Restaurants this time.
Well, if I felt “spoiled for choice” in 2014 this year has been completely crazy.
A huge variety, in so many places.
I visited Newcastle several times and that brought me a nice surprise – a Persian restaurant. Excellent. “A Taste of Persia” it’s called. I’ll be going back there.
We ate very well in Amsterdam and Prague.
Ingolstadt gave me a few happy experiences. It always does.
The highlight in Helsinki was eating whitebait at a market stall by the Eteläsatama (East Harbour).
Whitebait, veggies and rice. €10 the plate. You just choose from what’s on offer and pay, then take your paper plate to the tables alongside. Great food. Great fun. No fuss.
Le 19eme in Foix was special, not because it was anything fancy – quite the opposite – it was just so “small town France at lunchtime”. At the time I wrote…
…it was full. All locals, lunching out. Quite a few had the French equivalent of lunch vouchers.
The staff were running around demented. The patron even had to help out (he’s in his 80s) by making a few leisurely coffees. The service was excellent in spite of the rush – it’s probably like that every day. I was there for just on an hour.
I had the menu du jour – carrot salad, then a turkey leg (jambonette, they called it) with peas and a chocolate dessert. All that plus a coffee for €13.80. Superb value for money.
No Michelin stars were involved, of course.
Toulouse is a big place for gastronomy, and I didn’t miss out. Le Peyrolières was probably the best…
I was there on a Saturday lunchtime. I went in about 12.15 (seems horrendously early to a Brit, but normal – or even a bit late – around here). By 12.30 it was full. It isn’t big – say 26 covers – so worth booking in advance.
2 course fixed price menu was €12. I had a rocket salad with parmesan shavings and walnuts (walnuts are very “local”). Then a “steak haché” with fried potatoes and a fried egg on top of the meat. Hamburger is the only way to translate steak haché, but it is as far removed from a Brit’s idea of hamburger as it’s possible to get. Top quality meat. Cooked to perfection (“saignant” in my case – bleeding).
I had a mousse au chocolat for dessert – €3 extra. It was nothing to get excited about, but when was the last time I had dessert in a decent restaurant for about £2.50?
They serve wine by the “pichet” – a carafe. Perfect for me as a 25cl (1/4 litre or 1/3 of a bottle) is just about right for me on my own. At lunchtime… €3 for the wine.
So if you’re in Toulouse and looking for food in the Esquirol/Daurade quartier, I’d recommend it. Highly. The beef was the best bit of meat I’ve had in a long time.
Lithuania didn’t let me down on the foodie front. Re-visiting the Neringa after a absence of 16 years was a real treat. So was the food.
The winner has to be something unusual as well as good. The market stall by the Eteläsatama was great, and is unusual. Lapland food isn’t so common outside Finland. The Neringa is unique, of course.
Ultimately I’ve gone for the Neringa. It has many happy memories from the 1990s, but the key is that going back wasn’t any kind of disappointment. The opposite. Excellent food in a special place.
I first ate there in October ’93. I was on my first visit to the city to speak at a conference organised by the newly formed Lithuanian Lawyers Association. The country had re-gained independence only 2 years before, and the Red Army was still there – making an orderly withdrawal and confined to barracks, but still there.
I was taken to the restaurant by one of the local lawyers who was taking care of us over the weekend. We actually needed taken care of. It would have been very difficult to do any normal things (like lunch and dinner) without help, such was the social and economic condition left by 45 years of the Soviet system.
Restaurants were hard to find – often hidden from view either because owned by entrepreneurs and to be kept away from the attention of the authorities, or because they were state owned and to be used only by the privileged few.
Anyway…the Neringa. In ’93 it looked like something from 1950s Britain – the decor, the staff. We were given a bulky menu, but the paper was flimsy. Such poor quality was never seen in the west. An impressive choice of dishes, mind you.
We read it carefully and made our choices. Unfortunately almost nothing on the menu was available – only the chicken Kiev.
I like chicken Kiev and it was excellent – home made and nothing like the processed rubbish we’d get at home. Things are better now, but there was only one main course I wanted when I ate there this year!
© iain taylor 2015