach, as seen above.

This day was also my dear girlfriend and travel buddy’s birthday, and hence we needed another good place to eat. Fortunately, we found El Churrasco.

 

El Churrasco is an Argentinian steakhouse, just off the Las Canteras beachwalk on Calle Olof Palme. We started off Spanish with a bunch of really (really, really) delicious, fat and juicy prawns sizzling in a chilli and garlic oil as they were delivered at our table together with warm, crusty and also delicious bread. 

 

Next dish was, maybe not that surprisingly, steak. A very good steak should be added. I actually called it one of my top five steaks ever, and that could actually be true, even though I’m writing this without any red wine infused passion. The great steaks (we had Argentinian entrecôte and a bife de chorizo) were served with surprisingly bland and under-fried chips (still edible though) as well as a fortunately tastier chimichurri sauce. Everything was washed down with a nice bottle of Rioja.

 

To finish we shared a dulce de leche filled pancake with an unusually tasty scoop of ice cream.

A great dinner. Despite the chips.


Then it was time to bid Las Palmas adiós (and almost our lives since our airport taxi driver drove like he was mad). That was that. Next stop is Paris, a first for me, in a couple of weeks.

Canary Islands part two: Palm Oasis Maspalomas Hotel

After our first two days in Playa del Inglés, we managed to make a last minute booking for the Palm Oasis Maspalomas. Their cheaper studio apartments were sold out, but instead we secured a 70 sqm apartment for about €120 a night, which I found very affordable given the hotel’s ratings, the apartment’s size and the general luxurious feeling of the place. In the taxi from Playa del Inglés going to the Palm Oasis, I saw a palace-like structure and secretly wished it was the actual hotel, which it was.

In room-cooking

A very nice aspect of the hotel was the fully equipped kitchen. I usually never cook when abroad, but hey, we were in the Canary Islands for 8 more days than planned, so why not save some money. Above is our apartment-made green olive tapenade ‘pintxos’ and a chilli-butter-red wine slow-cooked meat sauce served with spaghetti and parmesan cheese. The kitchen was extra convenient since the Palm Oasis Maspalomas has their own supermarket within the hotel (with slightly but not that much inflated prices), as well as there is a Spar supermarket a 3-4 minute walk away on Calle Einstein with a proper deli, quite an assortment of wine and beer and so on.

The room/apartment at Palm Oasis Maspalomas

Above is the view from the terrace that came with our apartment. You could see all the way to the Maspalomas dunes as well as the pretty pool area just to the right in the above picture. There were also two sunloungers so you could laze around your room all day still getting a tan. Our apartment also featured a big flatscreen tv with great picture quality; well-functioning wifi; a separate bedroom, and a bathroom that even had a jacuzzi hot tub.

The main restaurant

On two occassions we tried the hotel restaurant. Not much to write home about, but the food was decent enough. Above is from the ‘Gran Canaria night’ buffet which featured local delicacies such as the wrinkly Canarian potatoes ‘papas arrugadas’ with mojo rojo and salsa verde as well as grilled food, a few salads and some not-so-Canarian desserts. Some of the dishes (especially grilled entrecôte, chorizo and papas) were actually quite tasty, but most was standard buffet stuff.

Location

The location is a bit off from the beach, but the hotel has solved this with a free transfer bus to Maspalomas beach that leaves four times a day and also return back to the hotel in the afternoon. To reach the Faro lighthouse and its restaurants or eg. Yumbo shopping center (both close to beach and restaurants) is about 4-5 euros with a taxi that the hotel happily order for you.

Since we had not planned on staying in the Canary Islands for more than three days we had no real idea what to do. One of the days though we went for a whale and dolphin tour with Spirits of the Sea tour company. It was actually very worthwile. We paid roughly €30 per person including hotel pick-up and got to see loads of dolphins playing around the boat. No whales unfortunately. Still a great trip though with a friendly crew.

The hotel in summary

Nice rooms, great pool area, and friendly staff. A bit far from the beach and good restaurants, but I would stay again given the easy and free transfer bus to the beach and affordable local taxis.

¡Hola, Gran Canaria!

January, probaby my least favourite month of the year. Mostly because it is usually (very) cold, without the ability to tell yourself to think of it as ‘christmassy’ to make it a bit more bearable. It’s also the starting point of a very long stretch towards Spring which hopefully will happen somewhere in late March/April. In this time we also talk about the seven setbacks. Meaning that when you first think that Spring might actually be happening, a massive snowfall will take you down to earth. And then you relive this moment of agony seven times. That is January to March in Sweden. Hence, I travel.

This time the plan was to visit the Gambia. I recently visited Cape Verde which I really liked, and since I like to visit new places and have a newfound fascination for Africa, Cape Verde’s semi-neighbour Gambia sounded like the right place. The plan was also to visit neighbouring Senegal and possibly, if we were feeling extra adventurous, visit also neighbouring Guinea-Bissau. Then came an election, democracy was on the horizon for Gambia. But unfortunately, to this date that hasn’t happened. The neighbouring states in the Ecowas has threatened Gambia’s incumbent leader with a military intervention if he doesn’t step down. So far he hasn’t and therefore we decided to not go. Instead, we’re on the Canary Islands. The idea was to fly here from Sweden, stay two days and then fly on to Banjul with regional airline Binter Canarias. But now we’re here for ten days instead, and fortunately were able to secure the last room at a very nice hotel. Anyway, below is a couple of pictures from the trip so far.

Food onboard SAS’ Plus class (which is sort of an inbetween of premium economy and business class): brisket, roast root vegetables, horseradish cream and French bubbly (no champagne though) in a nice airplane-adapted glass from Swedish design company Orrefors. Might also have had a small bottle of Italian Zinfandel as well as a Danish Mikkeller craft beer. I really like SAS’ cooperations with Nordic high quality brands to add to the onboard experience. 

Playa del Inglés, where we stayed our first two days at the Sentido Gran Canaria Princess. Great rooms, lousy wifi, decent breakfast and dinner buffet.

Dunas de Maspalomas. A small desert-like area along the beach. We walked there for three hours without sunscreen meaning we are now charmingly pink. Such morons, but we were angry over not being able to go to Gambia so we forgot.

Beach.

The we decided to stop whine and start to wine (sorry). Well, at least drink. Caipirinhas at Sentido’s pool bar.

Buffet dinner at the Sentido GC Princess hotel. Padronés, asparagus and jámon.

Yesterday we met with my sister who is currently living here working. She took us to Misbah, an Indian restaurant in Meloneras where had a really nice Indian dinner as well as a surprisingly good sangria. I tried their murgh makhani, or butter chicken, with naan, pilau rice and mint sauce. Slightly expensive, but in a nice location. Worth a visit if you crave Indian food while visiting Gran Canaria.

To be continued.

Stockholm’s best cinnamon bun (kanelbulle)?

Kanelbullar or cinnamon buns is probably Sweden’s most famous contribution to the world of sweets. A buttery cinnamony creation that at its best can elevate the simplest fika to something great.

So, you wonder where to find the best version of the kanelbulle in Stockholm. Well, of course opinions will be divided, and I feel slightly bad for recommending a chain. But the kanelbulle at Fabrique (a Swedish bakery chain even available in London, UK) is in my mind among the best I’ve tried. Buttery, soft yet firm and just plain delicious. They make good coffee too, which is the classic drink paired with a kanelbulle. 

Other great places for a kanelbulle

Magnus Johanssons Bageri in Hammarby Sjöstad. Haga Bageri at various places around town. NK department store’s bottom floor sells (at least used to) great kanelbullar.

Any other suggestion for a good quality kanelbulle in Stockholm? Let me know!

Fabrique’s website

Bratislava, Slovak wine country and Vienna

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Bratislava’s beautiful Old Town, close to the decently good and well located Crowne Plaza Bratislava where I stayed.


Last weekend I visited the Slovak capital of Bratislava. I’ve been wanting to visit the city for quite a while, and finally it was time. The easiest way to get there, at least from Stockholm, is to fly to Vienna in Austria, situated about 70 kilometers from Bratislava. Bratislava actually have its own airport, but there aren’t that many flights, and no direct ones from Stockholm. So instead we flew Austrian Airlines, which was a nice airline with free drinks and friendly staff.


Bratislava castle. The Bratislava weather in mid September was in the high 20’s Celcius with about 28-29 degrees and great clear blue skies.

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Bryndzové Halušky is the national dish of Slovakia and consists of gnocchi like potato dumplings served in a creamy sauce of bryndza sheep’s cheese. The dish is additionally topped with fried bacon and in our case chives. A surprisingly delicious dish. We tried it at Zylinder restaurant in central Bratislava that was very nice.

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The second day we went to L’Olive at the five star Arcadia Hotel. This was supposed to be the highlight of the trip, but unfortunately the food was quite bad. It tasted like it had been kept warm for a couple of hours, and the experience was borderline disaster even though the staff were friendly, the wine good and the restaurant itself nice. But it all comes down to the food for me, and it wasn’t good, at all.

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One day we took a day trip to the small city of Modra in the foothills of the “Small Carpahtian” mountain range. The area is a wine region and we visited the Ludvik Winery for lunch and a wine tasting. We were also able to visit the vineyards, situated a couple of kilometers from the vineyard on a hill overlooking Modra.

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Hearty but delicious lunch at Ludvik Winery. Pumpkin puré, slow-cooked beef cheeks, vegetables and jus.


We tried five different of Ludvik’s wines. All were delicious, but the cabernet sauvignon rosé and the pinot gris were extra good. Had to buy all of them except for the grüner veltliner (also good, but not as spectacular as the others) with me home. Slovak wines were surprisingly delicious in my mind.



A quick visit to the mini-cellar at Ludvik (they have their big one outside of the winery).
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We also had time to try the delicous ice cream at Luculus in Bratislava.
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Last dinner in Bratislava. Another hearty but quite nice meal at Modra Hviezda. A large piece of deer served with purple potato mash and a cognac-caramel sauce. Not very refined, but totally edible, and a very nice atmosphere in the restaurant.

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Then a quick hop over to Vienna, Austria. A very nice thing in Vienna is that if you’re using the airport train, you can check your bags in at the train station (like in Hong Kong for instance), and then you won’t see your bag before you’re back home again. We had a couple of hours to spare before our flight from Vienna and was happy to not have to drag our bags around while exploring the Austrian capital.
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When in Vienna, eat Wienerschnitzel. We tried it at the famous Figlmüller that’s been serving up schnitzels for the last 110 years. The veal schnitzel was delicious, but I actually liked the cheaper pork schnitzel more. It was juicier and had more taste. Shame on me, I guess. The schnitzel came with no condiments, but we ordered the field potato salad that was really good.

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Another must do for me in Vienna is pastries. We had the above creation, a raspberry white chocolate cream sort of thing, and a delicious cappuccino at Vidoni, close to were the airport express leaves at Wien Mitte. It was really good and pretty much everything I hoped for in a Viennese café.

So, that was a weekend of eating in Bratislava, Slovakia and Vienna, Austria. Both were very nice cities, and I can really recommend Bratislava. Inexpensive, beautiful and easy to navigate.

The Finnish 110 year party, Ravintola Olo and Helsinki


Helsinki Cathedral in the central parts of the city.

Spent another weekend in Finland recently. The reason for the short trip was that my two aunts turned 60 and 50 years old, and thus they held a 110 year birthday party in the Finnish woods. Since the party venue lacked running water and electricity, we thought that we should start the trip the opposite way, staying at boutique hotel Klaus K in central Helsinki and have dinner at one michelin-starred Ravintola Olo.


Cosy but viewless room at Klaus K.

Above average breakfast buffet at Klaus K. Not a huge amount of food, although decent, but quality was high and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as much at a breakfast buffet before.


Time for dinner at Ravintola Olo. A very cool feature of the dinner was that our bread was already waiting for us, unbaked, raising at the table. Later on they took the raising bread to the kitchen, then returned it baked together with “country style” butter, garlic soup and a delicious Finnish craft beer. The entire dinner felt very Finnish, in a fancy restaurant sort of way. Olo was probably one of my favourite meals ever. And at just €69, the small tasting menu – the shorter way – was very worthwile. Three glasses of wine (and a glass of beer) was only €39 more. Great value for the high quality, service and ambiance.

First up was “finger food”: baby turnips with black currant leaf emulsion.


Second was semolina porridge with trumpet mushroom, quinoa and smoked reindeer heart. A very innovative dish that was so good. Great textures with silky smooth “porridge” and crunchy quinoa making a great contrast. Also very deep rich flavours from the broth, mushrooms and reindeer heart.


Pikeperch with Finnish cucumber, scales, roe and dill sauce. Again, very Finnish in a refined fine-dining way.

Hand-cut beef tartare under an egg yolk with sour cream, poppy seeds and custard seeds. The thing that looks like a ravioli is actually the egg yolk forming a thin crust around the delicious beef tartare.

Veal sweetbreads with chanterelle puré, fried chanterelles, fried kale, black currants and jus. Again, delicious flavours, although I could’ve passed on the black currants, though I understood their purpose in the dish.


The dessert was very cool: juniper, birch syrup and spruce shoots. Pretty much the taste of a Finnish forest incorporated into a dessert.

As a fin(n)ish: cake pops:y chocolate truffles on small tree sprigs. A great end to a fantastic meal. Visit if you can when in Helsinki.

Then it was on to the Finnish woods and a long night of Finnish beer, sauna, meeting relatives and enjoying the scenery.

The day after a 110 year party, you’re entitled to pig out at Finnish burger chain Hesburger. Keros Ateria or “floor menu”, their version of the big mac with fries, onion rings and garlic mayo. Good stuff.



Into the sunset during the 1 hour flight from Helsinki back to Stockholm.

Crayfish season


Above: non-traditional crayfish party spread with the addition of moules frites and garlic bread.

August in Sweden means (hopefully) dark but warm summer evenings, usually the first chanterelles (at least for me), and first and foremost: kräftor, meaning crayfish.

The crayfish season is mainly in August with a couple of jumpstarters in July and then a late season continuing into September. What happens in August is the kräftskiva which pretty much is a crayfish party. You eat crayfish, a few condiments and sidedishes. You also drink beer, schnaps, sing songs and, at least according to tradition, you wear silly pointy hats.

Being slightly allergic to shellfish I usually focus on a couple of crayfish tails as well as on the sidedishes. My favourite is the Västerbottens cheese pie, a high calorie delight comprising of aged cheese from Västerbotten in Northern Sweden not surprisingly called “Västerbottens cheese”. The pie also include onions, dough and eggs. Here is a recipe I wrote a couple of years ago.

Apart from pie you usually also find bread, I usuallt serve good quality baguettes. There should also be butter, more aged cheese (go for the Västerbottens cheese if available) and perhaps some kind of sauce. We usually make lemon mayo which goes well with the crayfish meat.

Kräftskiva is definitely one of my favourite Swedish festivities. So if you find yourself in Sweden in August, try to join one. Skål!

Gothenburg and Trattoria La Strega

Currently enjoying Gothenburg and Hotel Clarion Post during a mini break in Sweden’s second city. Below are a few pics from the stay.

Take away Danish open sandwiches (smørrebrød) from Jacob’s at Stockholm’s central train station. The smørrebrød was then enjoyed onboard the MTR Express train to Gothenburg accompanied by a bottle of Henriot Champagne bought at the train cafe.

Halv special or half special, a Gothenburg classic with sausage in a bun with the addition of potato mash.

Breakfast at Clarion Post.

Clarion’s rooftop pool and view.

Amazing dinner at Trattoria La Strega. Cold cuts for starter, then king crab pappardelle and finally tiramisu. A bottle of “Bandita” Barbera d’Asti to drink. The crab pasta was probably the best meal I’ve had this year.