Warsaw sets the bar!

En route Prague at the moment…

Warsaw was the biggest surprise of the trip so far, we were relatively unsure what to expect and initially the only reason Warsaw was on our list was because of Atelier Amaro, an experimental ‘science meets nature’ restaurant in one of Warsaw’s parks. I’ll get back to the restaurant experience in a minute but it should be said that if any of you ever get a chance to visit Warsaw, do it. We stayed in the Old Town. The Old Town was exquisite, it was relatively quiet compared to the touristy areas in Brussels and Bruges, it’s difficult to explain but Darren and I just felt there was an air to it, something special (corny I know).

On to the restaurant experience, we both feel that it needs to be written about. We made a reservation before we even had accommodation in Warsaw and pretty much anywhere else in Europe (an example of chef priorities). This was something we were beyond excited for. It was a beautiful evening in The Old Town when we left there were a couple of ominous looking clouds in the sky but nothing too serious. The plan was to Uber to the restaurant but because we had to spend a fair portion of the day recovering from our Polish vodka experiences we thought the evening walk would be good for us. It started pouring with rain very soon after this decision and we decided to just make do with the one small umbrella we had, in hindsight this was not a smart move and we should have just taken the Uber. In our soaking wet power-walk-panic we missed the door of the restaurant, and found ourselves walking around in circles in the outside garden (which can be seen from the inside of the restaurant- not our finest moment) only to do a full loop back to the door which amazingly (said with sarcasm) we managed to see this time.

Part of what we liked about the restaurant was that we didn’t know what to expect, there was no suggested dress code on the website so we opted for smart casual. We came through the door like a bit of a hurricane, furiously trying to wipe our now soaking wet and garden trodden shoes on the entrance mats and apologizing profusely for being wet and a bit disheveled. We lifted our heads to find the two or three tables already there staring at us in their seriously smart suits, fancy dresses and shiny shoes.

Feeling out of place, we sat down and I looked at Darren, his white shirt was now completely see through on the one side, nipple and all (I can’t help but laugh now). An extremely serious looking waiter immediately approached us and said to Darren: “Sir, could you please come with me”. Darren had already expressed his doubt to me regarding his shoe choice for the evening. He got up and whispered to me “it’s my shoes” and followed the waiter to the back of the restaurant. At this point I was left alone at the table and I was convinced our restaurant experience was over before we even got to have a glass of wine. The two scenarios in my head played out as follows: One: They politely informed Darren that his shoes and his technically half naked body was inappropriate for their fine establishment and he agrees that we made a mistake and we leave quietly, Two: they politely inform Darren his shoes and his technically half naked body is inappropriate for their fine establishment and Darren, for lack of a better word, decks the guy, knocking him out and we are escorted out by Polish police and put on a Michelin restaurant blacklist.

I was green when he got back to the table, it’s not an exaggeration to say my legs had gone numb but it turns out they had very generously offered him a dry, pressed beautiful collared shirt (it was in better condition than Darren’s 3 weeks in a backpack shirt to begin with). I think the entire staff body had a good chuckle but the experience began and we quickly relaxed. There was one waiter that took a little longer to warm up to us completely but I think that’s because Darren was now wearing his clean shirt for the next day.

The menu was a ‘9 moments’ menu, it had an extra four amuse bouches to start and an extra sweets course at the end. Every course was exquisite, there was not one course that we thought was a miss, we did have a few favourites.

We began with a beautiful ‘on the beach’ sand box filled with little treats, the stand out being a beetroot cone with beer ice cream. A big favourite was the chicken, lard and boletus presented sticking out of a tree trunk.  Think salty crispy chicken skin, fatty lard with wild mushroom powder (the team forages for mushrooms three times a week) and beautiful bursts of acidity in between- heaven.

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Chicken | Lard | Boletus

When asked if there was anything we did not eat I was so busy checking the menu for herring that I missed the black pudding part, normally not a favourite of mine. They had incorporated black pudding with chocolate and walnuts and made it the filling for two paper thin burnt onion biscuits. Presented on a hand made tapestry, the complexity of flavors and technique was brilliant.

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Black Pudding | Chocolate | Onion

This next dish was the most interesting plate of food Darren and I have ever eaten. Described on the menu as “broad bean/lavender/rabbit” we were surprised when the waiter explained to us that the dish was rabbit kidney with snail and snail eggs which are a Polish delicacy. The kidneys had been disguised as broad beans and were in hiding among some real broad beans. We are both very open to trying anything but I think there was slight panic when we heard the snail eggs part. Once again the dish was beautiful, another surprise.

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Rabbit | Broad Bean | Lavender

The ethos of the restaurant is to bring science and nature together with a focus on fresh, exiting Polish ingredients. This was certainly delivered and we loved hearing that a large amount of the produce is personally foraged for in the woods. It was so evident in the “wild strawberry/tomato/wood sorrel” dish which was finished with a tomato and verbena consommé. The nasturtium ravioli filled with pea and mint hummus served with polish cheese fondant was another example of this ethos. Exceptional.

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Nearing the end we were presented with one of the best lamb dishes I have ever eaten, no words I can use would do it justice so I’m not even going to try, just believe me. I drew hearts on my plate when it was finished and sent it back to the kitchen with compliments.

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Both desserts were innovative, beautiful and fresh (translucent cheesecake- gasp-), a perfect way to end off the meal.

The service throughout the evening was exceptional, completely faultless in every sense of the word. It was a privilege to be invited down to the kitchen to meet the chefs and to chat to them about their work, their foraging and their Polish produce. We hope to one day be back to see the team again!

As for our travels, we’re going to be in Prague for the next couple of days so will keep you posted.

L&D

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Cheers to Poland

Before I start, I’m just going to put it out there, that Lisa is way better then I am at this, so don’t expect this to be a regular thing! If you don’t notice it by the grammar, punctuation and word selection, you’ll certainly notice it by my straightforward writing.

Having said that, lets give this thing a go:

We’ve found the time to do this next post as we’re both lying on our bed in the hotel we are staying in, in the old town of Warsaw, hung-over as ever. We’ve always heard that polish vodka is good, but we may have gotten a little carried away last night! We met up with another South African and one beer led to the next, throw in a few vodka’s, and today, we found ourselves walking to the nearest McDonald’s (I know I know). We did however get to sample some of the local dishes, Pierogi’s which are stuffed and boiled dumplings. We opted for the confit goose and raspberry dumplings, which were nice. We also sampled beef cheeks on pancakes, the pancakes were more like hash browns, but it was delicious! The food is rather hearty and homely which is comforting to have! I can imagine even more so in freezing Polish winter!

 

Sticking to the food chats briefly, we’ve certainly had some highlights (Michelin restaurants) and some low lights (Tupperware cooking) but we’ve both agreed that we are looking forward to staying in one of our booked apartments so that we can cook up a storm! I’m surprised to say it, but after 2 months, I sort of feel home sick, and by home, I mean the kitchen. A big positive is that we are finding inspiration at every corner. Conspiring dishes by standing in the pouring rain staring at a piece of graffiti on the remains of the berlin wall, to tasting some amazing produce that we’ve never seen before, it really creates this urge for us to jump into any strangers kitchen and start cooking!

 

Moving away from food and on to history, I’ve certainly realized how little I know about the history of Europe. It’s a real eye opener to walk around these old cities that have so much history and just soak it all up. We’ve cottoned on to the free walking tours of the cities which require a tip at the end of the walk, but it’s a great way to see all the main attractions and to learn some useful hints from a local. We’ve also met some very interesting characters along the way, be it on the busses, trains or just walking in the street, but its safe to say that the people back home are way more approachable and easier to talk to. I mean, the waiter last night was having a 2way conversation with us and someone on her cellphone while trying to take our order?

 

I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the trip has in store for us, but for now, we are heading off to another Michelin restaurant for Michelin Fridays! I’m sure we’ll inform you of all the thrills and spoils in the next post.

 

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Beers, Bikes and Bratwurst!

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We left off our last post exploring Brussels. Brussels, like Bruges, hails in all things wonderfully Belgian. There is an abundance of chocolates, waffles and frites and most importantly some of the greatest beers in the world. It was however, a massively multicultural and dynamic city especially in terms of food which ranged from traditional to authentic Lebanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Turkish and pretty much anything else under the sun which was incredible to see.  All in all a successful food experience apart from the fact my skin looks like a pre-teen from the copious amounts of chocolate and waffle eating and I have developed a taste for Belgian peach beer which I have a feeling is going to be a seriously expensive habit to keep alive back in South Africa.

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We then arrived in Amsterdam! One of my personal favourite cities, I was beyond excited to be there with Darren and Kimberley. In Amsterdam we had a little splurge at Envy, an experimental restaurant which did not disappoint at all. The food was fresh, beautiful and innovative and it made us miss being in the kitchen. We learned some really important things in Amsterdam:

  1. We both have a severe dislike of herring, which seems to be served everywhere in Europe (I think it can even be classified as a mild phobia for us). Stay away herring.
  2. Stroopwaffels are a godsend. Seriously.
  3. Do not, I repeat, do not ask locals, for their recommendation on good coffee shops. You will find various great delicacies in a ‘coffee shop’ in Amsterdam but probably not any coffee (places to buy coffee are called Cafes).
  4. The locals are all great people until they get on a bike and you’re a confused tourist standing in their way.
  5. Cheese. More specifically truffle gouda. Enough said.
  6. We’ll be back, definitely.

We are currently in Berlin, another city so rich in history, culture and sausages (referred to from now on as wursts to avoid any sort of humourous misinterpretation). We arrived yesterday by taxi, after giving up on how to find the right tram from the station and being shouted at in German by an old man (who proceeded to follow us around the station shouting because we couldn’t understand him in the first place). Since arrival we have eaten various types of wursts for every. single. meal and this is no exaggeration. Curry wurst is ranking top of our list so far. We’re carrying absolutely no kitchen equipment with us so the inner chef (making-a-plan-during-mid-service-catastrophe) mode has come out and we’ve been improvising with a €1 Tupperware and some boiling water when we’re lucky enough to get from the hostel (this goes not just for wursts but pastas and vegetables too). Tomorrow is pretzel tasting day, and then probably more wursts for dinner.

L&D

P.S We’ll soon be including some of the recipes we’ve come across along the way!

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We’re in Brussels!

It’s pouring with rain today in Brussels which has allowed us to catch up on some down time. We’re sitting in a coffee shop with a cappuccino and fresh brioche taking stock of the last week of travel.

We began in Bruges which is completely idyllic to say the least. The grandeur of some of the architecture alongside the small old-town historical bliss is something out of a fairy tale (if that’s not convincing enough there are horses with carriages walking the streets too). Street side and canal side cafes are a big thing, the specialty dish being mussels and chips (moules and frites).

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The beautiful Grand Place, Brussels, at Dusk

We were beyond excited to have our first Michelin star restaurant experience at Sans Cravate. The restaurant was modern and simplistic in terms of decor with exceptional attention to detail in their glassware and cutlery- it was these small details that constantly reminded us of the calibre of establishment.  The food was a hit all round too; lettuce meringues with goats cheese cream, bone marrow with rosemary salt and deer with tarragon were stand outs for the two of us. All in all the experience was unforgettable and we loved the bold flavours but also the restraint and respect shown to subtle flavours.

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Crunchy pillows filled with pea and mint mousse

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Lettuce meringue with goats cheese

 

Because of this splurge many a ‘park meal’ of bread, olive oil, salami and basil was had along the canals in Bruges (which was pretty spectacular too). It may be a chef thing that we both have a weakness for fresh herbs but we now have a fresh basil plant called Basil (I know, original) that has traveled with us in Darren’s backpack since London for these ‘park meals’.

We’re now in Brussels which is a melting pot of cultures. It’s incredible to see these influences on the food which has ranged from French and Italian to Vietnamese, Thai and Lebanese. We’re going to do some more exploring of these in the next few days.

Our experience so far in Belgium has been all about beers, waffles, chocolates and ‘frites’ and it is acceptable to eat these in copious quantities for breakfast lunch and dinner- whats not to love?

L&D

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