Friday, 24 October 2014

postcards (from Málaga)

[Image description: the Mediterranean from Málaga]


postcards (from Málaga)

wish you were here:
          on the Paseo del Parque
          sitting on this bench
          colour bleached
          olive, satin green, bare wood
          watching the red and black ladybird
          crawl up the leg of my jeans;
          pigeons herding by
          on the white marble plain
          dappled with guano
          stained by age
          and accidents' cracks;
your hand on my thigh.

wish you were here:
          an unblemished azure sky;
          the salt-air of a calm sea
          cerulean and aquamarine
          bejewelled with gems
          of coruscating sun
          the chanting wavelets
          lap the honeyed sand gently;
          mid-distance fishermen
          trawl for their morning catch;
          while hirsute joggers limp past -
          here, they do not run -
          ectomorphic flesh
          posturing machismo
          mesomorphs are prized so dear;
          palm trees rasp against the breeze
          shivering in the unwelcome chill;
you come to mind, and
I horripilate to the thrill.

wish you were here:
          in the Alcazabar ruins
          fragments of Roman lore
          Moorish exotica restored;
          setting for nuptial reminiscences;
          literally breath-taking panoramas
          of this Legoland city
          from towers and look-out points,
          and timeless vistas
          quite unexpectedly
          tell of half-remembered historias;
          lunching on a marble tombstone
          unpeeling my oranges
          as those spectres once did
          savouring the thirst-quenching liquid
          trickling down my throat
          my fingers all sticky
          from this self-indulgent fest;
          in the future I believe Hope, lest…
but you are there, my very own.

wish you were here:
          on the mountainside
          in the fir and rowan woodland;
          the fresh scent of pine
          absorbing my nostrils
          in olfactory delight;
          the harsh glare of the sun
          defused and blurred and softened;
          calming tones
          of clover, sage and unripe lemons
          an intoxicating verdure;
          marred by the detritus
          of trysts and assignations
          of the echo of al fresco coitus
          and juvenile masturbations;
and I want you, need you now
of that I am so sure.

wish you were here:
          at the El Telón bar;
          the wondrous aroma of coffee
          its unique woodiness
          its heady spiciness;
          perhaps the only
          proof of God's existence;
          every time I pass a café
          experiencing a spiritual epiphany;
          and my prayers
          turn to
          are for

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Urban Burger Bar, Altrincham: Review

[Image description: dinner is served à la table]

Andrew Cleary, the affable maître d' at House in Goose Green, Altrincham, has finally realised his dream and opened his brain-child, a gourmet burger-bar. He forewarned me a couple of weeks back about its imminent launch, but mid-week my facebook feed received a reminder of the news via our latest (long-needed and most welcome) local news-source, Altrincham Today.

My dining companion and I did not make a reservation, but just turned up around six-thirty. The joint has been cleverly retrofitted to use the features of the edifice and enhance them by constructing matching bare brickwork, butcher's tiling and reclaimed timbers along with factory-style and ship's lighting: utilitarian with panache. I was lucky enough to bump into the builder, who is rightly pleased with his handiwork. He too was thrilled that the restaurant had kept original features. He even admitted to having a hand in constructing some of the furniture. There are school-/church-hall style stacking seats, stools, cushioned banquettes of different heights and dimensions; so seating for most folk.

Wheelchair-users would require assistance up the two very small steps, but inside there is room to accommodate at table. There is also a large door access to one of the three unisex WCs: however, I did not need to use the conveniences, so cannot on this occasion report on facilities.

We were welcomed with a broad smile and permitted to choose where we wished to sit. I like a firm chair to support me, but the table I initially chose was a wee bit small for me, my companion and all my paraphernalia. However, it was not an issue that we wished to change table. We sat on a very comfortable banquette at which I did not suffer from my habitual muscle-cramps, so did not have to stand up to stretch my legs. Both tables we sat at were clean - yes I did brush my hands over to feel for detritus and stickiness - so another tick in the box from my pernickety self!

Apéritifs were offered whilst we mulled over the menu. No-one attempted to rush us. I made my servers aware of my food allergies and they were happy to report that chef Drew would make anything I wanted from scratch to exclude said ingredients. WoW: one cannot say fairer than that.

[Image description: menus & apéritifs]

At this point I should point out that the eatery remained at all times busy without being ram-packed whilst we were there, with a constant flow of diners. Music was sufficiently discreet that one could hold a conversation; but not so quiet that one could not hum or whatever along to a favourite track. The ambience was definitely upbeat. It is rare to see so many folk smiling and laughing in a restaurant, which is testament to the all-round good experience of dining chez Urban.

A couple dined next to us with their two offspring. The children's food went down a treat with them and certainly kept them quiet whilst they scoffed it - bet mum & dad were relieved/pleased!

The parents enjoyed a bottle of fizz from the good selection of drinks, including an alcohol-free Bitburger for the designated drivers (in this instance, my companion) and very reasonably priced glasses of wine (for me!). There is a selection of flavoured Absolut vodkas and various other spirits (including Cheshire's Hunters gin!), which can be mixed with diet tonic for those watching the calories.

Now to the main event - the FOOD. My companion opted for the Firecracker and I the Urban Stack. The former consists of two beef patties and cheese; the latter, one beef patty, a chicken breast and smoked bacon. Both came with fries, but we upgraded to the truffle fries - and so glad we did as they were to die for. We both even ate the bits at the bottom of the bowls! We also ordered a side salad. This consisted of: extremely crisp (when was the last time you can recall being served crisp lettuce in any eatery?) salad leaves, which because they had not been shredded, were easy to pick from the plate; tomato wedges; juliennes of cucumber and a dressing. Personally I should have preferred that I had been given the option of a simple dash of balsamic vinegar or to at least hold the dressing; but this is relatively trivial. The beef patties were incredible: they actually tasted of beef - like a steak or roast beef - rather than beef-burger. On my next visit I am plumbing for the double beef patties option! On my dish, whilst the chicken was æsthetically browned, moist and cooked just right, it lacked any real flavour. My friend sampled and agreed. However, the mildly smoked bacon was a perfect match with the beef flavour, so that neither flavour overpowered t'other. A taste sensation to be sure. And we were both fully sated - so no room for dessert this time.

Service throughout the meal was friendly, attentive and, in respect to my food allergy, very professional. Greetings and salutations came with smiles. We certainly left feeling content and happy. We shall be returning very shortly with friends who are looking forward to the experience. Urban Burger Bar is a great fit in the market quarter. I sincerely hope it goes from strength to strength. %)

[Image description: empty plates, etc.; a sure sign of an excellent repast]

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Schloßcafé im Palmenhaus, Schloß Nymphenburg, Munich

Munich is a city I shall be returning to again and again, assuming I am blessed with a few more years. There is so much to do and see there, that even were I living there, I imagine it would take me years to see all its attractions. We sent the lads off to BMW-Welt and my friend and I headed off for Schloß Nymphenburg. We had determined that the tram could drop us off really close to the entrance, so popped on one of Munich's very accessible trams, Straßenbahn. Unfortunately, the wherever one goes ubiquitous road-works meant a change of trams. Nonetheless, we were dropped off at a bridge over one of the palace's waterways, the Schloßgartenkanal. We strolled towards the famous edifice and our jaws dropped. Instead of the building we had seen in an image all over Munich, we discovered an immense complex of linked palaces and mansions surrounding ample formal gardens and waterways. Both my chum and I struggle to walk due to disability and this huge spread daunted us. Still there were plenty of benches dotted hither and thither. Indeed, we had to sit for quite some time. We discussed viewing the palace; but given its immensity it was quite impossible. We decided to find a spot for a wee nibble.

[Image description: one corner of the spralling palace; the birds on the lawn are geese]

The Schloßcafé im Palmenhaus, the 'Palace Café in the Palm-House', was a delightful spot on a bright, warm day. Our quietly spoken, handsome waiter handed us menus after taking a drinks order. Our coffees came, and he made a note of our choices. Whilst awaiting our brunches, the terrace outside the eatery gradually filled up, mainly middle-aged Germans but even a gay British couple after their morning hit of Kaffee und Kuchen and a young in-love pair.

[Image description: laid tables under parasols]

I opted for the Schloßcafé's eponymous plate: ham; cheese; salami; smoked chicken breast; scrambled eggs; a fresh fruit kebab; butter; jam; and, a basket of freshly baked breads. This I washed down with a freshly squeezed orange juice.

[Image description: brunch set out at table]

The whole ambience of the place was hushed, peaceful and tranquil. Service was a tad slow, given when we arrived there were so few diners. However, the day and environment was glorious and we were in no hurry to move along. The quality of the food compared to price was very good. I also have to admit that the coffee served was one of the best I tasted in München. The table, as can be seen from the photograph above, was set perfectly with a vase of cut blooms.

Just delightful! %D

Monday, 29 September 2014

Hotel Restaurant Ochsen - a MUST-EAT-AT eatery!

Following on from my post on the live-blogged dinner and round-up of my foodie reviews of Hotel Restaurant Mühle, I am now going to review the best restaurant by far in the 3,000-inhabitant small town of Binzen in the south-west corner of Baden-Württemburg.

Whilst the food at Mühle is for the most part very good it never quite attains the excellent level. Their cuisine is very much in the old-fashioned "cordon bleu" style - heavy on sauces to just plain heavy - which appears to be known locally as Markgräflerstil. The service in Mühle's restaurant, including the breakfast pavilion, is highly variable depending on who serves one. (Tanja cheered us up at breakie whenever she was on duty; and I now call by morning coffee "Powerkaffee"!). Greetings were generally poor, making us feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Salutations at the end of one's repast were nonexistent - even when departing the hotel (when co-owner Frau Hechler suddenly realised the receptionist was not going to do so, she called out a last-minute goodbye). It is true that the restaurant is frequented by many wealthy Swiss, both at lunchtime and in the evenings: but wealth of itself does not endow taste or epicureanism.

Why so much of the negative in respect to Mühle - which is a perfectly good restaurant and very much worth trying? Well, because I wish to highlight the higher quality and better treatment at Hotel Restaurant Ochsen. I have no difficulty in recommending Mühle; but Ochsen is a MUST. Gourmands and foodies of all persuasions ought to dine there if in the area. Ochsen also has large numbers of Swiss visitors, given the collection of number-plates in their car-park each time we passed.

We were warmly welcomed once our hostess realised we were there. We were allowed to select where we wished to sit, rather than it being dictated by staff. The traditional wooden chairs (see image above; © Ochsen) were surprisingly comfortable and I did not need to stretch my legs during the whole meal.

Apéritifs were immediately offered - we opted for a very welcome, punchy G&T - and then menus were brought over. Our hostess cleverly worked out that I would cope with the German and my companion required their English-language version. We were left to mull over our options with no pressure to order; but neither were we left waiting once ready to do so.

Whilst awaiting our orders, chef sent out a taster platter: piping-hot cream of cauliflower soup (Blumenkohlsuppe/Karfiolsuppe), not too salty, not too creamy and naturally sweet from the brassica; a pot with a slice of cold, pink, tender roast-beef atop a zesty tomato-based mouse on a tomato-based chutney, which was all unbelievably light and so full of complementary flavours.

My companion opted to pass on starters. I on the other hand selected a beetroot soup with lighter-than-light edamame spume and crispy, melt-in-the-mouth, deep-fried fungi. The beetroot tasted sweet and was so light, no trace, whatsoever, of that oft accompanying earthiness one experiences in Britain. The dish was served in a hot-chocolate style glass beaker with metallic surround. It looked fabulous, smelled delicious and wowed the palate. My companion sampled the soup, despite far from being a lover of beetroot, and even he was totally won over. Success on a plate… well, in a cup!

For my mains I ordered wild hare - which I have had in Austria, but have never encountered in the UK. It came perfectly roasted: slightly red; tender to the knife; sensational on the tongue. It was served on a bed of Apfelrotkraut (Blaukraut in München) which is red cabbage with apple. I was just amazed at the presentation (see image above for a similar example; © Ochsen), the quality and the taste.

My companion advised he was not hungry, so selected vegetarian cannelloni. What arrived was a golden hillock, a mound of fresh pasta stuffed with spinach and roasted veggies topped with cheese. It looked stunning and, to be honest, over-facing. Nonetheless, chum ate every last morsel and was up for licking the plate too!

We decided to share a desert. What arrived looked like a Miró painting: colours and lines played across the plate. Mint caviar gave off a bright green glow as the tiny jelly globules reflected the light. Sorbet both cleansed and titillated the tongue. Lots of flavours and textures all wrapped in a fun package.

Wine-wise we opted for a local rosé at the behest of my friend. It was perfectly quaffable to me; but I prefer something with more body. My companion on the other hand was fully delighted with the selection.

Service throughout the repast was attentive, friendly and from time to time the staff jested with us, both in English and German.

We went on a Wednesday night. The restaurant was never full, but folk continuously came and went. All appeared to be treated equitably (as in without favouritism) despite some of the habituées being dressed and bejewelled extremely expensively. And we were given amiable salutations by staff on exiting.

An almost perfect meal. Top-notch! %P