Pastis Review – A Perfect Pre-lockdown Meal

Back in November, my parents and I celebrated my mum’s birthday at the French bistro Pastis in The Hague. Rumoured to be a favourite spot of Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, we had to give it a try.

Looking for a cosy yet stylish setting for a birthday meal, we were not disappointed. The layout replicates the Parisian salon down to every detail. From the Marie Antionette champaign glasses to the old fashioned cigarette stall behind the bar.

Tabacco bar at Pastis Bistro French Restaurant in The Hague
Look at that Gorgeous Tabacco bar!

Entres – Scallops and Soup

For a starter, me and mum shared the ‘Coquilles St-Jaques Flambes au Pastis’. They are a traditional French scallop dish served in a white wine sauce and the white wine of choice was champagne. They were beautifully light and creamy with a hint of parsley in the sauce.

Dad had the ‘Soup Gratinee a L’oignon’, or as we call it at home, French onion soup. It came in the classic ceramic bowl that revived a nostalgia I didn’t even know I had. All of a sudden I was sitting at our kitchen table in my childhood home, fishing out a wonderfully cheesy crouton. I think you can tell that I swiped a taste of the soup and cheesy crouton goodness.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think to capture the first course before we tucked in, so you will have to conjure up an image of it for yourselves.

Plats – Heavenly Seafood

Now we come to the main event, the second course. I went for the redfish special, served with samphire. The fillet was so delicate, infused with the salty seasoning and samphire on the skin. This all balanced beautifully with the light white wine sauce and the potato dauphinoise we had on the side.

Redfish and samphire special at Pastis Bistro Restaurant The Hague
This fish was to die for.

Mum and dad both had the ‘Magret De Canard a L’Orange’ — duck thinly sliced in an orange infused jus, served with bacon wrapped asparagus and pototo dauphinoise. I didn’t try any of this dish, apart from helping myself to the potatoes, so I can’t comment on it’s quality. Mum and dad both said it was really good.

Duck fillet at Pastis Bistro Restaurant The Hague
I don’t even eat meat and I think this looks delicious!

Dessert – Delectably Sweet

Now this may be contraversial, but I don’t always do dessert. Sometimes I’m too full, nothing on the menu takes my fancy, or I’d rather finish off my wine with some cheese.

But since this was a special occasion, we thought we’d indulge. Also, they had ‘Tarte Au Citron’ on the menu, so I couldn’t resist.

Like all the food I ate that night, it was so rich in flavour. The meringue was very sweet, but the sharp lemon cut through. This balance of flavours paired wonderfully with my black coffee.

Taut au citron, lemon meringue tart at Pastis Bistro restaurant in The Hague
Nothing is quite as beautiful as a perfect meringue.

Mum has even less of a sweet tooth than me, but her cryptonite is ‘Creme Brulee’. Of course, being in a French restaurant, she had to try it. It had that perfect crack when you hit the caramalised coating with a spoon.

Dad had the ‘Tart Tintin’, a French pastry with caramlised apples layed ontop. Me and mum definitely had to sneak a bite.

Tarte au citron, creme brullee, and tarte tintin at Pastis Bistro, French restaurant in the Hague.
Three desserts, sitting nicely in a row.

After all that food, we were truely stuffed and satisfied. The restaurant has a perfectly cosy atmposhere, making you feel instanty at home. Mum agreed that we couldn’t have found anywhere better to spend her birthday. It was exactly the evening we were looking for.

The evening was made (unexpectedly) more special by the fact that it was the last night before lockdown – well when things could be open past 8 PM. It gave the whole evening a ‘last night in paradise’ atmosphere. It was painful and sweet all at the same time, and we stumbled off after drinking a lot of wine.

Poke Fusion

Back in lockdown I thought I would try some new local places. I wanted something fresh and healthy without breaking the bank. I love sushi but it is expensive! Then I found Poke Fusion.

It claims to be “a fusion of Hawaiin dish, Peruvian, cerviche, poke, and tiradito” which involves raw marinated fish, sticky rice and and assortment of fruit and vegetables. Jackpot.

I ordered the Kauai Salmon Bowel for £8.95 and some Vegetable Gyoza for £5.50, brining my total to £14.45. It came really quickly so I wasn’t too far into my film to pause and get the door.

The food was delicious. The sweet and savoury flavours were in perfect harmony; the salmon was so tender and was well balanced by the sharpness of the pickled onion. The sticky rice was a great neutraliser to reset your flavour palette between each bite. 5 out of 5 stars for food.

They gyoza was great too, but not much different from other great gyoza from competing asian restaurants. But I do need to find out what is the sauce they put with it, because it is like crack.

I noticed when I ordered this it was marked as part of “Deliveroo Editions”. Upon further research I found out that this means it was not made in a local restaurant, but in a shipping container. This is for companies from other cities to expand without the overheads of a full restaurant. According to Deliveroo, these containers are subject to the same health and safety checks as any other restaurant, but there is something slightly disconcerting knowing that my food was made in a car park. “But you will happily eat from a food stall in a trendy carpark in Shoreditch”, maybe that is true, but it is different when you can’t see the conditions surrounding the food prep, especially if the circumstances are a little out of the ordinary.

In theory this is a great way for local companies to expand, but most people want to support their local restaurants making an impact on their local economy.

I’m not sure how I feel about Deliveroo Editions, but what I do know is the food tasted damn good. So maybe I’m a hypocrite. 2.5 out of 5 for ethics.

I give Poke Fusion 3.5 out of 5 for overall experience. The food was excellent but still not sure how I feel about the Editions conundrum.

Rudy’s

Having visited the pizzeria shortly after it opening in Leeds, I was very excited when it opened for orders via Deliveroo.

With a limited menu, it’s aim is to produce quality Neapolitan pizza with authentic Italian toppings, so no pineapple will be found on the menu. Masterfully efficient, their pizzas are cooking merely 60 seconds in a stone baked oven.

I went for a fungi (mushroom) which came to £9.30. There was a £10 minimum on the order, which would be fine if the most expensive pizza was more than £9.90. I managed to make up the difference by adding some extra garlic and chilli which I hoped would suffice in leu of their respective oils. With service and delivery fee, I was paying just short of £13, so for me this was a treat.

Clearly doing well with their burgeoning delivery service, there was a 50 minute wait on the order, which could not be filled by drinking aperitifs at their white marble bar. It was worth the wait as I eagerly watched the avatar of my driver creep closer to my door. I made do with a craft beer I had hiding at the back of the fridge.

I was a little disappointed that the food arrived cold, but there was a sticker on the box telling me to place it in the oven for three minutes at 200 degrees. A bit cheeky getting me to do half the work.

However, once I dragged in out of the oven and chucked on my own chilli-less oil, it tasted as good as I remembered. The foir de latte (mozzarella) perfectly balanced the tomato sauce. The crust was light and fluffy as well as being crispy, making me glad I didn’t get any heavier toppings. It went down quickly and left me wishing I had ordered two, but that would be extravagant. 5 out of 5 stars.

Despite the long wait and the preheating, the food was excellent. I give it a 3.5 for service, but its shows how popular they are. The food needs no promotion.

Mommy Thai

Having just been offered a writing job (which I later turned down because they were going to pay me $5 an hour), I thought I would spend my unearned money on a curry.

Now this was never going to be a blind review as I have eaten at Mommy Thai before we went into lockdown, but thought I would review their Deliveroo takeaway service.

To be honest, it is not quite the same without the kitchy feel of the plastic tables, golden water jugs and colourful surroundings Mommy Thai provides in person.

I ordered the Tofu Gang Dang (Red Curry) with boiled rice and a side order of Tod Man Thai fish cakes, coming in at a respectable total of £10.50.

The fish cakes were light and paired very well with the sweet chilli sauce provided. They were soft enough to break apart as you ate them, the soft level of spices complimenting the fish rather than overpowering it. 4 out of 5 stars.

The curry was the best part of the meal, offering impeccable flavours. The silky notes of the coconut milk softened the rich spices. It was a generous portion, providing a sufficient amount of tofu and rice to soak up the sauce. My only gripe was at the tofu to vegetable ratio, hoping to have more than some courgette slices to vary my fibre intake. 4 out of 5.

Despite the lack of decor that my own kitchen provides, the food tasted just as good as it does when dining in. A few more vegetables for my herbivore tendencies wouldn’t have gone amiss. I give Mommy Thai home delivery a solid 4 out of 5.

 

 

Dukes Donuts & Coffee

It’s Sunday afternoon and I want to treat myself for bothering to do exercise on a bank holiday. My housemate had just come in from a walk, and we wanted to do something with as much of a sense of adventure as you can get in lockdown. So we jumped in my car looking for somewhere that would still offer us a sweet treat during Sunday hours. We got turned away by the more insta-famous establishments, so we went back, googled and hoped that the internet wasn’t lying about what was open.

A Facebook competition and a voucher for a free coffee got me wanting to try what ‘Dukes Donuts’ had to offer. Competing with the likes of Temple Donuts, the all vegan donut shop that has taken Leeds by storm, it had a lot to live up to.

Pricing coming in as the same as competing shops, a wopping £3.50 for a filled donut, we thought these better be good.

There was less selection than I expected, a greater selection of ice cream evidently available. This seemed odd for a shop with donut in the title. We had a choice of four donuts, two glazed and two filled. I went for the coconut donut, while my housemate went for the peanut butter and jelly supreme. The other choices were either ‘The Duke’ a hole donut with a chocolate glaze, or an unnamed donut with a blue glaze. I also got myself a complimentary oat milk latte.

The coffee was good, I would say a 3.5 out of 5. It would’ve been made better with some latte art. Unfortunately, the coffee was the highlight of the experience.

The peanut butter donut had a strawberry jam filling, peanut butter glaze and dry peanuts garnishing the top. The pastry was dry – no stale and was only edible with the adequate amount of jam filling. The peanuts adoring the top were not salted or flavoured and would have benefitted from being dry roasted. 2 out of 5.

The coconut donut was less stale but still very dry. It was evident that none of the donuts were made fresh today. It was accompanied by a cream filling and a coconut glaze. There a no other flavours balancing the coconut, it would have been improved by a more interesting filling, but it did not become as sickly as its peanut counterpart. 3 out of 5.

Other trendy doughnut establishments manage to make up for the extortionate price with a premium product, this is not the case with Dukes. With stale donuts and a lack of choice it feels like they are trying to take advantage of the hype without delivering a pastry worthy of the price.

Despite serving decent coffee, I am going to have to rate this a 2 out of 5 for overall experience. It was disappointing after the standards being set high by its competitors. I’m afraid I won’t be returning to Dukes.Continue reading “Dukes Donuts & Coffee”

Lockdown Lowdown

Another week, another complete turn of events.

Earlier this week I got sick at work and had to take time off. I was scared it was you-know-what, but I think it was just pure exhaustion from lifting boxes for 8hrs a day 5 days a week. Granted I only did this for a week an a half, but honestly I don’t think my body could hack any longer.

So going from being on my feet for 8hrs to spending all day in bed was quite a shift. Great, time to relax, catch up on Netflix AND sleep. This was great, for a day. Finally when my body was telling me to do nothing, my mind wanted to do anything but rest.

The usual traps of social media, scrolling and eating all day were all seeming way too appealing.

After feeling so active and positive in my ability to get through this lockdown, in a matter of days this had all been crushed. Just a few days ago I had scoffed at those moaning about working from home, or those who had been furloughed. “But look at all the time you’ve got!” I thought. Then when I had the time myself, I felt I was wasting it, but did not have the energy to do anything “productive”.

A few days later I am feeling much better. I am no longer sleeping all day and eating everything in sight. Well, at least the first is true.

Without sounding saccharine and self-helpy, I needed to go easier on myself. My body was screaming at me to stop and rest. So what if that meant spending three days in bed binging Tiger King and eating a packet of bourbons.

With everyone around us talking about their goals for self isolation, we feel bad if we are not spending all our time learning a new language or painting water colours. Listen to your body and your mind, they know what they need.

We push ourselves so much to be “productive” that we make ourselves feel bad when we don’t have a lot to do, or physically can’t do a lot. Now is a time more than ever when people are realising the importance of work-life balance and the need to take care of yourself when you aren’t well.

One day you will wake up and have the energy to go on that walk, or do Joe Wick’s P.E. lessons (which make me wonder if nine year olds doing it are way fitter than me). But you aren’t gonna get anywhere by pushing yourself too far, or beating yourself up for not feeling up to it.

 

Corona Diaries

20190904_123514I’m sure like everyone reading this, three weeks ago my life looked very different.

I was in a stable job, getting on with my co-workers, living with my friends, dating. For once I could look at myself and say “yeah, I am doing okay at this”.

But what goes up must come down. I stopped dating, was feeling stuck in my career, and to top it all off, there was a global pandemic.

I didn’t start taking coronavirus seriously until they started making changes at work. I work in a bar, a prime spot for merriment, and the spread of disease. New hygiene measures, reducing capacity, cancelling events. We really needed to look like we were doing something.

Then the government “advised” us to stop going to bars. But we didn’t, so they shut the pubs.

So where does this put me and the millions of others in the hospitality industry?

Well, like my housemate, some were made redundant before the government enforced closures. Well done Boris.

Many, like my friend, are now fighting with their former employers to make the choice to re-employ them and take the government loan. The fact is, they don’t have to.

There is a mortgage break, but nothing has been said about renters. We have been told we can pay it “anytime this month”, but that doesn’t help if your entire sector is totally fucked.

I have been one of the lucky ones who got to keep my job, but at a price. Our company was first and foremost an online retailer before they expanded to open the bar I work in. This means that when the bar was forced to close, they could offer us work in the warehouse that distributes the online products.

I say offer: they told us that if we did not accept the shifts in the warehouse “they could not guarantee us continued employment” despite not making any amendments to our contract for us to sign.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that I still have a job. But there is something about being coerced into a new work situation that felt uncomfortable.

This is such a strange time and we all have to roll with the punches on this one. I can appreciate I am in a much stronger position than a lot of people, and the work is alright. I just can’t help but feel I could be doing something more useful in this time of international crisis. Is it really “essential” to be boxing beer when there is not enough hospital equipment to go around.

A lot of us feel frustrated, wishing we could do more, or at least do something. I suppose we are all doing our bit by staying at home, social distancing, getting on with life as best we can. And that’s all we can do right now.

 

Dating on a year abroad

Erasmus, or “Orgasmus” as I heard someone delicately put it, has certain connotations when it comes to sex and dating.

Without trying to sound like Carrey Bradshaw, dating abroad can be an interesting kettle of fish, and that’s before the cultural and language clashes.

People expect you to treat it like freshers and up your numbers on an international scale.

You know you’re away for a set period of time, your partner(s) might be here for even less, so how far in do you let yourself go? Do you try to keep it casual and just enjoy the freedom of having no fixed abode? Do you say fuck it and let yourself fall for that person you’ve been fucking for a few weeks.

Things have an expiration date, so does that mean you let things slip that would otherwise be a red flag? Or does it make you more reserved because you know there is little chance of a future?

And then there are the long distance couples. The ones that came to the year aboard already spoken for. There are two ways that pans out, either they break up a few months in finding the distance too hard, or you get to know their other halves with their frequent visits and Skype dates. I personally couldn’t do the latter, spending half your time wishing you were somewhere else and longing for when you get back to the pain and workload of final year.

Then there is the international couple. This rarely has a happy ending though. Either you bitterly part ways having to keep those memories as your year away fling, or you attempt a cross boarder relationship, seeing them only a few times a year and spending considerably more on flights than the average couple.

Murcia seems to feel like a city that everyone is passing through. With the large number of international students it comes as a double edged sword. You meet interesting people from all over the place, but you know that after those exams finish you may never see your friend or fuck-buddy again. You can know the end is coming but it doesn’t actually hit until you realise you can’t just pop round to their flat, and bam in a flash a year has gone and you’re back to sweating over what you’re going to do after final year (which is now upon you and made no easier by your year of frolicking).

“But why not date yummy Spanish locals?” I hear you cry. Great opportunity to practice your language skills right? Well it is for the first hour, then you realised school/university has taught you the vocab to talk about the environment or an in depth analysis of the Spanish Civil War, but then you forget the word for fork and you spend the rest of the evening staring at your date, telepathically trying to tell them that you can’t eat paella with your hands. At least you’ll look like you can understand what they are saying.

You find you eventually just run out of words. How many times can you talk about your holidays?

Even if you do manage to see them more than once, you are still left with the same problem. You can’t carry a Spaniard in your suitcase.

I don’t blame those who choose not to date, to spend time with friends and not worry about where things may-or-may-not be going.

Some people are great at casual sex and can enjoy the freedom of no visa and no strings. But is anything ever fully stringless?

Water bottles and social sheep

Everyone drinks strictly bottled water in Murcia. But does anyone stop to wonder why?

The premise of this article sounds like it could be incredibly boring, but hear me out.

Now this is something you would expect from being in a country such as India or other nations with dangers of cholera or dysentery in the water. Not what you would expect of a first world country.

I have been drinking the tap water from day one. Call me crazy, or maybe I have a stomach of Iron but I have never had any health problems that I can trace back to the water.

But everyone else I know consumes litres upon litres of bottled water every week without question.

“When it’s so cheap here, you might as well get bottled water” a friend said during the hight of a hot September. This was the only person I knew who had a water filter in their home, but continued to drink bottled water when in their room.

Upon inspection of whether the water is safe to drink I found conflicting results. Murcia Today printed health warnings in January 2017 but the areas of the region where they claim the water is not safe differ from source to source. Murcia Today also printed an article in February of 2018 explaining that due to drought, 75% of running water in Murcia is desalinated which can cause concerns when it comes to drinking it.

However, IAMAT (a non-profit international health organisation) claims that the water in Murcia is safe to drink for locals and visitors may have problems with diarrhoea for the first few weeks due to small traces of E.coli in the water.

Now E.coli does not sound particularly appealing and despite the okay being given by this source, I could understand wanting to be extra cautious, but all this begs the question, why bottled water and not a water filter?

Because I know how to get things pumping at pre-drinks, I asked “why do you only drink bottled water?” to a group of friends. They, justifiably, reasoned that their landlords, resident Murcians, do so and if they do then it would make sense to follow suit. When I asked “but why not use a water filter?” they said “we don’t have one”.

I understand that logic behind the first part of this decision, follow what the locals do. Now I apply this for tipping in restaurants and using public transport, but access to drinkable water is a fundamental human right and I personally would question a developed country where I have been told not to drink the water.

The latter though I have a harder time grappling with. Why do people see buying a kettle when one is not provided as a necessity, but a water filter as not? If are a permanent resident of a city why not invest the €10 in a water filter and save money and plastic.

I am somewhat surprised at the lack of inquiry at what seems to be the majority of the population and international students in the city. Have we all become unquestioning sheep that blindly follow the majority?

I think what annoys me the most about this is the sheer waste of plastic. If everyone drinks the recommended 1.5 litres of water a day, that’s 547.5 litres containers being disposed of a year per person. There is recycling for plastic bottles in Spain which is better than sheer waste, but plastic can only be recycled a finite number of times, as well as it taking up fossil fuel energy to melt down and remould.

Also what about the amount of plastic that is littered, put in a land mine or even thrown directly into open water. Plastic Oceans states that 8 million tonnes of plastic are thrown into the oceans every year. They also claim that “the process of producing bottled water takes up to 6 times as much water as there is in a container”. These stats are overwhelming and show a need for a global shift to reduce use of plastic bottles.

Of course I still buy bottled water and consume plastic, when I am out an about and have forgotten my refillable bottle, but I think these stats show we all need to make a concerted effort to reduce how much plastic we throw away.

So why not make the investment in a water filter. It’s only the planet you’ll be helping.

 

 

Murcia Today: https://murciatoday.com/murcia-and-spanish-news-round_up-week-ending-9th-february-2018_316703-a.html

https://murciatoday.com/desalinated-water-in-the-taps-of-murcia-what-are-the-implications_318505-a.html

Isthewatersafetodrink.com: http://isthewatersafetodrink.com/spain/murcia/

Plastic oceans: https://plasticoceans.org/the-facts/

 

 

“Everyone hates the English”

It’s 6am and I’ve had about 3 hours sleep. I can’t complain because I on my way to Budapest whilst my friends in Spain have started their exams. I am trying in vane to read my overly pretentious book that mum bought me for Christmas (it’s about a winey privileged 20 something living in Spain – she saw it and thought of me), when I hear a man my dad’s age complain about how his car dealership in Spain doesn’t speak any English.

“They hate the English out there” he says, speaking about the place he now permanently resides.

“I wonder fucking why” I mutter under my breath.

Shed loads of brits move to Spain every year, my flights to Alicante are full of pensioner aged persona telling me about their house in Benidorm or Torrevieja. A lot of these places are filled with ex-pats, looking to live their retirement in the sol whilst sipping all the Rioja that their hearts desire. They often learn minimal Spanish and mainly socialise with other ex-pats. Sticking to their community, not bothering to learn the language: the very stereotype of “these foreigners” who make up roughly 14% of the British population (according to the 2016 census).

I am generalising of course but this was a stereotype I couldn’t shake in the early hours of the morning, listening to the people around me complained how it was “only the British” that they made go through the passport self scanners (not true as my Irish source has informed me). And do you think it’s going to get any easier after Brexit?

I didn’t even need to bring it up when I was wandering the streets of Budapest with Izzy. “You feel ashamed to be British sometimes”, she says as she recounts tales of stag dos and other stereotypes of British drunkenness. All weekend we encountered Hungarian hostility to our timid “kosonom” (thanks). Then again I don’t think they reserve that for the English.

I have found it in Spain as well, almost apologising for being British. You can sometimes feel a shift in attitude from a waiter or barista when they hear you speaking in English to your friends. The number of times we try and order in Spanish, they take one look at you and reply in English. Some times it is well meaning and they are just eager to practice their English, but there is a high volume of sarky service staff in Murcia. To be fair though that could be just from working behind a bar, we’ve all been there mi amigo.

I’m not trying to demonise Spanish waiting staff. But it does make you empathise with anyone living and working in a second language. Kudos for just getting through the day without having a breakdown.

You do naturally gravitate towards people who speak your first language, people who get your cultural references and your sense of humour. It is harder to make bilingual friends, but not impossible.

I don’t really know where this is going. Just have a bit of patience if you work in a bar and someone can’t pronounce their order. Now here is an excuse to post some pics from Budapest.