Mercado San Miguel

I do a lot of self-catering when I’m travelling because it’s cheaper and healthier. I’m not talking about elaborate meals, just picnic-style eating. It does result in fewer opportunities to try local cuisine each trip, but on the other hand it also means I can afford more holidays, and therefore a greater variety of culinary experiences. Hey, it works for me.

In this vein, one of my first stops when is arrived in Madrid was Mercado de San Miguel, having read that it was a great place to pick up fresh produce. This is the disadvantage of using a five year old guide book. Things change, although in this case it was definitely an improvement. The market has evolved into an array of stalls offering tapas to eat there are take away, with only some vendors continuing to offer elements of traditional market sales. It’s even possible to buy wine by a bottle or glass to accompany your meal.

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Mercado San Miguel is an indoor market set up with large standing-height tables (although some chairs are available) to allow diners to eat in relative comfort and minimise food spillage. I arrived at lunchtime and it was absolute chaos. I was absolutely overwhelmed with sensory stimulation. So much wonderful food. Clearly this was a place to eat in Madrid.

However, I was there with a purpose in mind and kept to it, although I was sorely tempted to stray into eating my way through the entire market. I picked up some gorgeous gourre noire goats cheese, a beautiful crusty loaf of bread from Horno San Onofre, delicious but pricey Iberian ham from Mas and some fruit. Unfortunately, it’s not permitted to choose you own fruit in Spain so I found out my peaches were under-ripe when I tried them the next morning.

This experience led me to the conclusion that Mercado de San Miguel is more of a place to eat than shop. I soon returned for a lunchtime feast. It was difficult to know where to start and for a while I just wandered around taking in all that was on offer. Eventually I settled at El Pescado Original this was bar style eating with an array of exotic fish and seafood tapas on display. Although tempted by a slice of tuna-filled potato and spinach tortilla, I decided to try an interesting looking scallop dish. This turned out to be a creamy mixture of cooked mushrooms and scallop that had been topped with breadcrumbs and lightly grilled. It was all so decadent I forgot to take photos!

My next port of call was Va Alacena del Victor Montes. It was a tiny little cart-like store selling varieties of freshly cooked croquettes. I decided to be quite traditional and opted for one of the cheese and one of the chorizo croquettes. They were sublime! Golden crunchy exterior followed my a smooth rich flavoursome filling. Just yummy!

Next I headed to Paella y Olé for, surprise surprise, paella. Diners can choose from a tapas portion or a racionnes sized serving. It usually has three paellas one offer, but one had sold out. Left with choice between meat and mixed seafood paella i opted for the latter, particularly because it had just finished being prepared. Naturally I asked for a tapas-sized serving and at £3.50 this was an absolute bargain as it was a sufficient amount of food to have been a meal in and of itself. It was also delicious. The rice was strongly flavoured with fish stock and bright yellow from the use of saffron. The paella was peppered with mussels, fish and mange tout. More of these ingredients would have been nice but at that price scantness was to be expected.

By this point I was full, which was a shame because there were so many other options I wanted to try. However my taste buds demanded a little piece of chocolate just to finish off the meal. I returned to Horno San Onofre and, spoiled for choice, I eventually elected to try the caracas de chocolate. I can only describe this as a wafer of dark chocolate with crunchy bits throughout it. Whatever. It was delicious, which is the most important thing.

With so many options left to try I couldn’t help but return for another sitting. This time I started at La Casa del Bacalao, which offered an array of seafood tapas on medium sized melba toasts. With my love of octopus I couldn’t help but start with a Pulpo. My other choice was Foie Gras de Bacalao.

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The Pulpo was good but it was the Foie Gras de Bacalao that was the star. It had the same silken texture of foie gras de canard but of course it tasted like fish. Although this description doesn’t do the tapas justice, the flavour was deep, rich, and unlike any fish dish I’d eaten before. It was so good I had to have another. This time I selected a marinated bacalao in olive oil and dill. I also grabbed another cheeky cheese croquette from Va Alacena del Victor Montes.

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The foie gras was just as good the second time around (unlike the croquette which was unfortunately slightly cold), and it provided a really interesting contrast to the marinated bacalao. Where the former had such a strong taste, the flavour of the latter was very subtle, with the olive oil and dill gently enhancing and complimenting the flesh perfectly.

Lastly, I went to El Yantar de Ayer, which I had been salivating over since the first time I came to Mercado San Miguel. The pictures below explain why.

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With such magnificent combinations of antipasti on offer making a selection was incredibly difficult. However, I finally settled on a small olive with ham and cheese, and a skewer of olives, peppers, octopus, and pickled onion. Both were delicious!

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So if you’re looking for basic food ingredients, head down to Mercado de la Cerbado just down from La Latina station. If you want an amazing and affordable tapas experience, then Mercado San Miguel is the place to go.

El Neru

My first day in Madrid and I had no idea where to eat. Usually I turn to my Lonely Planet guide for recommendations when I’m on holiday. However, my version is seven years old and had just let me down by leading me to a place that had several multi-lingual translations and a very limited and overpriced menu. Call me judgemental, but it just felt a little too touristy to be certain of its quality.

On my meanderings earlier in the day I had noticed a little place that had a very interesting surprisingly large mound of blue and white spread in the bar. Intrigued, and having no other options immediately striking me, I decided to give it a try. The venue was El Ñeru. By the time I arrived the tapas bar was full. Pushing my way through as politely as possible I reached the entrance to the restaurant area and, through my sheer inability to speak Spanish, I believe, I managed to secure a table. There were only two other people in the restaurant at the time, which had me a little worried, but within half an hour every table was filled. I believe I was the only non-Spanish speaker eating there.

El Ñeru is clearly a longstanding family run style restaurant. The walls are covered with photos of people eating there and what space for decor remains looks like something straight out of the 1960s, appalling murals included. As could perhaps be expected, this was in no way a reflection on the quality of the food.

Every table was set with a large bread roll and a portion of the spread I’d noticed earlier in the day. This turned out to be some form of blue cheese and it was heavenly. Not for the only time this trip I regretted my lack of Spanish, which prevented me from ascertaining exactly which cheese I was eating, and where I could by some myself!

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The menu fortunately had an English translation alongside the Spanish explanation. While I was tempted by the calamares, I decided to order from the specialties section. I wasn’t quite brave enough to partake of any of the tripe dishes and instead settled upon the “Fabado Asturiana”. The English translation of “pork with beans” was in no way representative of the deliciousness of this meal. I was quickly presented with three forms of pork – chorizo, belly, and morcello – served on a bed of cannelini bean stew.

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The beans were so swollen and tender that I initially thought they were butter beans. The flavour was fantastic as it had been heavily seasoned with paprika. The sauce of the stew was more like a broth and I certainly treated it as such, scooping it up with a spoon so that none of the sumptuous liquid went to waste.

The pork belly was also incredibly tender. Clearly all three meats had been cooked in the stew. The only unfortunate aspect of this was that it meant that the chorizo had lost some of its intensity of flavour. I was utterly intrigued by the morcello, having never before tried any form of blood sausage. I have to say, expanding my culinary experiences in this manner made me feel like I hadn’t completely wimped out by turning down the tripe. The morcello had an unusual, but not unpleasant texture and the flavour was reminiscent of a generic meaty taste. I wouldn’t be adverse to eating it again, but I am certainly not about to become a blood sausage fiend with black pudding a staple of my rare full English breakfasts.

It was also pleasing to see that most diners had ordered the same dish, or a clam version of it. While I enjoyed the meal immensely in and of itself, This made me feel that I had ordered well and eaten like a local. El Ñeru was definitely an excellent place to eat.

Malaysian by May

I will be the first to admit that I was a latecomer to the Supper Club scene. In case there are others who have yet to discover this phenomenon, I shall explain. Supper Clubs are effectively underground set-menu restaurants hosted in the homes of the cooks/chefs. Diners are treated to several courses and asked to make a recommended donation towards the cost of the meal. The events are BYO.

I originally heard about Supper Clubs through a friend. Intrigued, I trawled the Internet searching for opportunities to attend. Initially I struggled to find information. Eventually it became apparent that Supper Clubs vary considerably in their lavishness and culinary sophistication. So far, I’ve found The London Foodie really helpful in identifying excellent Supper Clubs.

This weekend I attended the Malaysian by May Supper Club. While I have eaten Malaysian food, I don’t have a great depth of knowledge of this type of cuisine. I have a trip to Malaysia at the end of this year so this seemed an excellent opportunity to expand my understanding in preparation.

Upon arrival I was greeted by one of the hosts and presented with a G and T. We were asked to arrive at 7:30pm for 8:00pm, providing ample opportunity to mingle with my co-diners. One of the wonderful aspects of Supper Clubs is that they are very friendly and sociable events. While chatting and sipping our complimentary apératifs, we were offered canapés of waterchestnut and chicken moneybags with sweet chilli dipping sauce. They were beautifully golden and crispy and I greedily indulged in a second one when the opportunity arose.

Just after 8:00pm we were invited to seat ourselves for the begining of our eight-course Malaysian feast. Dining was a communal experience, with groups seated between two large tables. Again, a fantastic way to meet other people with a similar passion for great food.

Dinner started with a gado gado salad. Rather than serving individual portions, each table was provided with a large platter which was passed around for diners to serve themselves with as much as they wished. This gado gado was different from others I’ve tried previously. The eggs, which I’ve always were thought were a fundamental component of the dish, were substituted with boiled potato. As a non-egg eater I saw this as an improvement, although some of my companions found this adjustment to be a little odd. The dish was also composed of cabbage, bean shoots, and green beans. The salad was unmixed, with each element of the dish separated on the platter and the satay sauce poured over the top. The satay was excellent, comprising a strong peanut taste married with a gentle sweetness, an undertone of fishsauce and a little bite of chilli at the end. Personally, I was gratified by its similarity to a satay sauce I made a few months ago. It was a really good starter and I had to resist the urge to take a second helping, knowing there was much more to come.

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When the second course arrived I knew I’d made the right decision. It was pork belly buns and they were amazing! The texture of the bun was outstanding. Beautiful and soft and so flavoursome. The pork belly was succulent and beautifully marinated so that the the natural flavour of the pork was still prominent and enhanced by the additional Malaysian tastes. The buns were also filled with thin slices of cucumber, and a sprinkling of fresh coriander and finely chopped spring onions. If there had been seconds on this course, I wouldn’t have been able to resist!

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Next item was spicy clams in bean sauce. These were served in individual bowls. There was a lot of sauce in each dish and it actually felt more like a soup. The flavours were gentle and earthy and so good I just drank what remained once I’d finished the clams.

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Continuing the seafood theme each table was served with two large bowls of tamarind prawns to share amongst the guests. The prawns were served with heads removed, but unpeeled. This meant the flavour of the prawns was not overpowered by the tamarind dressing. Having said this, the marinade had a very subtle taste, although there was a powerful hit of chilli. While the pork belly was my favourite element of the meal, I was so eager to devour the prawns that I forgot to take a photo.

Finally we reached the main course. Bowls of delicious food were constantly passed up an down the tables as we continued to overindulge. We were treated to:
• coconut rice with pandan leaves and raw peanuts
• sambal eggs
• chicken rendang
• tofu and coconut vegetable stew

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It was good! It was so good I even ate the eggs and enjoyed them. Although I was getting full by this point, I kept picking at the dishes. A morsel of chicken. A little piece of tofu. It was just too good to allow it to go to waste.

Having said that, when we reached dessert I was just too glutted to finish it. It was a shame because it was a nice dish of sago with coconut milk and palm sugar. I made the mistake of stirring mine together and lost the contrast of the different elements. Still I’ve learnt something for next time.

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Overall it was a fantastic meal and I would definitely recommend this Supper Club to others. May and Luiz, bravo!

Beetroot and goats cheese ravioli

I’ve been wanting to learn to make pasta for many months and on the weekend I finally bought myself a pasta machine. The impetus stemmed from a recipe idea I developed while travelling home from work on Friday. Upon leaving the office I passed by an independent fruit and vegetable store and caught sight of some fresh beetroot. While musing upon the impossibility of sourcing such produce in supermarkets I struck upon the notion of a beetroot and goats cheese ravioli.

Before attempting my recipe I searched for a cookbook about making pasta. Unfortunately I could find no such thing. The majority focussed on pasta sauces, dedicating only a few pages to the act of making the pasta itself. In the end I resorted to the basic pasta recipe in Cook with Jamie.

ingredients
6 small beetroot
1 head of garlic
3 sprigs of thyme
Olives oil
250 grams of goats cheese
Juice of half a lemon
Sea salt and black pepper
Half a portion of basic pasta dough
Flour
3 shallots
100ml strong olive oil
2 tablespoons of baby capers

Method
1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees celsius. Wash the beetroot thoroughly. Top and tail them and cut them in half. Put in a roasting tray with peeled garlic and thyme. Drizzle with olive oil and shake the pan to coat. Cover the tray with tin foil and place in the oven to roast for about 45 minutes or so. They should be cooked, but firm.

2. Allow the beetroot to cool to room temperature then place in the fridge to cool further. When cold, grate coarsely with the flesh to the blade. The skin will naturally peel away and can be discarded.

3. Crumble the goats cheese into a bowl. The pieces need to be quite small so that each ravioli has a good mix of beetroot and goats cheese. Add the grated beetroot and lemon juice, and season to taste.

4. Roll out a potion of pasta dough into a sheet at the thinnest level, according to instructions. Cut in half widthways at the mid-way point. On one sheet, lightly brush with water then add teaspoons of the filling evenly along the sheet about 4 cm apart. Place the other sheet of pasta on top and press down around the filling, pushing out the air while doing so. Cut the ravioli into square with an appropriate pasta cutter. Place on a floured plate to dry.

5. Repeat until all the filling and dough has been turned into ravioli.

6. While the pasta is drying, make the sauce. Finely dice the shallots and fry in a little olive oil. When they start to become transparent add the capers. Lower to a minimal heat and add the rest of the oil. Leave for about 10 minutes to allow the flavour of the capers to infuse the oil.

7. Toss pasta in sauce and serve.

Making the pasta was very time consuming, but I was really happy with the end result. The filling is really tasty, even if I do say so myself. Next time I might try making it with yolks only to see how this affects the flavour.I might also purée the beetroot to give the filling a smoother texture.

Focaccia with antipasti filling

I’ve decided to continue Sunday brunch even if it’s just for one. Today I attempted a more ambitious version of one of Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meal episodes I watched and liked the look of. It was a focaccia filled with antipasti. Naturally, I opted to make my own focaccia rather than relying on a store bought version as is the case in the television recipe. I searched the internet for a “traditional” focaccia recipe and finished with the impression that such a thing only exists as a family secret in Italy. Instead I turned to my hit-and-miss bread bible.

I haven’t eaten focaccia in years, possibly since shortly after arriving in the UK and being highly disappointed by the quality is bread I found here. My memory of what good focaccia is dim and in making this I mentally referred to an episode of the Great British Bake Off. I knew that the consistency of the dough was correct (or close to being so) because it was very moist and impossible to knead in the usual sense. Rather, it was a case of scraping the dough off the kitchen away from the bench top and folding it back onto itself. However this approach seemed to work well and a soon had the desired smooth and elastic mixture.

The recipe calls for sage to mix through and top the bread. I didn’t have any, so used thyme instead. The recipe is also intended to produce two round breads. In the absence of circular tins in my kitchen I instead used a single large rectangular tin. This caused no problems with the final product and, as a bonus, it meant that the bread was a better shape for sandwiches.

I was concerned after the second resting that the bread hadn’t risen sufficiently. By this time I had begun to pre-heat the oven, so I decided to place the bread on top of the stove for the third resting to benefit from the heat. This worked so well that I might use this approach for all of my bread from now on. As can be seen in the pictures below, the bread turned out really well. As well as looking beautiful, the taste was fantastic!

While baking my focaccia I had ample opportunity to prepare my filling. I didn’t use a recipe, but developed my own based on my recollection of the basic concept.

Ingredients
1 red pepper
1 aubergine
2 small pickled onions
4 slices of marinated artichoke
12 slices of sunblushed tomatoes
10 kalamata olives, pitted
10 cornichons
2 teaspoons of baby capers
A handful of fresh basil leaves
Good quality olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Sea salt and cracked pepper
Focaccia
St Helen’s goats cheese

Method
1. Slice the aubergine thinly, place on a flat tray and roast in an oven pre-heated to 200 degrees celsius for about 15 minutes or until cooked.

2. Char the pepper against a flame or roast with the aubergine until all the skin is black. Wrap in a plastic bag and leave to cool for about 5 minutes before removing the skin.

3. Chop all vegetables relatively finely and place in a bowl. Aim for small but distinct pieces otherwise it may become a homogenous mush.

4. Roughly chop the basil leaves and mix through.

5. Add olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning to taste and mix through.

6. Halve the focaccia lengthways. Spoon the antipasti mix onto one side of the bread and grate the cheese over the top before completing the sandwich.

There are an abundance of possible variations on this recipe. Also, it tastes even better if made in advance and left to marinate overnight.

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The Great Queen Street

Another friendly catch up session led to exploration of the menu at The Great Queen Street. This venue is owned by the wonders behind the Anchor and Hope gastropub in Waterloo. Just writing those words has me drooling at the memory of the delectable meal there, with the best rib of beef I have ever eaten. We were unable to book a table so ate at the bar instead. The only problem with this arrangement was that my scrutinisation of other patron’s dinners became rather obvious.

Upon arrival I was provided with two large slices/chunks of sourdough from St John’s (another recent recommendation that I will have to try in the near future) with pots of butter, sea salt, and cracked pepper. The bread was softly and flavoursome and I had to restrain myself from eating all of it. While waiting for my companion to arrive I perused the culinary options available. The Great Queen Street has both a daily dinner menu and a daily specials board. While the menu wasn’t extensive, there were so many mouthwatering dishes that what was offered was more than sufficient. I would have loved to have tried the 7 hour cooked shoulder of lamb for four, and the daure of beef limousin for two looked and smelled amazing.

Despite the range of tempting options, it didn’t take us long to make a decision. For starter we shared a plate of rillette. There portion was so large it could almost served as a main course for one. Not that this was a bad thing! The pâté was delicious. It was somewhat coarsely made, creating a wonderful contrast in textures between the still fibrous meat and the silkiness of the surrounding puréed flesh. Accompanying it were cornichons and bread toasts. My only suggestion for improvement would be more of the latter. Two toasts was far too little for that amount of pâté.

For main we ordered the rabbit, snails, and spanish rice and the cold roasted saddle of kid and agreed to share. Both excellent choices. The rabbit dish had the taste of a paella but the consistency of a risotto. The snails were perfectly cooked and while the flavours were strong, no one element overpowered any other. The cold roast saddle of kid was also stunning. Thin slices of meat and stuffing served with a simple salad of asparagus and salad leaves with a very light dressing. Here the kid was the clear star of the meal, as it very much deserved to be.

It was a really lovely meal accompanied by slightly too much red wine and excellent company. It also has to be said that the service was excellent. Staff were friendly, and competent in their recommendations. I will definitely be returning!

Bodeans in Tower Hill

What better way to perk yourself up than a mid-week dinner with a bunch of fabulous women (and a couple of plus ones)? The venue was Bodeans in Tower Hill. I initially had this confused with Barbecoa (don’t bother with that one) so was relieved when my mistake was pointed out to me. I happened to arrive early, and at the same time as another member of our party. We quickly established that a booking for our group had not been arranged and that there would be an estimated hour and a half wait for a table. However, we were fortunate that another large group didn’t arrive and we were able to get a table for seven at 7pm as initially planned. The whole thing felt a little familiar; pseudo-stained glass windows, random pigs’ heads amongst the décor. It was all just a little bit Chicago Ribshack (see previous blog post dated 29 feb 2012). This made me a little concerned. Would it live up to the expectations forming in my mind?

The menu has a really great range of options from starters to sandwiches to large meaty meals. This is not a place for vegetarians! We decided to order supreme nachos and a dozen buffalo winsg to share as a starter, and three meat platters to share as our main. The desserts menu wasn’t made available at the time of our initial order.

After my lesson on buffalo wings at Meat Liquor I was eager to see how Bodeans performed. I am glad to say in some respects they were better. They were nowhere near as greasy and far more flavoursome. I also thought the blue cheese sauce they were served with was superior. However, they still lacked the spiciness that I have been led to believe is the trademark of good buffalo wings. Such a shame! The nachos were ok, although they were were made with cheese sauce rather than melted cheese, and this had been sparsely applied. Nothing special though. Having said this it was a large serving which clearly needed to be shared.

In fact large portions were apparent throughout the meal. When the meat platter came out I realised that Bodeans would face a true test. Amongst the large array of meaty offerings on each tray was a portion of babyback ribs. Unfortunately I tried and they failed. There was no sauce and as a result the flesh was too dry. There were some good elements. The Jacob’s Ladder ribs were moist and tender and the pulled pork and “burnt bits” had a descent flavour and were well cooked. But overall it was just a bit subdued. There should have been a punchy MEATiness to the dishes. This isn’t to suggest that the food was bland, maybe just a little underseasoned. For me it was an almost-but-not-quite experience. The meat platters were served with fries and coleslaw, the latter of which I have to say was particularly good. Although it is a little concerning when the strongest compliment to the food at a meaty BBQ restaurant is towards the side salad.

Having said this, I ate my fill and wasn’t tempted by the desserts. However, some of my companions indulged in the chocolate fudge brownie, the banana split and the apple compote. Again, the portions were huge. I had a little taste of the ice-cream on the banana split and was pleased by the strong vanilla taste. However I wasn’t sure about the appearance of the brownie. It was as tall as a slice of cake and while it looked dense, it didn’t appear to have that bordering-on-gooiness that is characteristic of a good brownie. I didn’t feel that I’d missed out on much by refraining from over-indulging.

The meal came to just under £25 each, including drinks (not that we indulged in those particularly), which is fairly good value. I wouldn’t say no to eating there again, but I won’t be rushing back either.