Photo montage of a "Dine in Dublin" night in February 2013, where a full meal could be had in a top-class hotel for just €25 per person
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
View Food festivals of Ireland - Summer 2013 in a larger map
Monday, September 10, 2007
Airport hotels are often the no-man’s-land of cuisine: being just this side of the runway can often mean the planes keep taking off alongside you, but your tastebuds are left very much on the ground. Tonight, I found an exception to the rule, at the Mercure Hotel at Tegel Airport, Berlin.
After three days in the German capital for Tim’s stag (that’s right, there will be NO PHOTOS posted on this entry), Marc and I separated from the others and decided to go to the Mercure and use the pool for a while before his flight to Zurich. A combination of an un-Teutonic absence of airport buses and a not-unexpected lack of co-ordination on the part of airport staff meant that we never actually made it poolside, and were instead confined to drinking apfelschorle from plastic bottles at some skanky table in an airport pier.
When I got to the hotel – about 2 minutes’ drive in the shuttle from Tegel – I made myself at home, and decided to have a late-ish dinner, about 22:00. The restaurant was rather inviting from the outside, and I’d say it’s an attractive proposition during daylight hours when you can take outdoor tables by the pool. In the evening, it’s functional – though the velvet on their banquettes could do with being replaced, as it now feel more like a horsehair blanket.
From a menu split into German staples and French specials, I chose first a goose liver terrine – two 3x3 inch square slices of mixed coarse and fine pâté, surrounding a disc of foie gras, all of which came accompanies with Armagnac prunes, very fresh cucumber, and strawberries that seemed wasted by the infusion of a too-powerful balsamic vinegar. A basket of baguette was delivered before this starter, together with some garlic and herb butter. In essence, a very tasty and substantial starter.
Having overdosed on red meat throughout the weekend festivities, and being alone and so not having to withstand jokes or suspicion, I decided to go vegetarian and ordered gnocchi. Not at all what I imagined, but none the worse for that. Unlike the normal small dumplings I expected, I was presented with 7 large ones, with the same bouncy consistency as you’d get further south. The surprise came on the inside, where there was a sweet tomato paste that neither added to nor distracted from the main intent of the dish. Crispy shredded spinach – of a style I’d more readily associate with dried seaweed at a sushi restaurant - but delicious nonetheless - garnished the top of the gnocchi, and as with every other meal we had this weekend, there was an abundance of Pfifferlingen – not peppers as we’d first mis-translated, but chanterelles (we’re obviously in the heart of the German mushroom-picking season or something). Lovely combination of tastes, served quickly and without fuss or intrusive over-attentiveness. If ever I were to find myself in transit at Tegel for a few hours, I’d have no question about going right over and trying this restaurant again – maybe with a swim next time too, and less attitude from die Inkompetenten at the terminal itself.
3.5 Food and Drink
3.0 Overall Rating
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The story so far: I got in last night; Mike arrived about 6 this morning; we got ourselves ready at my hotel at Heathrow and then spent the day schmoozing at a conference. Overwhelmingly pleased with the successful charisma buzz we lent to proceedings, we left the Emirates and made our way down to Club Quarters Trafalgar. Great location, great facilities, great price. But there wasn’t much time to chill: we had told Zoran we’d meet him at 20:00 at Piccadilly Circus.
Now, London traffic being what it is, Zoran visiting London for the first time, and Mike and I not really capable of meeting evening deadlines since way back, all combined to mean we finally rendezvoused with Zoran about a quarter to nine. I had intended taking them up to Randall and Aubin, where I’d been once before – another, ahem, memorable outing with Nabil. But Mike was dying for a pint, so we stopped at some grotty little pub in Soho, and by the time we’d finished and walked round the corner, we knew it was a no-hoper. Randall and Aubin was not only packed to the rafters inside: it looked like a cross between a Brazilian carnival and a Soviet-length queue had formed outside. So I took them across to Souk.
The first time I was ever here was way back in 2001, with Danièle and a gang of French people. There’s a rather nice Moroccan-themed bar on the ground floor, but the restaurant is down two flights of rickety stairs to a fire-trap of a basement, bedecked with candles and velour, and packed with low tables and couches. I’d been back several times since, on separate multiple occasions, with William and Nabil: it’s become a sort of favoured option when everything else is closed or full or too far away.
I was concerned that bringing two Dubai-centric guys to a Moroccan restaurant in London might underwhelm them a bit, but they seemed up for it. We chose three main dishes between us: the couscous royal, with lamb, chicken and merguez (ah, reminds me of Grenoble every time!); the duck tagine, which was flavoured with an apple and cinnamon sauce; and my old favourite – the lamb tagine, with prunes, apple and almonds. The combined flavours of this last one always promise so much, and rarely fail to hit the mark. Tonight was no exception. We decided – I decided - to order a side serving of chips with harissa sauce. I’d never taken this before at Souk, and it was nothing remarkable, yet the harissa hit the right note. Again, I was transported back to those many late nights at Place Grenette, and I was 19 again. It all made me remember how much I like this restaurant.
Surprisingly for three men who professed starvation on the way into Souk, we didn’t finish the dishes - the conversation sapping our appetite while energising our minds. (Get the reference of the day, Mike?). Normally, I’d have cocktails or Moroccan white wine at Souk, but today we were abstemious and drank bottled water.
The bill, as ever, was beyond reasonable by London standards, and three happy diners emerged into the midsummer night to return home.
The Damage (GBP)
- 12.45 Couscous Royal
- 11.95 Duck Tagine with apple and cinnamon sauce
- 10.95 Lamb Tagine with prunes, apple and almonds
- 1.95 Chips with harissa mayonnaise
- 5.90 2 large bottles sparkling mineral water (2*2.95)
- 5.85 Tea/ Coffee (3*1.95)
4.0 Food and Drink
4.0 Overall Rating
Friday, June 01, 2007
It's the last day on the project for Aisling and Frits and, although we had a semi-formal goodbye lunch already this week, we decided to take advantage of a slowish day at work, an impending bank holiday weekend and an evening on the town tonight, and make a day of it.
I remember Crowe's from the last time I consulted in Ballsbridge (stretching back to 2004 now!). It's a fairly traditional style of pub, in the same Merrion Road string of bars as Paddy Cullen's and Mary Mack's - but there is one crucial difference. It is linked to a Chinese restaurant next door/ upstairs/ somewhere in the vicinity, and whose name I never remember to investigate, because I never need to: if you come to Crowe's from 12:30 onwards, they lay out the restaurant's food in self-service metal serving vats, and you help yourself.
You choose whatever you like from spring rolls, roast duck, sweet and sour chicken, szechuan beef, chicken and broccoli, rice, noodles, chips, chicken wings, chicken soup and often more. Fill up as often as you like (though I have noticed they often ask you after half an hour or so if they can take your plate...). The quality is good: seriously, it is exactly the same food as served in the adjacent restaurant. They just save on the table covers and the staff salaries.The sweetest thing, though, is the price: just EUR 10 per person, for an all-you-can-eat, which represents outstanding value in Dublin - even more so once the quality of the food is taken into account.
As some of my colleagues know, it's the perfect Friday lunchtime option after a Thursday night on the town. It won't be the last time our rapidly-shrinking team shows up there.
The Damage (EUR)
- 10.00 AYCE Chinese (per person)
4.0 Food and Drink
3.5 Overall Rating
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Sometimes whistle-stop trips have their drawbacks. While it’s all very well to dip yourself into a country overnight, the scheduling of planes, trains and automobiles often mitigates against throwing yourself into pure hedonism for 24 hours without recourse. Sunday morning saw an early rising, and a walk along the lake wall where the waves overspilled the bankside and wet our feet. Lausanne is quiet on Sunday mornings: the sky was grey, the breeze was high, and the sounds were of nature and nothing else. Refreshing: we were in the heart of Europe, in the centre of an international city, yet in the middle of nowhere.
We took coffee down at the Fleur de Pains bakery on Avenue d’Ouchy, and then prepared for Farid to pick us up and take us out for lunch. He’d planned a surprise location, but was constrained by the need to have me on a train to Geneva airport for 13:17. Trains in Switzerland are not late: they pull out of stations at the exact minute indicated, at the instant the second hand hits 12. We didn’t have much time to waste.
We drove up into the city centre - through which we had walked through the previous night - parked underground, and walked across a junction to the north-east corner, abutting which was the Restaurant de la Croix d’Ouchy. So far, so good: description meets reality. Inside, the restaurant was almost empty – not surprisingly, as it was just gone midday. Valerie was already there with children Olympe and Ulysse (very classical family), and we took our place at the table with them.
By this stage, the sun was streaming in the windows, and illuminating the interior. In my memory, the restaurant had bare stone walls – but I am not sure if that’s true, or if it’s something I have conjured up to fit my impression of a well-appointed, rustic idyll with sunbeams bouncing off the verticals. After some time, our waiter arrived, but unfortunately he brought with him neither his brain nor a basic proficiency in intelligible French. Not a clue what we were talking about, or our need to eat and run, or even what we were ordering. Yes, it may have been Sunday and a day of leisure in Calvin-influenced Switzerland, but someone should have reminded him that working to a Sri Lankan pace really doesn’t cut it when you have trains to catch and places to go. By the time we got the orders in, it was almost 12:30.
Farid ordered a great bottle of Amarone, which we opened just as the starters arrived. I ordered a beef carpaccio with some truffle oil, and it was perfect. The meat was very tender, and hit the palate spot on. Always a dish I tend to eat quickly, the added time pressure meant that I probably had the intensified experience of my taste buds leaking adrenaline as they sensed the flavours. Nevertheless, I couldn’t dwell on the starter too long, as I had one eye on my watch and the other looking out for the waiter. He came, finally, with my main course: three large scallops, an enormous (I mean about 6 inches of) king prawn, rice, and a local take on ratatouille, with a creamy fish sauce. The presentation was beautiful, the taste even more so. Best of all, it came in two portions: the exact same plate was to follow, once I finished the first one. Worst of all: it was now 13:10, and my train was leaving in seven. Farid and I ran from the restaurant, drove to the station, and I caught the train with fully twenty seconds to spare. If I could have taken an extra ten minutes in that restaurant, I would have: the main course was composed of some of the most succulent shellfish that I have come across, and in a landlocked country too! I have no idea of the prices on this menu (though being Switzerland, it coulnd't have been cheap): I passed a mixture of euro and francs to Kruno, and hoped he’d take care of the bill. Haven’t heard anything about it since, so I guess I must have just about covered it.
There is no doubt but that I will visit the Restaurant de la Croix d’Ouchy on my return to Lausanne. By then, I am hoping that I will have planned my schedule a little more liberally, that the waiters will have learned French properly, and that my double-service main course will be appreciated leisurely and in full.
5.0 Food and Drink
4.0 Overall Rating
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Later that evening, we decided it’d be a good idea to visit the city centre. It didn’t look far on the map. Nothing ever does. And I guess it really wasn’t all that far – it’s just that most of it was vertical, with angles of about 65° once we reached the older quarters. By the time we reached the top of the hill and the centre of town – one and the same – we were ready for refreshment at Restaurant Louis, which had come highly recommended by Farid. Unfortunately, we hadn’t known that Louis would be taking some time out from feeding urban mountaineers, and was actually closed that night.
Behind us, a couple of streets away, we saw a large attractive building, with crimson canopies over each window and lit up like a beacon of hope and restauration. This was the Lausanne Palace and Spa Hotel. Visiting their website later, I found they had numerous bars and restaurants inside, but we headed for the first one we saw, which was their brasserie. Now, I can’t really tell the difference between a French brasserie and a Swiss Romande brasserie. Perhaps it’s like those theme Irish bars you find in every city from Anchorage to Auckland – you’re never sure how authentic it is, but it looks attractive enough to the untrained eye. This brasserie seemed to me to be straight out of Lyon (not, of course, a million miles from Lausanne anyway) – so familiarity always being a great enticement, we walked to the nearest waiter and asked for a table. None available. The positive side about such establishments, however, is that you can eat au comptoir – which I actually prefer, as you can relax so much more easily. Our waiter offered us this option so pleasantly that I knew instantly that while the decor may have looked Gare-du-Nord template French, the welcome was much more inviting.
Kruno was doing his usual trick of considering a weekend to be a few hours either side of midnight on Saturday/ Sunday, and so had not arrived yet. Mirta and I took our places at the bar, ordered a couple of cokes for both of us and a soupe de poisons for me. As we took in the action in the restaurant from our fulcrum at the bar, I took charge of the soup. It was pleasant, and given my hunger, it was much appreciated. However, the rouille that came with it was lacking in taste, the soup itself would have benefited from greater seasoning and a lesser ground texture, and overall it was not of the standard that one would find down at the Vieux Port in Marseilles. Yet my original definition of it stands: it was pleasant.
Kruno finally arrived, and he and I both ordered steak tartare, with Mirta opting for a vegetarian lasagne. Her pasta seemed – what’s the word again? Oh yes, pleasant. But the thing is, you can get this sort of dish anywhere. A steak tartare, however, is a rarity in Ireland, and I crave it the minute I set foot on francophone territory. Ours came with the obligatory three dots of reduced balsamic vinegar, yet sans the traditional quail’s egg on top. This was replaced by some capers and a large anchovy, which were nice – though I would have liked the egg as well. The meat pieces were larger than I would have expected – in France, the consistency is often nearly that of a paste – but very tasty along with the toast that was brought alongside, and the enormous basket of chips that sat in the vicinity and remained half-untouched, due to sheer volume. Steak tartare is a dish I love, even though it always conjures up images of Mr. Bean for me. We used to eat this in Luxembourg, in baguettes for lunch; Lebanese restaurants cater for my taste perfectly with their kibbeh; and I often take the fusion cousin – tuna tartare – when in restaurants elsewhere. That choice is directly influenced by experience of the meat variety, and this evening’s dish serves to reinforce that preference for me.
Earlier in the evening, I had seen an oblong plate of profiteroles and ice cream transported to a nearby table, and had been keeping that thought in mind throughout the evening. When I ordered it, though, the waiter told us that they stopped making that dessert at 22:30, and so we were 45 minutes past the deadline. Look, it’s a French-type place; they don’t change their minds on this sort of thing. Instead, I was invited to select a dessert from a revolving glass carousel: from a choice that included crème brûlée, tarte aux fraises and rhum baba, I set eyes on a towering chocolate mousse, and had it brought to me. Lovely and rich, and much larger than I had judged from the other side of the display glass, this mousse was topped with a white chocolate room, and a couple of rolled wafers. It was satisfyingly substantial without being heavy, and tasted of chocolate rather than cocoa, which is always a plus – and one which is not universally guaranteed.
The meal over, we decided to hit the nightlife of Lausanne until the early hours. No, wait: that’s what we would have done if we were just a few years younger. What really happened is that we took a bus to our hotel and went to bed immediately. At least it was on a full stomach, and after a good meal. I’d recommend this restaurant for future visitors to Lausanne: Mirta wanted to give it 4.0; Kruno was a little grouchier at 3.0. If I knew what was good for me, I would side with the princess - but I'm going to split the difference this time. It's 3.5.
The Damage (CHF)
- TBC Soupe de Poissons
- TBC Vegetarian Lasagne
- TBC Steak Tartare *2
- TBC Chocolate Mousse
- TBC Coke * 2
- TBC San Pellegrino (75cl)
4.0 Food and Drink
3.5 Overall Rating
Thursday, May 03, 2007
I wonder if there's a Mongolian Barbecue in every capital city in the world. Apart from Genghis Khan, it seems to be about the only export of note in the last 800 years or so, the fermented yak's milk not having done so well and lost market share to Baileys somewhat. Although I have visited a few, Suzanne tells me every time we walk through Temple Bar that she has never been to a Mongolian, but always wanted to. The last time I was here was with Barbara and her daughter, Rachel. This seven-year-old was queueing to make up a bowl of food, when I heard her tell a nearby gang of tourists: "You know he's not my Daddy - he's just my mammy's friend". After that, how could I not love this place? To mark Suzanne and Aoife's return from the trip round Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, I didn't have to think twice, and organised that we meet in Anglesey Street for dinner.
On another beautiful evening in the first week of summer, where we haven't seen rain for weeks, I walked into town - two feet being quicker than getting stuck in the traffic that snarls and clogs the roads of Dublin, regardless of the season. Aoife and Suzanne were already seated by the time I arrived and, cheekily enough, had already started eating. I guess that's not as bad as it sounds. The whole ethos of the restaurant is that you serve yourself, when you like and as often as you like, and the wobbles in the cycles will eventually even out between all the people at your table.
We decided to meet just before 18:30, at which time the prices go up. Perhaps the array of food expands too: I remember in former times that the barbecue offered fish, prawns and turkey - all of which were absent this time. The system now works like this: you can reach for the salad bar at any time, and fill up on lettuce, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, peppers and dressing. Or you can skip the Mongo-Lite and go straight for the full Monty. You select firstly from a metal table holding sunken containers of beef, pork, and chicken; you top up your plastic bowl with your choice of tomatoes, peppers, onions, leeks, mushrooms, tofu, seeds, carrots, kidney beans, corn and pineapple. Then it's over to the herbs and spice jars: cayenne pepper, cumin, coriander, chilli, ginger, Cajun Spice and Chinese Five Spice (along with the traditional salt and pepper). Finally you drown your raw food with sauce - let's see what I can remember here: Thai sweet chilli; lemon; wine; honey and ginger; soy; tikka massala ... probably another four or so more. I think you get the idea: the fun is concocting your own recipe at each stage, and varying your culinary skills with each iteration. Once the bowl is full, you pass it to a guy at a large, semi-circular metal sheet who proceeds to cook it for you, keeping everyone's food separate and fully cooked with the use of what looks like giant black chopsticks. Poor guy must be almost roasted himself: the heat coming from the barbecue would be unbearable up that close and for that long.
The food is given back to you in china bowls sporting the restaurant logo - and they're very attractive. I remember, once, a waitress telling me that an American man once ate seventeen bowlfuls. We managed four each, along with two bowls of rice for the girls and some flatbreads for me. I also satisfied a craving for Diet Coke: perhaps I'm hanging out with Frits too much. Then, although we saw exquisite desserts pass by to another table - we think it was Death by Chocolate - we were more concerned about obesity by chocolate, so we decided to pass, and ordered tea and coffee instead.
Suzie loved this restaurant - she wants to give it a 5. Aoife seemed slightly less enamoured of it - but she'd been many times before, so it was nothing novel for her. I like it a lot - and they still give out the Swizzels-Matlow Refreshers with the bill, which I think should be made mandatory in every restaurant. I'd suggest, however, that they replan their table layout - there was hardly room for people to squeeze between chairs once the restaurant began to crowd up, and frankly it's annoying. But if you manage to get a spot where you don't back onto the aisle, you'll enjoy this restaurant enormously.
The Damage (EUR)
- 50.97 Early Bird Buffet, including salad and rice (16.99*3)
- 2.50 Flatbreads (4)
- 2.00 Diet Coke (*1)
- 5.00 Lattes (2.50*2)
- 2.00 Peppermint Tea (*1)
4.0 Food and Drink
4.0 Overall Rating
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Wagamama has been a staple for years. I’ve been to outlets in the
Frits had hardly set foot outside the office and the hotel since he started working in
Wagamama is a display of consistent satisfaction in a world where mediocrity seems to pass muster more and more. The staff are still dressed in those funky T-shirts, the atmosphere is always both noisy and relaxed, and I usually know what I’m going for: 42, with a 103 and a 109. It makes sense to those in the know. The only thing changed is that they no longer seem to take orders on those radio devices that transmitted customer choices directly to the kitchen over the airwaves.
Being an izakaya-type restaurant, the dishes are served as they are prepared – no rota of starters and mains here. I did the usual of ordering what I liked and hoped my guest would enjoy the results. Here’s the list of usuals for the evening:
- 103 Ebi Katsu: five king prawns in fried breadcrumbs, with a chilli and garlic sauce, and lime wedges with which you drown the shrimp and awaken their taste.
- 106 Negima Yakitori: three skewers of chicken (3 pieces on each skewer), interspersed with scallion segments. These come in a caramel-like yakitori sauce which is superb as ever, though less generous than on any previous visit. Hope they’re not thinking of skimp on portion size.
- 42 Yaki Udon: where do I begin? Thick udon noodles, shiitake mushrooms, egg, leeks, prawns, chicken, red peppers, beansprouts, shallots, and Japanese fishcakes, with curry oil and fish powder. Great as ever.
We took a flask of warm sake to accompany our meal, along with some water and green tea - which is free, but which Frits was convinced was actually seaweed juice. Maybe it’s big in
P.S. One quibble, but which won’t dent the score unless the trend continues: the prices in
The Damage (EUR)
- 8.25 Ebi Katsu
- 7.25 Negima Yakitori
- 12.45 Yaki Udon
- 15.95 Beef Udon
- 8.50 Sake (flask)
- 0.00 Green Tea
- 0.00 Water
4.5 Food and Drink
4.5 Overall Rating
Friday, April 27, 2007
Decided to start off with a Merlot accompanied by a variety of freshly baked breads with a homemade selection of dips. For mains Suzanne had a chargrilled salmon fillet with spinach & cheese risotto with fresh vegetables. I had belly of pork with sweet potato and a pear chutney. Mouth watering and very very tasty. Unfortunately we didn't have room for dessert but they looked amazing. We would give this a 4 star rating. If you ever go down under Lorcán, make sure you include this in your travels.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
I next visited the city market – the Centrs Tirgus. This was a enormous change from the glass-covered mall in the old town where I’d taken refuge from the elements and the inhabitants the previous day. Aside from strips of little outdoors stalls strung along the marketplace in rows, it consists of two large pavilions: one with meat, fish and poultry as far as the eye can see or the nose can smell, and another which sold everything from medicines and books to olives and ajvar. Such a contrast also to yesterday’s breakfast at the Hotel Riga: I was able to pick up sausages in pastry for 22 santīmu- that’s about 33 cent! Best of all were the cake stands: fragile-looking French-style delicacies, of the sort that sells in
After a longer-than-planned visit to the Riga Dom, there was just time enough to pick up some hand-blown Latvian glass and put into effect my plan for lunch. Walking up past the
The Restaurant Esplanade is situated on the ground floor of the Latvija, just to the left of the main entrance. I was seated promptly, and took in the environs - and I loved them. I don’t normally fill blog entries with photos, but this time the urge to share is overwhelming. Look at these surroundings! An ornate Orthodox cathedral and a park outside the window I was facing; pristine white linen tablecloths dotting a large, airy, unenclosed space; orange and pink drapes that somehow manage to be tasteful and not in the least garish; and a baby grand piano on a dais just to my left. The sun filled the area, and I knew this was going to be a good experience.
The menu proved to be what I would term “high-class Baltic”, and is not unlike the food on offer at some of the outstanding
Deciding to go all the way, I chose caviar to begin. Now, in truth this was what sushi-lovers would know as ikura rather than Caspian Beluga, but it was like a masterclass exercise in how to produce a starter: four blinis, finely-chopped red onion, mustard seeds, crème fraîche, and a healthy portion of salmon roe with a lemon wedge combined to provide a sensation to titillate the taste buds that has rarely been equalled in recent times. The first taste gave me the same feeling as when you drive very quickly over a small hill: you feel like you’re flying in the air and that while your body descends afterwards, you remain on high as you seek to catch up with reality. I was enjoying this food so much that it actually spurred me to visit Stockmann later to buy some Latvian caviar to take home with me. [Personal aside: how is it that I can buy prepared vitello tonnato in a Finnish supermarket in Latvia (disproving Silvio Belrusconi and Jacques Chirac's theories on Finnish food, at a minimum), yet I can't even find the basic ingredient of veal in any supermarket in Dublin? Now, back to the story.]
Continuing the theme of gastronomic excellence, I ordered soup: this was a fashionably-foamy crayfish-rich and saffron-infused potage, on which were resting two diamonds of toast bearing a large crayfish tail each. It was a delectable dish: creamy to taste, with the continuing seafood thread and taste commenced by the caviar. I was really loving this. As the waitress cleared my plate, I ordered a glass of Leopard’s Leap wine – a Cape Mountain white, with tropical fruit and lime tones – to accompany the forthcoming main course, and took another trip to the Skyline Bar to enjoy the Latvian vista expanding as the glass elevator rose higher.
On my return, I had time for a couple more pages of Barack Obama’s book - which has been accompanying me everywhere recently – and then my main course arrived. This was a breast and a leg of pheasant, served with carrots, green asparagus and baby courgettes. The meat was probably slightly drier than I would have, and the gamey taste less pronounced than I had expected, but it was tasty nonetheless.
By this time, I was consulting my watch a little too often, as I needed to get to the Jewish Museum of Riga before it closed. I had my bill presented, and was thrilled to see that the whole meal, including drinks, cost an equivalent of €34. What a delight! I was back on the old
Here’s a tip for anyone who might think it’s now all sweetness and light in
The Damage (LVL)
- 5.75 Red Caviar
- 3.55 Crayfish and Saffron soup
- 8.95 Pheasant with baby vegetables
- 1.60 Martini Bianco
- 1.40 Perrier (33cl)
- 2.40 Leopard's Leap Cape Mountain white
5.0 Food and Drink
5.0 Overall Rating
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Hold the front page! News in from Latvia: while most of it is just as bad as I painted in my last post, it has been partly redeemed just minutes after the last entry was blogged.
I left the internet café like I’d leave a crack den: looking round furtively to see who’d attack me on the way out, and hoping the smell of the interior didn’t cling to me too much. Outside, it was raining: a cold slimy rain that hadn’t relented all day. I tramped through the old cobbled streets, deserted as they had been all day, and turned the corner – in more senses than one.
A block away from my hotel, to which I was headed in the hope of hiding myself away from the sheer misery of the weather, I passed a Japanese restaurant. Given the compact nature of Riga, it was about the fourth time that day I had done so, but the need for some good food I’d recognise drew me inside.
Hallelujah – a modern, clean restaurant where I was welcomed and shown to a table. So unlike the Riga I had experienced to that point; in fact, apart from the fact that the place was absolutely deserted apart from me, there was nothing in common with the rest of the city.
The restaurant is on a street corner, and bounded by floor-to-ceiling glass on two sides. I took the table where these panes met, and had a look at the menu. I smiled on seeing that while the first half of the book was taken up with Japanese fare, the second half offered an Italian menu. I assumed that these were just menus that could be transferred between Kabuki and their next door neighbour, Macaroni: a shining example of a post-Soviet demand economy, I thought. Julija, the manager, disabused me of this notion and came to tell me that I was free to order from either menu. I decided to accept this novel challenge, and set about designing an early-evening Eurasian dinner.
The Italian menu drove me towards a beef carpaccio – something I rarely refuse when offered. It was topped with a dressed rocket salad, and the traditional shaved parmesan and lemon juice. Lovely. The rest of my choices came from the Japanese menu: Nagasaki soup – a chilli-spiced mushroom and prawn broth; some individual maki – two Maguro (spicy tuna), two Sake (spicy salmon), and one Sapporo (spicy scallop with flying fish roe and a tangy mayonnaise); and a serving of eight Sakura maki – consisting of salmon, flying-fish roe, crabmeat, avocado, red caviar. These were washed down by a pot of ginger and lime tea, and a bottle of Gerolsteiner sparkling water. I loved every morsel – very, very high quality sushi. Frankly, I was surprised – the previous 20 hours in Riga had prepared me for something worse.
By this time, the restaurant was still bare – there were two more tables occupied out of about fifteen. I decided to give into the temptation of the picture menu and order an amaretto coffee. Interesting touch: a little white chocolate disc on the side, imprinted in colour with the Kabuki logo. Best of all, it came with an interesting, intricate and memorable chat with Julija. As I told her at the time, her conversation was the pivot on which my view of Riga became less negative. Up till then, I had seen more smiles in the Occupation Museum (well worth a visit) than I had on the streets of Riga. Julija was the first person in Latvia who was actually nice to me: the voice of Latvia less often heard, but which had made all the difference.
Kabuki/ Macaroni is evidently positioning itself as trendy and high-end. Although most of Riga seems intent on charging Western European prices, and is obviously aimed at tourists and their foolishness in parting too quickly with their euro, Kabuki is actually worth it. Just remember that the staff are not the ones benefiting from the Western prices.
The Damage (LVL)
from the Macaroni menu:
- 3.95 Beef Carpaccio
- 3.20 Nagasaki mushroom and prawn soup
- 2.40 Spicy Maguro Maki *2
- 2.40 Spicy Sake Maki *2
- 2.00 Spicy Sapporo Maki *1
- 6.00 Sakura Maki
- 2.00 Ginger and Lime tea
- 1.00 500ml Gerolsteiner sparkling water
- 2.20 Italian amaretto coffee
4.5 Food and Drink
4.0 Overall Rating
Arrived last night in Latvia - my first time ever in the former Soviet Union. The hotels are still in it, though, I think - God, breakfast was shit. Dining room decor is like those Communist-era hotels in Prague - orange juice tasted pure 1970s, rest of the food was the sort of shite you tend to get in hotel buffets and wouldn't touch - fatty, reformed meat; cheese of no discernable provenance; wonky fish... I will be eating outside tomorrow morning.
Riga as a city is beautiful, I think - the pictures in the guide books look great, but I can't really see too much behind the blinding sideways freezing rain and sleet. It reminds me of a sadder Zagreb, or a less exciting Luxembourg (no, that's not a typo). I spent two hours in the Occupation Museum - Soviets, then Nazis, then Soviets again. It was actually quite moving to see how many times these people were on the verge of freedom, then got overrun again. Maybe in a few years, they'll have an EU section.
I have already grouped the only people I have seen: the terrified, the hookers, the undead, the skinheads/ goths/ neo-fascists, and the downright obnoxious. You go into a shop and not only do they not come licking your feet like in Banana Republic (a sycophantic practice which I hate anyway, and performed by prostitute-minded serving fairies flapping around the Eaton centre, looking for commissions), but they don't even say hello like in France or grunt at you like in Ireland. I arrived at the hotel last night just after 23:00 (and about 20 minutes after the plane landed - the city is the size of a village), checked in with an unexplainably-nervous receptionist, then got in the lift - where some Chinese-looking 50-year-old bloke speaking Russian, perhaps from somewhere in Central Asia but obviously twisted drunk, asked me if I did kung fu, and then I think he suggested he would wrestle me. All I could think of was that fight in Borat. I go to get out on the 5th floor (I seem to get room 529 in every single hotel I ever check into), and he stands in my way ready for a grapple. So I basically walk over him. Ten minutes later, on my way back out, I see the concierge talking to him and getting ready to kick him out - or go for round two. You'd never be sure in this place.
This morning I went for a sauna before breakfast. You get the door from the foyer unlocked by some porter; you go down a stairs, twice; along a dark, narrow passage like something in a submarine, then another stairs, and finally you go into some sort of party room. The sauna is off this. I realise then that they have sauna parties here. I am on my own, and in 1974. The heat's not too high, when people start coming in. Men, women, not a towel in sight, and all proceed to the top deck of the sauna, where they sit directly on the benches with their knees up round their ears. I am internally contorted by the thoughts of the hygiene issues there. I leave before someone from the party room comes into the sauna and offers cheese and pineapples on cocktail sticks.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
The Damage (EUR)
- 9.75 Fish and Chips with lime and chive dip, and side salad
- 2.80 Cidona
- 1.90 Peppermint Tea
4.0 Food and Drink
4.0 Overall Rating