Lunch@The Artist, Bucharest

We are in Bucharest and we are looking for an unforgettable food experience. After a little research, we have settled on lunch at The Artist . Dutch chef, Paul Oppenkamp uses the kitchen at The Artist to create ‘delicious sculptures through the magic of texture, flavour and colour’. We are excited at the prospect.

P1020531a

The restaurant is quiet when we arrive but it soon starts to fill up. I order a bottle of Ursus, a popular local Romanian lager. It is significantly better than other local beers I have tasted but that is not saying much – Romanian beer has not yet reached the heights of some of its European neighbours. Rock has The Artist Cocktail – a combination of lemongrass and elderflower, topped up with prosecco.  She is already enjoying herself.

The menu here is full of interesting dishes and they offer the option of spoon tasting! If you want to try all the starters, for example, they will give you a spoonful of each as your starter. Even the bread here is an event – small fresh, delicate rolls are served with olive oil foam and a special salt. Beautiful.

P1020528a
Parmesan roll with olive oil foam

Then we have a dramatic amuse-bouche. Whipped brie, granola and an intense orange gel served on a bowl of dry ice and accompanied by sunflower seed crackers. Wow – great food with built in entertainment!

P1020530a
Whipped brie, granola and orange gel

Unusually, Rock and I choose the same starter, hot smoked grilled trout with polenta, black garlic, onions, and whipped white cheese wrapped in a tomato gel. The trout is presented in a glass dome filled with smoke and the accompaniments are set out in a curve around the edge of the plate. Beautiful to look at and beautiful to eat.

P1020532a
Hot smoked grilled trout, polenta, black garlic, whipped cheese & tomoto gel

No spoon tasting yet but it’s coming soon. Rock decides to have the white cod for her main – served with zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant and a gentle curry. It is sensational. But I’m going for spoons – I have a spoon of every main course – white cod, chicken, jumbo prawn, veal fillet, sea bass and lamb fillet. The portions give you enough to understand and appreciate the flavours of each dish but not so much as to make you feel like a glutton.

P1020535a
White cod, zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant and curry.
P1020539a
Spoons of lamb fillet, jumbo prawn, chicken, sea bass & veal fillet.  Bowl of white cod.

We don’t want this experience to end so, without really needing more food, we decide to share the dessert spoons. Another bit of theatre now follows. Paul comes out of the kitchen with a pestle and mortar. He places the mortar, which contains orange zest, mint and basil leaves in front of Rock. He pours dry ice over the leaves to freeze them and asks Rock to crush the leaves with the pestle. This releases the fabulous smell of mint, basil & orange and, into the crushed leaves, he drops a ball of cucumber sorbet – this is both a palate cleanser and a stunning first dessert.

P1020540a
Cucumber sorbet with mint, basil & orange zest

The sorbet is followed by spoons of strawberry & white chocolate, a chocolate cigar with salted caramel and coconut and a raspberry cone with berries. Extraordinary. We draw out the experience further with great coffee and an exquisitely intense chocolate truffle.

P1020542a
Spoons of salted caramel, chocolate & coconut, raspberry cone & berries, strawberry & white chocolate

The Artist is a very civilised, quiet and unassuming restaurant. The people here are polite, very helpful and very keen that their diners enjoy themselves. The food is presented in extraordinary ways and the flavours match the aesthetics. This has been one of the best eating experiences we have had anywhere in the world. It has been truly unforgettable.

2016 Food Awards – Part 1

WadeandRockandFood Awards 2016

The WadeandRockandFood Awards 2016 follow another year of dining out in hundreds of restaurants, pubs and cafes. The awards aim to celebrate the very best eating experiences we have had over the last 12 months. Awards 2016 part 1 will focus on restaurants, part 2 on pubs and part 3 on small independent food providers.

We have had an extraordinary year in terms of visiting restaurants of the highest quality. As usual, we have narrowed it down to 3 UK restaurants that we loved the most, plus a new award for the best international eating experience. The top UK restaurants are listed in alphabetical order followed by the winner of the international award.

UK

Aizle, Edinburgh

This place creates a 5 course menu from monthly ‘harvest’ ingredients that are all at the height of quality and seasonality. They create dishes and cocktails that are sensational. Aizle Review

Carters, Moseley

3,5,or 7 course set lunch menus cleverly balance big flavours and a variety of textures. It was a joy to find such a diamond of a restaurant in a relatively unassuming suburb of Birmingham! Cart Review

The Woodspeen, Woodspeen

This beautiful airy restaurant was featured in the 2015 awards and we couldn’t resist going back. They spoil diners with exceptional service and consistently fabulous food. Wood Review – Jan 16. Wood Review – Aug 16.

International

Kodbyens Fiskebar, Copenhagen

Skilful kitchen teamwork helps to create fish dishes and desserts that are fantastic to look at and even better to eat! Despite the restaurant being very lively, the service is still superb. Kod Review

Parts 2 and 3 will follow over the next few days.

Dinner@Bica do Sapato, Lisbon

Last night in Lisbon and last night in Portugal….we need to finish on a high. Bica do Sapato is a smart restaurant housed in an old port building. Glass walls on one side give fabulous views over the waterfront and photographic panels on the other walls change every now and then to create a more interesting environment. Music plays gently in the background and the whole feel of the place is very sophisticated.

Nearly every time we have dined in Portugal we have been presented with bread and olives while we look through the menu. We usually send them back because we know there is a cover charge and we don’t want to pay for something that we are not going to enjoy. Here, however, the bread selection and the olives look beautiful and are accompanied by a chicken liver paté and a lightly spiced butter. We’re not sending any of this back…

Once we have decided on food we ask about which wine would complement our dishes and we both have a glass of the Casa de Santar Reserva, a fine and fruity Portuguese red.

Rock is having the stewed pork cheek with creamy potato purée and a poached quail’s egg. It is absolutely beautiful. I have chosen the grilled swordfish served with couscous, tomatoes, lemongrass and ginger. It is superb – the swordfish is meaty enough to work well with the fabulous flavours of the lemongrass and ginger.

For dessert we decide to share the lemon meringue tart with red fruit sorbet. Instead of simply giving us two spoons – the kitchen divides the tart onto two plates each with a quenelle of sorbet. Fine pastry, tangy lemon, delicate meringues and a lovely sorbet. A fitting end to an elegant and enjoyable meal. We would have stayed for coffee, and maybe a port, but the gentle background music has changed…

Earlier we were getting music similar in style to Richard Hawley or I Am Kloot and these helped to enhance the ambience of the restaurant. This changed to something that sounded like a cross between Bon Jovi and Anthony & the Johnsons – the volume has been turned up and some of it sounds like harrassed wailing. It all feels very intrusive and entirely inappropriate.

Overall, we loved the food and the service. The restaurant is a fabulous and sophisticated setting. Whoever is in charge really needs to make sure the music is in harmony with the food, the setting and the people who are paying the bill!

Dinner@Baia do Peixe, Cascais

It’s our last night in Cascais and we are heading for Baia do Peixe for dinner. Located on the waterfront close to the centre of Cascais, Baia do Peixe unsurprisingly, focuses on fish.

I’m keen to experiment and choose the Rodizio de Peixe. This is a set menu that includes fish soup, a selection of fish from the grill and a dessert. A bottle of Casa Ferreirinha Esteva, a Portuguese red from the Douro region with notes of fruit and oak, will help us to ease our way through the evening.

My fish soup is perfectly pleasant but without the depth and flavour I associate with the Bouillabaisse you find in southern France. Rock does not have a starter and her main is grilled grouper. Nicely cooked and served with vegetables & potatoes. Meanwhile, my fish is coming in waves….first salmon, then grouper, then turbot, followed by squid and sea bass. Mostly cooked very well though the sea bass was overcooked. Apparently, it will just keep coming but that is enough for me!

I haven’t really got any room left for dessert but Rock will help me. We choose the Queijada de Sintraa traditional Portuguese cheesecake. All I can say is that the kitchen is far better at cooking fish than it is at creating desserts!

Overall, this is really a place for people who love fish and have a big appetite. Unfortunately, they seem to focus a little more on value for money than they do on quality.

Dinner@Apeadeiro, Cascais

We did some online research about where to eat before we came to Cascais and almost everyone suggested that Apeadeiro is the place for fish. When we arrived at our hotel in Cascais we asked the owner to recommend places to eat – his first recommendation was Apeadeiro. Tonight is the night!

We arrive early – as we don’t have a reservation and we’ve been told that locals will fill the place later. When I ask about the fish they have on the menu tonight, I am led through to an area adjacent to the kitchen. Here, there are rows upon rows of fresh fish laid out on beds of ice, ready for the grill. Each type of fish is described to me and which is suitable for one person or for two to share – they look magnificent. Wow!

Rock and I discuss the options and decide to share the turbot. I have a glass of the house red, Rock a glass of the house white. The turbot is extraordinary – a beautifully fresh and perfectly grilled whole turbot is served with salad, potatoes and vegetables. We have had some extraordinary fish dishes over the last few months and this is up there with the best….

For dessert we share the Doce de Apeadeiro – a baked meringue with chocolate mousse and chocolate cake. It cannot meet the heights reached by the turbot.

The place has been filling up while we have been eating and it is now nearly full. The service has been superb, the prices very reasonable and all those online and in person recommendations are right….if you are in Cascais and like eating fresh fish, this is definitely the place!

Breakfast@Casa São Miguel, Sintra

While in Sintra we are staying at Casa Sao Miguel and we need to talk about breakfast. We have been lucky enough to enjoy some extraordinary breakfasts this year…..here they provide one of the best.

Freshly squeezed orange juice, a good selection of teas and coffees, small but finely flavoured savoury pies and rolls, different local breads, local cheeses, hams, sweet breakfast pastries, a selection of Portuguese honeys, home-made fruit tarts and eggs cooked freshly to order.

This is a great place to sleep and an even better place to wake up!

Dinner@A Raposa, Sintra

A Raposa is quirky and eclectic in almost every way. Sergio is the chef and the only person we see front of house is a lady, that we assume is his wife. The grand dining room has a high stucco ceiling, carved wooden furniture, the walls are decorated in murals and the tableware looks like it has been here since the 19th century. During the day the tall windows must let in plenty of light but, in the evening, light is provided by what look like netted birdcages full of flowers hanging from the ceiling!

They do have a menu in English – which helped as the lady serving us has about as much understanding of English as we have of Portuguese. We attempt a conversation about the menu but, in the end, we just have to hope for the best. We order two glasses of Vadio red wine from the Bairrado region of Portugal. It is very good – full bodied with notes of fruit and balsamic.

We are sharing a starter of mini toasts topped with creamed goats cheese, gorgonzola, camembert, sesame seeds and something sweet which we can’t quite identify. They are, nevertheless, very enjoyable.

Rock decides to have the Carpaccio Tropical – a mix of leaves and seeds with smoked salmon, mango and strawberry. She finds it a lovely mix of fresh ingredients but the mustard seed liquor combined with the mango makes the dish just too sweet for her. I have the sirloin of beef with a selection of different types of potato and toasted seeds. My steak is beautiful – perfectly cooked and full of flavour.

For dessert we share the berry cheesecake. We are surprised to find it served warm, it is not the most exciting of cheesecakes and a bit of a disappointment.

It has been a fascinating evening. We loved the wine and I loved my steak. The mini toasts were really good and the feel and décor of A Raposa has been an interesting change from the norm. We need to learn far more of the Portuguese language before coming here again…