Husband is one serious foodie. Even more so than me. Having eaten many good meals in his life, I couldn't help but ask him to write up some restaurant reviews for me, and he was good enough to oblige. Finally, after me talking non-stop about Husband, it is time for Husband to speak eat up.
Food Memoirs - A European Summer 2012 There is something different about the experience a person has with a restaurant as opposed to the moment when he tries a single one of its dishes. When Wife (she does call me Husband) asked me to write a piece on my best and worst meal experiences of Europe I was torn between whether to write about single dishes that we ate or rather entire restaurant experiences that we had. It would be fair to say that while some dishes at places we ate were so utterly exquisite that all else was forgiven, while at the same time; some restaurants were just so bad that nothing they could serve me in a dish would even help them ever gain forgiveness. After some thought, I realized that a dish is like a catchy tune in a musical; yes, it may make you tap your foot and sing along nicely for a few moments, but if the rest of the show is awful; you are still going to feel as if you should have stayed at home and watched Survivor. So a review of whole restaurants it is. To be fair this is not the best of Europe, as we only travelled to England, Scotland, France, Spain and Portugal - and in some cases we only visited a single city in some of those countries, so it is more a review of the winners and losers of our mad dash through Europe in the summer of 2012.
In the spirit of bad news first, here is, The Loser: • The Attic - Las Ramblas, Barcelona I have to admit that I found Barcelona to be a bit of a cuisine catastrophe. Not that the food was awful (it was average) but it just seemed so secondary to what other senses were being filled. Sight and sound seemed more satiated than taste - unless tequila is the taste you crave, and they had great tequila. But, without a doubt, the ultimate loser of our six weeks in Europe was The Attic. We stumbled upon this place after getting hopelessly lost on the cobbled streets of Barcelona for a good hour; we were tired, hungry and you could have served us toasted sandwiches and we would have been delighted. Instead, after being directed up to the nice looking roof terrace over-looking the ubiquitous street of Las Ramblas (when lost you always end up on this road), we were greeted by a snooty receptionist who despite not attending his post for 5 minutes was outraged that we would have seated ourselves. He ushered us to the bar and told us we would have to wait ever-so-long for a table before sheepishly fetching us within minutes to give us one. While a lovely venue, the wine and food were terribly overpriced and while I did not hate my main course (a dry chicken teriyaki stir fry and rice mutation), Wife was served a hamburger and chips that arrived without a bun, with a slimy egg and chips that were clearly out of a frozen packet (Wimpy would have been shocked to serve such horror!). Our waiter barely spoke English, but before you say, "But you were in Spain.", I would suggest he spoke no Spanish either. He was Korean, I think, and clearly under so much pressure (they were way understaffed) that when we told him he had brought us the wrong type of tequila, he emptied the incorrect drinks into our wine ice bucket and brought us new ones several minutes later. Terrible. To conclude: The Attic in Barcelona is the worst tourist trap in Europe. Avoid at all costs unless you want a nice view and food worse than a school canteen. The Attic La Rambla, 120, 08002 Barcelona, Spain 933 02 48 66
Other notable Losers: • Le Café Marly - Le Louvre, Paris
I know, I know - we should have known better eating at a restaurant right by the entrance to Le Louvre - can anyone say tourist trap? - but it was awful, overpriced, rushed, insincere and it is a shame that a place so close to a museum that provides such a feast for the eyes should offer such a famine for the palate. The penne pasta tasted like it was made by drama students on a budget. Yuck!
When we search out a restaurant we often like to search an area thoroughly trying to find the perfect spot; is it busy enough to mean it is popular; are there great smells wafting from its kitchen; are the staff energetic and bustling to indicate vibrancy, but not panicked and wide-eyed to indicate being under-staffed or poorly managed, are there tacky pictures of food in the window (argh!)... After walking through several parts of Saint Jean de Luz and much browsing this place was our final choice. To be fair we were not expecting much, and it was our first paella of our holiday, yet amazingly, none have come close since - and we tried to find better, I tell you.
It was a near perfect meal experience.
The restaurant was busy, fun, colorful and helped by perfect weather. We ordered a salad to start and the paella for our main, as well as a bottle of wine. I cannot explain how good the wine was, the salad fresh (but small), the bread chunky and wholesome, and the paella was life-changing. It was not too wet and runny, nor dry at all - it was just right, the rice was succulent; the fish, sausage, mussels, calamari rings and everything just came together in such an excellent way that we have been dreaming about it ever since, and it is now 4 months later. And fresh!
The Creme Brûlée dessert was the cherry on top; light and soft with speckles of vanilla and the sugar top was thin and delicious.
If you are in the area - do exactly what we did and you'll be happy that you did.
31 Rue Pierre-Louis Tourasse 64500 Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France 05 59 26 97 42
2. Terroir Parisen - Paris, France Look, almost all the food we had in France was amazing and as I mentioned earlier there were some dishes that caused emotional responses from me that I have yet to understand; how is it possible that Camembert cheese makes a grown man weep for memory of his Grandfather?! Terroir Parisen was a meal that encapsulated what food in Paris is and what a good meal should be: from presentation, taste, service and decor; it did not once let itself down. Our waiter, a far-too-good-looking effeminate French lad whom fell in love with Wife (and she too a little bit him) allowed us as much time as we wanted as each course became a small chapter in a book of deliciousness. I started with a French Onion soup experiment that would be a top dish winner on its own - see picture - full of flavor and all the normal ingredients there, but in a way you probably have never tasted before. Our main course arrived; wife had the 'salmon froid a la Parisienne'; a cooked salmon served cold on a bed of vegetable jelly and condiments, and I had the 'poire de beouf aux herbes, tourte feuilletee de pommes de terre' (beef steak and herbs with a puff pastry potato pie) and we ordered a side salad which arrived as a head of butter lettuce drizzled with a fantastic vinaigrette dressing. All of it was gorgeous. I cannot remember what dessert Wife had, but I ordered the tarte tartin with a scoop of ice-cream. Thin, crisp, sweet and the perfect way to end off a remarkable restaurant experience. I blame the wine for the excessive tip we gave the waiter. It was great; the wine and the service. See Wife's post about our whole night out here. Terroir Parisien 20 Rue Saint-Victor 75005 Paris, France 01 44 31 54 54
3. Wagamama - London, England Oh! Shock! How dare I? How dare I put a franchise into my top three?
Well I am going to and I refuse to be jostled for celebrating a brilliant concept that serves consistently tasty, healthy, fresh food. And if a franchise manages to steal three of my meals in a foreign city from other possible places then it has to be in my top three. During my time in the UK I visited the Wimbledon branch, the Tottenham Court Road branch and the Heathrow Terminal 5 one and had a different dish every time. And why should one of their dishes stand out; they're all good. I love the Yaki Soba the most, the gyoza, the Katsu Curry, the Ramens!! The concept, the slight aloofness of the waiters, the fact that the food comes when it is ready (out of order, yes, but it is hot and ready! Marvelous! Why wait?)
If anything Wagamama makes my top three because of every meal I have ever had there since the 90’s - sure some have been average and udon noodles are as close to eating worms as a possible - but if I had to be locked in a restaurant for the rest of my life and only eat its food, it would be this one.
Special Mentions: London • 'Anon' Greasy Spoon - Pimlico Where Buckingham Palace Road ends and Ebury Bridge Road starts there is a greasy spoon, whose name is either Ideal Cafe or Sal Cafe - the signage ain't great. Either way they serve a mean greasy hangover-killing breakfast. If you walk into a place run by charming Eastern Europeans and populated with sarcastic English builders as customers, that is the one. Order the hash browns and sausage sandwich, pretend to read a newspaper and eavesdrop on the locals. • Pret-A-Manger Most Londoners would balk at this recommendation - but 'Ready to Eat' this place is. Great value, great choice and it is everywhere. As far as sandwich shops go, there is none finer and their coffee is remarkable. Order the crayfish and rocket sandwich. • Franco Manca - Brixton For someone who struggles with any pizza (it is a lot of carbs, isn't it?), this place offers excellent sourdough pizza with basic delicious toppings. The venue is located right in the heart of Brixton market, is always busy and is great value (London prices are a joke until you walk into this place). Order the lemonade with any pizza you fancy, you will not be disappointed. Spain • Seynor Parellada - Barcelona Okay, I said Barcelona did not do great food, but this rather pricey but outstanding gem was a stand out. Fine-dining is normally a snooty and uncomfortable experience, but we arrived in shorts and trainers and were treated as regulars. Everything on the menu begged to be tasted; we had the prawn starter, and followed it with a paella and lamb shank as mains. Wow! If you splurge once in Barcelona - do it here. • Guggenheim Museum restaurant - Bilbao When Wife's Aunt and Uncle suggested we eat at the canteen in this museum I was worried. My memory of gallery cuisine is one of frozen chips and three day old pies. This place was anything but. We had the lamb - which arrived as a square block of the softest buttery deliciousness I have ever. The wine was good and the service delicate. This whole experience at the museum satisfied all the senses. Portugal • Boia Bar - Salema This beachside restaurant does not offer much on the eye in terms of decor, but to be fair Salema is so untouched that I would be wary of any venue that looked too pretty. Food in these parts is usually good, but the Boia Bar left such a good impression. The calamari salad was outstanding; fresh and excellent value for money. The fresh fish, the prawns, the wine... What a good night. Be warned though, the house chilli is not for the feint-hearted, I loved it though. After your dinner, grab an extra bottle of wine and walk a few paces down to the beach for a last glass. Magic! France • Le Wilson, Paris If you get sick and tired of croissants, baguette and the normal French continental breakfast offerings, this place offers a petit dejeuner that will stand you in good stead for a day of tourist in Paris. Eggs, bacon, toast, juice, coffee and all served with Parisian aplomb that I would go back for more in a second. Gosh, all this has made me hungry again. Hope it has you. America next.