Saturday, 18 November 2017

The best places to eat in Boston, USA


I’m smitten with Boston.

After a week of mooching, eating, walking and drinking in the capital of Massachusetts, it’s safe to say that it’s one of my new favourite places. The brownstone buildings are stunning, there’s heaps of history and culture to absorb and it’s possible to see almost everything on foot.


Here’s my list of the favourite places we ate at during the week (starting with my top picks first). From Italian to Chinese and American, there’s an awesome array of food to be eaten in Boston:

Alden & Harlow


The modern American food at at this buzzing subterranean restaurant in Cambridge was the most creative of any we ate during our trip.

A complimentary snack of sweet & tangy pickled runner beans were drizzled with first rate olive oil and sesame seeds. 


Dishes are medium-sized so we ordered five to share.

A ubiquitous kale salad made me fall in love with kale, something that I thought was impossible. Massaged with olive oil to the point of tenderness, the kale leaves were coated in a creamy and nutty pistachio dressing, flecked with fennel shavings and nuts, drizzled with honey and topped with crispy kale. 


A light chicken liver mousse was slathered across golden brioche toast and balanced by lightly pickled blueberries, fragrant fried sage and crunchy smoked hazelnuts. 


A breaded cuboid of intensely herby and meaty shredded rabbit was joined by creamy and cooling blue cheese sauce dotted with warming chilli oil. Pieces of refreshing celery, radish and apple balanced the dish’s richness. 


Regina Pizzeria

Regina Pizzeria have been serving brick-oven baked pizzas since 1926. A visit to their original branch in the North End feels like a quintessential Boston experience. 


We enjoyed a whopping 16 inch signature Giambotta pizza. This beauty was topped with oodles of fennel rich Italian sausage, pepperoni, salami, anchovy, onions, peppers, mushrooms, light tomato sauce and oozy mozzarella.


James Hook & Co

You can’t go to Boston and not have a lobster roll. Whilst the destination for the best lobster roll is up for serious debate, we were blown away by the example from James Hook, a little portacabin cafe. 

A warm soft toasted brioche roll was loaded with heaps of sweet flesh coated in light mayonnaise. 


Trillium Brewing Company

Trillium beers are frigging lush. Super hoppy and chewy, their IPAs and DIPAs are everything I look for in a beer. It’s well worth tracking them down at their takeaway brewery shop in Fort Point or their beer garden on the Greenway during the summer months.


Mei Mei

Mei Mei is cool AF. This sustainable Chinese-American restaurant that began life as a street food cart sources almost all of its seasonal produce from within 200 miles of Boston.

A double awesome lived up to its name. Crisp, flaky spring onion pancake was loaded with oozy cheddar, crisp bacon, gooey fried egg and vivid herb pesto. 


Crisp potsticker dumplings were filled with cumin-thwacked lamb mince and served on another vibrant herb dressing. 


Golden, light and cakey sweetcorn fritters served with warming sriracha aioli were a delight.


Monica’s Mercato

Italian-American deli sandwiches rock and the Italian sub from Monica’s Mercato in the North End rocks more than most. Every slice of prosciutto, mortadella, salami, and provolone is sliced to order meaning that you can be in for a bit of a wait for your sarnie. 


The huge quantity of protein is served in a crisp Italian roll and accompanied by a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic, a good shave of funky parmesan, salad and richness busting pickled cucumbers and hot peppers. 


Toscanini's

The prize for best ice cream of our trip goes to the wonderful Toscanini’s in Cambridge. Adventurous flavours include goat cheese cherry and ginger snap molasses.

I went for the legendary B3, a distinguished combination of brown sugar, brown butter and brownie pieces. Mint choc chip cookies and cream was loaded with massive bits of dough. 


Sullivan’s

Like Will Hunting, Sullivan’s is a Southie (South Boston) institution. This seaside shack is famous for its $2 hot dogs which are served in a beautifully soft toasted roll. Uber-creamy clam chowder dotted with pieces of tender potato, clam and white fish was also excellent.


Sweet Cheeks Q

Massachusetts isn’t known for its barbecue but I had to get my fill of low and slow smoked meat whilst in the States. Winner of best barbecue restaurant in Boston for 6 years running, we were rather impressed with Sweet Cheeks Q. 

Warm biscuits served with whipped honey butter were phenomenal. 


Brisket was the best I’ve ever eaten; hyper juicy, beefy and smokey with a good bark. Ribs were good but lacked a little on the flavour front. Super tender and juicy shreds of smoked chicken were excellent.

Sides smashed it out of the park - red-skinned potato salad with a hit of dill, hyper-cheesy macaroni cheese with a crisp crumb topping and addictive broccoli cheese bake were all excellent. 

 
Flour Bakery

Whilst Flour Bakery serve a range of gorgeous looking cakes and sandwiches, it’s their sticky buns for which they’re famous. Essentially a pecan pie in brioche bun format, they’re light and sweet with the crunch of pecan and a sticky spiced caramel glaze. 


Row 34

Seafood and craft beer sounds like a great idea to me and that’s what the trendy Row 34 in Boston’s Southport district serve up. 


We inadvertently ordered a main to start but a pile of plump, crisp-crumbed oysters were served with crisp fries and a great malt vinegar aioli. 


A whole black bass was a beautiful beast. Tender of flesh and crisp of skin, it was served Asian-style with spring onion, soy and chilli and accompanied by spiced romanesco and cauliflower. A side of uber thin onion rings were coated in a crack-like super-savoury old bay seasoning. 


Eastern Standard

There’s a grand French brasserie vibe to this Back Bay restaurant and cocktail bar that also has a big range of craft beers.

Highlights of our meal included unctuous beef bone marrow served with crisp toasts. The dish’s richness was balanced by radishes, earthy hen of the woods mushrooms and the vinegary kick of sport peppers. 


A main of two huge pieces of crisp-skinned confit duck was served with lardon-flecked beans. 


Pavement Coffeehouse

I had a lovely breakfast at the Back Bay branch of this trendy small chain of coffee shops. Fragrant iced coffee and a crisp and chewy poppyseed bagel loaded with airy scrambled egg, crisp bacon and sharp melted cheddar all hit the mark. 

 
Tenoch

Okay, so I know Boston isn’t the place to expect authentic Mexican food but I couldn’t resist. Tenoch’s tacos were pretty good with the El Pastor, consisting of well-marinated pork and refreshing pineapple, being the highlight. 


Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe

This famous South End diner dates back to 1927 and pictures of celebs such as Sammy Davis Jr and Barack Obama adorn the walls. It’s the perfect place to go for old skool Americana and hearty breakfasts. 


Turkey hash (made with minced turkey, mashed potato, peppers and onions) served with country style potatoes, fried eggs and toast was a tasty yet unremarkable combination. 


Mrs G’s hot cinnamon spiced banana bread was a delicious choice.

 
Vietnamese Sandwich

I love a good Banh Mi and Vietnamese Sandwich in Chinatown serve up a fine example. A preternaturally light and crisp baguette was stuffed with flavoursome bbq pork, lightly pickled veggies and fragrant coriander and mint. 


The Pour House

This cheap and cheerful bar was just around the corner from where we were staying in Back Bay.

A breakfast of pumpkin pie pancakes was well-spiced with cinnamon but a touch bitter tasting. Thankfully, a good drizzle of maple syrup balanced them out nicely. 


Emack & Bolio’s

This Back Back ice cream parlour has a history that dates back to the hippy era of the 70s. The ice cream is good but rather indistinguishable from Ben & Jerry’s, another New England stalwart. Cake Batter was the highlight with bits of cake and chocolate flecked throughout. 


Mike’s Pastry

An institution of the North End, Boston’s Italian district, Mike’s Pasty are supposed to serve the best cannoli in the whole of town. I wasn’t blown away to be honest. A chocolate chip cannoli could have been crisper, the chocolate could have been better quality and the ricotta filling was a bit grainy.


Union Square Donuts


With an outpost in Boston’s funky Public Market, Union Square Donuts has a range of distinct flavours that include sea salted bourbon caramel and brown butter hazelnut crunch.

Give Quincy Market a miss and go to the gourmet Public Market instead
A maple bacon donut was super light and squidgy and topped with a not-too-sweet maple glaze. But, the crisp pieces of bacon didn’t work for me. Too fatty and too savoury, they tipped the donut too far in the direction of a savoury product. Mrs G of course disagreed.


Saturday, 11 November 2017

The Blue Honey Night Cafe, Cardiff review


Motor homes.

Smart phones.

Sporks.

Decepticons.

Isn’t it great when things have more than one use?

By day, 4-5 Quay Street in Cardiff city centre is a traditional cafe called Sully’s. However, when it shuts its doors at 3pm it transforms into The Blue Honey Night Cafe, a trendy cafe-bar that’s open from 5pm-1am.

Sharing the venue is a great idea - the owners of Sully’s get an extra source of income from the Blue Honey gang. Meanwhile, for Blue Honey there’s less financial commitment required to get a new business off the ground. It’s kind of surprising that more places don’t have such an arrangement.

This half of Blue Honey looks like a caff, the other half is tiled and trendy
As well as Wednesday night karaoke and eclectic live music and DJ sets (electro, techno, hip hop etc), Blue Honey also offers a very compact food menu. When we visited there were three mains and three sides on offer.

Naturally, Mrs G and I ordered all three mains to share.

Crisp crumbed Korean chicken (£9) coated in a sweet, slightly spicy and sticky soy glaze and asian slaw were sandwiched between a freshly made Belgian waffle. On the side, uber crunchy fries were topped with light pickles and warming sriracha mayo. This was the standout dish of the meal without question. 


Thin slices of well-flavoured picanha steak (£9.50) were topped with a punchy chimichurri sauce and tangy sunblush tomatoes. The well done meat could have been cooked a heck of a lot rarer but fortunately retained most of its tenderness. Fries were served on the side alongside al dente broccoli with an enjoyably savoury soy dressing. 


A whopping half head of turmeric twanged cauliflower (£8.50) was nicely charred on the exterior and topped with smokey aubergine baba ganoush, creamy tahini and refreshing pearls of pomegranate. This was a very enjoyable plate but I felt the ingredient ratios were a bit off as many mouthfuls consisted solely of un-charred cauliflower.


I liked Blue Honey and it brings something very different to Cardiff city centre. The menu may be tiny but that’s not really the point. This is a place for good times and tasty food to soak up some alcohol.

The Details:

Address - The Blue Honey Night Cafe, Sully's Cafe, 4-5 Quay Street Cardiff
Telephone - 029 2022 7974

The Blue Honey Night Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Abel Magneron and The Big Windsor Hotel, Cardiff's former world famous chef and restaurant


Cardiff and “world-famous gastronomic landmark” aren’t two phrases you’d expect to go hand in hand.

But, back in the 1940’s and 50’s, Cardiff Bay was apparently home to one of the finest restaurants in the country, The Big Windsor Hotel, under the ownership of French chef Abel “Papa” Magneron.

I first became fascinated by the story of Magneron when I spotted a plaque on the Cardiff Bay branch of Juboraj, the former site of The Big Windsor Hotel.

This photo of Juboraj Big Windsor is courtesy of TripAdvisor
It reads: “In the difficult days following the war 1939-1945, Abel Magneron, 1890-1954, here achieved a gastronomic standard which contributed to the further glory of the Entrente Cordiale.”

There aren’t many chefs who can say their cooking has contributed to world peace are there?

So, I decided to dig a little deeper into Magneron’s story with a trip to Cathays Heritage Library.

The result was fascinating; tales of Magneron appear in numerous issues of the South Wales Echo from the 1980s, often featuring in Dan O’Neill’s Talking Cardiff column. 


Magneron, a former chef to Lloyd George, leased The Big Windsor Hotel from the Mount Stuart Dry Docks after World War II. The restaurant, which was run by Abel, his wife Madeleine and daughter Marcelle, specialised in French cooking and people travelled from around the world to experience it.

According to Dan O’Neill they had numerous VIP customers,

“During its post-war peak days [The Big Windsor Hotel] was known around the world as one of the great gourmet centres, enticing showbiz stars like [Richard] Burton and [Stanley] Baker to meals prepared by Abel Magneron, “Papa” Magneron, the chef who outdid his home country with his French cuisine.”

O’Neill also eulogises about the quality of Magneron’s cooking,

“Abel was a French chef - which is like saying Picasso was a bit of a painter. He was an artist, and his magic made a dockland public-house world famous.”

Abel "Papa" Magneron
According to one story from Magneron’s daughter, a customer travelled from Baghdad to experience the cooking at The Big Windsor Hotel,

“I remember one occasion when a gentleman came in and said he had heard about our food from someone famous. I asked him if he had booked and he said he had not but he had come rather a long way. I was used to people saying that so I did not pay much attention, but then he told me he had come from Baghdad! I could not turn him a away after that so I set up a small card table for him in the corner and he had a meal on the house. I thought he deserved it having come so far.”

Sadly, Magneron was killed in a car crash in France in 1954 and the plaque was placed on the front of the Windsor in his memory. Madame Magneron continued to run the restaurant until she retired and the new owners kept up the traditional French cooking until the building closed due to fire in 1967.

So there we have the story of Cardiff’s world-famous restaurant and chef. I wonder when we’ll next be able to say that?

Do you know any more legends of chef Abel Magneron and his time at the Big Windsor Hotel? I’d love to hear them.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Monty's Deli, Hoxton, London Jewish restaurant review


Monty’s Deli were one of the titans of the London street food scene.

Their stall at Maltby Street Market won them legions of fans, including Tom Kerridge, thanks to their epic salt beef and reuben sandwiches.


Earlier this year, they made the transition to bricks and mortar. Their gorgeously retro gaff in Hoxton looks as old as New York’s Katz’s Deli. However, the pre-worn vibe is thanks to the building’s previous guise as a baker and a butcher (it’s never been a candlestick maker). 


I’m a sucker for Jewish deli food and Monty’s menu is packed full of the stuff from chopped liver and egg and onion to babkas and blintzes. Impressively, everything is made on site from the bread to the cured meat. 


Chicken soup (£4) didn’t quite deliver the restorative meaty hit I was hoping for; it was just a little bit too light in flavour. Soft carrot, fronds of dill and lokshen (noodles) were on the mark but the kreplach (matzah balls) were a little too leaden.


A reuben sandwich with salt beef (£9) was an absolute beauty. Served on toasted rye bread, it was loaded with flavoursome soft meat topped with melted Swiss cheese, tangy Russian dressing, punchy mustard and richness tempering sauerkraut. A refreshing pickle was perched on the side of the plate. This was as good a reuben as I’ve eaten in the UK.


Latkes (£4.50) were bobby dazzlers too. Golden fried patties of shredded potato and onion were super crisp on the outside with perfectly soft interiors. An accompanying cream cheese dip was a lovely foil but I wasn’t sold on a pot of sweet apple sauce.


I had a delicious lunch at Monty’s. It’s a little slice of the Lower East Side and well worth a visit.

The Details:

Address - Monty's Deli, 227-229 Hoxton St, London N1 5LG
Telephone - 020 7729 5737