Category Archives: Tapas

To brunch, with love

He left me…” I cry.

Bastard.” said the well meaning friend/parent/sibling.

The first and last time I received a Valentine’s Day anything was when I was 17. Since then I have been in several relationships and as they broke, Hallmark’s most nauseating “holiday” lost its romance for me. The annual appearance of red lingerie in shop windows and Menus for Two at restaurants fills me with irritation – for the stores, the chefs, but mostly for the men who broke my heart.

Each time a relationship ended I was in self-pity heaven and hating them just helped me continue feeling sorry for myself. J Krishnamurti said it best: “So what you are really saying is, ‘As long as you belong to me I love you but the moment you don’t I begin to hate you. As long as I can rely on you to satisfy my demands, sexual and otherwise, I love you, but the moment you cease to supply what I want I don’t like you.’

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Today I am giving up making them wrong. And what better way to bring them back into my happy memories than with a luscious brunch?

Read my blog for One Minute London where, in preparation for Valentine’s Day I revisit three restaurants (Providores, Dishoom & Workshop Coffee Co.) and three romances: http://www.oneminutelondon.com/blog-valentines-day/

Happy Valentine’s Day.

-p

 

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Filed under Aussie, Breakfast, Brunch, Coffee, Indian, London, Tapas

Barcelona on a plate

I’ve been to Spain all of twice. Barcelona in 2001 and then Madrid, a few years later. To say I hated my time in both cities would be an understatement of some sort. I had shoe bite, then food poisoning; I had restaurants refuse me entry and shop keepers deny me service. My handbag got stolen at a wedding reception and the boyfriend of the time… well, less said the better.

That should serve as some context for where I am coming from.

Eckhart Tolle writes: “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” Over the past 11 years I have been so committed to hating Spain that I left absolutely no space in my heart or travel schedule to change my mind. It’s been a few years since I forgot what it actually felt like to be in those unpleasant situations. But I didn’t let go – it became a party anecdote, an office joke… Allowing an old story to become the real story is exhausting! Time had come for me to repair my relationship with Barcelona and decide anew where we stand.

The only aim of this trip was to walk the city, eat good food and ensure plenty of cava at breakfast. And get a tan while I’m at it. The magic of Twitter and some well-travelled friends (thank you Sabrina, Saffron, Aki, Maggie, Adarsh) ensured I was armed with enough restaurant names to last me a month. A last-minute gorgeous travel companion in Gina ensured we could now order for two and try more food!

Barcelona’s food was a revelation; a mismatch to the city’s ugly landscape (it’s time to look past Gaudi and the Gothic Quarter) and (mostly) surly people. Gina and I stayed away from five star hotels and Michelin meals to dig into the real magic of the city’s culinary scene – La Boqueria and the city’s tapas bars. Three meals a day weren’t enough for the greedy girls and we had to sneak in an extra tapas or two over the weekend. In no particular order, these are the highlights of my trip (we only ever ordered from the tapas bar, staying away from main course dishes).

LOLITA TAPERIA

A walk through a pretty dodgy area brought us to an unassuming neighbourhood where Lolita Taperia has made her home amongst dog walkers and local residents. Owned by Albert Adrià (yes, related to the El Bulli Adrià), this restaurant is bright and sassy. Lolita is a red-lipsticked bull who watches over the chefs from her place on the main wall. Like almost every tapas bar we visited over the weekend, this one too is very quiet at 8pm. I loved:

  • La Burrata Lolita (creamy Burrata with with mustard sprouts, rocket, semi-dried tomato and black tapenade)
  • La Gilda ‘Verd Picant’ (Basque ‘piparras’ or long green pepper with a stuffed olive, wrapped by an anchovy)
  • El Llom de Tonyina en escabetx lleuger (tuna loin in ‘ponzu’ (marinade of soy, olive oil and natural lemon juice)
  • Les ‘Rabas’ de pollastre (crusted chicken nuggets with potato crisps and Kurkuma sauce)
  • And of course, Cava.

TAPAÇ24

The kitchen is directed by El Bulli trained Carles Abellan who prepares simple tapas with a unique twist. A rare all day diner-style café, Tapaç24 is all about casual and counters. The service bordered on rude… that is, until we were seated. Soon as we were settled in with our Cava we had attentive help from not one but three wait staff (including, telling me to be careful about leaving my phone around). I loved:

  • Bikini Comerç24 (grilled truffle ham and cheese – WOW)
  • Iberian ham croquette
  • Pa amb tomàquet (available in every restaurant in Barcelona; literally “bread with tomato” in Catalan. The toast is rubbed with tomatoes, garlic, and seasoned with olive oil and salt.)
  • A white fish ceviche that was so divine, Gina could not stop talking about it the entire weekend
  • And of course, Cava

BAR VELODROMO

Barcelona is dead quiet Sundays and Mondays, with more than half the (non-touristy) restaurants and shops closed on these days. Bar Velodromo was one of two restaurants near us that was open seven days of the week. Every review I read tagged it some version of a “Barcelona institution”. Re-opened after nearly a decade with the shutters down, the bistro is art deco stunning with a formica-plated steel bar, mahogany staircase, lime green banquettes, marble floors and a double height ceiling. Legend has it that for most of the 20th century this was a meeting place of the Catalan intelligentsia, underground political groups and the 1960s artistic group known as La Gauche Divine.

Everything on the menu was reasonably priced and it was all excellent. We sat at the bar and pointed at food on the counter. Still hungry, we were grateful for the English menu that was kindly sent our way. The highlight for us though, were two salads we ordered at the end of the meal. Catalan food is extremely meat/fish focused and by Sunday night we were craving something fresh and colourful. Anything fresh and colourful! Gina’s tomato salad and my spinach and orange salad were just the ticket. And of course, Cava. (Bar Velodromo is at Carrer de Muntaner, 213 Barcelona.)

PACO MERALGO

Paco Meralgo, the other restaurant open everyday, means “to eat something”; and eat we did. This is the only restaurant we went back to twice. Like most of our choices this weekend, this menu too has a long list of mostly tapas-style options, with a strong focus on the seafood items. It was also the only meal we had more wine than food and flirted with unsuspecting diners. I loved:

  • Zuchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella
  • La Bomba – an oozy potato croquette stuffed with a meat and cream sauce, served with a spicy Romesco sauce.
  • All the croquetas – meat and seafood
  • And of course, Cava

JAI-CA

Gina and I wanted to spend Sunday on the beach, and the plan was to begin with brunch at a hot recommendation. We spent the better part of an hour looking for this restaurant but to no avail (we later found out it was closed for August). Nick, a friend’s friend, was playing tour guide for the day and when he saw us in near tears at the news, he took us to Jai-Ca. Nick ordered for us and after the first few dishes I lost track of what I was eating. The highlight however was their “Tigre” – mussels crumb fried in their shells served with a sauce. Not only was this some of the best food I had in the city, it was also the cheapest.

 

The hot, over-crowded tapas bar was possibly the most authentic Barcelona experience I had the entire trip. Neon signs, food display – shrimps, navajas, calamares, pimientos del pardon, pictures of Barça players on the walls, inordinately long queues, shocking service, and outstanding food – Jai-Ca is easily one of my current top 10 restaurants in Europe.  (Jai-Ca is at C/ Ginebra, 13 08003 Barcelona.)

I didn’t get to try a xuxos in the Boqueria. The famous Cal Pep was closed for the Summer and I forgot to look up the address for Dos Palillos. Tickets is booked out for years to come and I don’t know what a Catalan yemas tastes like. But I can live with that. As Tolle said: “Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on”. The only reason yesterday’s story seemed so real today is because I insisted on bringing my past into my present. I did that with Barcelona and wonder how many other stories need to be laid to rest?

-p

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Barcelona, Communal tables, Seafood, Spanish, Tapas, Travelogue, Wine

da Polpo. And another one?

da Polpo is like the old friend you can rock up to anytime and are guaranteed a great conversation. Like the other restaurants in Russell Norman’s stable, da Polpo is cosy, easy and approachable. I find nothing more uncomfortable than a restaurant on edge – week one, new staff, new menu, forgotten service sequences, the smell of paint, and table tops that shine a bit too much. What I love most about Polpo, Polpetto, Spuntino and now da Polpo is how they manage to look and feel lived in, even when brand new.

Most things about this place will remind you of Polpo. One has a Campari Bar, the other an Aperol one. Both bacaros use a lot of natural finishes, have distressed walls, tiled flooring and bar counters you can eat at – the single diner’s most favourite seat.

                     

I even got lucky with my waitress; Tajsa (am near certain I’ve got this spelling wrong) wasted no time in settling me in and starting me off with a glass of the Polpo Prosecco (£5) – OMG so delicious – and some complimentary sesame cream cheese and bread.  (I’m still not sold on the fashion of wine being served in non-wine glasses.)

The menu is also a lot like Polpo’s. I started with the arancini (£2.50) – the gooey cheese centre makes these crispy balls of rice divine, even if lacking a little something. Next was the asparagus, taleggio and parma ham pizzetta (£6.50). The cheese and ham may get too salty for some but I loved this baby pizza.

I finished with a fresh tomato salad (£5) and a glass of the Polpo Merlot (£2.75). Maybe the combination was wrong but I won’t rush to order this wine again.

    

I skipped dessert , promising the superb staff that I would return for some. Soon. Last week I wrote about Spuntino – THE ONE restaurant I knew I would have a long romance with. Today I walked into another ONE. Amongst too many other things, Bollywood is where I first learnt and loved the idea of THE ONE. (It was most likely Rishi Kapoor & Dimple Kapadia’s teenage romance Bobby.)

We’ve all grown up since then and while I may still look for the Bollywood moments in my life, I’ve changed what The One means to me – ever so slightly. I now have:

  • The One who got away – and Thai Green Curry
  • The One who was always going to hurt me – and Pytt I Panna
  • The One I still think about – and Vegemite sandwiches
  • The One I didn’t really care about – and strawberry cheesecake

And then there is THE 5months-14days-8hours- andafewminutes ONE.

-p

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Design, Dessert, Italian, London, Pizza, Restaurant, Tapas, Wine

Second date

After a day of mostly I-hate-skinny-merchandisers shopping I found myself in Covent Garden. I love how this overly touristy part of London has slowly become quite the destination for foodies. Three of my London favourites (Dishoom, Opera Tavern and Wahaca) are within minutes of each other. I was craving panna cotta though, and Kopapa was around the corner.

The best panna cotta I’ve ever tasted was at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, when it first opened nearly ten years ago. I remember Ma and I licking our plates clean, and then bumping into Jamie (oh yeah). Ever since then I cannot resist ordering it if I see one on the menu. So far, nothing has come close to Jamie’s, and I was very excited about trying Kopapa’s ‘pomegranate panna cotta with pear & basil jelly & a brandy snap’. The restaurant is Peter Gordon’s latest offering. He is a fusion food genius and I adore eating at his Providores.

I didn’t begin with dessert. This was only meant to be a light snack before the main show so I ordered grilled chorizo (£5.80), salad of goats curd, puy lentils, samphire & grilled baby gem with pomegranate dressing & hazelnuts (£8.40) and a glass of Craggy Range Te Kahu (£8.75).

I don’t like. Or rather, I still don’t like Kopapa. The chorizo was too salty and the goats curd overpowered the entire salad. The panna cotta (£7) arrived but I couldn’t stand to finish it; I love basil but evidently not as a jelly, and definitely not in my dessert. My opinion is in the minority because Kopapa has only received great reviews. The gorgeous art deco floor aside I didn’t connect with this restaurant. Before I got here, I couldn’t recall the details of my first meal here; all I remember was not falling in love with the food.

Coming back again was a little bit like the second date you go on when you didn’t pay attention to your gut feeling (to run) the first time round. Do you remember every single detail of your first ever date? How about the first date with your latest sweetheart? I don’t. I don’t remember what I was wearing or whether he had polished his shoes, nor who initiated the date or how, nor who suggested the venue. I barely remember what we talked about.

At the end of the date we all have two options. We could listen to our head that says, “First dates shouldn’t count really. Everything is new and everyone is so nervous about giving the wrong answer that we barely hear the question. Go on, give it another shot

Or we could listen to our heart that either says, “Something isn’t right. Run!” or “So it wasn’t the best date in the world. But you feel something, right?

I choose heart.

-p

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Great expectations

I’ve often admonished my mother for putting people in boxes: He’s gay, must be artistic. She likes eating out, must be a foodie. He’s gujju, must be vegetarian.

I’m too harsh. I choose to ignore that maybe she needs these boxes to manage her expectations. Far too often we are told not to expect anything of anyone; apparently, we cause our own heartache by expecting the next person to behave a certain way.

I expect to be included in my childhood friend’s wedding. She expects the vows she made that day to stay true forever. My sister expects me to have answers to all her questions. I expect my new crush to notice me.

So what happens when this doesn’t happen? When a marriage ends in divorce; when siblings don’t stand up for each other just because they are related; when a star chef’s new menu doesn’t dazzle you. What then?

Nopi (for North of Piccadilly) has received only good reviews. Even those who hated it, loved it. I was SO excited about Sunday lunch at Ottolenghi’s new restaurant in Soho. Having spent many happy meals at his kitchen in Islington, I was glad for something closer to home. Gold lamps reflect brightly off the whitewashed and tiled walls, the furniture is simple and waiters, smiley… Nopi’s dining room is like summer.

I started with a North African breakfast dish – Shakshuka – poached eggs with red pepper and tomato (£8.50). The eggs were okay – the tomato was too tart and eggs not eggy enough for me. I moved on to a Kingfish carpaccio with a spice rub (£10). This is an oily fish and really did not need the generous drizzle of olive oil. I couldn’t finish this overpriced dish except for the salad and samphire decorating the plate. I was beginning to lose hope… and ordered a cocktail to help lift the spirits on my table. The grapefruit and lychee cooler with vodka, and mint was clearly the wrong choice. I paid £10 for what mostly tasted of grapefruit juice and lime.

This is not what I expected. I had all but lost hope and then saw burrata on the menu.  Burrata would have to be on my Top 3 cheese list, and Nopi serves it with blood orange and coriander (£12). This Israeli-born chef has single-handedly changed the way I eat vegetarian food – and this dish reminded me exactly why. Finally, a dish that is pitch perfect! Just as I started to smile at my plate again a surly manager asked me to put my camera away. I ordered dessert (sultana financiers with brandy cream (£6.50), but it was too late. Nopi had let me down.

Or did I let myself down by expecting so much from one meal? Should I want less? Concede more? I don’t know the answer yet. What I do know is that my sister’s expectations of me have made me a better sibling. Her expectations of what she wanted for herself have made her a stronger woman. My expectations from a friendship has given my friend the confidence to make demands of me. For now, I want to wait for those moments when not only does someone meet my expectations; they surpass them. I have great expectations.

-p

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Filed under Breakfast, Brunch, London, Mediterranean, Restaurant, Soho London, Tapas

Of angels

I first met Grishma as my friend Foram’s sister. She was leaving London just as I began my love affair with the city. Not before, and never since have I met anyone so intensely certain of where her destiny lay. I don’t know how easy or difficult it was for her, to shun the opportunities of London to move back to Bombay, but she did it with the glee of a child discovering a new toy. She said her angels had shown her the way. Yes, Grishma believes in angels. She sees them in lost pennies on forgotten sidewalks, and wisps of white feathers floating in the air. She even sees angels in the unexpected harsh words of close friends.

I believe in angels too. Only, I am less generous with the universe and need my angels to be tangible, loud and present. I need them to stamp their feet until I heed their call. Like when a near-stranger suggested I take a break from another Sunday at the office, to take time out for myself. He called back an hour later to make sure I wasn’t still at my desk. I needed an angel to remind me about The Important, not just The Urgent.

Opera Tavern is the perfect solution to a dreary, freezing January. It is brand new, but with the mood of a trusted old friend. It may be just me, but the sight of an open kitchen in a restaurant wins my instant affection. There is a beautiful “proper” restaurant one flight up but I chose to dine at the bar instead. Its a lovely room – dark wooden furniture, high ceiling, stools at the window to watch Covent Garden go by, and the inviting aroma of very good food.

The charming Emmanuelle wasted no time – smile, welcome, Prosecco, menu. With some help from him I got the ordering out of the way:

Crispy pigs ears (£3) – my favourite bar snack

Iberico pork skewers (£2.95) – yummy, but tiny

Mini Iberico pork and foie gras burger (£5.50) – gorgeous! The foie gently tickles exposes itself as you get on with the burger

Salsify salad with chestnuts & potatoes (£5.50) – an absolutely stunning dish

Seabass carpaccio (£7.50) – avoidable

Grilled salt cod (£7.50) – now you’re talking!

Opera Tavern has an extensive wine list and I settled for what they call a baby Amarone – a chocolatey Ripasso, La Salsette 2008 (£10.50).

As I nibble on the pigs ears in-between courses, I had to think more about my angels. Recently, they have been forcing me to change – or is it that they are trying to make me accept the change I am surrounded by? If this was five years ago or even two years ago I would have jumped ship. Research will show you that when most of us come face to face with our fears our instinct is to walk out the door we walked in through. Committing ourselves to the slightest change is more frightening than living with a bad situation. I have been so vehemently faithful to my view of the world that even a gentle suggestion of change put me in a state of panic.

I think its time I let my angels show me the emergency exit out of this fire. There is another way, and it doesn’t have to be scary.

-p

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, London, Open kitchen, Restaurant, Spanish, Tapas

A classic recipe

When you get hungry in-between “regular” meal times in Central London, the restaurant options get slightly scary. You will struggle to choose between below average pizzerias (Pizza Express, Pontis), chain takeaway favourites (Eat, Pret) and touristy all day diners (Garfunkel, La Tasca). Its 5pm, I am hungry and not willing to compromise. Polpo, a bocaro (Venetian wine bar) in the heart of Soho is a God-send.

It has been an exhilarating week – budget reviews, CEO in town, big promotion, an early 50th birthday party, shopping for a holiday – and in spite of all the excitement, the overriding emotion when I got home each night was “I miss hanging out with myself”! I started writing this blog 69 days ago and can hardly believe that my first post was about loneliness, and here I am craving some alone time.

Polpo is perfect. The large windows open into the pavement and the gentle breeze is a welcome intruder as I sit at the bar and start with the wine list. Even on the hottest day of the year I find I cannot bring myself to drink white wine anymore. I also cannot imagine an Italian meal without wine. Gorgeous bartender Kevin came to my rescue and suggested a chilled red wine. The Ponte del Diavolo Refosco del Friuli 2008 (£8 for ¼ ltr) is smooth and bursting with blackberries. The rest of my meal included a Spinach, Parmesan and Soft Egg Pizzetta (£4.50), Linguine Vongole (£6) and a slab of Taleggio (£4). The food at Polpo is testimony to the fact that ingredient is king. Nothing on the menu is fancy schmancy, in fact the entire menu is simply a list of ingredients instead of made up titles.

Polpo’s menu sort of reminds me of an online dating site my friends Matt and Erica have helped me register on: mysinglefriend.com. Once I log on the first thing I see is a menu of photos that match my age and area criteria. Alongside each photograph is a list of… uh, ingredients? For example:

Chris, London, 35, looking for a female 20-35, creative, terribly witty, a bit independent, a confident sort, a good listener, pretty sexy, thoughtful, an outdoors type, well travelled and a pub lover

Unlike the menu at Polpo though, the menu on this website has each dish sounding pretty much the same as the next. Even when I dig deeper (i.e. click on the photo to read the friend’s testimony followed by the dish’s repartee) based on purely superficial standards it turns out that almost all of them are, “…one of the best blokes I know and I’m amazed that he hasn’t been snapped up yet” who want a “fun, happy, intelligent woman who knows who she is”. Now how do I choose the exact combination of ingredients that will deliver me my perfect meal?

I have to quote a professor from hotel school, who said “cooking is about taste, while baking is about precision”.

Does this mean that I have to start by choosing between pasta and pastry.

-p

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Design, Italian, London, Soho London, Tapas, Wine