Archive | November, 2010

Haute Cusine and Horse Meat

7 Nov

This is the write up of the meal I had here. Getting to eat here was a massive surprise, as well as intensely enjoyable. My only regret is not being able to quiz the head chef on his philosophy as he had gone when I finished eating.

Not wanting to be late, I arrived, smartly dressed, twenty minutes early. I spent this time pacing up and down outside the restaurant and the surrounding area checking my watch and trying to convince myself this was actually happening and it wasn’t all about to go horribly wrong somehow.

At seven on the dot I entered through a sliding door. This was one of many strange touches that served to accentuate an already surreal evening.

After communicating to the waiter who I was, he led me to a table, and presented me with a menu.

The Menu

I looked at it, half in amazement at the food, half in horror at the prices. I then succeeded properly communicating who I was to the waiter, driven by the fact I had already been presented with a glass of sparkling wine that I was sure I couldn’t afford. This resulted in JB himself being ushered into the room.

He was a small man resplendent in chequered trousers and chef whites. The waiter helped us communicate both my thanks and his assertion that I would be treated as a guest in his house. With that he went back into the kitchen.
The menu was whisked away and I was presented with a wide variety of dishes, most of which were absent from the menu. Bizarrely, the other dinners at the restaurant seemed to experience something similar, with the waiter asking “we could do a fish course for you if that suits?” and then being presented with whatever took the kitchen’s fancy.

Right, let’s get onto the important thing. The food.

1.Amuse Bouche of marinated shrimp with tapioca.

First off, what’s an amuse bouche, for those of you who don’t spend all the time reading about food? Its French, and literally translates to “mouth amuser”. It’s a free bite sized dish that appears at the start of the meal and is often an unexpected bonus, except in Michelin star restaurants, where it has become basically obligatory. This particular example was light and pleasingly textured. The prawns were fresh and delicate and the tapioca soft and yielding. My mouth was suitably amused.

2. Pig’s ear carpaccio with pumpkin seed oil dressing, young carrot red onion and raw mushrooms.

The photo completely fails to do justice to how beautiful this was. I recently saw the Sistine chapel, and whilst that was impressive this had a more immediate impact on me. I think that’s because I know how difficult it is to do something like this, and I have no knowledge of art. But this was seriously impressive in terms of taste. Especially the unknown sauce.

3.Marinated tuna, avocado and radish with beetroot and wasabi sauce.

Again, another light dish. Raw tuna is something wonderful, and its a shame that most people’s experience is of the tinned stuff. The wasabi and beetroot complemented the cleanness of the fish well.

4.Sea scallop with braised cabbage and some sort of foam.

This was nice as well, although the foam was a bit inconsequential. It floated around in my mouth not daring to have any real flavour. Scallops are in my mind the poshest fish in the world, made more expensive by how small they are. The cabbage acted like a pillow for the scallop, all soft and gentle. Cabbage is often seen as boring, but this was luxurious.

5.Soft maize porridge with Treviso hocry and cheese from the Tolminsko region.

Polenta, or soft maize porridge, is a classic Slovenian ingredient, the countryside being liberally sprinkled with corn fields. It is also a result of the fact that the far left half of Slovenia was at one point part of Italy. Polenta made properly is a labour of love, requiring continuous stirring for hours at a time. It’s notoriously difficult to get right, but this was an example of how to do it.

This dish was homely elevated to great heights by the use of technique. Simple ingredients left to speak for themselves. The pleasing bitterness of the chicory contrasting nicely with the smokiness of the cheese, the polenta providing an earthy background for the whole thing.

6. Lime and basil sorbet.

I thought this was the last dish. After all, ice cream comes at the end. Unbeknownst to me, I had two more courses to go and this was merely a palate cleanser. Yet what a dish. Punchy, vibrant and incredibly refreshing. It was intense, but not overly so. It sort of teetered on the edge of being too much, but never got that far. It was a massive contrast to the polenta, and probably my highlight of the meal. I think this was because it was probably the most exciting of the courses, yet also the most vibrant.

7.Wrapped calf’s sweetbread with yellow botuletuses, goose liver, calf tail sauce, over heated cream and boiled apple.

Veal Sweetbread

The veal was in effect a very delicate high class meatball. It’s the first time I’ve had veal, and on this basis its something Id like to get into. Although not in a bear grylls living inside its corpse way.

As an aside veal gets quite a bad press due to the spectre of crating. My own opinion on this is that whilst crating is an obviously barbaric practice, which is thankfully not a part of most modern veal production in Britain, it’s hypocritical to condemn it whilst eating factory farmed meat. Factory farmed meat is just as bad if not worse, and if you wouldn’t eat veal on the grounds of compassion, don’t eat factory farmed meat.

In terms of flavour however this was rich as your average city banker, without any of the in your face obnoxiousness.

8. Pudding JB

The signature pudding of the restaurant. Named after the restaurant, which was named after himself.
It consisted of chocolate mousse, passion fruit compote, and some pastry wafer things that were crispy, but I don’t know what they were. I mean I know they were tasty, but that’s all I can give you. It was really good overall though.

A Special mention should be made of the music, which was questionable to say the least. At one point “I love you baby and it’s quite alright” blared out shortly followed by the BBC children in need version of “perfect day”. Not your typical restaurant sound track, thankfully.

Overall, the meal was one of simple flavours, executed well. It was subtle, with nothing mind-blowing, but it was a unique chance to see high-end Slovenian cooking. Although I don’t know how much of that there is. What it did show me was that Slovenian cooking doesn’t have to be all about stews and potatoes, and that the tradition can be the basis for a very intelligent style of cooking. It’s interesting to see that this is very similar to what has happened in England, with the “modern british” style of cooking now found in restaurants. It will be interesting to see what happens to the Slovenian culinary landscape over the next ten years, and whether this sort of dinning becomes more prevalent.

After this, I decided to try and find the elusive horse burger I had been searching for, this being my last night in Ljubljana. After all what better way to top off such a meal than with a massive burger.
The stand was located in the middle of the park, and was shut when I got there, the only 15 mins that its shut during the entire day. This seems to suggest a huge number of horse based puns from which I will refrain. I say that whilst horse is a lean meat and thus healthy, this is unfortunate in burger terms, as it means it lacks the fat you need to get a nice juicy one. Still up for trying horse steak however.


Attitudes to Producers in Italy

2 Nov

For Italians, relationships are crucial. People buy a product not becuase it is the cheapest, or the best. They buy it becuase they have a relationship with it or the producer or even the shopkeeper.
Good luck getting people in Italy to buy your artisian sausages if you are a grumpy sod or the shopkeeper has an objectionable moustache. It will not happen. Whilst this is changing with the advent of supermarkets, it simply means that this applies in a wider context.

Street Food in Bologna

2 Nov

Guess what this is?

Some obscure Italian food no doubt?

It’s a kebab.

No why on earth would you go all the way to Italy, and get a kebab? Especially given the wealth of Italian delicacies available all around.
Bear with me, and I’ll try to explain.

Piadina is a type of flat bread native to Bologna, and one at which I haven’t found anywhere else in Italy. its made with water salt and shortening, and is pretty tasty. You wrap things in it, be it savoury or sweet and then bake it. Intrigued, I googled for recommendations, and found one for “Cafe Jolly”, where they were apparently hand made.

Incidentally, I don’t know why hand made is such a green light me as I’ve made things with my hands that I wouldn’t put near my mouth in a hurry.. My handmade pasta could equally be described be described as “artisanal edible cardboard”
I think it appeals to the idea that traditional is better. It harks back to the same idea as the use of the phrase “my mothers original recipe”. Now I have eaten the cooking of people I know to be mothers, and believe me, it’s not a guarantee of quality.
When I finally found it, I stopped. It was a kebab shop. I paused momentarily, unsure whether to go in. Yet there was Piadina on the menu, so I decided that i would try it.

If I am honest, I realised that I had got a little caught up in running around trying to eat the best food I could find in each city, and forgotten that I wasn’t doing a project on where was good to eat in Europe, but people’s attitudes towards food.

And in a way, this was perfect example of that. Both the texture of the Piadina, which was light and crisp, but also the wider implications.(I realise that talking about the wider implications of a kebab seems strange, but bear with me).

It was a perfect example of how conservative the Italian attitude to food remains, as well as the depth of pride in Italian ingredients. In Britain if we want kebabs, we want authentic ones, with fluffy Naan bread and spicy meat. Italians want Italian products to be used, as Italian food is the best. Why use a pitta when you have a Piadina?

The Pope

2 Nov

This is not a post about the current pope, although that might happen. This is a post about a statue of Neptune in Bologna. The intended message of the statue is simple and as humble as you might expect of a hig powered Catholic in the 16th century. Commissioned by the Cardinal Legate of the city, Charles Borromeo, to symbolize the election of his uncle as Pope Pius IV, its message is thus. Just as Neptune rules the sea, so the Pope rules the land.

Neptune strikes a pose.

It also has some rather buxom ladies with water spurting out of their chests in a very solemn and religous manner, which represent the 4 major rivers of the world.

This picture is in all honesty the main reason for this post.

A useful excuse for an inability to speak Italian

1 Nov

Before the 1960s, Italian as a spoken language was far from uniform. Regional dialects abounded ( and still do) and what we understand as Italian was mainly used for literary works. When I was in Naples for example, the word for bread was a completely different word than the word that I found in Bologna. This is not helpful.

(On the theme of standardisation, might be of some interest. It’s the report published by the International Organization for Standardisation on the standards for brewing the perfect cup of tea. There are in fact thousands of standards that have been defined by this organisation, yet they still haven’t managed to make everybody in Italy use the same words.)