Monthly Archives: May 2010

Paella Revolution – Barcelona

Restaurant Salamanca

Restaurant Salamanca

I’ve never been particularly keen on Paella except perhaps a strange affection for the Knorr dehydrated variety which was very popular in the seventies. Subsequent visits to Spain did nothing to change this view. The seafood always seemed overcooked, tough mussels shrunked to the size of raisins, rubbery squid and dense burned rice. It was more of a ritual trying to supress my gag reflex than a great eating experience.

Things changed though on a recent trip to Barcelona. My eating companion was my mum who had never been to Spain and not tried paella even though she is a huge fan of seafood. Indeed I have to save the prawn heads for her so she can suck out the brains, thats how into it she is!

We took the taxi to Barcelonetta, the seaside area by the port. Potentially foolishly, we asked the taxi driver for his recommendation and he drove immediately to Restaurant Salamanca on the beachfront in Barcelonetta. Seeing the driver shake the hand of the owner didn’t fill me with confidence so I took a good look at the restaurant before deciding that we would definitely eat there. I needn’t have worried. The experience turned out to be excellent.

We were led to a great table overlooking the beachfront between a huge table of locals enjoying assorted platters of seafood and cooing couples sharing a paella. We were brought good bread and slices of sausage as an appetizer. We ordered a portion of razor clams to share and the Paella Salamanca. It wasnt cheap, the paella was 30 euros each and the razor clams about 18 euros. While we waited we watched the neat choreography of the waiters who were attentive and dedicated without hovering.

Razor Clams

Razor Clams

The razor clams arrived and were huge! Cooked in olive oil, wine, garlic and parsley they had were incredibly meaty and delicious. We polished them off with ease. A slightly longer wait for the paella which is a good sign as so many paellas in Barcelona come microwaved to table. As it arrived it was taken to a side table and divided evenly onto two plates.

It looked and tasted incredible. Cooked in an intense seafood stock, the rice would have been delicious just on its own. It was crammed with clams, prawns, langoustine, squid and crowned with a glorious half lobster which made it ‘Salamanca’. No finger bowls were provided but napkins were constantly switched out. I couldn’t manage the whole portion but was incredibly impressed. Everything was cooked perfectly, a first for me with paella. Defeated, we were offered coffee which we declined but were served some moist almond cake which was delicious.

Paella Salamanca

Paella Salamanca

I read reviews of the restaurant when I got home and was shocked to see that many people accused it of being a tourist trap which we didnt experience at all. Alas, a lot of Barcelona is a tourist trap (Did I mention to never eat or drink on the Ramblas?) but we found Restaurant Salamanca to be an authentic spanish experience and will remain as a happy memory of Barcelona.

Salamanca
Almirall Cervera, 34, 27
08003 Barcelona
Tel. 93 221 50 33
Fax 93 225 51 56
e-mail: salamanca@gruposilvestre.com

Boqueria Market – Barcelona

Rabbits at Boqueria Market

Rabbits at Boqueria Market

Just returned from a great stay in Barcelona. The weather was superb which was unexpected. I made a late packing change, removing swimming trunks and adding umbrella and waterproof jacket which was very badly judged in retrospect. We hired an apartment on the Ramblas right next door to the superb Boqueria Market. Good idea on paper. Bad idea in reality. The Ramblas is the incredibly busy entertainment street in Barcelona and is busy and noisy until about 2am. The market starts up at around 4am, therefore my window for sleep was about 2 hours. Oh well.

Unlike Borough Market, it feels that little has been changed to appeal directly to tourists. Sure, you can buy little portions of fruit for a euro which is probably the most bought item by shy non-spanish speaking visitors, but half of the market has not been given over to food stands like at Borough. If you want to eat in the Market you need to brave the seafood stalls around the edge or one of the tapas bars inside the market.

I felt a little guilty taking photos in the market as I didn’t really want to mark myself out as a tourist (well, besides the camera round my neck and the Timeout Barcelona guide in my pocket). In London, I used to be one of the tourists taking pictures of piles of olives and sun-dried tomatoes but now market tourists just get on my nerves as they puncture the adventure of exploring all the produce by making you stop constantly so that they can take a photo that thousands of people have already taken and probably a better example of it can be found on Google image search. Gosh, London has made me bitter!

The market has been there in some shape or form since the 13th century, the breadth of produce that it sells is overwhelming. The seafood ‘circle’ in the centre is especially breathtaking. Every edible living thing from the nearby seas is beautifully tumbled onto ice ready for purchase. We bought huge prawns one night and cooked them with a simple seafood sauce and mopped up the juices with bread. We were also inspired by the razor clams, their huge foot drooping out of the shell when held aloft, like honey from a spoon. More of that in another post! Fruit and vegetables look garden fresh and were snapped up by local residents. Its no wonder that the local ‘Carrefour’ super mecado had little fresh produce other than bulk items when you can buy such amazing produce directly from the market.

Seafood at Boqueria Market

Seafood at Boqueria Market

It can seem a little overwhelming initially. I wanted to buy steaks one night and just couldn’t see the cuts that I wanted so sadly I retreated and bought them from the supermarket (they weren’t very good). Later in the week I plucked up more courage and found the sellers to be charming and very willing to help.

Barcelona’s Boqueria Market feels like the beating heart of the city. Indeed if you are looking for heart you can buy it by the kilo here though not beating though of course. It is definitely worth a visit and to me it is the most wonderful market in the world.

Bored in Battersea – Ransome’s Dock

If there’s one thing better than as sunny day in London, its an unexpectedly sunny day in London. That was the case on Saturday. Tourists hedged bets with sunglasses and umbrellas but sun won the day. I went for a haircut near Leicester Square. A sign by the Palace Theatre promised haircuts to any style for a fiver, that’s cheaper than Mr Toppers! I was in and out in 5 minutes, just as I like it. On then to the tkts booth to get tickets for Enron that night (brilliant by the way). But it was definitely park weather so we decided to head to Battersea Park. A couple of bus rides later we were there enjoying the sunshine with everyone else, briefly distracted by a cute story telling carnival taking place in the centre of the park.

Gungy vista at Ransomes Dock

Gungy vista at Ransomes Dock

Lunchtime and out came the timeout app on the iphone which guided us to Ransome’s Dock, a neighbourhood restaurant overlooking a small dock in Battersea. We were greeted by an incredibly friendly man who I took to be the owner and shown to a table outside. The menu was rather odd, even though it promised an all day brunch at the weekend, there were breakfast items at the top and then just a normal a la carte menu. I really fancied just a starter of dressed crab but was worried it would be starter sized, so instead we both had the Goujons of Plaice with chips and tartare sauce and a glass of wine.

Whilst waiting I looked over the edge of the dock which was a huge, green, muddy sludge pool. To be fair the tide was out but it wasn’t the most pleasant view.

Plaice Goujons

Plaice Goujons

The food came as described. It was cooked within tolerable parameters and we ate it. That was it. It was pretty boring and terrible value for £13 each but it was exactly as described, if a little small, so we only have ourselves to blame really.

Score 4/10

35-37 Parkgate Road, London SW11 4NP    Phone: 020 7223-1611

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Bistrot Bruno Loubet at the Zetter

Bistro Bruno Loubet

Bistro Bruno Loubet

The train brought me down to London on Thursday and we arrived earlier than normal. Dining choices normally become more local the later the train brings me in, but a warm spring evening meant we could wander a bit further. We took a look first at The Fish Shop at St Johns Street, but the menu was a little unadventurous. Looking at the menu I could pick a starter easily enough but the mains were rather work-a-dayish. Haddock, Cod, no Halibut or Turbot. We decided to move on down St John Street.

Next stop The Peasant. We often eat at The Well which is a gastropub a little further down, but towards the end of the week these places become absolutely packed and with low ceilings you just feel that you are in the middle of a fish market. We kept going. We were going to try The Modern Pantry in St Johns Square but thought we’d chance a very full looking Bistro Bruno Loubet. We’d heard great things about it and A A Gill actually liked the place which is rare. I don’t think I’ve seen one bad review of the place.

We asked about the chance of a table for two. The maitre d’ furrowed his brow and started looking through table booking plans. He felt that something would be ready in 20 minutes. We took a seat at the bar.

The staff in BBL are all wonderful. Warm, attentive and extremely professional. The concentration on our barman’s face whilst making cocktails was gripping. Incidentally, I had a Grey Goose classic martini while my companion had a rather camp looking Brazillian (the drink not the trim!)

Revised Lyonnaise salad and Beaujolais dressing

Revised Lyonnaise salad and Beaujolais dressing

Twenty minutes later we were at the table, unfortunately next to some city boys out for the evening. Swearing loudly, with no acknowledgment that they were sharing the space with other people, I could see this spoiling the meal. Fortunately the waiter took pity and smoothly moved us to another table near the window. Later two other parties asked to be moved away from the toxic table next to them, but they only shut up when a middle aged woman had a word with them. My hero! Perhaps the staff should have said something. Perhaps I should have. Oh well.

I ordered the Revised Lyonnaise salad and Beaujolais dressing. Rich had Skate terrine in parsley jelly, bean salad, gribiche sauce. My salad was amazingly constructed. frisee leaves adorned with bacon, a poached egg and two towering croquettes of boned, skinned pigs trotter. It was unctuously delicious. Only the egg slightly disappointed as under seasoned but that was soon remedied. The skate terrine was quite a picture, delicately and quite complexly flavoured. Great Start.

Confit lamb shoulder, white bean and preserved lemon puree with green harissa

Confit lamb shoulder, white bean and preserved lemon puree with green harissa

Next up mains. I had the confit lamb shoulder and Rich the pan fried wood pigeon. Both excellent mains. The lamb shoulder was rich and lamby and the harissa added complex heat to the dish. Brilliantly thought out. The wood pigeon was cooked medium and was garnished with micro shavings of cauliflower like confetti. Outstanding.

Sadly we really couldn’t manage a dessert even though there were tempting choices on the menu.

Wines are available by the glass, or small/large carafe which is a great idea and allowed us to have white with the starter and red with the main without being too squiffy.

It is amazingly good value and deservedly popular. A little disappointed that they leave the credit card open for a tip even though service has been included. A little underhand perhaps, so bearing that in mind I will drop it half a point.

Score

9.5/10

The Zetter St John’s Square 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1M 5RJ

U.K. Hotel: +44 (0)20 7324 4444 Restaurant: +44 (0)20 7324 4455

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