© 2009-2011 Quality Eating and Drinking London Ltd


© 2009-2011 Quality Eating and Drinking London Ltd

Articles in Food and travel category

Regensburg mon amour

The Danube at RegensburgThis time last year, Heathrow lay ybounden and, sad to relate, our planned December break reached no farther than Zone E at Terminal 1. But Lufthansa were very good to us and we had a few days' break in and around Regensburg in the springtime. It was so pleasant that we returned to see Bavaria in winter. No Caspar David Friedrich landscapes (the only snow was sliding off the fields of solar panels), but a change from the abundant glories of being stuck at Rayners Lane in what we now ought to call a "heritage" Met line train.

Naturally, the first step after arriving in Regensburg and depositing our bags was to seek out a relaxing pub for a reminder of Bavaria's benisons, so we slipped into the Dicker Mann (in Krebsgasse, since you ask) and got ourselves round some Kuchlbauer Dunkles. Deep and dark, with an impressively judged balance between sweet, dry and bitter, this was the works. Later, I realised that the sweetness element differed from other local dark beers because instead of calling up memories of chocolate, coffee or the like, the taste-chromatography was summoning up echoes of the darkest cherries in the land. It was four in the afternoon, and we were handed the dinner menu. We declined, and did not know what we had done. When we set out for an early dinner (lunch had been a modest sandwich on Freising station: €5 for two, and immeasurably better than anything at Marylebone, let alone West Ruislip or Watford, which would be its London-equivalent station), and trekked from restaurant to pub to hotel, we found that everyone eats very early, and there was no room at any inn for us. It was like being back in Iowa, but with the benefit of stunning mediæval architecture. We eventually found a hotel restaurant, and ate a meal there. It was as if a Little Chef had branched into schnitzeldom: the oil-soaked breading lay heavy all night and beyond.

Christmas market in Amberg RathausplatzWe fared much better (though no later) thereafter with our meals, whether a bratwurst sandwich on the run in the Rathausplatz in Amberg (definitely vaut le détour) or a jägerschnitzel in what is fast becoming our favourite dining establishment in Regensburg, the Kreuzschänke in Kreuzgasse. This wirtshaus is right on, or just beyond, the edge of the historic centre of town: go down the side of the enormous Kneitinger brewery (no mean eating-house either, if you can find a table) on Arnulfsplatz, and keep going, through the road barrier, on past a flight of steps up to the left, and persevere till you find it on the left with its beer garden.

We failed to get into the Augustiner restaurant (which is a bit like the time-warped Maidenhead dining-room where Gordon takes his girl in Keep the Aspidistra Flying, but with much friendlier staff and immeasurably better food), so stumbled up on another of the town's breweries, the Regensburger Weißbräuhaus. Once again, beer straight from the tank; the Altbayerisch Dunkel was not at all the mahogany-coloured beer we'd found elsewhere: it was caramel-coloured, unfiltered, and had a delightful woodsy-undergrowth element in the taste, almost reminiscent of sweet horse-mushrooms. No surprises that it was a tad more bitter than the Kuchlbauer, or the Weltenburger at the Kreuzschänke, but really good with a perfectly-cooked medium-rare steak (how often do you get that in a busy British city-centre pub?). The dessert menu at the Weißbräuhaus included an entirely decadent lebküchen parfait, with chews of gingerbread cookie and dark chocolate chips in a honey-spicy-choccy-ice-creamy cylinder.

The historic stone bridge over the Danube at RegensburgOn one evening, we were driven into the trattoria at the far end of the famous bridge, and managed to grab (again) what seemed like the last table in Bavaria. In general, when abroad I prefer to eat local cuisine where possible (the Balkan pizza-house in Levoča, eastern Slovakia, excepted), but needs must when the Christmas markets draw the crowds. The food was very good, but I tripped over some transalpine fusion. Lasagne with veal seemed a good idea at the time, but when it arrived, I could see that it was two layers of lasagne alternated with two layers of heart-stopping mushroom cream sauce, then an enormous slab of veal (about 7mm thick), then another lasagne/sauce foursome, then the whole thing drowned in more sauce, the lot covered with parmesan shavings. By comparison, the famed (but mainly apocryphal) Lanarkshire delicacy of deep-fried Mars bar is a model of calorific restraint.

After the small-town delight of Amberg, we took a train to Nürnberg to experience the huge Christmas market, and we can report that it was a huge glühwein-miasmatic rathausplatz of noise. It even spawned market stalls from Nürnberg's sister cities around the globe, though at least Atlanta and Glasgow restrained themselves from offering glühcoke or GlühBru respectively. As with our springtime munching in München, it reminded us that the smaller cities seem to do better. Our travels in Bavaria this year have led us to places the size of Durham, Northampton, Hereford and Chester, as well as the two big cities the size of Bristol and Greater Manchester. I think we did better than an average visitor to, say, Northampton. However, we finished off in style with a fine meal and a drink at Airbräu Flughafen München: yes, a brewery inside the airport (airside beyond passport control, Terminal 2). Once again, the quality was worlds away from the Rat and Baggage-handler offerings from BAA.

But when we returned, we were gasping for a nice piece of fish and some undead vegetables (and no sauerkraut!).

Kálmán, cockers and confit

As Pepys might start, "Up betimes on Saturday, and by tube to the Green Park, and to the Academy".

We wanted to catch the Eyewitness exhibition at the Royal Academy — photographing the twentieth century by Hungarians and Hungarian emigrés: you really ought to try to catch it before it closes at the beginning of October! — and aimed to arrive in time for the 1000 opening. The Metropolitan Line laughed off its own earlier plague of signalling problems, and we arrived on Piccadilly with half an hour to spare. Never mind, there's now a branch of Paul across the street, so coffee and croissants whiled away the time. Is it just my imagination, or are Pain Quotidien and Paul undertaking a francophone counter-push for world domination against the likes of Starbucks and Caffè Zero, with the aim of a Paul/PQ à chaque carrefour?

The  exhibition was every bit as good as last Saturday's, when we took in the Magrittes at the Tate in Liverpool, and again there's a breakfast tip. Instead of going to Lime Street, get off at Liverpool South Parkway (née Garston; change at Crewe if necessary) and walk smartly over to Platform 6 for the Merseyrail train to Brunswick. From there, turn right along Sefton Street and you'll see Delifonseca beyond the roundabout: a nice deli with a good caff attached. Southern sensibilities may or may not mean you will need to ask for a lighter hand with the salt and pepper on the excellent Delifonseca (or, for gargantuan appetites, the Docker's) breakfast. From there, just go out to the waterfront and head in the general direction of the Isle of Man, and you can't miss the Tate.

Back to the Academy. After some happy time browsing the photos (which range from "ruralia Hungarica" to Omaha Beach and the playing-fields of Eton), we decided to sample one of the farmers' markets which we hadn't attended before, so onwards by C2 bus to what the plummy recorded stop-announcer insisted on calling Parliament Hillfields (emphasis on 'Hill', no gap before 'fields'). Now I remember Hillfields as the faintly shabby bit of Coventry round by the old football ground: it had other attributes too, but let's move swiftly on. When we reached Parliament Hill Fields (three words each with its own stress and purpose), we found a good FM in full swing. Plants for sale too, echoing Kertész the photographer (kertész means gardener), and a remarkably well-behaved dog-crèche, where Jack Russells, cocker spaniels and all the rest just sit, admiring the view and waiting patiently while their owners do the shopping. This market is thriving, with some of the "usual suspects" met at other markets, and others we hadn't seen before (including a cider-maker from the outer rings of Hemel Hempstead). Worth the trip.

By now, lunch was calling, so back down the path to the Bull and Last on Highgate Road. Many have sung the praises of this pub, and all I can say it that I concur. Friendly, good beer (including a honey-sweet Summer Runner from Truman's), and astoundingly good food. Worth visiting for the slow-roast pork confit alone, whose meat is as easy to cut as stewed rhubarb and whose accompaniment of white beans, chard and other secret ingredients is just perfect. They also do pub snacks for humans and for dogs (NW5 seems to be canine central).

At the M&S outlet between the Academy and the bus-stop, we managed to pick up a tray of what I call the Dorian-Grey asparagus from Chinn's: out there, on the Ross-on-Wye altiplano, they are trying to play the Peruvians at their own game to extend the asparagus season. For them, the Shakespeare's-birthday-till-midsummer-day season is not enough, as they aim for a curtain-call on or around St Andrew's Day (not appropriate: Macbeth saw a dagger, not a spear). We dutifully bought some Peruvian stuff round the corner at Sainsbury's for a comparison to bring you a review. We look forward to the new asparagus season in April, and can report that the famed after-effects are present in the out-of-season version too.

BIFF fails to pack a punch

Two QED directors found themselves in Birmingham at the weekend (it happens). At the end of Colmore Row, down by the Council House, were lamp-standard advertisements for BIFF: the Birmingham International Food Festival. It takes up an area about the same as Southbank Square plus the road across as far as Waterloo. We've been to the Birmingham German Christmas market, which uses the same space and is the biggest German Christmas Market in the world, and BIFF looks a bit like its summertime twin. Stalls are replicated, either directly (at least two identical Spanish Paella stalls) or indirectly (at least four competing hog roasts, and Rainha Santa has no need to fear the competition). Many stalls are the same as we found in December, including the German bars and the Provençal yellow-peril table linen; whole areas of produce are missing. Multiple liquorice stalls, but no wine-tasting, and no Baltic fish either.

Perhaps it would have been better after noon, but an hour into the festival day (at 1100) half the stalls were still closed or were cranking themselves into a semblance of life. Looks to me like a missed opportunity which isn't doing Brum any favours. Especially since the most visible stall as one approaches from the Museum is oh so international: World's Best Pork Scratchings.

Still, it's better than spending more than five minutes in New Street Station, or in the ghastly mall above it.

Food and travel

All of QEDLife