London: The Palomar, Soho

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The Palomar in Soho is a snug little restaurant serving up dishes from the Jerusalem of today and has been around for a while. It’s still as popular as when it opened and I had a fab dinner with my friend Felicity here quite a while ago that I’d like to tell you all about.

Arriving on a weekday after work the small restaurant was of course full (always expect a popular Soho restaurant to be full unless you go very early or very late) so we put our names on the list and when in search of a drink.

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About an hour later our seats at the bar were ready and our enthusiastic water welcomed us and started to recommend dishes from the menu. The kabaneh, a Yemeni pot baked bread with tahini and a tomato sauce was a must and we loved dipping the fluffy bread in the different sauces.

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Next we had a special for the day; crispy Jerusalem artichoke with tuna rillette and duck fat which was amazingly good. Loved loved loved this one!

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The burnt courgette tzatziki was another favourite. It also pairs very well with the bread!

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Another special, the bonito carpaccio, savoury cookie crumble was also really nice! And full of freshness.

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The Jerusalem style polenta with asparagus, mushrooms, parmesan and truffle oil was pure indulgence (I wish I could cook polenta like that!!) and a real treat.

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But the deconstructed kebab with minced beef & lamb, yoghurt, tahini, cured lemon and harissa disappointed us a little. It was still nice – but lacked a bit om oomph compared to the other dishes.

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So did The beets go prawn with smoky beetroot, labneh, prawn jus, basil and chilli but it was still a nice plate of food. Just lacking a bit of wow factor.

All together we had a fantastic evening here, chatting with our waiter, the people next to us and of course each other, enjoying some excellent food and lovely wine! This is what Soho is all about for me; the informal yet amazing dining experiences.

The Palomar, 34 Rupert St, London W1D 6DN

London: New York Italian at Hai Cenato?

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Jason Atherton’s empire continues to grow and the latest restaurant to open was this New York-y Italian restaurant in the new Nova development by Victoria. It’s in goof company with Rail House Café, Aster, Franco Manca etc. nearby.

The first time I came was early one Sunday evening with my friends Helen and Pete and their son Eddie. We’d had a lovely Sunday afternoon exploring the Natural History Museum, had eclairs and coffee at wonderful Maitre Choux and a walk to Buckingham Palacea and were happy to sit down and tuck into some food just as the skies opened.

Hai Cenato? (means ‘Have you had dinner?’ in Italian) certainly feels New York-y with it’s high ceilings, long bar counter, sketched portraits and cosy feel. It’s nice but relaxes and the menu echoes that with pasta dishes, rosso and bianca pizzas and meats from the grill.  and modern yet cosy interior.

They also have a kids menu and children eat free on Sundays, which is a nice touch.

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Eddie chose a pasta with tomato sauce and plenty of grated parmesan from the kids menu  and was very pleased with his choice.

Helen and I both chose the corzetti pasta with bolognese sauce sage, browned butter and grated Berkswell cheese. It was absolutely delicious and felt very indulgent. The sauce was really rich and could have done with a bit more pasta because of the richness but it was a nice size portion. We also shared a side of amazing crushed potatoes that soaked up the last of my bolognese.

Pete chose a lovely vibrant green risotto with oeas, broad beans and crab that was just perfectly executed.

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We were certainly full after our main courses but still fancied pudding and after a quick browse on the (excellent) dessert menu I chose the brioche with salted caramel ice cream. I just love salted caramel and expected a dainty dessert, perfect to finish off my meal but instead I got a large (burger size) brioche bun and THREE scoops of salted caramel ice cream (insert surprised emoji here). The flavour combination was spot on of course but the portion size ridiculous, especially after such starchy food as pasta or pizza.

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Helen’s chocolate and coffee fondant with creme fraiche, puffed rice and caramel was more the size we had expected and absolutely delicious!

We had a lovely dinner here, but also experienced some (I hope they are) teething problems like slow service and I got poured a flat glass of prosecco which just shouldn’t have left the bar and it took ages to get a new one. It’s not the end of the world of course, but I expect an overall smooth and lovely experience when I go to a restaurant, especially when it’s a quiet evening.

I went back last week with my friend Nick for pizza and a glass of wine and the service was a lot better (i.e. smooth) and the place buzzing with people. Oh, and the pizza? DIVINE!

Hai Cenato?, 2 Sir Simon Milton Square, London SW1E 5DJ

London: relaxed brunch at Rail House Café

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Another restaurant to open in the new development by Victoria is, Riding House Café, cleverly calling this branch Rail House Café.

I love the original restaurant on Great Titchfield Street, as much for it’s wooden interior and cosiness as for the food. This new restaurant is all modern with large glass windows but is still cosy in the same way.

I came here a while ago with my friend Daisy for brunch one Sunday and it was so lovely I would happily go back every weekend. The interior is really relaxed with sofas as well as proper tables, inviting you to take it easy and not rush. We had coffee and a proper brunch dish each. Daisy went for an avocado toast with additional poached eggs and crispy bacon, whereas I chose a version of Eggs Benedict but with crab cakes instead of ham.

Both dishes were really well executed and lovely, and really substantial. Such a great brunch spot!

Rail House Café, 8 Sir Simon Milton Square, London Victoria SW1E 5DJ

 

London: Scandi lunch at Aster

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The building works near Victoria station has been going on for years, but now some parts of the development are finally ready. The rest is still a building site but the whole Nova area is brand new and quite exciting. There’s a Shake Shack (yum!), Franco Manca (yes, please!) and lots more restaurants to explore. The Scandinavian one was the first one I tried out, with my dear friends Gaby and Rowena for lunch one weekend.

Aster, as the restaurant is called, has a very nice interior (like all D&D London restaurants) and has a café area, restaurant area, bar and deli.

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We had lunch in the café area but it still felt restauranty enough for a lunch.

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With lots of familiar items on the menu it was difficult to choose but we got there in the end.

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Gaby had the meatballs with potato mash, cream sauce and lingonberries. Really nice and I got a small case of food envy (even though my homemade meatballs are really nice too!).

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I went for the smørrebrød (open-faced Danish sandwiches). One with pork belly, apple sauce and lovely crackling on rye.

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And one with prawns and mayonnaise. The pork sandwich was lovely and ticked all the boxes but I was disappointed with the prawn sandwich. It tasted nice, but I would have expected at least the double amount of prawns. Smørrebrød always have more toppings than bread but here that wasn’t the case.

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Rowena had the Aster Caeser salad with prawns, smoked vendace and rye croutons, but it arrived without the fish on the plate (!) and we had to ask for it. Then it took quite a while until the complete salad arrived and it was also smaller in size than the first one.

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The food was nice though (not wow – but nice) so we had pudding as well. Rowena had the apple cake with custard above which was really nice.

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And Gaby and I had a cinnamon bun each which was amazing. Still warm, buttery and lovely. We also spied people around us having afternoon tea which looked great so definitely want to go back and try that.

There are definitely a few tweaks to be done here, both when it comes to food and service (it was rather slow and wobbly) but hopefully it was all teething problems and it’s fixed now.

Aster restaurant, 150 Victoria Street, London SW1E 5LB

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: Born and burgers at Bacoa

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Lots of restaurants in Barcelona are closed for Sunday dinner, so we hadn’t made any proper plans. Instead we decided to go for a walk, from our hotel in Barri Gotic to the Born district not far away, that went from scruffy to trendy quite recently.

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Now it was filled with restaurant (some closed for the evening, some fully booked) and hipster bars and we really liked the vibe here. I really enjoy walking around different neighbourhoods in a city and get to know the city that way. It paints a picture of what it’s like to live there and that beats queuing for tourist attractions in my book.
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After walking around Born for a while we turned on to the main street by the seafront and saw a packed burger place. Yes, we could eat a nice burger and take a break from tapas. And it was completely rammed with people, young and old, which we took as a good sign.

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The burger chain (they have a few restaurants in Barcelona and one in Madrid) isn’t your typical fast food joint. You order by the counter but get to choose what type of bread you want and any toppings you like to really make the burger your own.

I chose the best quality beef burger, a brioche bun, cheddar and their recommended trimmings and truffle mayo on the side and it was seriously good. The beef was really tender and full of flavour. The garnish nice and fresh and the bun lovely.

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Emma had the chicken burger that had been marinated and was really tender as well, with brioche bun and the recommended toppings. We also shared a side of patatas pravas that were really nice!

Oh, and another good thing. Once you’ve ordered you get an order number, sit down at the wooden tables and then they bring you the food when it’s ready. Much more civilised than McDonald’s. And obviously nicer!

Bacoa, Av. del Marquès de l’Argentera 1, 08003 Barcelona

Barcelona: La Pedrera and tapas lunch at Cerveseria Catalana

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One of the highlights on our long weekend in Barcelona was definitely La Pedrera. A colleague of mine recommended it and we found it really interesting.

The building, designed by Gaudí in the beginning of the last century, is so different to anything I’ve seen. It’s part wacky, part beautiful and part ugly in my opinion but definitely interesting!

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Even the doors are very different. It’s refreshing to find out that this building was designed over a hundred years ago as it still feels modern.

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The best part of the audio tour that was included in our ticket was definitely the rooftop. Unlike other rooftops there’s no greenery or seating area. Instead you can walk around in this art installation with crazy chimneys.

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It’s such an experience and the views are breathtaking.

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Especially this perfect view of La Sagrada Familia.

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Just look at the proportions. Pretty cool!

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Back inside there’s a small exhibition about Gaudí’s work and techniques that was interesting, but entering a flat furnished exactly like it was when the building was built was more interesting to me.

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The crazy features are toned down, but you can see Gaudí in every detail. The door frames, the handles, the metal features outside of the windows. And somehow it works with the traditional furniture.

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Back on the ground floor you find this impressive art installation. So different. Although it’s a museum, people still live in the other flats in the house today. I cannot recommend this enough. Even if you’re not a Gaudí fan (I’m not), or that into art or architecture you’ll still find this interesting – I promise. It’s just a completely different perspective.

La Pedrera,  Provença, 261-265, 08008 Barcelona, Spain

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After this cultural experience it was time for lunch so we walked to the much talked about Cerveseria Catalana. It’s touristy but authentic and insanely busy. I’ve had it recommended by friends and they all love it.

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I certainly see the appeal. The only downside is the waiting time. They don’t take bookings so you put your name on a list on arrival and they’ll shout your name when the table is ready for you. Or, you can just hover by the bar seats and snatch them when somebody leaves, as there is no list for those seats. That was a lot faster and what we ended up doing.

I like the vibe sitting at the bar counter, especially in a busy tapas bar at lunch time. That’s where the action is.

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The first two dishes we had were these gambas (prawns) in olive oil and garlic and padron peppers. Both nice but not that special.

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But the tortilla, that blew us away. It’s seriously good. Just perfect in every way and tasted divine. I would come back just to eat it again.

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These mini beef burgers with cheese and sautéed onions were also amazing!

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Lunch at the bar counter, this was our view. As you can see they have some dishes lined up at the counter as well so you can order just by pointing if you’re not sure what’s what.

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I pointed to this pinchos with crab, mayonnaise and corn. So good, just incredibly filling.

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I also had these razor clams, that I didn’t see on the translated menu, but our bar counter neighbours had ordered them so we did the same. Yum!

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We were too full for pudding, but I like the dessert menu displayed like this.

Cerveseria Catalana, Carrer de Mallorca, 236, 08008 Barcelona, Spain