Sunday, 25 May 2014

Kaffee und Kuchen

Just as the Brits down tools for tea and cake at 4 o'clock, the Austrians hold dear their afternoon ritual of Kaffee und Kuchen. In fact, you can visit one of Vienna's magnificent coffee houses pretty much the whole clock around; from a breakfast of Viennoiseries and a melange, to afternoon piano recitals, to late night debates over a fiaker (coffee with a good dose of rum) or two.

The Viennese love of caffeine started when the invading Turks were chased from the city in 1673, reportedly leaving sacks of beans at the city gates. The first wave of coffee houses were opened in the wake of this discovery, and they quickly became places to think as well as drink; many of the venues can list an illustrious list of writers, philosophers, actors and musicians amongst their past and present clientele, and it is still quite acceptable to while away a whole afternoon over a kleiner brauner and a paper attached to a wooden stick.

Our first experience of this treasured ritual was a late night coffee at Cafe Hawelka, just off Stephansplatz. Despite being found in the touristy Inner Stadt, the Cafe has retained its Bohemian charm; being a former meeting place for Henry and Arthur Miller, Warhol and the Fantastic Realist school of Viennese painting after the war. 

Inside is dark and cosy and perfectly preserved against the ravages of the Modern World outside. The walls are thickly papered with a patchwork of art posters, nicotine stained lace curtains hang at the window, and dark red velvet drapes cover the doors and coffee is sipped at chipped marble tables while sat on comfy battered armchairs. 

It helps to have a smattering of schoolboy German if drinking here, as there is no menu and the few options available are chalked up on a small blackboard, but the real reason we visited, as it seems do most the other clientele, is to sample their famed butchteln, or plum jam filled Bavarian yeast balls.

These were originally cooked each evening by founder Leonard Hawelka's wife, Josefine, and the tradition continues today where they are available in the Cafe after 10 o'clock.

They are worth the trip; hot from the kitchen; each Butcheln is puffy and light, cradling its tangy jam filling and finished off with a dusting of icing sugar. They may be one of the best things I ate during our whole visit.

Alongside we drank a melange, Austria's answer to the cappuccino, and an Einspanner, or double espresso in a glass that is sipped through a raft of cold whipped cream which kept my heart racing long into the early hours of Sunday morning. 

At 18 Euros, this is hardly a cheap snack, but if I lived here I could think of nothing better than to return each evening to debate, contemplate, soak up a sense of history and, most of all, to get powdered sugar all over my chin.

A stunningly sunny Sunday morning sees us hitting Cafe Dreschler for a spot of breakfast. Recently redesigned by Terrance Conran this is is of the Town's funkiest joints and also keeps the longest hours - closing for just one hour a day for cleaning - making it a perfect stop for both night owls and early risers.

We managed to get a coveted spot on the pavement, overlooking the Naschmarkt, until I remember I don't really like the sun, have forgotten to bring a hat and have neglected to put on any suncream....

The Ewing soon came to the rescue with her Ambre Solaire and a scarf, which I artfully draped across my head, a la Lawrence of Arabia, much to the delight of the two small boys eating breakfast inside, who kept looking out and dissolving into fits of giggles.

Although ovum remain my nemesis, even I had to concede the Ewing's eggs and ham were pretty picture perfect. Crispy slices of meat, runny yolks with nutty rye bread for dipping, and the obligatory smattering of chives made this a winning start to the day.

I started with ham and fresh horseradish on a buttered roll with pickles and tomato. The perfect continental assemblage with a nice, sinus-clearing, boost from the grated root sprinkled on top. 

To follow was a sugar encrusted kipferl. The kipferl being a plainer ancestor of the more famous croissant - the latter was purportedly invented by an Austrian in Paris, hence Viennoiseries or 'things of Vienna'. Like a crescent-shaped brioche it was buttery, light and rather good, especially when dunked into my kleiner brauner (small black coffee with  a little jug of cream on the side).

For anyone who isn't a mad dog or Englishman, the interior is classy and cool with a long marble bar and comfy round leather booths. In the evenings, rather than the traditional polite piano recitals, DJs often play, making this one of the liveliest spots in the City for a coffee, the goulash is also reportedly rather good.

A few hours later, after a visit to the Secession and a trip up the Stephansdom to build up an appetite, we were ready for another cake stop. This time our destination is Cafe Sacher, home of the Original eponymous chocolate cake (or perhaps it's Cafe Demel, with whom Eduard Sacher also worked at while in Vienna, and who's torte carry the Eduard-Sacher-Tort insignia).

Either which way, I wasn't too excited about the prospect of my cake - but, of course, wanting to try it anyway - not being a huge apricot jam fan and finding the Sachertorte I've tried previously managing to combine both too dry sponge and too sweet icing.

The torte turned out rather pleasant surprise. The cake being dense but moist with it's zingy fruit layer and gooey chocolate icing, which wasn't quite bitter enough but looked flawlessly glossy in the afternoon sunshine, topped with its distinctive chocolate roundels.

Alongside we ordered two fiaker coffees, named after the horse-pulled carriages on the streets of Vienna. Usually these comprise of an Einspanner with a glass of rum, but here at Sacher you get a grosser Schwartzer (large black coffee) with a flute of kirsch (cherry brandy). Just enough caffeine and booze to propel us to the nearby Stadpark to enjoy couple of cold beer chasers on the grass before dinner.

We woke the following morning, again, to unbroken blue skies; the perfect weather to enjoy the splendours of the Schonbrunn Palace, or at least it would be if you didn't wilt in anything above 18c, like this lobster-hued Gaelic-gened English girl.

After walking up to the Gloriette - formally usued as Franz Joseph's breakfast room - for a picnic lunch by the water while looking down across the Viennese skyline, we walked back down to take a tour of the great Palace itself. 

With 1,441 rooms, and the Ewing's inglorious track record at taking an age to walk around every museum and gallery we visit, I doubted we get out before nightfall. Thankfully the inside has been divided into more manageable chunks, and while the Ewing still dawdled far behind everyone else, we managed to see all the important bits - including the mirrored room Mozart first played in - and get out in time for coffee and pastries

Our destination, found to the the front of the palace, is Cafe Residenz, whose cellars house the Imperial Bakery. Here you can watch the hourly 'strudel show', where the newspaper thin pastry is rolled and stuffed by hand, before getting to sample  slices of the freshly baked desert straight from the oven.

On such a sweltering day the idea of being stuck underground, near an industrial bread oven, were less than appealing, and so we elected to sit out in the gardens behind the cafe to enjoy our melange and a piece of the famed pastry.

Strudel, pardon the phrase, really is one of my favourite things. I remember my Mum making it for her famed dinner parties back in the 80s - where everyone ate half raw lamb, crunchy green beans and pungent French cheese (and pretended to like it) all washed down with huge amounts of red wine and brandy. Pudding was always profiteroles, lemon posset, or, my absolute favourite, apple strudel, rich with cinnamon and wrapped in crispy filo pastry. If I was lucky, a piece would be waiting for me in the fridge the next morning, but sadly I haven't had it for many years.

Here, it didn't disappoint. While not much like my Mother's, which was crisper and thinner, this was pretty exemplary. Piles of thinly sliced apples layered with buttery, cinnamon-spiked breadcrumbs and all encased in crisp on top, slightly soggy underneath pastry (my favourite).

Thankfully the tradition of good cake and coffee has made it down the Danube, too and Budapest's Cafe Gerbaud, an imposing Gründerzeit building dating back to 1870, remains one of Mittleeuropa's most famous coffeehouses. Specialising in range of hand made ice creams, cakes and pastries, and just a five minute walk from our apartment, we headed straight there for an afternoon pick-me-up after arriving on the train from Vienna.

Dobos Sundae, based on the famous Hungarian Dobos Torte, a layered sponge cake filled with buttercream and topped with  caramel. This featured scoops of their own Dobos cake, 2 scoops chocolate and vanilla ice cream, vanilla foam, caramel wafers, whipped cream, popping candy and crowned with a full sized chocolate macaron.

This was as close to frozen desert perfection as I could have hoped. With cake, ice cream, chocolate and cream involved, it would be pretty hard to go wrong, but it exceeded the sum of its parts and I alternated between mouthfuls of this and sips of my glass of cold rose, until my sugar levels teetered on the precipice of a diabetic coma. Luckily I had the Ewing to help me finish the last remnants in the glass, I was so stuffed I even let her eat my macaron.

The Ewing also had her own, majestic, Gerbeaud Sundae to contend with - layers of walnut sponge with chocolate, walnut and apricot ice-creams, apricot foam, chocolate sauce, crispy walnut linzer cookie, whipped cream and crowned with a mini slice of Gerbeaud cake. 

I'm not usually the biggest fan of apricot, but here the stone fruit added a sharp edge which went very nicely with the bitter walnuts and dark chocolate. Needless to say the Ewing was in her element.

They also do a takeaway cake service - 50% off if you order more than two slices - including the rather intriguing 'Salty-Peanuts Apricot' and a Marzipan and Bailey’s Bavarois, and there's a ice cream stand, for cup and and cones on the go, just to the right of the cafe.

'Let's face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people; it does for me.'
 - Audrey Hepburn

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Shears Yard, Leeds

Our lunchtime visit to Shears Yard was prompted by Marina O’Laughlin, the Guardian food critic, asking for Leeds recs on Twitter just before our latest visit. Top shout out was for Shears, from the people behind the perennially popular Arts Café, and so it was booked in the diary for our traditional post-Easter blow out. One last carb-fuelled hoorah before crawling back down the M1 for a diet of green vegetables (and the odd chocolate bunny).

We were also lucky enough to have the company of my Aunt and Uncle, who treated us for the Ewing’s birthday and took us for a customary whirl around the butcher's of Kirkgate Market, one of my favourite spots in town, before our meal.

The interior is fab; the entrance leading down into a cosy bar with comfy banquettes that runs into a bright, open, dining room, lit up thanks to the glass panels in the roof and ropes of lights that hang like sparkling spiders webs across the rafters. The exposed red bricks and blonde wood give a stripped back Scandi effect that is stylish but not austere.

The lunch menu has the usual burgers, sharing boards and ciabatta sandwiches, alongside a good value set, £14.50 for two courses, £17.50 for three. There's also a nicely put together wine list, decent beer selection with hand pulls, draught lagers and bottles, and a choice of cocktails including the rather potent sounding Dram-a in Guyana; a large measure of El Dorado aged rum with Tawny Port reduction, homemade cherry liqueur with cinnamon bark syrup and Creole Bitters stirred down and added to an Ardbeg 10 washed goblet.

Sadly the drive home meant I stuck with a half of Mary Jane from the Ilkley Brewery, a pale ale packed with Amarillo and Cascade hops, but weighing in at a perfectly quaffable 3.5%.

To start we shared a meat board with home cured duck ‘ham’, salted pork popcorn, ham hock & grain mustard terrine, sticky honey & lemon chicken wings, house chutney & granary bloomer. The terrine was particularly good, a sticky, porky number with the zing of wholegrain mustard. And while the wings were a little wan and not very sticky, they were still demolished in double quick time.

For our mains the Ewing and I both choses the Lobster, crayfish & mackerel burger with gem lettuce, heirloom tomato, lobster mayo & dill pickle. This was less ‘bouncy’ than I anticipated, imagining in my head something akin to a Thai fishcake, and the lobster and crayfish were rather out muscled by the oily fish, but overall it was nicely spiced and pleasingly punchy. A side of chips were decent enough, although the aioli alongside missed a garlicky bite.

My aunt’s barley risotto with leeks, parsley, goat’s cheese and roasted radishes was, to borrow a cliché, spring on a plate. It glowed a bright grassy green, punctuated with little pink and white blobs of cheese and radish, when bought to the table, and tasted equally as bright and fresh.

My Uncle chose the chicken with chorizo salsa and corn, also from the set menu. This, with its well cooked poultry, vermilion spiced sausage and glossy gravy, was an equally handsome plate that managed to turn a bog standard chicken breast into something I wanted to reach across the table and gobble up. Luckily I restrained myself enough to be content with a forkful.

Puddings were all sorted, the chocolate mousse for my Uncle and the Ewing and the roasted pineapple with banana and coriander sorbet for me (to share with the Ewing) but just as they were about to whip our menus away, I spotted it…

The mango and white chocolate bavarois, sherbet and chocolate lollipop, served with a Crème Egg Sorbet, the Ewing’s very favourite thing distilled into desert form. Of course, I had to order it and this, rather exciting, looking plate was soon in front of me. While the egg sorbet was nice, if unremarkable, and the parfait both rather cute and tasty, the sherbet was disastrously sweet, like straight icing sugar, while eating it left me feeling like Tony Montana in Scarface.

Malted chocolate mousse with salted popcorn brittle and a dark ale anglaise was another mixed bag. The mousse was dense and claggy but the ale custard was awesome; nutty, creamy and light. The shards of sweet and salty popcorn shrapnel were also rather good.

Shears Yard is a little gem in a rather drab Leeds dining scene; interesting menu, competent cooking, good service and a great venue, and proving that with some good grub, a lunchtime pint and the right company, it's anything but grim up North. I'm already looking forward to our next schlep up to Yorkshire.

Shears Yard on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Belgrave, Leeds

Easter saw our annual pilgrimage up North and, as always, there was no shortage of good eating. After Uncle Johns Good Friday fish feast was decided to jump on a bus into town the next day and check out the Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen for a few afternoon beverages.

A former assembly hall, the Belgrave, in Leeds' Northern Quarter, has reopened over three floors with a programme of arts and live music alongside some great beers and grub from several concessions throughout the venue. They also host a monthly Street Feast featuring a wide range of street food traders, an art market and live bands.

We made our selves comfy in one of the fron window sofas and kicked off with a couple of beers, a Five Points Hook Island Red for me and a Cascadian Black stout for the Ewing. There's a big choice of ales, stouts and lagers, including six casks, with a good local selection, several kegs, some Belgian bottles and plenty of American canned craft beer for the hop heads.

Slices of pizza, from Neapolitan pie slingers the Dough Boys, are displayed along tiled counter as you walk into the main seating area. There’s a few different types up for grabs, from the classic Silvio, tomato, buffalo mozzarella, smoked sea salt, torn basil to slightly more outré combos such as the Paul and Linda, with Artichoke, Sicilian olives, pimento, caper berries, smoked mozzarella, salsa verde. 

They also run an incredibly good offer through the afternoon that allows you to buy one slice, get one free. Clearly the Ewing and I weren’t shy of putting that to good use and ordered four slices for the bargainous sum of five quid. I doubt it’d be cheaper from Tesco.

Unlike supermarket pizzas, these beauties are crisp and charred underneath; with a nicely chewy crust. The toppings are also bob on, with the Baa No More - Middle Eastern spiced ground lamb, pecorino, baby red chard, pinenuts, and pomegranate; and  Screaming Goat - creamed goats cheese, roasted beetroot, caramelised walnuts, chervil leaves being standouts. I also enjoyed dosing my slices with an ungodly amount of Hot Bastard sauce.

Pizza and the first pint dispatched we ventured into the bowels of the ground floor, past the communal picnic benches and comfy window seats running along one side of the room, to find the small serving hatch at the back. From here patty Smith and Fu Schnickens serve up burgers and bao to the hungry masses. 

After initially being thwarted on trying to order some of the aforementioned vietnamese buns we found out they were running a special brunch menu in honour of Record Store Day. Brioche baps stuffed full of all your breakfast favourites, and, for me, a pleasing absence of egg in most selections.

Beers and brunch burger in hand we ascended the many stairs to the roof terrace, a truly lovely spot with a variety of sheltered seating, communal tables, deckchairs and even sheds fitted with sofas to escape the inclement weather.

I went with the El Patty, a fearsome mix of grilled chorizo, morcilla, spiced cherry tomato jam and hollandaise sauce topped with baby spinach and balanced on an, unadvertised, crispy homemade sausage patty. Ooof.

Perching on stalls with views across the chimney pots of Leeds I soon made short work of the brunch burger. One of the best things I have eaten this year, and I don’t say that lightly, this was a masterful creation where the combination of salty, fatty hot meat, sweet tomato and crisp spinach was crowned by a soothing blanket of exemplary hollandaise. First rate grub, and at a mere £4.50, superb value, too.

Feeling the need for some post-prandial relaxation, the Ewing bagged a spot of one of the shed sofas and kicked back asking on the decking, while I was dispatched down to the Laynes coffee concession to grab a couple of brews and some cakes.

Retuning with a 4oz espresso with steamed milk, a double espresso and a plate of cakes stood me in good stead with the wife, with her proclamations of joy as she ate her salted caramel brownie being right heard across the terrace. My lamington was equally joyous; a fluffy vanilla sponge coated in a thick chocolate ganache and coated in a dreft of coconut flakes. The Ewing, despite her supposed lamington aversion, seemed to have no problem helping me polish it off.

Laynes Espresso on Urbanspoon

Good food and beer, better company, friendly service and a laid back vibe lacking in too much hipsterishness, if there’s a better way to while away a sunny Saturday afternoon, I’ve yet to find it.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Black Treacle Tart with Lemon Cream

When making the pastry for my French-inspired tuna and tomato tart, I decided double the recipe, giving me enough dough for another creation. This time I looked closer to home and decided to experiment with my one of my Dad's favourite puds, the good old treacle tart (this also bears more than a passing resemblance to the tart au sucre I enjoyed earlier last year in Brussels).

Traditionally this isn't made with dark treacle at all, but instead with the more familiar golden syrup. It's one of those wonderfully simple, tooth-achingly sweet puddings we Brits are so good at; just syrup-saturated breadcrumbs in a friable pastry case. Sometimes you may find a little lemon or ground ginger to spice things up, and you should always find a dollop of cream or ice cream alongside to cut through the sweetness, but that's all there is to it.

While the classic version is indisputably great, I wanted to try something a little more complex. Swapping half the syrup for black treacle and adding ground almonds and plenty of lemon zest produced something gloriously sweet and spicy, with hints of burnt liquorice from the treacle. Served with good spoonful of thick double cream, perfumed with lemon zest, this is a proper grown-up nursery pudding.

Black Treacle Tart with Lemon Cream
250g plain flour
125g cold butter, cubed
1 egg, beaten

200g black treacle
200g golden syrup
100g white breadcrumbs
100g ground almonds
2 eggs, beaten
Zest of one lemon
Pinch of salt

Lemon cream
300ml double cream
Zest of half a lemon

To make the pastry place flour and butter in a food processor and blitz until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (you can rub mixture together with your fingertips if you prefer). Add the egg and pulse until mixture comes together. You may need to add a little cold water.
Wrap the dough in clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease a 23cm non-stick tart tin.
Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll out to the thickness of a pound coin. Carefully line the tin, patching any holes with spare pastry. Leave to rest for 15 minutes.
Line the tin with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans (I use reuse a jar of dried chickpeas). Place in the oven and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove greaseproof paper and bake for a further 5 minutes, or until the base is a light golden colour.
Remove from oven and turn temperature down to 160c

While pastry is blind baking place treacle, syrup, eggs, zest, salt and breadcrumbs in a large bowl. Mix well and leave to stand.
When pastry is ready carefully pour the filling into the tin and bake for about 30-40 minutes, until the top is set and golden.
Whisk the double cream until it forms soft peaks, stir through the zest and chill until needed.
Allow the tart to cool slightly before slicing and serving with the lemon cream.