Monday, February 22, 2010


The first time I went to Nikko I remember thinking it was not as good as many people had told me it was. Fortunately I've been back several times since and I've come to realize that this is one of the better Japanese places in Cologne. It's in a small shopping arcade, a bit out of the centre of town, but nevertheless seems to be consistently busy. Luckily for me it is close to where I go for japanese lessons.

Although the sushi here is very good, this is not just a sushi place and the menu actually has a wide range of different dishes to offer. These days I always have difficulty choosing (no surprise to anyone who knows me) and usually ending up eating too much (also no surprises), so as not to miss out on my favourites.

Starters such as yaki gyoza (fried dumplings) and tako su (octopus ad cucumber in vinegar) are consistently good for getting the juices flowing. There is also a tasty grilled mackerel which always comes high up my personal list of options.
I find it hard to resist the tempura, which is excellent here, or the fresh and tasty sashimi and excellent nigiri sushi, so I have yet to try many of the main courses like katsujyu (breaded pork and egg on rice) or tori no shougayaki (chicken in ginger sauce). But I'm hoping to go often enough to try everything at least once!

At the weekend I opted for one of the excellent fixed menu meals, the Momo. This comes with 5 small vegetable starters, each delicious and with a contrasting range of flavours. Then sashimi - delicious but a little smaller portion than I remember having before. Next deep fried tofu in soya sauce. I was a bit suspicious of this the first time I had it, and didn't expect much in the way of flavour. Turns out to be very good indeed and a nice complement to the courses on either side. The main dish is teriyaki beefsteak, which was a very flavourful and beautifully cooked. I was unable to resist supplementing my meal with four nigiri sushi at that stage (toro, unagi, saba and hamachi), all of which were excellent, and with a generous portion of fish. The toro (fatty tuna) was especially good. However, by this stage I was unable to manage my final course of green tea ice, but fortunately one of my companions was happy to oblige.

If I had to ask them to improve one thing, it would be the speed of service. Nikko gets pretty busy in the evening and the gaps between the courses can get a bit extended, which is OK if you are there for a leisurely meal, but can still be a bit frustrating. The sushi chef gets especially stacked up with orders, but when you see the beautiful, and large, platefuls he comes up with, it is no surprise that he needs a little time.

All in all, a great place that requires repeat visits.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Favourite Webcomics

The Washington post is having a poll for best webcomic, which is not a new idea of course, but is still a nice bit of fun.

Amazingly enough Sluggy Freelance is not amongst the nominations, despite being the quintessential webcomic, I would have thought.  It's been going since August 1997, with a new comic almost every day, including many full colour multi-panel contributions (random link) that must take author and artist Pete Abrams hours to complete.  It has genuine humour, drama and pathos and, despite the incredibly complex and long-running plot lines, he still manages to get at least one punchline in every day.  I guess it's not an easy comic to get into if you haven't read the archive, but there are plenty of others that are even harder to follow, and reading the archive is worth it anyway!  It's a must-follow comic for any webcomic fan.

xkcd is an altogether different thing - a comic of romance, sarcasm, math and language.  Many of these are just plain inspired.  I confess I don't get every math related one, but who cannot fail to marvel at something like a map of Onlne Communities.  One thing that amazed me recently was that, despite the stick figure drawing, artist Randall Munroe still managed to get, to my eyes anyway, a real sense of dejection into the last panel of G-Spot, just by slightly changing a circle and a line.  I only recently found out that all the comics have an additional mouse-over text with an additional gag or aside.

My favourite of the moment though is Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques.  No comic has ever made me laugh out loud so much (and I mean "laugh out loud", not lol) even at the second and third reading.  It is clever and grown-up (read "adult situations") and quite simply very funny.  Not only that, but I find it is a goldmine for tips about interesting music in the post- and indy-rock arena.  I also love the art work.  Far too many web-comic artists would have just had 4 near identical, copy and paste, talking heads panels for this recent comic.  You can also follow the characters on Twitter for additional laughs, but be careful about clicking on any link posted by Pintsize (these are definitely not safe-for-work or to everyones taste).  

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Must give a mention to Culux (Curry Deluxe), on Rudolfplatz. Currywurst is practically a German national dish, but the relationship to what any english person knows as "curry", i.e. indian food, is slight. It's simply a sausage with a basic, spicy, ketchup-like sauce made from curry powder. Usually served as a take-away snack on a small paper plate, maybe with chips (pommes), to be eaten on the street with a two-pronged, plastic fork. Being a food, and especially curry, snob I steered well clear of this particular food for a long time.

However, I had my first ever Currywurst in Culux a few weeks ago, on the recommendation of a friend, and it has got me hooked. Basically, you mix and match the sausage, sauce flavour and hotness, and style and topping of your chips to create your ideal snack meal. The sausages, as with all german ones, are large, meaty and tasty, and there is a good variety to choose from (Bratwurst to Chorizo to Tofu). The sauce is still basic, but actually pretty good, again with a wide variety of flavours.  The chips are hot and fresh and crispy and generally excellent.  You can have your currywurst topping anywhere from mild to super-, mega-, or ultra- spicy (which comes with an age limit and a disclaimer of responsibility for the effects on your health). Personally, I'll stick in the middle with just "hot", I'm not looking to impress anyone.  The staff are cheerful and friendly too, which is always a plus.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

iPod random question meme

[inspired by Monika]
1. Put your iPod or i tunes library, or MP3 player etc... on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer. (I picked random questions from someone else's site)
3. You must write that song name down no matter how silly it sounds.  (The silliness is rather the point, however, see My Life Story below)


The Norwegians Gave me a F# (Deaf Center / Carlo Fashion)

No Trust in a Man (Andrew Cronshaw)

mur (Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto)

Dischordzilla (Luke Vibert and BJ Cole)

Bamboo (Outkast)

Mali Sajio (Songhai)

Ring of Stars (Lights Out Asia)

Matagorda (Black Before Red)


Needle in the Camel's Eye (Brian Eno)


All in All (Roy Harper)


Waiting on an Angel (Ben Harper)


Trash Scapes (Ellen Allien)


Plexus Solaris (Tetsu Inoue and Carlos Vivanco)

Po-Boy (McGhee, Sonny Terry and Brownie)

Les Grandes Marches (Moderat)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Seven meals in Rome

Easting out on holiday in Rome was very enjoyable, if highly calorific.  Some of these places I can really recommend.

Tuesday - The guy at the hotel recommended some nearby places but I didn't like the look of them. One was a huge, soulless, empty space and another looked trendy and corporate (a bit like and Italian all-bar-one).  I finally spotted a place called Papa Baccus - pricey, but specializing in high quality meat such as Chianina beef, and ham from their own pigs. I had proscuitti, a fantastic fillet steak with onion sauce and chicory and apple sorbet with calvados. Their feature dish was a T-Bone at 75€ per kilo, clearly meant for sharing. I saw it being served in spectacular fashion to 2 or 3 tables.

Wednesday - Taverna Angelica.  Complementary glass of Prosecco on arrival has to be a good sign. Salted cod salad, pasta with clams and asparagus, crusted lamb cutlets, pineapple carpaccio.  Everything totally delicious. The pasta was especially good, perfectly cooked and with a light lemon sauce. I took their recommendations on wine (Merlot and a Muffato dessert wine) which turned out to be a very good idea. Service was fantastic, especially given that only 2 of them covered the whole restaurant.

Thursday - Pizza at Al Forno della Soffita, a really nice family run sort of place. Neopolitan style, which is what I would call thin crust, compared to the deep-pan chicago style, but apparently Roman style is even thinner. Strangely all the pizza restaurants recommended in my guide book served the Neopolitan style.  Plate of excellent ham to start, pizza amatriciana (bacon!) and fruit salad.  Not fancy but really, really good.

Friday - Not a good start to the evening. Two or three places refused to seat me because I was on my own. Sat down at one place and everything I asked for they didn't have, so I left again.  Finally get a nice terrace seat at Grano in a quiet piazza.  Anchovies and mozzarella salad, roasted chicken, millefoglie with mascarpone.  Not quite up to the standard of the earlier meals, but still really good.  Excellent grappa to finish.

Saturday - Stumble on a bar in Trastevere called Bir and Fud, promising artisanal Italian beer.  Unable to resist either the name or the interesting looking beer menu. Turned out to be a gem, and the find of the holiday. I had no idea there was such a range of excellent micro-brewery beers in Italy. Bitters, porters, stouts, wheat beers, they had them all.  To eat I had bar food, crisps, onion rings and a huge plate of fried cod pieces, hot and succulent in crispy batter and, to drink, way too much beer.

Sunday - Unable to resist Bir and Fud for early evening beers, but I decide to eat at another place recommended in the guide book, Difronte A. What a mistake. The only disappointment of the holiday. A real tourist trap with cheaply prepared, over-priced, flavour-free pseudo-food.  
Monday - No surprise back to Bir and Fud to sample their excellent ales. They are getting to recognise me and I end up in a really interesting discussion with one of the bar staff and one of the owners about all these different beers, plus getting some samples of a couple of beers they have in the cellar but aren't selling yet. There is also a phenomenal range of bottled beers, but sadly most in 75cl bottles.  I did try a couple of smaller ones though, and bought a barley-wine style beer called Geisha to take home.  For food I had a simply fantastic pizza with mushrooms and sausage. So good I was tempted to order another, but good sense prevailed (at least as far as not overeating goes... I could not honestly say I was quite as sensible about the amount of beer I drank). What a great bar!

If you go to Rome, I strongly recommend to try some of these place out, especially Bir and Fud.  Also worth a look are Moma (a good, office workers bar, with upstairs restaurant), Antica Enoteca (wine-bar with great snacks and lots of atmosphere), Caffe Sant'Eustachio (outstanding coffee prepared with a special, secret process) and La Coppelle (for cocktails and aperitivo in an attractive piazza).

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Holy Grail

I have just found what I consider to be the holy grail of an Englishman living in Europe... a decent curry.  I've been looking for a good Indian meal in Köln for a long time and I have been persistently disappointed by meals with little or no fresh ingredients, fierce one-dimensional spicing and too much reliance on tomato puree and MSG.
Finally, after giving up hope really, I tried the Kamasutra on the recommendation of a friend.  Hallelujah!  This was indian food as I remembered it from the UK.  Fresh tastes, nicely balanced spices and flavours, and everything beautifully cooked.

I had Kadhai Gosht (lamb), Bhindi Bhaji (okra), Pyaj Pakora (Onion Bhaji to you and me) and plain Naan. Portions were huge, so this was far too much for one person really, but I wanted to try a variety.  

There was a little too much sauce with the meat and bhindi for my personal taste (bhindi in particular benefits from being served with very little sauce, in my opinion) and the onion bhaji, although good, could have been a little smaller and crispier.  But these are minor quibbles with what was, on the whole an excellent meal.  

The meat was succulent and tender, with a sauce that was nicely hot but still let you taste the other ingredients.  The bhindi was cooked to perfection, which is rare in itself.  The naan was fluffy, fresh and hot.  Generous sprinklings of julliened ginger also helped everything to taste fresh and hot.  One of those meals where you eat far too much because it is all to good to leave.

The varied selection of indian erotica hung on the walls in the rear room was an interesting diversion too!

I shall be going again, and I would recommend it to anyone else who enjoys quality Indian food.  

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sushio Cologne

Sushiou has been one of my favourite eating planes in the last few months. It's a sushi bar with one of those conveyor belts that goes round and round (回転寿司 kaiten-sushi).

The fish is fresh and tasty and the sushi is prepared out in front of the customers.  If what you fancy is not on the belt, you just need ask for it. The range available is excellent, in my opinion.  There's also some sashimi options and a handful of non-sushi items such as miso soup (of course), seaweed salad, fried chicken and  fruit salad.

The nigiris are made with quite a small rice ball compared to some places, which, as far as I am concerned, just means you can eat more!  I confess I like nigiri and don't eat many maki, so I can't say much about those, except for the Ebi Tempura maki which is consistently delicious and one of my favourites.  Others at the top of my list are the Saba, Hamachi, Maguro, Toro and Unagi nigiris.

The owner and staff are not Japanese and the sushi is occassionally a bit experimental and not 100% traditional, but that isn't a bad thing. The current "special" is seared salmon with a sliver of avocado and a creamy, spicy sauce. Not for the purists I guess but very tasty!

Best of all they have an "all you can eat" option for about €25.  12 plates is about my limit, but since I generally go for the more expensive ones, I feel that I get very good value for money.  Someone with a bigger appetite could really go to town.

If you are in Cologne, check it out.  It is definitely worth it.