Going out for a beer, or several, in Slovenia

There’s a burgeoning beer scene in Slovenia and some wonderful scenery too. Nick sees if something can successfully be organised in a brewery.

 

The men in the ‘pub’ of the Union Brewery in Ljubljana are in fine voice tonight. As a woman cranks rousing tunes out of an accordion that’s almost as big as she is, they roar out the choruses whilst waving mugs of beer to the beat.

It’s all sung in Slovenian of course, so I have no idea what the words mean, but I’m happy to raise my own glass and cheer loudly at the end of each song. The conviviality meter has gone off the scale here in this packed bar/restaurant.

Also off the scale is the platter of meat in front of me featuring slabs of pork, tangles of spicy sausages, juicy spare ribs and more all piled onto sauerkraut and baked potatoes. Continue reading

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Wine cathedrals and wondrous wheeled adventures

Up in the Terra Alta in Northern Spain, they have an almost religious reverence for white Grenache and a building to prove it. I cycle the Greenway to discover more

Sunset over the mountains

‘I’m not much of a cyclist,’ I tell the man fitting me out with my bike and helmet. To be honest, and I keep this to myself, the last time I rode a bike it had gears labelled Sturmey Archer and my short trousers had name labels.

‘That’s okay,’ he replies, ‘it’s all downhill from here.’ ‘Story of my life’, I think, as I try to get onto the saddle in a dignified manner. I fail and the bike shoots backwards and I make contact with the crossbar in a painful way.

The old railway station

We’re at the Horta de Sant Joan train station in the Terra Alta Tarragona province  in Catalonia, or Catalunya if you wish to be politically more (or less) correct.

It’s a small and very pretty town on a hill, inhabited for many, many centuries, and also a place where Picasso used to hang out.

There was once a single-track railway line that ran up to here created by republican prisoners of the war in 1942. Continue reading

Iron Bloom Shoreditch Review

There’s no shortage of bars to look cool in down Shoreditch way, but Iron Bloom has some pretty good food to match its eclectic cocktail selection, finds Mr Hip Harman

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What’s with the odd name then? Well apparently,, this place used to be an ‘iron factory’, although I am not sure if that means it used to make irons, or made iron. If you see what I mean.

The brickwork is exposed, as is still de rigeur these days, although there seems to be no filament lamps thankfully, a lighting solution that’s now so clichéd you can even buy it outside London.

The power sockets over the tables are industrial chic, but we notice with delight that they have USB sockets to charge the phone to take the pics to post on Instagram to pleasure one’s followers. Continue reading

A Magical Marzipan Xmas In Lubeck

If you’re looking for a fabulous Xmas market, they don’t get much better than Lübeck in Germany. And what’s more, you get to eat the best marzipan in the world.

Serious Cake Action

‘Does it get busy in here at Christmas?” I ask indistinctly between mouthfuls of cake. My neighbour pauses in the task of putting away his own massive Torte Niederegger to reply, ‘well, put it this way, last year I came here to meet a client and it literally took me over half an hour to get through the crowds and get upstairs!’

We’re talking, and eating, in the J.G.Niederegger shop and cafe in the medieval Hanseatic port of Lübeck, often called the ‘“Venice of the Baltic”

Forget the diet

All around us locals and tourists alike are gleefully shovelling down some of the most impressive cakes I’ve ever seen, each one it seems heavily laden with fruits and creams, and nearly all featuring plenty of marzipan. And there’s a good reason for that. Continue reading

Sun, sea and sustainability in Ibiza

Known for its club culture, there’s also a different beat in Ibiza, one that’s all about sustainability, Zero Kilometre sourcing and the rise of the female chef.

A wild and lonely place

‘Skreeeeek, skreeek, skreeek’, I’m watching a man laboriously pull in his fishing net by hand. His small ancient local boat, called a Llaut, is bobbing about on the water between Ibiza and its smaller neighbour, Formentera. The net, all 5km of it is being slowly retrieved using a large wheel as a capstan. It’s badly in need of some WD40, hence the ‘fingernails down blackboard’ noise it’s making.

Not a large catch

Every now and then the fisherman bends down to retrieve a fish from his net. If it’s too small, it goes back over the side otherwise it goes into the cold box. His nets are only left out for an hour each time to avoid any chance of the fish being crushed to death when the haul is good.

As a method of fishing it’s old and ineffective, but that’s the point. The fishermen of Ibiza have embraced the need for sustainability.

You can fish over there!

On our boat, Pere Valera who heads the Ibizan Fishermen Guild, pulls out a chart and shows me where in the local waters large scale trawl fishing can take place, where it has to be done only in this old style and where it is totally banned so that the fish can breed in peace. This last area is Es Freus Marine Reserve of Ibiza and Formentera, which was set up in 1999.

It takes in the far south of Ibiza, the north, the west coast of Formentera and the space that separates them with a total area of 13,617 marine hectares, making it the second largest protected marine area in the Spanish Mediterranean.

Back on shore, at the Guild headquarters where all fish are processed, he shows me some more of how the system works. The fisherman all signed up in 2008 to an initiative called Peix Nostrum – Our Fish.

Bagged and tagged

Under this ‘brand’ bright yellow tags are clipped to each fish and lobster and these must remain attached all the way to the market, and the fish must arrive within four hours of being caught.

The tag gives information on where the fish was caught, precisely when it was caught and by whom, as well as guaranteeing it has been processed correctly.

Bullet de Peix

This means that every restaurant on the island can be confident its fish has been supplied in a sustainable manner. And that matters, both to the chefs and to their customers. Everyone loves the local fish stew Bullit de Peix and they want to know it’s been made with care.

‘None of the fishermen in Peix Nostrum wants to empty the sea,’ Pere says, waving a fish about. ‘We want fishing to continue for our children and grandchildren, so we only catch reasonable amounts of fish and shellfish. And it works. We’re the only part of the Mediterranean where the lobster is not disappearing, for example.

Eco and very friendly

Back on dry land to the west of the town of Santa Eulalia Del Rio, is Can Musón. Founder and driving force María Marí Colomar was about to retire from her work as a fashion designer when she was horrified to find a local child, when asked to draw a chicken, drew a box instead.

So, she picked up a spade and not a pen and created a wonderful place to teach the upcoming generations the importance of sustainability of local produce and of rare breeds.

Mari

Here on her 65,000 sq. eco farm she grows organic fruit and vegetables in profusion, as well as many herbs too. She also raises rabbits, pigs and goats, most of them local breeds that need protecting from dying out.

The produce is all sold out the front from a large market stall, as well as served in the simple but delicious cafe. This area is discreetly wealthy with plenty of expat and second-home Brits around. They have a very Notting Hill vibe about them, with the women drifting about in floaty boho dresses and hats, all topped off with subtle designer sunglasses.

They help keep the farm paid for, its main purpose being to educate the children who come out on regular trips to the farm school – S’al lot Verd (it means ‘the green youngster’ in Catalan), to see where food comes from and to be schooled in the need for sustainability.

A digestif

Mari puts me to work making a bottle of Hierbas, the local post-meal stomach calmer. Into a bottle of spirit go 21 fresh herbs from the farm, these will then steep for as long as possible to bring all manner of complex flavours and remedial qualities to the drink.

I screw the top on tight and hope baggage handling doesn’t turn the Hierbas into a big mess in my suitcase. That would really give me an upset stomach.

Zero Km sourcing is big with Ibizan restaurants. The closer the produce is to the plate, the better. Not just for the taste of course, but also for the freshness and the fact that no transport but Shank’s Pony is needed, which cuts helps pollution on the White Island.

People who cook in glass houses

At Can Domo restaurant, a beautiful Agroturismo hotel and restaurant created from a 17th Century hilltop farm by a husband and wife team and located up an axle-breaking dirt road in the north of the island, 18 km from Ibiza town, they have over 600 olive trees surrounding them. Arbequina olive trees and Picual olive trees are all tended organically to produce the award-winning fruity, floral oils they use to cook with and also sell.

A chef and his produce

They also have a vegetable plot that produces almost all chef Pau Barba needs to create his stunning dishes for his farm-to-table restaurant located in a glass-walled room across from his semi open-air kitchen. He cooks and his wife takes care of the design and running of the hotel with its 8 rustic-chic individually decorated rooms in whitewashed stone outbuildings

The wine served is from Ibiza; ‘of course’ you might say, but in fact it’s something you’d not have said twenty or so years ago because Ibiza just didn’t make wine then. Today though the island has around seven wine producers and one of the most successful is Can Rich.

Earthy goodness

Since starting up in 1997, Can Rich now produce only organic wines, and were one of the first people to make wine in Ibiza since the Phoenicians left about 2000 years ago.

Can Rich, like all Ibizan wines, differs from other Spanish wines. The almost non-stop continual sunshine of Ibiza means the red Monastrell grapes can be harvested earlier and so escape the full blasting heat of summer, and there are minerals in the grapes unique to the island, all characteristics which come out on the nose and the palate.

Monastrell produces a very earthy, vegetal smelling wine. I thought my wine was corked when first served it, but soon grew to love it and drank little else after.

Chef Sílvia Anglada

The sun is beating down at Club Nautic Sant Antoni and Ibiza Sabor 2018 is under way and packed with chefs, trainee chefs, suppliers and press. I can see Pere who waves cheerfully as well various other chefs I’ve met over the past few days.

A beetroot donut

It’s very much focused on sustainability and has a focus too on female chefs. Sílvia Anglada of restaurant Es Tast de na Sílvia, in Ciutadella, Minorca runs her restaurant on strict eco lines and demonstrates one of her signature dishes, a kind of cheese doughnut with a beetroot jam

Coca bread topped with roasted tomatoes

She’s followed by Marga Coll from restaurant Miceli, in Majorca who tells us her restaurant never has a fixed menu and is driven entirely by what she finds in the morning market. As she talks she creates a dish of coca bread topped with roasted tomatoes, dried fish and cheese from Can Caus an artisan producer.

Not your average Mr Whippy

Alejandra Rivas runs Gelateria Rocambolesc, a project of the Roca brothers of El Celler de Can Roca fame, and she is married to Jordi Roca. Her demonstration of novel ways with ice-cream, both sweet and salty, was refreshing and it’s easy to see why she now has four gelaterias in Spain.

Paella all round

Lunch, of 12 courses, each prepared by one of the chefs, was a triumphant celebration of the Balearic produce, the passion for sustainability and the talent of the islands’ chefs. The giant paella finally served was the icing on the cake,

If you’ve been putting off going to Ibiza because you don’t dance that much anymore, think again. That side of the island is one very small part of what it does, so pack a knife and fork and leave the glowsticks at home.

Our thanks to my hosts Ibiza Travel and to all the marvellous chefs and producers of the White Island who work so hard every day.

Can Domo images sourced from their website

Delta Force

The eco-conscious Ebre Delta in Tarragona is unlike any other part of Spain. I took a few days to explore the rice, the food, the wine and even the sake.

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Paella is taken very seriously in the paddy fields

‘In a few square kilometres, I can find everything I need to eat,’ says local legend Senor Polet, as his friend stirs an enormous paella in the kitchen.

Outside the ancient house, a barraca style that’s typical of the area, the paddyfields of the Ebre Delta stretch away, stopping only at the base of the distant mountains in one direction and the nearby Mediterranean sea in the other. Continue reading

Tack For The Memory. Sweden On A Plate

Forget fika, there’s more to Swedish gastronomy than coffee and buns. Nick takes the plane north to dig down into the food-rich region of Jämtland Härjedalen

Frozen lake near Östersund Sweden

The Sound Of Silence

It takes two airplanes to get to Östersund, the capital and only city in Jämtland Härjedalen. The final descent out of a clear blue sky reveals a countryside that seems more lakes than land, with the lakes still frozen in April and blanketed in thick snow.

The melt is beginning though and soon the locals will put away their skis, the area is famous for its skiing, and begin to cycle and hike through their forests and fields. The Swedish here love to be outdoors whatever the weather.

And they love to eat well, the region is dotted with over 200 artisan food and drink producers, as well as restaurants and chefs that take inspiration and ingredients from the land and water around them.  Self-sufficiency is real here, not a fashion.

Frozen lake near Östersund Sweden

The Frozen North

Östersund on the edge of Lake Storsjön is a lively, friendly place and geographically it’s celebrated as the very centre of Sweden. The bars and restaurants don’t compete for business, they share it and as I move around the town I find the same faces –  bartenders, chefs, shop owners and local food entrepreneurs lall waving cheerfully as they slip and slide on the snow.

All that Jazz

A cocktail in Jazzkoket in Östersund Sweden

Drink it or wear it?

In the centre of this centre of Sweden is Jazzköket, which means ‘Jazz Cuisine’ in English. Tucked away in a hidden courtyard, its open kitchen radiates heat and bonhomie and, typically for Sweden, there are all ages enjoying its eclectic interior design and delicious food.

From the bakery in the cellar comes out superb sourdough and chefs cook with beef from mountain cows, as well as ‘Fangsten’, which means whatever seafood has been caught and brought to them that day.

A bartender making a cocktail in Jazzkoket in Östersund Sweden

A Swedish Hipster?

Across the courtyard is a cellar bar, where the team create esoteric cocktails based on local ingredients and invite guests to choose their own music from a stash of vinyl in the corner.

Having a browse, I find the oeuvre of Saxon features strongly, Swedish men may all look like Hoxton hipsters but they do like ‘the metal’ all the same.

The hip bartender makes up a selection of cocktails for me to try, including a marvellous one made with moss and a food dish whose name is tongue twister, but with its salty fish roe totally blows me away with its depths of flavours and sheer Swedishness.

a dish of salmon, potato, carrot and dill at Lilla Saluhallen

It doesn’t get much more Swedish

Although for a classic Swedish lunch you’d be hard pressed to find better than the salmon, potato, carrot and dill I happily eat at Lilla Saluhallen later, a delicatessen and casual restaurant combined and run by the partner of the man who runs the Jazzkoket bar.

The menu board at Lilla Saluhallen in Sweden

It was all Greek to me

In her well-stocked shop of local produce, I taste some superb cheeses that came from Oviken Ost,a nearby dairy that makes its artisan cheeses from cows and sheep with the milk either from their own herd or sourced locally.

So, good was the cheese that I have to meet the makers, so I drive up to the dairy in blazing sunshine and blue skies that belie the 5C temperature outside.

A cheesemaker in the dairy at Oviken Ost Sweden

Say Cheese

‘We couldn’t get the sheep’s milk we wanted at first,’ I’m told as I am shown around, ‘so we began crossing Nordic ewes with purebred East Friesian dairy rams’. They have over 90 acres and 200 hectares of managed forest around them and the whole dairy here is eco-friendly with heat coming from a wood chip boiler that uses wood from their forest. The cheese they make is so good it’s served at Magnus Faviken’s restaurant not far away, as well as at Noma.

Cheese platter in Sweden

Delicious on crispbread

The milk is left unpasteurised to get every bit of the flavour out and the cheeses, which range from hard to soft, are a real treat. This is how cheese ought to taste all the time.

Pork matters

‘They look like Rastafarian pigs,’ laughs the chef at Slaktarn i Östersund AB, ‘they have long furry coats’.  I’m looking down at perhaps the finest pork chop I have ever seen on a plate.

As thick as an old phone book, it’s perfectly cooked and simply served with crisp apple shards and local artisan beers Jämtlands Steamer and Jämtlands India Pale Ale. Here with the latter they know better than to overhop and create refreshing brews that are balanced and very drinkable.

A pork chop in Sweden

Chop chop

The guys at Slaktarn i Östersund AB are young men driven by a desire for proper meat.  The animals come from local farmers who all focus on providing natural lives for their animals, all grown to proper maturity and fed naturally from what the animals themselves choose to eat as they wander about freely.

The soil is monitored for organic quality and slaughter is carried out to the most humane methods, with the meat then aged slowly and carefully. The result is meat selected by all the best shops and restaurants in the area. And yes, that includes that place Faviken again.

Ice age

Nick Harman fishing on a frozen lake in Sweden

The smallest fishing rod ever

Of course, if you really want to get fresh food, you need to catch it yourself. Which is why the next day I find myself lying face down in the snow peering into a metre-deep hole we’ve just drilled through the lake ice.

Ice drilling in Sweden

Just a few more feet to go

A thirty minutes ride as passenger, and for a glorious fifteen minutes as a driver, on a powerful snowmobile with local hotel owner and mountain rescue expert Richard, has brought me out to the middle of a giant lake where the guides brew our coffee on fires made from scavenged wood and proffer slices of cured reindeer to keep us fed until the fish bite.

Nick Harman fishing on a frozen lake in Sweden

Not dead, just fishing

The rod is tiny, I look like a garden gnome. I can see the fish when I peer down, but they don’t want to be caught. We pack up and motor to a restaurant a few kilometres away deep in the Sami, the indigenous peoples, land.

The restaurant Hävvi in Glen is part of the Tossåsens Sami village in the Oviken mountains 50 km from Östersund and chef Elaine is married into a Sami family. The Sami people have lived from, and with, nature since time began and sustainability is their natural way of life.

A large bearskin pinned to the ceiling suggests that their attitude to nature is also pragmatic.

We eat Sami appetisers, a platter of smoked and cured reindeer components – heart, tongue, liver, that sort of thing – and then smoked mountain char, sea buckthorn, fried angelica, mayonnaise with apple vinegar, roasted bone marrow, fried fish skin and cloudberries, a plate redolent of this part of Sweden.

Chef Elaine at Hävvi in Glen Sweden

Plating up the Elk’s nose

Then it’s tempered suovas with slow baked swede, spring vegetables, blueberries and creamed black chanterelle mushrooms and crispy elknose. Suovas is dry-salted meat smoked by the Sami over an open fire.

Crispy elknose is like pork scratchings, but a great deal tastier and we end with a palate cleansing sorbet made from cloudberries and sea buckthorn. It’s a meal that anywhere else would be served surrounded by pomposity, pretentiousness and with chef posing at the pass. Here Elaine just cooks the food she likes to eat, and it is excellent.

Drinking songs

Bottles of snaps at the Buustamon hotel Sweden

Snaps

The sound of singing is loud in the basement of the Buustamon hotel and we’ve only had a few drinks. Helan Går, roughly Chug It Down, is one song being belted out and I wish I could join in.

Snapsvisor (drinking songs) are popular with all ages and classes in Sweden and where better to get the tonsils twitching then in a distillery?

The exterior of of the Buustamon hotel Sweden

Where the Spirits live

Snaps is a shot of aquavit, an ingrained part of Swedish culture and in this charming hotel and farm, halfway up Areskutan and accessible only by a bumpy but fun ride in a snowcat, they make their own –  all the way from the mash to the bottle labels. Beautiful freshwater, lingonberries, elderflower and all kinds of local herbs and spices are used between spring and autumn, any other time the water is frozen solid, to make their range of snaps – Arevodka, Buustasup, and Hojt.

Cured meat platter on a lake in Sweden

Snow snacks

It took them a long time to get the distilling permit under Sweden’s somewhat draconian alcohol laws, and rather bizarrely you still can’t actually buy a bottle at the hotel. No matter, I wobble up the stairs to the restaurant to a superb dinner of local produce in the wood heavy dining room.

Jämtland Härjedalen has certainly left me singing inside my head, with its wonderful people, food, drink and of course fabulous scenery. This amazing region is a place I could very happily call home and I can’t wait to come back again.

Chef in Sweden

The foraging chef

Big takt (thanks) to:

The Jämtland Härjedalen Tourist Board

Visit Sweden

www.Jht.se

www.Adventuresweden.com

Buustamon Hotel

Copperhill Mountain Lodge

www.are.se

Wikners i Persåsen Hotel