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Archive for the ‘Foodie Travels’ Category

Our base was the lovely Village Guest House, a great value, no-frills  type of accommodation – no front desk, no daily maid service, and no breakfast. But getting the perfect breakfast was no problem whatsoever.

Colleen, the owner/manager of the establishment had prepared a little map of the surrounding area, indicating her recommended restaurants and other amenities. Marked on the map was also Patisserie Claude (or rather “Patisserie Pablo”, as Claude himself has apparently retired and his apprentice has taken over), and as it was the closest option, we decided to have our first breakfast there.

What happened was that for that week, we became regulars. There was absolutely no point going further: scrumptious fresh pastries and decent cappuccino, for a reasonable price – what else would one need?

From the outside, this little bakery doesn’t look like much, and there’s only three tiny tables inside. Therefore, for the rest of the week, one of us simply got us coffee and pastries (plain, chocolate, or almond croissants, all very nice indeed) from Patisserie Claude, and we enjoyed them in the comfort of our little studio apartment.

Later, I googled Patisserie Claude, and it seems that most people enjoy their fare, but there are few bad experiences as well, mainly relating to the service. However, during our week we had nothing to complain about.

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One thing on the Original Soupwoman’s to-do list for this New York trip was to sample authentic New York cheesecake. The problem was, where?

Fortunately, this problem was solved during free Times Square Expose Walking Tour – our guide waxed lyrical about the cheesecake served at Junior’s, a Brooklyn establishment now having a location near Times Square as well (1515 Broadway, at 44th St): “The best cheesecake in town, take it from the fat guy.” And we took his word for it, and later, as we had an hour or so to spare before our allotted entrance to a nearby Tutankhamen exhibition, we thought a slice of cheesecake would make a nice snack.

First, we both wanted to have a slice of the plain original cheesecake, but our waitress advised that the second slice should be something else, and recommended carrot cake cheesecake. That suited the Inhouse Food Critic perfectly, as he loves carrot cake.

Daily calorie requirement and then some in one slice...

When our slices arrived, we were glad we had not ordered any food. They were huge. They were also good – rich, creamy smooth and not sickly sweet. I somehow managed to eat it all, but as Inhouse Food Critic’s slice was practically twice the size, with the added carrot cake, his efforts failed. I pondered for a moment asking for a doggy bag for it, but as we were going to the exhibition I thought it would have been impractical. But if and when I go to New York again, I will definitely get myself a slice of Junior’s cheesecake!

P.S. Apologies for the blurry photo, but it is the only one I got, and you have to see it to believe it!

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At the end of April, despite the chaos in the air caused by an unpronounceable Icelandic volcano, the Original Soupwoman and the Inhouse Food Critic headed for New York, with an intention of spending there a week pretending to be New Yorkers. Our base was a studio apartment in the Village, a stone’s throw from Washington Square and Bleecker Street.

But Soupwoman’s first story is not about any of the lovely culinary establishments in the neighbourhood – it is about the Ultimate Sandwich.

It is a Finnish tradition to have a picnic brunch on May Day. Being in New York, Central Park was the obvious choice for the location. As for the food, we decided to keep it simple and just grab a sandwich on the way there.

Soon we found ourselves queueing at the counter in the Carnegie Deli. We had heard it was famous for its hot pastrami sandwich, so we decided to have one each, despite the whopping price of nearly 15 dollars. When we got our bag, it was surprisingly heavy, but we had no idea what awaited us.

Then, after we found the perfect picnic spot, it was revealed to us. There are no words – and it was as good as it looks:

Pastrami Sandwich by Carnegie Deli – can you finish it?

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Those who ever wore a kerchief a la Ally McBeal, saw Friends when it first came out, had their mind blown by Nirvana, laughed at Ren and Stimpy, were awed by The Matrix, and knew what they really, really wanted, surely remember Seinfeld, right? And if you were a fan or even a casual viewer, you must remember the Soup Nazi as well? And you are aware that the character was based on real person? You’re with me then, good.

A couple of years ago, when the Inhouse Food Critic and the Soupwoman visited New York, New York for the first time, it just so happened that one of The Original Soupman(TM) restaurants was in the neighbourhood, and of course we wanted to give it a try. We had one of the meal deals I think, not sure what exactly but it was reasonably tasty and filling, but not mind-blowing, and perhaps a bit pricey for being “just” a soup meal.

But that is not the point here. When we were finishing our meal, I saw a big, bald man speaking on his mobile and gesturing energetically. I had my camera out, so I snapped a photo of the scene. Then some of the staff came out, and had their picture taken with him, and it was not until then when I realised that it was the Soupman himself – with a lot less hair, but it was clearly the same guy as in the logo. He noticed me in the window with my camera, and he smiled and waved at me. And why not, I’m sure he laughed all the way to the bank as well, back in the day when Seinfeld made him notorious!

After the photos, The Original Soupman let his staff to pose in his fancy Mercedes.

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On a Saturday in February, the Original Soupwoman and the Inhouse Food Critic forayed into the Capital in search of some cultural delights, and found some in form of a matinée performance of Romeo and Juliet (music by Prokofiev, choreography by MacMillan) at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.  Our original plan was simply to grab a  burger afterwards in nearby branch of GBK, but as we walked past Belgo Centraal, we were suddenly overcome by a craving for a bowl of juicy mussels. Hence, a change of plans and there we went.

It was just after 5, but a queue was already forming. We were put on a waiting list and told that there would be a 5-10 mins wait, which turned out pretty much correct. And it was also lucky, as the bar area was rather grim, especially as there was no service at the bar yet and we just stood around. Having said that, it was also a chance to take in the industrial design of the place, which is unique.

The restaurant is down in the basement, large halls filled with wooden tables and benches, the servers clad in black monk’s robes buzzing around carrying plates and huge pots of mussels. The atmosphere was lively to say the least, and perhaps too noisy for some – there was a certain feel of a factory canteen.

Our drinks orders were taken quickly, and when Inhouse Soup Critic’s chosen beverage was not available, our server recommended an excellent alternative from the extensive list of Belgian beers. Starters also arrived quickly – crab soup for him, Thai style mussels for me. Both were very tasty, and the mussels big and juicy, but it was a little surprising that no bread was served with the soup – it should have been ordered separately. After we finished, our plates were taken away quickly and as our server spotted I tiny drop of broth on the table she cleaned it promptly.

The mains – Mussels Provençal for him, Herb-crusted lamb with creamed savoy cabbage for her – took a bit longer, but we were in no rush so we used that time for discussing the performance we just saw (we both agreed especially Juliet had been fantastic) and of course for people-watching. Belgo is good place for that, as it attracts all kinds of people, from families with children to couples to groups of young people.

As we left, the queue was already stretching to the main door, which demonstrates how popular this place is, and I can see why, although I would not necessarily be willing to wait longer than 20 mins or so to get in.

The Conclusion: We both enjoyed our food, it was good solid quality: tasty, well prepared and nicely presented. The price came to around 50 pounds for 2 courses and 2 Belgian beers – not exactly cheap and cheerful but OK for London, I suppose. The tip (or service charge) was added to the bill automatically, which normally annoys me, but at Belgo Centraal, the super-efficient staff work their butts off and earn every penny.

The Verdict: Belgo Centraal is an interesting experience, but its hectic atmosphere and industrial feel may not suit everyone. Their Express Lunch (12-5pm, a course from their lunch menu + drink for £7.95 ) and Beat the Clock offer (a special menu, priced according to the time the order is placed) seem to offer good value and are worth checking out.

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The Soupwoman and the Inhouse Food Critic got tired of cold and rainy Blighty and switched it to cold and rainy Netherlands for a few days. The plan was to unwind and enjoy some sightseeing (canal cruise, flower market, Anne Frank Huis, check), culture (lunch concert in Concertgebouw, Rijksmuseum, van Gogh Museum, check) and culinary delights (check).

A selection of Indonesian dishes – for two

Rijstafel

We dined in Sama Sebo, one of the many Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam, and despite it being recommended in guidebooks, it was pretty good. Having not tried Indonesian food before I had nothing to compare it with, but we thoroughly enjoyed the meal. Granted, some of the dishes were merely nice, but the interesting ones and the scrumptious ones ensured it was a tasty experience.

Want some fries with that?

Patat

Another thing we just had to try were the Dutch style fries that were sold all over town. They were a welcome snack, as delicious as deep fried potatoes can be – fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside – and surprisingly filling,  especially with a good dollop of mayonnaise. Not perhaps the best option for those who are watching their diet, but one does not care when one is on holiday.

From a Dutch treat...

Pannekoeken

The menu in the pancake house we went to – the name escapes me but it was one of those on a narrow street close to Historisch Museum and Dam Square – was long, and the variety of fillings, both sweet and savoury, was staggering. However, both of us chose to keep it simple. We were served one huge pancake each, too thick for a crepe, too thin for an American style pancake,  then we poured a little bit of syrup, or stroop, on top – but not too much, mind you, we didn’t want the pancake go all soggy and lose the crispness.  A cup of good strong Dutch koffie was a perfect accompaniment indeed. And it is black coffee, of course, coffee with milk is koffie verkeerd or ‘wrong coffee’.

Genever

...to some Dutch courage!

We did our best to sample Dutch specialities in a liquid form as well. We thoroughly enjoyed Dutch beers, such as dark, strong bokbier and Dutch pils, served in a small glass (a little less than half a pint) to ensure it remains cold to the last drop, but we found courage to try something stronger as well. A genever glass is filled to the brim, and you are supposed to slurp the top off first. Not too difficult after a little practice. At least we thought we eventually got the hang of it!

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Christmas came early to Finnish expatriates in the South-East of the  UK this year – the Christmas Fair 2009 at the Finnish Church in London was held 20–28th November. Last year, we attended the first weekend and had to queue for half an hour before even getting in, and the place was absolutely heaving. Not the best experience. Therefore the decision was made to go on a weekday this year.

And thus it came to pass that the Original Soupwoman, her inhouse food critic and the bosswoman (another Finn) embarked on their quest for authentic Finnish food on Thursday afternoon, straight after work. Luck was not on their side, though.  Inhouse food critic had cleverly checked for any traffic issues online, and decided it was best to avoid motorways, and thus TomTom guided the team via A roads. The journey would have been pleasant, if this route had not taken them through half a dozen roadworks, and they had not hit the suburbs of London just in time for the evening rush.

In the end, the trip took almost 3 hours, and the Tenacious 3 arrived at the Finnish Church with just 45 mins to spare before closing time.

And behold! There was no queue in sight, and there was plenty of room to browse the shelves leisurely. Soon their baskets were filled with tasty treats and vital ingredients from home: salmiakki, strong mustard, glögg, special pastry dough for Christmas tarts, Carelian pasties and aromatic sourdough rye bread to name a few.

Then the Soupwoman and her inhouse food critic took a well-earned break and enjoyed some hot glögg and kärkkäri style sausage with mustard in the conservatory/patio area. The simple culinary experience made the Soupwoman wax nostalgic – it had been a while since the last time she ate hot kärkkäri with her fingers outdoors.

The visit to the tills was less uplifting – the prices were steeper than steep even when taking the cost of refrigerated transport from Finland into account. But apparently, this Christmas fair provides most of the Church’s funding for the whole year, so the Soupwoman will classify this very expensive shopping spree as a source of some good karma. It is pretty nice when shopping becomes altruistic!

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