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Posts tagged ‘Gastronomy’

Discovering Palma: Mercat de Santa Catalina

This weekend, rather unbelievably, we will be marking two months since we moved to Mallorca – in some ways surprisingly long, in others surprisingly short. For we have already discovered so much about our incredible home city of Palma de Mallorca – from its winding old town streets, to its hidden tapas gems, nearby sandy beaches and even a cinema showing films in English – that it is hard to accept that we have only been here a mere matter of weeks. But despite many an exploration made, there is still much left to discover, as our recent gastronomic sojourn in the Santa Catalina market demonstrated.

We had heard much about the Mercat de Santa Catalina (or Mercado in Castellan) before we ventured there ourselves. Half the problem was that despite its excellent reputation, we could never quite seem to find the market, despite wandering always close by. But this time we had the market firmly marked on the map and did not miss it.

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Compared with the Mercat de Olivar, a market on an almost industrial scale, the Mercat in Santa Catalina is a far more select affair, and for that reason is characterised by a clear focus on gastronomy rather than economy – a clear case of quality, not quantity in this refined temple of food. Walking amongst its compact and well stocked aisles,  any chef or food lover cannot help but get emotional at the sensational food on offer, from an abundance of fresh fish in glittering silvers and soft pinks, to fruit and vegetables so perfectly rounded and robust in colour and quality that they look picked straight from Eden.

Happily if, like me, you become a little overwhelmed with all that is in offer, so astounded by the impact of the produce that all cooking ideas float straight out of your head, you can at least sample some of the best food from the market in a series of popular bars dotted around the periphery. Such is their popularity however that you must jostle for a space, and that meant seizing upon such opportunities to reach a bar as arose. For us that meant finding ourselves squeezed into a small space at the bar of the Tallat a ma S’agla, which was a fine piece of luck, because the Salamancan bellota ham we indulged in was amongst the finest I have ever eaten.

The Mercat de Santa Catalina can be found bridging the Carrer de Servet and the Carrer d’Annibal just East of Palma’s centre.

North Road Restaurant: Another notch in the Danish gastronomic revolution

Denmark, the country that brought us Lego, the Little Mermaid and a whole host of funky, fresh and chic interior design ideas is currently leading the world with its gastronomic innovation. René Redzepi’s two-Michelin starred extravaganza, Noma, has been awarded the ultimate accolade of Best Restaurant in the World for the last three years in a row, stealing the crown from the extended reign of El Bulli long before it closed.

While Noma will soon share its wiles with the best of British when it opens up in Claridge’s during the Olympics (i.e. those who could afford it/ were clever enough to buy a £195/head ticket before they sold out practically as soon as the event was announced), another star of culinary Denmark has drifted over to the British shores and, mercifully for we whose visits to Copenhagen are at best infrequent, is here to stay – I am of course talking about Christoffer Hruskova, whose restaurant, North Road is the bright new star of Smithfield’s market/ St John’s Road and was the location of my dinner on saturday night.

I booked up North Road upon the recommendation of my in-the-know foodie-friend Celia, whose nose for fine-dining is so refined that I would willing follow her blindfolded throughout my life, so long as she gave me plenty of slices of her fantastic Ombre cakes en route. It’s not a cheap option, but as it was the third anniversary of my first date with my partner, we at least had an excuse for a splash. And with the promise of a tree made from candy floss, who on earth could resist?

Just to start…”snacks” of quail eggs, smoking potatoes and pork crackers

Upon entering the restaurant, we were immediately struck by the sophisticated elegance of Denmark which so enthralled me upon visits to the Illum Bolighus department store in Copenhagen. So too were we instantly wooed by the attentive but very friendly welcome of the staff. Soon after being seated, the enticing smell of smoke filled our nostrils as we were treated to some starting snacks – Jersey Royal Potatoes smoked in hay and served with an exquisite mayonnaise, pickled quails’ eggs and pork crackling which was like a giant fluffy prawn cracker. My partner’s eyes met mine across the table and with that knowing look that occurs between couples who have gradually merged in one over the years of their relationship, we knew that this meal was going to be good. Very, very good.

Caramalised butter…to die for

We opted for the 7 course tasting menu – it would be foolish not to, as 7 courses is only £7 more than the 5 course alternative. But before the dishes began rolling out with perfectly timed pauses between each, we were treated to a bag of little bread rolls and – wait for it – caramalised butter and a buttermilk butter. Oh dear god, let me tell you, that caramel butter was so exquisite in my mouth I almost ate the whole ball. It was crystallised and punctuated with occasional shards of salt – a rich sugary caramel which melted upon the palate before suddenly releasing a smooth butteriness. All I can say is that having enthused so fervently about this to the waiter, he told me how to make it, so future guests at my dinner parties – prepare to be wowed.

Razor claims – a masterpiece on a plate

Onto the food. First up was scottish razor clams with coastal herbs, organic cream and parsley. This was art on a plate. The exquisite marbling of the cream and the green parsley reduction was so beautiful, that even when lifted up on a spoon it made multi-marbled pictures worthy of a Turner prize. The clams were incredibly sweet and delicate – flavours of rose petals, the sea, and generalised freshness came flowing into my mouth in a way that shop-bought clams would never provide. And the flavour was perfectly matched by some wonderfully unusual coastal herbs which felt like my mouth was going off on a little adventure to some far off wind-swept seaside.

The lobster symphony

Upon that seaside I found myself engorging upon the next dish – an incredible lobster and buttermilk creation with baby cucumbers and nasturtium leaves.  As its forbearers had been, so too was this dish delicious to every degree. The nasturtium leaves were peppery, and the mini cucumbers refreshing and texturally distinctive from the succulent sweet lobster. Oh how my grandfather would have loved this dish! Once again the visual treat was tantalising, as pink undulations of soft-shelled lobster were punctuated with the star-burst leaves of the nasturtium, the hapless scatter of some sandy deliciousness, the drizzle of oil and the contrast of straight little cucumbers. Goodness, I sound like a Masterchef judge.

White asparagus with that perfect egg yolk pre explosion

Onwards on our trajectory towards gastronomic perfection, and up next was white kent asparagus with some revolutionary method of importing the taste of pine needles without having said needles needlessly slashing ones throat. Oh and spinach too. My goodness this was the dish of summer – a burst of summer garden freshness in every mouthful, and with a whole and masterfully served single egg-yolk at the centre, which looked so solid and yet, upon impact with the knife, burst into a flurry of sunshine yellow sweetness providing a syrupy soup in which the asparaguses floated like pale beautifies taking their first fill of sunshine.

A garden delight

Talking of summer freshness, the next course was the summer garden, placed on a plate in almost literal form. Jersey Royal potatoes, lovage and radishes were “planted” in amongst soil made from burnt butter in some brilliantly molecularly innovated form, while at the base of the dish, a creamy butter foam gave moisture and exquisite salty/creamy balance to the whole dish. The radishes provided a fresh crunch, and one potato was coated in hay ash to brilliant flavour-effect, like a barbecue and a summer potato salad all rolled into one (I note that the chef, Christoffer Hruskova, is quite keen on importing the flavour and smoke from burnt hay into his dishes which gives an incredible depth of flavour and scandinavian savour to the food).

The interior (photo: Sarah Lee)

Next up was the main course which, owing to my gradual state of inebriation by this stage I neglected to photograph. It was no less superb however – a selection of exquisitely tender Herdwick lamb cuts and little sweetbreads which were a revelation. When you think about the little lamb cheeks, tenderised by the sweet suckling of its mother’s milk, it’s a rather off-putting image, until you eat them that is, and the soft creamyness of that milk is reflected in this very soft, very rich little nugget. The dish was served with more seasonal summeryness – sea lettuce, sea blite and more coastal herbs, giving us all hope that despite a decided lack of sun outside, we may at least sample the summer through this bombardment of taste sensation in our mouthes, as well as discover the delicious, albeit slightly surreal symphony of a lamb lost somewhere on an ocean’s edge. Reminds me of that terrible movie scene when a load of lambs fell of a cliff edge – what film was that? Silence of the lambs or something?

Stone and Hay

Who knows, for up next was a plate of delicious vintage cheeses, again, neglectfully unphotographed, followed by the pure theatre of the evening. First “stone and hay” – basically a frozen stone, not to be eaten I might add, and another realistically executed stone resting on top, except this one was edible, flavoured delicately and covered convincingly with that favourite of the chef – hay soot. It wasn’t the most delicious dish of the evening, but made for a welcome palate cleanser and clever piece of gastronomic amusement.

Gorgeous gooseberries

Slightly full up by this point, we almost feared the onset of the dessert in case our dwindling appetite would not do this incredible food justice. But we oughtn’t have worried, as the dessert of english gooseberries with douglas fir and wood sorrel was fresh, bucolic and perfectly balanced between sharp and sweet with a wonderful variety of textures and again a very scandinavian, effortlessly green and glorious look.

The candyfloss tree!!

But finally, what we had all been waiting for. Emerging from the kitchen, in its unmistakable terracotta pot, the branches of a fine, blossomed candyfloss tree headed our way, complete with edible soil (made again from burnt butter which to my mind tasted of cocoa) and little petit fours of strawberry jam shortcake and fudge. Need I say more? My evening was complete. This meal was a twisting triumph with elegance, flavour exuberance and pure gastronomic sophistication throughout. Michelin star? This place deserves a galaxy!

Petit fours

So why is Danish gastronomy on such a high? In my opinion, its because Denmark offers us superb creative innovation without the stuffy anachronistic rulebook of the grand European tradition. It’s cuisine for a modern age – clean, unpretentious but effortlessly chic and fantastically clever. With the overflowing charm of the Scandinavians, you are made to feel welcome, looked after and indulged, rather than made to feel edgy and uncomfortable as is so often the atmosphere given off by the penguin waiters of the old-school. All the while, Danish food is injected with the same vitality and fun in its exploration of molecular gastronomy and thematic presentation that made the equally successful Heston Blumenthal such a star of the culinary world. In this way, Denmark is one step ahead of the rest of the world, soaring into its ascendancy where others must now follow. If they can ever catch up.

Sunday Supplement – The Joie de Vivre Triptych

The sun is shining in London, the olympic torch is gradually winding its way around the country to rapturous applause, and the nation is decking its streets in union jacks in anticipation of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations next weekend (you notice I’ve ignore the slight blip that was eurovision last night, when the UK came second from bottom in the results table – but no surprises there, it only goes to emphasise our disconnection from continental europe). So with spirits high, and with what looks like the arrival of summer (finally!) I have decided to showcase a triptych of paintings which I completed when the times were good, the sun was shining, and I was enjoying uninhibited zest for life. I was holidaying in Marbella, Spain at the time. I had just finished my law degree, and was spending almost a month in Spain. By day I would enjoy the freshness of the mediterranean sea, the heat of the beach, and the pleasure of seafood and of wine. In the balmy afternoons, I would retreat to our sun-dappled garden, under the shade of our fragrant jasmine tree, and rest, contemplate, and (being english, even when in Spain) drink tea.

It was in these times of ultimate afternoon delight that the Joie de Vivre triptych was born, three paintings which were unplanned, but which burst freely out of my paintbrush and straight onto canvas, an apt demonstration of my uninhibited happiness when life was good, the drinks flowed, the sea lapped upon the shore and my imagination came to life.

The resulting triptych sold at my 2006 exhibition, Between me and my Reflection and is now one of my best selling limited edition prints (with some still for sale on my Etsy store). It celebrates the ‘zest’ or joys of life through an illustration of the three stages of culinary and alcoholic indulgence during the day; lunchtime, afternoon tea and evening. Recreation and hedonism are central to the juxtaposed images with a further emphasis on home entertainment, namely piano/music, cards/gambling and chess. Opulence is illustrated by symbols of extravagance contained within all three images, as well as buried treasure and jewellery. Sea food is the culinary indulgence on the menu: many other life-forms or objects are anthropomorphised, for example, the sheep seen in the domestic setting of its whale-house, the musical notes struggling to save each other from the perils of a rough sea, and a snail which digs underground to retrieve the buried treasure. The ‘zest of life’ which these images embody is also specifically reflected by the citrus slices which radiate perfect weather conditions in each scene, while a human hand is always “on hand” to assist in the activities being illustrated, whether it be pouring the cream for the afternoon’s strawberries and the marie-rose sauce for the crab, or dealing out the cards for an evening of casino entertainment. The painted images flow and metamorphose from one object to another, as a string harbour-side lights becomes a string of pearls which in turn  becomes of floating buoys or a sudden rain shower becomes ice cream, piled on a cone to be enjoyed with a glass of rosé.

There’s a lot to explore in these paintings, which are typical of what happens when I set my mind loose, so without further ado I will let you enjoy the paintings in full, hoping that you take from them the optimism for life which they engender as you go about enjoying your sunny sunday and forthcoming summer.

Joie de Vivre/ Zest of Life 1: Crab Cocktail (2005 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

This print is available to purchase as a limited edition print at my Etsy store 

Joie de Vivre/ Zest of Life 2: Afternoon Sea (2005 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

This print is also available to purchase as a limited edition print at my Etsy store

Joie de Vivre/ Zest of Life 3: Casino Nights (2005 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

This print is also available to purchase as a limited edition print at my Etsy store

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Madrid – Restaurant focus: Va de Baco and Ølsen

As far as gastronomic finesse goes, Madrid is not as renowned as some of its neighbouring Spanish cities. However the buzz word around Madrid is inevitably tapas, and an innovative approach to tapas is what Madrid does best. Upon arriving in Madrid, late on a Friday night, we knew that many of the most popular tapas bars would already be heaving with the hip young Madrillanean crowd.

Aperitif, croquetas and ensaladilla rusa

One of my favourite tapas bars is Lateral in the Plaza de Santa Ana, a trendy restaurant which offers a fresh and unpretentious approach to tapas classics and innovations alike. The problem is, its prices are so reasonable, and its flavourful offerings so delicious that the place is always packed. And cashing in on their popularity, the restaurant does pack you in into ridiculously tight spaces – generally four people will be crammed in around a corner table the size of a large computer monitor… there is barely room for your knees to squeeze under, let alone for the various tapas dishes to sit upon the table in unison. They also tend to rush you through the meal so that they can more swiftly eat into the lengthening queue which forms outside the restaurant each evening.

Spider crab and albondigas

Finding Lateral to be, predictably, pack out with queues stretching well into the buzzing Plaza de Santa Ana, we headed a few blocks down the road along the Calle del Prado, where we stumbled upon Va de Baco at 4 Calle del Prado 28013. The restaurant is seemingly quite new, decked out with chic lighting and cabinets brimming full of wine.  But the real star was the food. To start we were given a free aperitif which comprised a consommé style soup in which well-seasoned chickpeas bobbed gracefully, while on the side a super-creamy jamon croquette added some texture to the dish. Moving on to the tapas we ordered: simple, traditional favourites such as Ensaladilla Rusa (a mayonnaise-based potato salad with tuna a crunchy vegetables) and albondigas (meatballs) were served with contemporary twists such as the creamy curry sauce of the albondigas. More adventurous was a tapas of spider crab, delicately served with a potent wasabi mayonnaise, while the real star of the night was a ginger cream dessert with slices of mandarin and a passionfruit sorbet accompanying – exquisite. And best of all, the final bill, including a large carafe of Rioja plus two glasses extra at the end of the meal, was a mere €45 for the two of us.

Ginger cream

Bread stick...

On our second night in Madrid, we ditched the tapas trail for a hispanic-scandinavian fusion in the form of trendy new restaurant, Ølsen (15, Calle del Prado). The recently opened restaurant is already a firm favourite of the Madrid cool-crowd, with minimalist woods, low lighting and a chilled lounge soundtrack (I distinctly recognised Hotel Costes Volume 15 while we were dining) creating a very atmospheric dining ambience. As for the food, which for the most part pulls on Scandinavian influences, we were constantly thrilled by attention to detail and imaginative flavour fusions.

Sweet corn cakes with various fishy treats

To start we shared a fish sharing platter comprising sweet corn cakes and a selection of smoked salmon, smoked trout, caviar and a delicious taramasalata-styled smoked fish roe accompaniment. The combination of sweet, soft cakes and smokey fish was divine. On the side, bread was served in the form of various bagel-shaped creations, ranging from a sweeter glazed brioche to flat seeded cracker. For mains, we both chose a smoked lean brazed pork, with a red fruit and beer sauce and horseradish mashed potatoes. The meat was so tender and caramelised that along with the acidity of the red fruits and creaminess of the mashed potatoes, this dish took comfort to another level. A comfort which was then cranked up to a level of ridiculous self-indulgence when I had my dessert – a giant, soft and unctuous Oreo cookie with red fruits icecream. Oh god, I would return to Madrid just to have another one of those. Warmly recommended, if not stipulated as a necessary experience of the good life.

Giant Oreo!

But all this was just the start. Salamanca’s gastronomic offerings proved to be an altogether new level of culinary brilliance. Check out The Daily Norm tomorrow when I will try to put those incredible flavours into words!