24 hours, 24 experiences in Copenhagen

Yesterday morning I was fortunate enough to wake up in the gorgeous city of Copenhagen. What a Danish delight. I can now understand where those cheesey songwriters were at wih their “wonderful, wonderful” exhaltations.
But forget the Little Mermaid, it was a seriously cool city with plenty going on in the culinary and design stakes. I went to see what happens at a Crayfish Festival and how the Danes do a Cooking Festival.
Here’s 24 of the best if you end up with a whirlwind visit;
1. Sample the homemade organic yoghurt at the Hotel Axel, add some honeyed almonds and know in in just one mouthful what the expression “land of milk and honey” refers to.
2. Eat your smoked salmon cut as thick as roast lamb.salmon.jpeg
3. Laugh at the pedal rickshaw drivers as they race across a road junction – and promptly crash into each other.
4. Walk along the harbour and marvel at who might be rich enough to moor a vessel the size of a small town with its own helicopter on top.
5. Eat outside in the magical, enchanted, utterly kitsch Tivoli Gardens illuminated by 120,000 incandescent bulbs.
6. Visit the Chilihouse just to see what can be inspired from our spicy favourites. Hats, aprons, chocolate, sauce, vodka, rock – I think this guy must have chili pants.
7. Take the train to Malmo in Sweden and enjoy the simple pleasure of tapas well done at La Roche. They can make a humble tomato sing.tapastom.jpg
8. See the sun go down over Sweden wrapped up in one of the handily provided fleecy blankets provided at all outdoor venues – the fantastic fish soup I sampled is optional.
9. Stand in a long, winding queue where all that can be seen ahead is the gales of smoke and the scent of cinnamon to eventually be treated to hot, sweet, comforting churros at one of the stalls set up for the festival.
10. Just approve of the way wine is always served with water – you don’t need to ask.
11. Recoil with horror when you see the bill for any alcohol. £8 is normal for a glass of wine.
12. Have a dilemma about the menu at Paul – one of the city’s fated Michelin restaurants. Is paying £80 for food, £80 for wine, plus £10 for cheese, plus £12 for a desert wine plus service PER PERSON indecent? Too rich for our budget but were we wrong to walk away – is that what credit cards were invented for? The debate goes on.
13. Enjoy Champagne at breakfast – this has to be the first time I’ve seen free glasses on the buffet available to all guests.
14. Sit alongside the canal and sample a half bottle of Chardonnay for £11. Yes a half bottle.
15. Wish you had a bigger suitcase which could be filled with unique home design goods.
16. Enjoy the experience of walking around a city at night with crowds of non-threatening people enjoying themselves – no vomit, no fighting, no peeing in the street and most definately no taxi rank punch-ups.
17. Purchase earplugs for any pretence of sleep in Malmo. These crayfish followers know how to party – late.
18. Savour the dark rye bread with seeds – soft and treacley, just perfect for cheese.
19. Relish the fact that marie rose suace is no-where to be seen
20. Consider the truth that lobster and rock oysters are served at Copenhagen airport while cold baked beans and bacon barms are dished out at Manchester Airport. airport.jpg
21. Strech your imagination to consider whether the edible rooves displed in Tivoli Gardens could be employed over here – apartment blocks with tops of lollo rosso, nasturtia or strawberries (pictured)? Come on developers, think different.
22.Where have al the Starbucks gone? Rejoice in a city where hundreds of independent coffee shops can be successful.
23. Marvel at how the Scandanavians can do so many things so well until you hear the music – then feel smug that you come from Manchester.
24. Plan another trip – you can’t do the place justice in 24 hours.
My full review of the trip to Copenhagen and Malmo will be published in the M.E.N in the near future. In the meantime, if I’ve whetted your appetite, there’s more info about the Crayfish Festival of Malmo here and the Cooking Festival of Copenhagen here.

Grab a little edible sunshine

corn.jpg Even if summer has mostly passed us by, it’s still possible to have some of the golden joy of sunshine in the shape of corn. It’s everywhere at the moment, piled high and sold cheap – yes, corn on the cob is definately in season.
What could be better than corn flowing with melted butter and a grinding of black pepper? Everytime I tuck into this little bit of summer it reminds me of the pesky squirrels at the allotments who always beat me to it, leaving me with nothing but stumps after careful watering and waiting until the cobs were ready.

There’s something essentially wholesome and fundemental about the appearence of the yellow corn and the soft, green, layers of packaging which nature so thoughfully provides.

And I’m always reminded of the charming stories two very sensible professionals tell me of their student days picking the corn when it was so fresh that they ate it straight from the plant with the juice running down their faces. Such a simple sensuous pleasure that for me sums up everything about a sunny English summer.
It’s that time of year again. Enjoy.
Thanks to cklnomein at Flickr for the picture.

Lentil puree

This is a sort of daal that’s easy to use and versatile. Use as a base and simply add vegetables such as carrots and red pepper to make a more substantial meal or add tinned tomatoes and vegetable stock to thin it to a soup consistency. It freezes well too.
What you need
One large cup of red spilt lentils.
One finely chopped onion.
Clove of crushed garlic.
Chapped fresh garlic to taste (the more the better for me).
1 tbsp oil.
2 tsp of tumeric.
2 cups of hot vegetable stock.
1 tsp of garam masala.
Salt and pepper to taste.
What you do
Soften the onion and garlic in the oil.
Add the ginger.
Add the tumeric.
Wash the lentils and stir fry them for about a minute.
Add the stock little by little.
Leave to simmer for about 20 minutes.
Add more stock if necessary – should be the consistency of porridge.
Add the garam masala and salt and pepper.
Simmer for a further 10 minutes until all the lentils are soft.
Serve with rice or naan bread for a snack or as a vegetable side dish for a fuller meal. Great with lamb chops.

Magic ingredients: Dried chilli

These fiery little fellows are just great. I foud these particular ones in an Italian deli in Soho of all places – not exactly my usual haunt!
Thankfully I think it will take me a while to get through them as I soon discovered only a tiny amount is necessary so that’ll give me time to source some nearer to home.
They really do pack a punch to any dish. I’ve used them to great effect in obvious dishes such as a veggie chili and they totally liven up a pasta sauce. Just one will give a kick – the four I put in a penne proved to be too hot to handle!
You can just about put them in anything and it makes it more interesting – a boring omlette – add a chili, beans on toast, soup, daal ANYTHING.
Not only tasty, chili is also believed to have health benefits. According to Chilis Galore, among others,

“Chillis are loaded with vitamin A, a potent antioxidant and boost to the immune system. As the pods mature and darken, high quantities of vitamin C are gradually replaced with beta carotene and the capsaicin levels are at their highest. Due to these capsaicin levels, some believe that eating chillis may have an extra thermic affect, temporarily speeding up the metabolic rate, hence burning off calories at a faster rate.”

Crumble and enjoy!

A step into the horrible world of kids food

fishcake.jpgAren’t children’s menus horrid? Not having any small people in our home, it’s never been an issue for me before but looking after my adventurous eating niece this weekend was a bit of an eye-opener.
She is an unusual three-year-old, not doubt, enjoying olives, mussels and all manner of sophisticated things largely thanks to her French mama.
But like all kids she also enjoys chips, ketchup and ice-cream so we called in for a seaside treat at the weekend which proved a little too challenging – fish cake.
This golden coated, almost flat saucer of a thing didn’t look appealing. We cut it into small pieces, we smothered it in ketchup but she wasn’t going to be tempted.
Eventually I tried it myself and decided she had far too much taste to be persuaded to eat it – a strong slurry of fishy filling, no evidence of any seasoning, and all encased in a completely greasy coating.
That wouldn’t appeal to any child surely.
Our experience, at Tribells in Llandudno isn’t uncommon apparently. According to a report out last week, 66 per cent of respondents said the meals on offer for children were unhealthy – such as chicken nuggets and fries – or poor quality.
Leaving the children’s fish cake well alone, my niece enjoyed a succulent piece of plaice off the proper menu instead and finished off a top day out with a donkey ride. There’s some things that still can’t be beaten about a British seaside trip.

Outside @ Tom’s Chop House

A pub restaurant that’s well known for the quality of its food and an outdoor area right in the heart of the city. Tom’s is the popular choice for shoppers and workers alike.
The plus
It has to be the food with generous portions of well-prepared and presented traditional food. It’s generally a meaty treat Corned beef has, black pudding fritters) but there’s also a good fish selection and something (but not much) for veggies (cheese pasty).
We saw someone else eating the fish and chips and just couldn’t resist. It really was as good as it looked. Read the full verdict here.
Service was great too – fast, friendly and up to date on what is and isn’t available.

The minus

It seems the venue is a victim of its own success. The seating is truly crowded together. See this video to see what I mean.
This is an added issue in the post smoking ban world as the smokers of world seem to think they can overrun every single seat outside every single venue.
Leaving veggie sensibilities aside for a minute, you can’t go wrong here. It’s always busy and bustling – because it’s good. The outdoor area could be bigger and could be more spacious of bylaws allowed.
If you’re a veggie – probably worth giving the chop house a miss – even if you fancied the pasty or the wild mushroom wellington, all those people tucking into chunks of carcass could be off putting.

Mr. Thomas’s Chop House is at 52 Cross Street, Manchester. M2 7AR Phone: 0161 832 2245.

@ Tom’s Chop House

We sampled the traditional fish and chips sitting outside in the rare sunshine of St Ann’s Square. Served with chips, mushy peas and home-made tartar sauce it’s not cheap at £12.50.
Batter: This is, without question and by far, the best fish batter I have tasted at least this ytear if not forever. Crisp, so light it melts in your mouth, completely sympathetic to the fish – I don’t know what more I can say. It’s perfect.
Fish: Good, beautifully cooked and moreish despite its generous size.
Chips: Again they were good. No unwanted black bits, served in a bowl so they stayed crisp in the face of the mushys and too many to handle. Yes it’s unheard of but Himself couldn’t finish the chips.
Peas: Not the best part of the meal – but then it did have steep competition. A bit sweet and rather too green but I am being picky.
Tartar sauce: Good, homemade style with a tang. A real addition to the plate – definitely not a garnish.
Verdict: If I ever have to host overseas visitors I will take them here. This is where our national dish is done properly. Yes it’s pricey but this is a case where you get what you pay for. Top.

Mr. Thomas’s Chop House is at 52 Cross Street, Manchester. M2 7AR Phone: 0161 832 2245.

Goodbye to Lotus

Another one gone. The stylish Lotus dim sum and cocktail bar operated by the Manchester institution of the Yang Sing has shut its doors.
No more delightful steamed nut appetisers that look like alien eggs or iced marguerita’s and, most sadly of all, no more roof terrace.
The multi-storey venue which spanned from King Street to St Ann’s Square served its last crispy duck last week and workmen could be seen removing fittings by the weekend.
I always liked the stylish Lotus and I previously enjoyed the roof terrace in its first incarnation as Mumbo tea house.
But I’m guessing the fact that you could always be guaranteed a table or have a quiet drink on the best terrace in the city centre when Mumbo was based there must have ultimately been its downfall.
It’s hard to understand why and so far I haven’t been able to get a response from the Yang Sing.
It’s a great building in a great location which attracts hundreds of people to eat next door at Tom’s Chop House
or to enjoy the many food events in St Anne’s Square.
What will happen now isn’t clear but I will update this blog just as soon as I hear.
I just hope it’s next life will be as an eaterie worthy of mention and that attracts the diners in numbers sufficient for its survival.

What’s a tip for?

TIPPING is fast becoming a tricky issue to navigate. As my colleague Simon Donohue points out in today’s M.E.N; “those of us who have grown up sandwiched neatly between the tight-fisted and the downright flashy must now pick our way through an entire world of etiquette.”
Leaving aside, for a moment, my concerns abut who actually receives the money , what is the tip for?
I’ve always taken it to be a reward for good service, a small token for a person who goes out of their way above what’s expected of their job.
A good waiter/ess doesn’t just deliver the food with a smile, they are knowledgeable about the menu, can recommend dishes or wine and make you feel that nothing’s too much trouble.
But there’s also a widely held view that the tip reflects the quality of the cooking – or perhaps the whole dining experience.
If the food is rubbish, the venue draughty and the seats uncomfortable should you still tip if the service is excellent?
I’d say yes but I’d love to hear your experiences.
And while we’re on the topic of tipping, it seems that my petition to get tips or services charges paid over to those who actually serve hasn’t got much support yet. Come on, these staff don’t get paid that much and if you bothered to give a tip, don’t you want it to be handed on?

Garnish anguish 3 – the environmentally unfriendly variety

This delightful looking slither of delicate colour appeared in a garnish recently. I wasn’t sure at the time what it was – or what it was for.
It didn’t taste of much, but I’ve since discovered that it was a slice of Dragon Fruit which travelled around the globe to join my broccoli quiche of all things.
According to legend, this strange fruit was formed by the dragon’s fiery breath and if you eat the flesh of this creature you became empowered with the dragon’s strength and ferocity.
Can’t say I noticed that particular effect but being served this relative of the cactus did make me question the sense of flying Vietnam’s main export to join a completely un-complementary dish.
According to the Carbon Footprint website, a one way trip from Hanoi to Britain is about 9, 241 km and will contribute 1.04 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

That’s some fiery, fiery, hot air those Dragon’s are responsible for.

The only possible reason for using this in a garnish could have been for its pretty purple edged colour. So what’s wrong with a good old British radish? Beautiful colour, great crunch and a far more suitable accompaniment to cheese as well as being available in just about every region of the country.
There’s as much information about Dragon Fruit as you could ever want to be found at this very informative blog from Greenhouse Girl.
Garnish anguish 2

Garnish anguish 1.