On to Stockholm for four or five days – a city I had never seen but must now place high on the list of favourites. We came upon free rock concerts just across the water from the Parliament buildings, paused to admire the mounted brass band and timpani of the Royal Guard as they played in the courtyard of the Palace, visited some exceptional museums (especially the one built to house the Vasa, that remarkable but unlucky ship that sank after sailing only a few hundred yards on her maiden voyage in 1628) and tasted many delicious things. Best of all was the grilled reindeer at Slingerbulten (incredibly tender, lean, sweet meat) and the mildly salted bleak roe on fried bread at Sture Hof. Almost as good was a dinner in one of the labyrinthine basement rooms of Den Gyldene Freden – a bit of a tourist trap but full of charm. I had heavy cured herring with capers and perfect little boiled new potatoes; delicate, much more lightweight herring with sour cream and a bitter spicy edge from horseradish; sweeter, saltier herring with honey and cherries; and cheese that had been drowned in aquavit for two days. These dishes comprised the first course, to be followed by wild duck (the breast pink and pleasingly tender, the leg frenched and confited).
Wendy and I had hoped to visit our old friend Goran Amnegard who has built an extraordinary hotel/restaurant/vineyard a couple of hours west of the city (his Vidal Icewine wins prizes regularly at the major French wine fairs) but he and his family were away on holiday in Italy. Next time…
Then it was a quick hop to Berlin where we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with a lavish dinner at the 2-Michelin-starred Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer. The room was delightful – like a peaceful library in a large country house but with a view of the Brandenburg Gate – and the service exemplary. Chef Hendrick Otto’s cooking is in the very haute modern French-European style – complex and clever and evolved. Every component is orchestrated to the nines but such is his mastery of harmony that nothing is ever remotely dissonant: it’s like listening to Haydn played by the Berlin Philharmonic – super if you love Haydn. A parfait of goose liver for example, was graced with brioche cream, orange, coffee and polenta, the natural texture of each ingredient transformed… Silver salmon received the blessing of a white bean fumé, an escabeche of vegetables, tiny cubes of jellied salt water as well as mango and bell pepper. Scallop and pork belly flirted with a curry emulsion, moments of banana, fennel, artichoke and passion fruit… And so on. The wines chosen by the sommelier were all fine but nothing breathtakingly good and original – things like Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc and Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner that seem fairly commonplace in Toronto (I was hoping for some spectacular German wines). But it was all very fine but ultimately not nearly as satisfying and pleasurable as the whole turbot we shared for lunch the next day down on Quarré’s sidewalk tables along Unter der Linden. It’s not a fish one comes across often any more – and I can’t really afford it when I do – but we were still under the anniversary spell.
And now we are in Corfu, at our old house, getting ready to go up to the bar where our koubaros, Philip (aka Pakis) has finally decided the moment has come to offer food as well as drink. He has built a small but impressive kitchen, taken on a business partner in a chef called Spiro, and proposes a small menu of mezethes that will change every night according to the whim of the management. We have been asking Philip to do food for more than 30 years but he has always dismissed the idea, though he is a fabulous cook. How will tonight’s mezethes turn out? Please watch this space.