FOODventures, LIFEventures, TRAVELventures

Been too busy eating chickpeas…

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Two years ago (almost to the day, spooky) I abandoned this little blog. I didn’t mean to, no reason why – too busy eating chickpeas I guess…

I’m back though, and have left the over saturated food blog land of Cambridge, where I chose to focus more on Flavour and impart my food love that way (check it out, the team are still doing great work!) and moved to the even more over saturated food blog land of BARCELONA. I told you I’d come for a visit and just not come back one day…okay it wasn’t that romantic or simple, there was a lot of planning involved but lets stick the the romantic vision of a holiday gone permanent eh?

I’ve already increased my waistline from too much damn good eating, so lets give that some purpose. Adventures to come!

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cambridge pt1: the pint shop

So I’ve been awful again and have failed to do this once a week. I’ve been busy eating and documenting SO it’s okay, all in the name of research! Anyway, I’m back with many food stories to tell.

There’s no better time to be in Cambridge than now I think. Seriously guys, it’s great – hard on the wallet and the waistline, but never more exciting for the food oriented (or foodies if you will, but I hatehatehate that word, more on that another day.) I don’t even care about my dwindling overdraft or the fact that I needed to buy new jeans in a bigger size (that’s how self actualised I’ve become) because what matters is that my tummy is full of deliciousness….but I’m totally going for a run after I write this.

There are SO MANY things to talk about re: the Cambridge food revolution so will continue this little tangent over the next few weeks. Today I choose the Pint Shop. Mostly because I have some sweet pictures, I went there the other day and am dying for one of their sexy scotch eggs. No lie, they are sexy as hell.

Tell me this isn't sexy.

Tell me this isn’t sexy.

The Pint Shop opened last November and never have we been so excited – when we covered it on Flavour it definitely stirred up some emotions and much excitement in the studio.

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I’m there often enough, with some big love for the beautiful board of beers (seriously, BIG LOVE. It may be my most favourite blackboard, ever.) but I think what’s best is the service and knowledge of the staff –  everyone behind that bar knows what they’re on about (and enthusiastic about it!) and that’s just a rare gem. A friend and I went somewhere else and asked  about the beers and were met with a despondent shrug – which you know, whatever, that’s fine I guess, but if you’re gonna have a bar full of unique and interesting beers… dudes, know your shit yeah? They also have whiskeys and some excellent gin, one made especially by the Cambridge Gin Company. If that doesn’t say legit drinking establishment, I really don’t know what does.

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Not only does this place have some sexy beers, it has sexy food. Those scotch eggs you see (and above, AND the featured image…why yes, in case there was any doubt, I DID love the scotch eggs) are pretty amazing. But this little bar of snackage is not all they have available. The Pint Shop is a proper restaurant too. Up the stairs you can get some serious cooking, but I have yet to actually go (because I’m a poor food blogger you see…also, quite happy with just some beer and a scotch egg, I’m cheap date.) However, I have heard nothing but good things – I sent my parents on their anniversary dinner there and they came back pretty content and with zero complaints. Which let me tell you, is as rare as a unicorn, they will always find a bone to pick if it’s a recommendation from me. One bad movie recommendation many moons ago has ruined my stamp of approval forever it seems. So head over to their site to see what they have on. Their motto after all is MEAT. BREAD. BEER. three of the most beautiful words in the English language. To top off all of this amazing food and beer situation, it’s a beautiful space – simple and rustic but not rustic in the undone “we forgot to sand this, but it’s okay it’s rustic” kind of way but the understated let’s not overdo this way. SO GO. Eat some food, drink some beers, tell me all about it. My goal is to try as many as I can, so I’ll probably see you in there.

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samovar tea house

Once upon a time I thought Ely was terribly boring and there was nothing interesting about it. When my family first moved here, I was still living in London, so to me – ever the city girl – Ely was entirely too small (even though it’s really not.) But much like Cambridge, there’s been a change in the air. It’s no longer just families and old people about but younger folk are trickling in, bought out by Cambridge’s rising prices in rent/buying.

That can only mean one thing, fun things are on their way.

There’s of course long standing places to go such as the Peakcocks tea rooms, the river, an excellent antiques emporium (aka, Ruth’s favourite place on earth), the cathedral amongst many other things, but I always felt it was a bit lacking in places for the younger folk that were not still in school (i.e 20-30 somethings like myself). In the past year or two though, we welcomed a beautiful new boutique hotel, a new food and drink festival that happened this weekend past, a pop up deli/feast and my favourite tea house ever, Samovar Tea House and gallery.

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Down the hill past the high street and market area where there used to be a bead shop (who needs a bead shop?) is the sweetest tea house in all the land. Boasting loads of teas, many of which are unique to Samovar – lovely specialty blends, cakes (some gluten free for those inclined) and breads it’s a beautiful little mecca with a gallery that is rarely the same when I go in.

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It’s everything I ever really want in a cafe  – tonnes and tonnes of great and different teas so you’re never bored, books, comfy couches and a really chilled out vibe, it almost doesn’t feel like you’re in England. They hold little events, a sci-fi book club (uh, yeah, AWESOME) you can buy the art on the walls, but I think most importantly, they know their shit. Speaking to Marta, one of the co-owners, everything about the teas is just in her head and she’s more than happy to help with explaining anything. It’s important that they love tea the way they do, because then this small, beautiful, gem of a place wouldn’t be so perfect. When I was last there, I had a chance to try the Moroccan Chai, specially blended for EAT Cambridge – a mix of green tea, Samovar Chai blend, Moroccan mint and cinnamon – resulting in a wonderful and delicately spiced tea. You get a full pot plus some extra water on the side to top it up which essentially means you can have at least four cups of tea (if not more) and each is different due to teas brewing process (also, you can sit there for ages with a good book and not even worry the whole time about making sure you drink your tea super slowly.) None of this standard bag, milk, mug, done. situation – tea is an art, and Samovar is Van Gogh.

Processed with VSCOcam with lv01 presetI chatted with Marta form Samovar for my radio show, Flavour which you can listen to the episode by clicking the picture below:

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In which I wax lyrical once more about Barcelona

I’m a little bit in love/obsessed with Barcelona. I keep going back and I keep needing to go back. Thankfully, I do have friends there making it way too easy to go back on a whim or maybe it’s simply the pull of the blue and orange tones of that beaut of a city that is just too much. Or maybe it’s the way of life? Beach, food, music and friends, how can anyone say no?

I will move there, soon enough I’ll go there for a weekend and just decide to stay – it’s not unheard of…

ANYWAYS.

I was naughty…I didn’t take as many pictures of food as I had intended. In fact, I only really took a picture of one of my meals…it was damn good too. I think for the most part it was a sudden onset of shyness in being in such local places, and also in large part to a deep impatience to eat what’s in front of me. You know…don’t let your food get cold and all…important stuff.

Since there are not many pictures of food, I’ll just have to describe it because guys, you need to go. And you need to eat.

DO IT.

EL MUNDIAL

El Mundial for proper tapas and Catalan feel – it was my favourite of the trip too, I had aubregine chips with honey and they were just heaven in my mouth, along with some grilled clams in a white wine sauce type thing where the juices were just so good and thank god for bread to soak up! It was just super, I ate there three times in a week. Also get the pimentos de padron – they are lovely and salty and wonderful – you can get this anywhere and even do them at home (we found some in Waitrose – from Spain and it’s a a favourite snack in Casa Reyes) but it’s worth ordering, along with some chipirones – crunchy squid bits. Don’t be intimidated by the tentacles. DO IT. Its a narrow place with a long bar and marble tables to the side and genuinely just looks old school, reminded me of the kind of places my family used to drag me to as a kid. Quite frankly the opening hours are seemingly sporadic, I walked by it daily (often a few times a day since my friend lives next door) and sometimes it was open, and sometimes it was not, but maybe it was me who was sporadically walking by.

Plaza Sant Agusti Vell, 1, 08003 Barcelona, Spain

MOSQUITO
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Not spanish tapas BUT still a great place is Mosquito which does “exotic tapas” so dumplings and other delicious asian food like Pho and crispy friend duck amongst other things. The beautiful dumplings and amazing crispy duck breast with plum sauce were my favourite. So much so that I’m thinking about it right now and I actually physically miss it. If you do go, get the duck – it’s the 2nd option that’s 7.60 because they don’t specify it just says duck 1 and duck 2 (or if you get the catalan menu like my friend and I did and had to decipher what the hell was what -we learned that duck is Anec, so get the anec) Below is the menu in Catalan: feel free to just order the same, it was sexy.

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Also get the coconut tapioca for dessert, it was grand. There’s a great array of craft beer as well which is so nice to see – craft beer revolution is world wide, HOORAY. There’s always a queue as well but it goes quickly and its vastly worth it. Seriously. GO.

Carrer dels Carders, 46, 08003 Barcelona, Spain

ESPAI MESCLADIS
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Espai Mescladis is lovely for lunch – I had a great lentil soup and a chicken empanada and some artesian beer but what’s best is the actual space, it’s mostly inside a courtyard and good atmosphere – takes ages to order though so don’t go hungry. My lunch didn’t photograph well and I was pretty hungry, so again, apologies for lack of food pictures. However, the food is not the only attraction – it’s just such a lovely space worthy of just a glass of artesian cola or a coffee and a good book (I sat there for hours, but I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves).

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Carrer dels Carders, 35, 08003 Barcelona, Spain

LA CANDELA
La Candela was also very lovely for a sit down dinner or lunch, I had a great white bean and tuna thing but their menu changes daily – they have a cute little narrow place but also some tables outside and the staff are pretty nice. I took my laptop there to work a few days and it became a firm favourite .
Placa de Sant Pere, 12, 08003 Barcelona, Spain

LA XANPANERIYA
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I’ve already told you about this. But to reiterate.

GO THERE, EAT THINGS & DRINK CAVA.
Carrer de la Reina Cristina

A little photo diary from the rest of my trip…because Barcelona is beautiful and I can’t get enough of it.

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Sneak peek: Barcelona

I’m a regular visitor to Barcelona as it’s pretty cheap/quick to get there from London AND I’ve got friends to visit there, which is as perfect an excuse to go again and again if there ever was one. Even though there are a great deal of other places to visit and people to see, Barca always feels fresh and new to me so never truly feel guilty for going there over anywhere else. It’s a brilliant city break with the ocean – I mean really, can it get more perfect? Food, ocean, city life. Trifecta of AWESOME.

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I’m headed back in a few weeks time and will report back with a definitive guide of where to go and what to eat (the more I go, the more I learn, you see?) because this time I actually have the monies to eat out and have more time than usual. Here’s a sneaky peek with my ultimate Barcelona recommendation (seriously, if anyone mentions they are going, I immediately mention this little slice of heaven…sometimes I just mention it, just because).

The Xampaneria

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This gem of a place was discovered on my first visit to Barcelona – the cava is cheap AND lovely. That little glass really gives potency to the phrase “small and mighty” because I have never not stumbled out of that place and that’s only after one or two, let alone half a bottle if you stay in there long enough. You can even buy by the bottle in the bar itself during the day time to drink it there or take it home!

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You have two options, rosat or normal – the rosat is sweeter and lighter than the normal cava which is drier and tastes more of the grapes. We always get the rosat, but thats mainly because my friends have massive sweet tooths. The best part is that you have to order a tapa or a sandwich, so no eating on an empty stomach (wise) and it’s also delicious. There’s chorizo, cheese, croquettas (and we all know about my deep obsession with croquettas/croquettes), sandwiches with chorizo, morcilla and all sorts of other delicious meats. It’s a minuscule place, so get there early before you have to squeeze through crowds of people and elbow your way to the bar.

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Wham, bam, thank you ‘Dam!

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AMSTERDAM I LOVE YOU.

Not for the prossies, not for the hash, not for the other things everyone else seems to love you for.

I love you because you’re beautiful, because of krokets and bitterballen, because of all cats, because of the excellent apple tart, because you can WALK EVERYWHERE, because of the canals, and the fact that people just leave bikes everywhere and the trees and the brown cafes and ghluwien and the amazing bars and the cats in all of these places and the bikes and did I mention the krokets? Did I mention that the McDonalds had a MCKROKET?! (Why was I in McDonalds do you ask? Well too bad, I won’t tell. What is important is the MCKROKET AND IT WAS DELICIOUS AND I WISH THEY HAD THEM HERE)

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As per usual, it snowed – I was lovely and expected and made everything even more beautiful (unless of course you speak to me now about snow, in which case my stance has changed to GO AWAY SNOW NO BODY WANTS YOU ANYMORE.)

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KROKETS. My newest obsession. Very similar to the Spanish version of croquettas – a similar crunchy coating, and a lovely melty creamy inside – but with meats and a different flavour bechamel and a different type of crunch and with some chips and mustard and YUM. Go there, eat them! Bitterballen are the same delicious concept but tiny (like yours truly) and wonderful still. Go there, eat them too!

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There is something about the canals that that make the city infinitely more peaceful than if it was just a city I think – all of the lights, their reflections glittering along the water, the ripples from the boats, their endless bridges and paths, it really is truly beautiful. Not to mention the houses, THEY ARE WONDERFUL AND CROOKED AND BEAUTIFUL.

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It took all of 5 minutes to fall in love with Amsterdam, admittedly I was a little bit skeptical as we walked from the train station to the hostel – the center of Amsterdam and its well known red lights and interesting shops with their interesting goods was not the best of impressions, but the cobbled streets, the beautiful buildings and five minutes to reach a new road and the city is transformed again to something infinitely classier, its SO GOOD. I love how easy it is to just walk around to other parts of the city with its crazy wonderful joys including but not limited to the strange church in the middle of the redlight district housing a contemporary art exhibition. Can you tell I’m a little bit infatuated? No, well then let me go on. Call this my coffee cart moment (one hundred points to those who got the reference!)

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I would describe Amsterdam to have the best of London and more – everything that I like in London, the cute vintage boutiques, the cafe’s-come shops-come late night drinking establishments (yes DrinkShopDo, I’m looking at you, and I’ve found your superior cousin baby but I still love you forever) which are also known as “brown cafes”, all of the great and wonderful museums (I’m looking at you Amsterdam Museum, YOU WERE AWESOME. all you others, I couldn’t afford you/you were closed/half closed – yeah rijksmuseum – so can’t judge you, but if the other museum is a reflection on all of you, then I’m sure you are also great! one problem, NOT FREE but worth every penny at the Amsterdam museum FOR SURE) the history, cobbled streets, excellent eating and drinking establishments, REALLY good coffee and very good quiche. Also, Krokets. I’m a girl obessed. Also, the Anne Frank Museum, which at its most touching, is actually at night when it is illuminated and you think about how it must have been inside and after having seen it, read it and walked through it, it is the part that really had an effect.

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Lets retrace back to the Brown Cafes – I loved them, cosy and nice with the option to drink coffee or beer or gluhwine or all three with a piece of cake was  my favourite thing to do – I could live in one, best thing about them? THERE WAS ALWAYS A CAT RESIDENT.How good is that? CATS IN THE CAFÉ. Loved it. Cats seemed to be a thing, which is pretty awesome. I love cats, they love cats, we’re match made in heaven. Also, fresh mint tea. Perfect.

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Would I go again? What do you think? The answer is OBVIOUSLY. I wish I lived there – anyone in publishing/magazines in Amsterdam want to hire me? I will work for korkets and drinks (and a bed)

RUTH’S AMSTERDAM TOP 7:

(disclaimer: I am by no means an expert on Amsterdam life, these are my own opinions from the one trip I took there – when I revisit, because I WILL revisit, I will see more and probably have to make a top one million by that point because I LOVE AMSTERDAM its my Barcelona to my Vicky Christina.)

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Café Langeries: AH CUTE. Another café with a resident cat. One of those famous ‘brown cafes” come nice bar with couches and nice tables and books and board games and most importantly a cute cat and ghluwine AND delicious hot chocolate AND amazing chocolate cake. It was heaving by the time we left. And there was a cat if I didn’t mention that before.

http://cafelangereis.com/

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Het Café Paleis: The Guardian recommended this if I ever had doubts of the their recommendations they are now considered void (although in fairness I think I always had faith in their taste).  This was a brilliant little place in one of my favourite corners of Amsterdam – very near the Anne Frank house and generally just a nice area with some brilliant apple tart and some delicious coffee.

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De Taarte van m’n Tante: kitchest place I have ever seen in my life. Everything is pink and weird and fun and wonderful and the cake (or apple tart as we sampled) was top notch, and if I were to live there one day I would want one of these cakes for my birthday, the tea was pretty nice too! They also have a  bed and breakfast which is sweet (geddit?! SWEET? CAKE?!)

http://www.detaart.com/

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Café Latei: CUTE. And with a resident black cat. This is the DrinkShopDo superior that I mentioned earlier, a cat, interesting wares that were actually of a decent price that didn’t make me want to upchuck, also it was just the little bit quirkier, but maybe it was the cat that I liked most? Also, they had my favourite (seemingly very popular Amsterdam treat) fresh mint tea which is literally a bunch of mint and hot water – you can find a lesser version in Leon in the form of a mint steeper – but I don’t know if it’s the mint quality or the water but its just not as good also much more expensive)

http://www.latei.net/

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Golden Dragon:  Yes, a Chinese food establishment on the street where there are about six million Argentinian beef establishments and a few more Chinese ones (one Argentinian beef places being the original CAU, which opened recently in ol’ Cambridge) This is on my list because it was great – the best effing spring rolls if ever eaten in my life and I have eaten A LOT of delicious spring rolls and food including the world famous Nan King in San Francisco, California (which, by the way, is AMAZE, go there and eat as well. The calamari are God’s gift to us and we must indulge) but yes, I digress – its great Chinese and some Indonesian but definitely get those spring rolls and wonton soup, you wont regret it, it was genuinely beautiful.

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Café Brecht : cosy, crowded haphazard and glorious, this little bit of Germany in Amsterdam really had a wonderful atmosphere from the people behind the bar with genuine smiles and singing along to the songs playing to the chitter chatter of the people drinking their beer and gluhwine and lovely cocktails (myself and my friend drank some lovely as ghluwine and an Aperol Spritz, which felt really appropriate for the bar). They also had pretzels. I love pretzels (see the post below about Munich if you don’t know)

http://www.cafebrecht.nl/

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De Bakkerswinkel: Best coffee in Amsterdam for SURE best coffee I’ve had in a while as well, beautiful lattes to trump all the lattes I have had in my short life and even more beautiful (can you believe it?!) quiche with some delicious roasted root veggies) Also very friendly and I am willing to bet that everything else they had on offer had equal deliciousness.

http://www.debakkerswinkel.com/

So there you are, my love letter to Amsterdam.

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Amsterdam, I love you.

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Typich München

München, ist so cray! (there was a bus tour we went on, and honestly there was a song at the end and I am genuinely CONVINCED this is what it said – and it would be completely correct, München IS cray)

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End of October (sadly, we missed Oktoberfest – but no matter, we had out own Oktoberfest, and for sure I will make it a point to come back!) and when we landed it was a beautiful sunny autumn day, quite nippy but nothing too serious, but by day two we were met by heavy, heavy snow and let me tell you, there is little in the world more beautiful than autumn leaves in all their colourful glory, blanketed in white.

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So, if traveling to Germany late October, I would certainly suggest to first of all, be prepared weather wise (we got there and it was 14 degrees celsius and by day two it was snowing and -1) and also maybe going on a mini diet before hand. I never appreciated salad so much until three days in cream drenched, beer heavy, pretzel loving Munich, salad and sparkling water ( a hangover godsend) and maybe be prepared to look for places with vegetarian options well before hand. There was a veggie in our little party and he had a hard time getting food and ended up eating a lot of pretzels (which would be fine, because the pretzels are AMAZING, but for five days straight? Maybe not quite that amazing.)

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I mean look at that plate. LOOK AT IT.

THERE IS SO MUCH CREAM…and it is a breaded veal meatball (or rather, breaded veal burger as it is not a ball at all) with tiny spätzle (tiny dumpling noodle things) delicious, but frankly between the cream and the beer, woah. Even I couldn’t eat it all.

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Yes, the above is a GIANT POTATO DUMPLING AND IT WAS BEAUTIFUL. The sauce you ask? That there my lovlies is DARK ALE GRAVY with some pork belly and crispy bits of crackling. Hands down the very best meal I had while I was there, followed closely by a luscious chicken Ceasar salad, however that salad may have been elevated to new heights because of three full days of beer, pretzels and cream…

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A definite highlight would be the Stadtmuseum which is filled with hours of fun, history and really creepy (and some wonderful) puppets. In hindsight, we probably shouldn’t have gone to the museum on the one day it was NOT snowing and below zero degrees, but it was raining.

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Munich was brilliant, I had a wonderful couple of days and while mildly dehydrated due to gallons of beer (the only good reason to be mildly dehydrated) it was so wonderful. To actually go on a bus tour and see things we wouldn’t have seen from just walking was brilliant. Walking around half aimlessly is I usually see cities and feel apart of it, which of course we did, so much walking and I really feel as if Munich was home for a few days. So much in fact that I genuinely miss it and will certainly be back to explore some more. Maybe during the Christmas market time, or in the summer because frankly everywhere is wonderful in the summer. Just imagine, cold cold steins of beer, walking around with ice cream, going the the giant park we didn’t get to see and lots of that caesar salad I mentioned earlier. With more beer and ice cream, naturally. *(I’m lusting for summer in the midst of early winter and the first snow storm of 2013 here in the UK, as one does)

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Beer, empty pretzel baskets, bicycles, pool, a lovely group of people and old stuff. Wonderful!

Typich München baby!

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