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Posts tagged ‘Restaurant’

Breakfast at La Baita

Autumn is a love-hate time for me. On the one hand, I relish the new spectacle of fiery colours transforming the landscape from green lushness to a wealth of auburn warmth. On the other, I bemoan the passing of my favourite season of Summer, and the conclusion of my sun-drenched travels, which feel as though they have ended before they even begun. But in this latter respect, I have an antidote, right around the corner from my London home; a place where I can go and feel every inch as though I am back on holiday, surrounded by the vivacity of the Sicilian spirit, and food to match the very best Italian fare: La Baita on Clapham Common.

Located at the very centre of the Common, alongside the grand Victorian bandstand after which the cafe is named, from a distance you would assume La Baita is your bog-standard park cafe selling bacon butties and ice cream. However the Italian name signifies that this cafe is more than your British norm. Rather, run by Sicilians and southern Italians with a true passion for the food of their great nation, it is a fantastic little eatery with food so good that I have never found an Italian restaurant in London to beat it.

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Breakfast at La Baita (2018© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

Whether it be because of the fine food, the passionate staff, or the beauty of its parkland surroundings, La Baita has become our “local” in every sense of the word. Some weekends we even go twice a day! So it felt only natural that over our last few visits, I should capture the cafe’s terrace in my sketchbook, at the season’s leafy best. After all, it won’t be long before those leaves have fallen ground-wards, and the terrace of La Baita becomes paved with a transient crispy carpet of auburn gold.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

Compendium // Rome > Lunching in the Trastevere

Up until only a year or so ago, the Trastevere was a region of Rome which somewhat alluded me. Set away from the ancient heart of the city, separated, as the name suggests, across the river from the main city sights, it is easy to forget this bustling little cobbled gem. And yet Trastevere, with its streets still strewn with laundry, unplanned crooked little houses and uneven roads is one of the most characterful areas of Rome, and certainly one which, more than any other, hangs on to its authentic, working class past, despite the very obvious charm it now holds for tourists.

Imbued with the kind of gloriously soft glowing light which summer evenings were made for, the Trastevere makes for the perfect location for an early evening perambulation before dinner. However, the result is often coach loads of tourists pumping themselves across the ancient bridges of the Tiber and filling the dear little narrow streets of the Trastevere to near bursting point. Trying to find a free table in these conditions is not fun, and certainly deprives one of the relaxed, authentic charm of the area.

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In my view, the better alternative is to do the Trastevere at lunchtime, when the narrow streets are filled with the warm glow of a higher midday sun, and some of that sleepiness which characterises the neighbourhood is retained away from the tourist hoards. This is particularly so in the cooler months of the year, when eating al fresco is a real daytime possibility, and the truly uncomfortable heat is yet to hit.

This is exactly what we did one Sunday this January, when the Trastevere seemed to come alive under the midday sun, despite a relatively quiet time of year in the Roman tourist calendar. Even then, the restaurants peppered along cobbled streets and lanes hung with verdant leafy climbing plants were filling fast, and it was almost on the point of giving up and heading pack over the Ponte Sisto that we stumbled upon the restaurant of the same name – the Osteria Pontesisto on the Via di Ponte.

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As though in wait especially for us, we took the last sunny table set outside the restaurant’s burnt orange facade. There, soothed by exquisite rays of winter sunshine, a lunch of freshly chilled chardonnay commenced, and continued with an appetizer of Roman fried artichokes and deliciously fresh wild board sausage. Then came the mains, and with it some of the best pasta I have had the pleasure to enjoy – a taglioni of king prawns and courgette flowers which filled my mouth with sensual delight at every mouthful. The soft but certain bite of the al dente pasta; the sweet succulence of the prawns; the perfumed intensity of the fish stock. Dear god it was good. So much so, I was almost too drunk on deliciousness (and wine) to fully appreciate yet another superb dish which was to follow – a homemade puff pastry millefeuille stuffed with fluffy clouds of cream and drizzled with just melted rich dark chocolate. Just. Too. Good.

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The Trastevere is popular for a reason, and sometimes a bit of patience is required before the perfect table reveals itself. But trust me, if that perfect Trastevere lunch is meant to be, that cute little red and white chequered road-side table will be waiting for you. But to be sure, make a reservation at the Osteria Pontesisto. As my lunch told me, you can’t go wrong with that one.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Mallorca Sketchbook: Resting on La Rambla

La Rambla is easily one of my favourite streets in Palma de Mallorca. Long and abundantly leafy, this civilised avenue keeps cars to the side so that its central avenue can be the preserve of perambulating locals and a host of flower sellers whose daily offerings issue a dreamy perfume at all times of the year. The avenue is also appropriately the location of a good number of cafés and tapas bars, and there is nothing quite nicer on a warm day that sitting out in the dappled sunlight which reaches the elegant pavements through the trees and enjoying a coffee or wine.

It was on one such outing that I recently took out my sketchbook and, armed with my trusty staedtler pens, made this little sketch of a small square just off the floral avenue. Just a typical corner of this city I now call home, it contains all of the features that make Palma such an exquisite Mediterranean destination.

Resting on La Rambla (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

Resting on La Rambla (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography 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. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

Miro’s Chocolateria: the C’an Joan de S’Aigo

If it was good enough for Joan Miro, then it is certainly good enough for me… For the C’an Joan de S’Aigo is a café with a venerable history and a list of clientele past and present so long that it can probably count all of Mallorca’s most famous residents among its number, including the great artist Miro himself. Nestled within the maze of nostalgic alleyways which make up the oldest core of Palma’s centre, the C’an Joan de S’Aigo was founded in 1700 and as such is Palma’s oldest eatery. Founded when the cafe’s namesake had the idea of bringing down ice from the Tramuntana mountains and serving it richly flavoured in the earliest form of ice cream, the C’an Joan de S’Aigo is today equally famous for its rich pickings of local pastries and steaming hot chocolate.

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Despite the age of this quaint faded café, the locals of Palma have never allowed it to go out of fashion: When we sampled the café after our dip in the sea last weekend, it came after several failed attempts to visit previously – for each time we have been along, the place has heaved with locals who head to the café at the traditional merienda hour to sample ice cream piled high from small glasses and creamy indulgent hot chocolate. But it was worth the wait. Sat amongst the traditional interiors packed with blue and white ceramics, colourful glass chandeliers, copper kettles, filigree vases and wooden thrones, we feasted greedily on a sampling of the cafe’s local pastries, all of which tasted all the better when coated with a velvety layer of that legendary hot chocolate.

For Dominik, a sweet bun made, surprisingly, of potatoes (coca de patata) was a light and fluffy counter to the liquid silk of chocolate steaming in a cup before him. For me, a richer, creamier ensaïmada – the local specialist pastry which you can find all over town and which tourists buy in their plenty in what resemble giant hat boxes. Made in Mallorca even before the C’an Joan de S’Aigo was founded, the ensaïmada is made from dough which has been repeatedly folded with pork fat – much like puff pastry – and then either served sprinkled with sugar, or filled with other such goodies. And my filling of cold custard oozed and melted as it dipped into the hot chocolate with as much unctuous delight as melted butter on a warm crumpet. 

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Thoroughly disgusted by our self-indulgence, but rather rewarded by our dip into local culture, we swiftly decided that a visit to C’an Joan de S’Aigo must become a weekly tradition. How else can one become integrated into Mallorquin society?

The C’an Joan de S’Aigo café can be found hidden away just off from the church of Santa Eulalia on the Carrer Can Sanc 10. It’s open daily 8am-9pm except Tuesdays.

Tahini Marbella: Dedication to the Sea

As the name of the town suggests, the sea is the heart and soul around which the whole of Marbella is Southern Spain revolves. Its calm cerulean waters sensuously stroke and steadily sculpt the length of long sandy beaches which attract thousands of visitors to the town every year; its sparkling steady waves reflect lovingly on the gleaming white sides of the super-chic yachts which habitually pack Marbella’s various marinas; and it provides the wealth of super-fresh, mouth wateringly delicious seafood which is at the apex of Marbella’s breadth of superb gastronomic offerings.

And of course few would disagree that the best way to sample that seafood is barely cooked and fresh out of the waters, served simply and elegantly so that its full flavours and textures can shine through. Consequently, it would be hard to find a cuisine better able to capitalise upon this fresh Mediterranean cuisine than sushi, but until now, few restaurants in Marbella have managed to create sushi which offers a fitting tribute to the wealth and quality of Marbella’s seafood offerings. Until now.

Marbella Tahini

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Following hot on the heals of the unrivalled success of Grupo Cappuccino’s first Marbella Cappuccino Grand Cafe in 2011, set within the lush surroundings of pine tree covered gardens at the foot of the Gran Melia Don Pepe hotel, the group have now opened their first Tahini restaurant, a mere stone’s throw from Cappuccino, in the same Eden of pine trees, palms and unbeatable Mediterranean views. Situated just above Cappuccino, Tahini is the younger sister of the sensational Mallorca restaurant of the same name. Nestled just off the harbour side of the fashionable Puerto Portals, the Mallorca Tahini is like a secret garden paradise. My first visit there in May 2013 opened my eyes so wide as I took in the magical wonder of its low lit restaurant and picture-perfect candlelit garden, and tantalised my mouth so thoroughly with the exquisite freshness of its cuisine, that it has remained utterly unrivalled by all subsequent sushi experiences both in Spain and around the world.

The interior

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But happily, Tahini’s success is now being replicated a second time, with the same stunning quality of sushi being offered to diners in Marbella in so spectacular a setting that each of their senses will be tickled and enticed with equal measure. Outside on the terrace, polished minimalist tables reflect the abundance of palm trees which hang proudly over the marble-lined paseo maritimo just outside the restaurant, while every seat provides that perfect sea view overlooking the Straights of Gibraltar to Africa. Inside the restaurant, a cosy elegance suffuses the atmosphere, as diners eat alongside walls loaded with Mediterranean pottery of every shape and size, while a glass cube at the heart of the restaurant offers an unrivalled view of the Tahini chefs, plying their trade and ensuring that every detail of this note-perfect menu is taken care of. And don’t miss the corridor out to the toilets at the back of the restaurant: lined with crates and boxes filled with what looks like ice and every variety of fresh fish, it is in fact a clever recreation of a market scene, with glass ice and ceramic fish, emphasising that only the best and freshest of ingredients will be used by the chefs at Tahini. And was it my imagination or could I hear the bustle of a market subtly sounding in the background as I walked through this make-believe fish market?

The Tahini “market”

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But beyond this incredible setting, Tahini’s success comes down to that food – cuisine which is not only apt dedication to the sea from where it came, but a brilliantly sophisticated take on the sushi concept, with fish so fresh that it melts on the tongue, and food so beautifully presented that, like me, you will probably spend more time taking photographs than enjoying the flavours as they dissolve so lovingly into every corner of your mouth.

A true dedication to the sea

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Tahini’s new family member more than lives up to the standards set down by its Mallorca sister, and is a glittering new jewel standing proudly in Marbella’s ample gastronomic crown. For more information, see the Tahini website.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Es Baluard: A fine way to enjoy lunch

While Northern Europe starts to edge ever so slowly towards the onset of Autumn, with leaves starting to litter the streets, and the mornings and evenings already getting darker, down in the fine sheltered waters of the Mediterranean, it’s still very much the height of summer, and in fact for some places, the temperatures in September are even exceeding what was enjoyed in July and August. Mallorca, prime island of the Balearics, is chief amongst those places enjoying an extended summer, and when I ventured out there only a week ago, the temperatures were roasting. They were so hot in fact that our many plans to stroll around the thriving Metropolis of the island’s capital, Palma, and its wide expansive port were quickly ditched in favour of the cooler options. And as cool goes, it doesn’t get much better than Es Baluard.

Es Baluard is in fact a superb contemporary art museum set within the Sant Pere bastion, part of the Renaissance wall that surrounded the city of Palma until the beginning of the 20th Century. Perhaps because of its outer stone casing, or perhaps because of the chic concrete and glass renovation masterfully fitted within these old ramparts ten years ago, Es Baluard is certainly a chillier hangout, with comfortable inside temperatures which leave you decisively less flustered, leaving you with energy to browse the excellent permanent collection which includes only the Spanish greats, such as Miro and Picasso. 

Es Baluard and its surroundings

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But when the sun is hot, but you still want to benefit from the ultimate in views of Palma’s extensive waterfront, from Bellver Castle across to the city’s magnificent cathedral, you need to head to the super chic café-restaurant attached to the Southern-most wall of the Es Baluard complex. With a broad terrace criss-crossed with shade from a line of well-appointed shade sales, you can choose to lounge out adjacent to those winning views in comfy basket chairs, a cocktail or a cup of tea in hand. Meanwhile, next in line, a cluster of simple wooden dining tables mark the more formal dining spot, with perfectly polished wine glasses glinting in the sun, and contemporary white seating reflecting the style and period of art residing in the building next door. Finally behind these tables, there’s a separate dining area, all encased in a glass cube containing further tables and a little sofa runner packed with cushions showcasing the best in handmade Mallorcan fabrics.

Es Baluard’s well-appointed terrace restaurant

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It’s not my intention in this photo essay to talk to you about the food, but rather the extol the virtues of the location and design of this great Mallorcan eatery. However, rest assured that the food is every bit as good as the restaurant’s design, and their trendy lounge soundtrack a perfect accompaniment as you chill besides the seaside. Thinking that I have now extolled those virtues enough, I think it’s time to sign off and let you enjoy the photos. Until next time.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Prague (Part 3): Buddha-Bar Chic and delectable places to eat

When a city trip is turning into something of a damp squib and you’ve realised you should have brought a winter coat despite its being late summer, sometimes all you need is a little luxury to make things right again. When the squares and museums are packed to the rafters with no-budge tourists and the cafes are full of larger-lout British stag parties, it’s the escape to the finer side of things that will put a smile back on your face. And so it was, when my partner and I ventured recently to Prague in the Czech Republic, that ever optimistic of having a happy holiday experience, we were able to turn round the somewhat disappointing experience of an ever so cold, damp weekend in tourist-packed Prague into two nights of luxurious hedonism, thanks to the hotel where we were staying, and some of the great restaurants we were lucky enough to find during the trip.

Our hotel of choice was the 5 star Buddha Bar hotel situated a few minutes from the centre of Prague’s Old Town. Being what it suggests on the tin – a concept hotel with a strongly oriental-influenced twist – it was an unusual choice for us. We love chic little boutique hotels, but I would usually go for something that at least resembled the local culture. But Buddha Bar are a long established brand that stands for the quintessence of cool: of dark chic surroundings, of sumptuous self-indulgent luxuries, all pulled together by the classic asian-inspired lounge-bar melodies of the famous Buddha bar soundtrack. Consequently when I discovered that there was a hotel of the brand so well situated in Prague, and probably half the price what a 5 star would cost in capital cities elsewhere, I was seduced and decided to take the plunge into the orient. And I’m so glad we did.

Our room at the Buddha Bar Hotel

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In our luxuriously pampered room, every detail had been taken care of. On the wall, a Bang & Olufsen TV pumped out a selection of Buddha Bar groves through expertly mastered surround sound speakers extending to all parts of our room. In our extensive bathroom, a free standing bath benefitted from its own dedicated TV, floor to ceiling windows overlooking Prague, and remote controlled electric blinds should you prefer a little privacy from amongst your bubbles; while the his and hers sinks were accompanied by a panoply of l’Occitane branded bath products. In the bedroom, an indulgently soft bed was plied high with luxurious throws and cushions, while beside it, a seating area already came fully stocked with gifts of chocolate and a complementary cocktail each – the perfect antidote to the tourist scrum outside. Meanwhile, across the room, on the surfaces and alongside notes and information booklets, little fresh orchids had been delicately placed – the height in attention to detail, which followed through to the whole hotel experience.

For beyond our room, the hotel of course enjoyed its own Buddha Bar restaurant, a large cavernous place camped up with a huge oversized golden Buddha around which densely candlelit tables glittered in an otherwise dark and seductive atmosphere. We enjoyed an abundance of creative sushi whose innovative flavour combinations buzzed and zinged in a way that the bog standard California role could never hope to replicate. Meanwhile upstairs, a daily breakfast combining buffet treats and a choice of hot dishes always came accompanied with a glass of chilled prosecco. Now that’s my kind of breakfast.

The Buddha Bar restaurant – images courtesy of www.buddhabarhotelprague.com

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But of course we had to leave the hotel sometimes, and when sightseeing got too much, we managed to find two equally exquisite restaurants in which to enjoy the classier side of life. The first, a discovery quite by accident, was Zdenek’s Oyster Bar, an exceptionally chic little place, filled with brass fittings and lamps made from champagne bottles, that more closely resembled an upmarket Parisian bistro than a traditional Czech eatery. Being as Prague is very much inland, we were at first sceptical of a seafood restaurant in the heart of the city, but our doubts were put to rest by a main of succulent grilled prawns in a creamy sweet peppery rich sauce, with buttery toasted brioche served to be dipped into the tasty liquor. Never have I lavished so enthusiastically over a dish of prawns. I was completely won over on the one dish alone, let alone the other details which made the meal so special – an oyster shell filled with creamy salted butter; delicious crisp local white wine, and steaming muscles each ripe and juicy and a joy to eat.

Zdenek’s Oyster Bar

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The second of our restaurant successes was likewise a departure from the Czech theme – this time George Prime Steak, which was less traditional steak house than a high class boudoir decked out with highly polished chrome and black lacquer interiors all made to sparkle with modern chandeliers and low lighting. The only real nod to America was the extensive Californian wine list, one of which we enjoyed to the full, despite the waiters leaving the bottle on a far away table and then neglecting to refill our often empty glasses. But they can be forgiven – for the real star of the show was the steak. We opted for fillet which, they told us, was fried in temperatures so hot that it immediately caramelised the outside into a rich sweet crust – a delectable exterior encasing soft tender flesh. It was almost certainly one of the best steaks I have ever eaten.

My only drunken picture of George Prime Steak’s opulent interior…

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But we were in the Czech republic after all, and my final nod of this post has to go to what must be my favourite aspect of Prague gastronomy – the multi layered Czech honey cake “Medovnik”. Without looking at a recipe, I can only guess that this cake comprised thin layers of honeyed sponge interlaid with a honey and gently spiced gingery, cinnamon cream. Oh it was truly to die for, hence why I must have eaten around 5 slices before the trip was out. Now that really was worth fighting the tourist scrum for.

and that honey cake to die for

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Perfect in every way: Caperuza Bistro, Marbella

It’s very rare that you will ever get to enjoy a restaurant meal when every single dish is completely perfect. Even when I’ve had the most delicious high end tasting menus, there’s always been at least one dish which hasn’t quite hit the mark. But in the completely unassuming new little restaurant, Caperuza Bistro, which by complete coincidence is located a mere 100 metres from my home in Marbella, I recently had a dinner which was just that: perfect in every way.

The restaurant is small (just one small room with an open plan kitchen facing onto the narrow old town Calle Aduar) and perfectly formed. With a small team of staff, you get a friendly smile and attentive home-spun service right from the first moment of entering, while cosy candlelight makes the otherwise contemporary interior feel authentic and comfortable. The menu is said to work like tapas, although in reality, it’s more like a tasting menu than tapas, because the restaurant, considerate of the need to savour the complex flavours and stunning presentation of each dish, serve dishes one by one, so that every element can be enjoyed and you never feel overwhelmed (as is so often the problem with the traditional tapas format).

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On the recommendation of the amiable waitress, we went for 6 dishes each shared between the three of us. The dishes were served consecutively, with perfect timing and small but adequate pauses between each. We started with a salad of super fresh raw prawns in a smokey foam with sensationally seasoned leaves dressed in orange and what I think was soy. The balance was so delicately and expertly executed that every taste bud in my mouth was tantilised. I can still remember every satisfying flavour now. It was a sensation that was to continue.

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Our second dish was a chicken liver pate, beautifully presented in little glass jars with wafer thin bread. While the pate was rich and creamy, it was not overdone. The portion was a perfect size and the elegant crunch of the bread a perfect accompaniment.

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Onto a dish of salmon tartar, spilling out of little crunchy cornets draped over an unforgettable ginger and carrot purée. Balance, balance, balance – this place had it all, with this dish another prime example which lasted but seconds before we finished it up – all washed down with the delicious bottle of Rueda chosen for us by the dedicated staff.

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Could it get any better? Why yes, for up next was a dish of scallops hiding within another ample helping of seductively seasoned rocket salad whose peppery bitterness contrasted perfectly with an exquisite lemon and potato puree which brought the lemon groves of Sorrento alive in my mouth. Such freshness of flavour was countered only by the sweet and delicious caramelisation of the scallops. My only complaint – that this dish did not go on forever.

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Thankfully, what I now consider to be the best dish of all was still to come. A dish of sweet sticky vermicelli noodles, with juicy big prawns, toasted almonds and garlic. I can’t tell you how delicious this dish was, nor properly communicate just how well the crunch of the almonds contrasted with the silky noodles, and how the delicate shellfish stock had caramelised into a golden sweet pasta sauce. Oh sensational.

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Finally we dug into an equally successful dish of asian inspired duck served with a little creamy peanut puree. Need I say more about the excellence of this cuisine? (I forgot to take a photo of that one!)

Well yes actually, because dessert was to follow. And just when we thought the mains could never be beaten, along came a cheesecake mousse – I mean for god’s sake, can life get any better than this? Puffy little clouds of the most satisfyingly delicious mousse served with a little buttery biscuit on the side. And then there was the super fresh pineapple sorbet with a creamy smooth mango soup. I was in heaven.

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My only hope now is that this little restaurant, which is relatively understated and slightly off the tourist track, remains open to serve this sensational cuisine for a long time to come. The quality of the food was out of this world, and simply could not have been anticipated from the outside of the restaurant, nor from the menu whose prices were so reasonable that one wonders how the restaurant can make any profit at all. But take advantage of those while you can, because if the chef continues cooking this well, they’re bound to rise fairly swiftly in turn.

Caperuza Bistro is at 22 Calle Aduar in the Old Town (Casco Antiguo) of Marbella, Spain. Tel: (+34 951 395 593)

 

Paris | Photography Focus – Campana d’Orsay

The last post of my recent Parisian adventure, and the fourth set of photographs emanating from the trip pulls something of a sharp focus on a particular place in Paris, and not one that is all that well known either. In the insuperably brilliant Musee d’Orsay, behind one of the two huge round glass windows which double as the prominent clock faces which characterise the building’s impressive riverside façade, is a super chic new café opened following the major renovations of the museum in 2011. The café, which was designed by the Campana brothers, and now carries their name, is very different from the typical bistros and brasseries which are so characteristic of Paris. Ultra modern in its design, throwing diners into something of an undersea aquarium-come-fairy tale palace with its waving lines, bubble like round-patterned chairs, and striking aquamarine backdrop, this café is nothing if not eccentric, but therefore perfectly placed in its location next to the galleries containing France’s foremost collection of impressionist art – after all, these were the artists who challenged all of the art which had gone before them. As a café, the food isn’t all that great, and the selection is even worse, but the design is such a winner that I couldn’t help but give this genius of café design its own little space on The Daily Norm.

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The photos which follow focus mainly on the various unique features of the Café Campana, but also include some cheeky shots of fellow diners. I’m not even sure that I’m really allowed to take photos of people without their permission, and still less publish them online. But if that’s the case, it’s a real shame, because there is nothing quite like a voyeuristic glance at fellow dinners to really capture the essence of a place. In fact like the Impressionists before me, these photos represent my way of doing what those artists did best: representing real life, and recognising reality as a thing of beauty in itself. Surely no activity could be more appropriate at the d’Orsay’s café, where only rooms away, Degas’ famous painting of desolate drinkers staring into their glasses of Absinthe in a Paris bar (l’Absinthe) hangs amongst the masterpieces on show.

Admittedly the diners in my photos are enhanced by their surroundings, and in particular the glittering gold lights which are by far my favourite aspect of the design. Hanging in their multitudes, these lights give the feeling of being in a kind of Olympian paradise, where over-sized golden blue bells hang abundantly above. Their splendid shiny gold surface, and their installation, hung from great steel joists also painted gold, makes for a lavish spectacle in a way that only gold can; a spectacle which is all the more enhanced by the sheer abundance of it – when you have gold, why not have plenty of it? And hung as they are, all at different lengths, in irregular groupings, these lights seem so unplanned as to be a natural phenomenon; the kind of visionary wonder that makes you appreciate the glory of the world all around.

In short, the Musee d’Orsay is well worth visiting for the Café Campana alone. Not necessarily to anticipate a gastronomic revolution – it is only a café after all, and a museum café at that – but to gaze in wonder at what must be one of the most impressive contemporary restaurant designs in Paris. I leave you with my photos – which include a few inevitable shots of the impressive d’Orsay itself – a former left bank station which has more than found its own as a bastion of 19th and 20th century art. Until next time Paris…

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Marbella Twenty-Thirteen | Double-Starred Calima for the Big 3-0

For a relatively small town sitting in the shadows of the larger cities of Malaga and Seville either side of it, Marbella has an astonishing number of restaurants to suit every taste, and of those a large proportion find themselves glowing at the higher end of the gastronomic echelons. Yet only one restaurant in the whole of Andalucia can boast the glittering accolade of two Michelin stars, and that sparkling temple to gastronomy is to be found tucked away in the pine-tree sheltered gardens of Marbella’s Gran Melia Don Pepe hotel, with its large open veranda facing straight onto the Mediterranean Sea. I am talking about Calima by Spanish extrovert chef Dani Garcia, a restaurant which many have called “Fat Duck by the Sea” in homage to Heston Blumenthal’s innovative cooking style, a testimony with which the judges at Michelin would surely agree. And having read rave reviews about the place in the UK press way back in the Spring, I knew that this glittering gem in Marbella’s foodie crown had to be sampled – and when better than on the evening of the biggest birthday in my life so far!

En route to Calima

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Working under the tag line “Cocina Contradicion” Dani Garcia promises to bring to the table cusine embracing multiple contrasts, while savouring traditional Andalucian flavours and exciting the senses. A quote on his website pretty much says it all:

“Into a tradition-based sauce, pour opposing and unique flavours, add a tablespoon of intense nuances, a pinch of talent and a sprig of innovation. Add a mixture of disconcerting textures and sprinkle with thrill.”

He promised food theatre, flavour sensation and gastronomic thrill, but would Dani Garcia’s cooking live up to the mark? Well as we sat down at our sumptuous table, one of only four enjoying the stunning Mediterranean view (that’s what booking 3 months in advance gets you!) and saw the 22 course tasting menu with its €139 price tag, we certainly hoped that we were in for a treat. And, on the whole, we were not disappointed.

The prospect of eating 22 courses is somewhat alarming, until your realise that really, these courses can be called nothing really more than bitesize samplings. Consequently, by the end of the meal, it’s highly unlikely that you will feel full up. At Calima, it’s also highly likely that you would have forgotten much of what you have eaten. For while we were given a copy of the menu, we did at time feel as though we had a conveyor belt of food before us. No sooner had one course come, than it was whisked away by the very attentive waiting staff and another introduced. The overall result of this was that, first and foremost, we felt that the dining experience was too rushed to properly appreciate the complex flavours of each dish, and indeed to revel in the beautiful appearance of every course, but secondly, it means that in writing this review, my memory of the dishes consumed is scant to say the least. Luckily I took photos of each course, so that you can see, if not read about each tantalising sampling.

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So the tasting menu began with three little “snacks” – I felt a little disappointed that three courses had been served at once, but then that very much set the tenet for the evening: efficiency and speed. I wasn’t disappointed by the flavours however, starting with crunchy baby sweet corns layered with a “kimchi” seasoning which, much like Garcia had promised at the outset, popped and crackled on the palate with sweet and sour contradictions. Alongside that, a kind of aerated bagel seemed to melt in the mouth before I had properly appreciated what was inside, and a clustering of what can only be described as rice crispies enveloped deceptive flavours in their recreation of the traditional patatas bravas tapas dish.

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We moved onto a sensational reinvention of the typical caviar tin – this one filled with an unctuous cream combined with dates and caviar making for an incredible flavour balance, and something which should surely be tried at home. Following on, a little “empanadilla” again melted in the mouth owing to its “pastry” of sweet rice paper (contrasting deliciously with its smokey meaty interior). Next, the kind of theatre to be expected of a Michelin star eatery: “egg with no egg” – an apparently goey soft boiled egg which actually contained a foamy, fruity smoked fish concoction. Further theatre followed with a box full of almonds, two of which were frozen droplets of foie masquerading as almonds, but exploding in the mouth like a foie gras ice cream truffle. Serious yum. Such a beautifully multi-coloured fusion followed, as the vivid purples and sunshine yellows of tomatoes, and beetroot and oranges contrasted fantastically with the plumpest oyster of my acquaintance; while further theatre was presented in the form of a tomato which was actually a jelly-skinned fake containing a rich moussey interior.

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Probably the most beautiful dish of all followed on: entitled simply “Rocky Seabed”, it appeared to be a rock clustering of sea life served on a decorative box of shells and sea salt. It was in fact entirely edible – the rock collapsed and melted in the mouth like a wafer-thin rice cake, while the treats on top, including Marbella-fished baby shrimps were an exquisite cocktail of jellies and seasonings. My favourite dish of the lot. Then came the “muffins” which contained a yellow smoked fish cream and whose paper cases were also edible. This was followed by a sensationally presented scallop dish, in which thinly sliced scallops were presented like a rose, surrounded by tiny edible flowers and served with a sharp and sweet citrus cream.

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Up next, a partridge foie dish – two explorations on the foie theme, one like a round truffle, the other a soft mousse in between two crispy wafers, both presented elegantly on a block of real wood. Then another of my favourite dishes: wafer thin potato pillows scented with lemon flavourings and dipped into an exquisitely rich, salty meat gravy. Eel followed: tender slices of eel buried in an avalanche of garlic cream, balance with blood red orange and again decorated with edible flowers.

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