I’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…
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 Tío 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…
In 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.
Salón Cascabel in El Corte Inglés (Serrano) Gourmet Experience. This bar is run by chef Roberto Ruíz, 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.
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.
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.
Tapas aren’t as common in Madrid as they are in Andalucía, but complimentary aperitivos (snacks) are often served with your drinks.
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 úlitma penúltima 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.
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 Ruíz, 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.
Somewhere close to midnight we finished our outing as we’d started it, with a penúltima sherry at La Venencia. And by one of those very random of coincidences ran into our mutual friend (and sherry educator) Mómoko from Jerez (!!!).Which led to another penúltima (or two). Mómoko 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.
My next to last day in London was quite eventful. I had plans to meet John @cityjohn at Borough Market and walk along the South Bank, but he got delayed so I started off with a quick lunch at Arabica (recommended by Thane @thaneprince and it was amazing).
Happy barman Emanuele working on some colourful cocktails
Muhummara: roasted red peppers, harissa, toasted mixed nuts
Armenian-style Lahmacun: Levantine flatbread, spiced lamb, tomatoes, peppers, pine nuts, lebneh
John met me half-way through my Lahmacun and helped finish it off and then we made our way over to craft beer bar The Rake which was celebrating their 10th anniversary, and where we knew we would most likely run into beer expert and mutual friend Melissa Cole @melissacole
Melissa and John
Juuso and James at the Wine Pantry
From there John & I made our way over to the Wine Pantry, a spot recommended by my friend Mark, which features English wines. We had a small tasting of three wines before having a full glass of something we both liked. Then John had to meet his cousin at the cinema and I had a bridge to cross (all by myself – check out to photo!) and we said our “hasta luegos”.
Have I mentioned I’m slightly obsessed with the Shard?
Once over the bridge I walked straight up from London Bridge to Spitalfields Market, stopping to have a final dinner at Taberna do Mercado.
green beans in tempura with a mussel and coriander broth
Bifana: bísaro presa pork, yeast mayo, fennel
Then home to start packing…
This was the second BIG EVENT in terms of friends meeting up for a special meal in the evening, but first I was meeting my friend Thane @thaneprince for a quick bite at Calcutta Street, a new place that has been getting rave reviews.
Unfortnately we found nothing to rave about, the food was plain at best, mediocre at worst. Nothing horrible, just not tasty. And we were served some cloudy Italian “natural” white wine, which didn’t help. Apparently the dinner menu is more extensive – at lunch we only had the choice between 4 wraps. Meh.
Undaunted, Thane took me to a pub just around the corner, built on the grounds of the old Middlesex Hospital. Nothing remains of the hospital other than the church, which is now a freestanding bulding (before it was enclosed within the hospital) and you can see the church from inside Percy & Founders, which is where we went for a restorative glass of “unnatural” wine.
After that I did a bit more shopping and general roaming around, looking for some gifts to take home. And once again I GOT LOST and only just made it in time for dinner at one of London’s newest spots – Pidgin – which offers a set menu (just the one) that changes weekly. On this occasion there were eight of us…
Delicious tasting menu, though with cocktails and several glasses of wine we certainly drank more than we ate. We finished the evening at a pub around the corner, which is where things go a bit fuzzy for me, other than the boys putting me into an Uber after the pub closed.
I started off Monday morning in London by taking a dive down the stairs of a double-decker bus (duh!) and quite likely spraining my pinkie. But there was nothing for it, had to continue on because I was determined to do a bit of sightseeing before dinner, which was to be my only homecooked meal of my trip. So off I went to Covent Garden, kind of because I knew how to get there…
As usual I arrived at a time when I should be having some sort of lunchy snack so ended up at Polpo (because I happened to be walking by) and had a couple of their “small plates”. Arancini… give them a miss, devoid of flavour and 2 pounds EACH (srsly?)tasty and spicy pork meatballs
After a stroll through Covent Garden I took a friend’s advice and headed over to Marylebone high street. Apparently there wae cute shops and what not to be seen there. Well, it was quite a hike over there from Covent Garden, and I enjoyed the walk, but actually found the shops in Marylebone a bit… well, let’s just say they were nothing I could relate to. But I did find a nice pub and had a glass of wine there before making my way to Peckham Grove for dinner.
It was actually Oli’s @CoteduPy spontaneous invitation for dinner at his place with girlfriend Phoebe @plemess that sealed the deal on my booking this London trip. Before that I was wondering if I should really do this, in spite of the generous offer from @inkjockey & @missbishopsgate of a place to stay while I was there (their place!). But Oli said we had to do this and also invited other mutual friends @andrewfriedhoff @vinoveroleigh and supplied the wine, while Phoebe cooked dinner for us. A done deal.
view of MY SHARD from Oli’s apartmentrooftop dinner
It was a great evening and after eating out on the terrace we got cosy inside and, well, had a few wines… nothing like enjoying good food and wine with kindred spirits.
Saturday was amazing. First of all it started off with me discovering that the number 100 bus took me directly to Waitrose and back again! No more 45 minute Death Marches. So I popped over there in the morning to stock up on a few things. Then got ready to meet very old and very dear friends Sara & Steve – can you imagine that I met them online even before Twitter! In fact, they don’t even have Twitter accounts (though Sara was convinced/forced to open an Instagram account during dinner – but I’m getting ahead of myself). The plan was to meet up at Liverpool Street Station, which by now was a piece of cake for me to get to. From there we went over to Spitalfields Market and had a wander around…
This Turkish food stall smelled amazing, but we were saving ourselves…
We ended up stopping at Taberna do Mercado for a bottle (okay, two) of lovely crisp and fresh Portuguese white wine. We were there between services and got to witness the staff meal, which looked so cosy and convivial that we wanted to join them. Afterwards we went to Vertigo 42 for cocktails with a SERIOUS VIEW…
Outrageously expensive, and not something I’d probably do again, but it was fun and I got to see my Shard from a whole other perspective (yes, I am slightly obsessed with the Shard…)
Then it was off to the main event of the day – dinner at Quality Chop House. I’d been here before (last year during the Foodie Hub awards) but it was the first time for Sara & Steve and we all loved it. Hard to pick a favourite dish but THOSE confit potatoes (a signature dish) are crazy good.
After dinner we waddled back over to Liverpool Street and I caught my bus home, feeling happy and full, and also full of love for these two guys. We’ve been through a lot together, and I hope we’ll keep going through and sharing all our life stuff. Good people, good friends. xx
Friday was SHOPPING DAY, as I had a few places I wanted to check out in the Regent & Oxford street area. I hopped on my trusty number 15 bus, which took me directly to Trafalgar Square, just around the corner from Regent Street (not the shortest route, but saved me from having to take the Tube). I got off the bus and immediately lost my 4G connection, so Maps stopped working too. Then I started crossing the square and – who knows why? – just after taking this photo I was overcome by one of the worst panic attacks I’d had in years. In fact, since the whole cancer thing I’d pretty much stopped having attacks, but suddenly there I was terrified in the middle of Trafalgar Square. Somehow I got to the other side and saw two women talking in the street, so I went over and asked them for directions to Regent Street. This calmed me down a bit (distraction therapy) and I was able to carry on, but then realised the time (going on 2 pm) and decided to stop somewhere for lunch first. A nearby-ish recommendation from my Twitter pal Robin @HERMANOPRIMERO proved to be the perfect spot for solo dining.
I got a place at the bar and ordered a couple of tasty dishes, had a couple of glasses of wine, and thus fortified I was suddenly much less “panicked” and able to head out shopping…
hot butter devilled shrimps
black pork Kari Dosa with chutneys: coriander, tomato, coconut
What followed was a four-hour shopping expedition, mostly fruitful. I got some new clothes – Sevilla has very little “fat lady” clothes that aren’t awful polyester numbers better suited to grandmothers and maiden aunts. But man, it was hell walking in totally packed Oxford street, with many people staring at their phones as they walked, so bumping into everyone else. At some point I heard back from my friend Lizzie @hollowlegs who said she was able to get away from work early after all and would meet me at Noble Rot Wine Bar for their famous slip sole (apparently one of the trendiest dishes in London atm). Yes! But that meant getting there. From Oxford Street it looked a straighforward walk, but once again I got lost and – once again – Peter came to the rescue, directing via WhatsApp messages. And I finally arrived…
slip sole with smoked pimentón butter
roast saddleback chop, coco de paimpol beans and salsa verde
Lizzie chewing on a bone
It was great to catch up with Lizzie and hear all about her new job. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to join the couple of group dinners I’d arranged so I was really happy she made the extra effort to join me here for a quick bite, even though she had to get up at 5.30 the next morning. We called it quits around 9.30 and Lizzie also helped me order my first Uber! I got home exhausted and happy, and wondering how I was going to fit my new stuff into my already over-stuffed suitcase. There was only one solution – I’d have to buy another bag.
One issue with my otherwise fabulous apartment in Wapping is that the WIFI is dodgy, to say the least, making it impossible to work. And although not ideal, Mark suggested I pop over to the nearby Yurt Café to take advantage of their WIFI. Turned out to be an unusual and interesting venue, a massive yurt with a small patio basically under the rail lines. So I was able to get some work done and it was a nice place to spend the morning.
Later on that evening came one of the week’s BIG EVENTS. Dinner at Som Saa…
whole fried sea bass – spectacular presentation but didn’t quite deliver on taste
star dish of the evening – pork neck with “nahm jim” sauce
While the food was mostly good (though nothing spectacular other than that one pork dish imho) it was a terrible shame that a gathering of witty and wonderful people ended up in a shouting match across a rather narrow table because the FUCKING MUSIC WAS TURNED UP TO MAX. Seriously… why? It’s a small venue, and it’s a restaurant (with a small bar area as you come in). Ironically the bar is quieter than the restaurant. So what’s with the fucking ear-splitting music, unless it’s to make clients eat up and leave fast so they can turn more tables? Som Saa started off as a pop up and, after the owners went off to do research in Thailand, they opened this very new restaurant in Commercial Street. I’m told they didn’t actually change their pop-up menu much after their research and to me it all felt a bit contrived. Staff didn’t seem well-trained… overall not an experience I’d repeat.
all the Som Saa dishes we tried
just to show I wasn’t exaggerating about noise level – we measured it
Afterwards us diehards (John, Mark and me) headed to a wine bar in nearby Spitalfields Market as Thane & Bob headed home (they had an early morning next day). Can’t remember the name of the wine bar but Mark ordered for us and we enjoyed a couple of lovely wines – always a treat for me to try non-Spanish wines. Afterwards I got on one of my trusty 3 buses that seemed to take me almost everywhere and got home to find messages from the boys asking me to check in. Nice. Nice friends, great evening out.