Food notes: Berlin 2016

Melbourne Canteen is closed. What a shame!

The Silo: is still excellent for Australian food and coffee.

The Pantry: I was disappointed. I understand that the chef of this Asiany sort of place was trained in Melbourne but I’m a little surprised at the consequences. To me the food lacked balance. Too much sweetness, not enough of the sour, hot and salt that create the completeness of flavour. Everything tasted a bit like Rosella tomato sauce. The famous ribs were rather bland, I thought.

La Banca: Is the bistro of the Hotel di Rome. It does a fabulous lunch menu: 3 courses plus tea/coffee and bottled water 26Eu. The food was impeccable, service good, music was not intrusive, though not always to our taste. It was a nice place to take one’s time, it serves all day and therefore there is no rush to get you out the door. My only gripe after several meals here was that they had something called ‘lasagne’ on the dinner menu which was awful. It had one sheet of pasta at the bottom of the plate, and on top a horribly sweet lumpy meat sauce which they misguidedly called ‘bolognaise’. Nothing like any bol sauce I’ve ever eaten.

Tea was excellent, good quality pots, extra water when asked (not having to ask would be better) and nice china.

The Lobby at The Regent: The menu here is more substantial than one would guess from looking at their site. It includes schnitzel, for example, which was simply served with fried potatoes and a sweet sauce, perhaps cranberry, served on the side.

Its tea was same standard as La Banca’s, served similarly. Again, one had to ask for extra hot water, but it came in a pot as requested. The music is classical. At 12 Eu/pot I would expect no less. Fabulous iced chocolates, by the way.

Aigner: We only ate here once, we had fish soup, which was good, but not great. It was a special and maybe expecting better than good in an Austrian restaurant was unreasonable.

Monsieur Vuong: Very trendy, theoretically Vietnamese, though traditionalists will roll their eyes at that. I had Pho which was very short on herbs and the beef was too posh for the purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I wolfed it down. We were all very happy. The place is a licence to print money, it was large and packed at 6.30pm in a country where people seem to eat fairly late. If you are in the area, it’s fun and worth a visit.

No Fire No Glory: one of the best regarded coffee places in Berlin. Okay also for simple breakfasts like granola, but it isn’t like Silo, caffeine is what it’s all about. Good atmosphere, Australian at the counter.

Cafe Moma: Manny (my coffee tester) pronounced this the best of the three he’d had that morning, which must make it outstanding, since there must have been some sort of diminishing returns thing going on there. Australian behind the counter. Must go back for food.

Cafe Stockholm: has a great feel to it, love to have the time to have a leisurely cafe meal here on another visit. Cinnamon bun nice, but I think I made a mistake having it heated. Micro-waving things like that never works. Coffee was okay, but behind Moma and No Fire. All are within a few minutes’ walk from each other.

Microsoft Eatery: The drinks are great: excellent tea, good coffee, juices squeezed to order. The lunch food we ordered was terrible. Breakfast was better, but the bircher muesli was so thick one could hardly get a spoon into it. Fortunately we’d ordered a serve of yoghurt and fruit too and mixing them together worked. Stick to drinks is my advice!

Cadadia: does a nice blueberry scone of that Germanic type: huge, heavy, dense. Other things will have to wait for another time.

 

Satay House, London

I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, but it turned out I was alive and just happening to be staying around the corner from Satay House. Even in London it isn’t easy to get good SE Asian food and in Geneva, impossible.

The chef is the daughter of the original proprietors and she tinkers to perfect things, but it remains authentic. After eating my way through quite a bit of the menu over a succession of visits, I asked her about the chicken rice – I wasn’t after something that was mucked about. She pointed to her face and said ‘See these bags under my eyes? They are from making chicken rice.’ She wants to get everything right.

And she does. Staples like satays, laksa and kway teow are as good as I’ve had anywhere. Well, maybe Nonya Hut in Syndal does better laksa by a whisker. When I’m in Melbourne and go to Nonya Hut, I always have the laksa because I go there so rarely. I always say to myself if I lived around the corner, then I’d have laksa every other time and try other things too! Here we had that luxury. We sampled the following, some of them more than once and the laksa as many times as was necessary, which is to say, every second visit.

Satay
Char-grilled chicken or lamb skewers marinated in spices and herbs, served with peanut sauce, cucumber, rice cubes and onion. 8.60

Tahu Sumbat (v)
Tofu filled with vegetables accompanied with sweet peanut sauce. 4.20

Ayam Bawang Putih
Fried Chicken Wings tossed in garlic and chillies. 6.80

Nasi Goreng Kampung
Fried rice with anchovies, egg, vegetables, prawn in belacan chilli onion base. 8.20

Nasi Lemak
Steamed coconut rice served with prawn sambal, cucumber, peanuts, fried anchovies and boiled egg. 9.30

Beriani
Beriani rice with chicken or lamb, served with vegetable acar and dalca.
Lamb 10.80  Chicken  9.10

Kway Teow Goreng
Stir fried freshly made flat rice noodles with prawn, squid, egg and vegetables. 13.30

Kari Laksa
Noodle curry soup with prawn, egg, chicken, tofu and vegetables.

Rendang Daging
Traditional Malay braised beef with coconut milk and spices. 8.80

Kari Ayam
Malaysian chicken curry with potatoes. 8.10

Gado Gado
Malaysian salad with potato, rice cubes, tofu, beansprouts, fine beans andcucumber served with peanut sauce. 6.60

Rojak Buah
Famous Malaysian ‘Street Food’ fruit salad with home-made rojak sauce. 6.60

Roti Canai (v)
Home-made traditional bread, with side of dalca.
Plain 4.80 Egg & Onion 5.10

Murtabak
Bread filled with minced lamb, egg and served with pickled onions and dalca. 6.80

* * *

The only thing we had on the menu we wished we hadn’t was:

Begedil
Spiced lamb and potato cutlets. 4.20

Rather insipid mashed potato with some lamb in there somewhere. I didn’t understand the point of these and it was the only thing we ordered there which was left unfinished.

It was my opinion that the Rendang did not use the right cut of beef, it needs something fatty and sinewy that will be soft and juicy when cooked and this one failed in that regard. The gravy was good all the same.

***

The ambience is wonderful. Firstly I can’t believe that they have managed to provide a proper restaurant setting at the prices charged. Secondly, it feels like a family place, all the staff have the air of belonging there, like it wasn’t just a job.

On day one, after we’d demolished the Rojak, the chef came out to ask our opinion. They were trying to get the sauce ‘just right’. That set the tone for our lunches there for the rest of the trip and I’m already hankering to go back.

NOTE: booking is highly recommended.

 

Fleur de Sel: Kempinski hotel Portoroz

On the basis of my one experience at the Kempinski in Geneva, I had been prepared to judge the whole chain as severely wanting. However, the menu at the Fleur de Sel looked so good and affordable, that I had to give it a go. In fact, over 5 days we made it our regular haunt.

Portoroz must have been beautiful in 1900. Now it follows the habit of capitalist development, truly tacky buildings complete with neon signs flashing ‘casino, casino’, music blaring every few feet, all in competition for space in your head. And this, on the edge of a glorious vista of the Adriatic sea. What a sin!

The Kempinski is a peculiar mix of that 1900 and 2016. The facade has been left of The Palace Hotel, complete with manicured gardens in front. Joining it via a short walkway at mezzanine level is a modern building which houses the Fleur de Sel. In the main, it is tastefully done, though there is a BMW displayed in a glass box at the entrance of the modern annexe. It is entirely out of place, but by the standards of the area, one should probably not complain.

The weather was perfect while we were there, and we always sat out on the balcony overlooking the pool, with a view towards the garden and the sea. I confess I expected to hate the tackiness of a pool setting, but for whatever mysterious reason, it works, at least partly because the pool itself is an aesthetically pleasing one of its kind.

Kempinski swimming pool

Over the course of 5 days we sampled the following:

Istrian fish starter plate with swordfish prosciutto, mackerel in Moscato d’Asti, octopus salad, homemade baccala cream, apple capers and grissini
15,50 €

Ceasar salad with fresh tuna
13,50 €

Mittelgerichte Linguini with Adriatic mussels à la buzarra
11,50 € / 15,50 €

Acquerello risotto with Adriatic sepia and leek (black or white)
13,00 € / 17,00 €

Asparagus ravioli with smoked asparagus mousselin and asparagus clear soup
12,70 € / 16,70 €

Piran sea bass fillet with dry tomato-olives sauce, grilled prawns and parsley risotto
28,50 €

Filet of salmon with olive crust, asparagus, fennel and orange mashed potatoes
28,50 €

Scallops on the shell, gratinised
30 €

While ordering we would sample a generous basket of impeccably baked breads, presented with the local (very good) olive oil, local olives, the famous local salt and butter on which to put it. Service was without fault, friendly, efficient, advisory when asked.

Kempinski mussels

Although all the meat dishes were attractive in print, we could never resist the lure of the seafood – sitting on the Adriatic, what else could we do? As befits seafood, the dishes were all sophisticated without being overly complicated. Only two did not succeed. The Caesar salad was not anything like that dish and although it was okay, I would not recommend it. The other were the scallops, a special one evening which I could not go past. I didn’t realise that ‘gratinised’ would be entirely dry, with a breaded topping. Unfortunately scallops can’t stand up to that. They need either to be cooked more quickly or with something more liquid with them in the shell. Otherwise, everything was a triumph.

In Geneva we never eat out because to get this standard of food one would have to pay  at least double the price. It was a treat and a privilege to be able to frequent this restaurant.

We did always leave room for dessert.

Honey panna cotta with toasted hazelnut crumble and candied kumquats
6,50 €

Flourless chocolate cake with cherry sauce and pomegranate sorbet
7,30 €

Custard apple crème with peach jelly and mango meringue
6,30 €

These sophisticated desserts were all given the thumbs up by others at the table. I, however, needed icecream, which upon enquiry could be provided. Two scoops of chocolate icecream, perfectly presented: soft, but not too soft, with chocolate and some crumbs by way of decoration. I could have eaten a dozen of these every day. Ahem.

We only drank the local mineral water and beer with our meals. I had several pots of tea which came with freshly baked biscuits. Hot chocolate was Italian style, extremely thick, extremely hot and extremely good. Espresso coffee was pronounced excellent. The one latte ordered was the only straightforward disaster, so pallid that the coffee didn’t look much different from the white froth that filled the top half of the glass.

 * * *

The bar should be a nice place but loses all of its ambience marks by having three screens. We were in a screenless area, but nonetheless were aurally assaulted by the screens not only being on, but being on different shows, one blaring into the left ear, the other into the right. I don’t understand why five star hotel bars should be in the nature of sports bars. Any that are, lose me as a customer. Fortunately, the Fleur de Sel operates as a cafe as well as restaurant, so avoiding the bar was no onerous task.

 

 

 

 

 

Breakfast banana pancakes

My friend Wren introduced me to these which are surprisingly good and easy and healthy.

banana pancakes

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 4 eggs
  • cinammon

Method

Mash bananas, beat eggs, mix all ingredients together.

Fry as one would a normal pancake. They will go brown on each side.

Serve

You can serve these so many ways. If the banana is properly ripe, you certainly don’t need any additional sweetening ingredient. If you ask me, maple syrup would be overkill.

I served them with drained yoghurt to which I’d added some apple juice. Any sort of fruit can be added on top. Today strawberries because they are so cheap right now: Italian, 4CHF/kg and quite nice at that price. But you do get what you pay for. The 9CHF for 500g strawberries from Provence are 4 times as good!

For the future: I wondered about separating the whites and whipping them stiff before folding them in, with the intention of making these lighter. I’m curious to see how that turns out.

Reminder: I made a complete hash out of turning these. Hence the strategically placed yoghurt.

 

5 minute Japanesy soup noodles

This was so nice at a moment’s notice, from the cupboard.

Ingredients

  • water
  • tamari (or Japanese soy sauce of choice)
  • sesame oil
  • stock cube (I used vegetarian chicken)
  • rice vinegar
  • chili oil
  • noodles, I used udon
  • green vegetables, I used broccoli and asparagus, stems of asparagus cut into about 1.5″ lengths and longwise into about quarters
  • spring onions chopped into fine rounds, though in retrospect these were unnecessary

 

Method

Bring water to boil, add all ingredients except noodles. Cook for a couple of minutes, don’t overcook the vegetables. Quantities are to taste. As usual with this sort of thing, err on the side of not enough to begin with and adjust.

If using soft udon noodles, put in boiling water to separate, do this gently so you don’t break them. Place in bowls and add the stock and vegetables. Garnish with spring onions if desired. If using other noodles, cook as indicated by the type.

Tailor this to your cupboard, but I really felt like it was the chili oil that added a special touch.

Belinda Jeffery’s absolutely scrumptious pork pie

absolutely scrumptious pork, thyme and apple pie Belinda Jeffery

aka her family’s ‘Christmas pie’ which is when I make it too

Serves 6-8.

ingredients

  • shortcrust pastry (she makes her own, I buy it)
  • 500g pork mince
  • 2 medium apples, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 180g bacon, rind removed, cut fairly finely
  • 3 teasp finely chopped thyme or oregano
  • 2 tblesp finely chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • nutmeg or ground mace to taste (try 1/4 teasp)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 small eggs, hard-boiled and peeled (I use quail)
  • milk to brush the pastry top (she uses an egg yolk and water)

to serve:

  • red cabbage or beetroot pickle
  • tomato or apricot chutney

method

  • Preheat oven to 200C and lightly butter a 24cm springform cake tin. Put aside.
  • Mix the filling ingredients except for the small eggs.
  • Line the tin with pastry, leaving a 2 cm overhang. Half-fill tin with mixture and smooth it out. Make 4 little hollows in which the eggs go. Cover with the remaining filling.
  • Dampen the edges of the pastry overhang, add a pastry lid and pinch edges together tightly to seal. Crimp and trim the edges as you please.
  • Brush the top with the milk or eggwash. Prick holes into the top to allow steam to escape. You can embellish the top with left over pastry trim in shapes to taste if you haven’t already eaten it.
  • Put the pie on an oven tray and bake for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 180C and cook for another 50 minutes. Belinda’s advice is that ‘If the juices bubble up in the final stages of cooking, just mop them up with paper towel and return the pie to the oven to dry out for a few minutes.’ When cooked, leave out to cook in the tin and then chill, preferably overnight.

To serve: run a blunt knife around the edges of the tin to loosen the pie, then release and remove the sides of the tin. Sit on a platter or board in thick slices with the pickles and/or chutney.

It keeps in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Zucchini fritters

The recipe is from No Recipes, an odd name, if you ask me, for a recipe website. There Marc calls it Fluffy zucchini pancakes. To me fritters feels like a more Australian name for these. They are fabulous.

Ingredients

  • 3 large eggs
  • bit less than 100g or 3/4 cup plain flour
  • half a teasp baking powder
  • salt and pepper
  • grated zucchini, he suggests 350g
  • gruyere cheese 100g
  • spring onion thinly sliced
  • sour cream for serving
  • oil or ghee for frying

Method

Mix the dry ingredients, add the zucchini and cheese. Beat the eggs and mix in. Non-stick pan add oil and when hot add the batter in spoonfuls, flatten. Should make about eight altogether.

Fry until golden brown, turn and remove when cooked.

Serve 

I used two eggs and a strong cheddar instead of gruyere. Instead of sour cream, I served them with drained yoghurt mixed with a little olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper.

Totally fab. I’m starting to think it’s impossible to go wrong with pancakes. And such an easy quick meal.

I’m wondering about trying this with besan flour instead. Will report on that.