Din Tai Fung London

Just got back from a visit to London and the newly opened branch of my favourite restaurang chain in the world: Din Tai Fung.

Famous for their soup dumplings aka xiao long bao, Taiwanese Din Tai Fung has reached fame over the world and now have restaurants in Asia, the US, Australia, and, finally, Europe.

Our expectations were to say the least high, but fortunately not too high as the standard was as good as in Asia. Part of this might be due to that part of the staff have been flown in from Taiwan to work in the restaurant for the first year, to train the locals in the art of the 18 folds soup dumpling.

The usual suspects: pork soup dumplings. Delicate skin, a delicious “soup” broth on the inside and delicious minced pork. Too good.

Wontons in a spicy chilli oil, black vinegar, spring onion and garlic ‘sauce’.

Shumai prawn dumplings.

Premise-made perfect chewy, elastic noodles with a spicy sauce.

Noodles with a succulent Taiwanese pork chop.

Spicy cucumber salad.

Dessert bao buns filled with sesame, taro and red bean paste.

Location: 5 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden.

$$ Price: We paid approximately £110 for the above and some more shared among three people, including a beer each.

Website (including menu without prices)

9 days of eating tropical fusion food in Mauritius

Just got back from a nine day visit to the beautiful Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius. Apart from lazying on the beach, admiring jungle falls, and drinking too many Phoenix beers (and trying to hunt for the Flying Dodo craftbeer – which is almost as hard to find as its extinct namesake), I have of course done a fair bit of eating.

Mauritius has some interesting history, being mentioned by Arab sailors in the 1400s; populated by the Portugese in the 1500s; then colonized by the Dutch in 1598; by France from 1715 until 1810, and then finally ruled by the British until indepedence in 1968.

The Mauritian people is a diverse mix of inhabitants with Indian-Mauritians making up the biggest part of the population (approximately 70%), and African, Chinese and French/European decendants standing for the remaining 30 percent.

This of course translates into the Mauritian cuisine, which like its population is an exciting mix of Indian, African, Chinese and European flavours, often with a tropical twist.

Where we stayed

For the biggest part of the trip, we stayed in the touristy beach town of Flic En Flac, therefore most of the places we visited were located there as you’ll notice. Many places have a similar kind of food, so most dishes you’ll be able to find all over the island even if you do not happen to visit Flic En Flac.

We did also take a sidetrip to Mahebourg and also spent our final two days in a resort close to Belle Mare where we had some of the best food of the trip. This is where we start:

Belle Mare

Tides Restaurant Long Beach

After staying in an apartment in Flic En Flac for a week, we splurged our final two nights with a stay at the luxurious Solana Beach Resort. On the same beach, a few hundred meters down, is the Long Beach Resort and its Tides restaurant. Intrigued by Instagram and Google pictures, we already knew what to order: grilled lobster and tuna tartare. Just to be safe we would be bloated, and to be extra decadent, we had some chips too. The price was steeeep compared to other meals, but it was really something to sit on the beach, feet in sand and eat their delicious grilled lobster, excellent tuna tartare and drink some cold beer.

Price

3000 MUR for the two of us with three half lobsters (it came like that), one tartare, one chips and two beers.

Website

Secrets Corner, Solana Beach Hotel

Next to the buffet restaurant in the Solana Beach Hotel, there is a small ‘secret corner’ that offered one of the best meals on Mauritius, but possibly the worst when it came to ambience.

We were the only guests, and were sat in the middle of a brightly lit room, with one server checking in on us every now and then. When I read about the Secrets Corner in the hotel information I thought it would be their luxury tasting menu restaurant, with prices to match. Instead it was not, the prices were quite decent, not much more than say an average place in Flic En Flac.

As the prices were good and the menu sounded great, we tried a little bit of everything. The palm heart salad with a grilled tandoori prawn was delicious. The Rodrigues style octopus salad with pickled lime was fantastic too. The crunchy river prawn samosas with green banana pickles were the best samosas I’ve had. We had a curry each (one lamb, one prawn & chicken) for main and although not as good as the starters, they were both really nice with rich deep flavours. The curries came with a small buffet of sides and condiments such as rice, pickles, chapati bread and dal lentil soup.

As you might be able to tell, we were stuffed after this, and despite having planned to try, had to skip dessert.

A surprising find, and with some nicer ambience in the Secrets Corner restaurant this would be a 5/5 experience.

Price

We paid just under 3000 MUR for all the food mentioned, two beers and a glass of wine.

Website

Solana Beach Hotel’s Coco Bar

Before leaving for the airport, we had a last lunch. I was so much craving a burger that I could not resist to try Solana’s cheeseburger with fries. Despite asking for my preference of cooking grade, my asked-for medium turned into very well done. Fortunately, it was still a decently nice burger with good cheese, a fluffy bun and good fries.

Price

About 400 MUR

Flic En Flac

Ah Youn

Fish curry at Ah Youn.

About 30 000 of Mauritius’ population has Chinese descent, and from that stems a quite large number of Chinese-Mauritian restaurants. We went to Ah Youn where we both had a pile of delicious fried noodles, which did not last long enough for a picture, as well as above delicious ‘Red Mauritian style’ fish curry with rice. Prices were good and the place was packed with both locals and tourists.

Price

$$

Website

Le Bougainville

Prawns at Le Bougainville. A cozy, busy restaurant close to the beach. While the food was not spectacular – it lacked a bit of attention to the details during our two visits, the service is nice, the prices good and everything was still yummy, despite the odd overcooked tuna. We enjoyed both their giant prawns with garlic butter and the Mauritius favourite: Octopus curry.

Price

$$

Website

Mafiozo

Pizza at Mafiozo. Loud music all day long, and generally much more a drinking bar then a place you go to eat. The pizzas weren’t amazing in any way, but the place had a lively vibe, prices were decent, and in the end, even a basic pizza is still sort of good.

Price
$$ (About 400 MUR for a pizza).

Food trucks and stalls on Flic En Flac Beach

Gajak (snacks) at the beach in Flic En Flac from the various foodtrucks and stalls located there. First a roti bread filled with chicken curry, sauces and pickles from Vinoda aka Farata. Second is woked noodles from Chez Christelle. The roti was fantastic and we went there twice, the noodles were fine but the wait was long.

Chez Popo et Anais

Set in a tiny alley off one of the main streets in Flic En Flac, Chez Popo et Anais is a cozy little family restaurant where you sit outside on plastic chairs, eating tonight’s dish, cooked by a bunch of friendly ladies (you’ll meet them as you cross the kitchen using their restroom in the house where they live). It feels like being invited for dinner in a local’s home (which you basically are). There was one dish on the menu, a beef stew that was pretty good. What was really good was the complimentary side dish of dal lentil soup. We also received free fish beignets for starters, basically fish donuts made with locally caught dorado.

Price

$-$$

Sunset Garden

We did not visit during a normal night, but for New Years Eve where they offered a buffet. Firstly, the food we had was good, so I’d say that the kitchen definitely can cook and the food is probably nice during a normal night. But…

We arrived late around 9 pm (as we were told was perfectly fine when booking the night before) and some of the food was running out. Since we had paid roughly €50 or 2000 MUR a person for the buffet, we were a bit grumpy. For instance the main event, the giant garlic butter grilled prawns ran out entirely just after we got hold of one each from the last batch. The rest of the food was good, but mostly consisted of woks, rice dishes and so on. Not what you pay €50 a head for. To their defense they gave us a bit of a discount on the bill.

Chamarel

Prawn and chicken curry at a restaurant called something like Marmite de Chamarel. Expensive, but delicious. I guess a bit of a tourist trap, but food was surprisingly good. Located along the main road between the sights around Chamarel.

Le Morne

Embafilao

Giant prawns with chips and salad at Embafilao, a casual beach restaurant situated on Le Morne’s public beach. The above view is just a minutes walk from where you eat. Here you can also enjoy the hard-to-find local Flying Dodo craft beer, a tasty wheat beerish brew that worked very well with the above dish.

Mahebourg

Le Bazilic

Situated in the quaint little town of Mahebourg; we enjoyed an affordable and delicious Creole lunch on our way to Pointe D’Esny beach on the Eastern side of the island. Above is first grilled chicken with garlic sauce and potatoes, and secondly our shared starters of Creole potatoes with tandoori mayo, battered and fried prawns as well as delicious fried samosa pasties.

Website

Mauritius, je t’aime!

Just got back from nine days in amazing Mauritius. Before the trip, I was unusually badly read-up on Mauritius and wasn’t too sure what to expect. On one hand, I, like many others, had a perception of the island nation as a super luxurious destination for the rich and famous. On the other hand, I have recently heard people talk about Mauritius as a place beyond its former glory, filled with trash.

How was it then? Well, a little bit of both I guess. I saw a bit of plastic and litter in general on the otherwise amazing beaches, and for sure there are very luxurious hotels. But, what I hadn’t really expected was an affordable island with cheap eats, accessible-for-everyone paradise beaches, amazing nature (jungle falls!), and friendly locals.

After arriving on Emirates’ A380 double-decker ‘super jumbo’ we stayed our first seven nights in an apartment we rented through AirBnb, paying a whopping €180 each, for a week!

The apartment we stayed in was located in a gated compound, with guard and all. The buildings were located around a tropical garden with a nice enough swimming pool. View above from our apartment’s balcony.

We first stayed in touristy Flic En Flac on Mauritius’ West coast. Above you can see a part of its beach, which, as you can tell was dreamy. The picture taken are near the hotels on the beach stretch, but as Mauritian laws allows everyone to be on any part of the beach, you may swim anywhere you like. The area above may be owned by the hotel though. The public beach is basically as nice, but obviously more crowded.

In Flic En Flac you’ll also find a well-stocked Spar supermarket, restaurants, bars, shops and so on. Just outside Flic En Flac there is the Cascavelle shopping mall with an even larger supermarket, Monoprix, with a large assortment of food, wine, beer and other necessities.

While staying in Flic En Flac we visited the even more amazing Le Morne beach. Apart from the stunning surroundings, crowned by the overlooking Brabant mountain, the soft sandy bottom was really nice. It’s about a 40 minute taxi ride, one way. We paid ~1000 rupees per way, or roughly €25. We never tried to negotiate though.

Black River Gorges with a hungry wild monkey admiring the view.

Cascade Chamarel. Awesome jungle falls.

Maison Eureka, an old Creole house built in the 1800s and located in hilly Moka. They serve a famous lunch, but that was fully booked when we visited. So reserve in advance.

After a week staying with friends in Flic En Flac, we finished with two nights at luxurious Solana Beach Hotel on the Eastern side of Mauritius. The hotel is located near Belle Mare and located on a perfect stretch of beach, together with a few other places. For better or worse, this was sort of the complete opposite of Flic En Flac; relaxed, quiet, expensive and slightly boring. It was unbelievably pretty though, and the food was amazing so I won’t whine too much. A quite nice finish to the trip, but it hadn’t been “real Mauritius” without having experienced Flic En Flac too.

Pointe D’Esny, an amazing beach on the East coast.

As you can tell, the island is stunning. It is a spectacular combo of pretty beaches, great food (I will write about the food in detail in an upcoming post), exciting nature, rum, people, different nationalities, and, a surprisingly rich and in many ways modern society where everything is on time (except for your food to arrive). It is also a very interesting mix of Mauritians with its blend of French/European, Indian, African and Asian culture.

Mauritius might very well be my all time favourite destination, I really recommend a visit to anyone who likes the tropics, especially when it comes with a delicious French-Indian-African twist.

5 days of eating in Shanghai

Just visited the Chinese mega city Shanghai, for five days of eating, getting some Chinese culture and just enjoying Asia.

We naturally started the eating at my favourite Asian chain Din Tai Fung to have some of their otherworldly steamed xiao long bao soup dumplings.

Sheng Jian Bao at Yang’s. These are with soup and meat on the inside like the above xiao long bao, only that they’re pan fried instead of steamed. We managed to order like 20 each due to the language barrier. Needless to say we ate them all.

Hairy crab (a local species of crab) xiao long bao.

Pork xiao long bao in the same restaurant. I can’t tell you the exact name of the place but it was near Jiangsu Lu. We visited as a part of the Untour night food tour, so that’s hopefully your best bet to visit the same place and eat a lot of other good stuff as well.

One of the best meals of all time for me: Sichuan style crayfish at FOMO. Incredibly delicious.

Kung Pao chicken with chilli and peanuts at a lunch restaurant in the French Concession.

Various delicious dishes from Lost Heaven, a trendy Yunnan province restaurant. Since Yunnan borders Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos the food has a South East Asian flavour with lots of chilli, herbs and greens.

Guo Kui, crispy Sichuan province flatbreads stuffed with spicy beef and mint. Really good.

I am a sucker for views, and one of the better bar views I’ve had in a while was that from the Peninsula Hotel. Top pic is as you can tell from the bar. Their cocktails were indeed expensive, but quite delicious. And look at that view!

What a great food city Shanghai is, I hope to be back soon for some more eating.

Asian A380 First Class: Seoul-Frankfurt

After visiting Palau for five days, we flew home via Seoul and Frankfurt. Above is our chubby A380 friend taking us from Seoul to Frankfurt.

The seat, spacious to say the least. A first (sorry) for me was that there was a sliding door you should shut, meaning almost total privacy. We sat in two adjoining middle seats and almost had our own private little compartment. So cozy.

Not too shabby: caviar with condiments and champagne started the meal service. Enjoyed with a glass of Barons de Rothschild blanc de blanc champagne.

You could choose either lobster or caviar, so we took one each and shared.

The main meal: bibimbap with plenty of sides. Everything was delicious (for being on a plane) and went down well with a nice glass of red.

How was it?

A great flight. Unfortunately we were a bit too tired because of our 5 a.m. departure from Palau to fully enjoy the experience. But both space, food and service was excellent. Service and food wise, Singapore Airlines that we flew to Asia won. But in terms of the seat or suite, with an actual closing door to your little space, was the best I’ve ever experienced.

5 days in Amazing Palau

A Month ago we got back from a trip to Asia, that included a visit to the aaaamazing country of Palau.

Palau is located in the Western Pacific, a couple of hours flight time from The Philippines, South Korea or Taiwan, for instance.

We flew there with China Airlines from Taipei in a small Boeing 737-800, and left in a slightly larger Asiana Airlines A321 bound for Seoul.

We had read about having to pay both arrival tax and departure tax in cash, but did not pay any of them, possibly due to them being charged to airline tickets from the beginning of 2018 as we read somewhere as being planned.

We stayed our three first nights at the islands most famoust hotel, Palau Pacific Resort. While the hotel was way too expensive for what they offer, it was still really nice – and it comes with a huge bonus: its own beach, as can be seen from above. Our room was large and comfy, but dark and felt a little old.

Our first days we did not do much actually, we mainly lazed on the beach, did a little bit of snorkeling and read books.

The food at PPR, as it is locally refered to, was nice and of a relatively high standard. I like a club sandwich every now and then when I travel, and above had at PPR’s beach bar was really nice and came with a view over a passing cyclone out at sea, and a cold local Red Rooster beer.

Breakfast at the PPR was expensive ($25++) but nice.

Elilai Restaurant

A nice feature with many restaurants in and around Koror is that they offer complimentary transport if you eat at their restaurant. We used this with fancy restaurant Elilai, situated a few kilometers from The PPR. We sampled quite a few of their dishes, and whilst like much in Palau quite expensive (~$120 for two with wine) – it was also very tasty and came with a great view from Elilai’s hilltop location.

Mangrove clam risotto was delicious.

Taro leaf and mangrove crab sampler soups.

Fresh crusted tuna with wasabi.

Local crab cake, best crab cake I’ve ever had.

Koror

After a few days of desert island luxury at the PPR, we downgraded and moved to a location more in line with our usual budget.

As we were to spend a whole day exploring the famous Palauan Rock Islands, we felt paying $400 a night was a little steep, and hence the Cove Resort was our new home for the final two nights.

The Cove is located close to a few of the main diving and excursion companies; for instance Sam’s and Neco Marine (we used the latter), and hence you can just walk over there if you have a tour coming up instead of needed to rely on car transfers. There is also a supermarket with decent prices and a decent selection nearby, same goes for a couple of bars and restaurants.

The Hungry Marlin at Cove Resort Palau

The first night we were lazy and ate at our hotel restaurant; The Hungry Marlin.

They have happy hour between (I think) 5 and 7 pm, with an American-ish bar menu and a good selection of drinks. We had their fish tacos, which (a little bit surprisingly to be honest) were the best I’ve had. Their Japanese fried chicken – kaarage – was also delicious. This was washed down with Hawaiian Kona beer, happy hour-priced at $4 a bottle. Not bad at all! After this it was bed time, since we had a big day coming up.

Rock Island Tour with Neco Marine

Palau is occasionally called the ‘underwater Serengeti’ due to its rich marine life. The country also works hard with conservation and to counter pollution and other things affecting the sensitive eco systems both below and above the surface. When you arrive at the airport, they stamp a “Palau pledge” in your passport that you need to sign to acknowledge that you will do your best to help keep Palau what it is.

Neither of us is a diver, and we usually do not even snorkel. But being the marine sanctuary that Palau is, we had to do some underwater stuff.

Our trip was a combo though, we paddled through the Rock Islands in kayaks, as well as explored them under the surface in three different locations where we snorkeled with our guide.

Delicious bento box lunch on the beach of a small island.

Rock Island scenery. The weather was quite bad in the beginning of the tour, but shaped up nicely towards the end. It really was an amazing day.

The famous Jellyfish Lake was open again, after being closed after being devastated by a cyclone in I think 2016. The tour company could not guarantee any jellyfish though, as they to a large extent sadly dissappeared after said cyclone. As there was a $50 per person extra permit just to visit the lake, we decided to skip it from our tour.

We paid ~$200 per person for the tour, with $50 being a Rock Island Permit that all visitors to the area need to pay.

Drop off Bar & Grill

Being our last day in Palau, and with our flight leaving for Seoul at 5 a.m. (😩), we just had a few hours after the tour concluded at around 4 p.m. before it was bed-time.

The Tour Company that we used, Neco Marine, have a restaurant and bar, aptly named Drop off Bar & Grill. We had read some good things about the place, so we decided to have our final meal of the trip there.

Another “my best ever” was this spicy freshly-caught tuna poke bowl. Chunks of tuna; spicy sesame-y mayonnaise; scallions; sliced nori, and rice. Washed down with a delicious Kona beer while watching the sun go down over Palau a final time. Not. Too. Bad. Except for the fact that we were to board a plane a few hours later, that is.

Our trip to Palau was one of the best I have ever done, and I really hope that we will return one day.

Taking the Arctic Circle Train to see the Northern lights in Abisko, Sweden

(Sorry about the blurry picture, Northern lights were much harder to photograph than I had anticipated. But what an experience!)

Anyways, last weekend we took the SJ Nattåg 94, also known as the Arctic Circle Train, from Stockholm’s Central Station to Abisko in the far north of Sweden to hopefully see some Northern lights (or Aurora Borealis).

We had booked a private 2nd class compartment onboard the train for the 17 hour trip from Stockholm to Abisko turiststation, a mountain station hotel located pretty much in the Lapland wilderness – that has its own train station. Very convenient.

The compartment onboard the train was quite tiny and a bit worn, but sufficient, private (key card access doors), clean and once settled in actually quite cozy.

While the compartment is small in length, you have a fair bit of height to use as can be seen on the top bunk shot above. The standard setting is three passengers per cabin/compartment, but for roughly 400 SEK (~50 usd) you can pay for the compartment to be totally private, which we did.

Since they do not have a restaurant onboard, we opted to buy our own stuff to eat onboard. They do have a bistro carriage though with sandwiches, beer, wine, snacks and so on however.

But we instead went to Urban Deli, a fancy Stockholm supermarket/deli/bar/restaurant and bought take-away stuff from there. Particularly compartment-made sourdough baguette canapées with Urban Deli’s Skagen shrimp salad was deeelicious. We also had steak tartare, truffle chips, charcuterie and cheese, to be on the safe side. And we might, or might not have brought a bottle of wine onboard.

STF Abisko Turiststation mountain station

Our main reason to visit Abisko was to see Northern lights, or Aurora Borealis. According to my research and themselves, Abisko is one of the best spots in the world to watch it. We checked into one of the hotel rooms in Abisko turiststation (they have dorm style accomodation too) which was small, clean and quite nice. There was no TV, but the wifi worked relatively well if you by some reason get tired of watching mountains.

Public spaces are very nice, with for instance several fire places where you can relax after hiking/walking around the stunning surroundings. They also have a small convenience store and the lobby sell beer and wine. Views are great and everywhere.

Restaurang Kungsleden

We also had a delicious dinner at the famous on premise-restaurant Restaurang Kungsleden that has been awarded by Swedish food guide The White Guide. I won’t dive into details but we had their 440 sek three course dinner: Västerbottens cheese pie, wild boar steak with root veggies and juniper gravy as well as soft gingerbread cake with vanilla ice cream and blueberries. Menu changes each night. The food was nice, not spectacular, but given the location definitely above average. Also good wines and friendly service.

We also had breakfast in the same place which was included in our visit and very good quality. Home baked breads, butter, cheese, salami, vegetables, local stuff like cloudberry butter milk, eggs, bacon and stuff like that. Not a huge assortment, but well made.

Aurora Sky Station (we thought)

As mentioned, our plan was to spot Northern lights. To be extra sure since we only stayed for one night, we booked the Aurora Sky Station mountain top viewing point which at 700 sek a head is indeed pricey. We knew it was a calculated risk as it may close due to unforeseen events, but their website stated it was open 90% of all nights. Unfortunately we were there on a 10% night and the station was closed due to winds. Instead of a refund they made a “plan B-programme” with a guide taking us on a short walk, then giving us a 1980s presentation (the material – the guide was good and tried his best) and finally we sat in a house next to the hotel around a fire and had some coffee and local delicacies. Not remotely close to being worth 1400 sek for two.

However, fortunately, the Northern lights decided to show up and we got a magnificent show of pretty much the entire sky being filled with dancing, moving Northern lights for a good hour (best pic at the start of this post). So all ended well.

Arctic Circle Train Abisko-Narvik (in Norway)

24 hours after getting off the Arctic Circle Train, we jumped back on for the last leg, from Abisko to the Norwegian city of Narvik. The reason for taking the final hours of this trip was that it was supposed to be one of the prettiest train trips in the world, and that we cheated and flew home from Narvik as we had to work the next day.

The train trip was really spectacular, especially after crossing the border to Norway, with views over fiords, snow-clad mountains, tiny villages with red and white cottages and snowy valleys. After about two hours ride from Abisko, we arrived Narvik, where the city was pretty much closed down, being Sunday. We strolled around for a bit before catching the Flybussen airport bus for a 1,5 hour trip to Evenäs Airport from where we flew home.

Hadn’t I spent all my annual leave earlier this year, I would’ve liked to stick around for a few more days, possibly to go on some whale watching, another ‘bucket list’ thing I haven’t been able to tick off the list.

Next time!

7 really nice restaurants to eat at while in Santorini (and one GREAT bar)

Visited the amazingly pretty Greek island of Santorini a couple of weeks ago. While I’ve had plenty of Greek food in Sweden, there’s nothing like having a proper Greek salad with sun-ripe tomatoes, a juicy grilled souvlaki or a fluffy delicious gyros pita while soaking up the views of the deep blue Med, white chalk stone houses and steep cliffs.

For once, we did not have that much of an agenda on Santorini; the plan was pretty much to laze by the pool, read books, watch the view, and of course, eat a lot of tasty Greek food. Below you can find my favourites (in no particular order).

Argo (Caldera view)

Price for 2: ~ €70

Website

Argo is a sort of fancy restaurant that faces the Caldera in Fira (although the view at some tables is limited. We stopped by our first night without any reservation, but were given a table right away. The food was quite good, especially the tomato keftedes, or fritters made from battered battered local tomatoes. The fava bean dip was nice too with a nice splash of olive oil and warm, fluffy pita breads.

For mains we had a seafood spaghetti and a veal stifado, served with either fries or linguine. We opted for the latter, and hence both had pasta our first night on the island. Sorry Greek food. Oh well, both dishes were good but by no means fantastic. The seafood was well cooked and served in a sweetish “Santorini style” tomato sauce. It was nothing wrong with it, but at €19, I expected to be slightly more wowed. The stifado was quite nice, tender and well-seasoned but could’ve been served with something more inspiring than chips or spaghetti.

All in all though, service was nice, food good and the view nice. But probably stick to the Greekier dishes if you’re a pasta snob like me.

Salt and pepper, Fira (no view)

Salt & Pepper is a nice little restaurant, run by a husband and wife, where the husband works in the kitchen, and the wife service the tables. Service is not very polished, but quite friendly and the food is tasty. I tried their keftedes, Greek meatballs, and they were yum, so was the Greek salad. Save some space for dessert which was complementary.

Price for 2: ~ €45

Website

Lucky’s Souvlaki

Of all the places we visited in Santorini, the downright most tasty food was at Lucky’s Souvlaki, a small, quite unimpressive looking venue on the tourist street close to Fira’s bus station. What they do is souvlaki; meaning kebab-style meat skewers; gyros, which is shaved, döner kebab resembling pork or chicken shaved vertically from a rotating spit, and a few other foods, served fast food style, meaning mainly wrapped in fluffy pita bread, slathered in tzatziki and then washed down with a cold mug of Alfa beer. Or two.

Another great benefit was that it was not only the tastiest, but also the most affordable of all the places we visited during our week. A nice little lunch kit with two gyros (pronounced yeeros), fries and a drink was €9,5.

Website

Anemoloos

Situated a bit of a drive from central Fira, with stunning views of the non-caldera side of the island, Anemoloos served up some of the best dishes we had during our visit to the island. The restaurant served local dishes, meze style, meaning loads of small platters of extremely delicious food that we shared among the table.

Favourites were the Santorini style Greek salad with capers, grilled pork belly and the grilled sausage. Also deep-fried potatoes with shaved butter was (as you can tell) very delicious.

Price: Since we were part of a tour during our visit, prices were never displayed, but I’m guessing prices were affordable.

Website

Parea Taverna

In the touristy part of Fira, but lacking a caldera view. Food is tasty, without being spectacular. We had a very tasty moussaka, and nice, soft and crunchy-from-the-batter calamaris.

Price for 2: €45 with wine.

Website

PK Cocktail Bar

Towards the end of our visit, we found the not-so-hidden gem PK (Palia Kameni) Cocktail Bar. The place offers incredible views, incredible sunsets and incredible cocktails. The prices are relatively expensive, but not crazy expensive. To score a nice seat, you can pre-book spots for a €10 (online) or €20 (walk-in) deposit that is then removed from the bill. Cocktails starts at ~€9 and goes up to ~€20. We tried a couple and they were all great.

Website

Aktaion

Aktaion was probably my favourite restaurant in terms of food in Santorini. Unfortunately we showed up without a reservation and only got an hour to eat (totally our fault), they did their very best to accommodate us.

We had their fresh sea bream with baked vegetables and lime sauce; falling-if-the-bone tender slow-baked lamb shank with roasted mizithra cheese, and Ouzo-spiked mussels.

As mentioned the food was great. For once I felt like also trying a dessert, but no time unfortunately.

More than in any other place we visited in Santorini (except for Anemoolos which was similarly great in quality), you could really feel the love in the food at Aktaion. The quality was a notch up compared to the competition.

Very recommended, but make a reservation in advance. And then walk along the edge back to Fíra (there is a footpath all the way), amazing views.

Price was ~€50 for two with house wine.

Website

To Ouzeri

Our last meal was enjoyed at To Ouzeri, very close to the caldera view, but without the view. Food is wholesome and tasty, but not fantastic. We had a spicy feta dip, warm pita breads, Greek salad and soft meatballs in a slightly spicy cumin-scented tomato sauce.

Price was around €40 for two including wine, starters and two mains.

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Three days in Baku (with lots of food)

Since I learned about the new Azeri “Asan Visa”, an e-visa, replacing the former tedious process of applying for a visa at an Azerbaijani embassy, I’ve been really keen to go. Who can’t remember the promotions for the country during the 2012 Eurovision in Baku (Yay, Sweden won!); Azerbaijan – Land of Fire; Azerbaijan – Land of Horses, and so on, clearly I needed to go.

Last Winter I scored tickets to Baku during the Swedish public holiday of Kristi himmelsfärd this May, and hence, our visit turned into a short Thursday till Saturday night-affair.

Stockholm-Istanbul-Baku with Turkish Airlines

We flew with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul and the entire trip, including a three hour stopover took about 9 hours. I should add that Turkish is surprisingly good with entertainment screens at every seat and free food and drinks. On our return leg from Istanbul to Stockholm we flew in a widebody jet with even better standard and space.

When landed in Baku, we were struck of how nice the airport was. Clean, modern and with fast free wifi. The line to immigration wasn’t as great though and took about 40 minutes. I visited neighbouring Armenia last year, so they asked me about the stamp and where in Armenia I’d been before letting me in.

We had a pre-booked airport pick-up by our hotel, the surprisingly excellent Holiday Inn Baku. Since we landed at 5 in the morning, it was very nice to just jump into a pre-arranged car and be on our way, despite triple the price of an Uber which we later realised (it was still only about €20 though).

Arriving our hotel, our room wasn’t ready despite a confirmed early check in. To compensate, they offered us free breakfast, and of we went to our first taste of the Azeri cuisine.

Azeri (and international) breakfast at Holiday Inn Baku’s Marina restaurant

I’d read beforehand about Azeri breakfasts and was keen to try flatbreads with local Motar cheese and honey. Fortunately all were available so together with some other stuff like tasty vegetables, made-to-order omelettes and hummus we got to tick them off the list accompanied with a cup of tea before we went to pass out.

Turkish breakfast at The House Cafe Baku

The House Cafe Baku is located in the swanky Port Baku Mall, just across from our hotel, the Holiday Inn Baku. It might not be the most genuine of restaurants or breakfast places; but oh my good was this place good. We ordered a “big breakfast platter” that in reality meant that they covered our entire table with little platters and bowls of delicious stuff. There were feta cheese pastries, honey, local cheese, fresh veggies, bread, toast, clotted cream, nutella, olives, fried eggs, fried halloumi; coming to think of it – much like an ‘oriental’ afternoon tea. Oh yes, tea was included too, in fact two glasses each, encouraging watching the view and other people during a prolonged breakfast. Loved the place.

Firuze restaurant, Fountain Square Baku

Close to Baku’s beautiful old town is the Fountain Square, surrounded by Western chains such as Mcdonalds and KFC, as well as a few tourist traps according to rumour, and also a couple of really nice Azeri restaurants. By some reason they all (Narqiz, Firuze, Dolma) were located in cellars below ground. We tried two of them, the first being Firuze.

Lyulya kebab (minced lamb) with sliced raw onion on a lavash flatbread. In the background: choban salad with finely sliced cucumber, tomatoes, onion, parsley, dill, olive oil and lemon juice.

A Central Asian staple is the plov. As I understand it, originally from Uzbekistan, this rice pilaf is eaten all over the region. The Azeri version was served with the rice and the meat/stew separately (in other countries everything is mixed like, say, an Indian biryani. The above plov featured falling-off-the-bone tender lamb, apricots, raisins, plums, quince juice and chestnuts, on top of fluffy, buttery rice.

We also tried their mangal salad (top left), which consists of coal baked vegetables that are roughly chopped and mixed with olive oil and lemon into a sort of a salad.

Our last dish at Firuze was qutab (top right): flatbreads stuffed with spinach, cheese or pumpkin and then fried. A bit like a quesadilla I guess. Very delicious too.

Price

All, washed down with one glass of local beer and one glass of local red wine each came out at roughly €25 in total.

Website (tripadvisor)

Dolma Restaurant, Fountain Square Baku

Dolma is, like Firuze, located in a basement without windows and hence the pictures aren’t that exciting – but luckily, we had our best meal of the trip here. Chicken Sadj (cooked on coals at the table), Turkish spicy Adana kebab, plov Sabriz with lamb, greens, tart plums and of course buttery rice. Also another round of my Azeri favourite; mangal with flatbreads. Hillside Prestige red wine to drink.

Price

Prices were again very affordable; we paid 45 Manat (~25€) for two persons with three drinks and four shared dishes.

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Sumakh Restaurant Baku

Doing research for the trip, Sumakh reappeared several times as one of the fanciest places in town if you wanted to eat local Azeri food. Owned by the Beat Group that has a couple of venues around town, it is definitely at least in part aimed at foreigners with an English website, with menu and all. The restaurant is quite nice, with a local feeling to it. Although fancier than the places mentioned above, it did not feel overly luxurious and prices were quite humane except for the beluga caviar starter below.

A short story: last year we went to Georgia, and upon returning to Sweden we had a spare €100 in Georgian Lari with us that we forgot to change. In Sweden they told us the bills were worthless due to an upcoming switch of bills in Georgia. We then took them to Frankfurt Airport on another trip, Moscow on another. We finally brought them to Baku, a year later, and said that if we’d be able to change them we’d have beluga caviar during our visit. And guess what…

Said and done, we ordered the Caspian Sea Beluga Black Caviar (~€60) and two shots of vodka. It felt very oligarchy, and extra cool being just a few blocks from the actual Caspian Sea. Dissapointingly though, I did not find it that spectacular taste wise. It was salty, fishy and had some extra bite to it compared to “regular” roe or caviar, but in my mind not warranting the price. It was served with local black bread, shaved butter and lemon which I did not really get either.

Fortunately, despite the slightly dissapointing caviar, the rest we had was great. The lyulya kebab above was incredibly crunchy on the crust, probably due to being wrapped in lamb fat before frying, and then yet very soft in the center. Totally delicious.

Mangal salad with coal baked tomatoes, flatbread and local red wine.

More delicious Azerbaijani plov pilaf.

Dolmas, tiny parcels with meat wrapped in vine leaves. Mmmm mmm. These dolmas were the best I’ve ever had.

Dushbere: small dumplings in a clear broth.

Fancy, but not posh. Sumakh offered a great dinner with tasty food, efficient service and relatively affordable experience. Not counting the €60 Beluga Caviar, our tab would’ve landed at €40 with vodka, wine and loooads of food. Now, in total, it came out at roughly €100.

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Southern Caribbean Cruise onboard Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas

In March I made my fifth cruise, a trip onboard the old but gold Adventure of the Seas, taking us from San Juan, Puerto Rico and around the South-Eastern Caribbean, including; St. Maarten (airport beach); St. Kitts (cocktails in a 1920s train); Antigua (crazy pretty beach); St. Lucia (pitons and beautiful scenery), and Barbados (soca, rum punch and also crazy beautiful beach[es]. I’ve sorted it under each day, including food and drinks onboard.

Day 1: Boarding in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Boarding

We were e-mailed a day in advance where we were advised that we should board at 2 pm. But since we had to leave our AirBnB rental apartment at 11 am, we took an Uber straight to the port. At the port we left our bags, went through security, took the dedicated gold line (since we have cruised once before with Royal Caribbean), and swoosh, we were onboard.

The ship

The Adventure of the Seas, which was our ride around the Caribbean for the next seven days, is a beautiful if slightly old ship. It was built in 1998, but you really couldn’t tell since she recently was renovated, at least not in the public areas. The cabins felt a little worn, but not too bad either.

Cabin aka stateroom

We stayed in an interior stateroom, as the cabins are called. Since there is no window, it gets really dark when you close the lights for the night. If you feel claustrophobic, maybe leave the bathroom lights on. In the cabin is also an interactive flatscreen tv with a couple of tv channels, access to eg your onboard account and the ship’s own different channels. The ship’s Wi-fi signal reached our cabin (maybe all) on level six too, so we could use internet while in bed. Speaking of the bed, we had s comfy double and slept like babies (could perhaps have something to do with our all-inclusive drinking packages as well).

Deluxe drinking package

We opted for the deluxe drinking package which covers all drinks by the glass, alcoholic and non-alcoholic up to $12. This covered most drinks onboard, and not only the cheapest stuff. There were plenty of wines by the glass to choose from in the main dining room; all beers and cocktails despite the really fancy ones, and sparkling wine in some, but not all restaurants and bars. Also be aware that some drinks are priced differently around the ship. Eg. A certain glass of wine can be priced above $12 in the main dining room, and below in a bar, and vice-verca. Generally though, we drank what we felt like without feeling limited, while still staying below the $12 cap. Top tip though: Bolero Bar has a glass of delicious Vilarnau cava for $12 (and awesome mojitos and caiprinhas).

We definitely felt we got value for money, using our package benefits for sparkling water for dinner, specialty coffee and fresh squeezed juice for breakfast and soft drinks – in addition to alcoholic drinks. Although I am not so sure it was great for my liver. 😅

Dinner in main dining room

We had opted for “My Time Dining” when booking our cruise, meaning we could choose our own time to eat instead of the traditional scheduled ‘seatings’. We talked to the maître d, which told us that either 6.15 or 7.30 pm were the best times, as it would be calmer and more available tables. We consequently booked 7.30 for all our nights onboard right away, which resulted in us having the same table (and waiting staff) for the entire cruise, which was good.

Our first dinner consisted of this perhaps not spectacularly photogenique aged prime rib of beef. It was delicious though, served with crunchy vegetables, pan gravy and baked potatoes. In my mind the food onboard Royal Caribbean is surprisingly good, better than I remember it from cruising with them in 2010. And I’d like to think that my taste has improved since.

I got a little mocked on Instagram for this Caesar salad that my followers apparently did not fully approve of. It was too much lettuce, as can be seen. But despite the rustic serving it was quite delicious.

Day 2: Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

The first port of call during our cruise was the Dutch and French island of St. Maarten. The ship is docked at the quay, and hence there was no need to tender. Actually we walked ashore on all stops which was convenient.

Maho Beach and Princess Juliana Airport

We had opted to visit St. Maarten’s possibly most famous site; Maho beach, situated at the end of the runway of Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM). We picked the convenient option and joined the ship’s own tour providing transport there. The beach is quite small, chairs and umbrella were $20 (we actually heard staff discuss among themselves that cruise passengers should pay an extra $5 over the listed price in the bar), and while we were there the waves quite high, but those facts weren’t that important given how cool it was to be right in the path of the incoming jets. For each dot appearing on the horizon, growing as it approached, anticipation among the beach crowd grew: “is it a big one?”. While we visited, both Delta and Jetblue touched down and it is really a special feeling standing just a couple of meters below a landing jet.

Read and obey the signs though as someone that left the beach standing on the road even closer to the runway recently died after falling due to the wind.

Dinner in the main dining room

A really, surprisingly, delicious seafood pasta featuring perfectly cooked linguini with bay scallops (so sweet and tasty), mussels and shrimps in a Chardonnay reduction. Great seafood, nice silky tomato sauce and pasta cooked al dente. I wasn’t expecting such a nice pasta onboard a cruise ship. I’d be happy to pay for this in any restaurant.

Beef carpaccio with parmesan, rucola, garlic chips and mayo was very good as well.

Day 3: Basseterre, Saint Kitts

Our third day on the ship we arrived St. Kitts in the island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis (pronounced ‘knee-vis’ we learned, I always thought ‘nevvis’).

St. Kitts Scenic Railway

After reading about it, I couldn’t resist to take the old school, 1910s-constructed railway, built for the transportation of sugarcane. In these times though it is used to transport another bunch of sugar-loaded commodities – us.

During the approximately two hour ride we were taken around the island, soaking up some beautiful views of the landscape, villages, mountains and sea, while being served complimentary drinks such as piña coladas, strawberry daiquiris (what I had) as well as water and soft drinks. There was also a choir onboard that went from carriage to carriage, singing local tunes. A very nice and comfortable trip, if pricey, in an old school train.

Harbour lunch in Basseterre

Before heading back to the ship, we took a short stroll around the cobble streets of Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis’ small capital. In the harbour, there was a small foodcourt, which included a small place selling local dishes called Island Thyme. We were hungry as well as had raided the Adventure of the Seas’ lunch buffet for two days straight, and, were keen to try some local food. It should be added though that they ‘forgot’ to return our $2 change on a twenty bill, which I always find annoying. If I’d like to tip I decide so for myself (and this is not a table service place).

Hot, crunchy and spicy ‘calypso wings’.

Delicious, juicy roasted chicken with peas and rice (with peas meaning beans) and plantain (green banana fritters). All washed down with an ice-cold Carib beer.

Dinner in the main dining room

Italian night onboard, and I went for the not so mature, but oh so good, option of spaghetti bolognese with San Marzano tomatoes and pecorino cheese. Really beefy and again surprisingly tasty for being on a ship. The starter burrata were one of the most creamy and delicious burratas I’ve ever had.

Adventure of the Seas’ bolognese wasn’t on the menu all nights, but nearly.

Reaaally good burrata cheese with bacon, rucola, tomatoes and pesto dressing.

Day 4: Saint John’s, Antigua and Barbuda

Our fourth stop was in St. Johns, the capital city located on the island of Antigua, in the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Finally it was time to hit the beach properly (even though Maho Beach was a beach I was mainly there to take cool shots of planes).

Ffryes Beach, Antigua

We had booked Beach Extravaganza or something like that, which included transport, a sun lounger (but not an umbrella – that would’ve been a bit too much extravaganza, hey?), a surprisingly delicious lunch and two drinks (or more if you’d take your cousins’ drink vouchers as well as our nearly passing out-drunk fellow cruiser did). Anyway, after a quick trip through St Johns, we arrived the stunning Ffryes Beach (yes, with two “f”). Having visited Vanuatu in the South Pacific just a few months ago, I was almost dissapointed that Ffryes was even more beautiful. In my mind the South Pacific is unbeatable, but I now realise I might be wrong.

The mentioned lunch, a buffet featuring macaroni salad, falling-of-the-bone-tender beef ribs, grilled chicken, regular salad, rice and beans, garlic bread and various sauces and dressings was served on the beach restaurant and bar; Dennis’. The food was really good and well–cooked. Nothing particularly gourmet, just very tasty. Local Wadadli Beer and Rum Punches were included ‘free drinks’.

Day 5: Castries, Saint Lucia

Our fifth day on the ship we arrived the, in my mind at least, mystical island of Saint Lucia. Green, lush and beautiful, with an active volcano, and the two 250 000 year-old lava domes The Pitons I felt a little bit I had landed in Jurassic Park, or something.

The Pitons and volcano tour

Once again, we took the convenient route and opted for one of Royal Caribbean’s tours. Our tour took us, via a photo and banana ketchup tasting stop in Marigot Bay, to Soufrière, on the Saint Lucian West Coast. After driving through Soufrière we visited the Soufrière volcano, which is still active. From a distance we could ourselves see the action, with the bubbling sulphur springs. We were also treated to a massive rainfall. During the trip we stopped for pictures of the Pitons at a few spots, and we finally visited a restaurant for a complimentary drink, which was a splash of juice in a plastic cup.

Here you could also buy a snack in the shape of grilled jerk chicken and some fried stuff. Tasty enough, but nothing special. There was a tremendous view over, once again, The Pitons, and the city of Soufrière below.

Day 6: Bridgetown, Barbados

Our sixth, and final, tropical island of the cruise to visit, was possibly also the place I looked forward to the most: Barbados. We walked off the ship as in every port and reached our tour outside the terminal.

The Island Style Beach Hopping Tour

Worth noting, is that this tour is like 8 in the morning. Also worth noting is that you will be force-fed (that is an exageration) beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, while listening to thumping Soca-music by a (my guess) aspiring stand up comedian that made you scream” wooo” when the driver honked the Jitney (did I forget to mention you’ll be in a open-sides jeep bus?) . Doesn’t sound too bad? Then this tour is for you. I started off by hating the tour (I was mildly hungover, and it was in the GOD DAMN MORNING), but ended up loving it. The guide was just too much fun, and the sort of friendly competition with the other tour bus and their guide on the same route was hilarious. The beaches, too, were incredible.

Our first stop: Worthing Beach. White sand, turquoise water, palm trees, calm waves, and suddenly a bunch of wild sea turtles swam next to us. Paradise. Free facilities, eg. a restroom available.

Next stop: Accra Beach. Another beautiful beach. Since the time was passed 11 am I joined the drunken haze of my fellow bus mates with an ice-cold Barbadian Banks beer. Note, you had to pay for loungers on all beaches, we only had chairs on Accra Beach, which was $10 for two chairs and an umbrella. Trivia is that the umbrella guy was incredibly cranky and that the chair guy tried to sell us weed. No facilities here (that were obvious anyway).

Last stop of the tour: Pebbles Beach. Another pretty beach with slightly larger waves (poor mom-in-law made a face plant getting attacked from behind). We also saw turtles here out in the waves.

Possibly the best with this beach though was the small shack at the end of the beach called Cuzz’s Fish Shack. Cuzz serves up fish cutters which are pretty much fried fish sandwiches. The cutters are filled with fried crispy flying fish, lettuce and optional cheese (we opted out). You then dress the cutter yourself, we followed the lead of the locals and added Bajan pepper sauce and mayonnaise. At $4,5 it provided a relatively filling, but really delicious snack. Especially with the amazing view over the beach.

Dinner in the main dining room (LOBSTER!)

I wasn’t sure if they’d kept the formal night lobster from our 2010 trip, but fortunately this was the night.

The lobster dinner consisted of a broiled lobster tail (I managed to negotiate two) with lemon saffron rice, seasonal vegetables and a healthy splash of drawn butter. While I did not love the sides, the lobster meat combined with the drawn butter was really delicious, and it worked really well with a glass of buttery and oaky Kendall Jackson Chardonnay.

Day 7: At sea (and dinner at Chops Grille)

Our final day and night onboard honestly started with a visit to the gym, then a fancy a la carte breakfast in the main dining room featuring eggs benedict. This is still included in the price by the way, only gripe is that you might have to wait in line a while for a table.

After breakfast we opted to go for a round of mini golf which also is available, free of charge, outside on the deck. Despite a bunch of feral kids constantly running over the tracks, it was quite fun (probably because I WON).

It should be added that there’s also a surf wave-simulator, a climbing wall, an ice skating rink, water slides and numerous other options for a more active vacation, we were just too lazy to use any of those. Even though we sort of planned to visit the climbing wall at one point during the cruise.

I’ve mentioned it before, but the cocktails onboard are quite good. Definitely on par with a decent bar ashore (not counting the pool bar which’s cocktails were so-so). So before going for our last dinner, we visited the Casino Bar which makes the second best cocktails after Bolero.

Chops Grille steakhouse specialty restaurant on the Adventure of the Seas

I’ve always liked those kind of luxurious, yet not posh, American steakhouses that Chops Grille seems to be. I’ve been on five cruises so far, and I’ve never forked out the extra cash for a specialty restaurant (save for Johnny Rockets, which we, then 20-somethings, actually paid like five bucks for, during our first cruise). Anyway, it was time to see if it was actually worth to pay extra, despite the food we could have for free definitely was nice. We paid around $40 each, and for that we could choose almost what we wanted from the a la carte menu except for lobster and a seafood tower that was extra-extra.

After a first bread serving starring an onion foccacia (really good) with whipped butter, we had charred carpaccio with truffle oil, mayonnaise, rucola and parmesan. It was tasty, but nothing spectacular.

The main however: mm-mm-mm! Perfectly cooked medium-rare filet mignon (beef fillet) with truffle fries, asparagus, mac & cheese and sauce bordelaise (red wine and beef marrow). So good, and washed down with excellent Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, served in fancy Riedel Glasses.

I read somewhere to save space for the red velvet cake, because it was really something. It was quite good, but not extraordinary in any way. I also ordered a cold brew coffee cocktail that wasn’t any good at all in my mind.

Service-wise, all staff on the ship is quite friendly and service minded, meaning you’ll be pretty used to good service. Chops Grille was still a step up though, and staff were, fast, friendly and quite knowledgeable. All in all I was very happy and will definitely book Chops Grille on my next cruise.

And that was that. After Chops Grille, we decided to make a last visit to all of our favourite bars onboard, giving our deluxe beverage package a last spin, before a last sleep before arriving back in San Juan, Puerto Rico the following morning. We departed the ship around 10.30 am, being among the last passengers off the ship.