Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Portugal: Festival & Food , Douro: Quinta Nova

Been a while since last blog post.
We lost a man overboard so at the moment it is really 2MAABLeaf.
( perecebes - barnacles)

Went to Porto for the Optimus Primavera concert and took time to eat good too!

Brief Guide/Report!

First four nights were spent in Porto - a beautiful and amazing city where the Optimus Festival was taking place.  Staying pretty centrally on the first day I ate lunch in town quite near to the river. Not used to the Portugese schtick of laying out everything for you at the beginning to be able to send it back i think i had half a dozen starters before the main Forno - Oven Baked Octopus - rendered soft and tender by the fact it had been essentially confit'd in oil it came out of the terracotta one pot along with some veg. Not sure of the name of the place but it was tasty enough. For two this meal with wine came to about €36 for starter/main/wine - not bad considering it was the tourist street.

That evening we went to the best restaurant of the trip - and arguably one of my all time favourite places. It is in the Rough Guide book it is mentioned in Wallpaper Guide too and I'm not pretending i discovered it by by god it was amazing. Salta O Muro - a small innocuous place in the Matosinhos district to the north west of Porto Centre and very near the Optimus festival ground. That first night i ate sardines from a list of perhaps a dozen fishes - everyone gets the same vegetables, the wine was cheap portugese lightly sparkling Planalto which I havent found since i got back to the UK. The sardines were amazing, the vegetables in particular the potatoes were soft, delicious and moreish. The atmosphere reminded me of Pellicis in bethnal green - boisterous, fun, attentive, fast - really exciting to be eating, the food steaming hot and to order. For pudding a thing which i still dont know what it was though i would go on to eat it three more times - it was a custardy tart with stringy texture - perhaps noodles or perhaps a root vegetable - no one could work it out - and no one could translate it.

The following day lunch was a sandwich in the sun, supper was a second trip to Salta O Muro - so conveniently located to dip out of the festival, eat, then return to the festival ground. The second night we took friends and ate outside. I had a sort of escalope of octopus that was melt-in -mouth but without the oiliness of the place in town. Delicious - more veg - boiled cabbage has never tasted that good. More planalto wine to wash it down with then more custardy tart then "Flamengo" cheese and a plate full of quince jam membrillo to finish with then coffees.

More exploring the next day and we went to the excellent Candelabro bar for coffee. Had a pretty shifty looking canteen style service lunch from the Galleria de Paris which was cheap but haphazard - couldnt fault it though for €5 per person including a drink. It might be better at night.  Then cake and coffee again in Moustache bar where i topped up on wifi. This is a stones throw from the incredible library turned bookstore around the corner "Lello" built in 1906.

That night a quick gin and tonic before the festival at Bull & Bear bar off the Boavista road - quiet when we went but the kind of place i'd never go in London but the amicability of the Portugese makes it seem alright to go a bit upmarket. Then the debate of whether or not to go back to Salta o Muro - in the end it started raining at the festival and we inevitably took refuge at S&M. A third night they were pleased to see us - found it funny. More sardines , different custardy pudding and more good Portugese wines.

Leaving Porto the following day we headed south in a car stopping at Aveiro where we ate lunch stood at a market stall left and left again from tourist info. A thick roll with as much cheese as you could possibly eat and a glass of red wine was €2 - perhaps my second favourite meal in Portugal.

That night I drove to Nazare where i thought the hotel was. We ate in the Tasquinha where Carlos charmed into submission the room of largely tourists who chomped on seafood. Shrimp starter then squid with a bit of theatre from Carlos about removing the beak and cartelige thing. He was very helpful when it turned out the hotel was 90km north in Foz. Looking at Nazre briefly i wish id stayed there and not foz.

Foz: lunch up at a beach cafe about 30km north of Foz  - sandwich and coffee for €3.50 - cheap tasty.
For supper we walked through Foz - a concrete mess of crap planning and empty bars and to Buarcos - cosier, smaller, more heavily populated at this time of year. We sat out at a place called Turibarest and feasted on seafood and fish. My first go at perecebes (barnacles) they tasted of the sea - perhaps more so than any other kind of shellfish - strange they seemed to give a sort of massive drop in blood pressure the more i ate - strange cant explain it. then sardines, octopus salad, omlette, wine, coffee - this place was about €25 per person for a lot of food and bottle of wine.

Happy to leave Foz behind we headed to the final stop - Quinta Nova in the Douro Valley. 

On the way there we stopped at Viseu and Coimbra - we ate in Viseu at the "House of Cheese" - I cant find it yet on google but i think it was from the Rough Guide - simple fish, and veal cutlet.

The Douro is one of Portugal's main wine producing sites and is a Unesco Heritage place too. It was amazing approaching it along the valley. At Pinhao the Quinta (vineyard lodge hotel) was 30minutes up a mountain road. 

We ate that night at the Quinta - octopus again, garlic soup, chocolate fondant - all for €30 - if you stay in a quinta it is probably worth eating there although you dont get a choice as the food in Pinhao that we found is  expensive and a bit shit - if you eat in Pinhao pick the cheapest most unlikely place and it is a safer bet than the expensive touristy places on the riverside.

Port from the Quinta's estate washed down the fondant.

Lunch the following day was cheese and bread bought in Pinhao washed down with a bottle of Reserva - but this was during a walk through the vineyards grounds - stopping off in an orange orchard eating oranges from the trees - bread and cheese and wine in the shade of an olive tree - it all was pretty good and i would reccomend the place in an instant.

That night a bad meal in the Vintage Hotel by the river - just nothing special and expensive - though the waiters were nice and didnt make us pay for food sent back, and the grounds were very pretty. Just had none of the charm of other places.

Food Highlights: Salta O Muro, Viseu House of Cheese, Sardinhas, all the Cheese & Membrillo and my mountain road 55cent Pingo coffees!

Friday, 10 February 2012

My Best Breakfast in London

The best of anything is always going to be a tricky one.

* best film?
* favourite album?

On a Saturday morning and often like a scene from High Fidelity repeated ad nauseum groups discuss "where is best for breakfast".

Where is best for breakfast?

Bethnal green has Pellicci's which has got to be in anyones top london cafes but  my best breakfast in London involves the last thing most people want when they crawl out from the night before in search of someone else to cook breakfast for them: a journey.

Peddling out, leaving Bethnal and heading up Kingsland road often past the previous evening still spilling out onto the road picking up various people on the way.

We head up to Church St. passing Clissold park and morning risers, families of joggers.

Then its a switchback of sorts into Finsbury Park leaving the weird Sylvanian Family shop in our wake as we head first to Stroud Green road then a left onto Tollington Park road - I give you the journey as there is something important about it - flushes cobwebs.

Then we arrive at the tree to lean up the bikes and the familiar tables outside - packed in the summer, quieter in the cooler months.  And then we are there at Front Room or Front Rooms. We've all only ever ordered the breakfast, sometimes extra toast. Then we are on our way. Setup for the day ahead.


Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Christmas Pigs

Rotisseried suckling pigs waiting for collection on Christmas Eve from Place D'Aligre market. Beautifully wrapped!

Doorstop bread (with a fried breakfast on the side)

Staying at Gem's delightful country cottage for a Saturday night brought about her famous Steak and Ale pie and a small cellar of wine. Tremendous hangovers were remedied by a walk on the common in the mid December mist and returning to cook one of the best fried breakfasts I've had. Bread courtesy of Hobbs- just the thing for mopping up that leftover egg yolk/ bacon fat/ tomatoe juices and brown sauce. Really the whole reason for making a full English in the first place.