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

 

 

Classic Swedish fare at Den Gyldene Freden, Stockholm

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Den Gyldene Freden in Stockholm is probably the most classic Swedish restaurant I have ever visited, and having dinner here was a very enjoyable experience.

The restaurant is located in Stockholm’s Old Town, Gamla Stan, and is several floors deep with cave-like vaulted ceilings. The ambiance is both cosy and a little formal.

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The food here is classic Swedish (this is where to go if you want proper meatballs), but still up to date enough to not feel stuffy.

For our starter my mum, dad and I all had the same; a traditional landgång sandwich. Yes, it’s a glorified open sandwich, but a seriously delicious one! It’s named after a gangway plank, probably because it’s longer than a regular sandwich, and has more toppings. This long slice of rye bread was adorned with eggs, prawns, cured salmon, hot smoked fish, asparagus, wild garlic crème and pickled onions.

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Dad also had a snaps with his starter – very traditional – and something not many restaurants serve nowadays. Mum and I were happy with our wine but dad was in good company as two tables nearby also had snaps and sang snaps songs.

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Dad and I chose the same main course as well; duck sausage with thinly sliced duck breast, seasonal vegetables and a deliciously smooth potato purée. This dish was a lovely mix of rustic and gourmet. Delicious!

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Mum chose the catch of the day; fried pike-perch with new potatoes tossed in butter and chives and it was also absolutely delicious. The portions were very generous here as you can see, and no, I couldn’t finish the whole sausage even if I made a good attempt.

We were too full for pudding but lingered with our wine for a while before I went on to meet a friend and my parents headed back to the hotel.

Dad had been to this place before and really liked it, so that was the reason for going, but we all really enjoyed it! Everything about this place is classic; the interior, the food, the service. And the snaps.

A little gem I hope can stay in its spot for many more years to come, looking after our culinary heritage. As a tourist I urge you to go. Try this and a place serving New Nordic cuisine to get the whole range of Swedish food. Because this is traditional, but done very well.

Den Gyldene Freden, Österlånggatan 51, 111 31 Stockholm, Sweden

A Scandinavian Christmas part III: The food

I know that last year’s Christmas is done and dusted, but I still want to show you what we ate on Christmas Eve. Before Christmas I gave you the low-down of what happens that day, so it is about time to show you as well.

For lunch (or breakfast for me) we have the cold foods, such as pickled herring, smoked eel, smoked salmon, eggs, bread and cheeses.

And then in the evening we have all the warm food. The reason for this divide is that we don’t want to eat too much so we think having less dishes will help with that, but I’m not sure it works. We all leave the table dying to lie down on the sofa because we’re so full.

Anyway, the first course in the evening we enjoy meatballs, Jansson’s frestelse [temptation] (potato bake with anchovies), small sausages calles prinskorv, red cabbage, brown cabbage (i.e. caramelised white cabbage), Christmas ham with mustard crust, this year we also had a boar ham which was delicious, bread, cheeses and my chicken liver mousse.

Next course is very traditional, and not my favourite I have to admit. The fish is poached salted ling, served with allspice, boiled potatoes and a mustardy bechamel with melted butter.

Dessert consists of rice pudding with lots and lots of whipped cream mixed in and a coulis. We have raspberry and cherry coulis to choose from.

After dinner Santa comes with all the presents and once they are opened we have coffee and pastries. Very typical are the almond biscuit (second from left) and ginger bread of course.

Thursday’s canapés – the savoury

In an attempt not to bore you too much with the nibbles we had at Thursday’s party I have divided the food into two posts. This one with all the savoury stuff and another with the sweets.

When the guests arrived we greeted them with some mulled cider and the tables were already prepped with some nibbles for hungry guests; gingerbread with blue cheese, crisps and pretzels.

The first appetizer was a shot of warming butternut squash soup flavoured with cumin, chilli and garlic.

Next was my mother’s fabulous meatballs. They are always really fluffy and moist and the way to achieve this is to use egg, breadcrumbs and water or cream to the mince – not milk, that makes them hard.

I put each meatball on a toothpick to make it easier to dip them into the feta sauce in the middle. A cream accompaniment to meatballs and burgers.

Above is a large quiche I made with only crust underneath to make it easier to cut into squares as they all look the same this way. It is quicker than mini quiches and feeds many. I had leeks and blue cheese in this one.

My favourite canapé of the evening was the polenta square with marinaded pork fillet on top. Something green on the top like pea shoots or parsley would be a great addition as they do look a bit dull, but I promise you that they are anything but dull when you put them in your mouth.

Butternut squash soup, makes 20 shots in shot glasses

1 butternut squash

1 onion

1/2 red chilli

chicken stock

2 garlic cloves

2 tsp cumin

100 ml cream

salt, white pepper

Peel the squash and take out the seeds. Cut into smaller pieces. Finely chop the onion and fry it in oil in a large saucepan for a few minutes without browning. Chop the chilli and add it to the pan. Then add the butternut squash too. Fry for a few minutes and add chicken stock to cover. Bring to the boil and cook until the squash is very soft. Then drain half the liquid and purée the rest.

Add more water if needed and bring to the boil. Add garlic, cumin and cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour into shot glasses and put some pumpkin seeds on top. Serve hot.

Meatballs, makes 50

500 g beef mince

500 g pork mince

2 eggs

200 ml plain breadcrumbs

1 large onion, finely chopped

salt, white pepper

Crack the eggs into a bowl and break them up, add salt (more than you think), pepper and breadcrumbs. Leave it for a couple of minutes to swell. If the mixture seems very firm, add 1-2 tbsp water and stir it in. Next add the chopped onion and the mince. Make sure you incorporate it well, the mince has to mix as well as mixing it with the breadcrumbs. This is easiest done with a wooden fork or spoon. When it is all incorporated, roll the mixture into balls. Dip your fingers into a bowl of cold water in between rolling each ball, it makes it easier to roll. Fry them in butter on medium-high heat at first, until they are nice and crisp and brown on the outside, then turn the heat down to medium-low and let them cook through. Roll them around a lot as not to burn and to brown evenly.

Feta dip

150 g Greek feta

200 ml creme fraiche

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp thyme

2 tsp lemon juice

white pepper

Mush up the cheese with a fork in a bowl. Mix in the creme fraiche, then add the oil and lemon juice. Add thyme and pepper. Leave in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving to let the flavours develop.

Quiche pieces with leek and blue cheese, makes 50 pieces

1 batch shortcrust

2 leeks, rinsed and sliced

200 g creamy blue cheese

5 eggs

500 ml cream

salt, pepper

Make the crust and press it into a rectangular dish with sides. Pre bake the crust for 10-15 minutes in 200C. Scatter the leek slices and crumble the cheese onto the base. Beat eggs and cream, season and pour it into the dish. Add some grated cheese if you like. Bake for 40 minutes in 200C. Leave to cool and cut into squares.

Polenta squares, makes about 40

750 ml vegetable stock

120 g polenta

40 g butter

120 g grated parmesan

salt, pepper

Bring the stock to the boil and whisk in the polenta. Cook for as long as it says on the packet. When it starts to thicken and is done add the butter and cheese and stir to melt. Season to taste. Pour the mixture into a greased rectangular dish and let it cool and set. Cut into squares before serving.

Marinaded pork fillet, makes 40 canapés

450-500 g pork fillet

200 ml olive oil

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 solo garlic, sliced

2 tbsp lemon juice

salt and plenty of black pepper

Trim the fillet and brown it in butter on high heat in a frying pan. Place it in a 200C oven for about 15 minutes or until just cooked through, or until it has the inside temperature of 70C. Leave to cool. Mix the other ingredients. Slice the meat thinly and add to the marinade. Let it marinade for at least 2 hours. Place one slice of pork fillet on each polenta square and fasten it with a toothpick. Add something green or top or sprinkle with black pepper.