Crabs Claw, Atlantic Beach, North Carolina

2014-05-30 20.54.59

On a recent two week trip to the USA, I found myself being at a loose end over a weekend.  So I took a trip out to the North Carolina coast to Atlantic Beach.  Hurricane Irene caused significant damage when it passed directly through here in 2011 destroying everything in it’s path as only a Category 1 hurricane can do.  This was starkly evident given the state of the pier connected to the hotel which we were told used to be three times as long as it is today.

2014-05-31 19.19.11

As with any road trip, part of the fun is finding good places to eat! And AB was no let down… The sun was shining and after a week of trying to avoid burgers and steaks, I was looking forward to some good seafood. The ever helpful Tripadvisor made some suggestions and reservations were made. Crabs Claw is right on the beach and a ‘steam pot’ with various bits of seafood including a Alaskan crab claw was ordered.

However, you all know the rule about this blog, ‘If it’s on the menu, you have to order it…’.  And tonight’s offering was a coconut crème brûlée no less…!  Now, for me, this was a first: the brûlée arrived unprepared and our waiter ‘torched’ it at the table!  The result meant a little wait as the sugar cooled, but also gave time to check a few things out.  The custard was direct from the fridge, so quite cold, and in fact made it somewhat heavy under the spoon.  It was however smooth with no signs of curdling and the influence of what I assumed was coconut milk was a pleasant Caribbean twist on this classic. The caramelisation was pretty heavy and hadn’t fully formed under the blow torch flame.  That said, it was a simple effort prepared with a little flourish that suited the beach front location and the relaxed service that evening…  5/10.

Gordon’s House, Guildford

2014-05-15 21.52.22

Gordon is a nice Scottish chap.  He’s got a PhD in something I know nothing about.  He’s got two lovely kids roughly the same age as my own.  I first met Gordon and his wife Fiona during National Childbirth Trust antenatal classes shortly before our first children were to enter the world over 10 years ago.  Very sadly, Fiona died following a battle with cancer last year and my only regret is that I didn’t get to know her better during that short period of time, proving that life is precious and you simply can’t waste it…

Gordon is doing an amazing job being a single parent and learning to cope with everything that goes with that.  The NCT boys are doing their level best to be supportive, which usually involves going out for the occasional beer and lending a helping hand when Gordon’s man skills require some additional ‘support’…!

Whilst this post has started on a sombre note, we should talk about the dessert course from our dinner this evening…  I have to note that this is the first ever crème brûlée I’ve eaten from a packet.  A Sainsburys packet at that!  Fair play to Gordon for admitting that he’d ‘messed’ with the original by sprinkling the sugar over the custard long before putting them under the grill for caramelisation… Brûlée herecy no less!  One of the challenges of a good brûlée is in the preparation of the caramelised sugar.  How thick should the sugar be?  What is the best temperature for the custard before you burn the sugar?  What method should be used to caramelise the custard?  Honestly, the list of variables is almost endless… Nonetheless, the infusion of blood orange in the basic custard was refreshing, surprising and proved that sticking to the original recipe of a simple vanilla custard and caramelised sugar is not the path to brûlée enlightenment!  However, next time Gordon, don’t mess with the product!!  6/10.

Grillmarkaðurinn (The Grill Market), Reykjavik

2014-05-13 21.11.50

Iceland is cool.  You know, not just temperature wise.  It has volcanoes.  Wild horses.  Geysers.  Lava fields. Ice.  A lot of daylight, at least in summer.  People.  Buildings.  Etc.  I give you an example; The Perlan.

2014-05-12 22.10.45


And another; The Harpa.

2014-05-12 10.45.57

What was really bizarre and a first for me, was taking an evening flight from London where it was fully dark on departure, to then fly into twilight on arrival at Keflavik Airport at 1am in the morning.  Even when I arrived at my hotel in Reykjavik an hour or so later, it still wasn’t dark.  Living on Iceland with these extremes of daylight and darkness throughout the year must but be pretty tough for the locals…

However, given this was a first time visit to Reykjavik for me, some gastronomic exploring had to be done…  My work mate, Danish Usman, found a fantastic dinner location in central Reykjavik close to the Harpa convention centre. The architecture of The Grill Market was superb with light fittings cut from lava stone and a bathroom washbasin shared with the ladies!  Lets just say it was quite a shock to see a pair of ladies hands appear through the wall as you go to wash your own…

The menu had some outstanding local specialities on it including minke whale and reindeer burgers!  Tonight’s effort was a pretty but small affair with the brûlée presented in a medium depth dish with support from a blackcurrant sorbet, plain chocolate chips, a single blackberry and raspberry and some biscuit crumbles under the sorbet.  Sugaring was light and crisp and the custard was smooth yet quite caramelly, which became a little heavy after a few mouthfuls.  Thankfully, the combination of the sharpness of the sorbet and the sweetness of the custard turned out to be a pleasant combination, and stopped the custard becoming the dominate force in this particular brûlée!  6/10.

il Lamparo, Vilamoura

2014-05-04 22.08.20

Never having been to Portugal before, I was happy when we were able to choose Vilamoura as the location of a major work conference.  Going places that you’ve not been to before makes business travel a pleasure rather than a chore…  And when you have twilight harbour views like this one…

2014-05-04 20.08.32

This particular trip was a busy one where work things occupied most of the waking hours, however given Vilamoura is a tourist location, it’s jammed with decent restaurants particularly around the harbour area.  I certainly plan to come back here on holiday some time soon given the amount of things to do and eat…

Tonight, I was initially unsure whether to break the golden rule and not order the brûlée when on the menu.  On reflection, I felt this could have been the beginning of the end, so followed the ‘rules’ and placed my order.  Thankfully, initial impressions were good.   Shallow dish, freshly cut strawberries and an intricate sugar lattice finishing touch.  I almost burned my figures on dish edge when moving it to photograph, so was concerned the custard would be overly hot rather than room temperature…  Not so!  The caramelisation was firm but not too thick for a , but looked to have bubbled under the heat of melting and caramelised a little.  In the end, nicely crisp without excessive thickness but a little sweet. Custard was vanilla pod flecked and smooth, although again, a little sweet. In the end, could be considered to be slightly heavy overall but that have had something to so with the big plate of Linguigne alla Rosso that went before. Not the best ever, but many high points, especially the presentation touches.  7/10.