The Week in Bites <br> 25 June 2016

The Week in Bites <br> 25 June 2016

A Taste of Bilbao

This week at Fine Dining Lovers we kicked things off with a tasting tour of Bilbao, Spain.

The city is home to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which is just celebrating its 20th anniversary. To mark the occasion we reached out to Josean Alija, who presides over the museum's Michelin-starred restaurant called Nerua.

Alija was kind enough to together a guide to eating and drinking in Bilbao for Fine Dining Lovers, so you can dine like a local in the city and discover everything it has to offer.

Check out his recommendations[1].

Curious About Konjac

How much do you know about konjac? This Asian plant has varied uses and a host of health benefits so we ventured to find out more.

Here are 26 fun facts you probably didn't know about konjac.[2]

In the blog

This week in the blog we brought you an app that chooses your best food pics[3], a fun guide on how to pair wine and cheese[4] and announced the schedule for the #50BestTalks from Barcelona[5].


  1. ^ Check out his recommendations (
  2. ^ Here are 26 fun facts you probably didn't know about konjac. (
  3. ^ an app that chooses your best food pics (
  4. ^ how to pair wine and cheese (
  5. ^ #50BestTalks from Barcelona (

Greek food enters the fine dining world

Thalia Tsichlakis, who signed this article, is a Greek food writer and contributor for FNL Guide[1], as well as many other important magazines and websites.


Souvlaki, tzatziki, Greek salad and moussaka [2]have been identified with Greece’s culinary image to such an extent, that it is usually rather rare for an unsuspected traveler to attempt and actually discover this country’s fine dining scene. A stop in Athens [3]however, offers great opportunities for foodies-travelers to discover how attractive this new Greek cuisine[4] can be and how cleverly it picks up the baton from the traditional one. 

Modern and local Greek cuisine

Once the summer arrives and the heat becomes unbearable, the Athenians opt for garden restaurants. You will find them at the Greek creative cuisine restaurant Aleria, set in a beautiful neoclassical building with a green inner courtyard, where chef Ghikas Xenakis proposes a revisited Greek cuisine. At Athiri restaurant, located close by and with an equally charming and luscious green courtyard, chef Alexandros Kardassis offers his own, comfort version of Greek local cuisine dishes. At Manh-Manh, very close to the Acropolis Museum, chef Alexandros Fouroulis is inspired by the Peloponnesian cuisine, to which he gives his own interpretation by discreetly adding his personal touch.

Greek food enters the fine dining world

57 Megalou Alexandrou St, Metaxourgeio
Tel. 210 5222633, Website[5]

15 Plateon St, Keramikos
Tel. 210 3462983, Website[6]

10 Falirou St, Koukaki
Tel. 210 9218180, Website[7]

A short distance from the National Gallery and the Hilton hotel is Cookoovaya, a restaurant that serves modern Greek cuisine and favours the Greek tradition of sharing dishes. Within walking distance lies the iconic restaurant of chef-restaurateur Aris Vezenes, famous for its hospitality and always the talk of the town, but also the comfort zone of all meat lovers in the city. At Vezene  you don't go just for the food – you go to see the meeting place for every Athenian foodie. Next to it is one of the very few restaurants serving purely modern urban Greek cuisine, Vassilenas, which offers very good value for money and a carefully put together list of Greek wines.

2A Chatzigianni Mexi St
Tel. 210 7235005, Website[8]

11 Vrasida St, Hilton Athens area
Tel. 210 7232002, Website[9]

13 Vrasida St, Hilton area 
Tel. 210 7210501, Website[10]

Fine dining in Athens - with and without a Greek Twist

Surely a country's cuisine cannot have a strictly national character, nor can it be perceived as a local relic. When dining outside the comfort zone, at fine dining restaurants, taste becomes a global cause and the quest for purely Greek flavours ceases to be the priority. I will first mention the two Athenian restaurants whose young chefs excelled at the semi-finals of the S. Pellegrino Young Chef competition[11].

The first is CTC[12], where chef-owner Alexandros Tsiotinis[13] (S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2015) proposes a very refined cuisine which draws on French aesthetics but also uses exceptional Greek gourmet products. The second one, Botrini's, a little further away from the Athens city centre, is also worth a visit: the restaurant’s assistant head chef, Nikolaos Billis (S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2016) and chef-owner Ettore Botrini (chef of the top-tier Etrusco restaurant in Corfu) propose a delicious avant-garde menu, demonstrating that high gastronomy with a Greek twist does indeed exist. 

Greek food enters the fine dining world

14 Oumplianis St and 27 Diocharous St, Ilisia
Tel. 210 722881, Website[14]

24b Vassileos Georgiou B’, Halandri
Tel. 2106857323-4, Website[15]

Funky Gourmet adopts the same logic and is also on the same wavelength. At Funky Gourmet, chefs Georgianna Chiliadiaki and Nikos Roussos (chef of the Opsco [16]restaurant in London), propose a modern Greek cuisine based on three tasting menus inspired by the Greek products and their seasonality. Another restaurant definitely worth visiting in order to experience the gourmet side of Greek gastronomy, this time expressed by chef Tasos Mantis, is Hytra, located on the 6th floor and, in the summer, on the rooftop of the Onassis Cultural Centre, overlooking the Acropolis. Première, the rooftop restaurant of the Athenaeum Intercontinental hotel, also with a breathtaking view of the Acropolis, is less focused on Greek cuisine, although Greek products do feature on the cosmopolitan menu created by chef Michalis Nourloglou.

Funky Gourmet[17]
13 Paramythias St & Salaminos St, Keramikos
Tel. 210 5242727

107-109 Syngrou Ave
Tel. 210 3316767 - 217 7071118

89-93 Syngrou Ave
Tel. 210 9206000

Finally, the list of iconic Athenian restaurants would not be complete without Spondi, worth visiting not only for its lovely urban courtyard but also for its refined, award-winning French cuisine, as well as Varoulko Seaside, the top fish restaurant of popular chef Lefteris Lazarou who, with his assistant head chef, Yannis Parikos, proposes a fine cuisine that brings together all the flavours of the Greek sea.

5 Pyrronos St, Pangrati
Tel. 210 7564021 and 210 7520658

Varoulko Seaside[21]
52 Akti Koumoundourou, Mikrolimano, Piraeus
Tel. 210 5228400


Greek food enters the fine dining world

Follow Fine Dining Lovers on Facebook [22]


  1. ^ FNL Guide (
  2. ^ moussaka (
  3. ^ Athens (
  4. ^ Greek cuisine (
  5. ^ Website (
  6. ^ Website (
  7. ^ Website (
  8. ^ Website (
  9. ^ Website (
  10. ^ Website (
  11. ^ S. Pellegrino Young Chef competition (
  12. ^ CTC (
  13. ^ Alexandros Tsiotinis (
  14. ^ Website (
  15. ^ Website (
  16. ^ Opsco (
  17. ^ Funky Gourmet (
  18. ^ Hytra (
  19. ^ Première (
  20. ^ Spondi (
  21. ^ Varoulko Seaside (
  22. ^ Follow Fine Dining Lovers on Facebook (

Cooking the Classics: Madrid Cocido

I spent a wonderful month living in Madrid. The most memorable meal during that sojourn was a dish that I’d not heard of before: it is simple, not dissimilar to French or English plates of boiled meat and veg, but with a distinctively Spanish feel to it. It’s call cocido, and it is one of the world’s great comfort foods.

What is cocido recipe

Cocido recipe is built on the humble chickpea. But the presentation of the dish is augmented in that what could potentially be described as a meat and chickpea stew (though this does not do justice to the wonderfulness of the dish), is made more elaborate in that restaurants often serve this single dish in multiple courses.

Meat, vegetables and chickpeas are simmered together, and can be later dissected into three course (broth with noodles, chickpeas and veggies, then meat) or two (vegetables and broth, then meat), depending on the proclivities of the eatery.

Cooking the Classics: Madrid Cocido

So what goes into it? The dish is built on various meats (bacon, cured ham, marrow bones, boiled in water to create a rich broth. Soaked chickpeas are then added to this, followed by vegetables (traditionally onion, turnip, carrot and, last so they don’t cook to disintegration, potato).

Cabbage fried in garlic is prepared separately, to maintain the preferred texture, and likewise the spicy sausage and blood sausage are sautéed in another pan, because to boil them would mean staining the broth and harm the aesthetic.

Then there’s a sort of croquette that can likewise be prepared in a separate pan, made of eggs, garlic and breadcrumbs smooshed together and fried in oil.vTo serve the broth course, pull out the meat, add noodles, and bring to a boil, to create a noodle soup.

The chickpeas and vegetables become the second course, laid out on a plate, while the croquettes and meat are the third. Each round is called a vuelco, which means “tipping out,” since the ingredients for each course are tipped out of the main casserole in which the main components were simmered.

The history of madrid cocido

Cocido is firmly linked to Madrid, but likely has medieval origins in the Sephardic Jewish dish called adafina. Adafina was traditionally eaten on the Sabbath, part of an arsenal of delicious Jewish dishes that cooked for a long time and were even better after they had sat.

Because observant Jews are not allowed to work on the Sabbath (that means no cooking), they needed to prepare something the day before that could be eaten on their day off.

Cooking the Classics: Madrid Cocido

Adhering to the word of the law, they would place a stew in an earthenware pot, full of a meal’s worth of ingredients, and lay it on embers before sundown the day before the Sabbath. Leaving it there to cook overnight, it would be ready by lunch the following day, so it could be eaten without any further preparation. Ashkenazi Jews call their Sabbath stew cholent, while Sephardic Jews call it adafina.

The dish rose in popularity in the 19th century, since it was hearty and cheap, good fuel for blue collar laborers eating at taverns in the city.

How to use cocido leftovers

Since I love recycling and getting multiple meals out of a single effort, I like the tradition of using leftover parts of cocido to make other dishes.

There are three that are traditionally made with the bits and bobs left after a cocido fiesta. Pringà takes the leftover meat and cooks it long enough for it to disintegrate into a sort of pate that can be spread on toast. Making a hash of the leftover meat and veg, and serving it over rice (and with plantains and yucca, if you’re in Cuba) results in ropa vieja.

And croquetas take leftover starches, coat them in breadcrumbs and fry them up. For aficionados, there’s a website dedicated to this dish, recommending various versions around Madrid.


Mussels From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

Au gratin. Breadcrumbs are the essential ingredient of mussels cooked “au gratin” in the oven, one of the best ways to enjoy this mollusc.

Blue. Mytilus Edilis, the so-called “Blue mussel”, is native to the North Atlantic ocean.

Chorito. The most popular Chilean name for mussels. In this South American country the most widely consumed variety is the Mytilus Chilensis, a typical food of Chiloé, an archipelago in South Chile renowned for a cuisine that melds Spanish influences with those of the Mapuche Amerindian ethnic group.

Debeard. The byssus is the hairy “beard” sprouting from between the two valves which has to be removed by pulling it upwards towards the hinged end of the shell.

Mussels From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

Eighth Century. The first mussel farm apparently dates back as far as the late VIII century and was located in France.

Frites. Moules et Frites, mussels and chips are the national dish of Belgium, even though it has now spread throughout France. The mussels may be cooked in various different ways: “marinière”, with cream, without any particular seasoning, with a lemon and mustard sauce, with beer or garlic.

Gill. Mussels filter a huge amount of water through their gills, while retaining the particles and micro organisms contained in it. Therefore, they easily become a receptacle of dangerous bacteria and/or viruses, according to where they live and grow.

Hepatitis. It's probably the most famous disease that may be contracted from mussels, reminding how much important is freshness and quality when buying seafood.

Impepata. Impepata di cozze is a traditional dish of Neapolitan cuisine which is now popular throughout Italy; it is characterized by the abundant quantity of black pepper – hence its name - used to season the mussels.

Japan. The Mytilus gallo provincialis is the typical variety of the Mediterranean sea – but it is also native to the Black Sea and some areas of the Eastern Atlantic coast. It has now even reached Japan.

Kcal. Just 58 kcal to 100 grams!

Luxury. Provencal mussels are similar to the Marinière recipe, with the addition of tomatoes and herbs, such as thyme and Rosemary. In the eighteenth century, the luxury version called for champagne rather than wine. A century later, truffles also found their way into this recipe.

Mussels From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

Mejillónes rellenos. These delicious Basque and Spanish tapas are also known as Mejillónes tigre – tiger mussels. The half shell containing the mussel is filled with a béchamel sauce of one kind or another – with onion, tomato etc. – before being breaded and fried to form a delicious golden crust, all around the shell too.

No pearl? Don’t believe it: pearls are not only the prerogative of oysters. It is possible to find one even in a common mussel. Last year, some scientists of Oxford University found a colony of Mediterranean mussels containing rare black pearls. The previous sighting of a pearl inside a mussel dated back as far as 1965.

Open. Why is it essential for mussels to open up during cooking? To enable the heat to reach the heart of the mollusc in order to kill all bacteria.

Pendant. Some fine hand-crafted pendants and jewellery can be made from blue mother-of-pearl mussel shells.

Quagga. The Dreissena bugensis is a freshwater mussel species. Originally from Ukraine, it has threateningly invaded the Great North American Lakes where it arrived by ship. Its consumption is not recommended owing to an accumulation of toxins.

Mussels From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

Reddish. Mussels are of different genders. The fertile Mediterranean females are characterized by the reddish nuances of their flesh, which is sweeter in flavour with a slight smell of iodine.

Spick and span. If the shell is encrusted with barnacles, don’t worry – usually it is a good sign and may indicate that the mussel is wild. Nevertheless, its colour must be bright and limpid.

Trondheim. The Norwegian city hosting the Havfruen Fiskerestaurant, which holds the world record for the most abundant portion of mussels: over 4.898 kg.

Unite. The filaments of the beard firmly unite the mollusc to the surface it is attached to. The strength of this “glue” is such that scientists have been trying for some years now to reproduce it with a view to manufacturing new synthetic materials of equal resistance and elasticity.

Vitamin B12. Spirulina aside, mussels, together with clams, mackerel, herrings and liver are the top foods containing this vitamin.

Wine. Moules à la marinière, one of the most popular mussel dishes worldwide, are cooked with white wine, together with garlic or shallot, parsley and oil or butter.

Mussels From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

XXX. In various cultures, Southern Italy for instance, mussels are thought to be aphrodisiac and, for this reason, are eaten raw with a sprinkling of lemon juice, with all the inherent risks.

Years. How old is a mussel? The age of the mollusc determines its texture and flavour: in the “old” creatures – 4 year-old or more - the latter may be too strong and rather unpleasant.

Zebra. Mussels are listed as one of the 100 most dangerous and invasive species in the world. Of these, one of the most damaging is the Dreissena polymorpha, the zebra mussel from Russia, which is similar to the quagga.


Cooking the Classics: Italian Zeppole

“To every nation its doughnut,” is a saying that nobody has ever said, but I really think they should. There are so many variations on doughnuts that’s it’s hard to know where to start. This is the season for Italy’s answer to the deep-fried-and-sweet question. I lived in Venice, where the month of February brought frittelle, the best of which were available in the incognito super cappuccino bar, Da Bonifacio, hidden down an alley behind the Ducal Prison. Though I’ve lived in Venice, Florence, Orvieto and Rome, southern Italy is uncharted territory for me.

Cooking the Classics: Italian Zeppole

Even Italians will tell you that, south of Rome, it’s like a different country. Napoli, certainly, feels like it could be a Levantine or North African city where they happen to speak a (dialect-ridden version of) Italian. The food is amazing, the climate quite distinct, and the culture and traditions, well, different from the central belt between Rome and Florence that is so heavily touristy, and the industrial, perhaps somewhat more Teutonic north. Down south is like the wild west, but the art and food are amazing. Which brings me to zeppole.

What are zeppole?

Zeppole (zeppola in the singular) is a traditional doughnut-like fritter that, rather than stuffed, is twisted into a coil and topped with yumminess. It looks more like those trendy cronuts, puffy and torqued, like a braided churro, with deep-fried choux pastry providing a nest of your choice of topping: old school butter and honey, ricotta and chocolate chips, cream, jam, zabaglione – you name it. March 19 is the Feast of Saint Joseph, which is prime time for zeppole.

You can find more American-style round ring doughnuts covered in sugar, called ciambelle, all over Italy. But these are not true to the territory. Zeppole are, and while you can get them just about anywhere in Italy these days, their true home is anywhere south of Rome (where they are called Bigne di San Giuseppe), southern Lazio (where they are sfinge), but particularly in Salerno. Their deliciousness, and the expansion of Italian immigrants, means that you can find them, with different names, abroad: In Istria, they are called blenzi; in Malta they’re made savoury and stuffed with anchovies; Italian-Americans call them crispelli.

Cooking the Classics: Italian Zeppole

The history of Italian zeppole

The Feast of Saint Joseph began as a thanksgiving celebration for the saint allegedly having saved the island of Sicily from a drought at some point during the 10th century and was declared an official Catholic holiday in 1479. This led to Joseph being named “patron saint of pastry chefs,” which is what I think I’d like to be named, if I am ever canonised (it’s a sweeter deal than Saint Crispin, patron saint of cobblers). But deep-frying, because it used so much oil, was not cost-effective and was not regularly done until much later, so zeppole are a newer addition to the March 19 celebrations. Some cite the convent of Santa Patrizia in Naples as having first made zeppole (a baked version, rather than deep-fried), back in the 16th century. But everyone seems to agree that it was made popular by Pasquale Pintauro, a 19th century baker in Naples, who set up a cart on the street every March 19 to sell to celebrating pedestrians. Pasquale, we salute you.

How to make zeppole

Now, I’m not very good with pastry or with deep-frying. I am guaranteed to spray hot oil all over the room, sneeze at an inopportune moment to send a snowfall of powder sugar onto the dog, and otherwise make a mess of things. I avoid making pastries and avoid deep-frying. Though you can bake zeppole, the hardcore version is fried. It was inevitable that I would shower the kitchen with projectile ingredients when trying my hand at it. And the prophecy came true.

My boiling water, salt, sugar and butter (slightly) overflowed and stuck to the pot, despite recipes with a specific warning not to let it boil over and that it might stick to the pot. The flour went in smoothly (both into the pot and onto the cooktop), but my beating in of the eggs resulted in clumps of gooey-ness shimmying around the workspace, dropping to the hob and scorching onto it. I’m impatient and didn’t let it cool enough before pouring it into a pastry bag, and (slightly) burned myself. The hot oil into which I squeezed out the pastry sputtered all around. I managed to undercook or overcook the pastry in the hot oil, then had it boiling too forcefully so the pastry explodes. But the few that came out right, topped with ricotta and chocolate chips, still hot and greasy, were totally killer. Still, all in all, I’d rather let Pasquale make one for me.

So, happy Saint Joseph’s Day! Now I’m off to hose down my kitchen…