Category Archives: Other places

The Monuments of Washington DC

You might have seen this post before – I accidentally pressed the “publish” button last night!

After the buzz and excitement of New York, the next leg of my trip was to visit Washington DC. The train was, by far, the easiest way to get between these two great cities. We’d pitched up early at the station, but it seems you don’t need to be there more than 15 minutes ahead of time. Any earlier, and you’ll find yourself hanging about on the concourse, desperately looking for a source of free WiFi. Lesson learned!

The trip itself took in Philadelphia, Baltimore and coast of Chesapeake Bay. Travelling through the landscape, the evidence of the recent storm was still clear to see – felled trees, fallen power lines and damaged buildings. However, there were also elegant bridges, beautiful forests and lakes whizzing past. Far nicer than the plane for such a short trip!

DC was a new city for me, and I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I have seen it for years on TV, but I wondered what the place was like, the feel, the pulse of the place. Living in London, you’ve got a combination of the fun, exciting city alongside the grand buildings, monuments and institutions of state in one place, somewhere where things are chaotic and unplanned. In contrast, DC was planned to serve as a national capital, with streets based on a neat grid system and wide avenues.

That’s the theory, but there is, quite frankly, nothing that can prepare you for the moment that you first see the Washington Monument by night, or the glistening white dome of the Capitol above the city. This place was intended to impress and I was wowed.

We were staying at Donovan House on Thomas Circle, which is a boutique hotel with a great futuristic feel in the rooms. A padded dark leather band around the middle of the room lent a 2001 feeling (minus the crazy robot) and the bathroom has a spiral shower. It also has a fantastic roof terrace with good views, but sadly it was too chilly to enjoy this other than by sneaking a peek early one morning. Next time…

A great thing about our location was that it was a few minutes to walk to the White House. To the White House. So, of course, that just had to be the first stop. I like to think of myself as being reasonably well-travelled and sufficiently cool not to get giggle like a schoolchild, but I was genuinely excited to be standing at the railing looking at this iconic building. There were even a few protests outside to make it clear that you’re in a place where politics is the life blood of the city.

For that first evening, we had a dinner booked, but enough time to sneak up to the bar on top of the W Hotel opposite the White House, and enjoy cocktails while trying to spot snipers on the roof. A French 75 and a Negroni made us less than efficient at spotting said snipers, but again, it was just so thrilling to be sitting there, drink in hand, taking in the spectacular view. I really want to go back there in summer when the whole terrace is open on a warm evening.

For afterwards, in a rare moment of organisation, I’d booked dinner at a restaurant in the Dupont Circle area called Nora. If I told you this was America’s first certified organic restaurant, you’d think it was a terribly worthy place, but it about as far from the lentils-and-nut loaf brigade as you can imagine. The cocktails were great, and the food superb. As a bonus, they offered a tempting vegetarian tasting menu, but we stuck to the a la carte. I also loved that whereas London folk tend to be loud and raucous, these DC folk were chatting enthusiastically but intimately in the dimmed lighting. Maybe it’s because everyone is discussion political intrigue?

The next day, it was time for some serious sightseeing. In NYC you feel like you’re seeing what the city is about by just walking the streets and looking up from time to time, but in DC, there are monuments galore that you must go to see. I had booked to go to the US Capitol, so it was a quick ride in the surreal DC subway system. I say “surreal” as the system is clean, modern and very retro (the future as imagined in the 1970s), but what was rather strange was the way each station looks the same, and each of them is very dim. It’s like the people running this system want you to feel like you’re deep underground. If they’re replacing the lights, I suggest a higher wattage would not go amiss. But don’t lose that retro look.

Emerging from the darkness back into the light, you get what must be one of the great views in the world, the US Capitol against a perfect blue sky. The air was crisp, and the leaves on the nearby trees added a little extra brightness to the scene. But we were not just there to look at the outside, we were going to do the full tour. And the Americans know how to do a good tour. They start with a film that explains the national motto e pluribus unum (out of one, many) and even I, as one of those Brits who had earlier burned down the original Capitol, found this all very rousing. It was then time to go and see the rotunda, the sculpture gallery (each state can place two statues in the Capitol, made either from marble or bronze), the original chamber of the US Supreme Court and experience a vote in the US House of Representatives. All big, all grand, all impressive. With all of this celebration of the good ole US of A, we felt it was only fitting to have burgers and fries in the Capitol cafeteria. As you’d expect, their burgers and fries were pretty darn good.

Next, it was a slow wander from the Capitol down to the National Mall. As this time, there was a lot of work underway at the front of the Capitol to erect the stage for the second inauguration of President Obama, and the grassy areas were being re-turfed as part of a renovation project. Great work, but spoiled my ability to get some great pics…grrr… but in the fantastic weather, the Washington Monument looks sensational on the horizon and the various buildings the form part of the Smithsonian lined the Mall like grand old dames of the city. Sadly, when reaching the Monument, it turns out it is closed for renovations until 2014 due to damage caused during a recent earthquake (!), but pressing on, the Lincoln Memorial beckoned in the distance. The reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial offers a spectacular vista of the Washington Monument, but I found the ambiance around the Memorial rather surprising. I had expected a spot of contemplation and reflection on the life of a great man, but there were a lot of loud tourists, people sliding down the banisters, shouting, playing music from iPhones. Perhaps its a sign of my age, but I would have thought people would have treated the Lincoln Memorial differently. But I guess it is better that people are visiting than not.

Walking back through the park, we passed the very moving Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The style is incredibly simple, and knowing that all of the names on this wall were people who were either killed or were missing in action is overwhelming. I found it hard to comprehend just how many names were engraved in this place. Here, things felt calm and respected, and the presence of flowers showed that these are names which still mean a lot to people today.

From the National Mall, we headed back to get another view of the White House from the front, including something that was attracting a lot of attention – Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden. I loved the fact that it looked like the sort of garden that any family could have – in the corner of the lawn, growing what looked like a decent selection of vegetables, and with a couple of kids asking their parents if they could have a garden like the First Lady. There’s an impact being made right there. Afterwards, it was over to Georgetown to get a slightly different take on the city, and enjoy the pretty old houses and leafy streets, which looked prefect in the hazy late afternoon autumn sunshine.

The next day was dedicated to checking out everything that had been missed the day before, namely the wonderful museums of DC. So often when I’m in a new city, I find myself comparing the one or two museums with what we have back in London, and thinking “yeah, it’s nice, but London has more”. Not the case here, however, as DC has some amazing collections. Truly inspirational to have access to so much in such a concentrated area.

The first port of call was the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. This was an old (apparently crumbling) government building until it was taken over, the courtyard given a dramatic makeover with a glass canopy and converted into a gallery. A beautiful space, and I loved the exhibit on great 20th century American personalities. From there, we passed the National Building Museum. While we did not have time to go round, it was topped as a fascinating place to pop into given the huge columns inside the structure supporting a vast atrium.

The next place I wanted to go, and where I was keen to spend as long as I could, was the National Museum of the American Indian. The story of the American Indian population is one that I was not too familiar with, but I found this place both informative and deeply moving. There was some wonderful content showing both the richness of what has been lost across the Americas as well the work that still goes on to protect this cultural heritage today.

The final stop was the National Museum of American History. Here was the chance to see some of the history behind some great American icons – most importantly the Stars and Stripes – as well as the way in which the media has played a fundamental role on shaping the role of presidents and the way they are portrayed. As a favour for a friend who was keen to have some pictures, I passed the exhibition of First Lady fashion. Yes, I saw that Nancy Reagan red china service as well as that Michelle Obama inauguration ball gown. Pictures of her Jimmy Choos are below if you’re into that sort of things…

That evening, there was just time for a stroll around the Mall by night to enjoy the illuminated monuments, before dinner in the Asian restaurant Zentan in our hotel. It turns out, this was the place to be for dinner, going by the number of sexy interns who were hanging around the bar. We’d already had a tip that Zentan is famed for “some salad with like a zillion things in it” and, indeed, there is was on the menu, the Singapore Slaw with 19 ingredients. It was, quite simply, amazing. Crisp fried noodles, tender julienne vegetables, carved carrot shapes, squash, peas, toasted peanuts, plum sauce, daikon…I would struggle to name all 19 ingredients, but I loved it.

The next day, there was just enough time to explore the up-and-coming 14th Street area, before heading off via Ronald Reagan International Airport. We could have flown out of Dulles airport, but come on – you know you want to fly from Ronald Reagan. And with that, the chilly autumnal days of the North-East were behind us and it was next stop Miami!

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Six Days in the Big Apple

You may have noticed the recent blogging min-hiatus, which was due to me going on holiday for two and a half weeks. In November! A sheer delight, and something I have had been looking forward to for a very long time.

I promised a little note of what I got up to as well as some pictures, so here you go! This gallery is probably quite familiar to you if you’ve been following my shots on Instagram, but it’s also nice to see all these little moments in one place.

Arriving just after Hurricane Sandy, it was clear on the way in from the airport that the city was still in clean-up mode. Even a week later, there were fallen branches and only a partial subway service. I felt it best to steer clear of the hardest hit areas – they need to recover and clean up, and without gawking tourists. It also makes you incredibly grateful to live in a city that does not, by and large, experience this sort of extreme weather.

I was staying in the middle of Manhattan at the NoMad hotel which is “located in the hear of the historic NoMad district” according to their website. The NoMad moniker (which was a new one to me) apparently comes from the area being north of Madison Square, but “the cheap wig and costume jewellery district” would have been a bit more accurate. If you need a Lady Gaga hairbow special, there is a place just down from the NoMad that sells it – you never know when the need may arise! I’m sure that this will probably be a very trendy part of town in about six months, and passé in about twelve, but at the moment, I was staying in a (very small) island of cool in the middle of a lot of weaves and clip-in pony tails. One gem (not of the costume variety) was The Flatiron Room on W 26th Street, which offers a vast array of whisky, either straight or in cocktails (think Old Fashioned or Rye Sours, rather than Mojitos). This place was so good we drank rather too much whisky before dinner at the NoMad hotel restaurant, and doubtless, we made an impression on the restaurant staff for all the wrong reasons…nevertheless, if you’re in the area, it’s worth checking out, or even booking a table to slink along later to enjoy hard liquor and some live music.

What I did like about the neighborhood was its proximity to mega-delicatessan Eataly on Madison Square, which was perfect for morning coffee and Italian pastries. It had what seemed like acres of floor space piled high with just about any Italian food treat you can imagine. I can see how people spend a lot of time and money here, but I used it more for browsing – I can get most of this stuff in London if I look hard enough, and I wasn’t aiming to bring back Italian chestnut flour or Parmesan from New York. I suspect that one you start shopping there, it’s hard to stop. However, in the nearby Whisk I did pick up something more unique, a selection of bitters with some unusual flavours, so ideal to add a little extra something to festive G&Ts. The hotel was also very close to Madison Square’s daily farmer’s market, where you had tables literally groaning with cut-price post-Halloween squash, and I came away with a selection of goodies for daytime picnics, plus maple syrup from Vermont and maple candies made from pure, crystallised syrup. It was here I also came upon one of the most unusual things of the trip – a rye sourdough bread baked with cheese and sauerkraut, made by an upstate farm. It sounded strange and I had to try a slice. At first I wasn’t keen, but by the last mouthful, I was ready for one more. It’s a strange combination, but somehow it worked. With a cold beer on a warm day, it would have been even better.

Of course, it was not just about food, and there was quite a bit of sightseeing on the agenda. On just about every visitor itinerary is the High Line (a park constructed along an abandoned elevated rail track), and for me this was my third visit since it first opened. I walked along the initial section around three years ago, when it was still a novelty and quite quiet. However, it has since taken its place as one of the things to do in the city, and it’s less of an elevated walk and more like a shuffle. A shuffle the does offer some spectacular views across the city, the West River and glimpses of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings. By this time, it has extended all the way from 14th Street up to 30th Street (not, ahm, one of NYC’s jewels), but is going to be extended further towards the West River, so I look forward to seeing that next time I’m in town.

In terms of more traditional sightseeing (and so back to food), I wanted to go back to a little breakfast place I love called Elephant & Castle, if for little more than the fact this place shares its name with a London tube station and it offers great pancakes. From there, it was a hop, skip and jump into the West Village and SoHo to check out lavish boutiques selling items I could not afford. It’s fun, but sort of like going to a gallery where you can admire lovely things you will, without a doubt, not be taking home afterwards. I did manage to score some nice items in various cookshops though, adhering to the mantra that I should try to buy things that I cannot get (or can only get with difficulty) back in London.

One of my favourite visits during the trip was to the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side’s Orchard Street. This is a historic building which has been preserved and now serves as a museum, telling the story of various immigrants who came to the US and lived at this address on Orchard Street. We got a tour which told the story of a Jewish seamstress in the late 19th century and an Italian family in the first half of the 20th century. If you get the opportunity, it’s well worth stopping by – stories from the past the have parallels with our times, and the museum makes it all the more real by tracing these people through time via census records to tell their story. In one case, they have recordings of the memories of one woman who lived there as a little girl, which was very moving.

That evening, dinner was in Dirt Candy in the East Village. The name might sound odd, but it refers to candy from the dirt (earth) i.e. vegetables! The chef/owner Amanda Cohen offers up innovative hearty vegetarian fare, and can also make anything on the menu as a vegan option. I’d read ahead of the trip that this place has been hit by the flooding and power cuts of Sandy, so I was glad that it had re-opened. However, I got my dates wrong, turning up a day early. Luckily, we had theater tickets booked, so could assure the manager we would be out within the hour. Given that it’s a rare treat to find somewhere where you can choose between two veggie dishes on a menu (even if one if often the dreaded mushroom risotto), I felt positively spoiled for choice to have a free run at the menu here. We loved the scallion pancakes, cooked like Danish æbleskiver (or “puff pancakes”) and that chard gnocchi main, but the star was the dessert – aubergine tiramisu with rosemary candy floss. If I’d just been more organised, we could have stayed a little longer to enjoy the great food rather than dashing off to the theatre. Mea culpa.

Yes, NYC is a show town, and I had taken the opportunity to see a play, the oddly-names If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet. This is the tale of a dysfunctional British family, and as their lives and relationships fall apart, they destroy the set, culminating in a flood scene. The star of the play was Jake Gyllenhaal, and a few folk have been curious to know how well he did a British accent. Overall, I think he did a reasonable turn, as he wasn’t trying to do the standard posh English. It did wobble a little towards Brummie, West Country and Australian from time to time, but overall, a decent attempt. However, the content was rather heavy going for holiday viewing, so I didn’t exactly leave with the spirit soaring.

However, any feeling of melancholy was swiftly removed by a wander through Times Square. Yes, this is perhaps about the tackiest place that you can go to in this town, but there is something compelling about all that neon. I swear that while standing there, you could feel the heat of the lights on your face in the chilly winter air. It might be lame, but it’s also an exhilarating and vibrant place. I was there as a tourist, and I loved it, even if just for a little while!

On the final day, with another clear blue sky, it was perfect weather to take in the autumnal shades of Central Park, where gingko trees were blazing with gold, and maple trees were brilliant crimson. I also swung by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and managed to acquire a glass pomegranate, thereby continuing my tradition of buying impractical Christmas decorations that then need to be transported with great care in trains and planes (fyi – this pomegranate made it back to London in one piece).

I was also happy to get the chance to meet up with someone I’ve been corresponding with on Twitter, the very lovely Johanna Kindvall, who is behind the great Kokblog site. We went for lunch in a little place in Boerum Hill, and I think it’s great fun to finally meet people you’ve been in contact with for a while. If you don’t know her blog, it’s worth checking out for a fresh take on Scandinavian food seen from a Brooklyn perspective. Dirt Candy was also her tip, so I got to enjoy two tasty meals thanks to Johanna!

For the last evening, I had dinner at the Don Antonio pizzeria, where I had one of the tastiest and naughtiest things I’ve eaten for quite some time. Their house specialty is the Montanara Starita, where the pizza base is quickly fried, before being topped with smoked mozzarella and tomato sauce and popped into the oven. Most likely quite unhealthy, but it was absolutely delicious, and I have to admit that it’s lucky they don’t have a London branch (yet?), as these things could become addictive. But in case the fried pizza was not enough, as a dessert we took something that sounded like “angel hair”. I expected delicate strands of crisp, fried dough akin to churros. Instead, it was a bowl of chunky pizza dough, slathered in Nutella. Another dish that could get addictive, and even I had to admit defeat before I got to the half-way point.

With by belly filled and wrapped up against the cold, we went off to see a light-hearted new musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, based on an unfinished novel by Charles Dickens. I loved it – in fairness I had consumed a lot of wine by this point (including more in the theater, which was offering the stuff by the pint!) but it was firmly marketed as a jolly Christmas affair, and I think they got the pantomime theme spot on. There was also a lot of British humour in there, and I did wonder if the audience were getting all of the jokes, but everyone seemed to be having fun. Maybe not high art, but a great night out, even if it’s difficult to know how Mr Dickens might have reacted.

And with that, after six action-packed days and nights, it was time to leave NYC, and head off to catch the train from Penn Station to Washington DC! I hope its not too long until I’m back though.

Oh, and I have to comment on that last photo. I’ve included it as there were adverts everywhere for the Lindsay Lohan TV movie Liz & Dick. It actually premiered the day after I left the US, so I’m curious to actually see it when it comes out. It’s been tagged as something of a “must see” for various reasons!

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On Location: Alvar Bar (Birmingham)

Oh my – rather a lot of posts by me from bars and restaurants recently! Well, here’s another. This is a quick post about a nice little place I popped into during a flying visit to Birmingham last week – the Alvar Bar in the Hotel La Tour.

It’s fair to say the city has changed a lot over recent years. One of the most striking new buildings is posh department store Selfridges, which is housed in a smooth, undulating building that looks part-mirror, part-sequins thanks to lots of metal panels.

I found myself in the Midlands for an all-day training event, and feeling surprisingly enthused, I was resolved to use the free hour I had before my train back south to have a cheeky drink somewhere nice. On my way up that morning, I’d put out some feelers via Twitter to see what was suggested, and the answer came back to check out the new bar at the new Hotel La Tour, a recent opening in Birmingham.

So I had a little peek online. The hotel’s Aalto restaurant is run by a chef that trained under Marcus Wareing, so it’s something of a sister (or cousin/long-lost-friend?) of the Gilbert Scott just next to where I work in London. Coincidence? I don’t think so! I took it as a sign that I should go there, and it’s fair to say that I spent quite a lot of the day thinking about perusing a fancy cocktail list. Priorities and all that…

The style is very sleek – as the building is new, it’s on the scale that I’m not really used to in central London. It’s light, bright and I loved the way you enter the bar – via a spiral staircase around a large light sculpture that takes you up from the hotel – it had the vague air of the sort of thing you might expect to see Fred and Ginger tap dancing down in Top Hat, as if reinterpreted by a Nordic designer in thick-rimmed fashionable glasses. Nice way to make a grand entrance!

I had in my mind that I would order a Negroni (still current favourite on the apero front) but the cocktail list had some rather innovative creations.

I toyed with the “Chamberlain” (made with rum, Somerset apple cider, brandy, lemon and mint) named in honour of the Birmingham political dynasty, but in the end I was swayed to go for the “Grand Junction” (Plymouth Gin, Dubonnet, grapefruit, lemon and champagne), named in honour of the first railway in the city. I was waiting for a train, so it seemed rather fitting. It’s also a rather nice cocktail for the Diamond Jubilee – the gin, the Dubonnet, the champagne…and on balance, very nice it was too. The Dubonnet gives a vibrant pink hue, sweetness and spiced/herbal notes, the gin adds substance, the champagne adds a little sparkle and the citrus fruits add a sour twist to keep the drink fresh. I’d probably have had a second if I had not only a rather tight ten minutes to get form the bar to the station…

So…would I go back? Well, clearly it’s not the sort of place I’ll be passing on a regular basis as I’m not in this part of the world too often, but if I’m back in Birmingham, I can definitely imagine popping back.

Alvar, Hotel La Tour, Albert Street, Birmingham. Tel: 0121 718 8000.

LondonEats locations map here.

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On Location: In Bruges

The festive season is nearly upon us, so time for the annual tradition of a pre-Christmas visit to Brussels. And with a free day while I was there, what could be nicer than a day trip to the charming city of Bruges?

The basics: Bruges is in the north-west of Belgium in the Dutch-speaking area of Flanders. This matters. Brussels might be (in theory) happily bilingual in Dutch and French, but get outside of the capital and it is one or the other. Dutch in the north. French in the south. And my years living in Belgium confirmed that never the twain shall meet. When wandering around the city, you’ll see a few traces of French, but they tend to be few and far between. It’s all very proudly Flemish (the Belgian version of Dutch…I never promised this was easy or straightforward!).

However, as you can see from the pictures, the attraction of Bruges is the fact that the whole place is basically a giant open-air museum. Beautiful old buildings ranging from medieval towers to elegant nineteenth century townhouses. No surprise then that it’s a UNESCO world heritage site.

I really love the picture below. It’s a bakery with what to me is a very traditional Belgian typeface, and rather remarkably (I thought) a rare example of bilingualism in Bruges.

The town might be well-preserved, but it is still very much a bustling commercial city as well, and wandering the streets, you sometimes think it’s just a row of shops. Then just stop, look up, and prepare to be amazed by some stunning architecture. You know, a lot of it really is just too much…but then, hundreds of years ago, this was a way of saying you were rich, seriously rich. The grander the facade, the better you were doing.

My own little theory is that an unususal façade was the ideal way of ensuring that people would be able to find your building. Someone might not have been able to read, or to communicate very well with the locals after travelling for several days on a horse, but they would surely have been able to find the house with the golden façade and a cockerel on top.

Bruges also has a pretty network of canals. On previous visits, I’ve been round them on a barge, but this time, it was a bit too chilly. Waffles and frites were much more appropriate.

Of course, any self-respecting city in the Low Countries has to have an impressive market square. Well, Bruges boasts several.  In winter, they’re packed with Christmas markets, skating rinks and people enjoying hot snacks and mulled wine. In summer, the places are filled with cafés to enjoy the wide selection of Belgian beers. I love them (the squares, and the beers!).

With all this history, there are also some charming little nuggets. This little fellow is the Bruges Bear, the original inhabitant of the city, or at least the forest that used to cover where the city now sits.

So, having gotten to the end of these pictures, is Bruges worth visiting? Absolutely. One very charming thing is that Bruges also looks good in all weathers. In bright sunlight, the colours are vibrant. When it is cloudy, the heavy skies loom over the city. When it is raining or misty, the city is very atmospheric. I was lucky to visit on a day where the weather changes from thick fog to clear blue sunny skies.

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On Location: Genestar (Alcúdia, Mallorca)

More on Mallorca! But this time, less tourism, more some sharing a little bit of the restaurant scene.

Palma has its fair share of fancy places, and I am sure any visitor there land on their feet if they want to, so I’ve plumped for one that is slightly further afield, in the very pretty northern town of Alcúdia. This is just a hop, skip and jump from tourist-focussed beach resorts, but this town is smart, chic and clearly trying to go rather up-market. This was fully apparent to me when I popped into a deli to buy some local produce, and left many, many Euro lighter. But Alcúdia…now, I fully understand that this is not the sort of place that you’re likely to be passing (compared to places in London or Brussels) but then again, isn’t it nice to have a few gems tucked away for that day that you do happen to find yourself in this part of the world? Here is one such gem.

My pick is the rather space-age sounding Genestar. At first, I puzzled about the moniker. What could it mean? As it turns out, it’s simply the name of the chef, the magnificently-named Joan Josep Genestar Amengual (think Joan as in “Juan”, not Collins). In all likelihood, I was pronouncing Genestar incorrectly too.

Our Joan is not a hands-off, back-room man. For it was he who took the booking, where I flagged that I was veggie and would this be an issue. He came to greet us at the table, explained the menu, advised us about wines and indulged all the questions we had, and played the roles of host and chef magnificently. Now, it’s probably a lot easier to come out and talk about the food when you don’t have a menu, for Genestar’s concept is that you come, you’re taken care of, and you enjoy a tasting menu. Perfect for those days when you don’t want to choose, and want to be marched somewhere and told what to do. Except that here, it is all done with flair and friendliness, all in lovely surroundings. And it is great to hear about the food from the guy that’s gone to all the effort of preparing it.

Most interestingly of all, at least to me, was that Joan was not in the least fazed by the fact that I wanted to eat vegetarian. In a place that is as meat and fish friendly as Mallorca, this could have been an issue. Not here. Joan seemed to take to it as a challenge, and the results were delicious. Of which more later.

But before the food, the wine! Joan was an enthusiastic promoter of local wines, and there was one on the menu that caught my eye – a White Merlot. As he was telling us what we would be eating (we were being told, this was no process of selection!), he recommended a couple of other whites, but I just couldn’t resist. How was the white Merlot? Oh, it’s very good. But it is unique. Some people find it too unusual, but it is very good. You should try it is you would like to, but if it’s not your thing, we can change it. Now, that is something a few placed in London could learn from. It was a constant theme here, but on Mallorca, it seems people are genuinely enthusiastic about their products, and are willing to stand behind them. The wine came, and it was indeed excellent, and it was quickly decided that we would not be sending this back. It had a light golden colour and a noticeable richness of aroma and flavour. It was a white wine with gusto, a noticeable robustness and a lot of the brioche-quality you get with some champagnes made from red grapes. I loved it. Thank goodness they were also selling bottles of it in the airport.

What I do suspect is that while I was not the first vegetarian to visit Genestar, I may be the pickiest. No fish, but also no eggs on their own (i.e. not scrambled, boiled or fried). Cue a little head scratching at first, but our friend Joan just saw it as a challenge and vanished into the kitchen to produce some good things to eat.

Before the meal started to arrive, we were given some fresh rolls and a little local olive oil and sea salt. You get this in London, but here…it just tasted better. Maybe because it’s holiday, maybe because the weather is warm…but it was unusually tasty. And yes, I ended up buying a bottle of the local olive oil later when I popped back to that deli.

First course was a light salad with grilled vegetables, nuts and a simple olive oil dressing and topped with fresh herbs. Incredibly simple, but beautifully presented and packing a real flavour punch. Smooth buttery lettuce, toasted nuts, tangy tomatoes and rich oil.

The next course was pasta with artichokes and mushrooms. Sounds simple. Sounds boring even. But no! Frankly, I do not think my picture does this one justice – partly due to the light, and mainly due to the fact I was aware that this was a nice place and I didn’t want to be that person spending the whole meal taking pictures of it rather than enjoying it. This might have been a simple dish, but utterly delicious. These were the freshest, most tasty baby artichokes I have ever had – lightly grilled so they just had a subtle smokiness, but kept a little crunch too. Again, the simplicity meant the flavours were there to be fully enjoyed. And it went well with the wine too.

To follow this, there was a substantial bruschetta-type affair piled high with mushrooms, tomatoes and beansprouts, all on an rich emulsified buttery sauce. Again, not sure that my picture really does it justice, as it was a lovely combination of flavours and textures, and it certainly looked impressive on the plate (note to self: candlelight is not good for pictures…). I liked that this contrasted with the previous course too, moving from simple to more fancy.

And to finish, the dessert was a Mallorcan take on bread and butter pudding, a little piece of some sort of pastry, dipped in custard and baked until the top was a crisp caramel. Finish with a dash of cold custard sauce and some strawberries, and it was a the perfect bite-sized sweet end to the meal. Well, it was once it was augmented with a little glass of dessert wine. Hey, it was a holiday! What I very much liked was the dinky size – I think this is the way to finish off a meal, just a little something sweet rather than a wedge of cake.

Mid-way through the meal, something struck me. There were very few tourists in the place, and the foreigners here were obviously people who have moved to the area. Then, around 9, it suddenly became very, very busy as the locals descended in droves. In pairs, groups of four and very, very large groups. The atmosphere was buzzy and lively, but never too busy or noisy. This was clearly the place to come to enjoy of good night with friends and excellent food. Knowing somewhere is a hit with the locals is always a boon to me!

So, just in case there is any doubt, I absolutely loved this place. The host and the staff were super-friendly (and found my basic bumbling Spanish rather amusing), the decor is clean, modern and bright, and the food excellent, excellent value, and rather unexpected in a rather touristy part of the island. Would I go back? In a shot. My only regret is that this is one of the nicest new places I have been to for some time, and yet it’s so far away…so if you do happen to be passing, it’s worth stopping in. But if you’re veggie, just call ahead first. And ask for Joan. And say hi.

Genestar, 1 Plaça Porta de Mallorca, Alcúdia, Mallorca.  Tel: 971.549.157 / 630.039.169. Email: info@genestarestaurant.com

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