El Pastor had been on my list of eating out spots to try for quite some time, coming highly recommended by a couple of my fellow foodie friends who hailed it the best Mexican in town. Of course, Mexican food as a whole is not that easy to find done well and authentically in London, particularly when you compare it with what for example New York has to offer when it comes to this cuisine which made me even more keen to try this place.
And try I did on several occasions but somehow always failed to actually sit down and eat at El Pastor. Sometimes this was due to sheer laziness, it being located bang in the middle of bustling Borough Market by London Bridge, just that teeny tiny bit too far for a lazy East Londoner like me to venture to, particularly knowing that there is ALWAYS a wait for a table, and sometimes it was sheer bad luck like the time me and my equally taco loving friend Charlotte made the journey to El Pastor on a Friday night just to find that the restaurant had closed due to a power cut. Though our evening still ended up being pretty fun (and very drunken) when we made friends with a middle-aged couple over tapas at Tapas Brindisa, we were left determined more than ever to finally eat at El Pastor and made plans to return a few Fridays later.
Not that this occasion went without a few glitches either- Charlotte was stuck at work so that I ended up with an hour or so to kill. I did make the most of the time though, putting our name on the waiting list and, like the independent lady that I am, going for a solo cocktail at another favourite of mine, London Grind. A major plus point at El Pastor indeed is that although there will always be a wait, the restaurant is housed in small former railway arch and it is far from an open secret that the food here is fantastic which means lots people wanting to eat here and not so many tables, you are able to give your mobile number to the helpful hostess at the front and receive a text once your table is ready which means thanks to modern technology no annoying waiting in a queue, instead being able to use the time to explore the array of amazing little wine bars and pubs that can be found in and around Borough market.
In any case just as my phone beeped, letting us know our table was ready, Charlotte had arrived and safe to say after all the effort that went into coming here we were more than ready for a cocktail. We of course couldn’t help but go for the classic here, a margarita on the rocks, which was served to lethal perfection and was way too easy to drink, so easy in fact that before we knew it we had had four (!) each. The rest of the cocktails sounded equally enticing, offering a Mexican twist on mixology classics, and I would definitely try their take on an Espresso Martini, the Espressial, comprised of tequila, coffee, ancho reyes and chocolate, next time. On this occasion however we stuck with the margaritas and washed down our first round with a side of their freshly made guacamole and tortilla chips while we studied the rest of the menu. Now I make a pretty good guacamole myself so this guac didn’t blow me away but it was well seasoned and came with homemade tortilla chips that definitely beat packet ones. The menu as a whole is very much small plate based, is designed to be shared and accommodates none meat eaters like me very well with a great selection of veggie and fish dishes. There is almost too much to choose from and not being very hungry on this occasion we only sampled a few dishes, though those we did sample were enough to justify the high praise that El Pastor enjoys.
The stand out dish of the evening was without a doubt their sesame tuna tostada, the finest tuna tartare with avocado served on two crisp tortilla rounds, and had we known just how fantastic these were going to be we would have definitely ordered a portion each rather than share the two. The cheese quesadilla was perfectly fine but unremarkable, to be fair a quesadilla rarely is more, and I absolutely adored our spicy prawn tacos topped with juicy prawns and white onion. Although we only sampled a small section of the menu the flavours and seasoning were so on point and fresh that I was already mentally scheduling a return visit even before we had cleared our plates.
There was of course one major plus of not eating too much from the savoury part of the menu- enough stomach space to try their, by now infamous, take on the classic Bounty bar, two little square pieces of heaven made from dark chocolate, coconut, sour cream and lime zest so wickedly delicious they basically disappeared in a few spoonful between us.
The one lesson I learnt at El Pastor?! Don’t try and share because what is served here is too bloody brilliant to event attempt such amateur behaviour! El Pastor, I will be back even if there is more drama along the way!
5 years. On the 17th of this month at about 10:04 am it will be 5 years since I, after my first history lecture of the day (whose subject was Catherine the Great), found out that my dad had died of a heart attack.
To this day, I remember the most mundane details in the minutes that followed, the hideous light blue tweed two-piece with gold buttons from River Island that I wore that day thinking I looked fabulous, the coffee light frappuchino with extra syrup and less ice that I ordered at Starbucks in a state of shock after I listened to my granddad’s voicemail detailing what had happened, and the friends that I rang in utter confusion and who didn’t really know what to say.
Will I ever get over this fateful day? Or indeed will I ever not think about what my dad would make of the life I have established for myself, in the last 5 years, becoming the responsible and conscientious adult (well I try) he never thought I was capable of being during my bratty adolescent years?
A lot of things went wrong once he left this earth, in fact his passing very much broke, then healed, then broke again the relationship with my mother, who very understandably had a complete breakdown, waking up next to a dead husband, and we are only now back on good terms.
I was of course not left unscathed either, to this day struggling to shake off an irrational fear of dying and anxiety that manifests itself in a silly fear of flying and overthinking a hell of a lot of things.
What it did force me to do is grow up very quickly in a short space of time and reflect on what really matters in life. I may be slightly crazy, something that my friends can only confirm, and no doubt losing in effect both parents for a while left some irreversible mental scars on me that affect me to this day, but one thing that I have learnt is that everything happens for a reason.
Ultimately, I can’t live in denial of what happened that day because it made who I am today, but I can also not use it as an excuse to be a bad person. So, if once a year as October hits, I do decide to be sad for a day or even a week as the memories come flooding back that is totally ok with me.
Another week, another weekend trip away- this time returning to an old trusted favourite of mine, Berlin. I have of course been a few times already, sharing my new discoveries over the years on the blog (you can read them here, here and here), but thankfully this city has never seized to amaze me with the sheer number of new dining spots to discover each time I visit.
My friend and I were lucky enough to stay in my friend Leni's apartment (FYI please all go and check out her Instagram feed asap as she is not only one of the most talented photographers I know but also has a seriously amazing and inspiring sense of style), which was not only bang in the middle of Kreuzberg and with that in walking distance of many eating out hotspots, but was also seriously inspiring in it's interior style, providing us with the ideal start to our short but sweet weekend trip here.
There are a few things I distinctively dislike about Berlin - coming from the Rhineland myself in Germany I find the locals rather rude, the whole city is spread vastly, making it a bit of a mission to get almost anywhere and yes, there is an annoyingly high number of English speaking millenials trying to make it as DJs, wasting all their parents money partying at Berghain BUT if you know the right places to go to and which to avoid Berlin does have an undeniable charm as well as great quality food of all kinda on offer!
Below are a few new discoveries that I can wholeheartedly recommend for anyone planning a trip there because Berlin is not all about Berghain, currywurst and beer but much, much more!
Standard came highly recommended by my German friend Stella (yes there is another one) and after a bit of online research I quickly gathered that this was THE place in Berlin for authentic sourdough pizza, with waiting times a norm and reservations highly recommended. Prepared as I always am I managed to book a table here for Friday night and despite tall the hype our high expectations were if anything only exceeded.
The menu is short and sticks to classic toppings with a few more local additions (wild boar salami anyone?) but the dough really does all the talking here. Chewy, with crispy crust; this rivalled the best of the best I had in Rome. We went halves on a classic margarita and their rather outstanding and appropriately named 'Standard' which comes topped with provolone cheese, basil pesto, aubergines and cherry tomatoes, and finished every last bite.
My tip: get their 'fresella napoletana to start, the silkiest of mozzarella and juiciest of tomatoes served on ciabatta and bursting with all the quintessential Italian flavours. Standard is worth the wait AND the hype and a true Berlin gem.
Feeling a little sorry for ourselves after a heavy Friday night we managed to drag ourselves out of bed to meet my American friend Lola who has lived in Berlin for a few years now as language teacher and who is an expert in finding amazing restaurants off the beaten track. Giving her a brief of "something vaguely healthy" she suggested Sababa, a tiny family run Israeli joint, and couldn't have picked better. Yes, it's no frills and far from far fine dining but their selection of Middle Eastern dishes was not only ridiculously well priced, you'd be hard pressed to spend more than 20 euros a head even with a couple of €3.5 Aperol spritz's thrown in, but also happens to be super tasty and wholesome.
The speciality here is their homemade hummus which was one of the best I have ever had, and I've had my fair share, with your choice of topping. My fellow diners went for tender looking lamb while I went for shashuka, a fragrant tomato stew with fried eggs, to go on top of mine. Served with warm pitta bread this was sheer mezze heaven and was topped off with a delightful cucumber and yogurt dip as well as some proper baba ganoush we ordered on the side for additional dipping opportunity.
This is the sort of place you want to keep your little secret to show off to a select few, too good indeed to be discovered by the masses. Thank god Lola let us in on this one..
Some places are so famous for a dish they are bound to be something of a tourist trap and that is definitely the case at Café Einstein. Yet despite sitting next to a plethora of American families and elderly German couples, probably on a pit stop between visiting a museum and getting on one of those hideous open top double decker guide buses, I still loved the place. Why? Well one can't help but be enchanted by the slightly worn yet grand interior of the cafe, waiters looking sharp in their waist coasts, and what's more the dish this place is famous for is indeed utterly delicious.
In fact I would go as far as saying it was the best apple pie of my life. It isn't cheap that is for sure, coming in at £7 a slice, but in it's serving size is generous enough to have as afternoon snack between two. All that's left to do is choose either vanilla sauce, ice cream or a dollop of cream to go with your slice of pie (or as we did pay a little more and go for the amazing sauce and some cream because why not) and simply enjoy this out of the world baked good. Einstein thrives on it's tradition and doesn't have to be cool yet still is one of my favourite new Berlin discoveries.
Once in a while you find a restaurant that truly blows you away. For me that doesn't tend to be some Michelin starred gourmet temple with a 16 course £200 menu, no for me it's a place where the proprietor is doing something special with food and where you leave feeling not only like you've had some bloody brilliant food but also an unforgettable experience- G Wie Goulasch achieved exactly that.
Not that we really expected it. I mean on paper this tiny neighbourhood joint, and with tiny I mean three tables, with seasonally changing goulash inspired dishes, sounded good but not outstanding. That all changed the minute we sat down here for an early Sunday dinner before heading to the airport. Indeed, it wasn't like we had just stepped into a restaurant, it felt like we had stepped into Levi's, the head chef and owner here, rustic kitchen and were invited to be his guests for the evening.
This unique sense of intimacy and authenticity is rarely found and instantly won us over before we had even looked at the menu. Comprising of only a starter, a few mains, including meaty goulash variations plus a veggie option, and one dessert, Levi changes the menu every couple of weeks, depending on what is in season and what he fancies making. and does a bloody brilliant job at that.
It being pumpkin season the menu heavily featured this autumnal veg and my creamy pumpkin goulasch, served with German style dumplings was an utter taste sensation, made even more special by the fact that I was able to watch the super chatty and charismatic Levi making and plating it up right in front of me. My dining companion was left equally awed by her tender veal goulash and we washed it all down with a ridiculously cheap and tasty Riesling, costing a mere 16 euros for a superb litre (!) of white wine. It's almost like we had left the Berlin of today and were in Levi's own little time bubble, reminiscent with it's candle lit room, traditional and hearty fare and dark wooden kitchen of an Art Deco Berlin of the 1920's yet somehow not feeling outdated at all.
If you go to one place in Berlin make it G Wie Goulasch, this place deserves all the praise there is. Go, chat to Levi and feel privileged to be one of his guests for the evening.