Sunday, 30 November 2014

Local dishes: a BIG sandwich at Melo's bar and restaurant, Madrid, Spain

Here I am holding a massive F Off  sandwich in Madrid. Apparently it's one of the biggest in Spain, and it's a weighty, glistening, 8 inch heap Galician bread, ham and molten cheese.


You know what's coming. Yes, I recommend you try it.

The zapatilla (meaning sneaker, because it resembles one in size) is *the* dish to order at Melo's Bar in Madrid.

Now I know it looks a bit overwhelming, but share it and it's fiiiiiiine

It's a local kind of place - 1970s decor, old men in flat caps sipping beer, rowdy students, and tables littered with plates and glasses. When I say littered, I mean completely covered in shite. It was hard to resist tidying up.


Still, it all adds to the charm of the place. As does the surly owner, who tossed the sandwich at us when it was ready. Undeterred, as big fans of beer, cheese, bread and a "bit of local", we loved it here. 

As you can see, the sandwich is hefty, so it's best to share, leaving some space for pimentos on the side - fried (obviously, I think everything here is) peppers, heaped with salt.


All that salt and cheese will leave you parched, so head round the corner to the dimly lit Plaza Lavapies for a bucket of beer (small stubbies in a bucket, not a bucket and straw - the Madrilenos are far too sophisticated for that stuff). Or you can have a gin and tonic in a glass the size of your head (maybe they aren't that sophisticated after all).

Grannies knit and natter, and youths dance provocatively to hip hop, asking if you want to buy weed...

Is there a better way to start your Saturday night in Madrid? Nope, I don't think so.



Calle del Ave Maria 44
28012 Madrid 




Sunday, 23 November 2014

Review: Burguer de bacalhau (black bun salmon burger), Lisbon, Portugal

What's all this! A black bun?? With a pink wodge of fish?

Not the usual burger I write about on here, but it's a good one. 

You may have seen me banging on about loving Lisbon. I may have said I want to wear the Portuguese flag around my neck, like a cape. I still do.

I'm so into Lisbon that I persuaded some pals we should go back to the city, try out the bars of Bally Ally (that's Bairro Alto) and then head north to see Placebo play in Porto (more on that later).

But before all that, we had to try a "burguer de bacalhau" from O Prego da Peixaria in the Time Out food market. It's a black bun packed with a huge "patty" of salmon, dressed with pickled seaweed. Sound weird? It is a bit. But it's also good, bizarrely filling - and at €7, it's a steal. Definitely try it. And maybe share it, it's pretty full on. 


While you're at the Time Out market get some tempura beans with the mustard dip (from Cafe de Sao Bento).


And then go to Bally Ally. And make the most of the 40p bottles of Sagres. Yes, 40p.


All my other Lisbon tips are in one handy place, right here.
For a more traditional burger in Lisbon, head here.



Saturday, 8 November 2014

Review: Burgershack, The Royal Oak, Marylebone, London

London's most prestigious burger blogger (er no, not me) has created his own burger menu. 

Burgerac is my fav London burger detective, and his taste in music is almost as good as mine. He's not a Bruce Springsteen fan (I'm working on it) but he is all about great tunes.

What a relief! London now has sweet ass burgers, in a chilled pub, with excellent music. It's Burgerac's new venture - Burgershack - at The Royal Oak pub in Marylebone.

I'm not writing nice things because he's my pal. I'm writing nice things because these burgers are really excellent. They have been meticulously crafted (I expect no less from Burgerac, he's a proper perfectionist with this stuff) and are some of the best going.

All over my jeans. ALL OVER.

Burgerac loves his music as much as he loves his burgers, so when you go (not if, but when) you can expect to hear some top quality tracks (that's coming from someone who doesn't dish out restaurant/pub music praise too frequently). During my visit there was some David Bowie and Men Without Hats. I mean that song Safety Dance, not loads of men in the pub not wearing hats. Although there was a bit of that too.

The Royal Oak pub is in swanky Marylebone so the burgers may appear a tad expensive. But you're paying for quality and expertise here, and it's all very chilled. Visit on a Saturday and there's 20% off all food. 

And you should eat all the food - we ordered one of each side dish (excluding the slaw) and they were ALL delicious, particularly the deep fried pickles with a light crispy batter. Ooh, and the chilli cheese fries. Perv on the full menu here.


Great tunes, great pub, great burgers? It's a good time guaranteed.



Burgershack
The Royal Oak
74 - 76 York Street
W1H 1QN
www.burgershack.co





Sunday, 12 October 2014

Out In The Street: The best restaurants, bars and activities in Lisbon, Portugal

I realised something in Lisbon.

I am a nightmare to travel with. Not because I'm dozy, or lazy, or tight, or uninterested. But because I like food. Hell, I love food. I love it so much that when I go away I create endless lists of places I want to eat and drink, and then I start doing things like making grid charts of where I need to be and when. And timetables. And maps, with stars and scribbles all over them. And stickers. 

Then the lucky person I'm travelling with gets dragged from meal to meal, like a bad school trip. And then I make them eat waaaay more than they are comfortable with, and we leave feeling full and lethargic, before I check my watch and realise we need to hot foot it across town for our next meal.

And so it continues.

The good thing about this is, if you read this blog, and you aren't a long suffering, stuffed full friend, then I have basically eaten all the shit so you don't have to. This blog post is one epic list of what to see/do/eat in Lisbon, and without it....well....you're buggered. 

Because Lisbon is one hell of a city. I've renamed it: "Lisbon: the city that just keeps giving." It has it all. The food, the nightlife, the beaches. It's cheap, close to the airport, breezy, there are no mosquitoes. Lisbon is a generous city. It just wants you to enjoy it.

And so do I.


This is how:

Eating

One of the best things about Lisbon is that they stick two fingers up at the dry bread basket. You know, the stale bread you fill up on before a meal as you wait for your food to arrive. Instead, many of Lisbon's restaurants give you baskets of toasted bread dripping with garlic butter. That's also what they do at Ramiro. An institution in the city, this big and bustling “seafood temple” is packed with locals tucking into seafood including percebes (barnacles), crab and king prawns. OK, I admit I went too far with the ordering. As my friend slipped into a food coma, I got involved in the final dish - a deliciously salty prego, a garlic smothered steak sandwich that the locals eat instead of dessert. Arrive here early because queues are BIG, otherwise expect to wait an hour or so (they keep you topped up with beer outside while you wait). Av. Almirante Reis, No 1 - H.

That's my kind of dessert

Landeau
F*ck me this place is good. They have one food item on their menu: chocolate cake. And it really is the best I've eaten. Rich, gooey with a hint of salt (the food in the city is notoriously salty - even the cake). The whole concept of this place is about sharing, sharing tables, sharing cake. But don't be a puss - have a slice each. If you really like it, you can buy whole cakes to cake away. Rua da Flores, No 70.



Tartine
A cute little bakery in the Chiado district, Tartine combines Portuguese traditions with French techniques. This box of pastries and two coffees came in at under ten euro. My favourite was the shortbread tart filled with apple compote, topped with a condensed milk foam and cinnamon. Rua Serpa Pinto, 15A.

Expect old biddies and tourists at this custard tart institution in Belem. It's in all the guide books but for good reason; I ate my body weight in custard tarts over five days, and this was undoubtedly the best (others must agree - they sell around 20,000 of the things a day). You can order them to take away (I saw grannies with boxes piled higher than their heads), but I'd say take a seat in the warren of blue and white tiled rooms, and enjoy with a coffee. Rua de Belem, No 84 -92.



Drinking

My favourite part of town is definitely Bairro Alto (or Bally Ally when you’ve had a few). It's a maze of narrow and hilly cobbled streets lined with small bars (go to any of them, they're all good). Locals spill out onto the streets guzzling beers and litres of caiprinhas (yes, litres - be wary of the hangover). Expect impromptu concerts from buskers in the street and an electric carnival atmosphere.


They didn't take requests, I checked

Over in Alfama, slow down with a more sophisticated kind of nightlife. Here you can hear the sorrowful sounds of "fado" - Lisbon's signature music - floating over the rooftops. It's slightly more relaxed, but less fun, I think. 

Formerly a brothel, this trendy bar is one of Lisbon’s hottest night spots. Frescoed ceilings, mirrored walls, eclectic furniture and intriguing X-rated ornaments in the loo are all part of the experience. Queues get big so go early – it’s worth seeing. Rua do Alecrim, 1200 - 292. 

I've made this pic small as it's a bit...rude. You get the idea.

Socks on? Socks off?

Kiosks
All around Lisbon you'll spot little kiosks in squares, great places to stop for a breather and a Sagres beer/white port and tonic (TRY IT). 

For some reason, too many caipirinhas perhaps, we decided to go to a club called Urban Beach. Avoid it at all costs. This guy hated it so much he was sick! I hated it so much that I was sick too!

Oh yeah, I had a burger. Can't tell you much about it though.

Seeing

Over in Belem the intricately beautiful Jeronimos monastery is fascinating. When the industrial revolution ousted the monks in 1920, one escaped to the nearby Pesties de Belem (mentioned above) and exchanged his safety in return for the now famous pastel de nata recipe.


Belem Tower
Detour to the Belem Tower for a beautiful example of Manueline architecture (the tower’s silhouette resembles a ship, with an aim to ward off pirates back in the day).


Carmo Convent
Set in one of the most famous squares in Lisbon, the roof of Convento do Carmo collapsed during the 1755 earthquake, sadly killing all of the occupants. As a mark of respect, the roof has not been replaced, and the gothic arches now rise into the sky.

Doing

Bruce Springsteen fans, we’re like homing pigeons. Can you imagine my joy when I found a lady who loves food as much as me, and she's also a BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN FAN. Yep, Celia is a food journalist who runs the brilliant Eat Drink Walk tour of Lisbon, and if you like your food, you've got to do it. Hair of the dog style, Celia started our day with a local cherry brandy, which we shot back (well no one told me to sip it) before we moved on to Mercardo da Rebeira, a gathering of food kiosks in Cais de Sodre. Here we tried tempura beans, cheese and ham, before we followed her to one of the most famous shops in town for a fishy feast. www.eatdrinkwalk.com

BRUCE BUD

Sidecar Tour
Did I mention that Lisbon is a city of seven hills? Yep, and they are all bloody steep. We hiked up and down a few and then realised the best way to get around the city was blatantly on a motorbike with a side car. So for half a day Daniel whizzed us around the city, while we pissed ourselves laughing. Travelling by sidecar means you can access the hilly parts of town that trams/cars/buses can't reach (and the bits you can't be arsed to climb). As his sidecar isn't branded you don't look like a tit either, you just look like three cool people cruising around on their bike. Yeah!


Daniel strikes the right balance of informative but fun. He does half day tours, full day tours and day trips to places like Sintra (doing that next time). If you're up for a laugh, this is it. www.bikemyside.com

Beach
If all the excitement of the city becomes too much to handle, hop on the train for 30 mins and you’ll find yourself in the pretty little beach town of Cascais. There’s several beaches to choose from (stroll around to find the one you prefer), then settle down for an afternoon of tanning, dipping (it’s chilly!) people watching and beer drinking.



We kept being told to ride the canary yellow No. 28 tram, so we did. Built in England in the early 20th century, the trams rattle the steep slopes through town.  It gets busy, but it’s still worth doing the whole journey. To get the best views grab a seat at the side and stick your head out the window. Like a dog. 

Ride this funicular up the hill (not down the hill, like we did – amateurs) and look out for graffiti as you go – Lisbon is one of the most graffiti cities in the world, but it’s more street art and less scrawls.

Lisbon is famous for great graffiti...

Shopping

Lisbon is crammed with vintage shops, and along with a joyful 80s batwing shirt I found vinyls including Billy Idol and The Waterboys. Oh and a catapult. And a back pack.


Dreamy option in Cais do Sodre. My thoughts here.

Sleek, minimalist, with a rooftop pool. My thoughts here.

I could keep going. Churches. Bars. Restaurants. But if you’re stuck for time, stick to the above and you are guaranteed good times.

It’s the city that just keeps giving, remember?




Review: Memmo Alfama Hotel, Lisbon, Portugal

The view. The view, the view, the view. Oh and the croissant loaf.

Location 
Alfama is regarded as a desirable part of Lisbon, where all the wealthy used to hang. They abandoned the area to fisherman in the Middle Ages (they were scared of earthquakes), but  sadly Alfama was one of the only parts of Lisbon to survive the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the city in 1755. Nowadays it's a hilly warren of pretty churches and cafes. Head down one of the side alleys, past rows of floral granny pants drying in the sun, and you’ll find Memmo Alfama, a converted 18th century factory, and now a chic boutique hotel overlooking the River Tagus.


The Space 
If minimalism is your thing then this place is particularly dreamy: crisp lines, neutral fabrics and pale bleached wooden furniture. It’s very…white. Until you go to the loo and spot the canary yellow loo paper – a nod to the city’s famed No. 28 (yellow) tram.



The 42 bedrooms look out over a mind-blowing alfresco terrace, with views over the rooftops of the district. It’s one of the only hotels in the city to offer an outdoor pool, a bonus with this stellar view (sailors, church spires etc). Go on, have a dip. 

Things I Liked
I think I’ll list them.

1) I always seem to say breakfast. But yes, breakfast. Especially the croissant loaf. Yes that’s right, a LOAF OF CROISSANT. It was hard to resist tipping snatching the whole thing from the buffet and running away with it. On the side there’s egg custard tarts galore, other breakfasty things like ham and cheese, and an honesty fridge for your drinks. I got involved. 

2) The blissful mid-afternoon respite of that bed (I was feeling a little worse for wear). This place is *calm*. 

3) That rooftop. “Memmo” translates to “memory”, and I won’t forget my time chilling here. At first I thought It was little bizarre, but the rotation of ships docking on the water down the hill from the hotel was fascinating. We took to googling each boat as it came in (no not sad, but interesting). We also loved lounging on the warm terrace like beached wales, drinking Sagres in the sun. In the evening the rooftop takes on a super chilled sultry vibe, the sorrowful notes of “fado” (Lisbon’s signature music) floating over the houses.



4) They offer free walking tours around the area each morning, handy for getting your bearings, because it is easy to get lost in the maze of tiny streets.

The not so hot
Sometimes all the white scared me. “What if I spill my red wine/coffee/port!!!” I fretted.

Getting there
It’s a 15 minute walk from the centre of town or a €5 taxi. Taxis from the airport should be around €12.

Price
Prices start from €110 B&B per room per night, based on two sharing. Book here.


*For all my food, bar and activity recommendations in Lisbon have a read here.


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