Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Hemma Hos in Haga, Gothenburg

I’ve been living in Sweden now for 2 weeks. So it’s about time I wrote about Swedish food, right? My first 14 days have flown past faster than Tom Cruise buzzing the tower in Top Gun. But so far I’ve my diet hasn’t stooped far above kebab pizzas, amazing coffee at Bar Centro and ocean loads of Swedish beer. So I didn’t feel very qualified to help Marina O’Loughlin with her quest to find the best restaurants in Gothenburg for her piece for Olive Magazine. Luckily my new colleagues came to the rescue and provided a list of places that would make Paris blush with jealousy. And to top it all off I got to meet the most anonymous food critic in the UK who is a great laugh and more passionate about food than anyone else I've met.

I also met up with Maria who has moved back home to Gothenburg and Lewis who was visiting for the weekend. Our lunch at Hemma Hos, meaning “At Home” was very memorable. They specialise in iconic Swedish tapas and people watching with a great view over Haga’s almost tidal main street which flows and ebbs with waves of coat shrouded Swedes.

We choose greedily and gorged on Swedish crowd pleasers like pickled herring, smoked reindeer, meatballs and moose casserole whilst looking over in envy at an a man grinning his way through the world’s largest prawn sandwich…

Moose caserole

Moose casserole with Swedish berry jelly was as gutsy and earthy as a particularly plump worm who’s been digesting compost all day. Juniper gave the stew a classic backdrop and the jelly counterbalanced the savoury notes perfectly. It was rich, hearty and ideal for a chilly day in Scandinavia. It prompted Maria to tell us a story about how during “Moose Season”, during the summer, people run for cover as suburban streets get filled with large wild animals with horns the size of houses.

Smoked reindeer

Smoked reindeer was just as tasty. Especially when smeared on treacly rye bread. The topping of fish eggs is very Swedish. I was concerned about the combination, but needn’t have been. Weirdly, it reminded me of a bacon, chicken and avocado sandwich. But was much better!

Goats cheese

Goats cheese topped with walnuts and honey, resting on rye bread was fantastic. The combination of honey, walnut and creamy sour cheese was terrific. The texture of the nuts and stickness of the honey worked a treat.

Grandmas meatballs

Grandma’s meatballs were well spiced and sweet with genuine tomato flavour. I tried to keep this little dish as close to me as possible to stop the others getting their fair share! They are definitely the best meatballs I’ve had so far in Gothenburg. But I may have to return to Smaka to see if their claim to serve the best meatballs in town is right.

Ullas spicy sausage

Ulla’s spicy sausage glowed with porkiness and gentle spicing.


A slice of bubbling quiche was arguably the star of the meal. Take away the ubiquitous garnish of greenery and you’d be forgiven for thinking you had been served a magical wedge of baked New York cheesecake. It was light, creamy and cheesey in a good way.

Pickled herring

Lightly pickled herring with dill, shallots and cream cheese wasn’t far behind the quiche in the pecking order. People are often very rude about Swedish food, citing pickled herring as being their nemesis. But when it is prepared and served as well as this one was, the dish is capable of giving a beautiful ceviche or smoked salmon a run for their money.

I’m sure there are more authentic Swedish neighbourhood restaurants in Gothenburg, but we had a great lunch here and recommend it to anyone visiting for the weekend who wants to get a feel for what life in Gothenburg looks and tastes like.

Further reading:

Trip Advisor on Hemma Hos
Hemma Hos

And make sure you have a look at my new Gothenburg 365 photo blog.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

On British Food for the Observer

Chris, Helen and EuWen performed admirably in their interviews with Jay Rayner on the topic of British food. Sadly, I couldn't join in because it was filmed on my first day of my new life in Sweden. But I was able to submit a short piece on the topic which was featured in Observer. The irony of having my first piece or writing published in my favourite newspaper on the first Sunday that I don't have access to it, is certainly not lost on me. In fact I still haven't seen it for myself yet!

So, is there really such a thing as British food?

"Sometime you don’t realise what you have until its gone. So to see if there really is such a thing as British food, let’s conduct a thought experiment.

Suspend your current beliefs and remove the likes of sausage and mash, fish and chips as well as steak and ale pie from your life. Imagine they don’t even exist. And if you can, try to remove the idea of tucking into a full roast rib of beef, replete with Yorkshire puddings and crispy potatoes that have been roasted in sinful goose fat followed by apple crumble with gallons of custard.

Now, if you can imagine life being exactly the same without all this lovely, generous food, then unfortunately British food doesn’t exist. However, if when you temporarily erased all these hearty dishes from your mind, you broke out in cold sweats and started singing Jerusalem, then we can be fairly sure that British food is very definitely a real thing."

The timing of this was very meaningful. Various strands of my life converged and sparked prophetically. And it made me really think about the fact that by moving to Sweden I have left a litany of things behind that are proving very hard to live without. Cowie, British food, friends, family, London, the British countryside etc.

But by conducting the same thought experiment, it's very clear that they all still exist. And on a beautiful day in Gothenburg I couldn't think of anything better than tucking into rare roast lamb followed by rhubarb crumble and custard. But I'll have to wait until I return home at Easter for that.

(PS I love the pose that EuWen is frozen in. He appears to be describing a girl with particularly enormous breasts).

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Smuggling Scallops at The Ship in Rye

On a wet Sunday evening The Ship Inn was quite quiet but felt inviting and ideal for an evening of board games and more scallops. We hunkered down and imagined we were smugglers trying to evade detection. We set about a marathon session of Scrabble along with a pint of Harvey’s. I just wish I had written this review using the scrabble board to record our thoughts…

Coquille Saint Jacques tasted great but wasn’t the elegant dish we were expecting. It was a bit cloying and overly dense but in fairness the scallop was the star of the show. And to be honest what’s not to like about cheese, cream and scallops even if it wasn’t an ethereal version.

Smoked haddock gratin

Smoked haddock gratin with toasted sourdough was delicious. Very simple. Very naughty. Very good.

Mexican scallops

Scallops with smoked prawn and chipotle sauce, served on corn fritters, were brilliant. The smoked prawns and chipotle are a great match and a speciality of the Ship. Whilst I loved them, some more sauce would have been very welcome indeed.

Scallops with risotto

Unfortunately scallops with bacon and pea risotto read well but ate badly. Everything was tasty, but the cement-like risotto shouldn’t have been allowed out of the kitchen. It needed to be far looser.

Despite a dodgy risotto and sloppy Coquille Saint Jacques, we had a very enjoyable experience. The staff were a fun bunch of quirky youngsters sporting interesting tattoos, brooding make up and genuine smiles. It’s a great pub that does imaginative food and takes care to create a creative experience that sets it apart from other pubs. So much so that they get full marks for their fantastic website which not only provides all the information that you need but does it with such style seamlessly links with the imaginative vibe you get when you settle in for a session.

Further reading:

The Ship Inn website
The Ship Inn on Trip Advisor
The Guardian on the Ship Inn

This is part of a small clutch of posts about our trip to Rye for the Scallop Festival.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Scallop-ology at Webbes Fish Café in Rye

Scallops are funny things. Their sweet flesh and one dimensional texture make them easy to fuck up. Like a damsel in distress, they are easily overwhelmed. But treated with sensitivity and simplicity they can soar to fabulous heights. After 11 scallops each and a bottle of wine we felt like we had become “scallopologists” and had dreamed up our own scallop tasting menu that I’ll share with you later.

We arrived at Webbes in Rye feeling excited about trying their scallop tasting menu and immediately were worried. The downstairs café was bustling and looked fun. But the upstairs restaurant felt tacky and provincial. Posters in cheap frames advertised their Christmas party menu and the lighting was about as flattering as Basil Fawlty after half a dozen pints of gin. We then asked to move table, away from a view of the toilet and staircase and felt sorry for the next couple who were dumped their. I excitedly chose a bottle of Bacchus from Chapel Down but was told they had run out. Luckily this was the end of any negatives and the scallop marathon commenced…

Scallop with parsnip soup

A small cup of curried parsnip soup adorned with a seared scallop set us on our way. The gently spiced flavour of sweet parsnip complimented the scallop very well. The luscious texture of the soup matched the fishy flesh perfectly. It was an attractive and tasty start that filled us with a sense of reassurance.

Scallop ceviche

Scallop ceviche was far less successful. The flesh had lost its bounce and the marinade was underpowered. Worse still, the minced red peppers anchoring the plate, were overpowering and seemed out of place. It would have been far better with a lick of chilli, some shallots and perhaps a slither of avocado. If you’d served this to a Peruvian they would have been disappointed that one of their national treasures had been let down.

Thai scallop

A Thai style scallop with citrus dressing, bean sprouts, coriander and sesame seeds was a bit like a deconstructed Vietnamese summer roll. But without the soft wrapper and sweet hoisin dipping sauce. Cowie enjoyed this one more than me. It was very pretty and an excellent idea. But I wanted something that elevated it above being a dainty salad and something sweet to give the scallop a hand.

Black pudding and scallops

“Scallops and black pudding” has probably appeared on most restaurant menus in the UK in the last few years. And rightly so. It’s a cracker. Their addition of a slice of tart apple at the bottom worked brilliantly. It set the saliva glands pumping and made you really focus on the scallop. This dish stood out for us as the one that most elegantly showcased how to create a scallop dish. You need to provide the stuff the scallop doesn’t have: texture, tartness, meatiness. And this dish did it head on.

Scallop and pork belly

The kitchen’s second attempt at pork belly and scallops was excellent. Because the pork was so soft and tasty, we’ll forgive them for the first cold effort and the flabby skin. It reminded me of a moment in Master Chef last year when Greg Wallace almost had a fit when someone served him a dish like this one. He raged against the idiotic idea of mixing scallops with pork which unfortunately shows his ignorance. It’s a classic combination that you'll across Asia, Australia and Spain and got a definite Ole from us.

We thoroughly enjoyed our evening and warmed to Webbes by the end of the evening and at 32 quid each it was great value. They cooked each an every scallop with care, precision and only came unstuck with more challenging dishes and because they were slightly overwhelmed by the number of diners they were looking after. We'd both love to have a fun, fishy lunch in the downstairs cafe.

As we tucked into a fairly solid panna cotta and treacly espresso we hatched a plan to take the restaurant over and strip it back to its warehouse roots. We decided to turn it into a Rye version of Smiths of Smthfield, but for seafood with exposed brick walls, an open kitchen and a scallop tasting menu like this:

Scallop sashimi

Miso blackened scallop

Scallop and morcilla salad

Crispy ‘scotched’ scallops 

Scallops with pork belly, artichoke puree and toasted hazelnuts

Souffle St. Jacques with a glass of Mersault

What's your favourite scallop dish and what would your scallop tasting menu include? I'm intrigued and will try to give the recipes a go in my tiny kitchen in Sweden.

This is part of a small clutch of posts about our trip to Rye for the Scallop Festival.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Rye and the Annual Scallop Festival

Clearly, the Scallop Festival is big news. On a rainy weekend in late February, the quaint cobbled streets of Rye were wriggling with raincoats, walking sticks, rainbow umbrellas, antique experts and scallop eaters. The annual festival gives the town a much needed tourist boost in the bleak winter months and introduces newbie’s like Cowie and me to this delightful town.

When we found out about the festival we thought it would be an awesome idea for a romantic weekend. We stayed at the quite brilliant Simmons Guest House which didn’t put a foot wrong and gave us a luxurious base from which to explore the area. Their sense of style, charming hospitality and top notch breakfast make it the best bed and breakfast we have ever stayed in. Sally Shalam would love it.

We explored the wilderness around Dungeness and the delights of Rye’s backstreets including a hilarious lunch at a very old fashioned tea room called Fletcher’s where it seemed they operated a shoot on talk policy. We even found ourselves whispering our order to the waitress. Crab and tomato soup along with a crab sandwich were good but could have done with some aggressive seasoning to bring out the flavour of the crab. And some non-plastic bread for the sandwiches wouldn’t have gone amiss either. If you are a Trappist monk, or have a fetish for Shakespearean collaborators you’ll love it.

The George Inn is an impressive set up with a restaurant that is well regarded, a bar that is welcoming and rooms that look pretty slick. It’s even on Twitter and according to the Guardian is one of the top 10 cosy hotels to cuddle up in during winter. However, a large golfing society who had just played on Rye’s excellent links course, slightly warped our experience given that we couldn’t move for bow ties, pompous men and golfing bravado. Some people will enjoy its ‘country glam’ vibe, but give me Simmons any day.

We spent a memorable rainy afternoon roasting ourselves next to the Standard Inn’s comforting fires playing a 1983 edition of Trivial Pursuit and downing gallons of excellent Harvey’s bitter. The atmosphere was a great deal less geriatric than the rest of Rye and could almost pass for being lively. Their range of proper pub food, good beer, hot fires and collection of board games make this pub a bit a lot more than just standard. And better still it is directly opposite Simmons, so we only got moderately wet.

In many ways we are delighted that it rained so much. It meant we didn’t embark on a monster cycle through grotty Hastings and past the never ending caravan parks that sadly litter this stretch of coast; instead we enjoyed the luxury of Simmons, the comfort of Rye’s charming pubs and enough scallops at Webbes and The Ship Inn to jeopardise next year’s festival (posts on their way).

Stuff to do in and around Rye:

Twitching in Dungeness
Rye Golf Club
Culture and a very decent lunch at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill see Intoxicating Prose and Essex Eating
Dinner at Webbes
Sunday supper at The Ship Inn
Rye Scallop Festival
The Mermaid Inn
Visit Henry James’ House
1066 Country guide to Hastings and the surrounding area

If we've overlooked anything in Rye that needed to be mentioned let us know.

This is part of a small clutch of posts about our trip to Rye for the Scallop Festival.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Pork Neck Cooked in Chai Infused Milk

Chai spices

Sounds weird. And looks even weirder. But trust me. It works. Pork neck is the latest “Forgotten Cut” that I’ve stumbled across not selling very well in Waitrose. I bought a kilo of pork neck for around four quid and got very excited when I found out that some people regard it as a very special cut. It is richly seamed with fat, not unlike a good rib eye or a feather blade which means it is almost impossible to dry out. Like a blade, you can either cook it super fast or nice and slow.

Feeling inspired by Niamh’s pork loin cooked in milk from the River Café and Moro cookbooks, I decided to extend the idea a bit further. Niamh slow cooked her pork in whole milk with bay and cinnamon which I could almost smell as I read it. But what I was smelling quickly morphed into masala chai which I guzzled by the gallon in Zanzibar. I wondered what would happen if I dropped the bay and instead added cloves, star anise, peppercorns and lots of cardamom to my cinnamon. There was only one way to find out.


1 pork neck
2 litres of whole milk
4 star anise
10 cardamom pods
1 tablespoon of black peppercorns
2 sticks of cinnamon
8 cloves
Knob of ginger


Stage 1. Season the neck fillet and sear until golden.

Searing neck fillet

Stage 2. Place neck in a slow cooker with the spices and milk.

Pork neck in slow cooker

Stage 3. Simmer for 3 hours until the pork is tender.

Stage 4. Transfer pork into an oven dish and blast for 20 minutes to help the milk to caramelise.

Serve with rice and greens.

Chai pork neck

I wish it looked better. Unfortunately it doesn’t photograph well. So you’ll have to believe me when I tell you that it is delicious. The meat was moist, tender and full of porky flavour. Meanwhile the chai spices gave a very subtle flavour to the sauce with the cardamom leading the way, just as it does in spiced tea. I am now a big pork neck fan and am looking forward to experimenting with it in different recipes. Let me know if you’ve got any cracking ideas for it.

Further reading:

Pork neck with rosemary
Pork neck on the BBQ
Sticky Asian pork neck
Chinese roast pork neck
Grilled pork neck with tamarind dip
Thai pork neck with soft noodles

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Flashes of Brilliance from the Tasting Menu at Launceston Place

Launceston Place Exterior

We arrived at Launceston Place eager to indulge in a feast of imaginative food and a trough of fantastic wine and we weren’t disappointed. Having read various glowing and negative reviews on a range of blogs we were keen to judge Launceston Place for ourselves. What we found was that it is like a bit like Theo Walcott – frequent flashes of brilliance but occasional slip ups that mean that people are divided about whether he deserves higher honours.


Devilled crisps

We started with a glass of Roederer Champagne and some dainty devilled crisps sitting under a futuristic fibre-optic chandelier that had a touch of Dr. Who about it. It was very hard to resist the deluxe wine pairing menu from our charming sommelier who certainly isn’t called Sue Mellier (for full chat about the wines see "Steamed Off Labels")

We were seated next to a very camp man in jeans and a beanie who spent the next 45 minutes shrieking and aurally assaulting the rest of the restaurant whilst seemingly charming his two female friends. Whilst we were trying to ignore the amateur dramatics on the table next to us we were treated to a wonderful show from our waitress who was about to emphatically present us with the wine list – but as she was handing over the folder the sommelier saw the imminent mistake, slunk over, and gently snatched it from our waitresses grasp, leaving her dry, high and speechless. Seconds later she recovered and asked if we’d like some water. Then a waiter sauntered over and presented us with some more devilled crisps and set about explaining what they were in minute detail even though we’d already been through this whilst having our champagne. And at the end of the meal when we asked the last remaining senior waiter what he thought of the food he tied himself in knots and then explained that he hadn’t yet tried any of the dishes yet. I know these are minor points, but what is captures is the fact that almost all of the service is slick, professional and engaging. But every so often it falls flat.

But enough prattle about service. We’d come here for a feast, not an HR workshop.


What we described amongst ourselves as a cauliflower cappuccino laced with heady truffled oil kick started the meal impressively. It was texturally like drinking aerated double cream, but because of the cauliflower it felt as virtuous as a whole box of Sanatogen.

Scallop with Seashore Herbs

A single scallop adorned with seashore herbs arrived next. Being the inquisitive bunch that we were, we asked our waiter what the herbs were and were told that he didn’t know. This brought another waiter over who claimed it was the chefs secret. Fair enough. But when we asked Tristan Welch later he laughed it off and told us that they changed depending on what they had in but that ours included Alexanders and sea purslane. The scallop was beautifully soft and tasted not only of itself but of its naturally surroundings. They cook the scallop whilst still attached to the shell by searing it in a pan. The shell acts as a natural lid and it gets steamed in its own juices. Outstanding stuff, that was well matched with some Austrian Riesling.

Venison Tartar

Venison tartare emerged next along with a glass of Saint-Joseph. I’ve had a very similar dish recently in Gothenburg, but this one blew it out of its Baltic water. It was my favourite dish. Partly because of the way it connected us emotionally with the chef, whose wife is Scandinavian, but also because it engaged me with my forthcoming home. The meat was glossy, deeply flavoured and enhanced by the yellow mayonnaise, slithers of shallot and walnut dust which resembled breadcrumbs. The soft boiled quail’s egg added a sensual gloss to an exceptional dish. A glass of Saint-Joseph was a perfect match. I could swear the woodiness of the nut dust was actually in the wine.

Mini Stargazy Pie

A mini stargazey pie was an impressive looking little dish. But whilst we loved the presentation, perfect pastry and general idea, the overall experience was less than the sum of its parts. We enjoyed it but the wow was more visual than gustatory.


Perfectly pink lamb kissed with the finest jus, straddled by some lamb crackling and flanked by a salt roasted potato arrived next to both ahhhs and ooohs. The lamb itself was some of the best I’ve ever had. It was utopic. But the crackling didn’t crackle. It was extremely tasty, but, sadly was limp. What a shame. Ever since we’d seen the words “lamb crackling” on the menu we’d been dying to try it. Unfortunately that wasn’t the only problem.


The solitary potato that was presented to us in a salty bag may have been a nice idea. But it doesn’t work. It looks ugly. And was so salty it spoiled the whole dish. Which was a massive shame. I like the idea of the kitchen “showing its working” but only when it tastes good.

Waldorf martini


A deconstructed Waldorf Salad in a martini glass cleansed our salty palettes and lead us in to the cheese course which allowed us to have a very nice glass of sweet sherry before we were treated to a very disappointing pre-dessert.

Tangerine Sorbet

Served in the same glass hemisphere as the excellent cauliflower cappuccino this clementine sorbet with valrhona chocolate was simply unpleasant. I won’t dwell on it, except to say that it weirdly achieved what it set out to do like a “forlorn hoper” in a Sharpe episode. Namely it made us love the real dessert.

Rice Pudding Souffle with Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream

Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream

And so to the best dessert I’ve had for ages. A rice pudding soufflé with raspberry ripple ice cream. Sheer, unadulterated genius. The soufflé was fluffy and textured with soft, creamy pudding rice that was penetrated with rapidly softening raspberry ripple ice cream. We adored this dish and almost applauded.

The main technical difficulty, which they have overcome, is to get a soufflé mixture made with rice to rise consistently and become airy. But they’ve achieved it spectacularly.

This was a phenomenal finale which was capped off by a visit to see Tristan Welch in his lively and banterful kitchen. He was extremely friendly and eager to hear what we thought as well as to share his stories about learning to use twitter and cook at the same time!

It was a very special meal that left us feeling seriously impressed by Tristan Welch’s frequent flashes of brilliance. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a decadent treat that I’d love to repeat. It bore all the hallmarks of someone who is trying extremely hard to prove themselves – and like anyone who is pushing boundaries and reaching for the stars, the occasional mistake creeps in. But in making these slip ups, it shows they are really trying. And whilst this might seem perverse, I’d rather see a chef really go for it and slip up once or twice, than play it safe. That’s why we loved El Bulli and L’enclume so much.

Launceston Place on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Oriental Beef Shin & Oxtail Lettuce Wraps

Shin and bones

Slow cookers are like culinary prozac in the winter. They cure depression by making life taste better – transforming tough, scraggy meat into glorious works of edible art. Without Stewie Griffin (my slow cooker) I’d be a miserable git. But with him by my side, like a mechanical version of Ratatouille, I’m happier than a pig in a cesspit.

After successful experiments with lamb breast and oriental pork belly in wrap format, I decided to try a similar approach with beef. But instead of using pancakes to cocoon the meat I decided to use gem lettuces as boats. This also made them suitable as a starter with the lettuce lending the crunch that the soft beef lacked in comparison to the crispy lamb and pork.

This makes for a fantastic, inexpensive starter to eat communally at a dinner party. Or could play the role as a main course. The beef itself would also make a fantastic filling for oriental dumplings or with some noodles and a stir fry.

Ingredients to feed 10 as a starter:

1 shin of beef
4 pieces of oxtail
Star anise
Half a jar of five spice
Knob of ginger
2 chillies
1 stick of cinnamon
300ml Chinese cooking wine
100ml dark soy sauce
150ml mirin
1 cucumber
A bunch of spring onions
4 gem lettuces




Cut up the shin into thumb sized pieces. Season. Then brown the shin and oxtail and place in the slow cooker. Do this in batches so it caramelises rather than stews.

Pour the liquids into the pan to deglaze and burn off the alcohol in the mirin and wine. Then add the five spice, star anise, ginger, cinnamon and chili to help them mingle. After a minute or two pour this mixture over the beef in the slow cooker and let it cook gently for 5 hours.

Once the beef is tender and pulling away from the tail, remove it and separate the meat from the liquid. Allow the meat to cool and then shred it.

Strain the liquid and reduce to a syrupy consistency. Add sugar to sweeten towards the end. You’ll probably need a couple of table spoons. But it depends how you like it.

Before serving slice the spring onions and cucumber thinly and wash the lettuces and take out the heart.

Beefy lettuce wraps

Arrange on a large serving plate and tuck in. The meat will be soft and incredibly tender with spicy layers that seem to love the freshness of the lettuce, cucumber and spring onion. You could do this with just oxtail, but adding shin ensures yo have enough meat to go around. The oxtail adds a silkiness to the meat and a glossiness to the sauce.

Oriental slow cooked beef

Further reading:

Chinese Oxtail with Asian greens
Bún bò Huế
Chinese Braised Oxtail Stew
Aromatic Chinese Oxtail Stew
Slow cooker recipes on The Paunch


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