casa naranjo

Casa Naranjo
Barracks Passage, Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, Shropshire SY1 1XA
01743 588 165
www.casanaranjo.co.uk
A fleeting visit to Shrewsbury in very late November saw Katharine and I wandering down the medieval cobblestoned lanes of Shrewsbury towards this new little tapas bar for a reunion lunch. As we reached the door leading to the upstairs restaurant, we spied a band having a photo shoot a little further up the lane. They stood one behind the other, some wielding instruments (if you can wield a double bass) and others striking a pose. A photographer directed their actions from slightly higher ground. By their stance they looked a bit weary, as if they had been at this for some time and the novelty had worn off. Wonder who they were?

On a Wednesday winter’s afternoon Casa Naranjo was not busy, but the staff were welcoming. Two men, clearly related in some way to the business, ate and talked at a larger table at the back of the restaurant, whilst a lone lady lunched alone with a book nearby. We settled in, ordered two Spanish reds by the glass and starting examining the menu.

Weekday lunchtimes and Monday evenings offer a two-page listing of two tapas for £5, and we didn’t need to go beyond the choices there although the a la carte selection also looked tempting. Katharine  is a vegetarian so our choices reflected that for the most part.

Patatas mixtas (alright, we ordered two of these over the afternoon…) were perfectly cooked however the spicy sauce was a little too full of capsicum for me. Garbanzos (chickpeas) cooked with spinach, Seville-style were just divine. The spicy lentils with vegetables were also a favourite. The dressed Zamorano cheese was just lovely but I think a little too much, especially given that we used the generous basket of fresh bread to help us eat it. It was our gluttony, rather than the cheese, that was at fault. I threw in a tapa of butterbeans with chorizo and onion as token meat-eater, and Katharine ordered the croquettes of the week: cheesy garlicky mouthfuls of heaven.

The bill was just £31 for two, including three glasses of wine which amounted to just under £10. We were stuffed for the afternoon, and in fact I didn’t eat for the rest of the day. The food was great, and the service was lovely, very friendly but on a couple of occasions a little vague: given how quiet the restaurant was, we assumed we had the new guy who was just finding his feet. Indeed, it turned out he had just moved over from near Barcelona to work there.

Definitely a place to return to, especially on a Monday night for a cheap and enjoyable dinner.

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eau de vie

233 Chapel St, Prahran, 3181
(03) 9510 0955

A cold, wet Saturday night out after a long 24-hour hen night. Tired and seedy and in need of sustenance, four of us sought refuge in the cosiness of Eau de Vie for an early dinner.

We warmed up and ordered some drinks: a couple of glasses of shiraz for myself and one other, water for everyone else. The specials sounded good, so we included a couple as we chose our dishes for the evening. The waitress considered what we’d ordered and suggested that she bring them out in complementary groups. Nice touch.

We started out with a small but explosively delicious plate of thinly sliced kingfish carpaccio, seasoned with rock salt,shallots and line leaf oil. A tiny morsel each, but that’s all we needed. Amazing.

Grouped together, they served us a tiny skillet of spicy chickpeas cooked in coconut cream, another sizzling dish of sliced chorizo baked with pear and cider, a generous portion of slow-roasted lamb with pumpkin and pinenuts, and a side of perfect crispy roasted potato bites. A bowl of rocket salad with parmesan and candied walnut completed the feast.

There was just enough of each dish to get a decent tasting between four people: as you know, I dislike sharing, especially  tapa-sized dishes with larger groups. We grazed until there was not a morsel of food in any dish, and left satisfied.

The only tiny gripe I would mention would be that we all found the lighting a little on the dark side. It was irritating reading the menu, and the beautifully-presented dishes lost a little at table because we simply could not see well enough. The other worry was that about half the seating was on simple wooden stools around trestle tables. I simply could not have sit comfortably on a little stool like that for long, and it would be a deal-breaker for me if they didn’t have a proper chair for me next time I went back.

I didn’t check it out myself, but I understand this little place offers free wifi as well – something that should be encouraged with our future business.

Eau de Vie on Urbanspoon

Denn Restaurant

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113 High Street, Northcote

A bon voyage lunch for Karina brought us to Denn restaurant in Northcote, a part of the city Orlando and I rarely frequent. A strip of cafes, bars, boutiques, coffee grinders and funky independent movie rental stores looked like it was worth a longer look on another Saturday afternoon. Bar Nancy, in particular, caught my attention, and will be the subject of another post in the future.

Denn sits next door to its sister bar, Ember (where you get 10% discount on showing your Denn receipt). The place is a little tardis-like, stretching far back to a bright airy extension with a tiny courtyard – a good place for a blast of sheltered sunshine on a wintry day perhaps.

The wine list looked fairly acceptable and reasonably-priced, however the selection of wines by the glass was a little disappointing. In terms of red, there was little more than one choice per grape variety.

The menu is modern Mediterranean, with a slight focus on wood-fired pizza and pasta. A short lunch menu caught the attention of most of our table of nine, with a dozen or so choices all for less than $15.

My choice was the “lunch pizza”, the name and $10 price tag suggesting a more modest size than usual, with chorizo, Spanish onion, feta cheese and black olives. The vegetarian pizza was also a popular choice, with goat’s cheese, spinach, zucchini and green peas. When served, they were standard sized pizzas, generously topped and cooked to perfection in the wood oven.

The fish and chips looked good but the chips were nothing to write home about. The pasta version of my chorizo pizza looked a little disappointing, with the half-moons of chorizo a little under-cooked for my liking. The Mexican breakfast of eggs, chorizo, avocado and home-baked beans again could have done with bit more cooking on the chorizo, but was a fine brunch choice. Karina’s seafood linguine looked divine with plenty of shellfish in evidence including a couple of juicy-looking Moreton Bay bugs.

Service was average: it took a while to get our first and subsequent drinks, and at times we felt as if we were a bit of an irritation, with waiters trying to walk off in the middle of a large drinks order. My English breakfast tea had to be sent back as I’d asked for a weak tea, and what came out was unusually strong: the cafetiere had about three times the normal amount of tea leaves in. When I asked for it to be replaced, the waiter came back with a jog of hot water and I had to explain that the tea was not drinkable at all. She happily replaced my cafetiere, assuring me it was weak this time, but the same amount of tea leaves were used and it was still undrinkable. I gave up.

Nonetheless, Denn was an excellent choice for a leisurely lunch. I would have to be convinced that their service could put up with a busier evening crowd, but it’s worth a try at those price. Lunch with plenty of wine and beer for nine people was $229, only $25 a head.

Saganaki

>62 NewQuay Promenade, Docklands, VIC
http://www.saganaki.com.au/

A night out with some colleagues, two of whom don’t eat glutens and one of whom doesn’t eat seafood, meant that the Melbourne defaults of Italian or seafood were out. Greek it was.

It started well. Very well. Friendly staff, prompt wine service, lovely dips and bread. The conversation flowed, we perused the menu. The blokes went for large plates of meat of the souvlaki-sans-bread kind, and the girls shared mezze. Meatballs: gorgeous, done in a sundried tomato saucey thing. Cabbage salad: so good we ordered it twice. Lemonade potatoes: ditto. Grilled calamari: came in a complete grilled body, amazingly tender, perfectly grilled. Apparently the secret is to marinate in kiwi fruit beforehand. It went on and on.

Then we asked for the bill. Seven people, $50 each. No problem. Two of us remarked on the difference between the UK and Australia, in that you had to carry more cash than usual in Australia because of weird restaurants rules and the non-global acceptance of cards. It turned out, it was true of this restaurant. Three of us had cards, four had cash. The waitress did not know how to put through more than one card, and insisted that the only option we had was for at least two of the card-holders to take a ten-minute return trip to the nearest ATM in a howling gale on a windy horrible night (and one of them didn’t have a coat). Luckily I had cash myself (but only because I had found $25 in my coat pocket). The others. the ones with only cards, were ropable.

We paid and left. Despite the good food, the old-fashioned approach to bill-paying will prevent me from going there again. Who carries that much cash around with them?

colmao flamenco

>60 Johnston Street Fitzroy
www.colmaoflamenco.com

With one gluten-free dining companion and another that doesn’t eat anything that swims, where does one go for dinner? Not Italian. Not seafood. Not Thai: we had that the week before. I know, I thought: tapas and a nice bottle of Spanish red. Perfect for an unseasonably cold April night.

Our original destination on Johnston Street was the bar next door. Kanela looked inviting enough until I realised that it was the very bar upon which I had danced – sober – on a birthday night out years ago. I am not sure if I thought somebody in there would recognise me, with more than ten years gone by and a good 10kg piled on. Anyway, it did not seem right so we headed to Colmao.

We were greeted by a friendly face, white starched tablecloths and a neighbouring table of Spanish people: a family celebrating a birthday. Promising. I was delighted to see one of my favourite Spanish wines on the list. The 2001 Pata Negra Valdepeñas was not as divine as the 1991 Gran Reserva, but it was still fabulous: a welcome change from an Australian wine.

We ate. A lot. It was all finger-licking delicious: well, except for the tortilla which should be the best bit but was a bit tired-looking and – dare I say – microwaved? The patatas bravas were crinkle-cut and perfectly cooked. The capsicum-laden spicy sauce was not for me but I bravely ate around it.

The garlic prawns were garlicky and full of chilli. The albondigas were firm in a lovey tomatoey sauce. The Champinoñes Maytip, sautéed in oregano, olive oil and white wine, were new to me but full of flavour. The chorizo was braised in tomato, onion, garlic and white wine. The baby octopus was delivered in a clay pot in a rich caramelised sauce full of green peas. To die for.

We ordered more albondigas, more garlic prawns. We knew we would be hell to sit beside next morning but to hell with it.

We ordered another bottle of Pata Negra. Silly not to.

In the end, full to pussy’s bow and with Swine Flu seriously warded off with all that garlic, we gave up. Well, what I mean is that I ordered flan and we shared it. However, after all that red wine I am afraid I cannot really remember if it was good or not.

On some nights at Colmao they have a flamenco singer and guitarist. Must go back for that and some more of those garlic prawns.

Bis Cucina

>Foster Street, Sale, Victoria

There are two restaurants in Sale listed int he Good Food Guide – no, make it one. Marlay’s closed down recently.

We are left with Bis Cucina, in the modern Arts Centre building. From the outside it looks more like a casual cafe, but in the evening the ambience is inviting as you drive past the floor-to-ceiling windows.

I have eaten there twice, once alone and once with a colleague. On both occasions the service was outstanding: friendly, attentive, knowledgeable and discreet. Their home-made ravioli with a carrot, corn and parmesan sauce is to die for, but I bet you’ll never finish a full portion. No matter: the maitre d’ will happily package your leftovers for you to take home.

A lovely wine list full of local options too.

Almost worth a trip to Sale just to visit!