Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Stravaigin, Glasgow

Stravaigin, Stravaigin, Stravaigin... how many brilliant meals have you given me... the answer would have to be very, very, very many!

A few years ago I was at university in Glasgow and Stravaigin was my restaurant/bar of choice.  I think I first went to Stravaigin in about my second year, was taken there for much needed sustenance during the pressure of finals and went at least twice a month in the first couple of years after I had graduated- yup you guessed it I am a fan of Stravaigin!

Part of the restaurant group (its okay this is no chain- the only thing that makes this group a "group" is shared ownership and a love of food) which takes in the legendary Glasgow restaurant The Ubiquitous Chip (I have no idea how this place does not have a star given some of the places in London which do, such as Arbutus), Stravaigin 2 (which specialises in great burgers) and the Liquid Ship (more of a pub than a restaurant and good for a few quiet pints with delicious homemade pizza/flatbread things), Stravaigin really is one of the places you need to go if you are in Glasgow and like food!  Serving a mixture of flavours from around the world using Scottish ingredients the place lives by the mantra emblazoned on the staff t-shirts- "Think global, eat local".

When I was a regular, Stravaigin was made up of an upstairs bar where you could get a "Staples Menu" which included their fish and chips (the lightest, tastiest batter you will ever have tried and chunky homemade chips- so popular that they listed on the weekly menu the number of portions already sold that year- always in the thousands) or their homemade haggis, neeps and tatties- simple, unpretentious, hearty food at prices you would not believe.  They also had a restaurant in the basement which cooked to a much higher level (although probably still slightly less intricate than the Chip).  My preference was always to sit in the bar, the atmosphere is great, and order from the restaurant menu- the best of both worlds!

Nowadays, Stravaigin has grown (given the queues which used to form most nights this was inevitable)- they have taken over the shop next door so there are now two bar areas and the restaurant downstairs.  I have to say I was concerned- the atmosphere in the bar, with the combination of smells wafting up from the kitchen combined with rousing Glaswegian banter, had been one of the things that really made the place.  I am glad to say my worry was misplaced- they have succeeded in keeping the cosy area cosy while making a new light, airy and pre-aged (faded glamour was how the waiter described it) bar next door, attached by an opening at the rear of the restaurant- to do this as well as they have is no small feat!

The day we went was, by chance, fathers day and thankfully, given the extension, there was no need to queue although the place was still buzzing.  The menu had changed from my days- no "Staples Menu" on a Sunday lunch I was informed- so the brunch menu it was.  This consisted of their full cooked breakfasts- the vegetarian version with homemade baked beans and glamorgan sausage is well worth sacrificing your bacon for- along with less standard options such as nasi goreng- a Malay/Indonesian dish of spicy fried rice this time served with prawns and a poached egg.  There was also a couple of interesting mains- pan fried hake with pickled fennel stood out- but I decided to go for the nasi.  It lived up to past memories- well cooked rice, a nice amount of chili, garlic, ginger and fresh coriander with some vegetables and a wonderfully oozy poached egg!

My companion for the day wasn't feeling all that hungry- we had admittedly already had breakfast before leaving to go to Glasgow that day- so decided to get a large portion of one of the starters- homemade cauliflower and Cheddar cheese fritters with homemade tarter and an organic leaf salad.  I tried the fritter and although it was tasty you could see why it had been listed as a starter- the filling was just too rich to have more than a mouthful and there just wasn't enough salad to offset the cheese. As a starter it may have worked but as a main it was a no no...

The last time I had been to Stravaigin the standards had slipped slightly (albeit from a very elevated position) and this time it was again a mixed bag.  Nevertheless if you are ever in Glasgow and would like to go for a great meal in a place which epitomises the friendly atmosphere which Glasgow should be famous for, I would still say that you can't do much better than an evening in Strav...

P.S. Sorry for the lack of photos on this one- took some at the time but a camera malfunction left the photos looking less than appetising and just did not do justice to the food served so decided to leave them out.
Stravaigin on Urbanspoon

Monday, 20 June 2011

Teresina: Bologna's Finest?

So after the disappointment of day one (see previous blog on Drogheria della Rossa), the Fashionista and I awoke with renewed determination to work out what all the fuss was about when it came to Bolognese food...

The day before, while wandering the streets of Bologna (albeit in the pouring rain... thank goodness for the kilometres of covered walkways that make up Bologna's pavements) the Fashionista pointed down a little alleyway at a small restaurant called Teresina.  Having noticed the English on the menu and given that the restaurant was a stone's throw from the Piazza Maggiore, I dismissed this, admittedly cute looking, restaurant as a tourist trap and so we moved on.

The next day we found ourselves on the same street again (this seemed to happen a lot on Bologna) and the Fashionista suggested we had another look.  Despite serious reservations we decided to sit down... I am so glad that we did!

As we were planning on heading out for dinner that evening, we decided to keep things simple and light- a shared antipasti and a pasta dish each would suffice- perhaps a little more than my usual sandwich but given that an Italian meal can consist of antipasti, el primi (normally pasta), el secondi (often a large amount of grilled meat with veg) and followed by dolce and sometimes even cheese- this was indeed Bologna-lite.

We knew from the menu that we were ordering aubergine as antipasti however a combination of our complete lack of Italian and a breakdown in translation had led us to believe that it would be the griddled aubergine we had seen elsewhere- while this can be tasty it is not the kind of thing that normally gets me particularly excited.  What came instead was an absolute treat- thick slices of grilled aubergine, in between which was sandwiched melted mozzarella and a solitary sage leaf, topped off with a deliciously thick and flavourful tomato sauce.  We both looked at each other and knew that true Bolognese food had arrived...

Sliced aubergine with mozzarella, sage and tomato sauce.

After the incredible antipasti we were excited about the main.  I decided to go for tortellini in brodo.  I had read about this dish before and was keen to try this stalwart of Bolognese cooking- tight little parcels of tortellini stuffed with a ham and cheese mixture and served in a chicken stock broth- this was something I had never seen on the menu in the UK where tortellini always seem to be much larger and are invariably filled with spinach and ricotta.  The tortellini were light but packed with flavour while the broth was clear and refreshing- a real find and perfect for our "light" lunch!

Tortellini in brodo.

As we were in Bologna, the Fashionista decided to go for the tagliatelle al ragu (bolognese to you and me).  Now everyone has their own way of making bolognese- usually a recipe picked up from your mum for regular sustenance before you head off to university- but the way this was served was different from anything I'd had before.  The fresh pasta was light and the bolognese, which stuck to the pasta wonderfully, was more meaty and had far less tomatoes than I would normally expect.  With a small amount of Parmesan sprinkled on top, this was how bolognese (sorry... ragu) was really meant to be...

Tagliatelle al ragu.

Later in the trip we went to a cookery school at the place we were staying.  The B&B was great but the cookery school, while fun, was a little pricey and on the basic side.  The point being, however, is that we were let into the secrets (which admittedly are not that secret) of how to make proper Bolognese bolognese.  The top tips were:

1) Use 2/3rd beef mince to 1/3rd pork mince to keep the sauce juicy (or pancetta for something a little different).
2) Use a base of a third each of onion, carrot and celery- chop these very finely and only use a small amount of each.
3) Before adding the passata and stock, cook the wine off in the meat- once the liquid has evaporated add a touch of milk- the alkaline in the milk counteracts the acid in the wine and keeps the meat tender.

Our very own homemade tagliatelle (or is it papardelle?) al ragu.

Not quite up to Teresina's standards but tasty nonetheless...

Anyway back to Teresina- as the antipasti and pasta courses had been so good, we were both tempted to stay for round three but decided to reign ourselves in given the many more foodie adventures still ahead in the week.

So one-nil to the Fashionista- Teresina was not a tourist trap, it was in fact a great little restaurant serving delicious food at prices to make you smile- I would recommend it to anyone!     

Saturday, 18 June 2011

First Dinner in Bologna: Drogheria Della Rossa

So here goes, the first blog in the series from my week long food fest in Bologna with the Fashionista...

The first evening we went to Drogheria Della Rossa, a converted former pharmacy.  This restaurant came highly recommended by a friend from a recent food tour of Italy and also had rave reviews on other blogs with many people commenting on the friendly owner, excellent food and, despite the peculiarities of there being no menu (the waiter tells you everything that they have on fresh that day) and no prices (the bill is made up at the end!) we were excited to kick off our food tour on a high.

On arrival, the restaurant was buzzing with locals (always a good sign) and we were straight away served with a glass of prosecco and a delicious antipasti of fresh, incredibly juicy, mozzarella and parma ham (Parma is only an hour from Bologna by train) with homemade (a little dry) bread- a nice start to the evening.

For el primi I had the tasty asparagus tortelli served with blanched asparagus and a sage, Parmesan and butter sauce- delicious- while the Fashionista had a mildly disappointing dish (given previous reviews) of pasta (I think it was papardelle) served with courgette flowers.

Asparagus Tortelli with sage and parmesan butter sauce. 

Pasta  (parpadelle?) with courgette flowers.

On to el secondi and we were both starting to get a little full after the antipasti and large portions of pasta.  I had the loin of pork stuffed with soft cheese in a Parmesan cream with roast potato wedges- all a little bland with the cheese and Parmesan cream merging into one.

Pork stuffed with cheese in a parmesan cream.

The Fashionista had the signature dish- fillet steak with a balsamic sauce, roast potato wedges and mixed roast vegetables- one of us was always going to order this having read the many other blogs and comments picking this out as the thing to eat.  Unfortunately for us the sauce which arrived did not live up to expectations- it was thin and very tart leading the Fashionista to compare it unfavourably with a fish supper (albeit with the steak replacing the fish!).

Later in the holiday a supplier in Modena told me that in order for balsamic to be used with meat it should be at least 12 years old- this leads to a thicker, sweeter vinegar which would have far better complemented the beef.  I think that the Drogheria may now be living on past glories and using cheaper product which just does not have the same effect (either that or the usual chef was off on the night we visited!).

After the disappointments of the mains, we decided to pass up on the desert menu and asked for the bill which came in at, what we thought at the time was a fairly reasonable, Euro 84 for the two of us.  However, having been to other restaurants later on in the trip (such as Teresina in Bologna) which serve far better food at cheaper prices, the 84 euros seems rather on the steep side for what we had eaten.

All in all our first day venturing into the delights of Bolognese food had been a bit of a disappointment although things only got better from there... 

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Trip to Emilia Romagna

So the Foodie Fashionista and I decided that we needed a break from the humdrum of a British spring.  Italy was the chosen country and when the Fashionista came across a blog (tasteforbologna) highlighting Emilia Romagna, and in particular Bologna,  as the home for Italian foodies, we had a destination. 

Now the real work started- working out where and what to eat!  I  have to say I was pretty excited when I found out that Emila Romagna was home to such tasty treats as Parmigiano Reggiano, Parma Ham, Mortadella, Tortellini, Tagliatelle and of course Bolognese (known in Bologna simply as Ragu).

We were there for a week taking in Bologna, Modena, Parma and Ferrarra and the particular food highlights were:

1) Teresina, Bologna- tiny restaurant crammed down a side street which served incredible ragu along with great tortellini in brodo (tiny tortellini served in a chicken stock broth- a speciality of Bologna).

Tortellini in brodo.

2) Osteria Francescana, Modena- this was always going to be the highlight of the trip- voted fourth best restaurant in the world in the San Pellegrino Best Restaurants in the World Awards 2011- and it didn't dissapoint- simply breathtakingly good.

Pork cooked six ways with rosemary foam and a caper and anchovy sauce.

3) Enzos, Modena- recommended by a local after our chosen restaurant was closed for the day- simple, tasty, local Modenese food.

4) Osteria dell'Orsa, Bologna- rough round the edges student eatery serving hearty Bolognese food to cure even the worst hangover (as was evidenced by the two students sitting silently next to us).

5) Locanda del Castello- sourced from the Taste for Bologna blog, all dishes (bar one but more on that later) were outstanding at this restaurant/hotel in the gatehouse of the Palazzo Rossi in the countryside outside Bologna.

Despite positive recommendations from bloggers and friends alike the one restaurant of the trip I would advise others to avoid would be Drogheria della Rossa in Bologna- overpriced and simply not up to scratch given the wealth of other choices available in Bologna!

Blogs to follow with full details on the above...

Foodies100 Index of UK Food Blogs
Morphy Richards