Thursday, 20th December 2018 – La Nonna, Bar Douro, London
Having taken an afternoon off in order to use up the last of my holiday for 2018, and to make it easier to do some serious food shopping, I decided I would walk to Borough Market from the office. It takes a good 20 minutes at a reasonable clip, and it’s a lovely walk, past Saint Paul’s and over the Millennium Bridge.
This time I figured that as it was lunchtime and I needed to eat, instead of grazing at the street food stalls round the back of Borough Market I’d go slightly out of my way to grab some lunch at Flat Iron Square, where I knew I’d a good chance of being able to sit down to eat instead. First, though, I stopped off at the Tate Modern because there was something I wanted to look at, Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing’s Ice Watch installation, which was only on for a few days.
Outside the gallery they have installed twenty-four blocks of ice from the Nuup Kangerlua fjord in Greenland which had become detached from the ice sheet. They want people to “put their hands on the ice, listen to it, smell it, look at it – and witness the ecological changes our world is undergoing”. It’s quite shocking in some ways, and moving in others.
Once I’d taken in what was happening there, I headed away from the river and behind the Tate to get to the site of Flat Iron Square and find lunch. The last time I did that, back in October, I’d eaten a fabulous wild boar ravioli from La Nonna, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to repeat it, no matter how buttery and coated in Parmesan it was.
I did the rounds of the stalls, wasn’t too certain which way I was going to jump, and then realised that I had time to do something I’ve been wanting to do for most of this year and to try out the much-praised Bar Douro, if I could get a table. Their lunchtime menu seemed like a bargain at £9.50 for two courses and £11.50 for three, and after a few moments of shuffling about the waitress was able to source me a seat at the bar overlooking the kitchens.
This being a very Portuguese sort of place I felt I had no option but to order the pataniscas de bacalhau (salt cod fritters) to start with along with a glass of vinho verde from Minho, made by Anselmo Mendes. The wine was exactly as I’d hoped, and as I commented to the waiter it took me straight back to Macau, which is pretty much where I discovered salt cod and vinho verde in the first place.
The fritters were pretty good too, slightly chewier than some with more of a coating of batter than I had expected. They were tasty though, and the rather fiery sauce that came with them was an interesting accompaniment. I tend to prefer something like a sweet chilli sauce with mine, but this had things to recommend it too.
For a main I decided to prove that there is no such thing as too much salt cod, by ordering the salt cod hash more accurately called bacalhau à Brás. This is salt cod, olives, matchstick potatoes, and onions, the potatoes fried till crispy, and it’s all bound together with scrambled egg so you end up with a golden yellow pile of one of the world’s best comfort foods.
I wasn’t going to have the third course, but I was surrounded by people eating pastel de natas and I cracked and ordered one as well. It was a very good custard tart, perhaps as good as the ones that got me hooked in the first place back in Macau at Lord Stow’s Bakery. It was slightly warm, the pastry crisp and flaky, the custard sweet and heavy. It certainly needed that espresso to cut through it.
And then I paid my bill and dived into the maelstrom that is Borough Market four days before Christmas.