Monday, August 27, 2007

Tons of tapas

I have been in Spain for several day s and have been keen to find some tasty Spanish tapas. We did head off for a place P and T assured us served tasty tapas but unfortunately when we’d finally been allowed to board the ferry, they had stopped serving tapas and a ham jambon bocadillo (ham sandwich) was all that was on offer. With tapas in mind we headed for St Carlos de la Rapita to see what we could find. B had recommended a fishy restaurant but we weren’t absolutely sure so we wandered up and down street checking out the menus on offer.

Generally the menus are almost indistinguishable but eventually we plump for a likely place called Picardies. There’s no English menu but I have my pigeon Spanish cards with me and we laboriously translate each menu item and select our choices. When we tried to order the tapas we are dragged to peer at yet more odd chaffing dishes containing an array of unidentified tapas treats. As I pointed to each dish our helpful waitress rapidly explains in impenetrable Spanish what it was. I used my cards and extraordinarily poor Spanish and possibly identified some morsels for us to try. I places our order and then we also opted to have steak and chips. Rare (phonetically pronounced poko echo) for me, D, MC and solid little carnivore LLcT but be’en echo or well done for E(D).

Firstly it was whitebait which arrived in a lovely crunchy plump pile. These were consumed quickly. Then there were croquettes filled with a cheesy and chopped ham mixture. I thought these were rather nice.

Then fat prawns for those who like them. Next we were delivered a plate of slices of some sort of meat (maybe beef but more likely venison) marinated in a piquant oily sauce. I think this is more to LLcT’s taste.

Then we have the best tortilla we’ve ever had. There are two tasty eggy omelettes sandwiching a layer of sliced potatoes.

We are getting full and I’d forgotten that we’d ordered a cod dish in a chorizo sauce. Notice my cunning avoidance of any tomato dishes like Patatas Bravas (translated as fierce potatoes) which come slathered in chilli and tomato sauce. Hmmm, maybe not!

And if that wasn’t enough, and it was, we then had to eat the steak and chips we’d ordered. We weren't quite able to complete that. Yet another case of eyes bigger than stomach no wonder the Spaniards in the restaurant were surprised by how much we ordered.
But we'd had out much awaited tapas and despie not having much of a clue what we were about to eat had really enjoyed it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

You name it, we've got it

I’d offered to take the whole house out to lunch as a thank you for P and T’s wonderful hospitality. We ummmed and aaahed about the various possibilities and plumped for the Restaurant Planes Del Rey in Pratdip. What P and B had debated was that as this restaurant served several huge buffets, everyone would find something they liked and could eat as much as they wanted. So we headed off to the hills in the sizzling Spanish sun for Sunday lunch.

There was indeed every imaginable food laid out before us. Firstly, an altar to Spanish hams and chorizo and other meaty delights that LLcT was happy to worship at. Rows upon rows of various salad items and seafood bits in the chilled area and a hot plate heaving with paella, various stews, fat prawns, sausages, potatoes and a plethora of vegetables and vegetarian dishes. The idea was to take your lurid patterned coloured plate to the abundance of food and make your first stack of delights and then return when necessary. We noticed on the adjoining table that the Spanish family were instead piling up platters of various treats and arranging these sharing plates in the middle of the table. But as I guess we all have differing tastes it was much easier in own case to attack the buffet individually.

Personally one of the things I really enjoy about eating in a restaurant is the perusing of the menu. It’s the tantalizing start to the experience pondering the perfect combination and weighing up one dish against another and hoping that your dining companions haven’t ordered better than you and you have to suffer meal envy. D and I often totally avoid that possibility when dining together by ordering two dishes we both fancy and then cunningly swapping halfway though. And that’s one issue about a buffet, there’s no menu and no introduction to the possible pleasures ahead. And I share a strange cat-like behaviour – I have an extreme apprehension of being poisoned so I do like to know what I’m eating before I eat it.

I know it’s strange but I guess it’s the fear of coming across some unanticipated tomato or other despised food. And rows upon rows of unidentified foodie objects don’t really delight me; I just want an explanation of what I am about to receive. I know, I’m just not adventurous enough, but truly like a cat I am on poison avoidance mode. I peer at the salvers and chaffing dishes and try to determine where I should start and realise that I probably got a little buffeted out on the cruise. That’s why I developed the strategy of having fresh omelettes made to order by Oscar every day and for lunch visited the carvery instead of serving myself a dollop of whatever communal dish was on offer. On the cruise buffets at least there was a label to read for clues but here even if there were labels I guess they’d be in Spanish or even Catalan and I’d be none the wiser.

The other thing I don’t really enjoy about the buffet concept is the problem of serving the food at optimum temperature and condition. Meat can dry out quite quickly so a sneaky policy is to cover everything with various sauces to ensure moisture is retained. But again herein lies the rub, what is in the unidentified sauce?

So today I dabbled with some sausages and meat and potatoes and then some paella though unfortunately my scoop contained unopened mussels so I couldn’t enjoy those.

I quickly moved to the fruit as the heat had made me crave water melon and lashings of pineapple slices. And I was sure they been no strange sauce napped over the fruity slices. E(D) kindly located a strange little tub of cinema style vanilla and slightly strawberry ice cream to finish. Not personally my favourite meal but at least we couldn’t have possibly left hungry. I still have a craving for proper tapas though. Only one day left!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

N-ice creams and lurid drinks

The ice cream parlour that we used to frequent in Miami has since closed down sadly so after our Chinese meal we head back to L'Ampolla and to one of the roadside ice cream emporiums there. We seem to favour mint chocolate ice cream on this trip and LLcT and E(D) also sample a rather hideous looking sickly lurid orange drink as well. Well the ice creams are nice!

Probably the best crispy duck in the world?

Many who know me are aware that I’ve never been a massive fan of Oriental food but if the general consensus is to eat at a Chinese restaurant I will concede and just hope that they do a good Peking Duck or Crispy Duck and pancakes. I’m sure there’s something else I would take pleasure in from a Chinese menu but as I have not enjoyed so many things I’ve been recommended I’d rather stuck to a dish that is tried and trusted. Though it is very true to say that I have had some good crispy duck and some very average. The only time I’ve been really disappointed is in a restaurant in Soho, it was late, there was a whole pile of us and I think they just assumed that we were drunk and would eat any old rubbish put before us. I wasn’t drunk and remember distinctly the ever so dry skinny duck carcass I was presented with that instead of yielding moist chunks of succulent duck just flaked to a pile of parched unappetising shards. And the pancakes were dry and tasteless also, the pancakes weren’t really rolling more like bending and snapping over the arid duck shreds. Not very pleasant at all!

Several years ago when I was last in Spain, we discovered a Chinese restaurant in Miami, Miami Playa before you think I’ve gone all disorientated and wandered over to Florida, USA. I'd entered with my usual trepidation but we delighted to find a Peking Duck and had enjoyed it. We often eat out in Miami whilst staying with P, T and B in their lovely big house equidistant between Barcelona and Valencia. As we drive there with the song “we’re going to Miami” playing in our heads and passing the local landmark of the ‘ladies’ perched on folding chairs on the side of the toll road waiting to entertain any passing motorists not really looking for food just outside Miami we are very hungry. We seem to have developed three stalwarts of Miami eateries. Firstly the place that does the rabbit and snails dish, Miami’s finer dining restaurant and enjoyed on several occasions. There’s the ever popular pizza joint that generally have to build up an appetite by queuing for but D, MC, LLcT and E(D) have already dined there on this trip so it’s the turn of the place we discovered last time, the unusually bright Chinese restaurant. Last time I was sat under the air conditioner unit that dripped unwelcome icing water on me throughout the meal and despite moving slightly seemed to follow me. This time being forewarned we avoided the tables on that side and secured a bizarrely decorated table in the middle. I’d had it last time so immediately went to order the Peking duck for me whilst E(D) ordered some chicken curry dish and everyone else split a banquet. This gave me the opportunity to see a plethora of Chinese dishes and whether I would consider an alternative to my duck. And I wouldn’t, it just seems that the gene that allows me to savour Oriental flavours is missing, I know I am in the minority and would always, always favour French, Italian or British food over either Chinese or Indian. Those parts of my culinary taste buds have never been tantalised and may always remain uncharted. I’m afraid wild horses wouldn’t make me eat a curry, and yes I’ve tried and yes I’ve been rather ill after the experiences. But anyway, back to the duck.

What delighted me on the last visit was the shiny extraordinarily shiny and plump bronzed duck which yielded glistening nuggets of the juiciest of meat. The pancakes were the fluffiest I’ve ever seen and seemed never ending. Maybe the pancakes weren’t quite as fluffy today as last time (I guess they’re not typically like that) but tasty nonetheless and the duck was so plentiful I couldn’t eat is all. The plum hoisin sauce was dark and rich and there were pleasing piles of spring onion slivers to join my delicious duck in their pancake rolls.

I think everyone relished their chosen meals but as always, each to their own. Rather curious to consider we are eating Chinese on our first night out together in Spain but we have decided that we will sniff out some great tapas we just haven't decided where yet.

Friday, August 24, 2007

First tortilla this year

It's my first morning in Spain as I've flown over to join D, MC, LLcT and E/D briefly for part of their summer holiday. I can tell I'm in Spain as we always seem to start the day in the same way, with a wedge of fried , dense tortilla possibly topped with crispy lardons of smoky bacon. Buenos días!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Reaching a Plateau

The lovely K and I are entertaining clients at Plateau. There isn’t a plethora of client entertaining possibilities at Canary Wharf so K has several meals booked here. Let’s hope she enjoys it today or I guess she’ll be changing her booking to the Gourmet Pizza Company instead and I’m not entirely sure her guests would be deeply impressed about that. Luckily we were well looked after. There’s a good sized menu with a slight predominance on fish and a slight nod (or should that be bow) in an Asian direction.
It was rather difficult to choose as several of their dishes would have gone down very well. I could have plumped for Loch Fyne smoked salad, brioche or dressed crab, green apple, rye for starter but I went for the rather tasty foie gras roulade, strawberries, basil instead. I rtaher liked the witty use of strawberries.
For main I dithered between dover sole stuffed with crab, pea sauce or Barbary duck, cherries, cucumber salad but finally opted for suckling pig, potatoes, with summer truffle emulsion, minted peas. We contemplated the idea of suckling pig; T had been tempted but conjured up images of a bronzed glistening whole pig rotating slowly over some sizzling flames. As it was this was the neatest presentation of suckling pig I’ve ever seen, a perfect round mound of chopped porky morsels topped with crispy curly pigtails of pork crackling. And it was very meaty, intense and very tasty.
Sadly our clients T and M had to leave promptly after we’d enjoyed the main course leaving K and I to dabble in the desserts by ourselves. Again there were some interesting choices but I was drawn to the blood orange and carrot sorbet, chocolate mousse and almond nougatine. The sorbet was a stunning orange against the chocolate brown (very 70’s!) with very un-70’s shards of nougatine and crisp biscuit.
We had a delicious meal at Plateau with some vibrant and colourful presentations. I think K will be okay tomorrow for take 2!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Another Blueprint surprise!

Tonight is a surprise event to celebrate JT’s forthcoming nuptials to C. Multi-brothered J and Swedish M have been in charge of organising the event and conjuring up a cunning plan to extract JT from the office and over to awaiting crowd at the Blueprint Café without arousing suspicion. All would have gone according to plan if the man of the moment himself hadn’t suddenly decided to slip into his shorts, running shoes and hotfoot it home. In the end the cover had to be blown to ensure his attendance at his own surprise party as he seemed determined that nothing would stop his plan. Even C herself had to be roped into dragging him over the Thames.

We had a limited Blueprint Café menu for this evening but that just meant an easier decision. Coincidentally both multi-brothered J and Swedish M share an avoidance of all that is dairy. We let Blueprint Café know of this lactose intolerance and they promised to provide some alternatives. I think they found some substitutes but I am not sure the granite was to everyone’s tastes. I had a starter of chicken liver pâté, anchovy, capers & toast. The pâté was unctuous, delicious and plentiful. You could happily slather it on the accompanying toast and then move onto the bread to complete the chicken livery mound. The main was plaice, horseradish & butter sauce. And not surprisingly this was another winner. A perfect clean tasting fillet flaking off into delectable moist chunks with a punchy sauce. Though not quite to Jeremy's usual level of eye-watering horseradishness. It was very good!

And for a finale, a lemon posset , berries. I enjoyed breaking through the rich, juicy berries to reveal the soft zingy lemon posset below. Another great evening at the Blueprint Café, a place I never tire of, it nearly didn't happen though. If JT hadn't been stopped literally running off we may have had to celebrate his 'stag' night without the stag.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Far from terminal

I am hungry and have some time to kill between appointments that are close together and a Prêt sandwich just doesn’t cut it today. Fortunately I on the doorstep of Terminus and pop in hoping I can grab a table for a quick lunch. There’s some tasty looking simple dishes in this clean-line restaurant. There’s steak, burger and a chicken risotto. I opt instead to have two starters with one complemented with some of my favourite mash potatoes. I had a delicious plate of Loch Fyne smoked salmon with potatoes pancakes and horseradish cream. The potato pancake was soft and fluffy and with a great punchy horseradish cream.
I then had Asparagus with mushroom duxelle, poached egg and Hollandaise sauce which was another scrummy winner. Unfortunately I was too pushed for time for a dessert. I ordered one but it wasn’t arriving speedily enough so regrettably I had to pay and run. I haven’t eaten in Terminus for ages, it can be quite a noisy restaurant so not ideal for say a lunchtime business dinner, it’s buzzy, cavernous and you can sit and watch the frenetic activity in their kitchen. I'd like to visit again when I am not in such a mad hurry. But two fast forks for Terminus.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The chicken part 2

I don’t want to have the same dinner as yesterday but I have exactly the same ingredients so I need a little re-imagining. The chicken is already baked so it gets chopped up topping and all has a light sauté. The vegetables and new potatoes are steamed and then sliced and added to the chicken. The whole lot is anointed double cream and some grainy mustard.
The resultant dish is actually rather good!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The original chicken

This meal was the result of a quick trolley dash at the late night M&S. I grabbed a chicken breast topped with cheese and ham, some summer vegetables, new potatoes and fresh pesto. Their were two chicken breast that needed oven cooking so I popped them both in intending to rework it for tomorrow’s dinner. It was a simple dinner but very tasty. The green vegetables were crispy and finished with a few slivers of Parmesan. The new potatoes were dribbled with a little pesto and the chicken was served as it came with a tangy cheese and bacon topping. Thank you M&S!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Culinary twins separated at birth

Blogging by mail - This week I have been eagerly awaiting my parcel from the latest edition of this event. An event organised by the wonderful Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness as she pairs food bloggers from around the world and you have to send a mystery parcel to your hand-picked fellow food blogger according to a chosen theme. And this time the theme was "some of my favourite things". I was matched with the fabulous Breadchick of Sour Dough as my receiver and as yet I don't know who my sender is. It is ever so exciting!
I really enjoyed reading Breadchick's blog, learning about her, her life, her tastes and her cat and deciding what would be appropriate. And it seems that after braving the post office (known as not being one of my favourite places!) my parcel flew over the pond to turn up at Breadchick's office whilst I was on holiday. And it seems she really likes the gifts I'd chosen, and I may have found my culinary twin. And I am so very pleased as they are some of my favourite things so I wanted her to be as happy with them as I was. And I am also delighted that she took photos as I didn't have time amongst all that packing and wrapping extensively with lashings of brown tape to take any photographs myself. And I am extra pleased as the last two times I've sent my blogging by mail parcels the last recipients haven't been so enthusiastic. Though fair play, Kate of Veggie Friendly fame had massive computer issues around the time my parcel arrived so that had to be sorted out first, but at least she expressed her delight about it later when the annoying laptop issues were resolved. Flavor Junkie never posted anything about my surprise parcel which was a shame as I was pleased with my choices and I'd sneakily taken these treats over to the US when I was last there on business (and of course a quick pop to Gordon Ramsay at London) and N's lovely husband A kindly braved a US post office on my behalf to ensure it got to her without unnecessary custom's intervention. And no, there were no banned substances in there, it was just much easier to do it that way!
However my parcel to Breadchick was substantially larger that Flavor Junkie's so carrying it on a hand luggage wouldn't have worked this time! And who knows the cheese knife may have been considered an offensive weapon, though what injury one could inflict with a Stilton scoop is anyone's guess! Hmmm, I think that sounds like an old Monty Python routine!

So I have a new culinary twin and a fabulous new blog to peruse. And I guess that's what the entire event is about. Now come on postman, I am waiting!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Minty fresh!

I seem to like giving myself challenges! I'd known about Stephanie's monthly blog party theme of mint for a while before going on holiday. But then there was all that work and all that socialising (read eating!) and all that getting ready to go on holiday to do. And then I came back and I had to ever so quickly whip some canapés up to get my minty fresh contributions under the wire before the blog party deadline. But oh I am so tired, I'd say jet-lag but I haven't been on a plane , I've been on a cruiseship so it must be boat-lag. I'm not sure there is such a thing but there must be some explanation. Maybe I am missing my morning omelette off Oscar, maybe the lack of daily itinary has left a void in my life (ah but then I have a full diary - though admittedly none of my appointments now involve vegetable or ice carving!), or maybe I got off the boat too quickly and have some bizarre boat bends? Whatever it is I probably should be sleeping and not thinking about mint but I won't give in and mint it is!
Firstly I'm not crazy about mint except inside an After Eight or in a Polo or in mint chocolate chip ice cream but Stephanie has set a challenge and I'm all out of mint coloured crockery so I will embrace a little mint for the event.
In a very timely fashion there was a recipe for crab and broad bean crostini in the latest Waitrose Seasons magazine and as the recipe contained mint, it seemed a good place to start. Though the mint doesn't seem a very strong feature, there is still a minty appearance. And there's no denying that crab is almost always a good place to start!

Crab and Broad Bean Crostini

1 pain au levain or another loaf of a similar size
375g broad beans (podded weight)
1 clove garlic, crushed
20g pack fresh mint or parsley, chopped
Juice of ½ lemon, plus extra for serving
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
200g fresh white crab meat

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6. Cut the bread into 12 slices, about 1.5cm thick. Put these on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 7 minutes, then turn them over and cook for a further 5-6 minutes, until toasted but not hard.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the broad beans in a pan of boiling water for 3-4 minutes, until tender, then drain and rinse in cold water. It might seem like a hassle, but it’s better to slip the skins off, leaving just the bright green beans. Do this when they’re cool enough to handle
  3. Place the beans in a bowl with the garlic, your chosen herb, the lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and seasoning. Mix together, then mash some of the beans with a fork so you end up with a mixture that has whole and crushed beans in it.
  4. Spread the mixture generously on to each piece of toasted bread, then top with the crab meat. Squeeze lemon juice and grind black pepper over them, drizzle with more olive oil and serve.
And they were quite nice; however they would have been better if I'd used plain extra virgin olive oil instead of my favourite extrapesto basil extra virgin olive oil. Which as it sits on my worktop can be a little too easy to grab sometimes when basil is really an ingredient too much. Accordingly I suspect there's a reason that generally basil and mint aren't used in the same recipe.
Also this was my first attempt at podding broad beans, I rather liked it but don't think I'd like to do baskets of them.
Next it was a typical pea and mint soup, though still not being too enamoured with mint in a savoury environment, I was quite light on the mint. And surprisingly I didn't feel like getting some green crockery for the event, though I am aware that the M&S pink Andante range I have already has some green cousins - I resisted! So all the minty green offerings were enhanced by my new favourite Gordon Ramsay Royal Doulton range including the soup, as it gives me the fine opportunity to christen my espresso cups for the first time.
For a little sweeter canapé, one that was much more in line with my mint tendencies I went for balls of mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwiched between small squares of mint chocolate thins. Very delicious, albeit a tad messy!
And then there's the drink. Now mint does make that much easier this month as I could have gone for mint tea (though frankly I'm not a fan) or a mint julep. But instead I returned to an old stalwart, a PIMM'S. Though this time with a twist. I had spotted these iced lemon wedges on Ocado last month; they come with mint and cucumber for that whole PIMM'S experience. Many places forget to add mint to their PIMM'S and it does really enhance it. In fact in my new efforts to accept mint more, I should really insist upon it.
A hint of mint anyone?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Excessive forking and extensive travelling

I have finally returned from bobbing around on the beautiful balmy sea enjoying a wonderful holiday cruising around the Northern Baltic cites and have many forking escapades to blog. And very remiss of me I know, but I also need to catch up on some fabulous eating from before I went away, it's just all eat, eat, eat at the moment!
I had hoped to catch up on the various exciting foodie events during my days at sea contemplating what to do with a drunken sailor but all that eating, sunbathing, enjoying sunsets and watching dancers in day-glo feathers miming tap-dancing (best not to ask!) doesn't happen by itself so no real blogging time.
Unfortunately I also have a steaming pile of work emails to address which have to take priority so all this catching up with my blog may take a little time.

As a taster of what I have to blog there was the best mash in the world, handbag-shaped little cakes, unnecessary aspic, eggs - lots of eggs (including very sparkly eggs), more of Jeremy's fabulousness, Russian caviar, the finest Scandinavian salmon, the largest mint leaves in the world, Gaucho's in the dark, a summery Sunday lunch and an over-reliance on carrots due to flooding.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The final stage... cruising out with a bang!

So it’s our last day and night onboard the Discovery and we’ve got a busy schedule. We are going to sail down the Kiel Canal and experience a couple of locks in a cruise ship, which should be an unusual experience. We’ve still got to pack, hmmm that might be a challenge. There are the last few rays of sun to be caught and then we’ll have to say farewell to everyone and our home for the past two weeks. There’s an announcement over the tannoy to inform us that later they’ll be an exhibition of the art we’ve been creating whilst at sea, now that’s an alarming thought! But to distract us from that frightful notion we watch Martin, the shy expert carver, whip up a large ice swan to adorn the captain’s table later.

Normally he would wrap himself up in a big padded jacket head for the ice store below decks and chip away there. Performing this feat on deck in the baking sun meant that he has to work extremely speedily to ensure his creation did not melt into a large pool before he was finished. Martin is rather talented in this area; I also spotted more of his handiwork garnishing the salad table in the Lido. This was his decorative take on a water melon.

One of the final events of the afternoon was a Brain's Trust with a panel of experts from the cruise debating thought provoking questions about influential historical figures, politics, etiquette and morals. There were differing opinions, controversial responses and much food for thought. I'm glad we managed to squeeze in the completely packed show lounge to participate.

There are several things we haven't experienced yet on the ship and one apparent lack is a viewing of one of the nightly shows. We've been in the show lounge many times especially as we congregate there for the excursions but R (aka K) and T have had front row seats every night and assure us that it's a must see ( otherwise known as a scream!) And granted it is the last night so we really should out with a bang we agree to accompany them.

We join them in the bar before dinner and our evening started with a Kir Imperial, then we head down for the last supper as it were.

I decide to forgo a starter as I certainly don’t fancy the vine ripened tomatoes, shrimp cocktail or mixed salad so it’s straight to Chicken Consommé with Pan Cake Strips. My main was the Game Casserole with a Rich Red Wine, Mushrooms, Thyme and Bacon Sauce with Braised Leeks, Roasted Vegetables and Herb Champ.

And the dessert was an “Australian” Pavlova with Chantilly Cream and Wild Berries.

After wine and farewells with P and C over dinner and then another glass or Kir Imperial, I think you can guess how this goes!

M wants to grab some air after dinner so the show starts without her. When she arrives in the show lounge I'm anxious that she won't be able to locate us in the gloom. Fuelled by a few pink drinks I have a brilliant idea that I should walk over to her and lead her back to our ringside seats. This idea may seem practical but actually it was extremely ill conceived! Firstly we were right at the front and there wasn't a raised stage for the performers to strut their stuff on, just a wooden semi circle in front of the audience. I decided to nip across the edge of the performance area and grab M but on the way back no amount of semi crouching could disguise the fact that I was trying to creep back to my seat accompanied by dancing girls in feathers sashaying behind me. Never have I been so conspicuous especially considering I clearly felt that bowing my head slightly would render me utterly invisible. Errr it didn’t!

After the sarcastic ripple of applause had died down for my 'performance' I could slink down in my seat and stare in awe at the real performers. R and T had warned me that the 'best' bit was that only two of the six singers/dancers actually sang but they were all fitted with J-Lo style face microphones. When the chorus were due to sing there lip synched to a click track, which is fair enough. They were clearly employed for their long legs and predilection for stretchy satin and sequins but what we found amusing (and those cold pink drinks could well have fuelled our hilarity) was that one of the blond dancers only mimed occasionally. We couldn't work out if this was an unfortunate forgetfulness when it came to the lyrics or the inability to multitask whilst concentrating on her footwork. But we thought it was very funny, she'd maintain the perfect "tits and teeth" stance and then suddenly part way through the song she'd suddenly start miming. Of course we were incredibly close to the action and could easily have joined in (again!) should the mood have taken us so we were able to spot everything. Whose trouser zip was no longer doing its job, who was completely out of step with the other dancers and as a finale, how faked was the tap-dancing. This was our favourite - an upbeat number with a few bursts of frenetic tap dancing but Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly weren't available so the click track played the sound of the tap dancing and the dancers just shuffled their feet. I hope I haven't thrown daylight onto magic? A few rows back may have had a difference experience but I thought it was sweet, surreal and probably way funnier than they'd ever intended. A splendid finale for our fortnight, possibly for the wrong reasons but I don't think they can have you for that.
There was one more corner of the ship we hadn't visited which was the Hideaway Bar. On previous trips it had been a nightclub (ascertained by sneaking a peek behind the new sign) but I could guess it wouldn't be frequented much on this sort of cruise. This tiny bar housed a couple of one armed bandits next to the former dance floor and seemed to be the place where all the staff hung out. Another entirely unnecessary but very enjoyable pink drink and then we really had to tackle the packing. On returning to our cabin we found that whilst we were out a note asking us to leave our fully loaded luggage outside our cabins for midnight. Whoops, it was already way after midnight and it was going to take a considerable effort to sort everything out. However somehow it all got done and we collapsed for our final night. Only one more Oscar's omelette to go!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A meaty meal in Germany

We had been convinced that we would never eat again but here we are, back on the ship and back in the dining room. C and P are dining al Italian n the Yacht Club tonight to we have new dining companions. In fact the dining room is heaving, because so many of us have been to Berlin today many of those who would have been sat in the early sitting have joined us for the later sitting. It is rather loud and it’s quite difficult to make small talk with our somewhat grumpier companions. Let’s hope the food distracts us.

We start with Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio with Parmesan Shavings and Rocket Salad. It was okay, but not really a patch of yesterdays. Clearly our fellow diners are not raw meat eaters and look slightly horrified at my plate. I follow this with a bowl of Cock a Leekie Soup.

Then it’s more beef, this time it is Steak Diane – Pan Fried Steak in a Creamy Mushroom Sauce with Brandy and Mustard, Gratinated Potatoes and Melody of Vegetables. The steal is unfortunately not that luscious fillet we’d seen Neill flaming earlier this week but a thinner slightly gristlier version. And what do we spot in the melody of vegetables, some orange vegetable that I just can’t really place!

Our dessert was Ebony and Ivory Chocolate Bavarois with Bailey’s Cream Sauce.

Flammekueche anyone?

Despite the fact that we were pretty stuffed from our lunch, so much so we hadn’t been tempted to sample any of the yummy chocolates we’d got from Fassbender & Rausch, after we’d explored a delighted little art market I espied from the corner of my eye a much loved Flammekueche, or Tarte Flambé if we were in Alsace. I’ve mentioned this Alsatian delicacy before, a thin pizza style base, a smearing or crème fraîche and then topped with slivers of smoked bacon lardons. Simple and truly delicious! This café attached to the art gallery had this as one of today’s specials, this version the perfect original and the extremely sacrilegious tomato studded version. Aghhh - Flammekueche, or Tarte Flambé means no tomato! Don't they understand?
But despite hanging around with the tomato loving M, I convinced her that the genuine article was what we should sample. And it was exceedingly good! A passing rather brave sparrow thought so also as he popped by to relieve us of a few crumbs from the edge. I don’t know how we managed to eat it, but it was good so we forced ourselves and was glad we had.

Willkommen im Berlin! Gluklich zu sehen

Ever since seeing the film Cabaret for the first time I wanted to be right there in the front row of the sleazy Kit Kat club hearing the MC welcoming me to decadent Berlin and inviting me to bleibe, reste, stay. I got my chance to sit at a little round table on the front row of the audience of a fabulous Broadway production of Cabaret a few years ago at the former 70’s disco Studio 54 in Manhattan but still Berlin itself had eluded me. And now here we are in a city that has inspired so many writers and artists and still attracts a vibrant, bohemian population today. On our drive to Berlin from Warnemunde we’d viewed a thought provoking film reminding us about all this history of this fascinating place and our guide explained his love of East Germany and how reunification changed their world.

What struck me immediately was how recently so many world-altering events have taken place here. I remember the Berlin Wall finally being torn down in 1986 and even then I couldn’t really understand how so long after the end of the Second World War it had loomed over East and West Berlin.

This partitioning of Berlin featured in so many war and spy films, dramatic heart-stopping moments at Checkpoint Charlie, tense hanging around in starkly lit cafés (mainly the infamous Café Eagle) waiting for someone to successfully cross over from East Germany into the American quarter of West Berlin.

Naturally much of this all is now a museum, a slew of souvenir shops and a host of photo opportunities. If you play your cards right you can snap a photo of yourself with a man in American army uniform in front of the reconstructed wooden hut that was Checkpoint Charlie.

And you can possibly get your own little piece of pock marked, bullet shot wall to stick on you fridge. I don’t know if it’s genuine, there was rather a lot of wall and not much remains now, so it could be.

We visited the parts that are still standing, some with the original graffiti and some enhanced with modern art to delight the tourists’ clicking cameras.

The former course of the wall is marked by bricks laid in the pavement. Around the Brandenburg Gate you can view the daunting thickness of the former barrier.

The city of Berlin is both a mixture of the imposing and symbolic Brandenburg Gate and the quirky Eastern German traffic lights.

The Brandenburg Gate topped by the goddess of victory was once the entrance to Berlin and was closed and blocked off by the building of the wall in 1961, it became the place where many a US President has stood and called for the end of the Cold War.

Our Berlin guide was a student taxi driver when she heard rumours of the wall falling over her radio back in November 9th 1989, and drove to Brandenburg Gate to see for herself. She was greeted by Eastern Germans climbing through the opening many clutching pieces of paper with desperately scribbled West Berlin addresses of family and friends that they may not have seen for 28 years and no means to get to them.

She used her taxi to ferry these people to their long lost relatives and as they had no Western money, did this for free until the wee small hours when she could barely keep her eyes open.

She also explained that after reunification many differing aspects of West and East Germany were standardised and there was a call to use the West German generic traffic lights. But the more distinctive be-hatted East German symbols were fought for in an attempt to preserve a little of the East German nostalgia. And Berlin bowed to the pressure and the quirkier East Germany traffic light symbols have remained and become tourist attractions in their own right.

After all our explorations we were feeling peckish and fortunately we had a lunch laid on for us in a local restaurant. And it was a very impressive spread!

There was a ham salad on a table when we sat down and then the cloches were lifted on an array of German fare.

We tucked into tasty German sausages (much more like frankfurters that a British banger!) and to my delight an assortment of vegetables and potatoes. The creamy cabbage, mash potato and gratin potatoes were very fine, though I think M probably passed on those!

For desserts we have a local speciality of doughnuts and apple strudel with a berry sauce.

Whilst we are eating our lunch our guide tells us about a fabulous local chocolate shop that we are keen to investigate so we hot foot it over to Fassbender und Rausch.

The windows of this large chocolate shop are adorned with huge unfortunately inedible shiny chocolate sculptures.

The glistening chocolate volcano erupted with chocolate lava and there’s also a shrunken Brandenburg Gate and the chocolate ruins of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

There’s even a chocolate Titanic which causes much attention from our fellow cruisers as it’s a historical event I guess one doesn’t allude to on such a holiday! We buy some goodies to take home and I later discover this Fassbender und Rausch chocolate is exceedingly good indeed.