galicia getaway

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weatherI’ve been planning this since June and now it’s just one more sleep until #GaliciaGetaway! It will be my first visit to Santiago de Compostela and I’m really looking forward to it, as well as seeing Anna & Jorge again (on their home turf!). I’ll be arriving in Santiago at midday mañana… looks like it will be quite a bit cooler (and that Thursday might be a good day to stay in). But it will be very different from my recent getaways to London and Madrid. Stay tuned…

arroz stiguar

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arroz stiguarChef Ă“scar here at Casa Morales has no idea what the barmen have written on the specials board. Do you? The past couple of days I’ve been checking in at my usual “tapas tour bars”, saying hi to everyone, you know, just staying connected. And today this happened. Cracked me up…

Love my life here, love everyone I work with, and I especially love that we are actually friends (and in some cases “family”). Best job in the world. 🙂

madrid getaway 2016 – fiestas & stuff

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madrid getaway 16 (1)Lest people think that ALL I ever do when I visit a place is look for the best places to eat and drink, here are some photos taken on various walks around Madrid. Of course one of my favourite sites is the old TĂ­o Pepe sign, restored to its rightful place in Puerta del Sol a couple of years ago. Below are some other “postcard pics” from my most recent #MadridGetaway…

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madrid getaway 2016 – food & drink

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madrid beer oclockIn terms of food & drink, coming to Madrid mid-August was probably not the best of ideas. More than half the places recommended by friends were closed for holidays, though of course in just three days I couldn’t have got to more places than I actually did. In fact, other than my first day in town, when Jo and I did an “all-dayer”, lunches were just a quick snack for me before meeting up with Jo again in the evenings for a proper meal. And because of one place being closed we “discovered” a new place across the street that ended up being quite wonderful.

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SalĂłn Cascabel in El Corte InglĂ©s (Serrano) Gourmet Experience. This bar is run by chef Roberto RuĂ­z, whose PuntoMX is the only Mexican restaurant in Europe with a Michelin star. We ended up here after arriving too late for StreetXO’s lunch service, which turned out to be an excellent “consolation prize” as the food here was exquisite (plus they make killer margaritas). We tried three tacos, all very different, all delicious…
Taco Ibérico Cochito & Chicharrón: pork with avocado sauce.
Tacos Pop Corn: crispy chicken, spicy tamarind and chipotle sauce.
Taco Arabe: beef, habanero tzatziki, hierbabuena, cucumber.

madrid food (6)An evening tapeo on Sunday included stopping into two bars for their iconic tapas. THAT tortilla de patatas at Juana la Loca and THOSE meatballs at Bodegas Ricla.

madrid food (5)A unique and tasty experience at Sala de Despiece (the cutting room) by chef Javier Bonet. It’s all about PRODUCT here, and the quality is impeccable. The space itself maybe goes a bit overboard with its minimalist butcher block theme: long marble communal tables with tall stools, packing crate walls, a plastic stip curtain over the entrance to the bathrooms. We were lucky that we got two seats on the side facing the wall as the majority of the seating have clientelle on either side of the largest and longest centre table, so you are facing total strangers while you eat. Anyhow, back to the food….
Bonito (tuna) sashimi with wasabi mayo, puffed rice and seaweed powder. The tuna is first dipped in the wasabi, then rolled in the puffed rice before eating.
Fried snow peas (mange tout) with soy sauce and sichimi spice.
Costilletas (pork ribs) with an amazing spice combo (can’t remember). Eaten with fingers, deliciously messy.
Korean style beef prepared at the table. It comes as a ball covered in its own fat, infused with spices and three kinds of sesame seeds, which is then blow torched until the fat melts and the beef cooks, creating a complex “sauce”. Once the beef is cooked raw egg yolk and mixed kimchi veggies are added and stirred in, then this mixture is spooned onto soft lettuce leaves with toasted garlic. The star dish of my entire trip. You can see a video of Cristina preparing it here.

madrid food (2)Snacky lunches. The renowned bocadito de calamares at El Brillante, and the equally famous cod croqueta & tajada at Casa Labra.

madrid food (4)Tapas aren’t as common in Madrid as they are in AndalucĂ­a, but complimentary aperitivos (snacks) are often served with your drinks.

madrid food (3)Another “accidental” feast. Much like we ended up at Cascabel after not getting into StreetXO, we also lucked out after finding both Triciclo and its sister bar Tandem closed for holidays. Bistronomika – on the same street and open in August! – turned out to be my another happy “consolation prize”. A warm and cosy ambiance, nice service and an open kitchen, we were sorry we only had room for two raciones (plates).
Dumplings: Rubia Gallega beef and prawn, served with miso sauce.
Rubia Gallega beef meatballs with grilled calamar in a crazy rich and delicious sauce over parmentier potatoes

After dinner we stopped for an Ăşlitma penĂşltima at La Venencia, where I took a “forbidden photo” of our palo cortados. Clearly I have to get to Madrid more often than every couple of years. And next time I will also try to plan meals with groups of 3 or 4 friends so we can try more dishes.

madrid getaway 2016 – friends

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madrid friends (1)While I was in London, staying at Jo & Mark’s place, somehow the idea came up that it would be fun to pop up to Madrid for a couple of days and visit Jo, who is there taking flamenco classes all of August. Checking the calendar I saw that I could comfortably squeeze in a quick two-night “getaway” between London and Galicia, so what the heck. I found a nice hotel – Casual Madrid del Teatro – at a good rate (which turned out to be just around the corner from Jo’s apartment and almost next door to my favourite sherry bar La Venencia) so it really couldn’t have been more perfect.

I arrived Sunday midday and, after checking in, met Jo at La Venencia for a quick sherry before heading over to David Muñoz’s fabulous StreetXO, which I was dying to try again. I also hadn’t been to their new location in calle Serrano. But it turned out to be a bit of a walk (read: Death March) in the HEAT and when we finally arrived they had just closed off the queue for the lunchtime service. Undaunted, we decided to try Cascabal next door, run by another michelin star chef, Roberto RuĂ­z, whose PuntoMX is the only Mexican restaurant in Europe with a star. It was a fabulous late lunch that later segued into an evening tapeo back in the centre of town, with a lot more walking and bar hopping involved. Food pics are over here.

madrid friends (2)Somewhere close to midnight we finished our outing as we’d started it, with a penĂşltima sherry at La Venencia. And by one of those very random of coincidences ran into our mutual friend (and sherry educator) MĂłmoko from Jerez (!!!).Which led to another penĂşltima (or two). MĂłmoko was just in town for the day doing research for a book she is writing. I mean, seriously, what were the odds? This was also when I decided to stay an extra night, which proved to be an excellent idea.

aircon on!

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aircon onA couple of months ago I spoke with my landlady about the possibility of installing a split in the living room, rather than using the central aircon/heating system, which costs a fortune (and frankly, I don’t need to be cooling and heating half the apartment that isn’t used most of the day). I offered to go 50/50 with her on the price, but she told me that if I wanted to do this then I’d have to pay for it myself and – I quote – “you can take it with you if you move”. Huh? So I decided to forget about it.

Then a few weeks later water started dripping from the kitchen ceiling (well, false ceiling – the heating/cooling unit is up there) and eventually it was discovered that the old machine was low on gas, but because it was so old the type of gas it used is no longer made. So now the landlady had two choices: replace the entire central system or get a split for the living room. She chose the latter, though not without trying to go for the 50/50 deal again. Too bad for her she didn’t take me up on my original offer at the time.

Anyhow, here is my new split, somewhat oddly placed near the balcony door instead of the centre of the room (landlady wasn’t going to spring for an extra 50€ to install it further inside) and I’m not sure if it’s actually powerful enough for the space (I’m pretty sure she went for the cheapest unit she could find) but hey, it works well enough and should save me a lot on electricity. Also, it’s good to have aircon again. While I was away in London poor Peter had to suffer through 10 days of 40Âş temps because they weren’t going to install the machine until I got back.

Have to say though that this latest incident with the landlady makes me want to move more than ever. She went on and on about all the “expenses”, how she couldn’t afford to pay for a new split, etc, etc. Give me a break. She and her husband are both lawyers and her family owns this entire building. And when I met with her to talk about this she brought up other “expenses” from 3-4 years ago, as if they were my fault. Meh. Luckily I don’t have to deal with her very often. But if they put the rent up in February then I’m outta here.

london getaway 2016 | day 10

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My last day in London and I’d made plans with Fiona Becket @food_writer to meet her for a last lunch in town at a restaurant she was reviewing. That was before I realised that my flight was at 5.30 (not 6.30 – Spanish time!) which wouldn’t leave enough time. Then I was chatting with Sam at @FoodieHub who said that Vicky @amsterdamfoodie was also in town and we could squeeze in a “quick bite” at Box Park, just around the corner from Liverpool Street Station, where I had to get the train to the airport. Done.
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As you can see, it was more than your usual quick bite (though to be honest, they took more than half of it back to the office). But it was quick. In less than an hour I was back at Liverpool Street Station with ten minutes to spare before my train.

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Stansted check-in and security was a hot and tiresome hour and a half, so I was in need of a Cold Beer after that, while I waited to board my plane home.

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And before I knew it I was flying over Sevilla, almost home. It was an amazing, if exhausting, 10 days. I’m so thankful for all the friends who came together to meet up with me, and also grateful to Jo & Mark who let me stay at their apartment (otherwise 10 days in London would never have been possible). I’ve got so many nice memories, and even more photos. Next stop… Madrid!

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