In which we return from Europe

Jeff and I recently spent two fantastic weeks in Europe, with stops in Paris, Amsterdam, London and Stockholm. It’s good to be home again, and although I miss the constant dining out for all meals, I am happy to eat simply at home for the next little while.

Eating well in European cities on a budget is a little challenging, but can be done. Like most things in life, a little bit of advance research makes all the difference. I gathered suggestions from friends and a few online resources, and have to give extra props to the travel section of the guardian.

We also saved money by steering clear of tourist trap restaurants that clustered around the largest tourist sites and districts in most cities we visited. Paris and Amsterdam were a couple of the worst offenders. Usually all we had to do was walk a few streets away to find better food at better prices. Choosing hotels located further away from the busiest parts of town helped a lot too.

Some of the food highlights of our trip included:

Van Kerkwijk – Amsterdam.

This place was amazing. Excellent food, friendly service. Rather than perusing the menu, your server simply tells you what’s on the menu that night, you choose, you eat, you swoon. Fantastic atmosphere, no reservations required. Chefs are inspired by what’s in season, and prepare simply cooked but phenomenal food. I had a great pumpkin soup as a starter and a very nice steak, and finished with apple pie with whipped cream (we were in the Netherlands after all). Jeff had the house pate and chose the veal, which came with a nice apple chutney.

Cafe Gruter – Amsterdam.

I was looking for gezellig in Amsterdam, and found it not just at Hotel Zandbergen, which was so comfortable and homey and well, gezellig, but also in spades at this cafe just down the street. I had the best sandwich of my life, to date.

Chevre, bacon and a drizzle of honey

Ulla Winbladh – Stockholm

Our dear friends’ wedding reception took place here. I was lucky to sit beside someone who has lived in Stockholm for many years so I asked her to help me choose a fantastic meal that would really represent Swedish cuisine. I had reindeer tartar with pickled chanterelles, gotland truffle and croutons to start and grilled pike-perch with langoustine tail, langoustine broth, grapefruit and fennel salad, lemon aioli and boiled potatoes*. Quite possibly one of the best meals of my life. Fantastic wedding cake too. Also one of the best weddings I’ve ever been to; small, simple, elegant, and gave us a reason to visit Stockholm!

*No, my memory isn’t that great – just copied and pasted from their menu!

Husman’s Deli – Stockholm

When you go to Stockholm’s Saluhall, you should go to Husman’s Deli for lunch. In addition to selling all sorts of lovely things for people to take home, you can find a seat at their counter and have a nice hot meal. I had Swedish meatballs (how could I not?) and Jeff had a corned beef hash with cubes of potato and beetroot. Simple but extremely delicious.

Princess Louise – London

This is a fantastic pub. We met up with Jeff’s uncle, aunt and cousin here for a few pints but also chatted with some warm and friendly locals. The pub is partitioned off into sections, and each section has their own access to the large, circular bar. A beautiful example of a restored Victorian pub.

Pret – London

When we first arrived in London, I was tired, crabby and hungry. I needed food, NOW.  Went to a Pret, had a fantastic sandwich and a cup of tea, and felt immensely better almost immediately. Our time in London was quite limited, so we ended up in Pret a couple more times, mainly for quick breakfasts. Their chicken, roasted stuffing & fruity chutney sandwich was my fave.

Now for a quiet word about Paris. I wanted to come back from my trip and tell you about fantastic places to go and eat in Paris. I really did. Paris has captured everyone’s imaginations for so long as one of the pinnacles of eating experiences, and yes, we ate very very well while visiting. I think the bar is set so high there that we couldn’t help but eat well and I think we just started to take it for granted. Even the pizza we had in a dodgy-looking hole in the wall was brilliant.

I can tell you that we were happier with places we discovered ourselves than we were with recommendations from others. There was something about the happy accident of stopping somewhere neat because we were hungry and the place felt right – like Le Cafe Divan on rue de la Roquette – we went twice because we liked it so much,  or Folie’s Cafe, which was near our hotel.

Sometimes by the time we took the metro, got ourselves sorted, oriented and headed toward somebody’s restaurant suggestion, making sure that we weren’t there too early or too late, there was no way it was going to be able to live up to the hype. We also had some great meals, with lotsa wine, and by the time I glided out, I couldn’t be bothered to take a quick photo of the restaurant name, or note the address, because all I cared about was getting back to the hotel.

However, this is what I do remember:

I like pastis now. A nice server brought me some Ricard and showed me how to add the correct amount of water. Delicious apéritif!

I had to stop buying pain au chocolat every time I saw a pâtisserie because good pain au chocolat is not an endangered, rare species in Paris like it is in Toronto.

I’m addicted to Nutella again.

We got great results by asking locals where they like to eat. Whenever I had a conversation with a shopkeeper, I would ask them for advice. Everyone likes to talk about their favourite places to eat, and Parisians are no exception.

Rue Mouffetard is where I’d like to spend the rest of my life. If you check out my latest Flickr uploads, it will quickly become clear.

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