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

South-East Asian tapas at Yuu Kitchen

Today we’re heading east to Yuu Kitchen in London’s Commercial Street. It’s the road that runs north to south from Shoreditch High Street to Whitechapel High Street though the East End district of Spitalfields.

Carved out of slums in the mid-19th century it was soon made notorious by Jack the Ripper and is home to The Ten Bells pub where The Ripper is thought to have partaken in a drink or two. At the other end of the spectrum you’ll find Christ Church Spitalfields, Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Baroque masterpiece.

Until pretty recently the street was mainly known for its street walkers, but that’s all changed. Now it’s emerging as a great place to eat and drink with its markets and plenty of bars, coffee bars and restaurants to choose from.

Yuu Kitchen opened late last year and serves food inspired by the flavours of South East Asia and the Pacific Rim. Some of my very favourite flavours! It’s a bright contemporary space with counter seating and walls decorated with vibrant pop art.

What’s on the menu?

The menu is divided into sections entitled: Bites, Crunch, Grill ‘n Wok, Fish and of course Bao. There’s a selection of small plates to share. We sat at the counter overlooking the happy busy-ness of the kitchen and munched on some edamame beans (Bites) while we pondered our choices.

Yuu Kitchen: edamame beans

The popping of edamame beans got us started

Some decisions are easy – I mean who can resist Bao? Described as Chinese steamed bread rolls, they can be filled with myriad stuffings. Today we tasted the special offer – Bao with baby back ribs and an Asian barbecue sauce. It’s hard to put the pleasure of eating Bao into words, the rich tastiness of the filling wrapped in a delicate cushion of deliciousness. Kind of like a really exotic sandwich – a taste and texture sensation.

Yuu Kitchen: Bao with baby back rib

The beautifully soft bao filled with baby back rib meat

Vietnamese vegetarian Ssam from the Crunch section offered a plate of spring rolls filled with corn, mushroom and noodles, wrapped in lettuce and served with herbs and a homemade sweet chilli sauce. The flavours of Vietnam exploded in my mouth, how I love this type of food.

Yuu Kitchen: Vietnamese spring rolls

The crunch of spring rolls with herbs, lettuce and chilli

Tuna tataki is one of my absolute favourite dishes. Today’s offering of seared, succulent sashimi-style tuna was served with pickled radish, spring onion and spicy mayonnaise – oh and pomegranate seeds to make it look even prettier. The best way to eat tuna – melt-in-the-mouth tasty.

Yuu Kitchen: Tuna tataki

Beautifully seared tuna with a delicate Asian dressing

Time for Bao number two –  soy and buttermilk crispy chicken served with carolina reaper chilli sauce and daikon pickle. Piping hot chicken in a crispy batter with a wonderful chilli bite from the sauce. I could eat a plate of these.

Yuu Kitchen: Chicken Bao

The best chicken sandwich ever? Very likely

Heading for the Grill ‘n Wok section we had to try the BBQ octopus as we’d seen the chef preparing several portions in front of us and it looked too good to resist. Braised with Sake, mirin and soya and served with a ginger and garlic sauce it was beautifully tender and absorbed the flavours perfectly.

Yuu Kitchen: BBQ octopus

Tender octopus in a lovely gingery garlic sauce

And now for dessert and time to dive into another Bao offering. This time the little beauty was deep fried and served with your choice of ice cream. We went for pistachio. A dessert to dream of with its mix of hot and cold, soft and crunchy, creamy and nutty. And doesn’t it look good!

Yuu Kitchen: Ice cream Bao

For dessert – an ice cream sandwich – so delicious

Yuu Kitchen: Interior

The modern funky look that is Yuu Kitchen

Today’s price point

Our lunch cost £53 including two glasses of wine. It was a feast of food for two.

There is a selection of beer, wine and sake on offer.

Yuu Kitchen is at 29 Commercial Street, London E1. Aldgate East is the closest tube station.

 

Square Meal

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.

 

Chilled-out alfresco lunch at Avontuur

Today I’m continuing on my quest to explore the restaurants of the Winelands around Somerset West. We’re visiting beautiful Avontuur for a spontaneous light lunch. Nothing wrong with that.

Avontuur has a sweeping drive that leads up between two fields enclosed by white picket fences and home to families of horses. In fact, as well as for its wine, it’s known as a thoroughbred stud farm – and is home to about a hundred horses. We saw three mothers with their foals in the field just in front of the restaurant. A beautiful sight. The horse/wine combination seems popular – read about our visit to Cavalli by clicking here.

Avontuur has a lovely verandah/terrace area set out with tables looking out across the fields and vines towards Table Mountain. Beautiful, dappled light shades the tables and we were soon settled and perusing the menu. There’s a good choice of salads, fish and meat dishes – today we were tempted by the specials.

First up, mussels in a Thai-style sauce. Simply a match made in heaven. The mussels were amazingly succulent and sweet paired beautifully with the creamiest of Asian sauces. One of those dishes where I wanted to lick the bowl. So yummy!

Lunch at Avontuur

Plump, juicy mussels in a delightful Thai sauce

The hake was served with a crunchy crust on a coconut sauce. South African hake is delicious and the flavours and textures of this lovely tower were delightful.

Lunch at Avontuur

The freshest of hake with a tower of goodies

Lunch at Avontuur

A peaceful scene in green and white

And here’s another lovely sight – the horses and their foals happy in the field in front of the restaurant.

Avontuur exudes serenity with its welcoming service, great seasonal food and sweeping views. It seems like time spent on their terrace is good for the soul…

Lunch at Avontuur

Horses are part of the view at Avontuur

Lunch at Avontuur

The perfect alfresco dining scene

Lunch at Avontuur

Views across greens and blues towards Table Mountain

Today’s price point

Lunch for two (one course each) with a bottle of wine cost R44o (about £28 at today’s exchange rate), including a tip.

Avontuur is just off the R44 between Somerset West and Stellenbosch.

Wonderfully exciting food at The Restaurant at Waterkloof

Today we’re heading back to the Somerset West area and climbing to the top of another hill to The Restaurant at Waterkloof. It’s rated the third best restaurant in South Africa in the 2016 Eat Out Mercedes Benz Restaurant Awards – behind The Test Kitchen and La Colombe in Cape Town. I had already been to both of these and had heard very mixed opinion of Waterkloof so was looking forward to making the comparison for myself.

The Restaurant is housed in a modern building with floor to ceiling glass and sensational views of False Bay and across the vines to the Hottentots Holland mountains. It’s cleverly designed with a huge glass box jutting out to make the most of these views – you need to be enclosed as the wind really howls up here. So don’t come expecting an al fresco meal.

The interior is modern and stylish with a circular fireplace central to the tasting area and the restaurant alongside. All open plan with light flooding in.

You can choose from the two or three-course a la carte menu or the tasting menu (with or without wine pairing). Bear in mind that whatever you choose you’re going to get more than you’re expecting as there are several delightful surprises along the way. We opted for two courses which in reality meant five with the extras.

Like this bread and butter extravaganza. Three rolls and five different types of butter to get you started – including smoked aioli, mustard butter, chive butter, garlic butter and plain butter. Never has this humble dish been more delicious or more beautifully presented.

Five types of butter at Waterkloof

An extravaganza of butter

The bread is delicious at Waterkloof

A selection of warm rolls

And then our next surprise – the amuse bouche. A mini Springbok tartare topped with with salmon cream, miso jelly and pickled seeds. A totally scrumptious combination of flavours and textures.

The amuse bouche at Waterkloof

A delightful mini springbok tartare

We ordered a bottle of Waterkloof’s Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc and (unusually for white) it was decanted and balanced in a bowl of crushed ice. Quite a charming touch, I thought – and doesn’t it look lovely. You can see the tasting area and the open kitchen in the background.

The wine decanter at Waterkloof

The wine nestles in a bed of ice

My starter of asparagus done several ways was served with an amazingly creamy parmesan mousse. What a beautiful plate of food and the delicate flavours blew me away. A truly wonderful dish for asparagus lovers like me.

Asparagus four ways at Waterkloof

A feast of asparagus

The plump scallop was served with an rich and earthy porcini mousse, that melted its bursting flavours into the mouth. Two outstanding starters.

The scallop starter at Waterkloof

A plump scallop and earthy porcini mousse

The attention to detail on each dish is incredible and you can see the effort going into every plate in the open kitchen.

The chefs in the kitchen at Waterkloof

Some serious kitchen concentration

The Mauritius sea bass came with confit leek, Saldanha mussels and cape gooseberries. The fish was sweet and perfectly cooked and balanced well with the sharpness of the gooseberries. And who’d have thought of doing confit leeks? A truly ingenious idea.

The sea bass at Waterkloof

Sweet sea bass with fresh fruit and veg

And how’s this for another masterpiece of plating? The Joostenberg Vlakte duck breast was served with saffron apples and glazed turnips. Beautifully flavoursome and tender duck matched well with the slight sweetness of the apples and turnips – and the saffron influence came through strongly. Seriously want to know how to make saffron apples, they were so perfectly infused with one of my favourite spices.

So that was the end of our two-course choice. And it was fabulous. Important for me to point out that portions are on the small side at Waterkloof so if you’re expecting large plates of food you’re going to be disappointed. Personally I like eating lighter and with the extras this was plenty enough for lunch for me.

In fact we decided against dessert as we were full. But then the selection of petit fours was delivered to our table – well, I think I’d describe them as pudding actually. This beautiful purple creation was delivered in a mini bell jar – the lightest of pastries filled with a blackcurrant mousse and topped with a blackcurrant macaron. Everything melted in my mouth with a zing of flavours.

Blackcurrant dessert at Waterkloof

A bell jar of deliciousness

There were also delicate chocolate toffee straws and little lollies of mint and coconut ice cream encased in white chocolate to pop into your mouth. Stunning.

So now I’ve been to South Africa’s top-three (on one list anyway) and I’d put Waterkloof first of the three of them. A thoroughly wonderful and exciting foodie experience.

Fruity little ice creams and chocolatey coffee delight

Wine tasting at Waterkloof

The contemporary fire is the focal point of the wine tasting area

The view from Waterkloof

The fabulous vineyard and mountain views

And here’s the glass box that juts out of the side of the building making the most of the sea views.

The sea views at Waterkloof

Clever design to make the most of the view

Today’s price point

Two courses from the a la carte menu cost R420 (£26 at today’s exchange rate). Of course you got all the extras included for this.

The bottle of Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc cost R190 (£12 at today’s exchange rate).

It’s really good value for great fine dining.

The Restaurant at Waterkloof is at Sir Lowry’s Pass Road, Somerset West.

Lunching at Idiom in the Cape Winelands

Today we’re travelling into the Winelands outside Somerset West, way off the beaten track on a long and winding road to the top of a hill. Yes it did feel like something of a voyage into the unknown. As you can probably gather from the length of that sentence.

Idiom is run by the Bottega family who take great pride in their Italian/South African heritage. As a result Italian varietals are part of the wine portfolio, bringing the spirit of Italy to South Africa. The restaurant opened in June 2016, so it’s a new addition to the ever-growing Winelands collection.

Italian/South African fusion

You won’t be surprised to hear that the menu also has a real Italian flavour to it. And a good helping of South African influences. I particularly loved my starter which was a South Africanised version of one of my all-time favourite dishes, vitello tonnato. Usually it’s a dish of cold, sliced veal that’s covered with a creamy mayonnaise-like sauce that has been flavoured with tuna (normally tinned tuna). Sounds like a weird combination, but believe me it’s spectacular.

Today’s version substituted ostrich for the veal. I’m not a big fan of ostrich but was so intrigued by the creativity of the dish I had to order it. The sauce was made with tasty chunks of fresh tuna and the ostrich was some of the best I’ve ever had. It was tender, perfectly cooked and amazingly tasty. What a great start!

South African vitello tonnato in the Winelands

A classic dish with a truly South African twist

The porcini mushroom ravioli was packed with rich, earthy flavours and the home-made pasta was fresh and perfectly cooked.

Italian dishes at Idiom in the Winelands

Little ravioli parcels of mushroom delight

For mains I had beautiful little lamb cutlets, served alongside a mini bobotie (a South African dish of spiced mince meat baked with a custardy egg topping) and a lovely vegetable selection in orange and green – smooth and sweet butternut puree, cinnamon apples, crunchy sugarsnap peas, tender broccoli and pea shoots.

A delectable plate of lamb at Idiom in the Winelands

Lamb chops with a perfect vegetable selection

The pork belly came in piles of graded size – large, medium, small, with crunchy curls of crackling, buttery mash and candied apples.

Pork belly rocks in the Cape Winelands

Tender pork belly with towering crackling curls

The food at Idiom is really good – a clever mix of South Africa and Italy, packed with good flavours and combinations and beautifully presented. And the setting is truly spectacular with far-reaching views from on high across Gordon’s Bay and the sea. The Tuscan-style building and stonework also add an Italian feel to the surrounds.

Unfortunately the service leaves something to be desired. It was hard to catch anyone’s attention and people were slow to respond. Also, our plates weren’t cleared before the next course arrived and we moved them ourselves so the waitress could put our starters down. She walked off and left us sitting there holding our dirty plates until we asked her to take them. Generally the attitude was also unenthusiastic and lacklustre. A shame as it put something of a downer on the whole experience.

A taste of Italy at Idiom in the Cape Winelands

The Tuscan-style restaurant on high with sea views

The grounds at Idiom in the Winelands are an outdoor art gallery

A stunning statue and landscape

These beautiful heads welcome you at the entrance and are the masterpieces of contemporary South African artist and sculptor, Lionel Smit.

Lionel Smit in the Winelands

The stunning sculpture takes in the view

Malay Girls head by Lionel Smit in the Winelands

And here she is from the front

The beautiful setting at Idiom in the Winelands

Stone steps lead up to the restaurant

The vines include a lot of Italian varietals at Idiom

Even the view on the way out is worth a snap

Today’s price point

Our two-course lunch for two, including wine cost R640. That’s about £40 at today’s exchange rate.

Their Bianco (Pinot Grigot) is delicious and costs R100 (£6).

The red Italian varietals were on the expensive side.

A case of limited edition Nebbiolo (6 bottles) goes for R2,700 (£167).

Idiom is at Sir Lowry’s Pass, Somerset West.

Do you have a favourite restaurant in the Cape Winelands? I’d love to hear about it – I’m always looking for new places to try.