Tag Archives: Spanish

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44 hours in Melbourne

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Why 44 hours? Well, it was just a short visitation to meet our new baby. A baby that we found across the road from the botanical gardens in St Kilda. The time came where we had to think about our future and make sure things are financially in place when retirement becomes reality. Our first investment property that will hopefully make a little money for us.

Aside from doing a property inspection, the only other activities happened to be related to eating. Why else go to Melbourne in the middle of winter? Ok, I know, stupid question.

Our first tram stop was in Fitzroy; a relaxed fill at celeb chef George Calombaris’ Jimmy Grants. And I love the name; a slang term given to Australia’s first wave of “immi” “grants” by Aussies that struggled to get their tongues around foreign names.

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What drew me here was the souva, that hot roll of pita lovingly stuffed with meat, onion, fries and mayo. I first fell in love with them in Santorini many years ago; a corner joint on the main drag that attracted the hoards. It was the first time I’d seen and tried a souva – or gyros – with french fries stuffed in it. Talk about love at first bite.

The Jimmy Grants selection offers a variety of protein fillings along with a falafel for the non carnivores. For this pair it was the Mr Papadopoulos (9.5) – lamb, mustard aïoli, chips, onion & parsley – and the bonegilla (9) – the same deal with chicken. The warm and spongy pita harbours some good flavours, a lot of juiciness and seems the perfect accompaniment to a glass or bottle of booze. Or should it be the other way around? Loved the intense sweetness from the onions. Was it as good as I had in Greece? No, but it wasn’t too shabby either.

We both had a touch of food envy when we saw the grain salad at a neighbouring table (grains, nuts, pulses, herbs & yoghurt), but garbage guts over here had to order the chips, garlic oil, feta & oregano (7). Kinda glad I did, though, as the combination was just what by buds and arteries were needing.

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Desserts aren’t all that plentiful at this inner city fast food joint but I’m beyond glad that I ordered the Greek doughnuts (6). As any hasty fool would do, I dove right in and burned my mouth on the first bite. I guess sticking something into your mouth straight from the fryer is asking for injury. I think I fell in love after the second bite. Puffy, golden nobbly orbs of fried dough doused in honey and generously sprinkled with walnuts.

We passed on the chocolate fudge bar and instead went for Jimmy’s wheel (6), a take on the classic Wagon Wheel. Two crispy chocolate biscuits, raspberry marshmallow and salted peanut butter dipped in dark chocolate. Crushed roasted peanuts bring it all home. I think it may be better than the original.

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  • Jimmy Grants
  • 113 David Street
  • Fitzroy 3065
  • website
  • Jimmy Grants on Urbanspoon

 

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We enjoyed the breakfast at Barry so much that we ended up returning the following morning for another fill. Beats going downstairs for an ordinary hotel buffet, even if it was 7°C outside. The digs are spacious, airy and very inner city at this friendly corner café. And you’ve got to love the polka dot staff aprons that match the concrete polka dot floor.

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It came as no surprise when the other half ordered the crushed avocado (16.5); and they don’t mess around with the quantity of avocado, either. Two thick slices of toast are pile high with the green stuff, plus a variety of heirloom tomatoes, incredibly creamy goat cheese, black sesame and sunflower seeds. Loved the thyme roasted grapes that were generously interspersed throughout the rubble.

The following morning he opts for the less elaborate toasted fruit & nut bread (9) pimped-up with whipped spiced orange ricotta.

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When a menu adds “trust us” to a dish description I can’t help but sample what it is they’re so confidant about. Crunchy peanut butter (12.5) on toast is very much a normal breakfast option but when you go topping it with heirloom tomatoes, things may change a tad. I had to try it. Perhaps I would have been convinced if the tomatoes were sweet and at the peak of ripeness; instead they were rather tasteless.

No qualms were to be had with the ricotta hotcake (17.5), however. One substantial, thick, fluffy and warming pancake studded with blackberries and creamy ricotta. Toasted hazelnuts brought some crunch to the silky softness and a sweet splodge of Canadian maple syrup sweetened it even more.

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  • Barry.
  • 85 High Street
  • Northcote 3070
  • 03 9481 7623
  • website
  • Barry on Urbanspoon

 

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Tucked away in the Mercat Cross Hotel in the same space as Fancy Hank’s barbecue is Doughboys, a small-batch doughnut producer that stands a little differently from other doughnut peddlers. Dipped and topped with goodies as soon as they’re ordered; a method of production that leaves those mass produced wannabes for dead.

Are they worth the five-or-so minute wait and that $4.80-$5.80 price point? Well, kinda. Nowhere near as cloying as Krispy Kreme or airy fairy anaemic as those things from no-frills Aussie bakeries.

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Our choice – The PBJ – fresh churned peanut butter icing with a boysenberry jam dip and sprinkle of roasted hazelnuts and walnuts. And Espresso – coffee icing with roasted almonds, smashed coffee beans, dark Callabeut Belgian chocolate.

And you’ve gotta love the signage at the amenities these guys share with Fancy Hank’s.

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  • Doughboys
  • 456 Queen Street
  • Melbourne 3000
  • website
  • Doughboys Doughnuts on Urbanspoon

 

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The name of this café comes from two bushrangers that created a bit of havoc in the early 1800’s. Gypsey, son of a wealthy English family, turned to bushranging after his wife died giving birth. And Musquito, a Sydney aboriginal that was once a stockman and tracker; sentenced after killing his wife. He too turned to bushranging.

Their names live on at Gypsey & Musquito, an inner city café that has a bit of a penchant for local, foraged and native ingredients. Now you can see my interest in this place. Rustic, understated and cosy are the up and downstairs eating spaces; buzzing with locals up for a breakfast and brunch fill.

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A touch of nostalgia struck when I set my gaze on the counter display of house-baked cakes and sweets. Iced vovo’s, lamingtons and honey crackles sat alongside gluten-free goodies and cakes spiked with native lemon myrtle or bush berries.

Mental note – try some of the sweets before we leave.

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A couple of very green drinks started us off before lunch choices were made. My innards were smiling when I took the first sip of the green bits (7.5). And some recipe bloggers would have felt tingles at the mere sight of the jar it was served in and the candy stripe straw. What were all those green bits? Well, warrigal greens, for a start. Along with kale, orange juice, lemon and coconut water; even a little banana.

There’s also the Van Dieman’s elder (7.5) – crushed cucumber, mint, apple juice and elderflower extract. Seriously good. Is it bad that we were imagining how fab it would have tasted with a slug of gin?

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House-made granola that features macadamia and bush berries, a camel cassoulet, even Tassie smoked salmon with finger lime and sea blight all sounded tempting. I went for the crocodile burger (18.5); a very moist patty of minced reptile from the Northern Territory teamed with cheddar, foraged greens and pepperberry aïoli. Some chips would have been a nice addition.

The quinoa salad (13) went down a real treat. The delicious jumble of textures, colours and flavours came from beet, apple, coconut, a bunch of seeds, kale, sea blight and feta. I loved the pops of sourness from the pomegranate molasses and sorrel; and that oozing poached egg made for a swoon worthy salad.

And yes, I did squeeze in a slice of lemon myrtle ricotta cake and an iced vovo with my macchiato.

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  • Gypsey & Musquito
  • 382 Bridge Road
  • Richmond 3121
  • 03 9939 9314
  • website
  • Gypsey & Musquito on Urbanspoon

 

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Back in town, after a little relaxation time in the hotel with a bottle of vino, we joined the rapidly developing line of people at MoVida Next Door. It was only 5.30pm and there was already a forty minute wait. Popular, much?

Perched up at the bar by the seafood display cabinet I reached for my freshly poured Spanish vino tinto, stuck my nose in and took a substantial whiff.

“Wow, this smells like caramel!” I said.

It was at that point that I turned to my right and noticed the chef conducting a little brûlée action about a metre away. Not the wine after all, but the chef got a laugh, anyway.

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Neither of us was overly hungry so our relatively sparse selection of plates kicked off with a tapa that’s very similar to the one I tried at the Sydney MoVida outpost many months ago. In place of the small quenelle of smoked tomato sorbet I tried in Sydney, it was a piped streak of gazpacho jelly that joined goat curd, capers and anchoa (5.5) on the brittle wafer. A definite must-try for any anchovy fan.

Our other wafered tapa was off the specials – the sardinas (5.5) – a simple and tasty tempura sardine fillet on a slice of house-made pickle. Concentrated omega-3 fatty acids, you know. Very good for you.

If you were to put black pudding and morcilla side by side, I can safely say I’d be swooping in for the latter. It’s spreadable texture, its richness and complexities. Here the morcilla (17) is crumbled and mixed with peas, croutons and lovingly topped with a poached egg. It’s a yolk and flavour explosion.

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I’m generally ok with eating pork fat but the lump of cerdo (17) proved to be a lot more lardo than meat. A thin and slightly crisp layer of skin provided crunch factor, whilst a pickled carrot purée dispersed the extreme fatty flavour of the 2 parts meat-8 parts fat portion.

No qualms with the codorniz (16.5), however. It was perfection, actually. Semi-boned quail that had just enough pan-time to render it internally juicy and slightly crisped on the outside. Salty jamón lay across the tasty little birds like warming doonas and the most delicious white beans provided the lumpy mattress.

I’d jump into bed with birds like this any day.

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  • MoVida Next Door
  • 164 Flinders Street
  • Melbourne 3000
  • 03 9663 3038
  • website
  • MoVida Next Door on Urbanspoon

 

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Boston

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The next stage of our trip involved flying from Charleston back up the east coast to Boston, a city I’ve always wanted to visit. A little odd, mind you, that we left New York and headed south before hitting up Boston back up in the north east. I guess that’s how things were panning out.

A relatively late arrival gave us enough time to catch the Copley Square Farmers’ Market before its vendors packed up and left town. Somehow, after the market, we ended up in the South End tucking into pints of Samuel Adams, wondering where we’d end up for dinner.

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It was then that I remembered I had a few places in the neighbourhood pinned on my phones food map. No point in wasting all the time I put into researching places and compiling an eating map, right?

“Fancy a little Spanish?” I asked.

Why not.

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As the sun was about to set we turned up at Toro. No reservation; just feeling a little hopeful that they had a couple of spare seats. Not that you can book, anyway.

Inside was heaving. A very dark candle-lit room buzzing with locals trying to yell over the top of one another. Hmm, maybe not a good idea. An outside table it was, out in the cool air where we could sit and enjoy a bottle of Spanish San Clodio and nibble on a few tapas beneath the street lights. A rather large menu meant we had to be selective. Pinchos, tapas, charcuterie – there was too much I wanted to sample at this South End institution that has been going strong for almost a decade.

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We didn’t want to pass up the jamón de pato (9). Impossibly thin slices of cured duck breast scattered with espelette pepper and orange zest; so delicate that it virtually dissolved in the mouth. Pan con tomate (4) joins the set, toasted and topped with beautifully garlicky tomato with olive oil and sea salt. For an extra $1 you can add anchovies.

I personally couldn’t ignore the mollejas (15); a trio of crispy sweetbread lightly glazed in blood orange reduction with peanuts, fermented black beans and a swipe of puréed celeriac beneath it all. Sweet, salty, sour. The tastebuds were jumping.

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A tapas menu is bound to have a croquette of some description, so here we have the croquettas de bacalao (10). Salt cod fans can rejoice in the creamy innards and crunchy exterior; dunking away in the aioli and finishing with some tempura lemon rings. We couldn’t quite get the flavour of lemon, nor the texture, which led us to believe it was a vegetable we’re more familiar seeing in such an outfit.

Well hello there, panza de cardo (14), you sexy lump of crisp pork belly. The yellow street lamps may have drowned out the colour but they had no chance in drowning out the flavours. Things veered from Spanish to Korean with the inclusion “kimchi” vegetables that were basically like a pickle spiked with ginger, rather than the complex kimchi flavourings. A vermouth and carrot purée is there, as well.

Our final plate is the pato con membrillo (9); two smoked duck drumettes loaded with smokey bbq flavours. A sticky, sweet and tart quince glaze makes for some messy finger food, which is half the fun.

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  • Toro
  • 1704 Washington Street
  • South End 02118
  • 617 536 4300
  • website
  • Toro on Urbanspoon

 

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Staying at the Loews Hotel gave us a relatively central location to many parts of town. Ten minutes to Downtown and very close to the South End; an area that reminds me a little of Sydney’s Newtown, yet not as busy and much more spread out. Breakfast wasn’t covered in our room rate so that meant one thing. Finding somewhere close enough to grab food and a coffee. And naturally coffee was the biggest concern.

Down on Berkeley Street is the appropriately named Berkeley Perk Café, a busy little place that’s a convenient spot to hit up for a cheap breakfast. The small counter overflows with home-baked cakes, cookies and sweets, flasks of coffee and a small espresso machine sit beneath chalked drinks menus and breakfast offerings are scribed on another board.

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My macchiato comes delivered in a large mug, filled to half-way point. A layer of airy foam blanketing a rather long pour of espresso. When I saw a mug coming our way I almost said it was probably for another table; until I looked inside and noticed this was how a macchiato was made at Perk. Perhaps a single shot espresso should have been ordered.

Our food is unfancy and very much like you’d knock up in your own home kitchen. The Berkeley omelette special (5.95) is filled with tomato, bacon and onion and topped with a little avocado. A coffee is included with the smoked salmon bagel (6.5); an everything bagel lightly toasted with tomato, onion and cream cheese. A comfy café, very pleasant service and clearly popular with the locals.

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  • Berkeley Perk Café
  • 69 Berkeley Street
  • South End 02116
  • Facebook
  • Berkeley Perk Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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Anyone that’s up for a serious coffee made by serious coffee nerds ought to look up Render, down on Columbus Avenue. It’s housed in an old Victorian brownstone with a sunny entrance and front seating area that overlooks the street. Most of the food in the cabinet is made in the minuscule open kitchen behind the counter, with some exceptions like the pastries from local baker hero, Iggy’s.

The macchiato is done “noisette” style and packs a real punch; something we returned for a few times during our Boston visit. Pity we weren’t around long enough to partake in a little free coffee cupping. And you’ve got to love those Iggy’s bagels; toasted and spread with a normal amount of cream cheese. Not those artery-clogging mountains you get in NYC.

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  • Render Coffee
  • 563 Columbus Avenue
  • South End 02118
  • 617 262 4142
  • website
  • Render Coffee on Urbanspoon

 

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The city of Boston drips with history so a visit to at least one of its cemeteries ought to make it to the agenda. What used to be part of the Boston Common, the Granary Burying Ground, was instituted in 1660 thanks to overcrowding at nearby Kings Chapel. Ordinary folk, three signers of the Declaration of Independence (Hancock, Adams & Paine), industrialist and patriot Paul Revere, members of Benjamin Franklin’s family and many more. It’s a fascinating place to explore, read grave stones and see a whole lot of inscribed skulls, crossbones and winged death-heads.

The burying ground at Copp’s Hill is worth exploring, as well.

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A little too much talk about dead people? Then a short walk down Tremont Street for a coffee may be a better way to fill the time.

Thinking Cup overlooks the Commons and is a decent contender for those amongst us that quite happy turn a nose to the consistently ordinary Starbucks empire. Oregon’s Stumptown Roasters provide the beans, there are baked goods galore, and no wifi. No wifi means there isn’t a sea of laptops taking up tables in this slightly Euro-feeling set-up. And that’s a bonus, in my caffeine-induced opinion. The cafe does feel a tad “high-density” thanks to its size and popularity, but when you’re lucky enough to nab a table or stool, the coffee is worth it.

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  • Thinking Cup
  • 165 Tremont Street
  • Boston 02111
  • 617 482 5555
  • website
  • Thinking Cup on Urbanspoon

 

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With lunch-time fast approaching, consideration was given to Daddy’s Fried Dough across the road in the Commons, for a bit of a snack. Nah. We were craving something Asian, so walked down towards Chinatown.

South Street Diner caught my eye, but I stuck to my cravings as we scoped the streets of Boston’s rather small Chinatown. And then we came across Hong Kong Eatery. Perfect.

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An obligatory Tsingtao, or two, cool us down in this eatery that claims to have Boston’s best Chinese food. One thing for sure is the look of the place transports me back to any one of the beaten-up eateries you can find all over HK. Nasty bright lights above-head, chair legs that screech across floor tiles and locals slurping away on one thing or another.

All the Cantonese favourites are there for the picking. Jellyfish with shredded duck, anyone? A massive menu that takes a little time to get through; plus a bunch of American-Chinese dishes for those that can’t veer from the food hall staples.

For such low prices I wasn’t expecting as much food as what we were given, and when it came to those pork spare ribs (8.95), they were exactly what my body needed. A light crispness on the outside with incredibly juicy meat that slipped off the bone with ease. A liberal salting, loads of fried onion and garlic and minimal chilli made for some serious lip smacking.

The bbq pork (6.5) may have been generous in size with some really good crispy skin, but the meat was fresh from the fridge and unpleasantly cold. I’m used to this being either room temperature or a little warm, not colder than the beers we were drinking.

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  • Hong Kong Eatery
  • 79 Harrison Avenue
  • Chinatown 02111
  • 617 423 0838
  • website
  • Hong Kong Eatery on Urbanspoon

 

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Across the channel in Fort Pond is Barrington Coffee, the café and retail store of this local roasting company. A big open space, shiny Synesso, a few single origin beans to choose from, there’s drip and flash brew as well. Really good macchiato and a nice little place to drop in for a quick pit stop.

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  • Barrington Coffee
  • 346 Congress Street
  • South Boston 02210
  • 857 277 1914
  • website
  • Barrington Coffee on Urbanspoon

 

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Once again the South End was our saving grace when it came to dinner. I’d already known about The Butcher Shop so it was almost by default that we grabbed a couple of seats before the place filled with carnivores.

This fully functioning butcher shop is like something in Italy or France; providing not only fresh meat and smallgoods, but ready-to-take-home prepared meals, condiments, breads, oils, even a cookbook.

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We gave our livers a rest from the vino and settled on a couple of cold brews; which is a given when there were sausages in our sights.

Heirloom tomato salad (14), a bit of a favourite for this pair, swiftly landed on the table. A few shavings of parmesan, chunks of balsamic-soaked baguette, and a good glug of olive oil helped make those impossibly sweet tomatoes shine.

I’m also a bit of a sucker for steak tartar (17) and here they don’t mess around with the portioning. There was a lot. And thankfully enough toasted bread to pile it all onto. Some pickled onions sit to the side and my only gripe would be that there weren’t enough capers mixed into the meat.

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There’s not a great deal you can do when it comes to presenting a sausage on a plate. So snaps to the chef for not doing a smiley face. Not that he would have. First we have the prosciutto sausage (19), house-made of course, served up with arugula, fig mostarda and more of those tasty little balsamic croutons. Nice sausage, chef.

Mine was the hot dog à la maison (16), a fairly decent sausage presented on rather dry bread and topped with pickled fennel. There’s a little seeded mustard plus some not-so-crispy pomme gaufrette; or waffle fries for us non-French speaking folk.

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  • The Butcher Shop
  • 552 Tremont Street
  • South End 02118
  • 617 423 4800
  • website
  • The Butcher Shop on Urbanspoon

 

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The city’s oldest residential neighbourhood, the North End, is also known as Boston’s Little Italy. The first Italian immigrants arrived in the mid 1800’s and by the 1930’s the area was almost exclusively Italian; a bustling community that was teeming with small grocery shops, bakers, butchers, tailors and services.

Today much of the area has been retained. It may no longer be exclusively Italian, but the narrow streets and lanes are still home to many shops, grocers, providores and dozens of Italian restaurants. And at times it really does feel like you’re wandering the streets of an Italian city or town.

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A little bonus came our way when we stumbled upon the second outlet of Thinking Cup. Whether it was the time of day or just the area, this one was quieter and more laid back than the downtown outlet. And the village atmosphere of this part of Hanover Street makes it all the better. Once again it was a couple of macchiati that did the trick in putting a little more bounce in our step. And with lunch time fast approaching we were keeping an eye for a nice little restaurant around the neighbourhood. Italian lunch, of course.

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  • Thinking Cup
  • 236 Hanover Street
  • North End 02113
  • 857 233 5277
  • website
  • Thinking Cup on Urbanspoon

 

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This part of Little Italy was my favourite. A tight cross of streets that almost felt like Rome or Naples. Elderly Italian folk standing and chatting in doorways, deliveries of fresh vegetables to corner shops, even a guy going from door to door selling loaves of fresh bread.

One place that stood the test of time, since 1932 anyway, is Polcari’s Coffee. Stepping into this corner grocer is like taking a step into decades past. Not only do they stock almost thirty varieties of imported coffee, but it’s a one-stop shop for loose leaf tea, legumes, nuts, flours and a dazzling array of spices. Even shaved ice slushies.

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  • Polcari’s Coffee
  • 105 Salem Street
  • North End 02113
  • 617 227 0786
  • website
  • Polcari's Coffee on Urbanspoon

 

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Feeling a little spoilt for choice with the abundance of Italian restaurants, it was Trattoria di Monica that took our pick as a lunch venue. The display of pumpkins helped in getting our attention, as well.

This cosy little restaurant is one of three businesses owned by local boys, the Mendoza Brothers. Over the road from the trattoria is Monica’s Mercato, a gorgeous and recently expanded providor. A few blocks away is the sprawling Vinoteca di Monica, the original restaurant that moved from the small space the trattoria now calls home.

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Lunch was a relaxed and delicious affair. A simple spaghetti aglio e olio (16) – garlic, olive oil, chilli flakes and parmesan. Just what the other half was craving. For me, an oozing meatball panini (12) loaded with homemade meatballs, tomato & basil sauce and mozzarella. Not the daintiest object to eat, but when something is that delicious, who cares what my face and hands look like during the process.

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  • Trattoria di Monica
  • 67 Prince Street
  • North End 02113
  • 617 720 5472
  • website
  • Trattoria di Monica on Urbanspoon

 

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Once again we end up in the South End for an evening meal, this time across the road from where we’d eaten the night prior; The Butcher Shop. Somehow we’d ended up at two places owned by local chef Barbara Lynch, without even knowing it. And it appears she has several more places about town

B&G Oysters is all about the bivalves. Well, that seems to be the main attraction at this subterranean neighbourhood restaurant. The sunken rear courtyard was already teeming with early diners, so it was a lucky strike that we were able to nab a seat inside at the marble bar, sans reservation. Best seat in the house? I guess it depends on how you look at things. The way we were looking at things involved a whole lot of shucking action.

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A few oysters landed in front of me – from Dabob Bay, Miranda Bay and all the way from the northwest coast, the Olympic Miyagi. I’m not connoisseur enough to taste much of a difference between each variety, but I must say they’re pretty damn special.

Whilst the menu is predominantly seafood centric, there are a few items for those that shun the creatures from our oceans and estuaries. The reoccurring menu choice on this American trip seemed to be tomato related. And why wouldn’t we when they were at their seasonal best?

Heirloom tomato salad (14) with yellow watermelon, feta and pistachio. Lovely combination, even if it did lack some seasoning.

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The Atlantic blue cod (29) comes crisp-skinned, resting on green and yellow beans in bagna cauda, a “hot bath” of olive oil, butter and perhaps an anchovy or two. There’s grapefruit in there as well, making for a really tasty dish.

My Jonah crab tagliatelle (26) was all about sweet crab meat poached in butter, but sadly let down by overcooked pasta. With more hits that misses, this is one eatery I’d gladly welcome to my own neighbourhood.

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  • B&G Oysters
  • 550 Tremont Street
  • South End 02116
  • 617 423 0550
  • website
  • B & G Oysters on Urbanspoon

 

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With the weather gods on our side we thought we’d head out early one morning and explore Back Bay; in particular Newbury Street. There’s a whole lot going on along the eight blocks of this bustling thoroughfare. Boutiques, restaurants, cafés, galleries, you name it. Most of which are housed in gorgeous 19th-century brownstones.

A post-breakfast second coffee hit occurred at a popular little café tucked down a few steps from the street. Pavement Coffeehouse uses robust Counter Culture coffee, and for those that prefer leaves to beans, Risha Tea may be of interest. Something tells me there are edibles on the menu but I didn’t really pay attention to anything other than my rockin’ macchiato.

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  • Pavement Coffeehouse
  • 286 Newbury Street
  • Back Bay 02115
  • 617 859 9515
  • website
  • Pavement Coffee House on Urbanspoon

 

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With the morning sun ablaze over the city, it was when we walked across the Harvard Bridge that we appreciated the beauty of this waterfront city even more. Barely a breath of wind, the Charles River almost resembling a mirror and the sparse city skyline stretching to the east. Stunning.

For those unaware, two of the worlds most prominent universities can be found on the north side of the river in Cambridge – Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We were heading into uni territory to see what else went down outside of these massive learning institutions.

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Boston may not have much to offer when it comes to African restaurants, but I did notice there were a few on this side of the bridge.

Asmara is the capital of Eritrea, a small African country barely twenty years old. It’s also the name of this friendly restaurant on busy Massachusetts Avenue. The set-up is cosy – cane furniture, a collection of traditional artefacts and a television playing Eritrean music videos. There’s the option of sitting at regular tables or the more traditional mesob; a woven wicker basket on which food is placed and eaten communally using your fingers and a flatbread called injera.

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Both of our dishes arrive on a platter which is placed on the mesob. Time to get dirty. Stuffed green pepper (7.95) with spiced ground beef is a beautifully savoury appetiser served on injera with a house salad.

My desire to try a few things was satisfied with the sega bebaynatu (15.95), a meat combination plate featuring a few of the curries. Tsehbhi derho – chicken marinated in garlic & herbs in a slightly splice red pepper sauce. Timtimo – yellow split peas cooked in a mild sauce. Atkilt begeeh – lamb in mild yellow sauce. Asmara tibsy – cubed beef sautéed with onion, peppers, chilli and garlic. Alitcha ahmilti – vegetable stew. Most are quite tasty and mildly spiced, yet the beef was nothing more than boiled meat with onion and barely an ounce of flavour.

Still, a pretty good lunch.

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  • Asmara
  • 739 Massachusetts Avenue
  • Cambridge 02139
  • 617 864 7447
  • website
  • Asmara on Urbanspoon

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I took us on a little detour in search of this café on Broadway. Dwelltime. With previous incarnations as a grocery store and then an auction house, the cafe is open, light-filled and dripping with students socialising or with eyes transfixed on a laptop.

A large island service counter takes up the centre of the maplewood floor. Cabinets with snacks, La Marzocco Strada machine, pour-over station, shiny brass tap for cold brew and a row of seats for onlookers. The beans come from local Arlington roaster Barissimo, a bunch of folk that clearly know what they’re doing. And an added bonus for people like us … no wifi during lunch hours. That means less people setting up office, sitting on one drink for hours and taking up seats.

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  • dwelltime
  • 364 Broadway
  • Central Square 02139
  • 339 368 7300
  • website
  • Dwelltime on Urbanspoon

 

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Our final meal in Boston was spend in casual style at the iconic Craigie On Main, also on the Cambridge side of town. Cheffed by Tony Maws and a kitchen brigade that works like a well-oil machine, this is a place that firmly believes in gathering the ingredients and then creating the days menu.

We were here to try the 3-course prix fixe menu (67); a line-up of food where concentration and effort is clearly evident in each plate set before us.

This would have to be the first place to send out an amuse bouche that differs to the one your companion received. A one-bite-and-it’s-gone chilled Maine mussel with fennel foam for him, and a beef heart pastrami for me.

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I could tell someone was getting a tad enamoured with the Spanish octopus a la plancha. A couple of impossibly tender tentacles twisting beneath a pickled lemon salad, micro basil and a cushy bed of green pepper romesco. Great stuff.

I did a little swooning myself when I sunk my teeth into the meaty, fatty, rich and sweet fried pig’s tails. Seriously? The ass-end of a swine tastes this good? Halo’s of fried onion brought some crunch and some Vietnamese nước chấm, pickled peanuts and coriander made everything shine even more.

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The swine party continues with a Vermont pork 3-way. First there’s a juicy rib crusted in coriander seed & other spices, a hunk of confit belly and another hunk of confit suckling pig. Some wheat berries, baby yellow carrots and maitake mushrooms join the party as well.

Some rather large chunks of swordfish à la poêle are spruced up with braised alliums, bacon lardons, tomatillo and barley couscous. Some very clean flavours, yet quite filling with the meaty fish.

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A trio of house-made sorbets does some cleansing action with raspberry, cucumber and peach flavours. A rather simple dessert addition compared to the miso cheesecake I ordered. The cake itself is beautifully fluffy and a touch salty from the miso, but I wasn’t entirely in love with the daigaku imo (candied sweet potato); that wasn’t sweet at all. Akin to eating fried pieces of yam that’s still a little soft. I think the herb was baby amaranth. The best part? The chunks of caramelised puffed rice.

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  • Craigie on Main
  • 853 Main Street
  • Central Square 02139
  • 617 497 5511
  • website
  • Craigie On Main on Urbanspoon
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Casa Mono & Cata

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Returning to New York had few requirements. There was that nagging list of places as long as my arm, many of which we didn’t get to because five weeks in NYC still isn’t enough, but one restaurant we had to revisit was Casa Mono. Loved it the first time and, as expected, had the same feelings the second time around.

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Rather than squeeze my long legs beneath the cramped table like last time, it was dinner up at the kitchen counter with full view of the boys in action. What’s the best way to eat at a place like this? Order a bunch of plates and go with the flow.

The first dish to arrive is the pulpo (13), a tangle of charred squid over a salad of sheaved fennel and grapefruit segments. A few simple components that prove less is often best.

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Salads are seldom ordered at restaurants but the sound of the blackened beet salad (14) couldn’t be ignored. Charred chunks of golden beets joined a medley of caña de cabra (a mild creamy Spanish cheese), blueberries, shaved pickled beet, some micro herbs and a caraway tuile.

A little confit goat (19) hits us with its rich tenderness; served with zucchini, its flower, pistachio and an interesting emulsion of cheese and avocado. One of my favourites are the sweetbreads (19), cornmeal-crusted and fried and teamed with baby fennel and doused in a buttery almond sauce.

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A little more offal joined the set, of course. Two decent sized baked bones of marrow (15) with braised beef cheek that sits on the side. The torn beef is quite sweet and rich with cinnamon but sadly less than two teaspoons of marrow came from the bones.

Next up, desserts. An almost cleansing bowl of lime basil sorbet (9), olive oil ice cream, fresh plums, charred apricots and a good drizzle of wildflower honey. Can you imagine the flavours that were going on? Delicious. The other dessert is cherries with corn ice cream & meringue (9). The ice cream has a distinct corn flavour, just sweeter, which is a winner with the torched meringue, some salted pistachio’s and the balsamic-macerated cherries.

I look forward to my next Casa Mono visit, whenever that may be.

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  • Casa Mono
  • 52 Irving Place
  • Gramercy 10003
  • 212 253 2773
  • website
  • Casa Mono on Urbanspoon

 

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In keeping with the Spanish theme, here’s another place that’s worthy of repeat visitations. Cata is a newish tapas restaurant that opened in the restaurant-heavy Lower East Side. The fit-out is easy on the eye and the service is spot on. The guy running the floor couldn’t have been more helpful to his customers and proud to do what he does.

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The dinner menu is cleverly broken up into categories such as pintxos, plancha, land, sea, brochettes etc. Within these categories is a bunch of dishes that I personally wanted to try, one by one. Almost every one of them.

Pan con tomate (3.5) is a typical Spanish snack that is often eaten for breakfast. I know I had my share when travelling through Spain many years ago. It’s a DIY affair at Cata, where you spoon the delicious mixture of tomato, olive oil, garlic and salt over the toasted bread. We even had a little tomato left over and the manager insisted he bring more bread as to not waste it.

Skewers of halloumi (6.5) are next, served with caramelised onion and membrillo (quince). Salty, sour and a tad sweet.

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The carpaccio of sea bass (12) was not only beautiful, but the fresh flavours were divine. Thin slices of fish, a good glug of olive oil, sea salt, chives and lemon juice. To mix up the textures there are a few crunchy pieces of fish crackling.

I’m never one to order patatas bravas (7) at a Spanish restaurant as I often find it ordinary and an unnecessary space-taker. However, once I tasted it here, I wished everyone made it this way. There was none of that tomato sauce that slops everything together. Instead the potato is crisp on the outside, fluffy within and coated in a highly seasoned and spicy mixture. A ramekin foaming with espuma d’allioli is there for a little dunking.

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It didn’t mention it on the menu, but the Spanish mackerel (7) is served raw, which would disappoint anyone with an aversion to uncooked fish. I’m ok with raw fish but the other half wasn’t too happy. There’s nothing complicated about the dish, either. Slices of mackerel, herb oil and alternating dabs of heirloom tomato foam and yuzu jam foam.

One of the go-to dishes at Cata has to be the smoked lamb ribs (16). These babies are intensely smokey, supremely rich and a tad fatty. To balance out the intensity there’s some pickled veg on the side.

The final savoury dish is roasted bone marrow (17), loaded with the fatty wobbly stuff. So much marrow that there wasn’t enough bread to spread it on. What made it even better was the bright green manila clam, garlic and parsley concoction on top. The flavours being subtle enough as to not overwhelm the hero of the dish.

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Warm olive oil cake (9) brought a little sugar to the table, topped with a poached half of Jersey peach with crunchy pistachio ice cream. The other dessert, supremely rich as it was, is a dark chocolate terrine (10) drizzled with olive oil and sweet & salty breadcrumbs. Every ganache-like mouthful felt like sweet sin on the tongue.

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  • Cata
  • 245 Bowery
  • Lower East Side 10002
  • 212 505 2282
  • website
  • Cata on Urbanspoon
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Tarta de Santiago

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This is a variation of the Torta de Santiago that I made late last year. The recipe for this tart was actually given to me by a reader named Tony, a guy that seemed pretty chuffed with my previous recipe for this beautiful Spanish cake. I understand it comes from a book named The Spanish Kitchen by Pepita Aris, and to be honest, I couldn’t wait for very long before I gave the recipe a burl.

I thought about using the same cross stencil to decorate the top, but when I glanced out of my kitchen doors I spotted some beautiful leaves on my deck beneath our black Japanese maple tree. Perfect!

What makes this tart so special is the addition of quince paste; a layer of which sits between the pastry and the filling. The recipe called for cinnamon or cardamom to be used in the pastry. I went with both. It’s supremely moist and quite sweet and it may sound like a cliché, but I couldn’t stop at one slice. This thing is divine. Thanks Tony!

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tarta de santiago

serves 12

 

pastry :

  • 150 g plain flour
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp cardamom
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 100 g butter, cubed
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • cold water (approx 4 tbsp)

 

Place the flour, cinnamon, cardamom, sugar and butter into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add the egg yolk and pulse to incorporate. Adding one tablespoon of water at a time, pulse until the mixture just comes together. Remove the pastry from the processor, squeeze together, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for half an hour.

Dust your working surface with a little flour and roll out the pastry and line a 27 cm tart tin. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

filling :

  • 200 g ground almonds
  • 100 g caster sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 75 g butter, melted
  • 75 ml dry sherry
  • 200 g quince jelly
  • icing sugar, to dust

 

Preheat oven to 200°C.

Take 50 g of the ground almonds and mix it with the quince jelly. Set aside.

Combine the remaining ingredients and mix well. Spread the quince paste over the base of the chilled pastry base. Spread the almond filling over the quince layer evenly. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 170°C, then bake for a further 20 minutes.

Allow the tart to cool in the tin before removing it. Dust with icing sugar and serve at room temperature.

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Encasa Deli

Going into town on the weekend is an exercise I prefer to avoid as the Monday to Friday trudge is enough for one week. For some reason we needed to head into the city centre to look at or pick something up so seeing it was almost lunch o’clock, Encasa Deli down on Bathurst Street was a good contender. Plus I’d been wanting to try try it since they opened towards the end of last year.

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The set-up is a neat little parcel of Spanish food to be eaten inhouse and other bits to be purchased for home. Smallgoods and drygoods, predominantly from Spain, cover the deli component. A dazzling array of charcuterie, bacalao, oils, spices, even bathroom products.

Aside from the great coffee they churn out, it was the bocadillo’s that got our appetites. A crusty baguette filled with a variety of tasty ingredients and something that anyone could settle on. Something that became our staple on both previous visits to Spain was the good old bocadillo pa amy tomaquet (8.5), or tomato-rubbed bread with jamon serrano. A simple arrangement and a mighty fine one. I went for a bocadillo with a little more substance – the pepito (13). Consisting of pan-seared medallions of eye fillet, a fried egg, cheese, aioli and lettuce. Man, what a sandwich! Finished off with a second macchiato (3) and a custard tart (3.5), that was our stomach’s sorted for several hours.

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  • Encasa Deli
  • 135 Bathurst Street
  • Sydney 2000
  • 02 9283 4277
  • website
  • Encasa Deli on Urbanspoon

Torta de Santiago

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The first time I tried this deliciously moist cake was at Brindisa Spanish Foods in London’s Borough Market. It has to be the simplest cake anyone could make. A handful of ingredients, easy mixing and very little to wash up. Being almond based makes it gluten free as well. The recipe I used is based on this one, but I’ve used orange instead of lemon zest, raw instead of white sugar (and less of it) and threw in some fragrant cardamom because I love the stuff.

Spanish history traces torta de Santiago back to the Middle Ages and by more recent tradition (in 1924 by Jose Mora Soto from Santiago de Compostela) it’s branded with St James’ cross. The actual origin may be a little hazy and uncertain but one thing for sure is it’s hard to stop at one slice. Click on the cross below to print off the stencil.

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torta de santiago

serves 12

 

  • 250 g ground almonds
  • 200 g raw caster sugar
  • finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • Icing sugar, to sprinkle

 

Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Grease and line a 20 cm springform tin.

Combine the ground almonds, sugar, zest, cardamom and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl lightly beat the eggs and vanilla until just combined. Pour the beaten eggs into the almond mixture and stir well to form a batter. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake the cake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin before unmoulding. When cooled completely, lay the cross stencil in the centre of the cake and dust liberally with icing sugar. Carefully remove the stencil, slice into portions and serve with double cream.

 

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Beetroot & goat cheese croquettes with salmorejo

This recipe came about after I was instantly besotted with one of the tapas at Delicado Foods in McMahons Point. Not only was every dish really good but it was the croquette that won my tastebuds that day. A simple filling of beetroot and goat cheese, crumbed and snap fried. A divine creaminess on the tongue and an accompanying sauce that’s normally eaten as a cold soup. I recreated the salmorejo here so now it was time to put my hands to the star of the show.

Very simple, really. It took little thought to figure this one out. Finely grated cooked beetroot mixed with goat cheese. Flour, egg, crumbs, hot oil. Done! Teamed with the salmorejo, something you can make the day before, your tongue will be doing pleasured back-flips in no time.

beetroot & goat cheese croquettes with salmorejo

makes 8

 

  • 300 g goat cheese
  • 1 medium beetroot, boiled, chilled and peeled
  • 1/3 cup plain flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 500 ml canola or peanut oil, for frying
  • Salmorejo, get the recipe here

 

Grate the beetroot very finely using a microplane. Measure 6 tablespoons of the grated beetroot and set aside. Any excess can be used in a salad. If you don’t quite make 6 tablespoons it doesn’t matter either.

Using a fork, mash up the goat cheese in a mixing bowl. Add the grated beetroot and mix until well incorporated. Using a ¼ cup as a measure, roll the mixture into rough balls and place onto a large plate. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to firm up.

Place the flour, beaten egg and panko in three separate bowls. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.

Remove the beetroot & goat cheese balls from the fridge and quickly shape into perfect balls. One by one coat each ball in the flour, dunk into the egg and finally roll well in the panko. Repeat with the remaining balls. A couple at a time, fry the croquettes in the oil until golden brown, being careful as you turn them as they may split and burst open. Drain on paper towels as you fry the remaining croquettes.

Serve hot with a good dollop of salmorejo. Garnish with herbs, if you wish.

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Salmorejo

Just about everyone has heard of gazpacho, that Andalucían chilled vegetable soup commonly consumed in the warmer months. A close relative to gazpacho is salmorejo, originating in Córdoba. It’s basically an emulsion of fresh tomatoes, bread and oil where it’s served cold as a soup or even as a dip or sauce. The flavour is earthy and it’s really refreshing as a starter to a more robust spread of dishes.

The recipe I’ve come up with is based on many I found online. I’ve sautéed the onion and garlic instead of using it raw as I’m not a fan of the lingering after-taste, and rather than vinegar and lemon juice, I just used verjuice. Traditionally the soup is garnished with chopped boiled egg and jamon serrano but I’ve decided to finely grate the egg for a more delicate finish. I even put an egg into the soup. The jamon can be chopped and sprinkled over the soup as is but crisping it up in the microwave (or use an oven) adds a nice salty crunch with each spoonful.

This soup is ideal to serve in very small glasses if you’ve got a cocktail party planned. No spoons required. Just a quick shot and your guests are happy!

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serves 4

 

  • 1 cup tepid water
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup day old baguette, roughly torn
  • 5 medium tomatoes (500 g)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely grated
  • 2 tbsp verjuice
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, reserve 1 for garnish
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to garnish
  • Sea salt & black pepper
  • 4 slices jamon serrano, or prosciutto

 

Dissolve the salt in the tepid water then pour over the torn pieces of bread. Allow to soak for half an hour then squeeze out the liquid, reserving the water.

Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Cut a cross on the bottom of each tomato, drop into the boiling water and allow to blanch for 20-30 seconds. Remove the tomatoes and quickly refresh them in a bowl of iced water. Remove and discard the skin and core, cut in half, squeeze out and discard the seeds and place the tomato halves into the bowl of a food processor.

Heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium pan and sauté the chopped onions and garlic over low heat until translucent, but not golden. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes and place in the processor with the tomatoes. Add the verjuice and process until very smooth. With the motor still running, gradually add the soaked bread and a couple of tablespoons of the reserved bread water. Finely grate one of the boiled eggs and add it to the food processor, blending well for 30 seconds. With the motor still running, add the 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil in a steady stream. Season well with sea salt and freshly milled black pepper. Refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Place the slices of jamon serrano on a paper towel in the microwave and zap for 15 seconds. Turn the slices over and zap for another 15 seconds. Remove from microwave and allow to cool and crisp up.

To serve, ladle the cold soup into 4 small bowls, finely grate over the remaining boiled egg, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and garnish with the jamon.

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Delicado Foods

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I’ve said it many times. I love this city. Ok, I know I’ve slagged off Sydney almost as much but deep down she’s the only girl I’ll ever truly love. I was born in this state, I lived north of the border for a decade and somehow, as if by destiny, Sydney drew me back to its unplanned streets and inner city lifestyle. In the twenty years I’ve been here I could probably count the times I crossed the Bridge to the northside. It rarely happens. Until recently. I’ve taken a liking to what I’m discovering north of that bridge and methinks this is just the start of it. Venturing beyond my comfort zone is something I hope to perpetuate now that I’ve set my sights on a land called the Lower North Shore.

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Lunching at Sails on Lavender Bay reintroduced me to that cute high-brow village down on Blues Point Road. It also made me notice this cosy Spanish restaurant-slash-bottle shop I wish I had in my own village of Erskineville. Delicado Foods covers a few bases, thanks to ex Wildfire sommelier Ben Moechtar. Fronting the corner is a don’t-mess-with-me bottle shop that has the most insane selection of European wines I’ve seen for a long time. Floor-to-ceiling shelves of vino that would make any wino’s heart flutter. Strangely, anything I picked up lacked a price tag and knowing me I was man-handling a top-shelf rioja I couldn’t afford.

The deli component to this business is almost as impressive. Jars of Spanish goodies line the shelves, smoked meats and cheeses fill the chilled cabinets. Above the handful of indoor tables hang paella pans, over-sized decorative chillies and wooden ham holders. Visually there’s so much going on in here it feels like you’re in downtown Madrid or Barcelona. Spanish beats pipe through the speakers and the smells of coffee, jamon, queso, olives and fried squid transport me back to our Spanish travels.

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Breakfast is something I know I’ll be heading back for but this particular visitation was all about kicking back with a Span-tini (Mahon Xoriguer gin & Palomino Fino sherry $16), a few tapas and raciones. The first plate was a pleasure to tuck into. Toasted white and rye sourdough, slow-roasted garlic and black olive tapenade (8.5). I would have loved if the Donatella Versace-coloured garlic cloves were of spreading consistency, but they squashed down into the bread nicely anyway.

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The hands-down favourite at the table was this. Croquette (4.8) of beetroot and goat’s cheese, lightly drizzled with salmorejo. The crumbed and fried little nugget of heaven looked like any other but it was only when you took to it with a fork that it stood out from the rest. A creamy centre of fuchsia-coloured goat’s cheese, mild and earthy on the palate and balanced with the slight tanginess of the Andalucian gazpacho-like soup/sauce that came with it. A lone scallop ceviche (4.5) came in the shell, this one was mine, knee-deep in citrusy juices and a generous dusting of smoked paprika. Red wine, sherry vinegar, lemon and garlic oil made for a quick and tasty shot of seafood.

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It may have been forgotten about but after a quiet reminder we got our boquerones (9). Deliciously marinated ribbons of white anchovy simply draped over lightly-toasted baguette. At that point I was wishing I was drinking a Spanish beer, something I felt much more appropriate than a martini vInnoDBtion.

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Our small appetisers and tapas progressed to raciones, starting with a holy-crap-this-is-insanely-delicious plate of confit pork belly (two large hunks of it $30) with several pork & pistachio empañadas wedged between. Beneath the empañadas are plump compoted apricots, on top some braised radicchio and underneath everything a slick of almond jus. Pork belly lovers, this one’s for you. A fatty extravaganza you’ll be thinking about for days.

My racione plate was all about the red meat. A Rangers Valley black angus sirloin (35), char-grilled with some red capsicum, thin slices of carrot and zucchini. Somehow I failed to mention how I wanted the meat cooked so it came out medium. A little over-cooked for me as I prefer it slightly rarer than medium-rare but aside from that it was a fairly tasty piece of meat. I did need to reach for the salt, however.

The coffee’s at Delicado are nothing to turn your nose up at, especially when you can tuck into a wedge of ricotta & pear cake (8.5) to share with it. Two very thin layers of hazelnut sponge, centre of vanilla-scented ricotta and some welcomed heavy-handling of powdered sugar. That was one cake of champions and a lunch worth crossing the Bridge for.

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  • Delicado Foods
  • 134 Blues Point Road
  • McMahons Point 2060
  • 02 9955 9399
  • website
  • Delicado on Urbanspoon

La Boqueria

This is a market I’ve been to twice now. The first was in 2002 and then again in 2007, the latter being a couple of years before I started this website. Sadly I don’t have the extensive collection of photo’s I normally take when I travel to markets such as this so I’ll just have to make do with the few I’m showing here.

La Boqueria is a market that runs every day of the week. It’s located on the heavily touristed Ramblas which in turn means it’s heaving with tourists itself, but that’s no deterrent to me when it involves such a fabulous array of food beneath one roof. This would have to be the city’s best-known market, one of the oldest and largest as well .

The market hall bustles with more than 200 vendors offering their edible wares to any visitor or local willing to buy it. Fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, meats, cheeses, charcuterie, baked goods and a dazzling array of seafood. Just near the entrance are a couple of vendors that solely deal with sweets and nuts; displayed in bright colours and ready to be weighed and packaged.

Towards the rear of the market are many bars where you can perch on a stool, order a glass of local vino and lunch on whatever is going. A fantastic way to immerse yourself and literally rub shoulders with the locals. Just get to the market early to beat the crowds.

  • La Boqueria (Mercat de Sant Josep)
  • La Rambla 91 08001
  • Barcelona
  • 93 318 25 84
  • Open 7 days 8am-8.30pm
  • website