Saturday, March 31, 2007


As a treat for our wedding anniversary, my wife and I went to Barcelona for the weekend.

I wasn't sure what the veggie scene was in Spain - I was expecting it to be reasonably poor, so I was encouraged when I discovered the Barcelona Vegetarian Guide website, which listed several vegetarian restaurants and a selection of restaurants that had a good selection of meat-free menu options.

However, in our short time in the city, we never actually got around to visiting any vegetarian restaurants to eat, although I did check out a couple of menus as we passed them on our travels.
There are several branches of Maoz in the city, which are effectively falafel and salad bars. The produce looked fresh and the bar itself looked very clean.

For lunch we braved a tapas bar and despite what the owner decided didn't contain meat or fish (we were offered sausages at one point!) we did have a lunch consisting of a Spanish omelette, potatoes and bread - not spectacular, but filling.

We found a restaurant called Unicornious fairly near to the Plaza de Catalunya, but we didn't go in as the menu didn't look that inspiring, consisting mostly of tofu and meat substitutes such as tempeh.

So, we decided to hit that haven of the veggie traveller, the Italian restaurant, of which there are plenty in Barcelona. The hotel we were staying at recommended La Perla Nera in Via Laeitana as the best Italian in the city. It must have good pizzas, as the pasta we had was certainly nothing to write home about. The spaghetti looked and tasted like it was a can of Heinz - very weird indeed. One of the desserts we ordered was pancakes covered in marmalade! We refused to pay for that as it was really disgusting. When we walked past the restaurant the next night there was a queue to get in. Like I said, they must do great pizzas, unless the Catalans have a peculiar affection for Heinz spaghetti or marmalade!

The next morning I did a Gourmet Walking Tour of the city. This lasted for about two hours and we were shown various old shops that had been producing the same food for eons, fancy chocolate shops, specialised delicattesons (where you could buy Tiptree Jam!) and, the highlight for me, Boqueria Market.

The market sells every conceivable food item you can think of (or seemed to) The displays were a sea of colour and were great.

There is a mushroom specialist there (unfortunately closed when I visited later on) that also stocks a range of edible insects, for those that maybe interested!

While in the market I noticed that there was a stall selling vegan fayre called Organic. I made a mental note to visit it once the tour was over Which I did, and had a huge, very tasty vegetable paella accompanied by a salad consisting of just about every salad item I could think of.

We had a great time in Barcelona, it's a lovely city and it'd be nice to go back as we didn't have nearly enough time to look around everything that we wanted.

Cricketer's Arms, Rickling Green

The Cricketers' Arms,
Rickling Green,
near Saffron Walden,
Essex, CB11 3YG

The Cricketer's Arms is a stone's throw from Stansted Airport and so, as we were staying at to Stansted in prepration for a flight to Europe, my wife and I thought we'd take the opportunity to try it out.

The restaurant is pretty easy to find, and is set in a gorgeous olde-worlde setting just opposite a large cricket green. The building has two restaurants plus a very comfortable bar, populated with large, relaxing sofas.

After choosing our dishes in the bar, we were shown through to the smaller of the two restaurants and, shortly after, the starters arrived.

True to my mushroom addiction, I had chosen pan sauteed wild mushrooms served on toasted brioche with soft poached egg and truffle. To be honest, although quite nice, the sauce was too strong for the rest of the ingredients and the taste of the mushrooms and truffle was completely lost. My wife had deep fried crab cake with spring onion risotto and tomato salsa which she enjoyed and said was very tasty.

For the main course I had sun blushed tomato gnocchi with grilled two cheese sauce. The dish was baked gnocchi, and was presented very well - the burned top of the sauce was cracked and resembled a lava flow. The gnocchi itself was tasty, but I'm afraid I was spoilt by the perfect gnocchi I had at Neal Street a few weeks back. My better half enjoyed her rump of Welsh lamb with champ potato and a tomato and mint salsa.

Dessert was a no brainer as Gaz's Creme Brulee Rules came into effect. The rasperry creme brulee, was a plain brulee with raspberries placed on top, rather than in the dessert itself but, this aside, it was a very pleasant dish indeed, rating an 8 on the scale.

In summary, we had a very pleasant meal, the service was good and the pub itself is very pleasant. If you're looking for somewhere to eat, and don't fancy the Birchanger Services on the M11, you could do a lot worse than detour a few miles to the Cricketer's Arms.

Also, if you're flying out of Stansted, the pub offers accomodation and will let you leave your car there and arrange a shuttle to and from the airport for you. We may well try this next time we fly from Stansted.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

When Saturday Comes...

Last Saturday, we had a foodie day out in London. Starting with breakfast in Nonna Cappucinni, a small Italian deli' near our local railway station in Oxted, we then set off for the La Dolce Vita show at Olympia. La Dolce Vite was organised by the same people behind the Taste of London festival that we visited last year and was an exhibition of Italian food, fashion and property.

It wasn't a good weekend to be in London, as four tube lines were closed for "planned engineering." Two of the closed lines were the District and the Circle, which serve Earl's Court where we had to get the Olympia train. Add to this that the Ideal Home Show was also on at Earl's Court and you'll understand that the Piccadilly line was a little on the crowded side as it struggled to cope with the extra people that would normally be travelling on the other two lines.

Anyway, after a very round-about journey on the tube, we finally arrived at Olympia and the exhibition.

We headed for the food section, tasting various cheeses, sauces and sampling wines. We came away with some gorgeous gorgonzola, parmesan, some wine and some risotto rice. I also got to meet Giorgio Locatelli and got a signed copy of Made in Italy, his cookery book.

The show was pretty good and there were some nice ingredients to be had.

From there, we made our way to London Bridge and to Borough Market.

Boy, was it crowded! But it was great fun, loads of fantastic food of all sorts and we bought some bread and salad stuff for dinner which I used to make a rather nice pear and gorgonzola salad.

Luckily, the journey home was easier than the journey into London and, although we were tired, we'd had a great day.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Arrivederci Neal Street

I went to Antonio Carluccio's Neal Street Restaurant about 18 months ago. I thought it was wonderful and had always planned to go back sometime but never got around to it. So, when I heard that it was closing in March due to the landlord deciding to redevelop the area, it spurred me on to visiting again.

So, on a Tuesday night, a friend and I visited the restaurant to pay our respects for the final time.

We decided to make the most of it and do the full Italian four-courser.

For starters we both had Trifolata Di Funghi Del Giorno (Mixed sautéed wild and cultivated mushrooms of the day with garlic and chilli served with carasau bread) which was great. The Neal Street Restaurant is the perfect place for mushrooms and truffles and this mix of king oysters, chanterelles and others were all perfectly cooked and very tasty.

Next up I had Gnocchi Di Patate Con Fonduta Al Tartufo Invernale (home made potato dumplings served with fontina cheese and black winter truffle fondue.) I have to say, this was the best gnocchi I have ever had. It as so light and fluffy it was incredible that it had stayed together when it was cooked. And yet it had, it was wonderful. The cheese sauce was the perfect conistency and the truffles were just the icing on the cake.

Not many Italian restaurants have a secondi dish that is suitable for vegetarians, but Neal Street is a welcome exception. Pizzoccheri Alla Valtellinese is oven baked buckwheat flat pasta with savoy cabbage, Bitto cheese, potato and parmesan. It struck me as a sort of Italian "bubble and squeak" and was extremely pleasant.

Dessert was a no brainer, as there was a Creme Brulee on the menu and Gaz's rules say that he must have that if it's available. It was served in a large shallow dish. The caramelised sugar topping was perfect, however the 'creme' was a little runny for my liking. It tasted great though, so on the Gaz scale, it comes in at a seven.

It was a fabulous meal and it was nice to see Antonio Carluccio dining on one of the adjacent tables. It's such a shame that the restaurant is closing, I just hope that he can find a new location and re-open before too long. In the meantime though, I'll just have to get my mushroom fix at his Caffes.