24 Hours in Stockholm: Adventures in Scandinavia Part 2


Saluhall entrance

I landed in Stockholm at 12:40pm on Saturday, September 10th, after a my sojourn at Fäviken in northern Sweden.  After checking into The Grand Hotel, I made a beeline for the Östermalms Saluhall, a giant food hall founded in 1888 where you can buy and eat all manner of Swedish produce, fish, cheese, prepared foods and coffee, among others.

the hall

Lisa's Fish

I gawked for awhile at the incredible display, lamenting the fact that I couldn’t buy any of it (fish doesn’t travel so well in a suitcase….), and then sat down at Nybroe for a glass of Chardonnay and a a smoked salmon and asparagus smørrobrød (open face sandwich) with crème, salmon roe and dill.

smørrobrød at Nybroe

Feeling thus fortified, I was then ready to face the afternoon in a new city, and set out to explore.

Vital Statistics:
Location: Nybrogatan 31, Östermalm, Stockholm
Website: http://www.saluhallen.com/
Prices: one sandwich + glass of wine at Nybroe came to about US$25 with tip


After a few hours walking the city and a relaxing sauna session at the hotel, I dressed for dinner and set out for Restaurang Volt.

The night before, upon hearing that I had no reservations for dinner on Saturday night in Stockholm and furthermore no idea where to go, a look of slight horror had come over Johan’s (the manager/sommelier at Fäviken) face, and I was told it would be tricky since it was Saturday after all, but he would do his best.

Volt, Kommendörsgatan 16, Östermalm

Johan’s (of Fäviken) friend Johan (Bengtsson) is the maître d’hotel and a co-owner of Volt and he greeted me when I arrived with a glass of champagne while I waited for my table.

The menu informed me that “We are at our best when you choose a menu of several dishes” and so, to make sure I didn’t miss anything important, I went for 5: two first courses, one main, cheese and dessert.

the menu

After I had ordered, I was served a plate of still-hot bread (delicious – and not hard, why do not more restaurants do this?) served with a whipped sheep’s milk cheese spread and butter from Jämtland, which the bus boy excitedly told me was where Fäviken is.  It was good butter, but it’s got nothing on “The Good Butter” I had had that morning. However, the cheese spread was really delicious.

fresh bread

For my first first course, I ordered “Broccoli, served with oysters, sea plants and algae.”


I’m not sure where the oysters were from, but they were much smaller than what we usually get in the US, with a very strong sea-taste, reinforced by the sea plants and algae.

Next was “Carrot, rabbit, carraway, rice.”

carrot & rabbit

The dish consisted of slices of lightly pickled carrot, carrot purée, roast rabbit, and bits of a sort of rabbit terrine, topped with puffed rice and caraway seeds.  A really interesting mix of textures (smooth purée, crunchy carrots, meaty rabbit, crispy rice) and flavors (pickled carrots, sweet carrots, gamey rabbit, the bite of carraway).


For my main course I had plaice with peas, yogurt, spruce and butter lettuce.  The spruce was a really interesting touch.  With this Johan paired a sauvignon blanc from Touraine, which my tasting notes tell me “tasted like buttah.”

It was a delicate dish – but I had slight food envy for the steak that arrived at the table next to me …

The cheese, a spiced Gouda-style from even further northern Sweden than Fäviken, came with cucumber and mustard seed and was not only spiced but spicey.

hard cheese from Jokkmokk

And finally dessert.

Corn: parfait, caramel, salt

Corn pudding with caramel in the center, dried corn and something that tasted sort of like corn nougat.  It was perhaps not my favorite – very much on the sweet side – but I was forewarned so share part of the blame.  In the end I was so full already I really could have done without dessert altogether.

I ordered an infusion to help start digesting, and what arrived at the table were two mint and lemon verbena plants, artfully potted in shiny tin cans.

the infusion

Johan clipped a few pieces of each, deposited them into a small glass teapot and instructed me to let them infuse for a few minutes.  The perfect end to the meal.

Added bonus: the bathroom at Volt has some of the coolest wallpaper of all time:

the loo paper

Vital Statistics:
Location: Kommendörsgatan 16, Östermalm, Stockholm, Sweden
Website: http://restaurangvolt.se/
Prices: US$190 for five courses + wine pairings for one


Stockholm in the morning

Armed with my Lonely Planet guide I set out the next morning (Sunday) in search of cinnamon buns. It was 8am, and the city was just waking up as I walked up Birger Jarlsgatan towards Café Saturnus, which Lonely Planet describes as having the “biggest and dare we say best cinnamon buns” in town.  I can’t say for certain, but they were pretty damn good, and also enormous.

Cafe Saturnus

I ordered a bun and a latte for take away and left with a huge paper wrapped parcel to find a park bench.

the buns

A short walk found me in nearby Humlegården listening to church bells ringing and looking at a statue of Carl von Linné.

I sat down and unwrapped my parcel. The cinnamon bun was about as big as my face.  I ate about a third, drank my coffee, put the remaining bun in my purse and set out for a walk on Djurgården and a visit to the Vasa Museet before heading to the airport to fly to Copenhagen.

Vital Statistics:
Location: Eriksbergsgatan 6, Östermalm, Stockholm, Sweden
Website: http://www.cafesaturnus.se
Prices: about US$5 for a latte and cinammon bun

Stockholm travel tips:

  • Hotels are much cheaper on weekends (even up to 50%) and many have less expensive single rooms, some with no windows that are fine if you plan on spending little to no time in them.  The Grand also has a “prepaid” option where if you pay up front you get a cheaper rate.

my single room at The Grand

  • Guidebooks: Phaidon Press’s Wallpaper Guide for cool, upscale hotels, bars and shopping, plus great architecture highlights + Lonely Planet Stockholm City Guide for more basic needs like maps, classic tourist destinations and cheaper dining and drinking options
  • The Arlanda Express train to the airport is easy and fast (about 20 minutes)
  • If you fit the demographic, make sure to ask about youth fares for everything (usually for the under 25 set)
  • The Vasa Museet is really cool, featuring a warship that sank in the harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628 and was raised in 1961
  • I didn’t get to go there, but I have it on good authority that for a nice, quiet spot for a fantastic view of the city, go to Mariatorget in Södermalm and walk up towards the top of the hill

Fäviken: Adventures in Scandinavia Part 1

“In the old grain store runs a different restaurant. A kitchen unlike most others.”

It all began in mid July with the Summer Food Special magazine in the weekend edition of the Financial Times.  On my Monday morning commute in the claustrophobic London tube, sandwiched between various sweaty people, I read Nick Lander’s review of a restaurant in the middle of nowhere in northern Sweden.  I decided immediately that I had to go, and upon arriving at work 20 minutes later, promptly made a reservation at Fäviken Magasinet.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it proved difficult – or rather, impossible – to convince anyone to journey to the Nordic hinterlands with me, and so I, undeterred, decided to go alone.

Two months later in early September, after a series of debacles including: a missed flight; some rather incredulous conversations (“You’re going where? To do what?”); the initial confusion of how to turn on my rental car (there was no key, you just put the key chain in a port on the dashboard and press the On button); a brief spell driving on the left hand side of the road until oncoming traffic reminded me I was no longer in the British Isles; as well as numerous turns that took me farther and farther from anything remotely resembling civilization, by some miracle and The Grace of God I arrived at Fäviken at about 2:00pm on Friday, September 2, 2011.

Sommelier, manager, maitre d’hotel, general jack of all trades Johan Agrell greeted me when I arrived and offered to fix me a “simple lunch.”  Now, when I think simple lunch, I think ham sandwich – maybe a meat and cheese board, if I’m lucky.  But everything’s relative, so what arrived at Fäviken was a beautiful omelette with chanterelle mushrooms, accompanied by crisp bread made with local flour, hard cow’s milk cheese and some of the best butter I have ever tasted.  Oh, and of course a glass of wine – a lovely Beaujolais.  (Okay, maybe two glasses of Beaujolais.)

the omelette

cheese & butter – yum!

So there I was, feeling pretty pleased with myself, sitting in what amounts to a hunting lodge in a room with double height ceilings, walls adorned with stuffed animal heads, a giant Snooker table, and a roaring fire.  What a contrast to a normal Friday lunch in The City of London, eating a sad sandwich from Pret a Manger.

not all of these are from Sweden….

antlers make good light fixtures

The Snooker Table

To work up an appetite for dinner, I went for a walk around the Fäviken estate.  The grounds are in fact privately owned by the Brummer family, and the main house on the property is the family residence.  There had been a restaurant on the premises for a number of years – but it was more hunting lodge convenience than haute cuisine.  The family decided they wanted something different, and engaged Chef Magnus Nilsson to come up and run the place a few years ago.


Lake Kalljön


Dinner began at 7pm and was announced by a bonfire lit outside the barn.  The guests for the evening – nine in total the night I was there – were ushered into a windowless room on the ground floor.  A fire burned in a stone fireplace in one corner, and each party was seated at a separate group of low sofas and coffee tables for an aperitif and our four (4) amuse bouches.

There is no menu at Fäviken.  Magnus decides what to cook each day based on what is available and in season, and what he feels like.  For the wines, there is a bit more choice – Yes or No to the pairings.  But frankly, when is that answer ever No?

And so I sat waiting, like a child at Christmas, for the culinary adventure to begin.

The first dish of the evening was “a little lump of very fresh cheese served in warm whey, lavender.” It was served in a small white china bowl and slurped down all in one.  It was like eating solid milk, with just a hint of lavender – reminiscent of drinking warm milk before bed.  And, as with every course we were served throughout the evening, after each guest had been presented with his or her dish, Magnus explained it and instructed us in how to eat it.

the little lump of very fresh cheese

(Sidenote: If any food experience made me wish I had a halfway decent camera, this was it.  So if you really can’t stand my iPhone shots, I refer you to various other blogs and reviews with far superior quality food porn: Financial Times, Bon Appetit, Food Snob.  The Food Snob post also includes a fairly comprehensive biography of Magnus, who, among other things, started out at l’Astrance in Paris in the early 2000’s.)

Amuse #2 was “wild trout’s roe served in a crust of dried pig’s blood.”

the roe

When I have described this to people since, invariably the reaction has been less than favorable.  But when sitting at Fäviken, you don’t even pause to consider the idea of pig’s blood congealing in small molds – and certainly not how it might have been extracted in the first place – you just smile and nod and think it’s the most natural thing you’ve ever heard, before popping the entire thing into your mouth.  And a very good thing that is too, because if you did stop to consider those things, you might not be able to eat it, and that would be a real travesty, because it is, indeed, delicious.  The medium sized bubbles of roe popped satisfactorily, releasing their sweet, salty, oil, while the crumbly crust complemented the texture nicely and added a bit of earthiness to the dish.

Amuse #3: Crispy Lichens.  Yes, lichens, like the ones that grow on trees and rocks.  All of the products used at Fäviken are local, and many of them are foraged on a daily basis from Magnus’s walks.

crispy lichens

The lichens were topped with grated, dried roe and accompanied by a garlic cream.  They were a little bit salty and felt like eating crispy lace.  They almost reminded me of potato chips, except obviously much more delicate, and not tasting like potato.  The next chic bagged snack, perhaps?  Veggie chips and gourmet popcorn watch out….

And finally Amuse #4, dried trout shavings which had been cured in very good sea salt.

dried trout

All this was accompanied by a glass of Bereche et Fils champagne – the first of Johan’s six expert pairings.

After the amuses, we were led upstairs, one by one, to the main dining room.  On the way we passed a 100-year old fur coat hanging on the wall under a spotlight (excellent photo of Magnus wearing said fur coat on the Bon Appetit website here.)

The dining room is almost windowless – a few small portholes stud one wall through which the darkening sky was just visible.  In winter when it’s dark at 3pm, I’m sure it’s nice to be cozily ensconced in a warm, wooden room, forgetful of the big dark expanse outside.  When I was there, it would have been nice to be able to enjoy the view across the fields, but one can’t have everything I suppose.  In any case, the closed-in, self-contained quality of the room added to the feeling that Fäviken is a world away, removed from the everyday, and certainly it helped us to focus on the task at hand – namely, dinner.

the dining room

The above photo was taken from my table, and as you can see I have the best seat in the house with a view across the entire dining room, and therefore was able to survey all the goings on of the evening – very key when dining alone.

The first course upstairs was “Scallop ‘i skalet ur elden’ cooked over burning Juniper branches.”  And it arrived on a bed of moss and small branches, accompanied by a few smoldering Juniper embers.

The Scallop

Magnus explained that the scallop is slowly roasted over the branches, and when it’s just cooked, the inedible bits are scraped out, strained, and the natural juices then poured back in.  We were further instructed to eat it with our hands, and then to drink the juice from the shell.

Now I, like any good American, love finger good.  (I have never quite gotten used to eating pizza and hamburgers with a knife and fork in continental Europe.)  And this was doubly exciting because, really, when was the last time someone told you the right way to eat something as upscale as a scallop was with your hands?

the inside

It was a consistency like no other scallop I have ever eaten (nor am likely to eat again, unless I return to Fäviken) – very firm, barely cooked, and tasted incredibly fresh – which no doubt it was.

The scallop was paired with mead, specially made for Fäviken by a local producer, and fermented in the bottle.

Fäviken Ljust Mjöd, Bengt-Johnny & Jan Anders, Öster-Övsjö

This was my first experience with mead – and a very positive one.  The liquid was golden and slightly cloudy, with a slight tang and a savoriness that complemented the sea-sweet scallop.

Then came “grilled monkfish, kale, green Juniper and alcoholic vinegar.”  The monkfish was slowly cooked – during service, we were later told – over an open fire of birch branches.  Like the scallop, it too was only very lightly cooked – just enough to not be raw.  The outside was blackened and infused with a wonderful smoke flavor.  The single leaf of kale was also smoked with a satisfying crunch, and the green Juniper seeds and alcoholic vinegar added a jolt, without overpowering the delicate fish.  This wonderful juxtaposition of flavors and textures was a trend that continued throughout the meal.

monkfish and kale

The monkfish was accompanied by a glass of 2007 Saint-Aubin 1er Cru Les Sentiers du Clou, Sylvie Boyer, Côte d’Or – a beautiful white from Burgundy that was very fresh, a little citrus and minerals.  Like all the other pairings a perfect companion to the food.

Our third seafood course was a “raw mussel and wild pea pie.”  It was a tiny, slimy mouthful, topped with edible flowers (foraged by Magnus, natch), and nested in a crunchy mini pie crust.  It tasted like the sea.

the raw mussel

Next up: potatoes

Is that a pile of leaves?

Yes. With tiny new potatoes hidden inside.  The official description (on the printed menu we were given the next morning) is “potatoes harvested some hours ago then boiled with autumn leaves.”  This, Magnus explained, was because new potatoes quickly lose their flavor after being picked.  Thus, they are extracted at the last possible moment, and then, to even further reinforce the flavor, they are cooked with last year’s autumn leaves (that have been decomposing since the spring).  We were told to pick them out with our hands, squash them and dip them in the “good butter” provided.  Speaking of butter – it probably deserves a post of its own – it was so creamy, salty, delicious – you could eat it plain (in fact I think I did).

The potatoes were followed by “steamed leeks, sheep’s cream whisked with vinegar fermented beer, grated cod’s roe.”

The Leek

If you are wondering where the cod’s roe is – it’s the brown shavings to the right of the leek.  The leek itself was softly crunchy; the cream had a wonderful barnyard sheep flavor, with a small sting of vinegar and beer; topped off by the salty, crunchy roe. I never knew leeks could be so interesting.

The final vegetable dish was a small salad of “mushrooms, stone brambles and very fresh peas”.  There were a few different types of mushrooms – including chanterelles – lightly cooked; some of the biggest (and exceedingly fresh) peas I have ever eaten, served raw; and stone bramble fruit, which are the small, red berries in the picture.  They were acidic with a large stone in the center, and popped when I bit them.  In texture, they reminded me of pomegranate seeds, but were not sweet. (Sidebar: Wikipedia, source of all real and true knowledge, states that some sources claim eating stone brambles with alcohol can be dangerous and cause allergic reactions.  Luckily no one in the restaurant seemed to have this problem.)

mushrooms, stone brambles & very fresh peas

The whole thing was a wonderful combination of flavors and textures – the mushrooms were woodsy and soft, the peas were crunchy, fresh and sweet, and the brambles added an acidic pop.

Somewhere along the way between the monkfish and the mushrooms, we switched to a new wine – the 2008 Scharzhof Riesling, Egon Müller, Mosel – a light style Riesling.

After the latest round of dishes had been cleared (the service was at all times impeccable), and our next wine – a hearty Barbaresco (2005 Barbaresco Montestefano, Theobaldo Rivella, Piemonte) – had been poured, Magnus and one of his kitchen staff appeared with a saw.  With no fanfare or announcement, they moved a wooden block with a cow’s leg to the center of the room and began cutting it in half. (I did not get a good action shot of the sawing, but this one from Food Snob pretty well captures it.)

He then took the two pieces of leg over to the large table set up on one side of the dining room and proceeded to scoop out the marrow directly into the bowls of our next course which, in addition to the above, included “dices of raw [cow] heart, grey pea flowers, toasts and herb salt”.

marrow & heart

It was epic.

I have had marrow before, but only in a Parisian brasserie (Claude Sainlouis, which is a very fine establishment and by far my favorite in that city), where it bore little to no resemblance to what now lay before me.  At Fäviken, it was soft and slimy – but in a good way – and the raw heart was firm and rich – real essence of cow.

This extravaganza was followed by “grouse fried in the good butter and served with sauce of its offal”.

Grouse & Matsutake

We got the head (including the brain), breast and leg of grouse – artistically plated as you can see.  The brain was kind of smushy and strong (even for an adventurer like me, perhaps not my favorite part), and the breast and leg were deliciously gamey.

The bird was served not only with offal sauce, but with a delicious slice of Matsutake, or pine mushroom.  Matsutake are highly prized by the Japanese, and most of the Nordic crop is exported, but an eccentric scientist nearby to Fäviken doesn’t trust the local exporter and provides them to the restaurant instead.  The best ones are served as above, or similar, the less attractive ones they preserve, and the really yucky ones they infuse into a housemade, pungent vodka that I sampled after dinner.

True to their English common name, Matsutake have a strong pine taste, and the flesh is white and meaty.

The grouse was followed by “fermented lingonberries, thick cream, sugar, raspberries ice”  which was served in two beautiful wooden spoons.  We were instructed to eat the raspberry ice first.

fermented lingonberries & raspberry ice

The ice was tart and refreshing – while the lingonberries’ sourness was slightly tempered by the cream.

With this palate cleanser came our last wine of the evening – a 2003 Vouvray Moelleux Réserve, Philippe Foreau, Loire.

Next came the “cheese” course, which wasn’t really cheese, but took it’s place on the menu: “Pine bark cake, pudding of cream, acidic herbs and frozen buttermilk, lavender mushroom.”

pine bark cake

The cake was sort of a cracker – savory and, as one might expect, piney – and the frozen buttermilk added a cold, tangy punch to the cream and herbs.

And finally, the dessert dessert, “raspberries jam, whisked duck eggs, sorbet of milk” which reminded me of a zabaglione, but fresher and lighter.


The raspberries were a sort of jam on the bottom of the dish – tart, not too sweet, and with the whole berries still intact – the duck egg was room temperature, soft and with that unique flavor that is more wild and farm-y than chicken eggs, and the milk sorbet was a little ball of coldness on top.

The sorbet was finished off in the dining room by one of the sous chefs in a 100 year old barrel.

making sorbet

Now three hours later, we were shown back downstairs and reseated on the low sofas with coffee tables for infusions, coffee and candies.  There was a selection of dried blueberries, lingonberries, hard meadowsweet candy and tar pastilles.

after dinner

After the other parties had departed or retired, I was left with two fellow diners, a Finnish chef and sommelier, and together we were given a tour of the kitchens.  We saw the open grill where the monkfish is made, as well as 20 or so beautiful game birds, including a few capercaillies – dead – strung up by their feet on a rack in the middle of the room.  They were stunning, with incredible plumage and as Magnus handled them and I tentatively stroked their feathers, they seemed more like works of art than dead animals.

Finally we rounded out the night finishing off the bottle of Barbaresco in front of the fire in the game lodge, before dragging ourselves to our rooms and collapsing into bed.

my room in the Logementet

You may find it hard to believe, after the epic food journey the night before, that anyone could have room for breakfast the next day.  But of course I did – and it was amazing, in a totally different way from dinner.

the unique breakfast

Served in the almost-windowless-dining-room, it included, clockwise from left: a very thick homemade yogurt, a soft boiled egg (the most perfectly cooked soft boiled egg I think I have ever had), fresh honey, smoked trout, hard cheese, liver pâté, a “reindeer salami thing” (technical term), rilletes, raspberry juice made specially for Fäviken, fresh milk, raspberry jam, granola, fresh bread, the good butter and boiled Swedish coffee (served from a big copper pot).

Off to the right there also arrived a delicious short bread type cookie with raspberry jam in the middle “to go with my coffee.”  YUM.

honey in a nest

Of course I had to try everything, and couldn’t bear to actually leave, so it was a mad dash collecting my suitcase, driving an hour or so to the airport, and boarding the plane to Stockholm for the next leg of my Scandinavian Adventure (post forthcoming).

As I left, Johan joked that if I got lost and missed my flight, I could have a second night at Fäviken.  I seriously considered getting lost on purpose …

Vital Statistics:
Location: Fäviken 216, 83005 Järpen, Sweden
Website: http://favikenmagasinet.se
Prices: total for one person including lunch, dinner, wine, breakfast and lodging was about US$530 (£345)

Travel itinerary:

  • SAS flight 1530 London Heathrow to Stockholm Arlanda 7:15-10:40am
  • SAS flight 72 Stockholm Arlanda to Östersund 11:15am-12:15pm (this is a very tight connection – only recommended if, like me, you miss your flight out of London the night before.)
  • Hertz rent-a-car and drive approximately 1 hour (if you need an automatic, make sure to book in advance)
  • Or you can get a taxi which runs about 1,500 SEK (about US$218, or £140)
  • SAS flight 73 Östersund to Stockholm Arlanda 11:40am-12:40pm
  • Fäviken’s website also provides good directions and information about getting there.
  • Tip: SAS offers really good deals on youth fares for 25-and-unders

The Sensory Lab: a coffee shop in Marylebone


Recently, one evening returning from work I noticed a new store front on Wigmore Street, near the corner of Thayer Street, intriguingly called The Sensory Lab. It was closed but I stuck my face up to the glass to peer inside and saw a beautiful coffee bar – very minimalist with stools at the bar and shelves stocked with coffee beans and other paraphernalia. I could tell it would be great coffee, so a few days later on my way to work, I stopped in.

Inside, there is a gleaming espresso machine on a long bar that runs the length of the shop, and if you drink in, the coffee is served in bright blue china cups. The baristas (baristos?) wear black trousers and plaid button downs and are very friendly.

My beverage of choice – a latte “for take away” (that would be British for “to go”) – was served with some beautiful steamed milk art, and was fantastic. Plus, it was just the right temperature when they handed it to me, so I didn’t have to blow frantically and risk burning off my taste buds.  It has quickly become a routine stop on my morning commute.

Sometimes you get lulled into the convenience of, well, convenience, and forget that Starbucks really isn’t that good, in addition to being a chain and therefore by definition impersonal, not to mention that most of what they serve isn’t coffee at all but rather some strange derivative involving complex descriptions that have to be said in a certain order like skinny-caramel-frappa-latte-extra-shot-no-whipped-cream. I mean seriously, would you like fries with that and the dressing on the side? (end rant)

Against this background, the five or so options on the menu at The Sensory Lab (with names like drip coffee, espresso, latte and macchiato) are a welcome alternative.

Added bonus: while I waited I was served a small glass of water. It really is the little things in life that make a difference. They also serve a selection of pastries, muffins etc. as well as a varied assortment of coffee making gadgets, some of which look like they came from a chemist’s lab. I haven’t found out what they do yet … But if I do I’ll keep you posted.

Vital statistics:
Location: 75 Wigmore Street, London, W1U 1QD
Tube: Bond Street
Website: http://www.sensory-lab.co.uk/
Prices: £2.60 for a latte

Ballymaloe House, County Cork, Ireland

Ballymaloe House in County Cork, Ireland is a wonderful country guest house with a stellar kitchen.  There is also the Ballymaloe Cookery School just down the road in Shanagarry, which is owned by the son and daughter-in-law of the original Ballymaloe House couple, Ivan and Myrtle Allen.  As I prepare to leave England and go back to New York at the end of September, I decided I couldn’t leave without seeing Ireland, so I duly booked my flight to Cork and a room at Ballymaloe.  I was not disappointed.

Upon arriving on Saturday midday (after many a wrong turn and lots of consulting of Google maps on my iPhone), I immediately went over the the cookery school to check out their gardens, which are fantastic, and supply much of the produce for both the school’s and the guest house’s kitchens.  They include an acre of glass (green) houses where they grow all kinds of tomatoes, squash, cucumber and herbs.  There are also pigs and chickens running around.


tomatoes in the glass house

funky looking squash

After a full tour of the grounds and school (including the dairy where they make cheese), I was pretty hungry myself to I headed back to the House for some afternoon tea.  By the time I arrived, the sky had cleared up and I sat outside overlooking the garden with an open faced smoked salmon sandwich, tea and shortbread biscuits.  Aside from the wasps who kept competing with me for said tea, sandwich and biscuits, it was quite idyllic.  (I rounded out the picture-perfect experience with my book “How to Save the World” by David Bornstein, a very good read about social entrepreneurship in case anyone is in need of reading material.)

afternoon tea tray

In order to prepare for what I knew was going to be an epic dinner, I took a walk around the Ballymaloe House grounds (where I discovered a peacock as well a nice group of cows – you can see more photos on facebook.)  And at 8pm, freshly showered and dressed and armed with my Kindle as a dinner companion, I made my way down to the dining room.

Ballymaloe serves a prix-fixe each night that consists of  5 courses – a small starter, an appetizer, main course, cheese and dessert (the latter two served from a trolley, which I love.)  Here is the menu from last night (apologies for my finger obscuring the upper left corner; click on the image to see it blown up and legible.)

After some tough deliberation, I chose the courgette carpaccio to start – super-thinly cut green and yellow courgette with a light lemon and olive oil dressing, a few baby greens, a bit of radish, a few nasturtium petals, and all topped with finely grated parmesan.  It was delicious and light, a great way to start the meal accompanied by the Ballymaloe cocktail – champagne with a bit of their homemade elderflower syrup.

This was followed by the hot buttered Ballycotton lobster (Ballycotton is a fishing village about 10 minutes away with beautiful seaside cliffs).  I got just the tail, which was smaller than a US lobster, and with a bit of a stronger seafood taste.  It was like buttah and practically melted in my mouth.

This was accompanied by not one but two white wines – a glass of white Burgundy with a nice minerality that contrasted well with the shellfish, and a little taste of a South Australian white blend which I didn’t like as much when I tasted it on its own (more fruit forward, and juicier), but when paired with the lobster and a bit warmer, it too was delicious.  I had a similar dilemna when choosing the wines for my main course (goose), and so I ended up with a half glass of each.  One was a pinot noir, the other I just can’t remember, but both were fabulous.

The main course – traditional goose served with runner beans, apple stuffing and Bramley apple sauce – was divine.  The meat was tender and juicy and the skin was nice and crispy.  Bramley applesauce is the real deal – you’ll never eat Mott’s again.

At this point in the meal, I was beginning to feel a bit full.  So I asked for the cheese plate to hold off a bit so I could begin to digest and prepare for the last two courses.  Like all the products used at Ballymaloe, the cheeses were all local and included 2 fresh goat’s milk cheeses, a range of hard to semi-soft to soft cow’s milk cheese, and a creamy Cashel blue.

le fromage

They were accompanied by little homemade cheese crackers and some fresh grapes.  It was a struggle, but I finished all of them.  And then it was on to the last challenge: the dessert trolley.

Despite the fact that at this point I was really full and almost unable to eat another bite, I tried three things: apple blackberry tart, homemade caramel ice-cream with hot caramel sauce, and a lemon posset (kind of like a mousse or pudding).  And besides, the posset doesn’t count because it’s kind of like a palate cleanser, right?

I made a valiant effort, had a few bites of each, and then somehow got back to my room upstairs and fell into bed.

Ancillary photos:

Ballymaloe Well Water

the dining room

the morning after

At 6:45 am my alarm went off – yes, on purpose.  I lay awake pondering whether to actually get up or roll over and go back to sleep, but in the end I peeled myself out of bed, threw on some clothes and tramped down to the kitchen where I had been told I could help make the morning’s bread.  It was still relatively quiet in the kitchen when I arrived, and Ann the bread-mistress took me back to her baking room at the back.

Ann measuring flour

First I made my own mini Irish Soda Bread loaf (which is sitting vacuum packed in my kitchen ready to be shared at work tomorrow).  This is surprisingly easy to make:

450 g wholemeal flour
200 g white cake flour
1 rounded teaspoon baking soda
1 rounded teaspoon salt
600 ml butter milk

Set over to 200 degrees C, or 400 F.

Mix dry ingredients by hand (litearally).  Pour in buttermilk while continuing to “stir” with your other hand – the correct technique is to make your hand like a claw and move it around in a circle.  When the dough is just combined, turn out onto a heavily floured surface.  Sprinkle with more flour on top, shape into a rounded cake, and cut a deep cross in the top.  Bake for 45-50 minutes.

my vacuum packed Irish Soda Bread

Then I helped make the white and brown breads, and helped to eat some of the fresh scones hot from the oven.  Quality control is very important.

The flour in the kitchen is kept in big plastic bins under the counters.  Each one is labeled in black permanent marker and is on wheels for easy access.  Ann has a scale she uses to measure out the flour for each ingredient.  The white bread took yeast, butter, white flour, salt, baking soda and water, then went straight into a bread mixing machine.

the bread machine

The brown bread – my favorite so far – is mostly wholemeal flour, which just a bit of white bread flour, salt, water, yeast and a little bit of treacle.  We again mixed the dough literally by hand, until just combined.  Then small loaf pans were well coated in vegetable oil and sprinkled with flour before the dough went in.

dry ingredients for brown bread

Somehow Ann has a sixth sense that tells her when to take things out of the oven – the only timer in sight was apparently broken, and she just “knew” when things were done.

After breadmaking for an hour, I went back to my room, planning to return and eat my own breakfast in the dining room.  Instead I went back to sleep for two hours, then made the tail end of breakfast at 10:30, where I got to sample the fruits of my (admittedly limited) labor:

a scone, brown bread and soda bread, with homemade blackberry jam and marmalade

This was followed by a full Irish breakfast of poached eggs, rashers, sausage, roasted tomatoe, mushroom and boudin noir.

After all that I set out for a walk along the cliffs of Ballycotton – a truly spectacular landscape.  And there I discovered another great food experience, wild blackberries:

the view

View more photos of the house and landscape here.  Also, the Allens are prolific cookbook writers, and you can get all their stuff on Amazon, including a book on breads that has the recipes for everything mentioned above.

Vital Statistics:
Location: Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, Midleton, Co. Cork, Ireland
Website: http://www.ballymaloe.ie/
Prices: Dinner: €105 for one, including wine and tip; Room: €124 per night for one person (€200 per night for double occupancy)

Travel Itinerary:

  • Aer Lingus from London Heathrow to Cork (1.5 hours)
  • Europcar rental, 30 minute drive

Food on the Vineyard (that would be Martha's)


My Aunt Erin joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) on Martha’s Vineyard for the summer with Whippoorwill Farms and while I was there a few weeks ago my uncle Christopher and I had the pleasure of going to pick up our share.   A large chalk board announces what each member can take, and everything operates on an honor system (how refreshing).

chalkboard at the CSA

We quickly set upon the beautiful veggies piled in plastic bins – heirloom tomatoes, fresh carrots, incredible garlic, sweet orange cherry tomatoes.

fresh carrots

The highlight though was the stunning flower garden where we could choose 1 bouquet and 6 sunflowers of all different colors.

And then all that remained was to go home and eat it!

CSA goodies at home

tomato salad

The Scottish Bakehouse

The Scottish Bakehouse is one of my favorite places on the Vineyard.  It was founded by Mrs. White, who came over from Scotland in the 19060s, and while there are no more steak and kidney pies, their fruit pies (and just about everything else) are to die for.

fruit pies at The Bakehouse

This time I opted for sour cherry and peach, after much careful deliberation over the wild blueberry.

breakfast of champions

Pie, in addition to dessert, makes for a stellar breakfast.  Especially after an evening of bonfires and carousing on the beach.

Home Made Pasta

It’s probably my friend Jessie (her blog here) and cousin Peter who should be writing this since they made the dinner while I was doing a booze run, but I did thoroughly enjoy eating it so here goes.

Our pasta recipe came off the back of the pasta flour bag, but Jessie swears by Alice Water’s version in The Art of Simple Cooking:

2 cups flour
2 eggs
2 egg yolks

Make a well in the flour, pour in the eggs and yolks then mix the eggs with a fork as though scrambling, gradually incorporating the flour.  Knead lightly, shape into a disk, wrap in plastic and let stand 1 hour.  Then roll out by hand or with a machine.

We rolled ours out by hand and dried it on newspaper:

pasta on the Vineyard Gazette

Apparently pasta is a very dense dough so was not in danger of soaking up the newsprint.

Fresh pasta cooks very fast (about 3 minutes) and can be sticky so when cooking put some olive oil in the boiling water and only cook a few pieces at a time (we did about 5-6 in each batch).  Jessie manned the pasta pot and I was in charge of coating the noodles when they came out of the pot with the egg and butter mixture Jessie taught me about when we were about 13 years old.  That time we were making boxed faralle probably with some kind of Ragu off-the-shelf sauce – I thought it was the best pasta I’d ever had.  It is really easy and goes like this: mix one egg with 2 T of butter, melted.  Mix quickly so the egg doesn’t cook in the hot butter.  When pasta is cooked, toss with the egg/butter mixture before adding sauce.  It makes it a bit creamier and helps the sauce stick to the noodles.  If you are making a lot of pasta, just add another egg and more butter.  It’s not an exact science, you can eyeball it.

So that’s the pasta sorted.  Now for the sauce: Peter had made a beautiful tomatoe sauce with all different color tomatoes, including a lot of yellow and orange ones – simmered on the stove with some onion and garlic, then into the food processor to break it down but not all the way pureed.  And finally we topped it with pork butt which had been brining in the fridge in salted water for a few days, popped in the oven for a few hours so it pulled apart with a fork, add fresh parmesan and basil, and voila.


Just for kicks

I love BLTs.  This one at the West Chop Club was particularly good.  Crispy bacon, mayo, avocado, whole wheat toast accompanied by an Arnold Palmer.