Friday, 26 June 2015

Taste of London 2015 - an overpriced letdown of a festival

The Boy Next Door can be... well, a bit special. An acquired taste, if you will, much like Guinness. Or crystal meth. Sometimes he's so lost in his own world he forgets to eat, even. But when he forgot my birthday in April, I wasn't terribly understanding. 

His birthday came round in June and I was prepared to get back at him (hell hath no fury as a woman without a birthday present!) and my vengeance knew no bounds: for his birthday I took him to London. 

Now, London is a fine city. But as far as cost of (good) living goes, it's in a league of its own. It was bad already when I lived there 10 years a go, but it's only gotten worse since. So, in case you're planning on a London getaway, come up with a budget, then double it, take all your family heirlooms to a pawn shop, sell a few organs in the black market, take out a bank loan and then you just might be able to get something out of the holiday.

We scheduled our trip around Taste of London. With the memory of Taste of Helsinki still fresh on my mind, we hit Regent's Park as soon as we arrived. 

Our press passes saved us £16 each (the entrance). The festival currency here is crown and they were sold in 10-crown-booklets.

Each dish costs between 4-56 crowns, though restaurants also had a so called icon dishes which set you back 10-12 crowns (!)

The line-up consisted of about 50 restaurants, so it was clear there was no way we could eat our way through the whole selection. Some of the restaurants were only there on a specific day, too. So, our original plan was to hit a couple really good restaurants. The choice wasn't easy, but we decided to settle for Michelin-starred L'autre Pied, Theo Randall at The Intercontinental and Michel Roux's Roux at Parliament Square.

We started our feast at L'Autre Pied, where we had Cornish crab, bisque vinaigrette, tomato and parsley oil followed by Roe deer compote with celeriac, juniper and cocoa and finished with their icon dish: Scallop ceviche, cucumber, balsamic, crème fraîche and dill.

The best thing of them all? That shell used for serving the scallop dish. I brought mine with me. I almost foraged the bins for a couple of more. For £10 that would have been reasonable. 

The gloriously sunny summer day along with a couple of cold ones spurred us on to the next stall, Theo Randall. Which featured the man himself. No, no selfies, though.

After all the pigging out of recent times The Boy Next Door had only one wish: no more sturdy dishes like slow cooked pork belly. So, I went for Spedino di Salsiccia (char-grilled Italian sausage with peppers served with cucumber, orzo, dateling tomato and basil salad).

Sausage was good and the salad was nice and summery, too. Up until now we'd been dining in polite silence but now even The Boy Next Door woke up from his thoughts. 

"Compared to that Taste of Helsinki... I mean, this has nothing on that" he pointed slowly. Not a question, just a statement. And right he was. 

The only dish to come even close to impressing with its appearance so far had been the scallop dish but the taste was so bland. The crab dish was... you know, ok, but nothing special. The deer dish had nice pulled pork- doneness (which is always nice) but didn't have much depth of flavour. 

Feeling quite a bit deflated we moved on to Michel Roux, whom, had he been there himself, I would have chained to my phone for the sake of a selfie. But no, no Monsieur Michel. 

Instead there was whiskey. The restaurant had clearly teamed up with Scotland's finest: every single dish featured the stuff one way of another. We had Balvenie and maple glazed pork belly on a brioche bun with hispi salad finished off with a spritz of whiskey and Crab soup with spiced lollipop.

Crab soup showed some effort and its presentation actually had a bit of a wow-factor to it. The taste didn't live up to it though as whiskey was too dominant. Burger was good. Brioche as very good.

Seeing I'm not familiar with London festival I don't know what the deal is. Are all the dishes watered-down versions on the restaurant's expertise? Or does the sheer volume lead to inevitable compromise?

The selection at Taste of Helsinki is excellent, year in year out. Not everything is a hit, but there are definitely more hits than there are misses. And even the misses show some real effort - they really give you an idea of what they do and whether it's worth booking a table there. Here? I wouldn't be tempted to eat at any of the restaurants we tried. 

At this point we just wanted to get rid of the remaining crowns and that we did at Roka and Aqua Kyoto.

At Roka we had Black cod, crab and crayfish dumplings.  And finally we started to see some taste and complexity.

At Aqua Kyoto we had Karage of stuffed chicken wings with spicy ginger lime mitsuba miso. Very good, especially that lovely zingy sauce.

Did not expect to be writing this but... Damn, we have a fine festival back home. The appearance and quality of the dishes that Taste of Helsinki does, that's a celebration of gourmet food. This on the other hand...I don't know what this was supposed to be. 

Like in London in general, there's a lot more ethnic colour at the festival, too. Some of them seemed really, really good, too. 

There were loads of exhibitors and events. In addition to cooking school sessions there were for instance Bloody Mary workshops (£7).

We both found the festival an overpriced letdown. But, having said that, we returned home with a newly found sense of pride. We have a fantastic thing going on here in Helsinki and our restaurants really have it going on.  

Go, Finland! Go, Taste of Helsinki!




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Monday, 22 June 2015

Lovely lunch in Stockholm: Speceriet

Abandoning the other at home in the company of a microwave meal while busy surfing the selection of Michelin restaurants in Stockholm for my lunch... yeah, that's the way to do it. 

Stockholm is home to eight Michelin-starred restaurants. Three of them have two stars (Matias Dahlgren Matsalen, Frantzén and Oaxen) and no less than five have one star (Matias Dahlgren Matbaren, Gastrologik, Esperanto, Ekstedt, Operakällaren and Volt). 

Matbaren is the only one that does lunch (something I most definitely do!), but Speceriet, Gastrologik's bakficka (that's a Swedish expression for a more casual sister restaurant located next door to the fancier one) was open. It won me over with its laid-back approach - they don't take reservations at all, for instance.

The tiny restaurant only seats about 20 and is a fine example of Nordic minimalism. 

(Love, love those copper details!)

Lunch consists of a couple of choices for both starters and mains and one, more husmanskost (that's Swedish for home-cooked)- like version which is also available for take away.

To start with I had Asian style asparagus which was so yummy I had to make some myself as soon as I came back home. 

Recommended wine for this was Franck Millet's Vieilles Vignes Sancerre. Spot on and they were kind enough to offer just a half a glass. 

Aaaand seeing how we only live once, I decided to have the other starter as well: beef tartare.

Tartare really seems to be having a moment now: this spring I've had it more than ever. In Latvia alone I had it twice.

This version came with chicken liver mousse. While you might think its fattiness might be too much with the richness of the meat, it wasn't. The dish had enough acidic components to balance it and it was divine. 

Same goes for the wine pairing: Joseph Burrier's Memoire de Terroir Pinot Noir was lovely, though I would have preferred just a bit chilled. 

(Then again... the though of The Boy Next Door, sadly fiddling with the lid on his barely-warm ready meal did bring some perspective. Perhaps there are worse things in the World than a slightly too warm Pinot?

The chicken option was probably very good, but looked like a rotisserie chicken on a pile of lettuce. So, meat it was. Onglet ( French cut the English equivalent I'm not sure of - comes from the lower sirloin/ upper flank steak region, so... rump steak?) of beef was succulent, but the star of the dish must have been the shallot purée it was served with. The onions had been smoked and then caramelized to cloudy bliss. 

Oooh. And the wine pairing (Giuseppe Cortese Langhe Nebbiolo)  - another ooooooh.

The dessert was a deconstructed take on something creamy. Lovely and oh, so summery.

Two starters with half a glass of wine each, one main course with a glass of wine, dessert and Espresso brought the total to 820 SEK, which, in the Pan-European money is just a little under €90.

Which, in all honesty, would have bought about 37 ready meals.

The service was great, atmosphere delightful, food and wines excellent...  Definitely worth it. 




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Sunday, 21 June 2015

Östermalm market hall - one of my favourite places in Stockholm

As the Instagram, Twitter and Facebook- followers know, I spent a lovely day in Stockholm last week.

The highlight of (and reason for) the trip was Linie Award 2015- a gourmet contest celebrating young Nordic talent now in its 10th year. Along with sleep-deprived yours truly and token souvenirs from Laduree, I returned with great news: Finland won. Not one to gloat, me... but take that, Swedish table next to ours! Enough to stop you from yodling?

I didn't have time to do much sightseeing, but I did have enough to visit some of my favourite places in Stockholm. Such as Östermalms market hall

(In case you're manic and want to cram absolutely everything into your day, check out our tips for an action-packed day from our last trip. Warning: it's not for the weak. Or those, who need to pee, like, ever. Or those who feel breathing is essential...!)

Östermalms traditional market hall celebrates its  125th anniversary this year. And she is a treat - full of treats.

Seeing how it's located in a posher area of Stockholm, everything here is just a little bit fancier and nicer.

Even pasta as as pretty as candy!

There's something adorable about the way Swedes are so giddy about their Swedishness.

Though, in all honesty, the wedding in the royal family last weekend got me very much in touch with my Swede within. And I can tell you, she cries a lot. Even without the tiara...

Summer is eagerly anticipated here, too. And it tastes exactly like ours: strawberries, dill, new potatos... Can't wait!

I've already before written how the market hall is a heaven for fish and seafood lovers. In case you don't have much time, pick up some smoked shrimps and fresh oysters.

They're sold by piece and each only costs a little over €1. 

Grab your goodies, get a glass of nice wine and sit down. And enjoy. 

Approaching noon, the restaurants were getting ready for their lunch. And so was I. More on that next!

Are you guys familiar with Stockholm? What are you favourite addresses, best kept secrets and absolute must-sees I should be in the know of for the next trip?




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Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Asian stir-fried asparagus and Wolfberger Riesling

Round about right now there are two types pf people I do not understand (well, in addition to my usual dislikes such as Neo Nazis and people with bad BO, anyway). People who've had enough of asparagus for one year and those, who refuse to touch it in the first place.

I don't know how fond of asparagus Asian people are, but the continent has served me inspiration before: just try this asparagus tempura! The inspiration for this came from a recent lunch I had in Stockholm and my. My, my. This just might be my favourite so far. 

It took me 3 days to drag myself out of the bed and into the kitchen to whip up a batch, but in case you are not hovering between life and death (and the latest season of Orange If The New Black), this dish comes together in mere 5 minutes.

Serve as a starter as it is or as a side dish ("grilled pork!" The Boy Next Door wailed. "I want some grilled pork to go with this!")

Serves 3

Asian stir-fried asparagus with chilli and garlic: 

bunch of asparagus
1 large clove of garlic (or 2 small ones), finely chopped
1 large red chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
a couple of tbsp oil for frying

To serve: bunch of coriander, chopped

Rice wine vinaigrette:

1/4 dl rice wine vinegar
the juice of 1/2 lime 
1,5 rkl canola or rape seed oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp honey
1 tsp mirin (this can be substituted by doubling the amount of honey)

Start by making the vinaigrette. Whisk together the ingredients and check for taste. In case you prefer it sweeter, add honey and/or mirin. In case you want a thicker and milder flavour, add more oil. 

Trim the asparagus (that is, chop off the dry ends) and cut diagonally into 5 cm pieces. In case the asparagus you're using is thick, cut them in half.

Heat some oil in a wok (or a frying pan). Add into the pan garlic, chilli and ginger and then asparagus. Cook until done (with still a bit bite to them) - about 5 minutes.

Pour vinaigrette over the asparagus, top with coriander and serve.

Asparagus and Asian food have (in addition to my greedy stomach!) another common denominator, too: Riesling. Since they are both so keen on Riesling and we are both so keen on Riesling, that's the wine we went for. And weren't wrong!




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