3 days of eating in Madrid, Spain

Just got back from a short, fun and busy trip to the great busy Spanish capital Madrid. Unfortunately the image quality is not that great since I only brought my phone. But nevertheless, below are the (mostly) great restaurants I visited.

O’Grove restaurant

Most restaurants that has a man or woman hand slicing pata negra when you enter turn out to be great places in my experience. The thin, nutty and fatty pata negra ham did not dissapont at all to start our meal.

Pulpo, eg. squid grilled and seasoned with smokey paprika.

Grilled seafood. Langoustines, prawns, crayfish, clams, razor mussels and lemon. So good.

Our main was a perfectly sized (after the enourmos amount of tapas to start) beef fillet, served with only a few chips and piementos de padrón.

O’Grove restaurant website

El Buey restaurant

Surprisingly, you got to cook your own steak on a hot plate set in front of you, something I did not realise while booking. This is the steak, pre-grilling. By some reason I took no post-grilling pics. The meat above was really good and was served together with some really good chips/fries and a nice, slightly acidic sauce to baste it in while grilling.

Starters were handed out before the meat and consisted of salad with a mayonnaisy dressing; a ratatouille-like tomato and vegetable stew topped with quail eggs, and deep-fried potato baskets. The same baskets were included with the blood sausage scrambled eggs.

El Buey restaurant website

La Lonja del Mar

Despite being the fancy restaurant of the trip, I was a bit dissapointed with La Lonja del Mar. Although the dishes were okay, they did not at all impress. Above is the two best dishes, a Donistiarra style hake with clams and Torrija, a Spanish version of ‘French toast’ served with missing cherries and ‘Amarena’ ice cream. Tasty enough, but by no means great, unfortunately.

La Lonja del Mar website

Bodegas Pablo Morate winery

Our visit to Bodegas Pablo Morate, a small family winery just outside of Madrid was a highlight of our stay. We got to try some excellent wines (unfortunately not the 101 year old bottle above) and got served some of the best tapas I’ve had. Extra good because Pablo Morate’s mom, the cook of above feast, joined us and told us about the food and even gave us the recipe for the incredibly tasty Spanish tortilla omelette.

Bodegas Pablo Morate website

Tapas tour in  the Salamanca district
Our last evening we decided upon a walking dinner with stops at three acclaimed tapas restaurants in the Barrio de Salamanca where we stayed at the Novotel Madrid Centro, which was pretty good.

La Castela restaurant

Cold but quite tasty shrimps to start the evening.

Pizza-like sandwiches with cheese, grilled and peeled peppers as well as ham. Went down well with a glass of red.

La Castela website

La Monteira restaurant

Might not look that exciting, but a quite nice little nibble in the form of deep-fried breaded pork.

Prawns, deep-fried and supposed to eat whole.

Seared tuna with a tasty dipping sauce. One of the highlights of the tapas we were served.

La Monteira Website

Restaurant Castelados


We got served a plate like above at each of the places visited. A mix of whole deep-fried fishes – to be eaten with bone and all, piementos de padrón and some crunchy stuff I can’t remember.


We had lots of sandwiches. This one was quite inventive, being the vessel of one of Madrid’s most famous dishes; oxtail stew. By this point I was so full, but still managed to chew one and a half of these guys down.

Restaurante Castelados website

The roof at Hotel ME (Radio), Madrid


As a bonus, we also visited the cool rooftop club/bar ‘The Roof at ME’. Not a very high up skybar (7th floor), but a really nice place to dance off the tapas from earlier, have a few nice drinks and admire the (although limited) view. Admission was 20 euro, but included a drink, including cocktails.

The roof at ME website

Breakfast at Novotel Madrid Centro


A breakfast plate at Novotel Madrid Centro, where we stayed. This is just picked up from the buffet, but I would like to mention it because of the nice assortment of charcuterie/coldcuts that they served. The watery juice above is some kind of watered down mango juice I mistakenly took. Fortunately they also had proper fresh squeezed orange juice that was much better.

Novotel Madrid Centro website

Mercado de San Miguel


We also managed to make a quick stop at Mercado de San Miguel food hall in the central parts of town. During the 10-minute visit I had both the above duck foie gras pincho with onion compote and fig jam (I think), as well as churros dipped in hot chocolate. Mmmm……

Merca de San Miguel website

Madrid, hit or miss?
It was a very short visit to the Spanish capital, but the food was great, the people friendly and the city very pretty. I’d love to go back soon to explore some more.

Where to eat in Bologna (and why I gained 3 kilos in 3 days)


La Grassa, or the fat one, is the nickname of the Italian city of Bologna, lovingly named so by the rest of Italy, because of its, well fatty, cuisine. You could also call me the fat one, as I gained 3 kilos or about 6.5 pounds during my three days in Bologna recently.

So what is it that makes the cuisine of Bologna, the capital of the region of Emilia Romagna so good, that you just can’t stop eating while visiting. I’ll tell you what.

Mortadella.
The fatty sausage-meets-ham mortadella is one of Bolognas most famous foods. In Northern America, and probably in some other places too there is a similar thing called Bologna sausage, or ‘baloney‘. Mortadella is a sausage made of pork, with at least 15 percent of small fat cubes incorporated into it, which makes it remarkably delicious. Above is mortadella, salami, mozzarella, bread, cappuccino and some other breakfast stuff served at our hotel, Hotel Touring, which was pretty nice.
Hotel touring


Piadina.
These delicious quesadilla-y (sorry Italians) fried flatbreads are made out of a dough that includes lardo, which is pig’s fat. Okay, sometimes the lard is substituted with olive oil. Above is a piadina at nice wine bar Vineria Favalli, stuffed with bresaola (air cured beef), goat’s cheese and rucola/arugula.

Burrata.
A very delicious burrata cheese (sort of a runny mozzarella) served caprese style, meaning with tomatoes and basil. Maybe not that particularly Bolognese, but very, very good. This was at the same place as above, that is Vineria Favalli.
Vineria Favalli

Gelato. 
The first one is from Stefino, which makes both crazy ice cream flavours such as wasabi, as well as more traditional ones like the one above which was gianduia and raspberry respectively.
Gelateria Stefino


Gelato from Zanarini just next to Piazza Maggiore in the center of Bologna. Above are lemon and hazelnut flavours.
Caffé Zanarini


Cold cuts and tagliatelle al ragú at Trattoria Da Me Ancoranoi.
The dinner at to me highly anticipated Trattoria Da me was really something. We started with a platter of antipasti that featured an assortment of mixed cold cuts such as mortadella and salami, as well as deep-fried “crescentine” bread pockets, runny local cheese, pickles and fried onions. Mm-mm-mm.
Being a huge fan of the sacrilegious bastardisation of Bologna’s national dish, spaghetti bolognese, this was paradise to me. Tagliatelle al ragú is the original version of what is lovingly known as for instance spag bol in most other parts of the world, and the above version, which I had at Trattoria Da me is absolutely the best I’ve had. Including my own which I’m usually quite pleased with. The tagliatelle pasta was out of this world, the sauce was thick, meaty and very firm, and the parmesan cheese the natural binding-everything-together component. So. Good.
Trattoria Da Me


Pizza.
We had a fantastic pizza experience at Regina Sofia, just off Piazza Maggiore. We were seated in the back of the restaurant, which actually was in an alley, adding to the Italian experience. The pizzas were ‘Napoli style’, meaning thicker and doughier than usual thin crust pizza. Above is a capricciosa with fior di latte (mozzarella-like, made with cow’s milk) cheese, cotto (cooked ham), mushrooms, artichokes and small olives. It was so good. As everything else in Bologna.
Pizzeria Regina Sofia


Aperol Spritz.
Our hotel, Touring, had a rooftop bar called Terrazza Mattuiani where you could watch the sunset, eat some snacks, aperitivo, and drink aperol spritz. The only problem is that you need to pay €10 if you’re a hotel guest (includes a drink and snacks) or €15 if you’re a walk-in guest. Worth it in my mind, but more expensive than most other places in the city we visited. They do lack the views though.
Terrazza Mattuiani

One of the arcades for which Bologna is famous. There is actually 40 kilometers of them around the city, protecting its visitors and residents from the elements. First constructed in the late middle ages, and adding a lot of charm to the strolling which hopefully removes some of the mortadella or pasta weight gained.


Lasagne verde and tortellini in brodo.
Finally, Bologna is also famous for two dishes we had at a fantastic little restaurant called Al Sangiovese. The first one is lasagne verde which consists of green (spinach) pasta sheets, bechamel sauce and ragú (meat sauce). The other one is tortellini in brodo, or small pasta pockets filled with minced pork and served in a flavoursome and quite light broth. A sprinkling of parmesan wasn’t to be turned down either. Both dishes were delicious, especially washed down with a nice glass of Sangiovese wine.

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. 🙂

Homemade Spaghetti alla Gricia recipe

This weekend, I tried the last one of the four pastas of Rome. The four pastas of Rome is carbonara (egg, guanciale/pancetta, pecorino, black pepper), Amatriciana (guanciale/pancetta and tomatoes), Cacio e Pepe (black pepper, pecorino) and the Pasta alla Gricia, with pecorino and guanciale/pancetta.

Pasta, or spaghetti alla Gricia is sort of a cacio e pepe with added crunch from crispy fried guanciale, or pancetta. The proper pork to use is guanciale, which is air-dried pork cheek. But when not in Rome, you can substitute it with pancetta, or in worst case bacon (preferably un-smoked).

What you need for Spaghetti alla Gricia (serves approximately four):

One package of spaghetti (I use Martelli or De Ceccho)

300 grams of guanciale/pancetta/bacon, cut into cubes, strips

2,5 deciliters/one cup of pecorino cheese

1/2 deciliter (1/4ish cup) of strained pasta cooking water

Black pepper

Salt

1. Add the pork to a cold pan and put on heat. This will make the fat render and make the pork crispier. I sometimes add a garlic clove to this to slightly flavour the pork (discard when done).

2. Cook the spaghetti until almost al dente, the pasta will cook some more in the sauce. Save the cooking liquid as indicated above.

3. Grate the pecorino cheese as finely as your grater allows. Mix about half of it with a couple of tablespoons of water to a smooth ‘sauce’.

4. When pork is crispy, turn off/lower the heat and add the al dente spaghetti into the pork and fat pan (remove some of the fat if desired). Toss around and then add the pecorino mixed with water as well as the reserved cooking liquid.

5. Stirr until the liquids almost has reduced and the pasta is covered in silky cheese sauce. Add almost all the remaining pecorino, salt and black pepper and give a final toss before removing from heat.

6. Serve immediately topped with the remaining pecorino cheese.

Enjoy!

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

Where to find the prinsessemla in Stockholm

The prinsessemla, or prinsess-semla, was recently invented. Now it has reached Stockholm and Konditori Vallmofröt in Hagsätra. The creation is a fusion between two classic Swedish pastries; the semla and the prinsesstårta (princess cake). Since both are heavy in their whipped cream content, the combination is a quite good one, with both’s main features remaining noticeable. I liked it very much, but it is indeed rich and you might want to share it if you want to stay awake post-fika.

Where to find the prinsessemla

Konditori Vallmofröt in Hagsätra. Click here to open their website (in Swedish).

Stockholm’s best semla?

During my early days of eating (eg. when I was a kid in one of Stockholm’s Northern suburbs) I did not really like the semla. The semla (one semla, several semlor) is a Swedish pastry, consisting of a soft, sweet pillowy bun that is filled with (hopefully) fresh whipped cream and almond paste. When I was younger, I found it too rich and without anything to really contrast the extremely sweet taste.

In my later years I’ve started to appreciate the semla however, and this season’s been my most semla-intense so far, with several semlor downed even before tomorrow, the 28th of February. As you may, or may not know, February 28th this year is Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, which also is semmeldagen or National semla day, in Sweden. This year I have found the wienersemla and it has brought my semi-new found love of semlor to a new level. Below are a few delicious one I’ve had lately.

The secret semla

Above is a hemla, which is short for hemlig semla, meaning ‘secret’ semla. The reason why it’s secret is, because the filling; whipped cream and almond paste, is hidden inside the bun. This one is from Wienercaféet.

The Danish pastry semla, Wienersemlan

Wienersemlan. My new favourite pastry, with a croissant-y or Danish pastry:ish bun (Wienersemla is from wienerbröd which is Swedish for Danish pastry) filled with whipped cream and almond paste. This one is bought from Magnus Johanssons Bageri. It is similar to a semla, and according to many not a real semla. So delicious though that it in my mind beats the traditional one (sorry traditional semla-lovers).

Semmelwrappen

Mention also to Tössebageriet’s delicious semla wrap, or semmelwrap as we call it. The traditional semmel bun has been smashed into a flat, semmel bun-flavoured wrap, which, like a semla, is filled with whipped cream and almond paste. Very delicious too.

What about normal semlor?

If you want to have a traditional proper semla however, the picture at the top of this post is from a breakfast dessert tasting of semlor the other day. The right one is a traditional one and was really delicious too. It’s like the wienersemla bought at Magnus Johanssons Bageri in Hammarby Sjöstad.

Update: A great traditional semla (pic above) can also be found at Älvsjö Konditori, just outside central Stockholm. The semla is one of the better I’ve had.