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  • Red Steak in Seville: a flavour flop

    Red Steak in Seville: a flavour flop

    Not only do I write about food, I read voraciously and Red Steak in Seville had some pretty impressive reviews. From the picture, it looks like a hole in the wall joint, but like Dr Who’s Tardis, it stretches into three rooms or ‘spaces’ (to use the modern parlance).

    The Layout

    This front area was full of forlorn burgundy paper tablecloths, shaped to cover just the main places that food could fall from the unwary fork. I was on my own and resistant to the idea that some restaurants have of placing the first guest in the window, to make their place look more appealing.

    I sat back here, near the waiters’ station so I could see and hear what was going on. It was about 1 o’clock on a Sunday and people were spilling out from a Catholic Church across the road. I anticipated that it was about to get seriously busy.

    I decided to blow the lunch budget and order a ‘solomillo’, which I understood to be a sirloin steak akin to a New York Strip.

    First up was a little basket with hot bread (this was excellent and smelled delicious). These plain crackers are a favourite in Seville and come in every shape from little bullet-shaped tooth-filling shakers, through to delicate thin crackers like these Regañá version.

    Red Steak: The Food

    Barely had I investigated the cracker packaging than my food was upon me. It was faster than a fast food joint which made me think briefly about the quality of what I was about to eat.

    It was a slate (I thought I had seen the last of those), with a heap of chips piled with thinly sliced pieces of steak. If this was a sirloin steak, it had been prepared differently (which is fine) and the thinness of the meat explained the speed of the service.

    The chips seemed to be properly cut, using the skin, which I do like. However, if these were a double-cooked version, they had not spent long enough in the basket. As a result, they were limp and oily. A fleur de sel or flaked salt had been used, but inconsistently, meaning some chips were salt-free and others were hard to eat.

    The steak had been cut to be thin, but parts had been left thicker. Those parts were effectively raw, while my request (medium/pink) was impossible to achieve with such thinly sliced meat.

    Perhaps the pepper sauce would be delicious? Well, I’m afraid my hope for a punchy, meaty sauce foundered on the rocks of too much cream. This was more a rich texture than a flavour, though it did mask the problematically raw piece of meat.

    Overall, I can’t recommend this restaurant. The service was absolutely fine. Despite being the only diner, I had three separate servers as the other servers carried out other tasks. I suspect they get busy in the evenings. During my brief sojourn, no other customer came in. Perhaps people vote with their feet or steak is not considered a lunch food in Seville. Either way, the cafe next door was much busier. Given the excellent food I had at every other location in Seville, this was a bit disappointing. Avoid.

  • Casa Paco in Seville: a fresh take on traditional tapas

    Casa Paco in Seville: a fresh take on traditional tapas

    Casa Paco, Seville: A few years after my last trip to Seville, I was back for more. The opportunity to revisit this fascinating and historical Andalusian city arose because I’d been staying a couple of hours nearby in southern Portugal and needed to pick up a flight from Seville to reach Edinburgh directly.

    The menu at Casa Paca

    The story of the “tapa” is one I know well – the term ‘tapa’ referring to a little covering placed atop a drink to keep out flies or dust. Those coverings were somethings bread, ham or a piece of cheese and so the tapa (or tapas) was born! I love Spanish food, so visiting Seville (or Sevilla) was a no-brainer.

    Casa Paco, Seville: The Recommendation

    Snacking or grazing from a range of foods is one of my favourite things to do. My hotel recommended Casa Paco in the centre of the city as a modern tapas joint that never failed to impress guests. It was late on a Saturday, I was hungry and the place was nearby.

    Most diners eat right outside the main door to the bar area

    There was just one table left outside, by the door. That’s my jacket. The city centre was just crammed. For a day late in November, it was still 24C (75F) and the buzz at the Christmas market right across the street was loud and bright.

    Each table had a tiny trash can but I’m afraid there was still a bit of trash on the ground.

    A small trash can at every table

    Casa Paco, Seville: The Menu

    I was presented with an English menu (for which I was glad). With my rudimentary Spanish, I noticed a few variations in the main menu written on the wall.

    The menu is available in Spanish and English

    When the servers brought a little hot roll, they also brought some specials of the day (see below) which had some very interesting options

    A small tin flowerpot serves for silverware and a hot bread roll

    Everywhere I went in Seville had a variation on these little hard breadsticks, like a firmer Italian grissini.

    Casa Paco has own-brand grissini sticks

    I must confess that I prefer a little butter or oil and vinegar when hot bread is served. The default here was plain.

    Even wine by the glass is poured at the table

    I chose a glass of Pazo de Monterrey, one of the house whites and it was light and dry. Perfect for a warm winter afternoon.

    The red awnings across the street form part of Seville’s Christmas Market

    Check out these popular reviews: Mamie Fado (Angers, France); Deraliye (Istanbul); Burger She Wrote (Los Angeles)

    Casa Paco: The Food

    The awning kept the strong sun off diners

    My first choice was from the day’s specials: a salmon tartare.

    Today’s special: salmon tartare

    This was more like a ceviche cut than tartare, but it had been well-seasoned and the salmon was rich. It sat on a bed of firm potato pieces dressed with aioli, was topped with more aioli and sprouted seeds. This was served with more firm crackers which had the faintest hint of sesame. A top dish at €5.50.

    The aioli was a real feature of this dish

    Up next was another special billed as a curry dish, but not quite like any I’ve had. I knew from Google that the underlying biscuit was called an Inés Rosales, which is often sweet. I expected the unsweetened version here, but this was fully sugared.

    Curried chicken served on an Inés Rosales sweet biscuit

    The biscuit (akin to a large water biscuit) was topped with curried chicken and then with sweet chilli sauce. This was all much too sweet and the dish had no balance. This dish cost €4.50.

    The sugar is crusted on this cracker

    The croquettes (or croquetas) were prepared with roast pork. A much better option. These were deliciously rich and creamy with just the right amount of crunch. Croquetas can be a little oily but these had a dry texture which ate beautifully.

    Four roast pork croquettes

    At €4.40, I thought these were good value. Alongside the salmon tartare, this would have been a perfect lunch.

    The roast pork filling of these croquetas was creamy

    Casa Paco: The Bill

    With a cover charge of €1, three courses and two glasses of wine, the total bill came to €22.40 excluding tip. Quite a bargain for a well-regarded modern tapas restaurant!

    The bill seemed reasonable

    With 8 nights in Seville, I might well be tempted to return. I’d like to try any other variations on those croquetas!

    Visit Cumaná

    • Rodríguez Peña 1149, C1020 CABA, Argentina
    • 4813-5360
    • Website
    • Reservations are advisable for later dining
  • Deraliye Restaurant, Istanbul, Türkiye

    Deraliye Restaurant, Istanbul, Türkiye

    Details

    Name: Deraliye Restaurant, Istanbul
    Note: Deraliye Terrace is a different place.
    Address: Alemdar, Ticarethane Çk. No:11, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
    Website: Click here
    Visited: 30 September 2022

    Related Video

    Deraliye Restaurant, Istanbul, Türkiye features in my travel guide to Istanbul!

    Deraliye Restaurant, Restaurant Review

    Deraliye Restaurant, Istanbul: At the centre of the old city of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople and Byzantium) lies the district of Sultanahmet. Away from the hubbub of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern, old streets run at odd angles in a maze of hotels, restaurants and high-end vendors selling Turkish Delight in thick viscous cubes dusted with powdered sugar.

    The Matter of Authenticity

    After a day of exploration and an average lunch grabbed between sites, my friend Michael and I wanted something close to our hotel, that served an ice cold gin and tonic and something a little lighter to eat than roast meat and, whisper it, a touch more authentically Turkish. The question of authenticity sets hares running whenever I mention it. What is authentic cuisine? Perhaps the young people of Türkiye love fast food as much as anywhere else. Maybe the famous clay pots used in Testi Kebab (see here) sell just one vision of Turkish deliciousness. Also, authenticity can’t be fixed by history or nostalgia but is measured in popularity.

    Deraliye Restaurant: The Decision

    Sometimes picking a restaurant doesn’t get a lot of research. This place was at the entrance to our hotel and had been just crammed at lunch when we walked past, so clearly they were doing something right. There were quite a few members of staff and, at times, much more chatting going on than attention. However, I can’t complain about the friendliness and detailed approach of the team, once their heads swivelled in our direction.

    Deraliye Layout & Decoration

    While I can’t speak to the authenticity of Turkish decoration, I can admire the fact that every surface had been stencilled, tiled, painted and considered. The ceiling had a fantastic Anaglypta wallpaper, the windows dressed with a geometric, possibly Islamic pierced fretwork. A clothes rack (on the right, see below) was piled with ‘authentic’ costumes, presumably for events where the restaurant sells something of an experience.

    Although we were only fixing for a snack, the menu was quite extensive, billed as “Foods at the Time of Ottoman Palace Cuisine”.

    I’m not sure if I look impressed or not in the picture, but I was! It had been so hot all day, I felt blessed to be sitting underneath the air conditioning unit! However, unlike North America (when the air conditioning is switched on), all of the window/doors along the street were open to welcome in the evening breeze, when it came. However, the open doors succeeded in letting in cigarette smoke from outside diners and, more gratifyingly, strains of the 3-man street bands who sold their wares along the busy restaurant strip of Sultanahmet.

    Deraliye Restaurant: Hot Bread

    After trying out some Turkish hot bread at Rumeli, I was much more impressed with the astonishing puff ball of bread served here at Deraliye. I’ve tried to determine if this type of bread is called Lavash or Bazlama. If you have the inside knowledge, please leave a comment below! This was absolutely piping hot from the oven, brushed perhaps with oil or ghee and studded with black poppy seeds.

    I am going to say something controversial. This bread does not have strong or discernible flavour. To be authentic, perhaps it should not have much taste – it’s seasoned with salt and seeds. It did come with a black olive paste (perhaps a dry tapenade) and this had bundles of pungent umami taste. So no complaint here, just a musing that nigella seeds or even some sesame might lack authenticity but add an allium or nutty note.

    Before long, a tall glass of ice-cold gin and tonic was served. Sometimes that cocktail is just the ticket. The server brought bottled water to the table, cooled in the fridge and starting to frost as he arrived to pour the first glass. I mention this only because bottled water is often free at Turkish restaurants and so it was at Deraliye. It feels like an act of hospitality, a welcoming in, when so many places would happily charge €4-5 for a large bottle (at least).

    That ceiling decoration really is something. It strikes me as I write about it now that it may draw on some of the Ottoman heritage for inspiration, the Topkapi Palace is, after all, just a few hundred metres from the restaurant.

    Deraliye Restaurant: Authentic Food

    With such a long menu (find it here), it can be hard to focus the mind and we were not especially hungry. We ordered some hot appetisers to share and figured if we needed more, we could simply ask.

    Arefe Meatball

    These meatballs are a real staple Turkish dish and I wanted to try them out in a proper restaurant. The filling is minced meat with a crunchy exterior dressed with finely ground pistachio nuts. I could not entirely discern if this was beef, lamb or a mixture of both (which is common). The mince contains nuts (almonds?), sweet currants, herbs and spices, but the spices are not particularly dominant (I could make out cinnamon and a little cumin). They were served with a thick sour yoghurt also dressed with pistachios.

    Sailor’s Roll with Honey

    Our second hot starter is called (I believe) Ballı gemici böreği or Sailor’s Roll. At a large counter top behind us, a chef was stretching out huge sheets of filo pastry and scattering it with crumbled cheese. It was only when this starter arrived that I worked out that he was preparing Sailor’s Roll – a fried pastry created from layers of thin pastry strewn with cheese (similar to feta). This was crunchy and quite sweet, daubed with honey and served with large moist currants (to Michael’s chagrin).

    I do like a sweeter dish and think honey goes particularly well with salty cheese, so I was fan of this dish.

    Dessert

    After all that sweetness, I don’t know how I found room for a dessert, but I did. To be honest, I fancied a small piece of baklava with sweet tea, but they didn’t quite have that. This hot dessert combines the elements of baklava without the delicious crunchiness that makes it appealing. This was like a filled crepe, the filling a sort of pistachio mush that was all sugar and little flavour. This dessert was, frankly, a fail. The ice cream was almost entirely melted by the time it reached the table. A small side dish would solve the problem of the cold scoop melting twixt kitchen and table.

    Hot tea was served as a ‘free treat’ at the end of the meal. This is apple tea. It’s rather like heated up store-bought apple juice with a little spicing and that is not a bad thing, in my book. It rounded out the evening meal on a fruity note with no caffeine. Perfect before an early night and getting ready to explore Istanbul again next morning.

    Deraliye Restaurant, Istanbul: Summary & Budget Tips

    At its busiest (later in the evening) this restaurant has excellent atmosphere and it’s thrilling to watch the staff navigating the floor with those huge hot breads and their silver service approach. This is not an inexpensive restaurant by local standards but in international terms is very inexpensive. Cost might be something I need to write about more!

    Don’t forget you can see this restaurant on video, in Part 1 of my guide to Istanbul – click here.

    Related Blogs

    I’ve written these related blogs for central Istanbul on my travel website, Planet Patrick:

    Guide to the Blue Mosque, Istanbul

    Guide to the Basilica Cistern, Istanbul

  • Roast Lamb & Dancing at Rumeli, Istanbul, Türkiye

    Roast Lamb & Dancing at Rumeli, Istanbul, Türkiye

    Details

    Visited: 30 September 2022
    Address: Alemdar, Ticarethane Çk. No:11, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey

    Related Video

    Rumeli features in my travel guide to Istanbul!

    Rumeli Restaurant Review

    On an autumn trip to Istanbul, Türkiye, my friend Michael and I happened upon Rumeli Restaurant on the street outside our hotel. We had spent a hot morning in Sultanahmet Square, discovering that the Blue Mosque was closed for Friday prayers. I was just thirsty and by 12 noon, all of the restaurants were filling up. One man was assigned to drive custom towards the empty seats and the Rumeli guy was less forceful that others. I respect that kind of low energy.

    Michael looks very relaxed and glad to be in the shade. It was working towards 90 degrees in the sun.

    Rumeli Restaurant: Hot Bread

    I wanted to keep my lunch order simple and Rumeli’s menu veers towards good basics: roast chicken or lamb, cheese pastries, stuffed vine leaves. I ordered lamb cutlets and within a few minutes, some bread hot from the oven was carried with aplomb to our table.

    The bread was served with Turkish yoghurt, seasoned lightly with oregano (I can take a lot more flavour). The salty sourness of the yoghurt helps out the poppy and sesame seeds on the featherlight bread.

    Rumeli Restaurant: The Music

    While we were waiting on our grilled meats to arrive, three musicians made their way into the restaurant. I didn’t know if this might be a kind of table to table Turkish Mariachi band, but as the musicians gathered around one large table, it was clear they had been chosen to entertain a group who must have been celebrating a big event. The band were fantastic and before long, everyone at the table was UP and dancing like good-oh!

    With the band in full swing, more theatre was to come! Look at the picture below! The waiter is preparing a Testi Kebab, a sealed clay pot which has within it (more than likely), lamb cubes, onions, tomatoes, various other vegetables in a rich sauce. This was brought out on a tray of burning sand for maximum drama (I think they are just cooked in the oven)! You can see that he has knocked off the lid with a large metal implement (the lid is falling onto the tray below). This dish is particularly familiar in Cappadocia, but in its single-serve version as seen here, has become something of a national phenomenon!

    Rumeli Restaurant: The Lamb Cutlets

    Then it was our turn! My lamb cutlets have been treated nicely and presented with some care.

    This dish is pretty typical (as we discovered) in general Turkish cafes in Istanbul. Meat served on a little flat bread to catch the juices, a small amount of vegetables and a serving of rice. The seasoning here was salt. Only salt, no herbs or spices beyond a colourful sprinkling of paprika, more for effect than flavour.

    Here, Rumeli served a roast tomato wedge, a small handful of chips/fries, some raw onion salad, a non-spicy pepper and some grated red cabbage. I was in the mood for roast meat. This was nicely charred and had some flavour. However, the cutlets were quite small/thin and so were well-done. I do prefer lamb chops to have that lovely roast outside but be medium rare-medium inside and that can be hard to find!

    Rumeli: Summary & Budget Tips

    This was an average meal served with good grace by the Rumeli staff. However, it was the music and atmosphere that made our lunch feel special and we could see every time we left our hotel that this place was always busy. One point that budget-conscious visitors might consider: this restaurant is in a prime position and is comparatively expensive by Turkish standards. Moving a street or two away from the main tourist trail will save you 20-40% for a similar meal.

    Don’t forget you can see this restaurant on video, in Part 1 of my guide to Istanbul – click here.

    Related Blogs

    I’ve written these related blogs for central Istanbul on my travel website, Planet Patrick:

  • Café Willem Albert, Groningen, Netherlands

    Café Willem Albert, Groningen, Netherlands

    On a recent trip to the Arctic Circle, I started and ended the European mainland part of my campervan road trip in the Netherlands. I had found a great place to park up near Groningen, which I’ve always found to be a charming and manageable small city. l liked it so much, I told my friend Roisin about it and she arrived a few days later to check out its charms.

    The temperatures were soaring in July and, after a little sightseeing in our lightest outfits and best-available hats, we craved some air-conditioning and a light lunch somewhere near the Grote Markt in central Groningen. I spotted the perfect place, with generous shade at the side of the market square and, while most people were outside, we ventured into a beautiful and cool room which stretched throughout the ground floor of its building.

    We were just bushwhacked by the heat. Like a computer chip, I function best in cool temperatures (I may be making that part up!). Roisin looked happy to be parked too!

    This is a well-established bistro at the centre of the city. It garners regular high stars on review websites, but I wanted to see how it ranked for myself.

    Beer seemed like the right drink choice and, armed with two 0.5l Heinekens, we chose from the fry-heavy Chef’s Lunch Menu. Roisin selected a marinated chicken burger. I would have been disappointed as this was a minced chicken product rather than a whole chicken piece, but Roisin is optimistic and seemed to like it. The amount of fries was a bit overwhelming and I think a generous side salad would have been a good choice of accompaniment had it been available.

    I was in the mood for fish and chips, a staple of bistro menus in the Netherlands. The proportion of fries to fish was more balanced here, the wedge of lemon seemed freshly sliced (who wants an ageing wedge?) and the batter was light and maintained a little satisfying chew. The fish had been dusted with a red seasoning. Given that paprika salt is used a LOT in Holland, I’m assuming that this slightly indistinguishable umami seasoning was some form of paprika. No element of smokiness, this isn’t a Spanish version, but a central European flavour.

    Haven’t we moved past faux fry baskets for presentation yet?

    My dish came with two quite generous dips: the first, a black pepper aioli and the second a standard lemon mayonnaise. The black pepper dressing was full of malt vinegar and all the finer for that reason.

    Being my usual nosy self, I went off to find the restrooms and to snap a little photograph or two to share with you. Toilets are downstairs (the stairs were beautifully designed and thoughtfully lit) and in each alcove or corner there is an instagram-worthy vignette.

    However, the star of the show is the bar area itself: high stools in a burnished green leather crowd around a horseshoe-shaped bar with a decent overhang. The metal pipework overhead carries a soupçon of Charles Rennie Mackintosh art nouveau styling and who doesn’t want a reminder of Scottish art in Groningen?

    Our bellies full, we wandered off through Groningen, exploring the wonderful Forum building (subscribe to my YouTube channel for an upcoming video of that).

    Roisin went in search of a fridge magnet to add to her growing collection from all over Europe, which she has toured in her van, Daisy, with her family. Along the way, I found this gorgeous armoire. I just love the pops of mustard appearing from underneath the verdigris.

    Groningen is a must-visit city in the Netherlands, usually overlooked for Amsterdam or Bruges for weekend trips. However, it is an equal in terms of ease of getting around and Café Willem Albert a fine choice for a light supper and cocktails on anyone’s weekend getaway.

  • Mamie Fado in Angers, France

    Mamie Fado in Angers, France

    The city of Angers in North-central France is a favourite of historians fascinated by its UNESCO World Heritage status. For those of us less academically-minded, it’s a stop-off point between some of the Northern French ports and destinations to the South. Like many mid-sized French cities, it is rightly proud of its local produce and its take on local cuisine.

    I picked an evening early in the week to wander out, admiring the beautiful old town across the river, on a crisp late Spring day that meant only the hardy smokers were seated outside under their blankets, while everyone else was keeping warm inside.

    Mamie Fado is one of the most celebrated restaurants on this side of the river and its reputation is well matched by the stylish ‘Maison Maitre’ townhouse it has taken over.

    Oddly, the host/hostess took reservation or seating requests at the barrel you see in the picture above – that’s an iPad and their written notes. I watched how this arrangement worked throughout the evening, given that nobody was sitting outside and, to be honest, it really was a recipe for delay. It took time for a host to notice there was a line of people outside with the knock-on effect of delay to the customers they were serving in the back.

    The restaurateurs have taken their branding seriously, extending their text-heavy logo to water bottles and wine glasses.

    The bar (or rather, cocktail zone) is lit thoughtfully and compliments the rich blue stair colour. The fact that this highlights the colours of the French flag was not lost on me!

    The linen is high quality and charming. However, I’d suggest this textile is best suited to a bistro-style restaurant, or at least that the colour theme used at the cocktail bar be carried through the table linen.

    I chose from a set menu for the evening. The choices for a warm starter were pretty thin and I went with a squash soup with croutons and fried lardons. The cooking on the bacon was patchy – some crispness, but mostly flaccid. The soup was much too thick, like baby food. The addition of more stock or some other flavour profile would have rescued this.

    I chose a main course of steak served with fries and a sauce vert. The sauce was excellent, piquant and thick. The fries had definitely seen properly hot fat at least twice and were crisp and unctuous. The star ingredient, the steak, had plenty of beefy flavour but was so difficult to eat as it was tough. Sometimes an onglet (or hanger steak) can be tough. It’s hard to get just right but it can be tender and flavourful when handled very carefully. This was not the case here. I do laud the chef for the temperature of the beef and the heavy hand with salt flakes.

    The dessert looks marvellous and tasted fine. The butter caramel over a whole cored apple was rich and sweet and could have used a pinch more salt. The milk sorbet with its crunchy granola rather skidded around the plate. If it’s not too nit-picky, I like crumbles and granolas on TOP of other food items that might try to make a run for it!

    Towards the end of the meal, I got chatting with the server about my love for Cointreau. I like it served on ice, no mixer. She produced something I’ve not seen before – Cointreau NOIR – a blend with Cognac. She poured me a tot, for which I was most grateful. The Cognac added a warm vigour to the orange liqueur and I certainly walked back to my lodgings with a full flush on my cheeks!

    It’s plain to see why Mamie Fado has won a place in the culinary heart of the Angers restaurant-goer. There are some things here which are well-done, carefully considered. However, the attention to detail in the design and better courses must carry through into attentive service and the handling of the meat. With both of those, Mamie Fado would be unstoppable.

  • My 1st Smash Burger – Burger She Wrote, Los Angeles

    My 1st Smash Burger – Burger She Wrote, Los Angeles

    Details
    Restaurant: Burger She Wrote
    Location: 7454 1/2 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036
    Opening Hours: 11.30am-9.30pm every day

    This restaurant is reviewed on YouTube as part of this Los Angeles vlog (click here).

    When my friend suggested a lunch of either smash burgers or a taqueria, I signed up immediately for burgers. It was one of those days. Within 20 minutes, we were searching for a parking spot off Beverly Boulevard and eyeing up the line outside both the burger joint and the neighbouring taco place.

    Would a bigger sign or different font help with branding?

    I have to admit the lacuna in my knowledge up front. WHAT is a smash burger? My friend pressed his hands together to illustrate, “it’s a burger, but smooshed”. Hmm. Okay. But whyyyy? I put the question to one side for a moment while we perused the menu. In the style of the ‘best’ places, the menu is short which has to mean that everything on it is absolutely perfect. No room for error.

    Menu keeping it simple

    As we were feeling lean (ha!), we both decided on a single smash (onions are amazing but cause all kinds of late night consequences for me) and to share a portion of fries. This turned out to be a wise decision.

    Burger buns

    The interior is, well, rustic. They know they will get through endless burger buns and so, it seems natural in this small space to use every available surface for stock.

    Have I made the right choice?

    In the USA, it’s unusual NOT to have Coke products to the front of the drinks line-up and, I can admit it, I am an occasional fiend for Coke Zero. However, my spritely gaze was turned by a rather excellent selection of Mexican Sodas. Coming from Ireland, I am familiar with the ‘mineral man’ doing the rounds once a week with a wide range of unexpected Irish soft drinks (note for non-Irish readers: ‘mineral’ is used in parts of Ireland to mean ‘pop’, ‘fizzy drink’ or ‘soda’).

    But what to choose?

    That memory from childhood seemed out of place in a ‘very now’ LA burger spot, but here we were with unusual choices. I love the flavour of anything orange and so mandarin was my first choice. My friend went with tamarind, which – to be honest – I think of in terms of south-east Asian savoury cooking.

    That man looks refreshed.

    The flavour in the soda was SPOT ON. The sense of mandarin (rather than orange) was very clear and the bubbles in the soda were more intense and smaller than your average well drink. Some subtlety there and the full sugar hit helped a little with the jet lag!

    Ahhh, so it’s SMASHED!

    Before long, our order was ready. Well, let me correct that… ‘before long’ in US terms works as an indicator of the length of the wait in that country. In Irish terms, you’d have gone up to the counter to make sure the chef hadn’t collapsed onto the hot plate and needed an ambulance and a spatula to be dislodged. And if she/he/they had not, to look balefully at the cashier to wonder where your food was. In other words, it took at least 20 minutes.

    The point of the ‘smash’ part of the burger became obvious when it arrived. It is smashed flat, thereby increasing the surface area of the meat patty. This means MORE of the meat comes into contact with the hot plate, resulting in additional nubbles of deeply umami crunchy steak. Yes, I said nubbles. This, combined with a heart-smashing amount of salt, causes the tongue to explode with joy. The addition of fat-soaked fries acts as a soothing salve, but also as a carrier of additional salt. But there is no sense in which this meal looks appetising. How are you supposed to pick that up?

    Did somebody say ‘fat-soaked’?

    This meal makes for a rich and filling lunch. Opt for the smaller burger to leave with a sense of double smugness: you had fast food, but you didn’t go crazy (= double smug). Or damn everyone to hell and your arteries to sluggishness and go the whole hog. Or cow.

    [You can see this restaurant in the following YouTube video]

  • Scarpello & Co, Derry – Sourdough Pizza Sensation

    Scarpello & Co, Derry – Sourdough Pizza Sensation

    Quick Facts

    • Price for 2: £37.65 (2 courses)
    • Opening Hours: W/Th: 930-2030, F/S: 930-2130, Sun: 1030-2030, closed M/T (for updated hours, check here)
    • Parking: ample parking in front of the building.
    • Location: 20-22 Buncrana Road, Derry/Londonderry, BT48 8AB
    • Patrick visited May 2022


    Right before starting the filming for a new season on Planet Patrick called the “Wild Atlantic Way”, I stopped off in Derry to meet up with old friend and Riverdance Dancer, Joanne Evans. She suggested a lunch at a favourite local eatery, called ‘Scarpello and Co’.

    Great to catch up with Joanne

    I’m sorry to say that I don’t know Derry much at all (of course, apart from Derry Girls) and, other than the odd childhood memory of visiting a hospital there, wasn’t sure what to expect.

    Like myself, Joanne does like a wee photograph!

    Joanne was very certain that I’d love Scarpello and knew that there was lots of parking for this rather nervous new campervan/RV owner!

    BOOKING AHEAD 

    You *might* get lucky if you’re passing through Derry and stop by Scarpello & Co. However, every time that I’ve gone (yes, I went back again), it’s been very busy. It would be very sensible to book ahead, at least to check there is space. 

    BACK-UP PLAN: Scarpello does offer take-out/take-away, so if it’s full, you can still experience the food! 

    I look happy because I know sourdough is coming!

    The atmosphere inside is welcoming and relaxed. Although the entrance is beside the forecourt to a garage, the interior has been carefully considered, from the dark green paint choices, to the decision to leave the entire space open, so that chefs, co-workers and produce is all on show. That takes considerable self-confidence in your product. Staff are dressed in bright red tee-shirts and everyone we spoke to had that uniquely Derry charm that makes you feel like you are visiting with friends. The level of informality felt right for the space.

    The menu focuses on all things sourdough with an Italian twist. The stars of the show are really the pizza choices and my attention was drawn to Number 6, which featured mushrooms, pancetta and slow-cooked leeks – one of my favourite tastes in the world.

    Joanne chose a Marguerita pizza and added shavings of fresh parmigiano reggiano and fresh prosciutto with rocket. To round out an already ambitious order, we went with garlic toast and padrón peppers.

    These appetisers came first. The peppers were heavily doused in salt (perhaps 10% too much) but had been expertly handled so they were just the right temperature. The sourdough in the garlic toast was crunchy perfection, soused with garlic butter and herbs. I could have taken even more garlic flavour, but my palette is almost French in that regard!

    Before long, the pizzas arrived, filling their oversized plates with bubbling goodness. The Neapolitan and Sourdough Pizza families are not closely related. Good examples of the former have cracker-thin dough lightly strewn with ingredients; the latter rests or dies on the quality of the sourdough. This was charred, chewy and topped with unctuous toppings, the salty and yeasty dough risen to perfection. The leeks and cheese had intermingled in a yielding mess so rich that the accompanying aioli dressing was not needed. The portion is big (I’m not complaining) and I went back to my campervan with a box filled with pizza crusts to dip in aioli for my evening snack. I can tell you those crusts made a generous supper too.

    The interior of Scarpello

    Joanne made a great fist of her giant Marguerita pizza, but admitted defeat at a little over half-way. No doubt the remainder found a welcoming home that night too!

    As someone who grew up in the North of Ireland, I loved the food I had when eating out as a child and young adult, but I don’t think I can claim there were many gourmet experiences. I am happy to say there is a burgeoning food scene in the North and not just in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast. Scarpello & Co shows that there is the creative skillset, positive service attitude and endurance to make a success of a food business when so many have been forced out of business by the pandemic. It’s rare that I’m so fulsome in my food reports, but if it is deserved, a restaurant should be celebrated. Bravo to the Scarpello team.

  • UK Motorway Food: Leon at Chester Services

    UK Motorway Food: Leon at Chester Services

    I hemmed and hawed over whether to include motorway services food here on the blog. The presence of this blog thus reveals three motivations. First, I was hungry and on a long motorway (freeway) trip. Second, the industry is worth many millions, so yes I’m interested. Third, I wanted to see if the reputedly soaring prices of UK motorway food services had an associated uplift in quality since the last time I had a Little Chef fried breakfast.

    On my way from London to Wales, I noticed a new entrant on the block, adding to the offerings from M&S, Waitrose, McDonalds, Costa and more… that doyen of the wellness high-street, Leon.

    Staff making coffee (and not taking orders)

    I hit Chester Services at around lunchtime and Leon is at the heart of their updated multi-choice food offering. In truth, the queue at McDonalds was substantially longer but seemed to shift pretty quickly, and the delay at Leon I can’t put down exclusively to hanger.

    McDonalds offers order-screens. At Leon, a charming but solo young woman takes orders but is also responsible for making on-the-spot coffee orders, meaning quite the delay between customers. The kitchen isn’t quite lolly-gagging but one chef, with a beard-net covering his lower face, was visible, leaning on the counter waiting for the next order.

    Writing is a little small

    The order screen flashes brightly with all of the options, even if they are hard for me to read (I like a bigger font due to mild sight loss). A jewelled salad is tempting but I can’t see if it includes rice or grains or just leaves, so I opt for an Aioli Chicken Rice Box with brown rice. I want a big punch of flavour and that sounds like it might deliver.

    Luckily the table looks clean. Phew.

    With a can of soft drink, the total comes to £7.99 which feels reasonable.

    “Please don’t give me the bag…” Oh.

    The meal is served in a fold over cardboard tray with recyclable cutlery, so far, so green. But it is packaged in a huge paper bag, which is of no benefit when I’m walking 5 yards to sit down and eat my lunch. There’s something amiss with that process.

    The chicken appears to be chargrilled chicken thigh which, in my opinion, holds tenderness and the requisite chewiness for a tasty chicken dish. The container started with brown rice, a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds, chicken chunks and aioli dressing. Apart from a thumb-sized piece of lemon, that’s about it. No other flavourings. The rice appeared to have no seasoning at all. This ‘hot box’ is saved by the aioli dressing which has a pleasant garlicky tang but the generosity of the hand squeezing your dressing will dictate the success of your meal. One corner was delicious and sticky, and most of the rest of the dish was dry as a desert sandal.

    So much delicious sauce (and still not enough)

    On the whole, if you’re on the motorway for a long drive and need to simply fill your belly, there are cheaper, saltier and tastier ways to do it. However, after a Leon meal, you can resume your journey with the smug feeling that at least one of your meals that day met nutritional guidelines and dream that, maybe next time, you’ll go for the full fry-up instead.

    Patrick Hughes

  • Gus’s Fried Chicken: best in Memphis?

    Gus’s Fried Chicken: best in Memphis?

    Coming to Memphis, TN for TravelCon 2022, some fellow YouTubers had worked out well in advance where they were going to eat and chewed through their foodie hitlist one by one. All I knew was that I wanted to try proper Memphis barbecue (stay tuned for that blog!) and to get myself some fried chicken.

    Gus’s Fried Chicken has become so popular in the US that it has 34 storefronts in 14 American states. Some of them, like this one, are franchises. To the outsider, the numbers tilt towards the corporate but this outlet feels anything but big chain, whether in the origin story of this brand or its Memphis Front Street location.

    Memphis 310 S Front Street Location

    Started from the back door of a tavern in Mason, TN by Napoleon “Na” Vanderbilt, and his wife, Ms. Maggie, this unique fried chicken recipe has taken on legendary status resulting in long lines at the Memphis branch of both locals and visitors anxious to get their taste on in this characterful and busy room, open to the busy kitchen beyond, where glimpses of deep fried golden goodness glisten in mesh frying baskets lifted fresh from the hot peanut oil.

    A busy and fun atmosphere

    We pored over the menu unsure what to order or how much. Inevitably, we overdid it. But better to have something to take home other than a wish for one more piece.

    Fountain drink

    Plates come with sides of coleslaw and baked beans and a piece of white bread. Now I’m not a fan of baked beans with chicken (I love them in isolation on toast with smears of salted butter and flecks of black pepper) so I swapped out for mac and cheese. My companion in Memphis, Kerry (blogger at Corks & Tacos), swapped out for collard greens.

    The Menu (prices current in May 2022)

    Once orders were in, the length of the ‘to go’ line and the queue yet to be seated gave us a hint it might take a while. And it did, close to 30 minutes.

    Just a little wait. Or a long one. Miss Kerry is elegant in black

    We watched each team member emerging from the kitchen, waiting for a sign! Gus’s servers wear bright branded tee-shirts and – despite the wait – they kept us smiling and informed. Customers in the US wait differently than their European counterparts. There is a little more calmness, a polite eyebrow raised to the server who is careful to manage expectations and keep your fountain drink topped up. This patience is a skill I don’t quite possess.

    The fun server tee shirts

    Kerry and I swapped stories of hanger, and it seemed that I had way more examples to pull from. I am a simple man who needs feeding, like a dog, at regular intervals! But for real, I think there’s an opportunity here to upsell something faster to prepare, perhaps a popcorn chicken appetiser, at least something which is consistent with the brand. Keep ’em chewing, and paying, I say!

    Two plates of fried chicken goodness

    Before long, two heaped paper plates groaned their way towards us and our smiles widened. The spicy, hot, crisp aromas activate your salivary glands as the meal hit the blue-chequered tablecloth.

    But this particular chicken plate sets up something of a problem. It issues a list of challenges to every other piece of fried chicken that you will eat in future:

    • How crunchy is the skin and spicy exterior?
    • Has the meat cooked through but maintained a juicy and flavourful texture?
    • How generous is the plateful?
    • Did my server just smile at me?

    I think the secret to everything (except the server, who remains a mystery) is the spice rub. Or probably the use of peanut oil at a super high temperature. Or the atmosphere. Darn it, I don’t know WHAT the secret is! It’s a taste I just loved. But… not everything reaches the same heights.

    Patrick can wait no longer!

    The success of Gus’s rides or dies on its single core product, done well. They have that perfected and they know it. The staff have the self-confidence that it’s worth waiting for and that people will be licking their fingers.

    Sides, on the other hand, were, well, adequate. My mac and cheese lacked a pinch of seasoning and the cheesy oomph their name promises. Kerry said her greens were “unenthusiastic”. The coleslaw fared better, a little sweeter than a European coleslaw but with a generous hand which heaped in the mayonnaise, giving a creamy and acidic finish.

    Sorry about those collard greens!

    We left behind a heap of well-sucked bones and flakes of white cabbage that escaped the sweeping tines of the plastic forks. The total bill came to just north of $40 for two people including tip, an absolute steal for the amount of enjoyment we extracted from this visit. As we handed over our dollar bills and thanked our server, I heard for the first time a phrase that became synonymous with my visit to Memphis: “I appreciate you”. Well, we appreciate you, Gus’s, and we will be back.

    In case you need the address in Memphis!