The Return to Joses

The best restaurants are the hardest to write about. Especially when you have some personal memories of the place, like um.. first (and probably second and third) date with hubby, reunions with friends and, well, Thursdays. In London everybody goes out on Thursdays. I will never be objective about Joses. But I can try explaining what got me so attached and what it is that keeps calling me back. Joses is a wine and tapas bar on Bermondsay street in London, just blocks away from where I used to live (when I was still cool). Continue reading “The Return to Joses”

Wineweek 110: Return to Matkonsulatet

There is nothing like finding a great new winebar. I guess when you live in one place long enough, you stop looking for new spots proactively. Or at least I get a bit lazy. We stumbled on Carotte almost accidentially. Well, not exactly, but the visit was mostly unplanned: Googled with an aim to find a spot for a glass in between our house and Matkonsulatet, the prime destination of Saturday night. Continue reading “Wineweek 110: Return to Matkonsulatet”

Modern Tapas at Santa Gula Restaurant

I know our time in Barcelona is already several weeks behind us, but there are many nice memories I still want to share. One of them is our evening at Santa Gula restaurant, where we ate some of the most progressive, yet casual tapas of our trip. Santa Gula Restaurant is located just on the edges of Gracia, close to Avenida Diagonal.  Continue reading “Modern Tapas at Santa Gula Restaurant”

The Best Pork in Town? Lobos Meat and Tapas, London

I am sure it is no surprise, at least to the people who have been following this blog, that I like Spanish cuisine. Spanish tapas to be exact. Not only do I like the bite size Spanish dishes due to them being a great companion with wine, but also due to the great meats coming from the region. Pork, beef, duck, you name it. I love them all, but especially I love a good Iberico ham. During our last trip to London, we visited a new tapas restaurant at London Bridge called Lobos. It was perhaps the best pork-experience of the year and we had some nice wines as well.

Lobos is located next to Borough Market under the London railway. I love it how in London the old railway arches are utilized for shops and restaurants. The spaces are cozy and I don’t really mind the noise of the trains. It is a part of the experience. Lobos is built on two floors and the narrow space is used efficiently. It has a meat market feel, but nothing too trendy. Lobos has just the right kind of simple charm. We were seated upstairs in a comfortable two-seater.

Efficient planning with the space
Efficient planning with the space

The smirk after a few glasses of wine
The smirk after a few glasses of wine

Copper cocktail glasses at the bar
Copper cocktail glasses at the bar
The first thing I noticed, was that the service was very friendly. The second that the wine list was long and reasonably priced. We started of with some Mon Marcel Cava Rosado and Torre del Cava Reserva 2010 (6.25£ per glass each), both nice and fresh aperitifs. The rosado was the way I like it: Catalonian style with deep red color and full taste, not the light style of cava often made for the export market. To accompany the starters, croquetas, migas and arroz con costra; I had a glass of white Rioja and M an unoaked 100% Xarel.lo (both around 6£ per glass).  And as companion to our main, the amazing Iberico pork selection, I chose an Albarino (7£ per glass). That was definitely the best wine I had all night. All the wines were good value for money.

Now back to that pork platter. I think this is my all time favorite pork-dish in the whole of London. Yes, even better than the Secreto Iberico at Jose’s. There were three different types of cuts: fillet, Secreto and Presa. All came wonderfully medium rare. Now I like my meat nice and red, but I was a bit surprised that we were not asked at all how we would like it served. I agree, “almost mooing” is the best, but I also know that is not how everybody wishes their meat. Or at least, perhaps warn that the meat will come out very pink. They also had some other interesting mains: leg of lamb, pork cheeks and ribeye with foie gras. This is definitely the place for a carnivore.

Cava aperitifs
Cava aperitifs

Croquetas
Croquetas

Pork perfection. Fillet, Secreto and Presa beautifully medium rare.
Pork perfection. Fillet, Secreto and Presa beautifully medium rare.
All in all, Lobos is a wonderful addition to the London tapas-scene. A casual place with great food, wine and laughter. The wine list gives a good snapshot of what Catalonia has to offer and prices by glass and by bottle are reasonable. I would love to come here with a party of four to six people and take a tour around the wine list. The pork, well, I already said it, is divine. Lobos is not to be missed if you are in London.

Social Wine and Tapas, London

Now it starts again, my raving of the great food and wine scene in London. Someone might say, so just move back already, but I am for now, just happy to be able to visit. Have I ever mentioned that I am a great fan of Jason Atherton’s cooking? I have visited several of his restaurants: Pollen Street Social, Little Social, Berner’s Tavern and Esquina (in Singapore). His style is tradition (French/Italian) meets social eating with a pinch of street-charm. Many of the dishes I love are the more simple ones, like sliders (pimped up with foie grass) and ice cream scones. But I must say that the Spanish breakfast at the Esquina, the English bistro in Singapore is a masterpiece (eggshell filled with yum). And the great thing about Jason’s restaurants is that his quality does not seem to suffer even with the many restaurants opening in his name. The man must be a genius to be able to keep so many chefs up to his standards.

But this review is about Social Wine and Tapas, Jason’s new restaurant in Marylebone, London. We originally didn’t have a reservation and thought about just walking in. Thankfully M did a last minute check and reserved two seats for the same evening, as when we arrived they seemed to already be fully booked. There are some walk-in tables, but we saw a crowd gathering after seven pm to wait for tables, and the lobby really was not that pleasant a place to be standing. We were seated on a bar facing the door, so we could follow the situation developing all evening (we got some evil eyes from the crowd after we had finished eating and were selfishly keeping the table sipping on wine). So the lesson is: Reserve a table before you go.

Chefs hard at work
Chefs hard at work
Awesome English sparkling and Francis Boulard Champagne
Awesome English sparkling and Francis Boulard Champagne

About the bubblies, wonderful choices. They had four different sparkling wines by the glass: one cava, one English sparkling and two champagnes. The Cava Mas Sardana was a disappointment. M had tried it before (at Social Eating House) and told me that he did not have more than one sip. So a wine warning for that one. We chose to have a glass of the English sparkling, Wiston Estate Cuvee Brut from West Sussex (12£/ glass) and a glass of Les Murgiers Champagne from Francis Boulard (12.5£/ glass). I love the style of Francis Boulard and Les Murguers, one of his cheapest champagnes is a wonderful toasty brut nature, just the way I like my aperitif. The Wiston Estate was a real surprise, bone dry with notes of yeast, brioche and citrus fruit. Even with a price of close to 30£ I hunted for a bottle of this for the rest of our trip. Unfortunately, and understandable, it was sold out everywhere. I must try to visit the next time we are in England.

The list of reds and whites was also rather comprehensive with close to 30 wines by the glass. We did not at all have the chance to sample as many as we wanted but M had the Love Red v.3 from the urban winery Broc Cellars in Berkeley. Rather fitting considering we had been to London’s first urban winery earlier the same day. I had the Vin de Table from Jean Michel Stephan from Rhone. The Love Red is a blend of 75% Carignan, 14% Valdigiué, and 11% Syrah. It is very light to be a red and really works well a bit chilled. It is full of berry flavor but the light character avoids the ‘jam’ feel and it has a pleasant hint of summery flowers. Would love to enjoy more of that.

For food we had some wonderful dishes. Traditional tomato bread, croquettes, heirloom tomato salad with burrata and foie grass sliders. We also ordered two Spanish breakfasts expecting them to be like the ones we had in Singapore (see photo), but to our disappointment, the Spanish breakfast at Social Wine and Tapas did not live up to the ones at Esquina. The dish was good, but it is always a matter of expectations vs. experience. Overall, the food was really good, for the exception of there being too little burrata for our liking. I must say that Jason has done it again and reached outstanding quality. Price-wise the restaurant is mid-range. We had four glasses of wine and six-seven different dishes and ended up with a bill of 100£ including service charge. Not too bad, but I cant really say it was cheap. Jose’s in Bermondsey still takes home the trophy (but I am very emotional about that place and biased) as the best tapas in London.

Heirloom tomato salad with (too little) burrata
Heirloom tomato salad with (too little) burrata
Jason's signature sliders with foie grass
Jason’s signature sliders with foie grass
The Spanish breakfast at Esquina Singapore
The Spanish breakfast at Esquina Singapore

So if in London, give Jason’s restaurants a try. Social Wine and Tapas is a good place to start with a reasonable price tag and a relative easiness of scoring a seat. You can work your way up the ladder via Social Eating House, Berners Tavern and Little Social to the bright star of Jason’s cooking, the Michelin starred Pollen Street Social.

Art and Afterwork at Magnolia

It is Thursday and I should be writing to you about cocktails. Well I hadn’t thought it as far as I should have, as I am all out of cocktail ideas. Or yes, I have many places on my mind that I could review, but I have no pictures to spice up the post. So perhaps I need to admit defeat and give up the cocktail Thursday tradition. For now. But no worries cocktail fans, I will still write about it, but just not as frequently as I have before. Today I thought about writing a small review about a place I visited recently, Magnolia Café in Södermalm (Stockholm)

It was just a small afterwork event. I was on my way to dinner with a friend, when we decided to stop by a Yelp Social for a pre-drink at Magnolia Café. For those of you who do not know Yelp it is a community with online reviews of mainly restaurants, bars etc but also a lot of local business. There is also a lot events being arranged. Agnes, the Yelp Community Manager in Stockholm, told me that this is a place she often comes to sit with the laptop and that they have small tapas and some cava on offer. There is also an art gallery in the other room and they sell some cool T-shirts and other artsy stuff.

The AW offer was four tapas accompanied by a glass of Jaume Serra Brut Nature cava for 100 SEK (12 Eur). Not bad at all here in Stockholm. The tapas were nothing special but they looked yummy and were made from good ingredients. That is really all you need. There were only three options of tapas, all slices of baguette with toppings. I chose two with chanterelles, one with chopped fresh olives and one with cream cheese. As anticipated the fresh chanterelles were the best. The cava was dry with a hint of minerals. It did not have much complexity and there was this metallic character to it. Nevertheless it was enjoyable as an AW drink with some salty finger food. I would not buy a bottle of it, but the glass was empty pretty fast (so I must have liked it a little bit at least).

The ambience is pleasant, slightly quirky, and the café is located just off Hornsgatan close to Mariatorget. Its a nice location with not too many tourists finding their way to the side street. The art on the wall gives character and the service is extremely friendly. I highly recommend stopping by for a tapas or two (or four and a glass of cava).

Food Inspiration for Cava

Here in the Nordics, sparkling wine (Champagne, Cava, Prosecco etc) are most commonly enjoyed as an aperitif or similar. Something fresh to start the evening (or day). In Catalonia, Cava is very seldom served without food. It is a companion for all courses, started, main and dessert. I must say, I prefer the Catalonian way. A sparkling wine works great with cheese, cured meats, barbecue and even with bacon and eggs (or as we like to call it, the Richard Julin way, after his recommendation on what to combine champagne with). We recently visited my favorite restaurant here in Stockholm, Matkonsulatet (a previous review here), and sampled some great new dishes that are perfect companions for a nice cold sparkling wine. Matkonsulatet excels at making simple-ish dishes from good ingredients. Everything is top notch, even the olive oil is something I could just drink straight from the bottle. Here are some pics and descriptions. So next time you pop open a bottle of sparkling wine pair it with some of these babies. Or if you don’t have energy to cook, just pop down to Matkonsulatet for a bite.

Wineweek 16: Portugal Edition

Amazing! That is the word to characterize this wineweek. I had some high hopes for Portugal as a wine country, but having experienced it, I was blown away. It’s also a big step for our business, as we met with several producers that have a philosophy to fit the Winecurious.

The week started of with M taking off ahead of me towards Portugal (and with me tasting some Portuguese wine). He flew to Porto, where he started working his way south through Bairrada to Dao via Beira Interior. By Thursday evening he had met with eight producers and collected an impressive amount of samples, thirty three bottles of them to be exact. I arrived to Porto Thursday night and the next morning we embarked for Douro.

In Douro we spent the Friday with Luisa Borges, the owner of Vieira de Sousa wines. She showed us around her new winery in Sabrosa, took us for a tour around her lovely vineyards and sampled some of her old family ports. Today Vieira de Sousa produce some pretty impressive entry level ports, but omg some of the old family reserves were wonderful. We tried some tawny port from the 70’s and Luisa told us that their oldest wines are closer to a hundred years old. We also did some thinking around how to best market her products and I think we have a great plan. More about that to come.

Luisa also took us to visit a friend of hers, Stéphane Ferreira at Quinta do Popa wines. M had actually eyed that winery before he left, but we had assumed we did not have time for it. So it was a wonderful surprise that Luisa took us there for a visit. Quinta do Popa makes some great “table wines” (regular reds and whites). They have some wonderful reds with 100% Tinta Roriz and blends from their old vines. Many of the old Portuguese vineyards can grow up to 40 or 50 different grape varieties. Stéphanes ‘only’ had a mix of 21, but nevertheless the wines were great. As a speciality Quinta do Popa also makes a “sweet”, low alcohol fermented wine. It is not a Port, but it has some of the same characteristics but with a freshnes coming from the low (11%) alcohol level. I was very surprised how much I liked it and could imagine it being very popular in Sweden as a summer drink. I think we might need to contact Stéphane again for some samples.

After the wine-heavy week, we spent the night in a cabin at Luisas vineyards in Quinta do Roncao. In the evening, we sipped on some wonderful 10 year old White Port, one of Luisas most popular wines, and in the morning we woke up to an amazing view of the Douro river. The only downside was the heart stopping drive there. I don’t think I have ever been so afraid in my life in a car, and this time it was not due to M’s driving (he did a good job) but the narrow and steep roads without any fences. Really, that is the only downside of Douro as a wine-destination, you need a good car (don’t even think about cheaping out by going for a compact).

Saturday was spent in Porto wine-shopping (as if we didn’t have enough bottles to pack already) and dining out. We had received a great tip from one of the vineyards on a small restaurant called Taberna do Largo serving Portuguese tapas from around the country and small producer wines by the glass. We stuffed ourselves with some local meats, cheeses and sauteed mushrooms. They had so much interesting wines for sale also, but thank God we were able to leave them on the shelf.

I could spend all afternoon writing about the greatness of Portugal, but I will save some for the next few weeks. Have a great week, and when you next think of wine, think of Portugal. It has wonderful wines and to make things better it is exceptional value for money!

Wine bar review: Hornstulls Bodega, Stockholm

The area around Hornstull has been missing a real wine-scene for some time and the team running Linje Tio, Tjoget and Bierhaus decided to remedy that with opening a proper wine bar housed in the same space already holding Linje Tio and Tjoget. The space is incredibly small but very efficiently used so in some way they easily manage to squeeze in 30+ people in a space no bigger than most people’s living rooms.

The staff are friendly and relaxed so it feels a bit more like having a glass of wine with at a friends (a very knowledgable one) as a normal question is more like what type of wine you feel like today. The relaxed feeling and cozy atmosphere is really a strength of this place. The wine list changes frequently, and it usually holds around 5-7 whites, 5-7 reds and 1 sparkling by the glass. There is also almost always a few additional wines that are available by the glass so be sure to ask what else they have. With the name I would have expected more of Spanish wines but when I have been here there has been a lot of Italian and French wines on the list. The wines are in general good and it is always possible to have a small taster before ordering a full glass. I have not had spectacular wine here but also never anything close to bad so it is very good wine bar. Prices are also fairly reasonable to be Stockholm (expect at least 80-90 SEK per glass (€8-10), many around 120 SEK (12 SEK) and a few a bit more) but no bargains to be had.

Upon my last visit I sampled a pleasant Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, the producer was Yannick Amirault, region Bourgueil and the wine was called La Coudraye. Very good Cabernet Franc, especially considering the price. In addition I also sampled a Chianti from Montesecondo, fairly nice balance but felt rather young so while pleasant now would probably benefit from som ageing.

They also serve some food. Mainly small plates, tapas style. I sampled the cheese croquetas, the charcuterie plate and the almonds. The food is pretty decent but looking at the amount of food it is not really great value for money. The dishes are small and the prices would make it fairly expensive to fill up on the tapas. So either come here before dinner for some good wine, nice atmosphere and enjoy a small bite or two or come after dinner and have some wine. I will definitly stop by now and then for a glass of wine so it is welcome to a neighborhood otherwise pretty starved for quality beverages (still waiting for a proper coffee place).

Crazy about José

Today I have a special treat for you, a review of one of my favorite restaurants in London. I know I have many favorites, but José is a bit like Matkonsulatet in Stockholm, a place with many fond memories. We used to hang out at this place almost every week. It is actually one of the first places M took me out on a date. What a way to steal a girls heart, offer her some iberico pork and get her drunk on Cava. We are now married, so what else can I say than that it worked.

José is the small and simple cava and tapas bar from José Pizaro who also runs a more upscale (still rather casual) restaurant called Pizarro down the road on Bermondsey Street. He was also before opening these places head chef at Tapas Brindisa. It is almost always crowded but people do not tend sit for long so often the wait is not that bad. Even if you cannot get a table immediately you can stand around and drink a glass of sparkling. The wait goes much faster with a drink in your hand.

There are usually three or four good sparklings (Cavas) by the glass. Currently they serve the Gramona Allegro Brut Reserva and Mas Macià Brut Rose. The wines are decently priced but perhaps not cheap, around £5-7 per glass and £30-40 per bottle (the on-going gentrification of Bermondsey Street has meant that prices are moving up). There are also nine different whites, three rosados and twelve reds by the glass. Food is excellent! The menu is not fixed, it is written on two black boards behind the bar and as things run out they are crossed off. However a few things can almost always be found there: some excellent Spanish cheeses as well as Jamon Iberico and chorizo. The Patatas Bravas, Pan con Tomate and Padron peppers are also some of my usual choices. My favorite is however, without a doubt, the flavorful Pluma Iberico (or when that is not on the menu the Secreto Iberico). Mmm, I would almost kill for that dish. All in all, I dont think I have ever been disappointed with a ny dish at Josè’s.

Service is always friendly and considering that it is always packed things move along smoothly. I also do like the fact that they do not automatically include service on the bill – i am not a bad tipper, but I want to make the choice myself. A tip should be an incentive to provide extra good service, not a part of the normal salary. Thats just my opinion and I wish more places would do that.

After years of testing the quality of food at both José and Pizarro I can conclude that the food is excellent. I think it’s partly due to good quality produce, but also the skill of the chefs. It requires a special talent making simple dishes well. An important element for me is also the no-fuss quality wine list. They rotate the wines now and then so often I find new things to try. José Pizarro is also opening a third place in London this April that I cannot wait to try out the next time I am in London.