London: tapas at Rambla, Soho

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The summer is always really hectic for me, especially since I go home to Sweden for two weeks in August, and that’s why this blog post is so late; I’ve been playing catch-up since then.

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The last week in July is also extra busy because it’s both my own and my dear friend Gaby’s birthdays that week. Just before I go home!

The Friday night was Gaby’s night (and her actual birthday) so after doing my last errands for my trip it was so lovely to arrive to Rambla in Soho and have a nice dinner with the girls!

Rambla is a fairly new tapas restaurant in London, with mainly Catalan food and we were all very excited to try it!

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We started with bubbles – always appropriate when there’s a birthday to celebrate! The cava was really nice, so I recommend you all to think of something to celebrate when you go here. IMG_2096.jpg

Then we ordered a bunch of dishes for all five of us to share around the table. First off were the classic padron pappers. They never disappoint with their saltiness!

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Next we had these delicious croquetas with spinach and pine nut. Yum!

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And chorizo! It was all about the classics to start.

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Then we feasted on crispy fried artichokes with saffron aioli and the most tender octopus with fried garlic and herb sauce. Delicious! I so love to eat this way; picking from plates, trying little bites of everything while chatting away with friends sipping cava.

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One of the favourites of the evening was this hearty and cheesy (yum!) oxtail canelones with navat cheese and caramelised onions. Drool!

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The birthday girl divided it evenly, although I think most of us would happily have had one each. But it was too rich. Especially since we had more yummy cheese to eat…

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This whole baked Navat cheese with crudités and bread to dip was divine too! We were scraping the bottom of the dish in the end, never letting a morsel of good cheese go to waste.

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The classic patatas bravas arrived late as an after thought (I think they forgot them to be honest) but we happily mucnhed our way through these lovely crisp potato bites.

The food here is excellent (especially the octopus and the oxtail canalones!) but the service was a bit of a let down. Some things were forgotten and we had to keep reminding the waiters. After two bottles of cava they didn’t have any more cold ones so we had to swap to rosé cava instead. It’s all little things, but things you expect to run smoothly, and since it was a birthday celebration it was very unfortunate.

With this in mind I’ll still highly recommend Rambla – the food is worth it! – and hopefully they’ve sorted out these kinks by now. Race you to the baked cheese?!

Rambla, 64 Dean St, Soho, London W1D 4QG

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Seville: modern architecture and modern tapas

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Most buildings in Seville’s city centre are old and charming, which is why this modern structure offers such a beautiful contrast.

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Although built as recently as 2005, I find it puzzling how this amazing and grand wooden structure fit into the (rather snug) space it’s in. But it works. I find the Metropol Parasol both intriguing and obvious at the same time.

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To match this modern piece of architectural art I thought some equally modern tapas were in order (even though I ordered some of the classics, but in an updated version).

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Not far away from the wooden structure you find Perro Viejo, a modern tapas bar with a cosy interior and interesting menu. It’s popular so I recommend booking in advance (I did) and bear in mind that the portions are very generous when you order.

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As in most restaurant, the olives and bread arrive quickly at the table, so you can munch away while you study the menu. I had a nice glass of cava as well. I mean, when in Rome Spain…

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I didn’t think I ordered much, but with the large portion sizes it turned into quite the feast!

First up, a generous portion of delicious patatas bravas. A classic yes, but exquisite when done well.

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The Russian salad with prawns was absolutely delicious (and probably enough for four people to share). Creamy yet fresh at the same time!

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The Jamon Iberico croquetas were divine too; very soft and again, large.

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The tartar of Iberico pork may not be for everyone (because, raw pork) but I trust the restaurants to serve good meat, and this type of pork is more similar to beef in some ways; it’s darker and has lots more flavour than regular pigs. Delicious!

After testing myself while in Rome for a weekend a few years ago, I got used to dining solo. Without a book or any armour (apart from some food snaps on my phone or camera), I’m comfortable eating alone, and in my own company in general. But it proves tricky to order in tapas restaurants were the portion sizes are this generous. That is by no means any criticism of Perro Viejo, just an observation on eating solo. So round up your friends (or at least grab a random person off the street) and enjoy these tapas the way they are meant to be eaten; shared. 

Perro Viejo, Calle Arguijo, 3, 41003 Sevilla, Spain

Seville: lunch at the city’s oldest tapas bar

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My first day in Seville had an early start; I was had checked in at my hotel mid-morning, so after a little rest I set out exploring the city. It was sunny but not that warm, so I walked around taking in some of the sights on my way to lunch. And what better place to start, than from the beginning, with the city’s oldest tapas bar. It’s been around since 1670 and had as much charm as I had hoped.

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It’s quite dark inside El Rinconcillo, especially compared to the sunshine outside, and packed with people trying to order at the bar or grab a table along the sides. Everyone’s talking, eating and having a good time.

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I placed myself strategically behind two people at the bar that looked they were about to leave, and took their spot when they did. Then I ordered a glass of white wine while I studied the menu (the English version as I don’t speak Spanish). I started with some lomo (cured tenderloin from the acorn-fed Pata Negra pigs) and Spanish cheese. And bread, which you receive immediately. And my favourite; Jamón croquetas.

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I also made sure to look around and see what other people ordered. The locals always order the best dishes, and here I could see that the favourites were fried battered cod that looked absolutely delicious, but as I hadn’t fully recovered from my illness earlier in the week I avoided fried food as much as I could. But another very popular dish caught my attention: the espinacas y garbanzos (spinach and chickpeas).  The spinach was wilted and soft and tasted amazing with a hint of picante. Yum!

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When it was time to pay the tab was scribbled down with chalk straight on the bar counter so it was a quick process to settle the bill. And they accept cards, which is great.

While enjoying my lunch and soaking up the atmosphere I also made friends with my bar neighbours on each side and chatted to them about the food and the city. What I loved most about this place was the ambience and that it feels very authentic even though tourists come here too. It feels like a real Seville institution and is a MUST on your itinerary if you’re visiting. You will not be disappointed.

El Rinconcillo, Calle Gerona, 40, 41003 Sevilla, Spain 

Barcelona: Plaça Catalunya and amazing lunch at Bar Cañete

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Our last day in Barcelona (three days was the perfect amount of time for a city break here) was a bank holiday (just like in the rest of Europe) and all the shops (apart from one shopping centre) was closed. It wasn’t warm enough for the beach either so we walked around the city some more (we accumulated lots of steps this weekend!).

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Up to Plaça Catalunya and along Las Ramblas. The former was pretty quiet but Las Ramblas was packed with people. Why we weren’t sure as there’s nothing much to see and apparently lots of pickpockets.

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We also walked around El Raval, the neighbourhood of our lunch restaurant, Bar Cañete. It was a little run down, but it probably looked worse with all the shops closed. The shop windows are covered by a metal door, usually covered in graffiti, which doesn’t look all that pleasant but obviously serves a purpose.

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Our reservation at Bar Cañete was for 1pm, when the restaurant opened for lunch and when we got there a few minutes before 1pm there was already a queue of foodies outside.

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We got seated straight away and the restaurant was full in minutes! Our waiter was very efficient without stressing and really helpful suggesting dishes and wine. The ambience was great from the start and the food blew us away.

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The pan con tomate arrived to the table shortly after having ordered it and it was the best we ate in Barcelona! The bread was flaky and crusty but still a little soft and it was just the right amount of tomato, garlic and olive oil. And love the large portion size!

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The white asparagus cooked to perfection and recommended by our lovely waiter was amazing! So fresh and loved the subtle flavours.

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As you may know by now, I can never resist a good croqueta and the two types on offer here were certainly worth trying. The round one with jamon iberico was seriously nice, but the oblong lobster croqueta was even better. Absolutely delicious!

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The next dish was this “meatball” as it was called on the menu. We didn’t really know what to expect but we were both surprised and delighted to realise it was their version of patatas bravas, but with pork. The ball was made from mashed potatoes with bits of pork mixed in, coated in breadcrumbs and fried, then covered in a mayonnaise sauce and a spicy tomato sauce. OMG – it was incredible! So nice in fact we straight away ordered another one!

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The green been and shaved asparagus salad with nuts was also really nice and worked really well with the creamier dishes.

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We also had these lovely fried artichokes, but the portion was so large we couldn’t finish it. So sad.

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To finish off our meal we had the suckling pig with potato mash and the most delicious sauce. I like to finish a tapas meal with a main course-like dish as it fills you up differently than the more snack-y bits. This was really heavy but absolutely amazing. No pudding required.

This was the perfect way to end a perfect (apart from the not so warm weather) weekend in Barcelona with the perfect travel buddy!

Bar Cañete, Carrer de la Unió, 17, 08001 Barcelona, Spain

 

 

Barcelona: cocktails at Old Fashioned and late supper at Bar Mut

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After our fab (but early; we sat down at 7pm) dinner at Bodega 1900 we found a nice cocktail bar called Old Fashioned to chill in. It was small and cosy, had nice music on but you could still talk and an extensive cocktail list. Lovely! Also, all the staff were bearded men with white shirts and suspenders. Cute!

I went for a Gin Tonica, the Spanish version of gin and tonic served in a large glass on a stem. I tried one with strawberry notes and it was served with a dried strawberry slice. Really nice!

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Emma asked for a fruity drink and received one with strawberries and raspberries. It was good fun sitting here chatting and people watching for a bit.

Old Fashioned, Calle Santa Teresa nº 1, Gràcia, 08012 Barcelona, Spain

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Until we got hungry again and headed to nearby Bar Mut that I was drying to try. I so love that the restaurants here are open late.

At Bar Mut there’s no printed menu, but some dishes are written on the board and your waiter will tell you the rest. You can also choose your fish and shellfish from the iced counter. Everything’s fresh and seasonal. Simple, but not too simple.

We started off with white asparagus that were perfectly cooked, and served with a light mayonnaise, nuts and leaves.

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I’ve never been able to resist croquetas and this time was no exception. These big ones with iberico ham were amazing!

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Our last dish (I mean, we had had a proper dinner earlier that evening) was a this lovely beef dish with morels and a delicious sauce.

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We walked out happy and full, heading back to the hotel in our taxi for another full day of exploring Barcelona the next day.

They don’t have Uber here but other similar taxi companies (the one we used had its own fleet and all cars had free water and wi-fi – so good!) that we used a lot, especially in the evenings when we were tired from walking all day.

Bar Mut, Pau Clarís nº 192 (Diagonal), Barcelona, Spain

 

More tapas: Croquetas de jamon

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I really wanted to make croquetas de jamon (Spanish ham croquettes) when I made the other tapas dishes, but sadly didn’t have time. But that didn’t stop me. Instead I made them the day after when I had more time on my hands and served them appropriately as a starter snack with a nice bottle of cava.

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It was the first time I made croquetas and it wasn’t difficult at all. Much easier than I expected actually, and lots of fun! But it does take a while to make them. About 45 minutes to make the bechamel, three hours to rest and then another 30 minutes to fry them. But it’s completely worth it.

I halved the recipe from the book Tapas Revolution by Omar Allibhoy, making 12 instead of 24 croquetas, but they are quite large so you could easily make 16 from the recipe.

Croquetas de Jamon, makes 12-16

Adapted from Tapas Revolution by Omar Allibhoy.

25 g butter

1/4 onion, finely chopped

35 g cured ham, preferably Spanish Jamon Iberico, chopped

400 ml whole milk

30 plain flour 

grated nutmeg

1 tsp salt

a pinch white pepper

1 egg

breadcrumbs 

500 ml neutral oil for frying

Melt the butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and ham. Cook for a few minutes until the onion turns translucent but not coloured. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, bring the milk almost to the boil and set aside. 

Add the flour to the onions and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until the flour has toasted a bit. Add the hot milk little by little, whisking all the time, to make a thick roux. Keep going until you have added all the milk and you have a smooth and silky bechamel. When it comes to the boil reduce the heat to low and add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Leave to simmer for about 40 minutes, whisking to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. 

Line the bottom of a baking tray with baking parchment and then pour the bechamel into the baking tray. Spread it out and then immediately place a layer of cling film directly on top, making sure the cling is touching the surface of the bechamel as this will stop a skin from forming. Transfer to the fridge and chill completely. 

After three hours the bechamel should be firm enough to handle. Peel off the cling film, turn the bechamel out on to a floured surface and carefully peel away the baking parchment. Sprinkle with more flour and use a knife to cut the bechamel into 12-16 equal squares. Dust hands with flour and roll the squares into balls between your hands.

Beat the egg in a bowl and pour the breadcrumbs out onto a plate. Dip each ball in the egg and then roll in the breadcrumbs.

Heat up the oil in a large deep pan until it reaches 180C. Fry the croquetas in small batches until golden and crisp (takes about 1 1/2 minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towel before serving.

Eat brain? (Barrafina, Adelaide Street)

bar2Barrafina is one of my favourite tapas places in London, both the newer one in Covent Garden (and dangerously close to my office) and the original on Frith Street in Soho. They have also just opened another restaurant on Drury Lane which I can’t wait to try! I really like that the different restaurants sport different (although similar) menus, which makes it feel like two (or now three) free-standing restaurants and not a chain.

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Felicity and I had dinner here the other week and while waiting for our table we had some Txakoli (semi-sparkling wine from the Basque region which I love) and crab croquetas. When seated at the bar we noticed they had jamon croquetas as a special and we just couldn’t resist haveing some more croquetas. The crab ones are yummy but the jamon ones were perfection. Oh wow!
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Next up we had smoked salmon with white beans, fennel and a dilly dressing. It was nice but a little too mild in flavour.

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The asparagus with romesco sauce was wonderful though, I’ve had it here before and it has always been a great vegetable dish.

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The skewes with Iberico ham were also really nice, but I’ve had even better pork in Spain.

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We then decided to try the lamb’s brain (!). Once when I came here for lunch a lady dining on her own came here especially for the lamb’s brain and raved about it, so I’ve been dying to try it ever since. And I must say I was pleasantly surprised!

The texture is very soft so frying it until crisp on the outside was a smart move and the bold flavours with lots of acidity cuts through the richness very well, so this dish got top marks from me. But, the texture is still a little strange in the mouth (like very very soft sweetbreads but more jelly like) and it’s so rich I would not have been able to finish the dish on my own. But I would happily go back and share it with someone.

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After the savoury dishes we were quite content but you always have room for sorbet, right, so we had a scoop each. Felicity’s mixed berries sorbet was really nice and fruity, the perfect ending to a lovely meal.

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My peach sorbet was a bit too sweet and cloy. But apart from that our dinner was fantastic, just like the company.

Barrafina, Adeleide Street, London WC2N 4HZ