Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Cøffee Lab & Shop (Nomad Productions), Barcelona

Cøffee Lab & Shop (Nomad Productions)
Passatge de Sert 12, 08003 Barcelona

It has to be said, the coffee scene in Barcelona is still very traditional.  Not that there is anything wrong with tradition, but anyone who has spent time in London is likely to be looking for something different.  The sourcing, roasting, brewing and serving of coffee has developed in leaps and bounds in London over the past few years.  We are spoilt for choice with the likes of Monmouth, Square Mile, Union, Workshop, Nude and more.  It's a coffee scene that is driven and sustained not only by Brits but with a high input from our Antipodean friends and the many others from around the world.

After honing his roasting skills at Nude Espresso and operating his own 'Nomad' coffee cart in London's East End, Jørdi Mestre has now returned to his home city of Barcelona to set up Cøffee Lab & Shop (Nomad Productions).  Opening only a month ago, it's already attracting positive attention.

Sometimes I want a straightforward hit of good coffee to wake me up or provide a boost.  In Barcelona I might head for El Magnífico on Carrer Argenteria.  Sometimes I want to appreciate great coffee as I would a fine wine.  Then I'd turn down the Passatge de Sert in El Born.  I'd sit on a three-legged stool in palely beautiful room and watch the master at work.  He'll grind carefully measured beans from one of his own roasts, use a double filter in an Aeropress for a cleaner flavour. He'll use water at the perfect temperature and when the coffee is made he'll pour just the right amount into a fine ceramic bowl.  Or maybe I'll take a Tallat made with fresh milk (not common in Spain where UHT is the norm).  There will be no sugars or syrups.  It's a place to switch off your phone and laptop and just take a few minutes to appreciate the coffee and have a conversation.

If I lived in Barcelona I know I'd be here every day.  I would visit when I was not in a rush and I'd take time to appreciate the  beautiful simplicity of the place.  Here's a link so that Jørdi can tell you about the Cøffee Lab & Shop in his own words, and thanks to Foodie In Barcelona for pointing me in the right direction on my latest visit to Barcelona.

Cøffee Lab & Shop by Nomad Productions
Passatge Sert 12
08003 El Born
Twitter: @nomadcoffeebcn
Current opening times Mon-Fri, 9.30am-3.30pm
Directions: Passate Sert runs between Carrer de Trafalgar and Carrer de Sant Pere Més Alt

UPDATE: From 1 Sept 2014 open 8am-3pm

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Hofmann Pastelería, Barcelona

Kouign Amann at Hofmann Pastelería   
C/ Flassaders 44, 08003 Barcelona

I'm not the biggest fan of creamy cakes but, had I stayed any longer in Barcelona, I would certainly have been unable to resist the lure of those on offer in Hofmann Pastelería.  If cream cakes are your thing then I'm sure this is the place for you.  Buttery pastries, however, are another thing altogether. Here they caught my attention in a big way.  They were so good I made no fewer than 3 visits on a short trip - I know, I know!  The classic Kouign Amann (above) was soft and flaky inside and caramel-crunchy outside in the way you hope for, but so often don't get.  Croissants were filled with the finest quality almond paste.  I thought the glaze of icing sugar was surely an unnecessary extra - but what do I know?  It was perfect.  You'll also find exquisite looking loaf and special occasion cakes, tarts, biscuits, chocolates, jams and ice creams.

Hofmann is no secret in Barcelona.  Although the Pastelería is only 5 years old, the Hofmann restaurant and cookery school are both nearby,  These are where they first made their name.

Cakes at Hofmann Pastelería
C/ Flassaders 44, 08003 Barcelona

If you want to eat your purchases a la fresca, head for the Park  Ciutadella just a 5 minute walk away.  It's a lovely place to sit - as long as you don't mind the squawking parrots.

Hofmann Pastelería
C/ Flassaders 44
08003 Barcelona
C/ Flassaders is easy to miss.  This narrow street runs between Calle Princesa and Paseo de Born.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Favours for Food

There is much chatter right now about food bloggers and whether you can trust their restaurant reviews.  At first I ignored it as, like many other bloggers, I write for fun not for food.  The furore centres around two things: the food blogger who responds to the siren calls of PR's offering complimentary meals; and the blagger blogger who offers a favourable review in exchange for a free meal.  As the debate goes on remaining silent on the subject is beginning to feel like I'm keeping my head down so as not to attract unwelcome attention so, here goes.

I can only speak for myself.  Personally I don't accept invitations from PR's to review restaurants and how anyone has the brass neck to blag a meal is beyond me.  I thought of simply tweeting "please read the About Me section on my blog", but that seemed a little attention seeking.  Instead I'm writing this post for those of you who take the trouble to read my blog.  Firstly, I've been on both sides of the fence.  I've worked as a restaurant reviewer and then I went in a totally different direction.  I started blogging over 3 years ago simply to share a love of good food.  I wanted to celebrate chefs, restaurants, writers, traders and food producers who I felt were doing a particularly good job. 

In the case of restaurant reviewing, I do it anonymously and I pay for my food.  Occasionally in a restaurant I'm given a new dish to try.  This happens because I'm a regular and the kitchen values my feedback.  By this time I've already written about the place and they often don't even know I do that sort of thing.  I occasionally manage to book a table during a 'soft opening' - it's good for the diner's wallet and a learning exercise for the restaurant.  Its not a time for reviews as the restaurant hasn't yet settled into its stride.  If I like the restaurant and feel it's going to be my sort of place, I go back later and pay full price before deciding whether or not to write about it. 

According to some professional reviewers, the lack of negative reviews on a blogger's site means they're not to be trusted.  Yikes, they mean me, so, here's the thing.  I don't expect my readers to wade through a post to find out whether or not I like a place.  If I have a good meal, I go back and if I have another positive experience I write a review.  Very occasionally a place is so spot-on I say so after a first visit.  If I don't have a good meal I don't vent my spleen on my blog, I just vote with my feet.  

Just to be clear, I do not get paid to review, nor do I get myself into situations where I feel I have to write a review.  This means I write about places I really like and that is the only reason you will not find negative reviews on my site.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Buttermilk Pancakes

Buttermilk pancakes

Some things are too good to eat just once a year and pancakes are one of them.  Shrove Tuesday this year falls on 4 March.  It's the one day of the year when I'm definitely not allowed to forget pancakes have to be on the menu.  Shrove Tuesday was the day when the faithful were "shriven" - granted absolution after confession and penance.  It's was also the last day on which foods proscribed by the Church, such as butter and eggs, could be consumed before the annual Lenten fast began. Perhaps it was the thought of the righteously austere 40 days to come that made the day a celebratory one.  Whether you observe Lent or not, you'll probably be mixing up a pancake batter this week.

I've already posted the basic unleavened recipe I normally use on 'Pancake Day'.  To be honest, it's the one I'm most likely to use on Tuesday.  It's the least rich of any pancake recipe I know and also the one my family insist on, maybe more for nostalgic reasons than anything else.  You may prefer this leavened version which I make at other times of the year.  It produces a light but more spongy textured pancake.  This is the result of bicarbonate of soda reacting with the acidity of buttermilk to produce carbon dioxide.

First, a word about buttermilk.  It is not always what it seems.  Buttermilk is a by-product of butter-making.  It is the low-fat, white, milky liquid which separates off during the process.  Traditionally this is allowed to ripen, thickening and developing in flavour over a day or two.  What you'll find on most supermarket shelves is "cultured buttermilk" which is made by adding lactic bacterial cultures to milk.  This unfermented version has none of the 'ripe" flavours that are present in 'true buttermilk' which produces lactic acid naturally.  It's possible to make your own version of buttermilk, though, as I've not yet tried any of the methods I've read about, I'm not going to be the one to tell you how.

So, where does the buttermilk leftover from butter-making go?  Mostly into butter substitute "spreads", although buttermilk is a small proportion of their content along with a lot of other, for me, less desirable ingredients.  I count myself lucky that I can buy delicious Ivy House Farm real buttermilk from Neal's Yard Dairy (see the Ivy House Farm website for other stockists).

This recipe works whether you use true buttermilk or cultured buttermilk.  If you use true buttermilk you'll get a better colour and flavour but a looser batter and therefore the pancakes will spread more.  It's adapted from 'Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes' in  Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters which I wrote about in Favourite Books.  I don't add fruit to the batter as I find the pancakes cook better without.  I prefer to let people help themselves to fruit and maple syrup .  As you can probably tell from the photograph, these pancakes soak up syrup like a sponge so you could use something less pricey than maple syrup.  I prefer to follow Alice Waters' advice and pour a little melted butter over the pancakes before adding the syrup.  This stops the pancakes sucking up quite so much of the syrup - you may or may not think that's a good thing.  At this time of year I serve bananas. In summer I'll briefly warm some blueberries or blackberries with a pinch of sugar to serve with the pancakes.

Buttermilk Pancakes
(Serves 4-6)

500ml (18 fl oz) buttermilk
2 medium eggs
80g (3oz) unsalted butter, melted
200g (7oz) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon caster sugar
2 teaspoons Bicarbonate of Soda
Good pinch of salt

Mix together the buttermilk and the eggs with a fork.
Stir in the melted butter.
Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
Add to the liquid mixture, together with the sugar, mixing gently until just  combined (the batter still a little lumpy).
Heat a pancake pan or griddle to medium-hot.  Grease the pan lightly with sunflower oil or butter.
To make each pancake, add 3 tablespoons of batter to the pan and cook until bubbles burst all over the surface and the underside is golden brown.  Turn and cook until the other side is golden brown. 
Keep warm in a low oven if necessary.

Serve with sliced bananas (or warmed seasonal berries), melted butter and maple syrup.