Thursday 30 September 2010

Austria: The Tiroler Hut

This is the perfect place for a work Christmas Do (if we get one this year). What laughs we had on Thursday at The Tiroler Hut in Bayswater. Big thanks to Anke and Kat, Suzanne's pals from choir, for recommending the restaurant and for accompanying us on our Austrian night along with their other halves. This place needs a party crowd, it's not the venue for a romantic dinner for two (although one couple did announce their engagement half way through the evening). You must book well in advance - it was packed all night and it is a full evening's entertainment.

The restaurant is in the basement of a large property on Westbourne Grove. It's decked out as an alpine lodge, complete with corrugated "snow" roof, and a fake window with views of the Alps. The walls are covered with photos and pictures of typical Tyrolean scenes. Straight out of the 1970s. To complete the look, waiters wear cord lederhosen and our waitress was dressed in a traditional dirndl. The tables are squashed, no room to swing a cat. (But maybe a goat...I'll explain later).

The food was of a good standard, our German friends were quite impressed. We chose a variety of dishes, but tried to stick to typical Austrian fare. The highlight of the starters had to be James's "Mir ist alles Wurst", a mixed fried sausage ensemble. I tried Champignons, Tiroler Hut. Huge dish, very tasty.

For mains, I felt I must try the Wienerschnitzel (see right) which was certainly a good choice. Suzanne had a Jagerschnitzel (pork) and James opted for a roasted knuckle of pork, Gebatene Schweinshax'n.

The portion sizes were excellent and the beers so enormous, you could barely lift them

Once we had finished the mains, the fun started. Our host began with some jangly tunes on his clarinet,  interspersed with karaoke Austrian style. One particular favourite had to be "The girls in the woods, they got the goods". Snort.
More clarinet and hammond organ (although no Charlatans covers) including Edelweiss, Do-Re-Mi and My Favourite Things.

And then the piece de resistance. The Singing Goat. No idea what he was singing, but is obviously a hit at the Tiroler Hut.

Last on the bill, a very entertaining set of  "Extreme Cow Bellringing"

We finished up our meal with a lovely slice of Apfelstrudel. Flaky pastry with generously cinnamoned soft juicy apple slices.
It's a shame we all had work the next day, we had a few beers but I'd have liked to have finished with schnapps. Although maybe not as many as the people on the table next to us managed to consume throughout the evening. Birthday drinks for a girl with 6 of her best male friends....go figure.

It was a terrific night, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip to the fabulous subterranean Austria of Bayswater. Here's to many more years of the Singing Goat at the Tiroler Hut!

Food ***
Atmosphere *****
Value for money ****

Tiroler Hut on Urbanspoon

Sunday 19 September 2010

Australia: Lantana

I'm disappointed. Given the number of Australian friends and colleagues I have living in London, and having visited Down Under a couple of times and witnessed first hand their obvious passion for good food.....there really doesn't appear to be a great deal of choice for Australia on our journey round London eateries. I refused to resort to Walkabout (or is that Billabong now?). Square Pie... hmmm, just doesn't seem authentically Australian. This could be a problem, I might have to track down some kangaroo steaks.

However, a little bit of searching uncovered one place that featured on several other foodie blogs, a newish cafe in Fitzrovia. Lantana was set up by a girl from Melbourne a couple of years ago and fills a big breakfast and lunch gap in the area North of Oxford Street.

Owing to the limited opening hours, we decided to make a trip for brunch on a Sunday, thinking it might be quieter than a Saturday morning. Mistake, big mistake. As we turned into Charlotte Place, we knew immediately where we were heading. Everything else shut around it, Lantana had a sizeable queue snaking out the door. We joined the back and started our wait, no alternative if we were going to fit in Australia before our trip to the Tiroler Hut for Austria this week.

Thankfully, despite the compact and bijou nature of the cafe, the owners have packed in as many tables as is humanly possible, so the wait only ended up as 25 minutes. There were also a limited number of tables on the pavement and the weather being sensational, these were also in use.

Once inside, we quickly got our drinks order in and browsed through the brunch menu. Coffees turned up quickly. And I drank mine in one go, as although it looked delightful and quoting James "This is a good coffee", it just wasn't hot enough for me. Luke warm at best.

The food was hot though. James chose "The Bert", closest thing to a fried egg and bacon sandwich. Unfortunately, they had run out of the black pudding side he would have liked, but he added extra sausage to make up for it.

I had an unusual corn fritter dish with a lime aioli. Topped with an extra poached egg. This was a huge plate of food, very filling and tasty too.

Suzanne had poached eggs on sour dough with a Sicilian ratatouille, the only complaint being far too many olives.

Suzanne and James ensured their future weekend breakfasts at home by claiming the poached eggs were good....but not as good as mine. Right answer.

This was a very pleasant breakfast experience - generous portions and tasty food, although with Fitzrovia prices to match (who can blame them when the place is so packed). I'd like to try their lunch menu too, but would have to have plenty of time on my hands, I suspect this place is busy all week long.

Although it was a nice change to be eating in the morning on our tour, I do wonder if this really is the best Australia can offer in London?

Food: ****
Atmosphere: ****
Value for money: **

Lantana on Urbanspoon

Aruba and Netherlands Antilles: lourobbo's kitchen

Urghhhh..... another Caribbean island. A trawl of the internet found no specific Aruban establishments (in fact, I don't think we'll get to eat in any Caribbean restaurants until Jamaica) so it was back to the kitchen. A great site provided me with a long list of recipes to choose from but I really couldn't face attempting another failed coconut pudding, so this week stuck to a main: baked sweet and sour beef.

It's a throw it all in the pot type recipe with a multitude of ingredients. Even used a bay leaf from my enormous tree in the back garden (I could supply the whole of Wimbledon with bay leaves). Here's everything bubbling away.

Overall, it was a hit. Served with plain rice, pineapple chunks provided the sweetness and the beef was tender having been stewed for a couple of hours. Yep, I'd cook this one again.

Saturday 11 September 2010

Armenia: Erebuni

We are nearing the end of the "A's" only a few more weeks to go and this Wednesday we went in search of Armenian. Erebuni in Lancaster Gate came up a few times on other food blogs and there didn't seem to be a great deal of choice again, so we headed West to sample the delights of Armenia. The restaurant is actually in the basement of a fairly unassuming hotel, right on the Gate and serves a mix of Russian, Ukranian and Armenian food.

Suzanne was quite excited, as the restaurant website suggested that the film Eastern Promises had been shot there. She's a huge Viggo Mortensen fan, and oddly we'd only seen the film a couple of weeks ago. (Don't go in the sauna!). However, it looks like the cast might have eaten at Erebuni or the restaurant provided the food for some of the scenes....the eating area certainly bore no resemblance to the grand Russian dining room shots in the film. Rather disappointingly, owing to it's basement location and low ceilings, the restaurant felt dingy and the ambiance was not helped by the Eurovision trash blaring from from the TV. "Nil points" for atmosphere

The redeeming feature of the evening was the food. Handily, the menu clearly indicated which dishes were Armenian in origin and was fairly extensive. The service was also friendly and efficient. The waitress gave us a buzzer for when we were ready to order or needed more drinks which seemed like a neat idea. We drank Viru beer, actually brewed in Estonia rather than Armenia.

James started with Basturma (cured beef), Suzanne chose Karmir Bibar (marinated pepper) and I opted for Emanbajady (vegetarian dip). Sara was also with us, but we let her off the Armenian requirement, so she plumped for a Russian salad. All good.

The main courses had a heavy lamb bias, so Suzanne chose Chicken Tapaka, James went with lamb mince stuffed vine leaves (Dolma Echmiadzin Style) and I had Ischkan, an Armenian trout dish, baked in a tomato based sauce, which was very tasty. Sara went Ukranian with a large portion of Chicken Kiev.
For dessert, we shared cake - Armenian Honey & Walnut and Armenian Chocolate (they were out of Baklava). A nice little extra with the bill - cranberry vodkas.

Erebuni was quiet when we arrived with only one other table occupied. But by the time we left at about 10pm, the place was filling up. Armenian's obviously like to eat late compared to us Brits.

Overall, this was not the worst restaurant experience so far on this A to Z of Eating in London... but nothing special either. So from a former republic of the Soviet Union, we're now travelling back for another visit to the Caribbean - Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles

Food: ***
Atmosphere: **
Value for money: ***

Erebuni on Urbanspoon

Sunday 5 September 2010

Argentina: Santa Maria del Sur

I can categorically state that tonight I ate the best steak in the world, ever. Fact.

Caroline, having spent several weeks in Argentina on her travels last year, hunted out the best restaurants in London serving up  the cuisine. She recommended Santa Maria del Sur to us - a spin off restaurant to the original London Argentinian steakhouse in Hackney - Buen Ayre. It's about 5 minutes walk from the station, on Queenstown Road in Battersea.

You definitely need to book. It's not that tiny, but fairly cramped and there aren't many big tables. We ended up taking a table at 6.30pm on Tuesday night on the proviso that we were out by 8.30pm. The place was already buzzing when we arrived. Top marks for decor and atmosphere, the walls were painted a dark rustic red and adorned with lots of paintings of cows, just to remind you what you're eating. Staff were friendly and efficient and there was no problem eating a 3 course meal and coffees in our two hour slot.

On to the food. To start, we sampled all 4 types of Empanadas - chicken, beef, spinach & cheese, sweetcorn. They were delicious - hot, sizeable portions and lovely light cripsy pastry. If I had to pick a favourite, it would probably be the chicken. Nicely minced up with a good kick of chilli. We also ordered, a portion of chorizo, again very spicy and made a good precursor for the meat to come.

Then for the main event, STEAK. All 4 of us went with the fillet, 3 medium rares, James went the full hog and opted for rare. This was 10ozs of pure delight. Great thick slab of meat that had been cooked perfectly, juicy and velvety, with the richest, darkest colour.

We added a couple of sides that were equally good - rocket and garlic salad, tomato and red onion salad and a bowl of superbly cooked chips. All washed down with the must-have of wines from Argentina to match steak, malbec.
We didn't have a great deal of room for dessert after the meat feast, but they sounded so yummy, we had to try and squeeze them in. There's a theme based on dulce de leche - that delicious runny toffee you get from boiling cans of condensed milk. James had it with pancakes and in his espresso, Suzanne had the ice cream version, I had mine with creme caramel. Caroline just stuck to the chilled port, malmado malbec (which of course, I had to taste too). All good. Now we were bursting at the seams.

This really was first class steak. I've eaten quite a lot of the stuff - plenty in exceptionally good restaurants in Texas, that at the time, I thought couldn't be beat. But this was in a league of it's own.

It's interesting to see Santa Maria del Sur has quite a mixed set of reviews on Urban Spoon and from other food bloggers. Maybe I'm not fussy, but I would struggle to find fault with the entire experience.

If you are craving the perfect must take a trip to the south and Santa Maria del Sur. In the aid of research and for completeness, I think we need to do a compare and contrast with Buen Ayre Hackney. Wrong to have a double helping of Argentina?

Food *****
Atmosphere ****
Value for money *****

Santa Maria Del Sur on Urbanspoon