When it comes to European cuisine I’ve always been a southern kind of girl - the ‘modern European’ style of food with a bit of ‘modern British’ thrown in. I remember being appalled at the cuisine I experienced in Budapest, Prague and even Berlin a decade ago (the latter is responsible for one of my worst food memories – a grey, flaccid sausage floating in a brown broth. A delicacy apparently. Not for me). I used to work for a Swiss company and often visited Basel. Again, I found it hard to find good local food. Stodge, fat and vinegar are my prevalent memories.
But this year, something happened. It began with the bistros of Amsterdam over New Year, followed with food trips to the Hague and Sweden, both courtesy of Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival Managing Director, Nick Moseley.
The Hague is an elegant city. A larger version of Amsterdam with wide boulevards and parks alongside the narrow streets. There is evidently a thriving café culture and food and wine scene.
On my first night I ate at the highly acclaimed bib gourmand Restaurant Basaal, which has a huge foodie following. Chef/proprietor Bas creates fiercely seasonal, accomplished menus. We kicked off with homemade chicken liver pate and melba toasts to accompany our Ridgeview sparkling wine, followed by a variety of dishes. Standouts were oxtail with octopus and a pigeon dish, simply prepared with respect for the ingredients. Perfectly cooked with crisped skin and accompanied by seasonal vegetables.
The following day I had one of the most memorable seafood experiences I’ve had in a long time. ‘Simones’ in the harbour is a fi sh and seafood emporium – just fish straight off the boat and self-service cutlery. Here I ate a divine smoked fi sh selection - and the freshest sardines deep fried in a light batter – whole, with warm freshly baked sourdough and a touch of aioli.
After a long walk around the sights of The Hague, we arrived at the impressive Publique restaurant. A beautiful venue in the heart of the old town. This part of the city is reminiscent of a Dickens novel (in a good way). Here I enjoyed too many interesting gins from their vast selection and sampled a few choice dishes. The best by far - free range chicken done three ways, confit thigh, wing and liver with pickled vegetables, hazelnut and kohlrabi juice. As a lover of all things chicken, I loved this celebration of the bird. The accompaniments were thoughtfully matched and the whole dish was in total harmony.
We ended the evening at a wine bar ‘Bouzy’ (genius name) where I enjoyed a Grand Cru growers champagne by the glass and then a beautiful Cabernet Franc (one of my favourite grapes) accompanied by charcuterie, cheeses and salads.
Two weeks later I headed to Sweden for the Brighton & Hove Food Festival chef exchange. One of Brighton’s fi nest Tom Griffiths, teaming up with Linus Palm of Hvita Hjorten (white heart) restaurant and the aforementioned Bas of Restaurant Basaal. Upon arrival in Gothenburg, Nick and I caught up over lunch in the wonderfully quirky and oddly glamorous Dorius hotel. I started with smoked duck, pumpkin puree, crispy capers and pistachio, followed by steamed turbot with white wine and cream sauce and trout roe. Both dishes elegant and simple. A hazelnut mousse for dessert was light and not too sweet, working well with chocolate crumb and a sharp raspberry coulis. Thankfully I had space for dinner - a stunning meal cooked by Linus at his impressive restaurant.
Situated on Lake Vänern, the Hvita Hjorten restaurant is housed within an architecturally impressive eco construction ‘Naturum’, set amongst pine forests and within the grounds of Lacko castle. There are exquisitely furnished rooms and conference facilities. The castle vegetable garden supplies the kitchen, and fish comes straight from the lake each day.
We were treated to elk (venison) tartar with smoked crème fraiche and beetroot two ways (carpaccio and crisp). Beautiful, earthy, with clean favours. The main course was one of my dishes of the year so far. A fillet of pike caught from the lake that day, topped with glazed pike mousseline and served with deep fried cavalo Nero and a luscious fennel cream. A stand out dish.
The following night we enjoyed the main event, the collaboration between all three chefs working to produce a banquet of eight courses. The stand out dishes were Chef Bass’ oxtail meatball, his chicken livers and our very own Tom Griffiths’ aged fillet of beef with a subtle satay glaze, Jerusalem artichoke puree, artichoke crisp, roasted peanuts and wild leek and chive oil.
The restaurant is a truly unique venue with outstanding cooking run by the loveliest hosts, both humble and generous. It’s quite a trek from Gothenburg but it’s worth it, and I can imagine it becoming one of those destinations for a food ‘pilgrimage’. When it does I will be rather smug that I discovered it early, courtesy of Nick Moseley.
Oh, and the other thing that happened this month is that I bought a restaurant.