Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Riga - Latvia

I'm hopeless when it comes to travel posts, I find them very time consuming to write as I have to go through hundreds of pictures and try and remember all the different places I visited. I'm making a promise to myself to finish this series of Baltic posts before I make a start on my holidays since.

I sat down to write this a little while ago but once I stared looking through the pictures I couldn't remember what anything was so I've had to go home and dig out my travel book to refresh myself, anyway I digress.

Riga, the capital city of Latvia and our third overnight destination of the trip. After three nights in Lithuania, one in Kaunas and two in Vilnius we caught the bus to Riga having prebooked tickets via Ecolines for roughly £15 per person. The bus takes around 4.5 hours and is a pleasant journey through the flat, green countryside.

We spent 2 nights in Riga which was perfect, it's a small city and most sights can be done in a day. We stayed at the Old City Boutique Hotel which is a charming little place split into a modern and old section. I booked a room in the old section as it was slightly cheaper (from €60 a night) and included in the room rate was a fantastic breakfast buffet with hot and cold food a plenty. The room was nice, a little dated but comfortable and the bathroom even has a bathtub which is something not that common these days. I would definitely stay here again as the location was perfect, it only took 5 minutes to walk to the central bus station (and train station) and we were situated in the beautifully quaint old town.

We arrived in Riga in the afternoon and once we'd checked into the hotel we ventured into the town centre for lots of exploring. I'm a big fan of museums, I love checking out local art, ancient texts, and medieval artefacts but you'll find most museums in Europe closed on a Monday. Guess what day we arrived in Riga? Anyway, a quick flick through my guidebook reassured me that we weren't missing out on too much so we began our walk around the historic old town checking out plenty of beautiful buildings like churches, government offices and castle ruins.

We started at the famous Central Market which is actually next to the station, just outside the old town. Situated in five enormous zeppelin hangars, the market is a foodies paradise with rows upon rows of local produce. We picked up some lovely fresh bread and fruit to snack on whilst trying to blend in with the locals doing their weekly shop.

Blackhead's House - a 14th century fraternity for unmarried German merchants

The Blackhead's House Christmas Tree memorial plaque in the main square

The controversial Latvian Riflemen Monument i.e. Lenin's personal bodyguards

Next to this monument is the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia which we did manage to visit the following day. Much akin to the museum we visited in Vilnius the account of Nazi and Soviet occupation was informative if not harrowing. The museum has a vast amount of literature to read and you could easily spend a couple of hours taking everything in.

St Peter's Lutheran Church

One of the Three Brothers' houses - this is over 600 years old and the oldest stone dwelling in town

Jacob's Barracks next to Riga Castle

Cat House

In the old town you can also visit Riga Castle and lots of the old city gates, take your time walking around as you can easily visit these historic buildings in a few hours.

The Freedom Monument marks the border between the old and new town and is now a symbol for freedom from the fierce Soviet rule last century

The magnificent Russian Orthodox Cathedral

  Views from the Skyline bar at the Raddison Blu Hotel (do you sense a theme?)

The industrial and busy new town is in stark difference from the quaint, cobbled streets of the old town. The buildings aren't as charming and there's a very soviet feel to the big streets and grey colour scheme. Saying that, it's still an interesting place to walk around and it's here you can find the famous Art Nouveau quarter. Take a walk along the canal between the two district and bask in the sunshine as you stroll down the esplanade.

We stopped for a breather in the fantastic soviet themed bar Gauja. I'm a huge fan of soviet interiors, I love the clunky designs and muted colours. This non-fussy mid-century style is something I'd like to replicate myself one day. We enjoyed a beer and the retro play list before heading out for an early dinner around the corner.

This meal was probably my favourite of our entire trip and one of the best value so I really can't recommend it enough. I'd read about Galerija Istaba in my guidebook and was intrigued about the art gallery come cafe concept. We turned up to the gallery shop, a little confused about what to do but were told to head upstairs where we found a warm and welcoming dining room overlooking the main gallery shop. We took our seats in big comfy chairs and awaited the menu. A waitress came over and explained that there was no menu, the chef goes to the market daily and picks up whatever he fancies. She told us that the starter would be sharing plates and the main would be a choice of meats with several side plates. I went for prawns and Steve asked for duck, I was excited to see what we would get!

The starter was a delicious selection of meze style dips with a huge portion of garlic bread. The dips were sublime, I was especially fond of the vibrant beetroot and cheese dip and whilst I don't generally like olives I really enjoyed the black dip. We were also presented with an enormous salad which had to be placed on a side table as we had run out of space.

After an amazing starter we were presented with a sublime main course. The selection of meat and side dishes were impressive. Not only were they extremely flavoursome but the portions were huge.

Steve's duck was cooked to perfection, the meat was succulent, juicy and pink.

I received a huge bowl of buttery kings prawns cooked in a garlic and white wine sauce, absolutely delicious.

We were given three different side dishes, the first being a lovely bowl of steamed seasonal veg.

The second side was my least favourite, potato and mushrooms in a cream and bacon sauce. Despite my mushroom aversion I ate the potatoes which were heavenly, not too soft and not too hard.

The final side was my favourite, puy lentils and onions. So tasty and comforting this was home cooking at it's finest.

The whole meal was magnificent but the very best thing about this dinner was the price. With 2 enormous courses each and a couple of beers I couldn't believe my eyes when we were presented with a bill for €30! We were not told prices at the beginning but receiving this quality (and quantity) of food I was expecting at least €50 and I still contest that this was worth way more than 15 quid per person.

If you are ever in Riga I 100% recommend visiting this place, you will leave with a full belly and a full wallet.

After dinner and before the sun had properly set we headed back to the canal to walk around the art nouveau district, one of Riga's highlights. This area is only made up of a few streets but the choice of art nouveau architecture is impressive, look up whilst you walk around and you'll be greeted with this haunting style of decorative art everywhere. My Lonely Planet book (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) had a wonder 3km walking tour that we followed thus making sure we found all the best spots.

Riga is a lovely city and somewhere you could really enjoy for a few days. There's enough sights to keep you busy but not so many that you're rushed off your feet. Outside of the city centre is a TV tower that we didn't get a chance to visit but I'm sure it provides some impressive views. I didn't think I'd love Riga as much as I did, I expected it to be full of the stag do crowd taking advantage of the cheap beer but I didn't once experience a sleazy vibe. The city's old town is beautiful and charming, the cobbled stones are romantic and the city parks make for perfect summer time strolls. I really hope I can visit again once day.

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Monday, 27 April 2015

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Say Yeah Burger @ The Star of Kings

I still find it hard to fathom how many burger bars there are in London, I thought the trend would have slowed down by now but it really hasn't. I'm not complaining, I love a good burger but it's feels like everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, whether they can make a good burger or not. This isn't the case with Say Yeah Burger, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed and have made a note to visit again.

Currently based in the kitchen of The Star of Kings I visited the pop up a little while ago before heading to a gig next door at Kings Place. Steve and I ordered loads, we wanted to check out the different sides as there are quite a lot of tasty things on the menu.

As much as I love burgers, I prefer simple burgers the most. I ordered a Yeah burger which is basically a cheese burger with special sauce. This was great, the burger was meaty and juicy, cooked perfectly medium rare to order I loved it.

Steve went for the Pilgrim which is a turkey burger with Swiss cheese and pastrami. Another great option, the turkey was succulent and was complimented well with the subtle Swiss cheese, lovely.

There's a choice of chicken wings, we went for the buffalo variety which were great. Crispy skin, sweet and sticky sauce, and not too hot. The chicken meat fell away from the bones easily, these were extremely moorish.

There's a big choice of fries as well, we went for the Hombre which come with chipotle sauce, melted cheese and smoked paprika. These had a great kick and were far more interesting in taste to you bog standard fries.

We also ordered the chipotle chicken taquitos which were more like a main course rather than a side. Oozing with tasty chicken and melted cheese these were delicious and I'll definitely be ordering them again.

Say Yeah Burger is a great little spot, it wasn't too busy when we went so I think it's a good place to avoid food queues in Kings Cross. The menu selection is pretty big with a large range of sides so it's a good idea to go in a group so you can try a few different things. I think they're based at the Star of Kings for the foreseeable future so make sure you get down to check them out, also look out for their specials including the famous scotch egg burger!

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Saturday, 25 April 2015


When you're my age the opportunities to be taken out for a parental dinner are few and far between, unless it's your birthday. Steve's parents took us out for dinner as a birthday treat a few weekends ago, having been a local residence for many years but never managing to visit, Steve suggested The Quality Chop House in Exmouth Market.

Gracing the streets of Farringdon since 1869 The Quality Chop House is a quality dinning room, butchers, and wine bar so I was excited to see what the menu had to offer.

I'm not fussy but I'm not a huge fan of terrine or blue cheese which meant there was only one starter that took my fancy, the brisket. The meat was incredibly intense in flavour, I could smell the plate coming long before it was placed in front of me. I don't think I've ever experienced anything so meaty before but hats off to the chef as this tasted sublime. The beef melted in the mouth and the potatoes were perfectly al dente. 

The chicken livers and the rabbit rillettes special were also ordered and I've been told both were lovely.

I was torn between the stuffed chicken leg and wood pigeon special and due to the seasonality, I went for the latter. The pigeon was lovely, cooked perfect rare with a crispy skin this was a lovely piece of meat, however I grew tiresome pretty quickly as I tried to carve it. I don't have a problem with meat on the bone but sometimes I just can't be bothered to faff around with it. That being said, the hassle involved with trying to eat this meal was certainly worth it.

The pollock with brown butter was lovely and fresh and came with a little pan of extremely creamy mash potato.

Look how wonderfully rare that roast beef looks. The ploughman's was another great dish.

The star of the show was definitely the minced beef and dripping. Intense rich, meat flavours made this an incredibly delicious and indulgent dish.

The potato confit were heavenly and some of the best I've had to date, completely crispy on the outside and perfectly soft inside. Wonderful.

Again, only one thing stood out for me on the dessert menu, the brownie ice cream. What may sound like a boring option was a delightful ice cream filled with small, chewy pieces of brownie without being overpowering chocolatey. The shortbread biscuit was crumbly and buttery, perfect.

Vanilla ice cream, nice.

Steve went for the lemon curd, a light and refreshing end to an otherwise heavy meal, perfect.

The rhubarb and frangipane tart may not be too my liking but  Steve's dad enjoyed it very much.

The Quality Chop House is a very nice restaurant with a really old school English vibe. The dark interior has an old fashioned feel but not dated. It worth mentioning the terribly uncomfortable seats in the dinning room but because this property is listed I don't think they can be changed, the wine bar has more comfortably seats so don't be put off. I'd definitely return one day as the menu is far from ordinary, showcasing inventive ways meat and game can be cooked. If you're local and you've never been I recommend booking a table now.

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