January 31, 2012

Greece - Part 4: Athens

Returning to Greece again after reminiscing about those tasty kebaps, this post features Athens, an interesting city full of historic sights, nestled amongst the different neighbourhoods of the capital.  Two great areas away from the main tourist spots are Psirri and Gazi.  Psirri is an old neighbourhood where small, winding streets are filled with bars and restaurants, many playing live music.  It's where the locals, both young and old, come out to enjoy the nightlife.  We had drinks at one of the relaxed bars before dinner at Oineas with it's welcoming and interesting decor. The food here was simple but enjoyable and service was friendly which we found just about everywhere in Greece.

Further west from Psirri is Gazi, the area named for the old gas works that it surrounds.  Gazi is very trendy and modern which attracts younger groups.  We enjoyed the many new restaurants and bars all in one concentrated square which made it easy for checking out.  Dinner at Mamacas was nice as the restaurant was so pretty and comfortable and the food simple but fresh.  What I liked most were the bars, especially the Hoxton Bar which served good cocktails in a cool but relaxed environment - oh and they serve popcorn as a free bar snack!  Prior to cocktails at the Hoxton, we had splashed out on a cocktail at the Galaxy Bar in the Hilton after reading about the great views over the city.  But for the price and atmosphere, I preferred my cocktail and popcorn at the Hoxton and highly recommend the lively area if you want to have lots of options without going too far.

Mamacas -  Oineas - The Hoxton Bar

During the day, I also recommend the streets around Thissio Park, en route to many of the tourist sights of Athens.  Here you can find many bars and cafes serving more of those excellent ice frappes.  My pick would be Moma, followed closely by Gallery Cafe, both on Adrianou.  
Make the most of the best iced coffees in Europe

Meat lovers will love Greece

But back to the food and you can expect to find a lot of meat in Greece. At both Oineas and Mamacas, Dave and I were faced with unlimited meat choices but not much else.  It was nice and tasty but nothing amazing.  For something more special but not over the top, we we recommend Strofi, a restaurant with a great view of the Acropolis.  

Strofi is a little more upmarket but service is still friendly and the place has a nice relaxed feel to it, especially on the terrace looking up to the Acropolis.  We had our best Athens dinner here with starters of moussaka (we couldn't get enough of the real deal here) and some zucchini fritters.  For mains I had a simple, fresh grilled fish whilst Dave had lamb baked in a bag with potatoes.  Greeks really know what they're doing with lamb, fish and vegetables so all of it was a winner.  And yes, we couldn't go past our favourite Greek red, the Katogi.

Dinner on the terrace at Strofi overlooking the Acropolis
If these places and the kebaps  haven't sparked your interest to visit Athens or Greece, then stay tuned for the final part of the Greece series which features the last, but best meal of our Greece holiday.  

What:  Restaurants, bars and cafes of Athens
Where:  Oineas (Esopou 9, Psirri Square), Mamacas (Περσεφόνης 41, Gazi), Hoxton Bar (42 Voutadon Street, Gazi), Galaxy Bar (The Hilton, 46 Vassilissis Sofias Avenue), Moma and Gallery Cafe (Adrianou 49 and 33) and Strofi (Rovertou Galli 25)
How much:  Various but food is generally good value

January 23, 2012

Jack Snacks!... Mango Glutinous Dumplings

It's already the middle of summer and I had nearly forgotten about the tasty Mango Glutinous Dumplings from Sweeties Paradise. From memory I think last year's ones were slightly better but I still gobbled these down with much glee. Biting through the dessicated coconut and glutinous dumpling yields a fresh piece of mango - yum!

Mango is the wonderful taste of summer!

What: Mango Glutinous Dumplings
Where: Sweeties Paradise, 45 Dixon Street, Haymarket
How much: $5 for 3

January 17, 2012

Greece - Part 3: Kebap Heaven

Although there are so many places to blog about including the endless list of amazing food experiences in Japan, I can't help but keep returning to Greece and whenever I do, the kebaps from Thanassis pop into my head.  They were so good, Dave and I had it twice during our 3 days in Athens!

Famous for their kebaps on pita with grilled tomatoes, Thanassis is a vibrant souvlaki restaurant near Monastiraki where you can sit down for the famous grilled meats plated up along with some Greek salad and a beer.  Alternatively, you can grab a kebap to go from the takeaway part of the restaurant which we did on our second visit and had no regrets.  You could order the kebap rolls with chips as an optional filling - what a combination that I'm sure Jack would love it!.  And what amazing value at only €1.90 a roll!

Kebap on a plate - grilling the meat, tomatoes & bread - kebap to go

Obviously as we were in Greece, there were plenty of choices for souvlaki, but Thanassis is popular among locals and tourists and with a constant flow of patrons, it means that the food is fresh and hasn't been sitting there for ages.  

No trip to Greece is complete without a kebap - I think it's unavoidable in this country.  But I would say no trip to Athens is complete without a visit to Thanassis.

What:  The best kebaps ever at Thanassis
Where:  Mitropoleos 67, Monastiraki Square, Athens, Greece
How much:  €1.90 for a takeaway kebap (guys will probably need more than one for lunch),  plates from €6 (from memory)

January 11, 2012

Jack Jap-Snacks!... Royce' Nama Chocolate

Last year a friend brought back some Royce' Nama Chocolate from Singapore, Maccha flavour no less, so it goes without saying I liked it very much! I made a mental note to get some when I was in Japan but, as anyone who's ever been there would agree, when you're actually in Japan there are just sooooo many different things to eat that you're constantly distracted with something new.

So it wasn't until we were at Narita airport on the day of our departure that I managed to buy some Nama Chocolate. It's made with fresh Hokkaido-milk cream which makes it super soft, creamy and rich. There are various flavours, both alcohol based and non-alcohol based. But I couldn't go past the maccha which is both strong in fragrance and taste.

With it's high cream content refrigeration is necessary - naturally the Japanese have this sorted with thermal cooler bags for an additional cost. They put the chocolates in the bag and then place a little cooling pack inside which preserves the precious cargo.

Stay-cool packaging to protect the chocolate.

Yum! I highly recommend trying it because it tastes great. Even my mum (who doesn't eat chocolate) liked it and ate several pieces in one sitting!

It's appearance is a little worse for wear after 2 flights but the creamy texture and maccha taste are unaffected - oishii!

What: Royce' Nama Chocolate (Maccha flavour)
Where: Buy it in Japan (I got mine at the airport complete with cooling bag). Their international outlets are listed here
How much: Nama Chocolate cost 660yen (containing 20 pieces), it cost me an extra 100 yen to get the thermal cooler pack

January 9, 2012

L'etranger - for Maria & Esteban

As I've said before, the festive season is always a good excuse to eat lots of good food and it was just the excuse I needed to try out L'etranger, a restaurant that caught my attention at the 2011 Taste festival.  We went there with Maria and Esteban for our Xmas celebration and I specifically chose it as Maria likes French food but was also interested to have some Japanese or Asian food; L'etranger describes it's menu as "French with a Japanese influence" so this was the perfect choice.

L'etranger is a classy restaurant that serves excellent food.  As a more upmarket restaurant, the prices are on the high side (although not ridiculous) however the quality and flavours of the food are amazing and we all enjoyed it.  The wine list is huge and it's here you can very quickly increase your bill.

The entrées were a good start, especially the lovely looking roasted Scottish scallops with parmesan puree & truffle foam and the trio of foie gras (pan fried, crème brûlée, almond tempura) served with homemade mushroom brioche and some liquor to break the heaviness down.  Although I didn't order an entrée, they gave me a plate with a sample of the beef tataki entrée so I wouldn't be left out which I thought was a very nice touch.

Trio of foie gras - fried calamari - roasted scallops - sample beef tataki

The mains were equally tasty especially my smoked duck breast with cepes ravioli.  It was served with a cover which when they lifted it off, an amazing smoky duck aroma filled the area.  The taste was as amazing as the smell and I would say it is one of the best French duck dishes I have ever had as the meat was cooked so tenderly and it wasn't heavy as duck can often be.  The caramelised Alaskan black cod with miso, sushi rice & fresh ginger was also tasty and beautifully presented.  

Duck breast - Miso cod - Fried sea bass - Charolais fillet steak

After two great courses, it was hard to pass up on desserts and we were not disappointed with our choices.  As usual, I went for the  crème brûlée which was a different yet simple earl grey & dark chocolate crème brûlée with white chocolate ice cream and a yummy biscotti.  The warm apple tart tatin with vanilla ice cream was also delicious as was the moist and chocolatey chocolate fondant with green tea ice cream.

Crème brûlée - apple tarte tatin - chocolate fondant and green tea ice cream
All in all, it was a real treat and given the final bill, it was definitely only for special occasions.  I highly recommend the food at L'etranger and would gladly use any excuse to go back....such as Esteban and Maria's engagement?  Congratulations guys!! 

What:  L'etranger
Where:  36 Gloucetser Rd, London SW7 4QT
How much:  Entrées from £8.50 to £21.50, Mains £16.50 to £65 (for the grade 9 wagyu beef fillet) and desserts £7.50 to £10.50

January 3, 2012

Japan - Mamezen (Kyoto)

First, a message to Minoru Yonekawa and Mitsue Yonekawa:

私たちの新しい友達に。どうもありがとうございました。私たちはあなたの両方が大好きです。我々はMamezen が大好きです。我々は、豆乳ラーメンが大好きです。我々は両方の再を見に京都に戻ることを望む!

[Jack] Happy New Year! Welcome to our first post of 2012 and our first post from the Japan trip and... our first joint post! This was actually the second last dinner we had in Japan but I really wanted to start off the Japan posts with Mamezen. Due to being so busy with work I really didn't have much time to research food places for the Japan trip but Mamezen was one of the few gems that I was really keen to try. Why? Because they make a unique dish, Kyoto-style Dashi Soymilk Ramen. It sounded interesting and delicious and I just couldn't wait to check it out. In all aspects it far exceeded my expectations and it's an evening that I won't forget!

[Jess] Mamezen is not the easiest place to find although it is well worth the trip. As it was late we took a taxi from the centre of town with only a vague idea of where it was on our map and the address saved on Jack's phone. In a country like Japan, this is not an issue at all as everyone is SOOOO helpful and kind - here's what I mean: after driving around the small suburban streets with no sight of any restaurants, our taxi driver stopped the meter running but continued driving around. After 5 minutes without any luck, he called the restaurant and took us to the front door, charging us from when he had stopped the meter 10 minutes earlier. How awesome is that!! But anyway, back to Mamezen....

The street where Mamezen is, a little hard to find at night time!

But luckily, the entrance is well lit - look for the sign!

[Jack] We went through the outer door and walked down what looked to be a little garden pathway to the restaurant. It was dark, but I imagine this would be very pretty during the day. Even though it was dark, it felt serene and peaceful and this was the same lovely atmosphere we found when we entered the restaurant. It's a small restaurant that seats just a handful of diners at the counter and a few small tables on the tatami floor. But it feels spacious and bright, I like the atmosphere and am excited about our upcoming meal.
Love the kitchen.. and hooray! There is an english menu.

[Jack] The team at Mamezen consists of chef Minoru Yonekawa and his wife Mitsue Yonekawa. They are two of the loveliest people you could meet and really made our meal that much more special. Despite knowing only a little english, Mitsue endeavoured to converse with us and we had a lovely conversation peppered with numerous "ano's" (Japanese for "umm") and phrase-book-flipping-pauses as Jess and I struggled to find our inner Japanese. As we were obviously tourists, Mitsue asked if we had found Mamezen on the web, I said yes and that I'd seen it on a blog and straight away she asked if it was Kyoto Foodie, which was indeed correct. She continued to explain that since KyotoFoodie posted about Mamezen many foreigners came to eat there, especially vegetarians.

Chef Minoru Yonekawa and his wife Mitsue Yonekawa - two of the nicest people you could ever meet!

[Jess] The ramen at Mamezen is lovingly prepared - it's pretty much the only dish on the menu and is so simple, but the care that has gone into the preparation of the noodles, broth and the overall dish can be felt when you eat it as it gives you a warm, satisfying feeling. I loved that the broth had an ever so slight zesty taste to it from the yuzu peel and the umeboshi plum on top which worked so well with the milky broth.

[Jack] Totally agree with Jess - every component of this tonyu ramen works perfectly together so that no one flavour overpowers the dish.  It is instantly my new favourite ramen! Don't get me wrong, I love a good tonkotsu with it's pork-some soup but Mamezen is really something special, kind of like a heavenly and pure ramen. You really have to taste it and then you'll know what all the fuss is about!

Mamezen Kyoto-style Dashi Soymilk Ramen - perfection in a bowl.

[Jess] Yep our clean bowls at the end were testament to how good the ramen was. Add to that, that one of Dave's big holiday regrets was not ordering a large bowl, it was clear we had all fallen in love with soy milk ramen at Mamezen.  It goes without saying that if we are ever in Kyoto we will definitely go back, in fact we would return to Kyoto just for Mamezen.

Is that a clean bowl? Nope.. it's a post-Mamezen Soymilk Ramen bowl! Cause every last drop of soup is too oishii to leave behind!

What: Mamezen's Kyoto-style Dashi Soymilk Ramen
Where: Kyoto-shi, Sakyo-ku, Shimogamo, Higashi Takagi-cho 13-4 (京都市左京区下鴨東高木町13-4). See the Kyoto Foodie post for more detailed information or you can also check out their facebook page
How much: Soymilk ramen comes in 3 sizes - small (60gm, 840yen), normal (90gm, 950yen) and large (120gm, 1050yen). Lunch sets are available as well as a daily kid's set menu. There are also a couple of desserts on offer which I will try next time!