Tasty Scandinavian fare at Aster

I love that you feel you can travel the world while living in London – well in a foodie sort of way you can. My last restaurant story was about Portuguese food and today we’re heading into Scandinavia. The food of Aster is a mix of Executive Chef Helena Puolakka’s Nordic heritage and her French training.

The Nordic countries comprise Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Denmark – and would you believe I’ve been to four of them! Norway is the only one currently unvisited. And I have eaten fabulous food in all of these countries – most notably Denmark and Iceland recently – so I was very keen to visit Aster. In addition, my lunch companion was to be Amanda, who I travelled to Sri Lanka with last year, and whose parents are both Nordic. Love starting with a bit of inside knowledge.

Aster has a restaurant, cafe and deli and we chose to eat in the downstairs cafe. Because I preferred the look of the menu. It’s in a shiny new building right near Victoria Station. I’m amazed at how many of those there are these days, another part of London that’s been transformed. There’s a warm welcome and a stylish, modern interior and a very exciting menu to ponder.

After much deliberation we decided to go the Smorgasbord route (now there’s a good word…smorgasbord)! Not an easy decision with all the fabulous fish and meat dishes on offer.  Like wild reindeer sausages, venison pie, hot smoked plaice, arctic char and baltic fish pie. But smorgasbord it was and what a great move that turned out to be.

What’s on the menu

From the Jar section we opted for the hot smoked potted salmon and the pickles which arrived in these stylish little jars. Stylish is a word you’ll use often on any visit to Aster. There’s some beautiful food plating going on here – and it’s all kept so simple, letting the distinctive flavours shine through.

Beautiful glass bowls of pate and pickles

You really can’t go Nordic and not go herring. Luckily I’m a pretty big herring fan and even had curried herrings on my waffle for breakfast in Iceland (absolutely delicious it was, too, and I even convinced some of my fellow travellers to give it a try). Today they were done three ways with sherry, blackcurrant and dill and served with new potatoes and toasted rye bread. A totally spectacular combination of flavours – I particularly loved the blackberry marinated ones.

Herring three ways with dill potatoes and rye bread

From the top of the Smorgasbord menu we chose two dishes. This luscious sliced pork belly which was served with apple and mustard butter on more rye. The richness of the pork matched so brilliantly with the tart apple, spicy mustard and earthy bread.

The most succulent of belly pork

And then there was this colourful plate of mushroom and potato ‘hash’ served with lingonberries. The berries added a lovely tartness to a warming dish – they are a distant cousin to cranberries, smaller and juicer, and are a wild fruit native to the Northern hemisphere and abundant in Scandinavia.

Our final choice came from the Meat section and was this beautifully soft and salty salami flavoured with a bit of fennel. Fennel salami gets me every time, and this was right up there as one of the best I’ve tried.

Delicately flavoured fennel salami

Amanda’s local knowledge also came in useful when it came to the liquor! Hence she recommended that we order a glass of aquavit each. It’s a Scandinavian liquor (obviously) that gets its distinctive flavours from the spices and herbs used. The main ones should be caraway or dill. Aquavit is not for the faint-hearted with its 40% alcohol by volume – and I absolutely loved it. Served chilled in these stunning little glasses it certainly added to the whole Nordic experience. Most of all, I can definitely visualise more aquavit passing my lips.

Plenty of pale liquor to keep us going!

Today’s price point

And finally, the money.

Aster is very reasonably priced with our six dishes from the Smorgasbord today costing us £31.50. It was plenty of food for two people.

If you eat off the a la carte menu a starter is going to cost you between £4.50 and £9.00.

Mains are between £11.50 and £22.00.

Aster is at 150 Victoria Street, Westminster, London SW1.

They also do a fabulous-looking Nordic Afternoon Tea available from 3pm to 5.30pm for just £15 per person.

The taste of Portugal at Bar Douro

Time for some authentic Portuguese dishes at Bar Douro.

I’m having a bit of an exciting time discovering newly created parts of London! Sounds strange, but this City is constantly evolving and today when I walked from Waterloo Station in search of Flat Iron Square everything looked totally different from when I worked in the area a few years back. New buildings had popped up, old ones been demolished, whole streets were closed to construction work…let’s just say I ended up getting a little lost, it was like a brand new world!

Anyway, after some interesting meandering I arrived at the New Flat Iron Square. Wow! There’s a range of food stalls, bars, restaurants all nestling under the arches. The delicious aromas would have been enough to guide me there if I had really got completely lost. Today’s destination is Bar Douro where owner Max Graham has transported local culinary secrets from Portugal and matched them with a carefully chosen Portuguese wine list. He and his family have been making wine and port for two centuries in the Douro Valley (hence the name, I guess). I have spent very little time in Portugal (should do something about that really) so was delighted to learn more.

Bring on the Portuguese flavours

The menu’s all about sharing and there’s a mix of snacks and small plates. Patanisca de Bacalhau – salt cod fritters – were light and fluffy with a perfect crunch and just enough fishy flavour.

Tender salt cod fritters with their spicy dip

Gambas a giulho – garlic prawns came with heads and tails on but deshelled for easy munching. Beautifully luscious, this simple dish is one of my favourites. Love this plate too – that blue and white combo totally does it for me.

Bar Douro: garlic prawns

Tasty garlicky prawns to savour

The croquettes de Alheira – croquettes of smoked Portuguese sausage were cleverly presented on this beautiful tile. Alheira is traditionally made from any meat other than pork and has that beautiful smokey intensity, here all wrapped up in a crunchy little bundle. Must find some of these sausages as I think they’d make a great ingredient for cooking with.

Bar Douro: sausage croquettes

Smokey croquettes served on more blue and white

Then from the small plates section we went for the Prego no prato Bavette steak with confit egg. An exotic sounding and looking dish that also came with vibrant spinach puree and matchstick fries. A great combo of ingredients that was sadly served a bit too cold which took something of its deliciousness away.

Bar Douro: Bavette steak

Steak, egg and chips Portuguese style?

We sat at the stylish marble counter (something I seem to be doing a lot of these days), so could watch the chef’s preparations while we sipped on some delicious Portuguese rose.

Bar Douoro: rose wine

A touch of Portugal, with wine, in Southwark

The interior is modern and light-filled with those fabulously Portuguese blues and whites.

Bar Douro: the view

Looking down the counter

Bar Douro: outside

Look for the Bar Douro Sign on the wall and you’ve arrived

As I said there’s a world of food choices outside, too, and plenty of seating space. Perfect for a chilled summer lunch in the sun. I particularly like the look (and aromas) of this Vietnamese food truck.

Bar Douro: what's outside

Vietnamese offerings from the van outside

Today’s price point

And finally, we paid £33 for our four dishes. Wines start from £23 a bottle.

Bar Douro is at Arch 35B, Flat Iron Square, London SE1 1TD

Cape Malay dishes at Jonkershuis in Constantia

Today we’re having a family lunch at Jonkershuis, in Cape Town’s Constantia valley. Jonkershuis is set overlooking vineyards and mountains with a beautiful outdoor area reminiscent of the boulevards of France. There’s also a lovely indoor courtyard which is the perfect sun trap and offers protection on a windy Cape Town day.

The menu offers something for everyone, with a range of tasty salads and a fish, pork, beef and venison selection. And Cape Malay dishes – which for me has got to be the way to go every time.

Cape Malay cuisine is a fusion of South African and Asian influences. When the Dutch colonised the Cape in the 1600s and 1700s, they brought people from the East to work as slaves. They came mainly from Indonesia which was a Dutch colony for several centuries.

Cape Town’s attractively colourful Cape Malay Quarter is on the slopes of Signal Hill and called the Bo-Kaap. Worth a visit if you’re in town.

Adaptations of traditional Cape Malay dishes like bredie, bobotie, sosaties and koeksisters are now staples in many South African homes – in fact I’ve even made my own versions. You can find my recipe for bobotie by clicking here – do try it out and let me know what you think.

You will also find European and Indian influences. The dishes are characterised by the wide use of spices, producing full-bodied flavours – though not a lot of chilli. Seafood is a big favourite (well there’s plenty around) and fish dishes are usually salted, curried or pickled. Chutneys and atchars also play a role – gotta have a good sambal selection, after all.

Today there was pickled fish on the specials board. I can’t tell you how many people pull a face when I say I love pickled fish…well, they are wrong, it’s simply delicious. Fish fillets are marinated in vinegar and spices including curry powder, turmeric, ginger and coriander with plenty of soft onions. The dish is served cold – perfect with salad – and the process produces the plumpest of fish fillets and wonderful flavours.

Pickled fish at Jonkershuis

Love a plump and juicy piece of pickled fish

Ordering dilemmas rule my restaurant-going life and today was a big one. The fabulous Estate Tasting Plate is a must-have at Jonkershuis – it’s a large offering and for me can’t be enjoyed to the full on top of a starter. And today there were two starters I wanted to sample. So a quick bit of negotiation and I got my husband to agree that I could have a taster of his Tasting Plate. As a result I can taste everything my heart desires today.

My second starter on order then. Local black mussels in spicy masala and mango cream served with coriander and a baguette. I’ve eaten a lot of mussels this summer in Cape Town and very good they’ve been too. Today’s sauce was fabulous, creamy, sweet and spicy and the beautiful baguette, as soft as cloud inside was just what I needed to mop everything up.

Mussels at Jonkershuis

Mussels in a creamy, spicy sauce

The appearance of the Estate Tasting Plate evokes order envy in everyone! First of all, the plate of what are basically your accompaniments to the main event – sultana and almond turmeric rice, oven-baked cinnamon butternut, a quick fried poppadum and an angry beef samosa.

Curry accompaniments at Jonkershuis

The plate of side dishes waiting for the curry addition

And then the meaty selection. Oven-baked bobotie, Karoo lamb curry and chicken breast curry. You see, anyone would have to be envious of this order.

Curry and bobotie at Jonkershuis

Curry and bobotie all in a row

Also there’s the selection of house sambals – sweet tomato salsa, apricot chutney and spicy vegetable atchar.

Sambals at Jonkershuis

Can’t be without a plate of tasty sambals

If you’ve never been to Jonkershuis, you really should go – and take my advice – don’t even look at the menu, just go straight for the Estate Tasting Plate – you’re gonna love it. Especially relevant if you’re seeking a good selection of Cape Malay cuisine in one hit.

Finally, I can’t leave you without today’s autocorrect challenge – my system doesn’t like sambals and keeps trying to insist I change it to samba!

Today’s price point

Starters range from R62-R98 (£3.70 to £5.80 at today’s exchange rate).

The Estate Tasting Plate is R188 (£11 at today’s exchange rate).

Jonkershuis is at Groot Constantia Wine Estate, Groot Constantia Road, Constantia, Cape Town.

 

High Tea at The Twelve Apostles in Cape Town

My birthday tea at The Twelve Apostles

I recently celebrated my birthday (I’m not going to put a number on it, they’re getting way too big for my liking!) and my sister treated me to High Tea at The Twelve Apostles Hotel in Cape Town. And what a treat it was! This beautiful five-star hotel oozes class and style, with  fabulous views looking out over the ocean and back towards Camps Bay and Lion’s Head.

There’s a set (and large) selection of food to devour, so no stress on the decision making front. Just settle in and enjoy the views and elegance that surround you. The display in the foyer greets you and our first thought was “That can’t be for two” – we were wrong, it is. Not that we managed to eat it all – let’s just say several families benefited by tucking into leftover treats. And they happily produced boxes for us to carry the extras home in.

I’ll let the pictures tell the happy story.

High Tea at The Twelve Apostles

The extravaganza on offer

High Tea at The Twelve Apostles

Cakes, macaroons and sandwiches to delight

High Tea at The Twelve Apostles

Close up on some of the sweet treats

High Tea at The Twelve Apostles

Scones, cream and jam…and chocolate treats

High Tea at The Twelve Apostles

Easter Tea at The Leopard Bar

High Tea at The Twelve Apostles

Glorious blue views and a curious seagull

High Tea at The Twelve Apostles

The lobby oozes class and is filled with beautiful South African flowers

High Tea at The Twelve Apostles

Happiness is birthday tea with your sister

The Twelve Apostles is at Victoria Road, Camps Bay, Cape Town, South Africa.

Lunch at Bistro Sixteen82 at Steenberg in Cape Town

Today we’re heading to beautiful Steenberg about half an hour’s drive from the centre of Cape Town. Steenberg claims it’s the Cape’s oldest farm – established in 1682, and who am I to argue? There’s a lot going on here. A beautiful five-star hotel, a world-class golf course and vineyards producing award-winning wines. Plus two restaurants – and we’re visiting Bistro Sixteen82 – no prizes for guessing how they chose the name.

Bistro Sixteen82 sets next to Steenberg’s winery. It’s a bright and contemporary space, surrounded by lovely gardens, a terrace and water features. And great mountain and vineyard views.

Chef Kerry Kilpin’s menu is influenced by her love of Thailand, so you’ll find a lot of Asian flavours popping up in classic dishes.

As well as an extensive menu choice there’s a board with specials chalked up and I went for the mussel special. And it was very special, beautifully plump mussels served in a creamy saffron sauce. I’m loving the Cape Town mussels, just can’t get enough of them.

Mussels at Sixteen82

Creamy, sweet mussels

One of the favourites on the menu are the tempura prawns. Served with red cabbage, coriander and peanut noodle salad, miso mayo and red chilli syrup. An irresistible combination of flavours and textures, and a pretty plate of food, too.

Tempura prawns at Sixteen82

Crunchy prawns on a bed of Asian flavours

And how’s this for an exotic dish? Curry dusted calamari is served with avo pulp, babaganoush sauce and soy syrup. They’re built up into little parcels of deliciousness.

Calamari at Sixteen82

Colourful calamari parcels

Our waitress did offer us the option of starters in main course portions, which is always a good thing. I often find that I’m more tempted by the starter selection. Having said, that, today was  hard enough to make a main course choice as it all sounded tempting.

The braised lamb neck was stuffed with herb ricotta and sultanas and served with sweet potato puree, greens and rooibos and rosemary jus. I love this mix of South African and Italian ingredients.

Lamb at Sixteen82

A tower of lamb delight

So after plenty of umming and aahing my main course choice took a sudden swerve when faced with the pressure of ordering and I went the pork belly. I’ve eaten a good selection of this delicious piggy cut in my Cape Town summer – it seems to be on most menus. Served with  smoked cauliflower puree, a fennel and apple salad and cider jus, today’s dish is right up there on my list of favourite PB’s. The meat was melt-in-the-mouth and the zestiness of the apple and fennel made for a good contrast to the richness. Also, the cider jus was light and I loved the addition of slow roasted tomatoes which weren’t even mentioned in the description. Thumbs up!

Pork belly at Sixteen82

Happiness is the ongoing pork belly tasting

The beef fillet was grilled and served on a bed of potato roost, with asparagus, pea and tomato salsa and a creamy black pepper jus. Lovely tender fillet and another great sauce. Kerry is certainly a sauce-loving type of chef as you can clearly see by these pictures. And wonderful sauces they are too.

Fillet at Sixteen82

A fillet and black pepper jus extravaganza

Our lunch today was shared with four of our lovely Cape Town friends (thanks guys for an awesome lunch). So there were plenty of dessert lovers insisting on some sweet treats. I’m aware that I often don’t order pudding because I’m not that much of a sweet eater. So today you’re lucky to be treated to what was actually the highlight of a very good meal – and that’s even for a non-dessert eater.

Like this plate of pinkness. The yogurt panna cotta was served with rose vanilla ice cream, a phyllo cigar, fresh berries and lemon curd. Now I am quite partial to a panna cotta and eaten with the rose vanilla ice cream it was simply wow.

Panna cotta at Sixteen82

Panna cotta and pinkness

And how’s this for a work of art. The salted caramel chocolate ganache was served with peanut pinwheels, vanilla cream, peanut butter ice cream and a lace biscuit. Heaven for chocolate and peanut butter lovers – I mean peanut pinwheels?! What joy.

Chocolate pud at Sixteen82

Chocolate and peanut butter flavours to savour

Pud number three is the banana cheesecake and peanut macaroon. It’s served with sesame ice cream, creme anglaise, popcorn praline and honeycomb. Seems like six desserts in one!

Banana cheesecake at Sixteen82

A bundle of beautiful sweet treats

Well, those desserts simply blew me away – it’s worth visiting just for a plate of sweet treats. Although I certainly wouldn’t be able to resist the mains – or the starters come to that. Settle in at Sixteen82 for a long three-course lunch and savour Kerry’s delicious dishes.

Oh and here’s today’s autocorrect annoyance. Steenberg being corrected to Sternberg EVERY TIME…clearly autocorrect doesn’t learn from being corrected – is there an irony in there somewhere?

Today’s price point

You will pay around R350 per person for three courses. That’s just over £20 at today’s exchange rate. All the courses are pretty substantial – making for very good value.

Bistro Sixteen82 is on the Sternberg Estate, Steenberg Road, Tokay, about half an hour from Central Cape Town.

 

Beautifully tasty lunch at Terroir at Kleine Zalze

Welcome to Terroir, Kleine Zalze

What is your favourite restaurant? A question I regularly get asked and one I find extremely difficult to answer. I don’t know how people make their judgements for all those “Best restaurants in the world” lists, it’s  a tricky business. Having said that, today we are having lunch at a restaurant that I would certainly put up there at the top of my list.

Terroir opened in October 2004 and I’ve been at least once every year since then when I visit Cape Town. It’s almost like an annual pilgrimage that I have to make. The restaurant is set on the Kleine Zalze wine estate near Stellenbosch and on a balmy summer day you sit under the shades overlooking the De Zalze Golf Course and the terraces of vineyards. Simply walking down those steps to Terroir gives me a sense of contentment – and of course anticipation for the food to come.

You’re know you’re going to eat beautifully presented plates of seasonal, modern South African cuisine and drink wonderful wine. The menu is chalked up on the board and as the waitress talks you through the dishes on offer freshly baked bread is served. And a bowl of their wonderfully smoky olives. Today we had a choice of four dishes per course.

Bread at Terroir

Freshly baked bread and wonderful smoked olives

Sweet and sour salmon with a difference

It was one of those days when the choice was made easy for me with two dishes I couldn’t wait to try. For my starter I chose this stunning seared salmon dish served with bacon, watermelon, sweet and sour sauce and kewpie mayo. An unusual mix of ingredients but one that worked beautifully. The salmon melted in my mouth, the sauce had a lovely sweet/sour balance with its crunchy watermelon and crispy bacon. Kewpie mayo is Japanese mayonnaise and considered by many to be the king of mayo – it was rich and creamy. And what beautiful colours!

Terroir salmon

The spectacularly sweet and tangy salmon

The perfect prawn risotto

The prawn risotto with Americaine sauce is Terroir’s signature dish – and has been on the menu as far back as I can remember – the only dish that remains on the ever-changing menu. I think there would be such an outcry if it was ever removed that they don’t dare to! I have friends who don’t even look at the menu but simply order prawn risotto every time. They can serve it in starter or main course portions. And yes, it does taste as good as it looks. This version of sauce Americaine (a classic French sauce) is truly spectacular, makes me want to lick the bowl clean.

Terroir prawn risotto

The ever-fabulous signature prawn risotto

Beef tartare to dream about

This is one of my favourite dishes and I’ve eaten it in many, many restaurants around the world. Terroir’s version is served with a soft quail’s egg, basil pesto, charred aubergine puree and asparagus ribbons. And a silken sauce to pour over. Such a pretty and indulgent plate of richness.

Terroir steak tartare

Compact and rich steak tartare

The flakiness of Kingklip

Today’s fresh line fish was kingklip, one of my favourite fish with it’s great firm texture and sweet flavour, It was served on a bed of spinach with chorizo, crispy pieces of squid and mild red pepper.

Terroir kingklip

Flaky, juicy kingklip with squid

Bring on the pork belly

The quest to eat pork belly in every corner of the Western Cape continues. The confit pork belly was served on a luscious pea veloute, with crushed potatoes, delicate sprout leaves and pickled onions.

Terroir pork belly

Sweet and tender pork belly

As I ordered two starters (one instead of a main, not as well as) I decided to treat myself to a truly indulgent side – truffled mac. Bubbling in this beautiful little pot, the rich earthy flavours and creaminess were wonderful.

Terroir truffled mac

Richly earthy truffled mac

Don’t try to resist the pudding

Desserts are equally beautiful like this amazingly dedication mille-feuille of apple with fennel, rose and vanilla ice cream.

Delicately delicious dessert

Terror does a good cheese board selection which several of us opted for. A lovely range beautifully presented with a basketful of crisp breads.

Cheese at Terroir

Tasty local cheese beautifully displayed

Biscuits at Terroir

Crunchy homemade biscuits

Menu at Terroir

Terroir’s blackboard of choices and the view beyond

Another great lunch at Terroir – as these stunning pictures prove that. I love that you can always depend on that. I can see I’ll be back again next year because it’s just too good to resist.

Today’s price point

Terroir is one of the more pricey restaurants in the region – but still great value, especially with the quality of the cooking.

We paid R1,100 for three courses for two people without wine. That’s about £65 at today’s exchange rate.

The wine list offers a good choice, including the estate’s own wine. Their delicious Kleine Zalze Merlot sells for R150.

Terror is at the Klein Zalze Wine Estate off the R44 between Somerset West and Stellenbosch.