May 052009
 

Thought I’d take a quick moment to review a few restaurants we’ve tried in Berlin.

First up is Mr Hai & Friends, one of 3 restaurants owned by Mr Hai.  It’s a Vietnamese restaurant that is just around the corner from our hotel.  We ventured there our first night as we both were in desperate need of some vegetables.

Mr Hai & Friends

Mr Hai & Friends

Ordering in a foreign country can be quite overwhelming, especially when you go somewhere that isn’t aimed at tourists.  There was no English translation for the menu, and although we’ve picked up a fair few German words, it was still a bit off a mystery.  Fortunately, we’re reasonably adventurous eaters, so we just took our chances.  And that my friends is how I first ate frogs legs.  Turns out “frosch” is German for frog, and they are considered seafood for Mr Hai’s purposes.  For the record, they were delicious, and quite reasonably priced at €15 for the dish.

There’s plenty more (non-froggy) items on the menu, and the food is delicious and quite reasonable.  We liked it so much we went back for lunch the next day.

Stylish Turkish

Stylish Turkish

The second place I’m reviewing is Hasir, which is a Turkish restaurant near Hackescher Markt.  This came recommended by Rick Steve’s, and is a pretty posh place.  Fortunately, the prices are very reasonable.  We made up for our vegetarian the other night with meat meat and more meat!  It was  delicious, reasonably priced and had a great atmosphere – that’s the trifecta in my book!

Apr 272009
 

My camera informs me that it is day 56 – that’s the halfway point of our trip!  In some ways it seems to have flown by, in others it seems that we have been away forever.

Day 56 saw us awake on the overnight train from Zurich to Vienna.  We departed Zurich at 22:40 and arrived in Vienna just after 09:00, managing to get some sleep on the hard beds.  We shared the tiny couchette with an lovely older Swiss couple.  Fortunately we booked a 4-person couchette – the 6-person one is the same size, they just stick another two beds above the four!

On the EuroNight Train

On the EuroNight Train

We celebrated the halfway point in Vienna at Das Biedermeiercafé-Restaurant.   Very reasonable prices, a friendly host, good local wine and excellent meals – no wonder it’s a Michelin-recommended restaurant.

Fiaker - beef goulash with fried egg, sausage and dumpling

Fiaker - beef goulash with fried egg, sausage and dumpling

To end this post, I thought I’d share ten of the things we can’t live without in Europe:

1 – Eurail pass, timetable and map
2 – Combination lock on my daypack
3 – Technology (camera, laptop, unsecure wireless connections and tripadvisor.com)
4 – Laundry detergent in a tube
5 – Jeans
6 – Wizard Mastercard (no annual fee, 55 days interest free, free cash withdrawals, good exchange rate and no currency conversion fee!)
7 – Rick Steves’ Best of Europe guidebook
8 – Bi- and tri-lingual Europeans
9 – Glasses (to see sights and read signs from as far away as possible when carrying a backpack!)
10- Our blog readers. Thank YOU 🙂

Apr 182009
 
Schweinwürstl, wiener würstl und sauerkraut.

Schweinwürstl, wiener würstl und sauerkraut.

Munich is stereotypical Germany – beer gardens and the associated foodstuffs, costumes and music.  The Hofbräuhaus is the biggest beer hall in the centre of Munich.  It is where Hitler first spoke to a large crowd.  The hall itself greets you like a beer and sweat sauna, so we dined in the slightly less crowded beer garden.  Two litres of beer, eight pork sausages, sauerkraut and dampfnudel later, we left feeling quite satisfied indeed.

Well it’s not all about the beer.  The Deutsches Museum is perhaps the best science and technology (certainly the best I’ve seen) museum in the universe!  We spent about three hours here and only covered a small part of the 10 miles of exhibits that present information of probably a senior high school level.  The museum contains real, working, life-size exhibits of absolutely everything related to science.  You can make paper, build a bridge, perform a titration, press a tablet, generate electricity, gaze for a star and so on and so on.  We did spend some time at the pharmacology exhibit (hey, it was one of the few bilingual ones) which had extremely well presented displays including a giant cell you could walk into.

There are two types of meat in Germany – pork, and processed pork.  We dined at our first European Michelin ‘gastro-pub,’ just a light lunch (salad with pork) but the ingredients were quality and fresh.  So, to get away from the schweinefleisch, we ate Afghani from a little restaurant below our accommodation.  Probably the most similar food would be Turkish, but definitely different – lots of aromatic spices.

Now that's a handle.

Now that's a handle.

Leah wants me to write about the shower in our room – it’s just there next to the bed, no ensuite – just a shower in the room.  But alas, I won’t say anymore because it’s not that exciting for you to read about.  Small things…

The shower.

The shower.

New Town Hall, Munich

New Town Hall, Munich

For South Park fans...

For South Park fans...

Apr 132009
 
Madenburg

Madenburg

After picking up our C-Class Kompressor (thanks for the complimentary upgrade, EC) from Frankfurt train station, we headed 1.5 hours south to Landau (one hour if you like the fast lane of the autobahn).  In Landau we met with ‘tour guide’ Andy (and his daughter Maira) who just happened to stay with my family in Brisbane 19 years ago.  We were provided with a superb visual and informative tour of the Palatinate region, including: the Mediterranean-like vineyards,  Madenburg (castle), Trifels Castle, authentic German cuisine, Schreber Gardens, Landau itself and a quick trip to France…

Landau is one of the warmer places in Germany.  It has a Mediterranean climate in the summer at least; according to Andy it is ‘bloody cold’ in winter.  It was here we felt spring had really begun and also the first time we could dry clothes outside under the sun!  Some of Landau and the surrounding villages were destroyed in WWII but many old, beautiful red and yellow sandstone buildings remain.

View from Burg Trifels

View from Burg Trifels

From Landau it is a short drive to a (insert collective noun for castles here) of castles.  We walked through the woods up to two of these, Madenburg and Burg Trifels.  The view from both was, although hazy, spectacular of the little terracotta coloured villages nestled in the woods or vineyards below.  Burg Trifels (built 11th C on the stone apex of a 500m high mountain) is again red sandstone and is a complete castle – rebuilt by the Nazis during WWII and restored again recently.  It is here that King Richard I (depicted as the good king in Robin Hood) was captured in 1193 as he was returning from the crusades.

Inside Burg Trifels

Inside Burg Trifels

Our culinary horizons were broadened by Andy.  We sampled the regional specialties of beer, wine and food.  The region is known for its wine, both red (dornfelder) and white (riesling, grauburgunder) and there is an annual festival each autumn.  As for food, well we don’t have to eat for the rest of the week now.  For dinner, I ordered a sample plate of local food which included bratwurst, sauerkraut, saumagen (pork and potato in a real pig’s stomach) and a leberknoedel (liver ‘meat-ball’).  It was actually all very delicious, hearty food.  We also ate many cheeses, wursts, bread, cold meats and of course Oster ei.  Lunch the following day was an ‘Aussie’ BBQ of corn, pork sausages and pork steaks, held at Andy’s Schrebergarten.

Meat, meat and more meat.

Meat, meat and more meat.

Live in a flat without a garden?  Why not buy a Schrebergarten?

Live in a flat without a garden? Why not buy a Schrebergarten?

I mustn’t forget the short excursion to France.  Wissembourg town is only 30 minutes drive from Landau, just after you pass through the no-longer-used border checkpoint.  As you enter, everything quickly becomes French; the town offers a more relaxed café atmosphere and plenty of patisseries!

Maira, Andy and Leah in Landau

Maira, Andy and Leah in Landau

Apr 012009
 

Market Wednesday saw us finding cheeses, fruit and bread for a picnic lunch.  The Markt square was bustling with locals stocking up on produce, which is always a good sign.  I can’t remember the cheeses we bought; one a lighter cheese with cumin seeds and the other a more aged hard cheese.

Picnic lunch

Picnic lunch

It seems the main food group in Belgium is beer.  Apparently a single beer (usually 8-12% alcohol!) is a sufficient meal containing as much energy and nutrients you’d get from regular meal!  The beer is brewed preservative-free and can include flavourings such as coriander (very common) and other spices to create peach, cherry and other tastes.  We sampled a few including the deserved award-winning Brugse Zot.

No shortage of chocolate!

No shortage of chocolate!

Second to beer is chocolate and there is no shortage of chocolate shops in Bruges, some more authentic than others we have learned from our host at the Royal Stewart…  As it’s close to Easter, the chocolate shops are teeming with eggs, chooks and chocolate bunnies.

Third are waffles and mussels.  It wasn’t really mussel season, so we went for the waffles.  Although we had them with cream and topping, they were very light and sweet and could easily be enjoyed on their own.

Wafels

Wafels

Product review time!

 europe  Comments Off on Product review time!
Mar 312009
 

I thought it time I review a few of the products we’ve come across so far in our travels.
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First up it’s Nougat Pillows, a breakfast cereal Julian brought home from Lidl a few days ago.  Lidl is kind of like an Aldi, that stocks cheap imported goods, often in bulk quantities.  Apparently, this was the most normal cereal he could find.  As most of you know, I have a real sweet tooth.  But I usually draw the line at breakfast, as I’m not a huge fan of sweet cereals.

I think I went into a sugar coma this morning after trying this cereal!  The cereal comes in little parcels.  The outer surface is a biscuity product that I would liken to “Pods”, for those Australians watching at home!  The centre is a soft, gooey “nougat” that basically tastes like chocolate and hazelnut – Nutella!  The cereal is certainly delicious, but I would classify it as a dessert!  Definitely a “sometimes food” only…

The second product came highly recommended from Kate, our Australian friend in Scotland.  She bought us some, with the severe warning not to consume more than 3 in one sitting!  They are the Scottish institution, Tunnocks Tea Cakes.  These little bundles of joy are essentially a layer of biscuit, covered with a mound of marshmallow and covered with milk chocolate.  Kate, we now understand the reason for the warning – Julian proclaimed after trying one that he could easily eat 6 in one sitting!

Little balls of yum

Little balls of yum

 Posted by at 6:44 pm  Tagged with:
Mar 292009
 

The Bay Horse is a traditional English pub complete with a larger than life publican.  It’s located in the small town of Kirk Deighton, near Wetherby.  We read about this place in the Michelin guide (again), however it changed ownership in December so it’s difficult to say if it would still be listed next year. However, the food was wonderful, and the atmosphere was great.

Fish and chips

Fish and chips

Julian had traditional fish and chips, with the biggest chips I’ve ever seen in my life! I had a fish pie, which was very decadent and delicious. Of course, it wouldn’t be a complete meal without dessert! I had another sticky toffee pud and Julian had a chocolate tart

Before this trip we both read Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Small Island”. One of the things he remarks on is finding the wry British sense of humour in the smallest of places. Our publican (and the new owner) was a classic example of this. He was bantering with some elderly ladies who were having dinner with their children at an adjoining table and we were blatantly eavesdropping!

One of the things we learned was that he is a big foodie himself (having formerly been a chef) and all the produce, with the exception of the fish, is sourced from within 3 miles of the pub (the fish is brought in from Scotland daily from a sustainable fish farm). I thought the foodies among you would appreciate that!

The Bay Horse

The Bay Horse

Mar 292009
 
David Bann's

David Bann's

David Bann’s

Sadly, we didn’t take any photos of our meals here, but I wanted to mention the restaurant anyway.  David Bann’s is actually a vegetarian restaurant, but don’t let that stop you!  The food was absolutely divine.  I had (another!) mushroom risotto, this time with leek and a huge hunk of a Scottish soft cheese (like a strong Brie or Camembert).  The risotto was beautiful, and was cooked from scratch (we had to wait quite a while for our food!).  I  must confess to a bit of meal-envy though, because Julian had a delicious crepe, stuffed with roasted eggplant, capsicum, tomatoes, mushrooms and Dunlop cheese (from Ayrshire).  The desserts looked delicious, but sadly we were out of time before our ghost tour.  So if anyone goes there, try the chocolate soufflé for me!

The restaurant is not mentioned in the Michelin guide, but I think it should be!  And they seem to have won just about every other commendation!

But no michelin recommendation...

But no michelin recommendation...

Stac Polly’s

Stac Polly's

Stac Polly's

After our ghost tour, we were able to have dessert at Stac Polly’s, which is apparently a bit of an Edinburgh institution.  The restaurant is know for its modern Scottish food.  Julian had a brioche pudding for his dessert, but I went for a modern variation of the traditional Scottish dessert, cranachan.  This was a parfait (like icecream) of cream, oats, honey and (maybe?) whisky.  This was drizzled with a raspberry sauce and fresh raspberries.  I’m not sure where the raspberries are sourced from at this time of year in the UK, but I have had them twice now and they are divine!  I’ve never had raspberries that good before in my life!

Mar 252009
 
Belfast Wheel and City Hall

Belfast Wheel and City Hall

After tree false starts (Michelin guide outdated already) we finally found an open (listed as closed!) Michelin-recommended restaurant in Belfast city called Ginger.  The mains were about ₤8 and dessert ₤5, great value considering the food was absolutely delicious.  (This is for Dave – we had to wait for the chocolate cake dessert to be made and baked – there’s a real chef!)

Leah enjoyed the mushroom risotto and a side of steamed greens, whilst I had the lamb shank and pea shepherd’s pie.  Leah intends to try to replicate that when we finally make it home!  For dessert, it was a sticky toffee pudding and a molten chocolate cake with fresh berries.  All capped off with a lovely house red (Aroma) and a white Sav Blanc (also Aroma) for Leah – both from Chile!

Mar 132009
 

Brakes are handy devices. I didn’t realise how bad ours actually were until they were replaced this morning. After which, we headed for Avebury to see the henge there. It is a large circle of stones surrounding the original Avebury village. Not quite as impressive as Stonehenge to me, especially considering the highway runs through the circle nowadays.

From here, we headed to the Cotswolds. First stop, Stow-on-the-Wold. A quaint little village with elegant yellow limestone buildings. There are no actual attractions here, just many little shops to wander amidst. It is pleasing to see the new developments in the area are doing their best to maintain the aesthetics by continuing to build in the original style.

From here we headed to Moreton-in-Marsh to camp, then to Bourton -on-the-Water and Chipping Campden tomorrow. Tonight we dined

Stow-on-the-Wold

Stow-on-the-Wold

at Eagle & Child pub (another Michelin moment), the oldest (947AD) inn in England. They have a fine Cotswold Lager. For dinner, I had the confit duck leg (was a big duck) with garlic potatoes, green beans and apricots. All the size of a pub meal but with that extra gastro-pub flair and flavour.