All posts tagged “fish

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Sakagura – authentic Japanese in Congrès

Octopus in ginger

On an anonymous side street between De Brouckere and Congrès, next to office blocks and empty car parks, one finds the simple Japanese restaurant Sakagura. Despite its modest appearance, eating here is a culinary pleasure, and for very reasonable prices. Walking around the empty office blocs by night the area can feel dystopic, but stepping in through Sakagura’s doors saves you from the apocalypse.

Lightly bolied tuna

We tried their ‘Omakase umi’, which consists of three little salads and two extra dishes of your choice. The salads are exemplary if you like fish and squiggly vegetables. One contained meaty octopus slices in zesty ginger, and the suspiciously named “mountain jellyfish”, turned out to be a juicy vegetable in vinegar and chili. All the salads were fresh, filling and and delicious, with interesting flavours you don’t get in your typical Japanese restaurant. But the typical Japanese restaurant often sells mass-produced sushi, and sushi isn’t on the menu at Sakagura.

Fried chicken and dumplings

To the salads we were served pan-fried gyoza dumplings with chili and salty sauce, and deep-fried chicken made of the browner, tastier parts. The queen of the table was a lightly boiled tuna with horseradish, which was pure tender deliciousness. Horseradish and fish is always a winner. Our greedy eyes ordered in vegetable tempura as well, but this was far too much food after what we already ordered, and it felt bland compared to the first dishes.

Green tea panna cotta

My greed has few limits though, and we finished with a green tea panna cotta, dressed with sweet red beans. To me it tasted like fish and cream at the same time, but perhaps that says more about my tastebuds than Japanese desserts (from what I understand it’s an acquired taste). Next time, I’ll finish with sake instead (because they have a large selection) and try eat slightly less. Because I’m definitely returning.

Sakagura, Rue du Marais 15, 1000 Bruxelles, http://www.sakagura.be/, 02 201 78 88

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Unrivaled fish and chips at Bia Mara

Fried sea bass with truffle mayo and seaweed salted chips

Bia Mara is a neat little fish and chips place near the sleezier streets around Boulevard Anspach. They have a simple concept: doing cheap, sustainable fish and chips, and doing it really well. Having visited a couple of times, I’ve found the weekly special at 12€ to be innovative and tasty, even though one would think fish and chips is a rather basic, and perhaps limited, concept. Recent combinations have included Korean Style Ling with hot red pepper crust and kinchee sauce, Rogan Josh crusted special with lime, mint and coriander sauce, and Malaysian Special Sea Bream with sambal and tamarind sauce.

Last time I visited, we tried sea bass with truffle mayo, and it was just the perfect thing for a slightly hungover sunny stroll on town. Their penchant for curry feels like a true reflection of modern cuisine from the British Isles (although this in my opinion is true for England – I can’t speak for the quality or popoularity of Irish curry houses).

Curry salmon

The owner is incredibly friendly in that nice, Irish way, and makes me wish I had that special skill of making effortless small talk. The menu changes weekly depending on what fish is available, and great care seems to be taken to ensure that the fish is sourced by sustainable methods. In addition to this, they serve lemon Pellegrino and a beer of the week from a local Belgian brewery. On Sundays, they serve Brunch from 12-16 which consists of their weekly special and a bloody mary. So many good things!

Bia Mara can be found here on the map:

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8-course luxury at La Buvette

Potted rabbit and celery

I had my first eight course dinner this week, and given my complete inexperience with these kinds of luxuries, it is possible that this review will be biased. But it was so much fun! When you eat eight little meals, it feels like you’re eating the Eurovision song contest. Each dish has its own character, and looks nothing like the previous one. Given the tiny size of the dishes, it’s more about tasting than eating – sometimes like an investigation, trying to figure out what is on the plate. Although we were left the menu at our side, we only had very vague ideas about what we were actually eating at times (and had to google some of the ingredients like sorrel and verbena).

Seaweed and trout

But aside from my excitement at the four-hour activity of eating eight little dishes in one evening, La Buvette in itself is a lovely place. It’s situated opposite its sister restaurant, the brilliant Café des Spores, but feels a bit more upmarket. When I asked for a nice red wine at Café des Spores, I was served a glass of their excellent house wine. At La Buvette you can only order by to the bottle, and if you ask for advice, the waiter goes to fetch the sommelier.

Carrot, sorrel and ricotta

La Buvette is a tiny resturant, a little bit like someone’s house – the front still looks like the old butcher’s shop it’s housed in, and the upstairs like someone’s living room. The decor is simple.  Getting lost trying to find the toilet, I ended up in someone’s artist studio at the top of the house. While the location far away from the centre, it is obvious that La Buvette doesn’t need a grand location to attract customers. The clientele seemed like local Bruxellois food lovers, not eurocrats.

Leek, plaice and potato

As soon as we were seated, we were given sourdough bread with candied sunflower kernels and truly delicious porcini butter. We ordered a bottle of red organic Merlot at the recommendation of the sommelier, which was probably the biggest disappointment of the evening – it was a bit too dry, and not very special. The first dish, however, was very exciting: sea trout, seaweed, cucumber and some kind of vinegar-y wasabi-flavoured dressing.

Confit lamb and red cabbage

The second dish was delicious, and perhaps the most visually appealing – potted rabbit with celeriac and lemon creme. The crunch of the celeriac against the tender, savoury rabbit was lovely. Fredrik, who opted for the vegetarian menu, was was served beetroot with blue cheese and celeriac, and wasn’t the biggest fan of the composition. However, the rest of the evening, I was impressed by how well they catered for a non meat-eater. The third dish was pretty: a colourful salad of sorrel, carrot, red onion, squash and ricotta cheese. Although we were delighted by the sorrel, which we used to eat wild in Sweden as kids, I thought the ricotta was too heavy, and there was not enough salty tangyness to the dish. It felt like a dessert-salad.

Vervier sorbet

The fourth dish was one of our favourites: plaice with hay potato in a buckwheat broth. The fish was perfect: crispy brown on the outside, but falling apart into tender flakes, and soaking up the flavoursome broth perfectly. This was followed by the second main, which was confit lamb with aubergine cream and red cabbage. This was absolutely delicious, and I savoured every little bit of it. Fredrik’s option was also very tasty: Peeled, fried aubergine in some kind of soy vinaigrette. We were both very pleased with our mains, and I began to feel a little full.

Rice pudding

The first dessert was absolutely perfect: white chocolate ice cream, meringue, blackberries and verbena sorbet. I think it was one of the nicest desserts I’ve ever tried. The fresh verbena sorbet unlocked a whole forest of flavours, which contrasted beautifully with the blackberry and the crispy meringue. The second dessert was a rice pudding with buckthorn sauce and salted caramelised almonds. This was also nice, but the least special dessert for me. The final dish was incredibly heavy, so it was lucky it was so small: dark chcolate tart with salty hazelnut praline. It was a grand finish of the evening, with very heavy flavours.

Dark chocolate tart,  salty hazelnut praline

We were then served a small acidic coffee each, which was best combined with some sugar – somehow very apt for the kind of meal we’d had. While the eight course dinner in itself is not entirely unaffordable given the high quality of the food (45 euros), the wine, water and coffee upped the bill quite a lot. But for a very special treat, I would completely recommend La Buvette – great service, beautiful food, and actually quite exciting entertainment for a couple of hours.

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Swedish Christmas

julbordI’m currently hiding away in a little cottage in the vast forests of Småland, after six consecutive nights of heavy Swedish Christmas dinners. Since I’ve had the pleasure of being served food by everyone I’ve visited this Christmas, I will not present any recipes in this post, but rather a little run through of what Swedes eat at Christmas, and why it’s amazing despite its gluttonous repetitiveness (at Christmas, we tend to eat a variation of this for all too many nights).

Swedish herring selectionThe basis of Swedish Christmas food is our love for sandwiches – its basically sandwich food, just a bit over the top, and without much bread. Southern Christmas food (Skånskt julbord) tends to be the most over-the-top of them all, in line with the Skåne tradition of exaggerating and bragging through food. You must start with the fish dishes (it’s always a buffet), and here the herring takes up most of the space. It’s normally eaten with eggs, caviar, boiled potato and dark bread. You will have several versions of home-made pickled herring (inlagd sill) and the guests are normally expected to contribute with a few kinds of their own. One of the tables I visited this year had ten different varieties, including the classics with mustard and onion. My undisputed favourite remains my stepdad’s curry herring with apple. It sounds weird, but it’s amazing.

Gravlax and gravlaxsås

The second staple of the fish table is gravlax. Some people make this themselves, by rubbing a salmon in sugar, salt, dill and white pepper, and leaving it to ferment lightly under something heavy in the fridge for a few days. This method stems back to Viking age, when people used to bury fish deep in the salty banks of beaches, as a way of preserving it until they wanted to eat it. It tastes somewhat similar to smoked salmon, but with stronger hints of spices. The sauce that goes to it (gravlaxsås) is sweet, mustardy, and full of dill.

Smoked eel

However, the real star of the fish table is the smoked eel (rökt ål). It’s normally served with scrambled eggs, and its delicate smoky creaminess is simply sublime when done well. The conscious reader will know that due to over-fishing, one shoudl be careful eating Baltic eel. However, stubborn traditionalists will still sneak it up on the table for Christmas with a sly smile to the general applause of other traditionalists. I’m not too bothered with tradition, but eel is one of my favourite kinds of food ever… and my aunt promised me that this year’s eel came from sustainable fishing at a nearby lake.

Köttbullar

Now, moving on to the meat table, the meatballs (köttbullar) are obviously a key feature, served with beetroot salad. The meatballs are so central that in some families, you will have several different batches of meatballs. Some opt for modern takes on meatballs, like putting thyme and parmesan in them. Others go with revival recipes from the 19th century which include sweet anchovy brine. My favourites remain my mothers: she makes them small, juicy and hot with white pepper. One thing is clear: never make them all beef, and never, ever, replace the butter with olive oil.

Julskinka

The Christmas ham (julskinka) is another central feature of the meat table, with different strong mustards (home-made, as seen in the background, makes for the strongest kind), cheeses and dark, sweet bread. One of Sweden’s most famous Christmas songs is about a julskinka that ran away. Julskinka is also the reason why you will be served so many home-made hawaii, capricciosa or other ham-based pizzas after New Years eve. No matter how much ham you eat, it just never ends. Adding to this equation, people tend to assume that the larger hams are tastier.

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Danish paté (dansk leverpastej) with Cumberland sauce and cornichons is a sandwich-linked must-have on the Southern table. With home-made cumberland sauce it’s one of my favourites, as the aroma of the orange peel is delicious together with the creaminess of the paté and the salty pickle.

Janssons frestelse

Janssons frestelse (The temptation of Jansson) is a creamy, potato based dish with onion, breadcrumbs and anchovies. Sometimes people sneak caviar into it for the perfect amount of saltiness. It’s eaten with the ham, meatballs or eel, or just about anything on the table. Beside the köttbullar and julskinka, Janssons is one of the most common things found on any Swedish Christmas table. No Janssons, no Christmas.

Lutfiskpudding

Lutfiskpudding is a weird one. This dish, prepared with white dried fish, butter and rice, is loved by many of the older generation but sadly not quite understood by me. But apparently there’s something irresistible about the crusty surface and the lutfisk flavour eaten together with loads of butter.

KorvNo julbord would be complete without sausages (julkorv). There are normally a few varieties of these, including reindeer, wild boar and normal smoked salami with green pepper. They are accompanied with four or five kinds of cheese as well.

All the savoury food is served with beer and frozen snaps of course, which is taken every five minutes with a rowdy or happy Christmas song. If you’re confused regarding which snaps to go for, always opt for Linie aqvavit, which is a safe bet and enjoyed by most. Try Piraten or Beska droppar at your own peril.

RisgrynsgrötThe dessert of the julbord is called risgryngröt and is a sweet porrige. In Sweden, it’s tradition to eat risgynsgröt with an almond smuggled into in. Whoever eats the almond is said to get married the following year. My aunt tends to cheat and add four or five, so that people have a bigger chance of getting married. I have little love to spare for risgrynsgröt – it’s quite heavy after all the other eating. It’s made with lots of cream, and in the South it’s normally served with raspberry sauce (normally just wild raspberries, in the freezer since summer, and then gently simmered with some sugar on the stove). The anomaly on the picture is the Norwegian way of eating it, with butter and cinnamon (as preferred by my stepmum).

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Of course, this is far from a comprehensive overview of what Swedes eat at Christmas, as I’ve left out dopp i grytan, rödkål, brunkål, svampgaller, lutfisk and many other dishes. But since it’s Christmas and I’m feeling lazy, I leave you with this for now. God jul!