Monday, 27 October 2014

Tales of Caceres: Lost in Translation

By: Mr Robot

When we first approached the Carlos V asador (roasterie, basically) in Plaza Mayor they had the generosity and forethought to offer us a menu in our own language. We rewarded them by running away.

Why do such a mean and heartless thing? Well, there are two reasons really. For one thing we fear a polyglot menu denotes a godawful tourist trap that really doesn't give a stuff if they never see you again. A step, perhaps, towards the lurid-pictures-of-a-fry-up-joint with explanations in more languages (marked with little national flags of course) than there are dishes. Delicious, in short, is a word unlikely to apply.

On a more positive note, there's the joy of being slightly adrift in Foreign. Within reason of course: in Burma we hadn't the faintest idea how to read the script, let alone translate it, so managed either by pointing, or relying on precisely this sort of kindness.

THAT please

But a little knowledge is an entertaining thing and our Spanish is good (bad) enough that we have a fair idea of what we're ordering, but often with a zing of uncertainty.

On our honeymoon in Seville my new wife, desirous of fillet of hake, accidentally ordered "throat of hake", aka gills. She was supremely dignified about it.

On a return visit to Seville I didn't know what "choco" meant on the albondigas. Consequently, instead of meatballs, I got cuttlefishballs. Quite.

Most exciting was a tapas menu in Segovia which prompted, "That's pigs ears isn't it? Or is it eyes? I can never remember. No I'm sure it's ears. Shall we try?" Turned out it was ears, though to be honest eyes may have been a mercy, and while I may never ever order it again, I've rarely anticipated a dish quite so keenly.

Anyway, we felt bad about spurning the Carlos V so went back, insisting on the Spanish menu. And, with the inevitability of Greek gods punishing hubris, utterly failed.

The starter of scrambled eggs, asparagus (again) and jamon was remarkably expensive but I thought, "to hell with it - it must be really amazingly amazing at that price" and ordered it anyway. I may possibly have been drinking.

Completely unrelated, random image

Mrs R chose a much cheaper starter of local sausage. These, I thought, followed by a sharing plate of various roast meats between us. All good.

My revueltos, when it came, was ENORMOUS. Since madame was still waiting on her sausage I begged her to help, which is just as well. The eggs, of course, were meant for two: something I'd totally failed to notice. Mim never had a starter.

My starter? All for me? Really?

The staff had concluded (reasonably enough) that she was having a small main course and (equally reasonably) that the sharing dish of meats - which I'd also failed to notice had the very same sausage as her "starter" - was entirely for the fat bastard sat opposite.

So while Madame made do with three forks of egg and a sausage, I essentially ate for four.

I did my best to fight through roughly eight eggs (plus asparagus, plus ham), a black pudding, a chorizo, a bratwurst-type thing, and four slabs of meat that - due to shame and vino - I will never properly identify. Oh, and a potato.

Surely there must be some mistake

Naturally I failed and did the only thing an Englishman can do in such circumstances: I tried to hide the meat under my cutlery, and left an enormous tip.

"But surely," I sense you thinking, "all this just shows you should get the English menu." Well really, where's the fun in that?

All images (c) PP Gettins

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Tales of Caceres: El Pato

By: Mr Robot

Leaving Old Caceres on the western side, one passes through the Puerta de Estrella, gleefully translated by nerds everywhere as The Stargate.

Stepping through with an appropriate vwooosh sound, the childish traveller finds himself in Plaza Mayor: a fine colonnaded square (ok, rectangle) and the site of numerous restaurants that are probably the most tourist-trappy you'll find in the city, but also often crammed with locals so can't be that bad.

Plaza Mayor, Cacares. Not shot through The Stargate because physics

Thus we reasoned anyway, and resolved to try a few.

We originally headed towards a roasting house but were pounced on by a waitress seeking to drag us in (worrying sign) and who proudly held out a menu in (gasp!) English.

At this point Mrs R gently wigged out and we scurried next door: she has a morbid fear of translated menus believing them to be a step down the slippery slope that ends in El Breakfast Ingles.

Next door turns out to be El Pato (The Duck - no idea why) where we're greeted by a genial silver-haired gent and presented with, um, a translated menu. Oh well.

El Pato

We'd already sampled El Pato a day or two earlier when we'd spent some happy time propping up the bar and been pleased with both beer and tapas, so we cast aside any concerns and set to.

Tapas of light, soft cheese and paprika. Free with beer.

In any case, we were already seated and far too English to run away a second time.

The light of my life opted to start with Migas: fried breadcrumbs normally made using just a very little meat and veg for flavour rather than substance. It's quite a favourite here - no surprise since it's a humble dish of the rural poor and Extremadura, like much of central Spain, is a pretty humble rural area.

A fried slice by any other name...

She deemed it very tasty, though the salt pork they'd used was both a tad salty (duh) and served in whacking great chunks with unrendered fat that was just the wrong side of grim. Still, trimming that off was no great burden.

I went for revueltos: scrambled eggs. Quite how we came to lose our respect for scrambled eggs is beyond me, but the Spanish still revere them and have taught me to do the same so I get them at every opportunity. You will rarely go wrong, I submit, in any Spanish eatery that offers more than three varieties of revueltos.

Revueltos con Trigueros y Setas, or, Eggs a la Smelly Wee

These came with mushrooms and tiny but intense asparagus stalks, and were delicious. If anything there was a little too much asparagus but that is such a petulant complaint I won't demean myself to make it.

From there Mrs R went for rabbit stew and I believe enjoyed it greatly, but honestly I can't tell you anything more because I had this to contend with:

Cochinillo - roasted fat piglet

Yes, a whole leg of roast suckling pig, and it was immense - in every sense of the word.

Skin so crisp it was practically brulee and meat so soft it was, well ok, not creme but you get my drift. Simply served with fries and a comedy salad of half an iceberg and five quarters of tomato. But frankly with that pig headlining, who gives a damn about the support acts?

Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside . . .

It shames me to say we declined puddings. Instead, as clouds started to roll in over the square (ok, rectangle) we girded our tums and waddled off to a much-needed siesta. I doubt El Pato will ever be accused of Fine Dining, but there's some mighty fine lunching to be had.

All images (c) PP Gettins

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Hot dog supper

By: Mrs Robot

We're back from munching our way around Caceres in Spain, and we have a load of delicious things to talk about and photos to share with you. However, all that travelling gets tiring and the Mr is still editing pictures. After so much good eating, sometimes all you really want is fast food.

I love fast food - the good sort, not rubbish chickenesque nuggets or miserable floppy pizza. In its way, that's what tapas is, good fast food. Last night we nipped to one of our locals, the Rose and Crown in Trowbridge, for tea. They've got a good menu, including some excellent burgers, and it's recently been revamped. Now it includes a 'Posh Hot Dog'. Mmm, hot dog. I couldn't resist - so here it is, in all its glory, with Mr Robot's steak visible in the background.  (It's a big steak, but the extreme angle makes his dinner look much smaller than mine.)

For just under £7 I got a large hotdog in what seems to be a brioche roll, though it's not as buttery as I'd expect, topped with mustard and ketchup. Delicious! The sausage was larger than most hotdogs, and had a good texture. Plus I had cheese on mine because I'm greedy like that. There were so many chips I struggled to get through them all. The home-made red cabbage coleslaw and the chopped peppers and tomato on top of the lettuce were all pleasingly crunchy and fresh, and really lifted the whole thing - it might've been a bit heavy without them. I'd definitely order it again.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Remembering Thadingyut

By: Mr Robot 

Thadingyut: the festival of light at the October full moon.

M-O-O-N spells Thadingyut
We were in Maymyo (now Pyin Oo Lwin) last time around, digging into Mrs R's heritage, and it was a wonderful experience.

We walked around the town as the sun set, and areas that were unprepossessing by day - and any other time - became magical this night. There were streets of wooden houses surrounded by irrigation ditches, with little wooden bridges across and balustrades around - all lined with dozens and dozens of candles.  Clearly there was precious little in the way of plumbing or electricity. It was dreadfully picturesque. Yet small children excitedly ran out to greet us, and everyone was smiles and goodwill.

It's the closest thing to a Dickens Christmas I've ever seen.

From our hotel. We bought our own candle elephant to remember this night

Amazing to think that was a year ago, but the moon says it must be. So we decided to mark this Thadingyut in our own small way, with some Burmese food and, of course, candles.

Since it's a 3-day festival we've had a couple of nights to play (sadly the third night - the big celebration - is logistically compromised) and turned as ever to MiMi Aye.

For the first night we returned to one of the first Burmese dishes we made: Mogok pork curry. This is a deep, dark, savoury dish, rich with soy and ginger, and soft, sticky pig. It's extremely simple to make and demands only the patience to let it simmer for an hour or so.

We're never entirely sure how runny to make it: it starts off very liquid - intuitively, too liquid - but I suspect my love of massively intense reductions pushes me a bit too far. Certainly all the curries we had in Burma were quite saucy (ooh!), no doubt to spread flavour across the customary ton or two of rice.

Mogok Pork Curry

Mind you, we hardly pretend to great authenticity but merely fudge our way through as best (and respectfully) we can. It's always jolly good anyway.

For the second night we picked up the first of MiMi's recipes we ever saw (Mrs R found it - big up her), and one of the funniest pieces of food writing I've ever read. Honestly - it's right up there with Jerome K Jerome's pineapple tin. Note, however, that this is probably not the moment to get the children involved in the kitchen.

Anyway, once you've got past the evisceration scene, there's the recipe for Gahlar-thar Hin, or Bachelors' Curry: a chicken dish presumably so called because the chances of a snog afterwards are exactly zero. It's VERY garlicky.

Actually that's unfair because I did a big fail: the recipe calls for a shed-load of garlic, onion, tomato, chilli etc to be blitzed into a paste and then cooked off. Guess who got impatient and, therefore, a load of raw garlic...

Bachelors' Curry. Enjoy it - it's the only hot chick you'll get tonight

So if you make this - and I urge you to - be sure to give it a good long time to cook the paste through properly. I mean, there's a lot of paste there. A LOT. It'll take longer than you (or at least I) think.

Happily I was making it a day ahead so was able to give it a good long time to cook most of that rawness out, and let the whole thing mature overnight to boot. This is, as MiMi says, quite a soupy dish with "rice swimming in rich gravy" which turns out to be an excellent idea. It's unusually spicy for Burmese food (in my tiny experience), not bonkers but with a decent hit, and extremely satisfying.

Oh, and if you have a stinking cold ignore all the cooking out stuff and keep the garlic nice and punchy: clears the tubes out a treat.

Happy Thadingyut everybody.

All images (c) PP Gettins

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Pig Guide relaunches

We love party food!
By: Mrs Robot

On Monday we went to a party for The Pig Guide, the independent guide to all things foodie in Bath, which has got new funding and expanded what it does. There are all sorts of guides to Bath, but this is the best if you're visiting the city and want to find somewhere to eat, or you're a local and want to keep up with what supper clubs and events are happening. To be honest, we got invited as the result of a conversation the day before and felt very lucky and a little fraudulent as we only have a little blog! But it was a chance for two greedy people to get more of a feel for the city's food scene, and perhaps discover new and interesting places to eat, so we jumped at the chance.

The party was held at Gascoyne Place - if you don't know Bath, head for the theatre and you can't miss it. I had an excellent Christmas meal there with work one year, and the wine and canapés at the party on Monday were very good too. Among the people we met were Noya from Noya's Kitchen (a couple of Mr Robot's workmates have been to Noya's cookery classes and loved them, and we're hoping to visit her supper club at some point though she's already booked up well into 2015), Kev and Maya from Java Coffee House (VERY good cake there!) and a lady from StreetSmart, a charity that uses donations from restaurant diners to raise money for homeless people.

We'd both been a bit poorly so couldn't stay very long, hence the lack of photos of people, but we had a lovely time. Thanks to Melissa and Mike for inviting us!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Wright Brothers, Spitalfields, London

One of the restaurant's two entrances.
By: Mrs Robot

London, where the streets are paved with gold!

Or rather, London, where the streets are lined with restaurants and I never have the slightest idea which ones are going to be good and which bad. Luckily, when I went to the Big Smoke on Wednesday for the press preview of the British Library's 'Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination' exhibition (full review on Crinoline Robot) I was meeting Mi Mi Aye for lunch, and she picked the restaurant. I'd anticipated a trip to City Caphe but she suggested Wright Brothers - somewhere I'd probably never venture in on my own. I accepted.

Now, I have a love/hate relationship with seafood. I'm not a fan of massively fishy flavours. In fact, after broccoli cooked in a sauce that was roughly 50% chillies and 50% catbreath in Burma, I couldn't bear anything fishy for days, which was a bit of a sod in a country that uses fish sauce as a basic condiment. However, I do like sushi and sea fish, and figured if I was going to go to a fish restaurant, it might as well be in the company of someone who really knows their fish. Plus, if you never try anything new you'll be eating baby food for your whole life, and there'll be enough time for that when I'm 103 and toothless.

My first impressions were that the restaurant - we met at the Spitalfields branch - felt really welcoming. Probably because it had a bar, and that's always a good start where Mr Robot and I are concerned. In fact, the whole place, with its wooden floor, wide marble bar, brick floors and cool atmosphere, had a pleasingly informal, publike feel, though most pubs don't have tanks full of lobsters and crabs swimming around.

Mi Mi's fish platter - lots of whelks and cockles as well as oysters.

Mi Mi and I decided to eat at the bar, perched on leather-topped stools. You could have different sorts of dishes - giant seafood platters, portions of individual types of seafood, smaller plates, and things from the specials board. It's a great way of doing things as fish can be expensive, and this way if a group of people goes everyone can find something to suit their budget.

Fried baby squid, brown shrimp and prawns.
Mi Mi made up her own seafood platter as she likes oysters. I opted for one dish with fried baby squid, prawns and brown shrimps, and one of mojama. I always love the puntillitas (baby squid) when we have it in Spain, so it was a treat to get it over here, and I'd never tried brown shrimps or mojama but had always wanted to. To be honest I wasn't taken with the texture of the shrimps, which you eat shell and all, though I'd known that might be a problem for me when I ordered them. When you order something completely new, there's always a risk it might not be quite to your taste. Certainly they seemed extremely fresh and were beautifully cooked. Dipped in the garlic mayonnaise, they were jolly tasty, and I ate the lot anyway. The squidlets and prawns disappeared fairly rapidly too...

Mojama - Spanish air-dried tuna. Tuna ham, if you like

The mojama was lovely, not too soft or too chewy, and perfectly complimented by tomato, caperberries and flat-leaf parsley.

There was a really nice pudding selection, but both of us opted to have stichelton cheese and grapes instead. I am a fiend for cheese, and it was really good, with plenty of blue and a good, earthy rind.

I really enjoyed my trip to Wright Brothers. It's not the sort of place I'd have chosen, and it can be refreshing to step away from the norm and try something very different. I'd go there again, but I'd probably keep it as a lunchtime place. It'd be perfect on a hot summer day. I don't really appreciate seafood enough to luxuriate over a costly seafood platter on an evening out, though if shellfish and finnyfish are your thing, you'd probably adore it.