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Archive for the ‘restaurants’ Category

Mr T opted for sopa Menorquina as his set-menu starter at La Guitarra in Ciutadella de Menorca one rainy lunchtime and its simple, straightforward heartiness really hit the spot. Unlike Cafe Baléar, however, La Guitarra is one place I wouldn’t advise opting for the menu del dìa; for although the restaurant has a great reputation for local specialities its à la carte menu is very obviously the focus. One lives and learns all the same: its troglodytic charm would be a wonderful escape from the heat of Summer and descending from scorching street level into its stone-walled cellar-cool basement interior for a slap-up meal is what we’ll be doing next time, but in the interim I recreate this Balearic soup with fond remembrance of Menorca’s old capital in the Spring.

 

 

I wished I had ordered the sopa too as my garlic prawns were just that; peeled prawns with overcooked garlic and despite their toothsome texture, not much flavour in either.

We both ordered the sea bass a la plancha for mains and it was ok; fresh and decently cooked but decidedly dull!  The highlight of our lunch was so obviously the working man’s vegetable soup that it demonstrated how plain food doesn’t have to be plain.

This hearty soup could easily be made fit for a vegetarian – vegan even – by the substitution of the small amount of meat with extra olive oil, garlic and paprika.  On the other hand, if you’re a meat-eater but can’t get hold of sobrassada or chorizo, substitute pancetta or lardons and throw in extra pimentón (unsmoked, for a change) and garlic.

Sopa Menorquina

serves 4 as main course

2 TBS olive oil
5 cm or so sobrassada, cubed (or chorizo if unavailable)
1 large onion, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 green cabbage, separated into leaves and torn into strips (chop if you must)
1 large carrot, chopped
100g spinach or Swiss chard, torn or chopped
100g broad beans or peas or flageolets (any fresh or frozen green bean is good)
2 tomatoes, fresh or canned, diced
500 ml or so stock (if none fresh, make it with a bouillon cube)
1tsp pimentón (whichever style you prefer)
at least 4 slices of hearty peasant bread, toasted

sweating onions and garlic with sobrassada in olive oil

Chop or tear all the vegetables into pieces of approximately equal size.  Heat oil in an enamelled cast iron pot and sweat the onions with the sobrassada, garlic and pimentón on a medium-low flame.  Add the diced tomato and bring to a gentle simmer, then add the rest of the vegetables and cover with two cups of hot stock.  Simmer for 20 minutes.

throw in some extra pimenton to boost flavour

The correct way of serving this sopa is: for each person, place a slice of toasted bread in the bottom of a soup plate, ladle over the vegetables and their broth, place in a 150C oven for 10 mins and serve:

serve in wide shallow bowls drizzled with olive oil and country bread on the side

but unless it has just baked a loaf of bread, there’s no reasonable reason to whack on the oven specially, so I have been known to serve the soup straight from the pot: topped with a spoonful of homemade ricotta, a trail of olive oil and with slabs of toasted country bread on the side nobody minds one jot.

Incidentally, at La Guitarra we ordered a bottle of Blanc Pescador, assuming (rightly!) its name denoted an affinity with fish, but as my Spanish vocabulary was not up to anticipating its pétillant tingle – “vino de ajuga” translates to “needle wine” apparently – it came as a pleasantly prickly surprise, and with a much cleaner and clearer flavour than el crudo cava, an awful lot more dignity too.

La Guitarra
c/ Dolos baixos
Ciutadella de Menorca 07760
tel: 971 38 13 55

3-course menu del dia €12.50
Blanc Pescador €13.50

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I mean this most sincerely, it’s not some cheap trick to lure porn-surfers to my food blog; why would I want to do that?  It’s wordplay on Pigs in Blankets but to satisfy those at the back, here’s an uncut image (for illustration purposes only, please) from the mind-boggling immeatchu blog.

Not sorry to disappoint, I’m referring to the sexiest pasta sauce of all, Puttanesca; a store-cupboard classic from Naples.   Puttana being Italian for whore, puttanesca means whore-style: naturally there is some debate about how it acquired this intriguingly salty name.  It’s all true no doubt, but as importantly it’s a delicious dish to give hunger a good seeing-to and a pushover to pull a few ingredients from fridge and cupboard for the laziest gal – or guy – in town.
raw puttanesca on olive oil dough

Or on a languorous afternoon, do as I did: put a bit of lead in the pencil of some elderly olive oil dough and wrap it around puttanesca’s uncooked ingredients for a putta nuda al forno: salaciously delicious – or deliciously salacious…just try twisting your tongue around that.

Putta Nuda al fornoputtanesca calzone

  • 2 salt-cured anchovies, filleted
  • 4 sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, sliced
  • 10 Niçoise olives, stoned
  • 1 TBS capers, drained
  • dried oregano
  • a fistful of olive oil dough

Shape, strew and scatter as in first pic, stretch the long edges of dough over the filling to meet in the middle and press to seal.  Bake in a hot oven about ½ an hour, basting beforehand and after 15 minutes with oil from the tomatoes.  Cool slightly, slice and serve.

Although there are acceptable variations to the cooked sauce, never have I encountered as total a travesty as at a certain trattoria in Vieux Nice, to which I not-entirely-ironically refer as Casa della Disasta: according to our waitress, their pasta puttanesca contained no olive, neither anchovy nor caper!  Incidentally, on top of that surprise, the line at the till was not for takeaways but disgruntled diners queuing to question the errors on their bills – all in the management’s favour, natch.  Make of that what you will.

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interior of Cafe Baixamar, Mahon de MenorcaCall me weird but I just don’t like it when my waitress takes such obvious offence at any punters daring to invade her erstwhile empty restaurant.  I understand her feelings; years of food service taught me there’s nothing so intrusive as a damn customer when you’ve just gotten used to a bit of solitude.  But those same years – and basic economics – also taught me to stand up & snap out of it, smile brightly and serve politely: as they say, it’s not rocket science – the pay’s better.

Our handy AA Twinpack guide recommended this place for its atmosphere but I doubt it intended the ambiance generated by a blasé bint who was too patently, petulantly cool to be bloody bothered by bloody customers and at lunch-time, at that: 1.45pm, 1345 hours.

In what way was it our fault there was no chilled cava?  ¡¿¡¿No chilled cava!?!?  And was this girl cronies with the (frozen) calamari?  Planning a painting of the (tinned) pimentóns piquillos?  Dating the (possibly pre-packaged) tortilla española?  We felt obliged that despite her simmering resentment our waitress brought anything at all, for not one thing was removed on her return to bar stool, tabletop disappearing beneath debris the while. (more…)

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I’m slowly, surely, resolutely and absolutely regaining lost advantage.  Time was, before my extended colonial (felt more like colonic) exile, the waiting warriors of the Wong Kei on Wardour Street actually recognised me: at my appearance in the doorway their faces broke into smiles, I was greeted with hellos AND priority seating – even on Saturday nights with the 4-storey stairwell sardined floor to ceiling with bridge-and-tunnelers.

And why?  My extravagant beauty and boundless charm of course; or ponder this: maybe it was because I was a regular punter and – this is important – I always tip at the Wong Kei (nothing beats cold cash & coin at melting inscrutable hearts).  And I do believe if any waiters deserve a tip it’s these dudes: brusquely efficient, they’re too busy working to tell me their names, spiel out the specials (there are none) or inform me fatuously that they’ll be my waiter for the evening, but I have never known them to be rude.  When my teapot needs replenishing it’s done with neither wave nor word required – talk about discreet – and our food arrives hot to trot: nothing gets to hang around the dumb waiter here.
A plate of fried kwai due - fresh rice noodles - at the Wong Kei on Wardour Street
I love eating at the Wong Kei; it’s good, it’s cheap and the streetwise professionalism of the waiters is pure entertainment when one’s companions are not.  And if your Soho Saturday night is shaping up on the dull side, just try walking out of here without paying – you’ll suddenly be the (anti-)hero of your own little Jackie Chan movie, only without the humour.  Or Jackie Chan.  I saw two hicks attempt such a dirty trick one busy but not-so lucky night (for them); the mix of militaristic precision and street-brawl outrage with which the waiters shot into active response was poetry in motion – and with all their shouting it was thrilling indeed.  Actually, don’t try this; just believe me or you will regret it and I have no idea if you’ll live to tell the tale, but I rather hope you won’t.

Instead, ingénues and interested others take note of my tips for a trip to the Wong Kei:

  1. indicate how many in your party immediately on arrival
  2. obey directions and go where you’re told – upstairs for couples & groups
  3. sit where you’re told – you will probably be sharing a table with strangers
  4. first check the menu in the window then don’t dither over it inside
  5. be adventurous; if you pick something too weird (or too much!) they’ll tell you
  6. shun the set menus – they’re not as good value
  7. drink the tea: it’s free whereas the alcohol can be warm (no ice provided)
  8. don’t ask for sugar or milk, it’s embarrassing and you won’t get them
  9. ask if you must for a fork, or (preferably) learn chopsticks
  10. flip the lid & keep it open for a teapot top-up/replacement
  11. avoid the washrooms if you can on a busy night
  12. LEAVE A TIP! show your appreciation or go elsewhere

crispy ducks and Wardour Street reflected in a Chinese restaurant window, Soho

41-43 Wardour Street, London, W1D 6PY
020 7437 8408

approx £5 per head depending on appetite, obviously

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parmesan custard with anchovy toastOh joy! Today’s FT features Rowley Leigh sharing his wit, wisdom and, best of all, the recipe for this hot hors d’oeuvre, the talk of London town since the opening of his raved-over restaurant Le Café Anglais, which, I see, now has a visit-worthy website.
Touching to read Rowley got his inspiration for this dish from watching Rick Stein on TV; so much joy in one little weekend.

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Thunderclap followed by dramatic downpour started our first full day with a bang and skewered all tanning plans – but what on earth to do in a vacation-villa ghetto with no sunshine?  There’s this:
Rainy day on holiday
or the teeming toddlers’ activity club (no pics natch) but I’m not short enough, so once the clouds had shed their motherload we plodded north to Ciutadella. The 2km walk was slower but more interesting than taking a bus as we got to smell the landscape and discovered this domestic scene.Domestic pigs in Menorca
That’s daddy pig in the foreground (¡cuales cojones!), separated from his wife, girlfriend and countless scurrying offspring (those little shapes in the background) by a sturdy wall.  Everything in the compound had acquired a uniform ruddiness from the red earth in which they snuffle so they’re hard to spot (no pun intended).
Ciutadella Town Hall atop harbour wall
Like a corny movie, sunshine broke through as we arrived at Ciutadella harbour and the unmistakably Spanish scent of seafood and garlic a-sizzle in olive oil wafted on the breeze.   Strolling by a strip of restaurants nestling along the foot of the old city wall we noticed a number were recommended by our excellent guide book but didn’t fancy their uniform demeanour, nor sitting in the shade for that matter.Cafe Balear, Ciutadella, Menorca after our lunch
Just the other side of the bridge we spot Café Balear – set apart and empty.  None too promising, when all the other places are populated, but a seat in the sun and good reviews sits us down.  And then the real holiday begins: our waiter recites the appetizing menu del dìa; we pick cigale carpaccio and cod alioli for T; pimentos relleños and hake for me, and what a treat they turn out to be:
Carpaccio de cigalo at Cafe Balear, Ciutadella, Menorca
pimentos rellenos de bacalao at Cafe Balear, Ciutadella, Menorca
Cod with alioli at Cafe Balear, Ciutadella, Menorca
hake with potatoes and piquillos at Cafe Balear, Ciutadella, Menorca
I let these pictures speak for themselves, only adding that everything was spankingly fresh and flavoursome (pimentos obviously stuffed in-house) and the presentation perfect for my tastes – burnishing the alioli was an aesthetic nicety which I shall try at home. Ok, so I envied T his tasty extras: migas-stuffed tomato and a wee filo parcel of spinach with pine nuts and raisins but was happy with my hake and well satisfied.table on the terrace at Cafe Balear, Ciutadella harbour, Menorca
A bottle of crisp house white (Penedès again), perfectly chilled with ice bucket, stand and napkin allowed us to take our time; as we progressed through our meal the place filled up – to bursting – and we felt pretty smug to be watching people queue for a table.
People queuing for lunch at Cafe Balear
Don’t often do dessert but I’m never churlish if it’s included in the price, so ever authenticity-oriented I opted for almond cake over apple pie and T mentioned

you’ve had one crème caramel you’ve had them all

as his excuse for trying the same. Good choice, Canadian…
almond cake dessert at Cafe Balear

Service was laudably professional, efficient and friendly despite the fact the place was packed.  Highly recommended, but do arrive early or book ahead.

Menu del dìa: €17 pp  bottle house white: €10

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Great view, not such great food

Sa Nacra restaurant/bar, Santandria cove, Menorca, looking west
So we fetched up at Sa Nacra, a waterside bar/restaurant in (or on) Cala Santandria on both our first and last days in Menorca.  I suspect we ordered the wrong things, but I got the idea the setting is so perfect nobody feels they have to pay much attention to the quality of the fare on offer.  Talking about the wrong thing to order…

hamburger, sausage, egg & chips at Sa Nacra, Menorca…bless his heart; to the left we have hamburger, sausage, egg and chips in time-honoured transport caff greasy spoon style. It’s a good thing Mr T dislikes ketchup as there was none; just a cruet of salt & pepper, oil & vinegar. The vinegar’s always good in Spanish territory, though.

Having awakened at 3 am to catch our Balearic-bound sardine torpedo, T found it satisfying, surprising, but not exactly exciting. And being Canadian he was kind of expecting a bun…

platter of local sausages and cheese, Sa Nacra, MenorcaEyes right for another kind of surprise: my platter of local sausages and cheese(“s”) – before a bite taken.  No garnish, nor much generosity there.  Ah well, at top right two niggardly slices of queso mahon, and reasonably fresca at that because it was ok but bland. Gnawing clockwise, next lies salchichon, pink and slightly garlicky – Spanish salami. Then the most interesting item, morcilla; black pudding (or blood sausage if you must) – thankfully European-style so it didn’t taste like blood-soaked fruitcake, but subtly spiced and savoury; probably bound with rice and featuring the odd fennel seed to lift any heaviness.  Last of all comes sobrassada; essentially the Balearic version of chorizo – no mistaking that tell-tale orange-hue of paprika pimentón.  Good, but not a gastronomic highlight either.

pa amb tomat, at Sa Nacra, Menorca

For us francophiles the lack of automatic bread was a bit of a quandary – in Menorca we discover its presence is unpredictable – so, keeping true to my mission to eat local, I ordered another island speciality: pa amb tomàquet.  It’s supposed to be country bread toasted over a flame, rubbed with tomato and garlic and doused in olive oil.  Which it was, after a fashion, but you can take the country out of bread just like you can take bread out of the country.  Remember dutch crispbakes?  Squish a tomato into one of those and then take the tomato away – voilà!  Certainly edible on 3 hours sleep when washed down with a bottle of cherry-red rosado de casaPenedès I think; in a cooler bucket without ice so we were compelled to drink it fast to drink it cool: a far from odious chore in all that sunshine…

…and for us just arrived from chilly grey England the view was sheer delight: water so clear you can see all the way to the bottom, fish idling below, seabirds wheeling above, all eager for overboard crumbs.  view from Sa Nacra towards Santandria
In my enthusiasm for peering into the depths I tipped the bench and almost launched myself overboard – crumbs!  Rather wish I had though, as Sa Nacra is well-appointed with ladder up and out plus open-air shower, but preferred are plunges from their diving board.

his: €7.25 mine: €4.50 bread: €1.50 wine: €10

 

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