Thursday, April 17, 2014

Die Bank

Every guide book and review of hamburg I read told me to go to Die Bank for dinner. Die Bank is in the center of hamburg in an old Bank which has been renovated and is not a very chic brasserie with amazing portraits of bank robbers on the wall.

They have a full cocktail bar and didnt flinch as we order various classics as well as some lesser known drinks like the Sazerac. I also ordered oysters, a starter of ravioli with greens and steak tartar.

So first the oysters. I had two Belon and two Fine de Claire oysters. I know the Belon is known to be a better oyster but I have to say personally I prefer the fine de claire. It's not to big, not too small, with a firm texture and clean, nutty taste. By contrast the belon is much larger, slightly slimmer and much more salty. I was not a massive fan.


Following this I had the mascarpone ravioli with vegetables. While the ravioli was creamy, as one would expect, the vegetables were definitely over salt for my taste. I guess they had tried to make the veggies balance the fattiness of the pasta, but instead it just overpowered the pasta and ruineed the lightness and freshness of the vegetables.


Luckily I had a delicious steak tartar to finish. This was definitely an entirely classic steak tartar accompagnied by a quail egg, bread and a light salad. The consistency of the meat was much more dense than what I am used to from France or even England (though I have to admit steak tartar is served in a similar vein in Denmark so perhaps this is a northern trait). In addition the portion, even though I had ordered the starter size, was huge. I really enjoyed it - a balanced main after my over salt starter.

Steak Tartar:

My brother ordered the chateaubriand - which looked and I am told tasted beyond delicious.

For desert I had the Mille Feuille with strawberries, vannilla and nougat. The desert was definitely a contemporary Mille-Feuille the puf pastry came offset in between slices of vanilla custard and one slize of nougat. At the top was a chocolate cookie along with some icecreama nd fresh strawberries. It looked and tasted delicious. I must admit I only could take a few bites myself and had to leave the rest for my fellow dinners, scrumptious as it were, we couldn't let it go to vaste.

The Mille-Feuille

I really enjoyed Die Bank. The space is very cool, with seemingly no detail spared (even the bathrooms have creditcard number inscriptions along the wall), the service was excellent, my one issue perhaps was the food, which was good (and definitely better when one stuck to the meats), without actually being great. Even so: I recommend it to a friend (and a stranger). Don't hesitate to go, when you are next in Hamburg - but why would you be?!

Hamburg Highlights

This weekend we went to Hamburg to visit my brother who happens to live there. There are many great things to say about my brother, like the fact that he wrote a 70 page essay about a font and that he broke up with his last girlfriend over e-mail and thought he was universally justified in doing so. To add to the complexity he is annoyingly hansome and has a timeless air of cool going for him that means he always ends up hanging out with a very trendy crowd of models and photographers. Not the worst kind of guide one can have to any city. Definitely a great shout for hamburg!

And here, in no particular order: the highlights of hamburg: 

Drinking 4 Euro double Whiskey shots at NachtHafen in St Pauli
Friday night my brother took me to Nachthafen, a place we both agreed would have made Fassbinder seriously jealous. It looks and feels just like walking into the 70's. I imagine the Baader Meinhoff spent many an evening plotting in underground bars just like this. The clientel is a mix of St Pauli fans and random youth. A lone female dj sat passively chain smoking while feeding us semi-heavy American rock and we settled in, sipping our 4 Euro Whiskey's in the worn-out leather couches in the back. Eternally epic.

Walking along the park of the Alster
An afternoon stroll along the Alster both delights with funky sculptures (which Hamburg is full of as we will get to further down), has great trees, is lined with pretty cool architecture both of the ultra modern as well as older town houses. It also boasts lots of little caffees where u can take in a light meal while gawking at the Hamburgers (the people, not the food) as they drive up in their Merzedes and BMWs and Porches being elegant.  

Jil Sanders and Henry Moore
Little known fact is that Jil Sanders actually was born and raised and lives and works in Hamburg. You can go downtown and check out her uber delicate and tremendously expensive clothes in her store or oogle her house up by the Alster. Oddly the house I was told is where she lives is this old school townhouse, which looks like it was build in the mid 19th century. While her clothes is obviously hyper contemporary. So contrasts. That's probably one of the things Hamburg is all about.

Because as we were walking east from the Alster we stumbled upon this super gorgeous statue by Henry Moore in a park, that wasn't even a park and where simultaneously various autonome were making out on the benches. I am telling you: contrast.
More Moore:

Schanzen/ Karolineviertel
The part of the city I loved best was the Schanzen and the Karolineviertel in the Eastern part of town. It's just graffiti art and second hand shops and knickknack and brackitybrakcs and independent coffeeshops and then things like a MAC and Adidas store strewn into the mix. The crowd is young and everyone is sitting outside drinking and smoking (so many cigarettes). It felt like a good time to blend in only everything sadly is closed on Sundays and we had a plaine to catch. But if I come back. This is where I will be hanging out. 

The Beatles
So as you probably know the Beatles spent some time in Hamburg. To commemorate the fivesome (as it were at the time) the Raperbarhn (which is otherwise just a crazed and massive red light district with bars and clubs that literally go all night and then well into the next morning) has a little art display, which photographs very poorly but actually looks very cool in real life.
The Beatles:

HafenCity is the old docklands which, like in more or less every trendy European city has been repurposed and now houses cafees, postmodern apartments and museums. There are some really cool buildings on display, not least the brand new concert hall (still under construction).
A waving flag of a concert hall:

St Nikolai's Memorial for the Victims of War
Unfortunately the st Nikolai's church tower (which was the highest in the world until like 1867) is under construction so it's not much of a view from the top - but one day it definitely will be. Meanwhile the museum in the basement of the bombed out church, which commemorates the victims of war and specifically those who died during operation Gomorrah (the allied's aerial bombing of Hamburg during the Second World War), was, albeit small very touching. It took responsibility while also remembering the innocent victims of all sides of that Great War. Definitely worth a visit. 
The FishMarket
So apparently on Sunday mornings you have to get up ridiculously early to go check out the fishmarket. I honestly won't do that again as the market is just a big flee market which also sells eel, ridiculously cheap fruit baskets and meats and cheese. In the old fish auction hall (which is beautiful) the party continues from Saturday night with live bands and beer and waffles and coffee. The best part was strolling along the harbourfront with my mum in the crisp morning air. 
The Auction Hall

Hamburg, as it turns out has the second biggest art museum outside of Berlin and I was excited to visit it because I had read that it had a solid contemporary German art collection. I never managed to find that wing, but their modern art collection is really solid yet impossibly curated. I honestly have never been so lost and confounded in a museum. At one point I turned down what I assumed was a connecting room with very poor lighting only to discover a Picasso! 
When we were there, they had a small room of Otto Dix world war 1 drawings. To see these images in real life was extremely capturing and really gave me a new founded respect for the man and the artist. Again this section was impossibly curated. So basically you can go and just get lost and take it all in not knowing ever what's behind the next door. And that in itself is pretty inspiring. 
That thing I missed: The Miniature Wunderland
The one thing we sadly missed was the Miniature Wunderland. I certainly have an affinity for all things quirky: the world's biggest miniature train line with its own miniature airline is definitely one of them. We did go but unfortunately it was all sold out. So go online and pre-book because it looks GREAT! 
All this said I definitely won't go back to Hamburg for a while. The city felt like one of those places where it's great to live but the tourist agenda is underdeveloped and the town itself, completely destroyed during the war, is not very picturesque. 
On the other hand if you have friends, or like I do family, that live there it's a pretty nice town to go duck in to some second hand shops, drink cheap booze and hang out for the weekend. So enjoy. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Se7en Oceans

Friday night I joined my family at Se7en Oceans on the third floor of the Europa Passage in Hamburg. The entrance is through an elevator and then a sushi restaurant of a mall, without being hidden and then revealing a secret beautiful space, you are basically just in what most compares to a standard airport hotel restaurant and it is not terribly appealing. On top of that the clientele was really old and the restaurant (even on a Friday night) was only half full. From the windows there is a nice view of the smaller of the two inner lakes in Hamburg, which is nice, but can only fully be appreciated by the people sitting by the window.

We order the 6 course menu and some German wine. We have to say at this point that the wine list is pretty small and also has only fairly cheap wine considering the 'fine dinning' experience we are suposed to be in for. On top of that the waiters who are really sweet don't really know very much about the wine or the food (one person failed in presenting a dish and another could not identify a fruit we were served?! Very strange!) 

But we were there and so we ordered the six course menu. 

First, we got three variations of butterfish and some popcorn in various  Indian spices. The popcorn was pretty good though fairly dry. I obviously prefer them drabbed in butter. 


The butterfish bites had a good size and all of them tasted really good. I appreciated that one was wrapped in prosciutto and another was deep fried in a light batter. As an aside the bread and specifically the seaweed butter was expertly salted and creamy. 


The first course then was a small plate with octapus, ham and crispy salad. The octapus bits were large and fresh and I liked that it was not marinated, but rather deferred to the leafs and ham to give it a good light and salty flavour. (I am obviously going to say 'salty' a lot in this post, since well it's fish and there is not really a very good way of talking about tastes if fish without using he word 'salty'.)


We then continued on to a mackerel. This was for me the highlight. It was grilled and just had a very clear, very simple mackerel taste. I know many people do not really like mackerel, but I think for me (who really likes mackerel) that undisturbed taste, treating it like a fine white fish rather than something to be chopped up and whipped into mayonaise, was a salivating experience.


We then moved on to the first of two white fish that frankly in memory are indistinguishable and even for my part didn't taste that fresh. The first one was that a halibut to which they added a pretty heavy sauce, which I would have probably preferred with a piece of veal. But instead completely overpowered what definitely tasted like day-old fish to me. 

The first of the two indistiguishable white fish:

In between them we had a sort of amouche made of a bed of Burata (really like a small spoon full of Burata) topped by a sort of celery and then a very acidic appleish sauce. The colours were pastel, white and green and mint and while it was probably slightly too acidic with much too little Burata it was still pretty good.


With that we got to the desert. It was absolutely beautifully presented, but sadly the taste (yogurt cake... Not cheese?) was I must say disapointing. I don't even like fro-yo so this fancy yogurt-cake was almost a bit gross. 

The beautiful but not very good yogurt cake:

Most of my party didn't finsih it. 

This was slightly made up for by the petifours which included a tiny profiteroles, a tiny chocolate layer cake with crackle and two truffles. They were all delicious. Honestly, really delicious. 

So to conclude basically don't bother  going for dinner on a Friday night. The service is really good, the food is fine but with some hit and miss, without anything being particularly memorable. Most of it looks better than it tastes. The view was fine, but not all it was made out to be and certainly didn't really work for a big group when only two people could sit by the window (I was in the other end of the table and couldn't see it at all) and last it's in a mall which I just generally think contradicts the peaceful and romantic atmosphere I associate with a nice meal. It was worst when forced to use the mall bathrooms! 

The one thing I did really appreciate was that they had stuck to a full 5 courses of fish! I think, even for a fish restaurant this is a pretty bold move that should be applauded.  And what more, I can see why this would be a great place to go for a Wednesdag power lunch in Hamburg as it has that sterile, inoffensive vibe that your really can't go wrong with but seriously hampers celebration. And celebration was why me and my family were all in Hamburg to begin with. So well miss on our part, but not necessarily a miss for Se7en Oceans, which does after all, and decidedly somewhat mysteriously have a Michelin star. 

So thumbs up? Thumbs down?: This was a difficult one. Like choosing between two contestants in the semi-finals of The Voice. But ultimately: Thumbs down. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Milk Bar

I was rushing though Soho seriously low on foodfuel when I noticed this murky glass door with red and blue stripes on it. The people inside included the type of couples who looks like part of the 20 smthg urban middle class but surely should be behind a desk right around 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon and a band of (actually three) aging rock'n'rollers who Really looked like they were members of the Rolling Stones! And then well there I was (in a suit no less) on my way between a meeting in the west end and one in the city.

It's not suprising that the aging rockers had me convinces that this place must make a pretty good cup of joe (hallo Alcoholics Anonymous sponsoring coffee snobbery since 1972). Thus I ordered a capu and an avocado sandwich. 

The capu was really lovely. Smooth and nutty. 

Coffee: check!

Meanwhile, the avocado sandwich was so special. I got a massive bowl heaving with lemon infused avocado and peppered with herbs and three (like the rockers) pieces of scrumptious ciabatta toast drizzled with malton salt. It was gorgeous. I do love avocado. I am actually known as a bit of an avocado addict and nutritiounists continually tell me to cut down. So this just felt so indulgent. I really couldn't help myself as I generously smothered the bread feeling pangs of guilt and pleasure that can only be equated with that first and last and every bite in between of an especial decadent chocolate tort. So good!

I guess another day we can discuss that weird love and lust for food that must ever always be tattered by shame and guilt. But that is for another day. For now let's just say I am definitely coming back for coffee and guiltypleasure avocadotoast. 

Milk Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 10, 2014

100 Hoxton

I had been tiped by a very sweet glamgirl that a new and fun small plates dinner spot had opened up on Hoxton Street. And I do enjoy Hoxton Street (White Lyan, Bacchus - which sadly closed, Ginger Pig : what's not to enjoy!)

So at long last (2 months later) the Cowboy and I waltzed up Saturday morning for brunch. I first ordered the ice tea with mint and chile and boy did it have a good kick. But as the icecubes melted and melted it just got better and better and then amazing! 

Look at this ice tea:

And to accompagni it (because it wasn't a liquid brunch) I had the kedgeree. I must say I was nervous; how good can a Kedgeree be? It said it had curry and haddock and a soft boiled egg (which was what had hooked me originally! How good are boiled eggs!). So it sounded rad. But I have so often been disappointed by kedgeree I was weary to get my hopes up. 

Well when it came all my trepidation a were put to shame. It was moist and tasted fantastically like curry. They had added a row is fresh spices giving it a delicious Asian twist. The egg was perfectly boiled and I just ate and ate and ate. So moist! So fantastically well flavoured! Scrumptious!

This is what Scrumptious looks like:

I really liked this place and I hope I can make it back soon to try the dinner.
100 Hoxton on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 7, 2014

Tajima Tei

As we open the door the cowboy is startled by how much it reminds him of the dining places he frequents when visitng his close friends in Kyoto - and what do you know the chef is trained in Kyoto, I learn when I subsequently visit the website, but that is not the point.

The room has a light wooden sushi counter and partitions so that we can all sit in appropriately private stalls. 90% of the other customers are Japanese (always a good sign) and I think we have already realised that we are in for traditional style feasting.

We order a set of sashiimi to share. It's very standard salmon, mackrel and tuna that all look day-fresh and room-temperatured. The pieces are large and fatty and plunk into the soy sauce. It's a big plate, but we manage to finish it between us.


Following the Sashimi I ordered two starters. First a fresh tofu in a marinated plum sauce and second pork belly. Basically as soon as I spotted it I just couldnt get the tofu out of my head. I had a massive craving. When it arrived in a little bowl, silken and white with marinated plum and cucumber on top my tummy was applauding me. It had vaguelly sour yet predominantly umami taste that was refreshing after a long day.

The Tofu:

Sadly, the pork belly was much less satisfying. It was coarse and flavourless. I had a few bits and then left the rest, telling the waiter politely that I had been filled up by the delicious bean curd. 

Tajima Tei delighted me with its simple traditional japanese food. This is a place where substance definitely takes presidence over presentation. Yet for a quiet Wednesday night it felt just right sipping my green tea surrounded by Japanese bankers and lawyers and students stopping by on their way home.

I am really pleased to have discovered this little spot because sometimes all anyone wants is something that isn't much at all.
Tajima-Tei on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Wednesday night my friends and I stopped by Korean Bibigo in Soho. I really enjoy a good Bibimbap ever since working in the East Village in New York City where they used to have a great Bibimbap hole in the wall right on St Marks I uden to frequent.

I have obviously tried my fair share of Korean in London (the oldies but goodies by Tottenham Court Road, the more traditional Koba and Bibimbap in Fitzrovia, and of course the new KFC style places near my house Jubo and On the Bab. All excellent suggestions for any night out let alone a night of Korean) so I was excited to try the Korean Food giant CJ' first stake out in London. 

We booked a table a few days in advance, yet when we showed up to a busy and mostly full restaurant we were taken down to the basement room, which was empty, with the exception of the four of us (me, cowboy, and two friends). It was genuinely a mood killer. 

Regardless, we forged on excited for any place that gets a 4.4 rating on google maps. We proceed to order from our lone waiter who occasionally hovered in the corner of the room, pouring us tab water individually from an odd steel tea dispenser and genuinely not really checking in, even as the Cowboy ran frightfully low on beer. It was not great service at any point but particularly not throughout the evening, perhaps as a result of being seated in a corner of the restaurant that was literally invisible and had no other customers.

For starters we got the scallops and the green wraps. At this point my expectations were somewhat more in check with the very average reality we were facing here, and actually I must admit our scallops were pretty good (I suppose most things marinated in yuzu). But the green wraps, were really just a small salad leaf with a piece of meat inside. The salad leaf did not have a lot of flavour and the meat was on the chewy side. I am not sure what the missing ingredient was, but it certainly didn't feel like a fully developed course on a restaurant menu, particularly perhaps in the centre of London. 

The scallops and the chicken:

We followed this up with bibimbap, bulgogi (steak), bossam (pork belly), and fried chicken. Oddly the chicken (as the picture above indicates) came with the starters, so I shall review this first; basically it was like someone went to 'Iceland'. That's it. I have had better chicken at KFC (the Kentucky one). It wasn't dry, but the crust was soft and I don't know if they had forgotten to add spice sauce to our chicken but it tasted bland.  Not even a healthy dash of lemon could help it. 

The remaining three dishes were characterised by this very same blandness. They may have been described as coming with spicy kimchi mollie and Barbeque sauce but all I tasted was bland bland bland. On top of that both the steak and the pork were decidedly chewy and especially the pork suffered from dry dry dryness. 

I can't even begin to get into the bibimbap because I still don't understand how they so epically failed to produce anything that even resembles a dish anyone should ever have to pay for. It was literally just rice with a few greens strewn on top served on a hot stone plate. No egg, No meats. Just boring boring boring. They described it as 'mixed with Kohot sauce', but I feel like this came as a side and even as a liberally added Kohot it remained just a nameless, tasteless dish in the annals of my food journey.

The only two redeeming factor was first the cocktail I had. It was called a Green Season and it had tequila, cucumber, sesame leaves, agave and aloe vera and it was extremely good. At £7.90 it was also pretty reasonably priced for Central London.  Second, the side of Kimchi was also delicious. Then again I had to wonder what kind of Korean place could mess up Kimchi? It's just not plausible. But trust I would have said that just moments before about bibimbap and there I was eating just Kimchi because I couldn't bring myself to take another bite of the botched bibimbap in front of me.

The best thing on the menu front and centre: a side of Kimchi:

I guess, dear reader (or should I say Dear Leader!), you won't be suprised to learn that I won't go back. As much as I can't say that the food was bad, as in it didn't have a bad taste I am once again left wondering if no taste (and I don't mean Umami as in the 5the taste, but actually no taste) sort of by the absence of what one seeks when dining and perhaps particularly when dinning out, is in and of itself bad. I think increasingly my answer is yes. Yes that is bad! If you are a very big group and you are looking to eat, unremarkable Korean food, in an inconspicuous room, while drinking pretty good cocktails and you can't drag your bum to Fitzrovia then by all means go. You won't get food poisoned. You will feel nothing. Under any other circumstances, really don't bother. 
Bibigo on Urbanspoon