When In Bruges…

When In Bruges
If you haven’t yet been to see the 39 steps in the Criterion theatre I would strongly advise getting a ticket (not that it seems to be going anywhere soon, they just celebrated their 3000th performance….). After you’ve been to see the fast paced, british slapstick comedy piece of genius, you might be peckish (we certainly were at 10pm). We headed over to what can be described as possibly too trendy for the group of Cambridge students that encountered it but I was very glad that we did go there because despite the overly trendy feel of exposed piping and industrial staircase the food was delicious and very good value. A restaurant called BELGO. I’ve been told the beer was rather good but I’m afraid the meagre sip of honey beer I tried just tasted like beer to me – I clearly haven’t had enough beer to taste the subtle nuances of different flavours. I did like the exciting looking test tube that one of the beers came in, and exciting presentation does always make me like things better, but I’m still not sure I would’ve liked any of the beers their no matter how superior their glassware.
Having ordered and declaring ‘I am a Snob’ to order the Snob mussels (well employed someone else to do it on my behalf – I was chicken), we were impressed when the starters came within minutes – did I mention it was 10pm? I made a very wise choice with the duck salad. It came warm with soft and crunchy croutons ( I do mean this), a perfectly on the cusp of soft boiled egg, some sort of delicious dressing (I would love the recipe) and hidden treasure troves of black pudding. Passing the salad round it got approval from all areas. Although a close second was the chicken liver pate which came with giant sourdough croutons and was rustic but spreadable with a salty smooth flavour – pretty sure I can create this one at home, watch this space. The melting gruyere cheese croquettes were never going to be my choice not only were they too cheesy for me, but also served with beer relish… however I was assured from all sides that they lived up to the hype and a very popular option round the table. There was also the lobster bisque which looked like a rather dull butternut squash soup but one sip was enough to show the there was a really deep seafood flavour, it wasn’t grainy and it wasn’t too thick or thin, I was almost jealous but luckily I was having the snob mussels for main, champagne, cream and lobster.

The blondie decided to splash out on the ‘add half a lobster for £10’ deal, although all of us were questioning whether surf and turf really expanded to include pork belly… As I’m afraid has been the case before I think the lobster was some what of a disappointment. The lobster lovers out there will probably heavily berate me for saying this but as my opposite dining partner said, lobster really only tastes properly fresh if it is cooked from living in a pot of boiling water (now I’m off to hide before the witch hunt comes) and this one was probably frozen… The sauce on my mussels was absolutely heavenly, full of flavour, decadent and the mussels weren’t chewy or overcooked. My only gripe was possibly I would’ve preferred to be offered bread to mop up the sauce, the fries were nice, but they were nothing special. I believe the same was said of the classic mussels, they were excellent too. I’m afraid I didn’t here much about the pork belly and half chicken as they were sitting down the other end of the table.

We finished the meal around midnight with a surprise plank of shots appearing from somewhere. I am still not entirely sure what these shots were but the menu described them as SCNAPPS SHOTS: MIXED SHOT STICKS IN A VARIETY OF FLAVOURS. I believe I smelt, apple, vanilla, chocolate… etc
Probably should’ve gone for the waffles/ice cream, the salted caramel flavour looked really good. Belgo – I shall be coming back!

Italian in the Isle of Man

Italian in the Isle of Man
If I told you that the traditional dish of the Isle of Man was the grand choice between herring and boiled potatoes and chips with gravy and cheese you might get the idea that this place isn’t perhaps known for its grand haute cuisine. However that wasn’t why we were there, it was no Italy. But luckily we were provided with the most lovely selection of home cooked meals (particularly a melt in the mouth lamb shank, fluffy trifle and copious wine on the last night) and a few of us were impressed with the traditional kipper roll (gutted I missed this), manx beer (NOT me), goats milk strawberry cheesecake ice cream (definitely me), and of course the Manx Knobs (humbug like sweets). In fact we were given so much food, tea, cake and sandwiches here there and everywhere, that a walk up the ‘mountain’ was definitely well received.
One thing I can definitely attest to is the quality of the food in the Italian restaurant La Piazza in Douglas. Lovely and filling, the highlight was unfortunately dessert by which point I was really full, any other time I would have just eaten several portions of that! More later.
The choice of starters was unfortunately limited due to the lateness of the hour, but the newbie and I shared between us a rather disappointing Caprese salad (literally just mozzarella and tomato, no dressing or pesto or nothing) and retro vol au vents (two the size of a pie each) with a lovely creamy mushroom sauce, possibly again could have a done with a touch more seasoning. However I’m glad we shared because one of them alongside the considerably lighter salad was a better size for a starter than two giant puff pastries. Im likewise pleased I didn’t opt for the garlic bread as it was literally a pizza size, if I’d have had that alongside a second pizza…..

Talking of which I opted for the house specialty, classic margarita base with garlic butter and parma ham. It was very tasty, the garlic butter added an extra layer of flavour and the parma ham was very good quality, added at just the right moment. The main issue was again finishing my plate. I have always been the good little girl that finishes everything on my plate as my mother told me to…. in this case it was possibly a mistake. Likewise the newbie had a large plate of carbonara which she couldn’t finish but the historian next to me made solid work of the volcanic looking calzone. The best moment of the night was when the northerner got confused about the sea bass dish believing that bass couldn’t possibly be a fish, but rather a manxian assortment of seafood, I believe she was rather surprised when the dish arrived.

At this point the meal deteriorated as only choir tours can and a game of pass the string bean mouth to mouth. It was probably a good thing we were basically the only people left in the restaurant at this point, although I believe one unsuspecting customer was treated to possibly the loudest, most overly harmonised and operatic Happy Birthday she had ever heard…What happens when you mix a choir and wine.
Then came the grand finale, dessert. I wisely passed on the profiteroles (I believe a good profiterole is one in a million and as expected they were soggy and too much plain cream) and grudgingly passed on the pannacotta which ran out, although I was mainly excited by the jam smiley face, and was rewarded with one of the best tiramisu’s I have ever had. Rather than a disappointing mountain of plain whipped cream, soggy lady fingers and bitter cocoa powder, we were treated to a sweet boozy zabaglione (sort of custardy but sweeter and thicker) layered with spongy lady fingers, strong coffee and dark chocolate shavings. I could have eaten another couple. La Piazza I salute you

My Heart belongs to San Francisco

My Heart Belongs to San Francisco
            San Francisco, one of the worlds best foodie locations. I was down there on a winning combination of choir tour and family holiday, all the fun of being with your friends with the financial backing of your parents. Although the kitchen facilities in our flat were limited, this was more than made up for by the vast array of exciting restaurants. Ask any foodie and I’m sure they would agree that American supermarkets are heaven, so much choice, so little sense. Who else would think (or be legally allowed) to make apple pie chewing gum, cereal that tastes like peanut butter cups and cheeseburger flavoured chips. However foodie heaven on earth occurs in Whole Foods. I defy any sane person not to stand and stare for a good hour at the mouth-watering cakes, heaped salad bar and hot food stall, genetically perfected fruit and vegetables and un-natural naturally flavoured crisps. I had to stop myself bankrupting my parents with the weighed salad when we went there for lunch and instead opted for a classic smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel. You haven’t tasted a cream cheese bagel till you have had one in San Francisco. I’m afraid you are not allowed anything else but an onion and herb toasted white bagel, lox (smoked salmon and cream cheese mix) and added smoked salmon, simple, yet simply one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted.

            Another American staple that England seems to have failed on is Snapple. You can indeed buy Ice tea but it isn’t really ice tea. Ice Tea in England is far too wholesome and fresh. What you really want is additive full, zero-calorie, ice cold, possibly so far from peach-flavour it seems impossible, peach flavoured Snapple. I am serious it is delicious. I just don’t want to know what it is doing to my body. I think it may be partly due to the legal age for drinking in America that I drank quite so much of this stuff (although I’m sure it’s worse for you than alcohol). Every time my parents would be trying a delicious Californian wine the waiter would turn to me and the grown up 20year old would be reduced once again to an underage child and I would say ‘just a Snapple for me please’. The no drinking didn’t affect me that much until we took a family trip to a wine merchant. Here my parents and sister slowly made their way through large tasters of at least 15 different bottles of wine while I swigged my diet coke in the corner and led the tipsy group waywardly home. ‘sigh’ the responsible 20 year old.
            To offset the enormous amounts of diet coke and Snapple I appeared to be drinking I gladly followed the choir along to a garlic restaurant. The Stinking Rose. I have never encountered such a bizarre place. Any place where a birthday is celebrated by presenting the lucky person with a stuffed hat in the shape of a garlic clove is a little strange. However the most bizarre thing about this place is that every single dish on the menu has garlic in. Their slogan of ‘we season our garlic with food’ is well matched. There is even the promise of ‘Gilroy’s famous garlic Ice Cream’ that thankfully I didn’t try. Despite my complaints, I do love garlic and the Bagna Calda (Garlic soaking in a hot tub) was amazing. So if you are in the area this is a once in a lifetime experience. http://thestinkingrose.com/# (I would also recommend the Crab – I didn’t have it myself but I ate copious amounts of someone else’s….)
            Another gem from San Francisco was a meal I found by the harbour. One Market. It was an amazing find, apparently frequented by businessmen who all drank (like me) large amounts of Ice Tea. While I settled down to my Ice tea, my parents and sister tried the something like $2 martinis, which I would like to add none of them finished.

The menu was, while not cheap, not too expensive and absolutely delicious! Highlights included my beautiful Mahi Mahi seared fish with a side order of the most amazing roasted pumpkin, and my sisters beautiful watercress soup, very simple but lovely. However the pinnacle of the lunch (and possibly of my eating out experience) was the dessert. They kindly offered mini desserts which was understandable for most people following a large three course meal, so of course I had 3 of them. Being America (where no-one knowingly serves too little) mini was a relative term, but they were amazing.

The first was a lovely lemon cheesecake, inverted with the graham cracker crumbs on the outside and it melted in the mouth. The second was assorted crème brulee, classic and coffee, very good but nothing compared to the final flourish. A warm pecan pie, scattered with caramelised bacon (WOW) and topped with creamy bourbon ice cream – of course I had to try and make it when I got home and I advise you to do the same, it is Epic. As expected I licked the plate clean. http://www.onemarket.com
            As I said before I appreciate lots of things the Americans give us foodwise. While their diets may be one of the worst for local, seasonal, wholesome cuisine, it is undoubtedly brought us some gems. Frozen yoghurt is now cautiously making its way over to the UK but in America it is a staple of every street corner (possibly this is also to do with the better weather they have over there). It tastes a little like Mr Whippy ice creams you get in ice cream vans, but you feel much more virtuous eating it. So much so that you can guilt free treat yourself to all the cheesecake bites, oreos, m and ms and peanut butter cups you like. Frozen yoghurt is my favourite type of health food.

            While in America, despite the limited kitchen, I couldn’t resist cooking something. So when a friend of ours mentioned the quintessentially American S’more, I had a go at recreating a version. I melted butter in our microwave and mixed in mashed up graham crackers. I pressed this into a tin and froze for 20mins (my time was limited). Then I topped with marshmallows and placed in the oven on high until the marshmallow started to brown. Meanwhile I melted Nestle chocolate chips, a pinch of salt and lots of butter (I think this is the secret), and topped it before putting it all back in the freezer. Lets just say I had multiple compliments and they were hard to put down, s’morish…..
            On our final day in San Francisco we visited the famous Ferry Market. It is worth a visit. Lots of tasters, meat, cheese, gluten free bakes, I even tried an oyster. However we really headed there with one place in mind, Boulette’s larder. Our host, who lived there, was a regular and had mentioned we were coming  http://www.bouletteslarder.comBoulette was a dog. She slept under the table (I have since been told she died ), a huge matted dog with dreadlocks all over, even covering her eyes. Her owners are two brilliant chefs who cook local and seasonal produce (I apologise to her for the above generalisation about Americans), Amaryll Schwertner and Lori Regis. We arrived, and were immediately treated to two extra 
courses in addition to the main we actually ordered and paid for thanks to the recommendation from our friend. The first was a simple salad of fresh herbs with homemade mozzarella style cheese. Now I am not normally a fan of cheese, and I especially dislike raw mozzarella but this was soft, creamy and delicate, not chewy. The next course I would love to recreate. A perfectly poached egg in a Parmesan sauce/soup with a single caramelized roasted parsnip on top. I then chose to have the chicken, simply roasted with roasted vegetables. I wish I could recommend you choose that but the menu changes so regularly I can only tell you to go with what Amaryll recommends! Finally we were sent off to the airport in style, with a small box full of homemade biscuits which I’m sure I don’t need to tell you were buttery, melting in the mouth and saved me from the limp offering that was my supper on the flight home.