Frida Cantina Mexicana, Luxembourg City

I have started 2019 with the resolution to try as much as new restaurants I can. Finally I got the first chance yesterday night and, even if I have still quite a backlog of reviews to publish, I decided to write about Frida Cantina Mexicana immediately today, instead of waiting any further.

So if you follow my stories on Instagram, you might have seen I planned to go to Tom Odell concert with Federica at den Atelier yesterday night. As the weather was incredibly cold, we decided to have a quick dinner in a place nearby den Atelier and unfortunately options on a Monday night are quite limited. So, as Frida Cantina Mexicana was already on my “to try” list and it is just few steps away from den Atelier and from where I live, we decided to go straight there – without reservation, but, again, being a Monday night, we supposed it would have not been an issue.

We arrived at the door at 7 pm, with the restaurant busy but not particularly packed. We waited good 5 minutes on the door, with the two waiters in front of us at the bar totally ignoring the world outside, until the chef, from the kitchen window, noted us and called them. Not a good kick off, but after that we were seated.

The atmosphere was nice, colorful and informal, even if not particularly distinctive. We were handled the menu and made quickly our choice. We ordered one margarita and one beer, with a Mexican mix as starter to share, followed for me by an enchiladas with roja sauce (marked as extra spicy) and a chilaquiles for Federica.

From that moment on, it started be more a nightmare than a proper dinner. As said, we got in at 7 pm and got our food ordered by 7.15. While Federica’s beer and water were taken at the table after fair 10 minutes, my margarita took more than 20 to arrive. Finally, at 8.10, so almost one hour after we ordered, we got our starter to share: a basic dish of commercial tortilla chips, guacamole, pico de gallo and re-fried beans. The dish was cold – as it should have been – with beans probably just out of the can (I can suggest you also the brand, as I buy the same at home). Would this kind of dish need one hour to be prepared in a restaurant not full? I doubt. As we were starving, we finished it in less than 5 minutes. I ordered a second drink – that again, took 15 minutes to be ready – and we waited for our main course, starting feeling pretty nervous about the time, as concert was supposed to start at 9 pm. We also were very surprised to discover that the table next to us, arrived when our starter was out, were served cocktails and main courses in less than 5 minutes. At that point, very nervous, we called the waiter to cancel the order and he promised us that the main course would have arrived in 2 minutes. So finally, after 1 hour 40 minutes in the restaurant, while served only a commercial dish of tortilla chips, we got our dinner.

I said to Federica: I would have easily forgotten about the wait, if food was worth it – you can clearly remember from some recent reviews. Unfortunately my dish was probably one of the most disgusting thing I have ever had in Luxembourg. This soggy wrap – where you cannot even taste the chicken – totally covered up with this that was far being a homemade roja sauce, but was more a mild-spicy watery ketchup. I got to half of the dish only because I really needed some food, but in other circumstances and without a gig to attend, I would have left the dish and have gone somewhere else to have proper food.

Total bill for 2 margarita, 1 beer, 2 half-liter bottles of water, 1 starter, 2 main read 75 Euro (37 Euro each).

Pictures of my dinner followed by my final impressions.


What I liked about Frida Cantina Mexicana:

  • This is probably the first review were I can honestly say: nothing at all. It was one of worst dinner I had in my life. I might have said that the margarita was pretty good, but if I have wait 20 minutes every time I rather have something else to drink.

What I didn’t like about Frida Cantina Mexicana:

  • Service was horrible. It was not only a question of wait, 1 hour and 40 minutes to have a dish is already a great support to this evaluation, but also the attitude of the waiters was awful. They were both walking with their chins down, avoid the eye contact with the clients… how are you supposed to ask for another drink or whatever? Not to mention, when clients were leaving, dirty dishes were remaining on the table forever, basically until the next clients would have been seated.
  • Food was horrible. 12 euro to have a dish “to share” composed by a bunch of commercial tortilla chips, guacamole and pico de gallo (plain ones) and beans out of a can. Main course was something I want to forget as soon as I can: watery sauce and a soggy wrap that you cannot even understand what you were eating. I am not a fan of franchising, but I honestly can say that at the Tex-Mex in Place d’Armes food is way better (while still on the bad side) of the one I had at Frida.

In conclusion: my experience at Frida Cantina Mexicana was personally bad. While I can tell you that on the service side they might have been understaffed and having hired (very) inexperienced servers, on the food side there was nothing I would say it can be saved or improved. This is definitely on my list of places I would not go back even if it was the only restaurant open in town.

Luckily Tom Odell concert was amazing, so our night was not totally ruined.

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Trattoria da Gino, Luxembourg City

The story is the same: you see “work in progress” on a window in the city previously occupied by a restaurant you walk by and you start to wonder which kind of food you are going to eat there next. And then, when the sign unveils, you discover that it is, once again, an Italian restaurant.

The question is: do we need another Italian restaurant in town? This was the same I might have initially crossed my mind when I discovered that, at the place of a lunch eatery next the station, an Italian trattoria was going to open, Trattoria da Gino.

My curiosity has never been stopped by a cliché, therefore I decided anyway to try the restaurant – well, I said, even if it was just another boring Italian night, would still be Italian.

I could have not been more wrong.

The place itself, to start with, it is quite different from most of the Italian places I have been in the city: bright is the first adjective I would use to describe it, cozy, relaxed, with a clean and open kitchen on view at the end of the main room – open kitchen in an Italian restaurant in Luxembourg for me is a first time.

First time I visited Trattoria da Gino was a very calm Saturday night at the end of August, during the Fair, and the restaurant was full but not packed. We have been welcome by the owner, Gino – you have probably seen him already around as he has an astonishing experience in the food industry in Luxembourg.

While drinking an aperitif, I discovered the lovely details of the place. The restaurant embraced perfectly the concept of Italian “trattoria” : there is not a menu, but the dishes proposed a la carte change on a daily basis for dinner, are limited to a few and are written on a huge chalkboard on the wall.

We decided to share a starter (“vitello tonnato”, a North Italian cold dish composed by tiny slices of veal and a tuna fish sauce). For main, I went for “Fusilli Calabresi con Sugo di Porcelletto” – homemade pasta from the South of Italy with a piglet sauce, while my friend had Roasted Duck with Plums sauce.

During the meal, we drank one of my favorite wine ever – Marina Cvetic Montepulciano. The list of wine – as the food card – is limited but has indeed some extremely interested items.

Our dinner and our entire evening were amazingly pleasant: I was surprised above all by the fact that, even if the place is low key and casual (exactly a “trattoria”), ingredients are gourmet, dishes are polished, wine list has a lovely selection and the dish presentation is definitely very refined – more like a high end restaurant than a casual eatery.

I did not mention the taste of the food, which was amazing.

I did not miss the chance to come back to visit Gino very soon afterwards – fact is, they are publishing the daily menu on their FB page and when I am leaving the office and I see something I like, as it is very close to where I live, I just ask myself: do you want to cook or do you want to have …? Well, you know already the reply.

On my second visit, I had another succulent dish – “fregola” (an Italian small type of pasta typical from Sardinia) with sea food followed by a delicious Baba’ with rhum – still dreaming about that. Another time, I had a sandwich with octopus. Then I lost the count…

Well – actually I have been there on a wine tasting night – but I am happy I did not have many pictures about that, but only blurred memories and a memorable headache to follow 🙂
Indeed, Gino is also organizing special nights that are just a good excuse to try the place – on a regular basis, there are wine tasting events and after-works. Watch out the Facebook page for more update.

To conclude, the striking contrast between the concept of the restaurant – a low key Italian trattoria – and the result they obtained – a fine-dining selection of dishes and ingredient, special wines and sophisticated presentation – is making Trattoria da Gino a unique place in its style on the Luxembourg scene – and therefore a must to visit.

This article has been adapted from the one we originally published as contributors on the new Editus website.

An der Villa, Steinfort, Luxembourg

If you have lived in Luxembourg for more than couple of days, you must have heard the name of Thomas Murer, who became a local celebrity in 2016 when he got to the semifinals of the cooking-show Top Chef. After this experience, Thomas worked for Aal Schoul, in Hobscheid, that was on my “to try” list for long time, until finally he left to open its own restaurant, An der Villa, in Steinfort. This time I did not want to miss my chance and through a bit of help (thanks Sandra!) got my table booked couple of weeks after the opening.

As said, the restaurant is located in Steinfort, 30 minutes drive from the city off peak hour, in this magnificent white villa – that yesterday night, with a light rain and a soft fog, had the fashion of an Agatha Christie novel.

Angela and I made our way through the candles at the entrance around 8 pm. There was not a formal welcome or a clear way in and the door accessed in the middle of the dining room. One polite lady took us through the tables to check our reservation and finally accommodated us to our place. The dining room is wide and bright, with smaller areas only slightly separated. The white is predominant and almost the unique decoration, together with minimal balloon lamps, sepia pictures without frames and light brown wooden tables – no cloth and a basic ampoule with simple white flowers.

We ordered a cremant as aperitif and were given our menu: the food proposal, as expected, is centered on the territory, with several fish, meat and veggie choices, plus two suggestions of the chef out of the menu (one meat and one fish). Should you wish, you can order a tasting menu (65 Eur, to be ordered by the entire table) that is composed by 5 courses and it is presented as the suggestions out of the menu. The menu is fixed (yesterday it included trout, foie gras, veal, beetroot among the others) and as we were not completely agreed on the items included, we decided to order a la carte, ending up to take the same dishes 🙂

We were introduced to the dinner by a delightful amuse-bouche (it was foam with a kind of arancino), remind me of the cordon bleu my mom was preparing when I was a child. As starter, we both had the fried egg in breadcrumbs while for main we had the scallops – that were among the Chef suggestions.

We drank a bottle of Alice Hartmann Riesling and concluded our dinner with a plat of cheese (should I specify it was for me?) and a dame blanche with speculoos and salted caramel for Angela.

Total bill read 201 Eur (out of which 60 Eur were for the wine).

Pictures and then my impressions of An der Villa.

Please sit down, as this is going to be a long, controversial one. And I am going to structure it a bit differently compared to the previous ones as it would be too complicated to distinguish between “like” and “don’t like”

Food. Food was in average good. I said in average as it was a bit of a rollercoaster.
The amuse-bouche was spectacular.
The fried egg was fairly good but the accent on the sweet note was too bold for me – it was prepared with langoustine, honey and a mousse with carrots and pumpkins. The salted element – herrings caviar – was too limited and it missed a balance in the consistency with a crunchy element (should have been given by the fried langoustine, but again, it was not enough).
The scallops were heaven. In this case, to me, the dish was perfectly balanced in consistency and taste, the sweet element of the Jerusalem artichoke cream, the crunchiness of the fried mushrooms, the herbs, the truffle scent (but why not the shaved slices?). I loved the dish and would have been ready to have a second portion straight away.
Finally, the cheese plat. Now – you would say, cheese is cheese, what can go wrong? Right, but only partially. To me the dish lacked totally in presentation – and slightly in content. There was no effort whatsoever and it was a pity, as the chutney that accompanied it were delicious. The effort was not even in explaining which cheese the dish was composed of – you can guess, but why you should?
The thing I appreciated most about the food I had, was to remind me of tastes of my childhood, with very local and seasonal ingredients.

Service. Our waiter was smiling, polite, lovely. He was doing his job with extreme passion – you can see it – and even if under pressure, was able to give us further information on dishes and ingredients. I really appreciated, above all in consideration of the fact that, to me, it looked the place was quite understaffed. Waiting time was a bit too long and we felt forgotten couple of times – my point is: if you decided to have the wine kept far from the table, you should monitor it very closely. If you are not in the service condition to do it, you keep the wine at the table so customers can help themselves. Our glasses were empty for most of the second part of the meal, to be filled up only when we were almost over with the dessert and we are about to order coffee. It was not a matter of carelessness by our waiter, he did not just have physical time to do so, poor thing.
The other significant item to me was the missing of a “welcome area” and a formal welcome in the restaurant: you get in the middle of the dining room, I don’t say you have to have someone to open you the door but at least a corridor / alley to wait, instead of doing it among other people eating. Similarly, the reservation sheet was on a shelf in-between tables.

The Place. Minimal atmosphere, you love it or you hate it. While I generally prefer more baroque settings, to me the ambience was really in line with the kitchen and therefore I loved it  – you had this impression to eat at newly renovated countryside house of your youngest aunt and I liked the effort of matching the spirit of the territory in the food with the shell of it. On the negative side, the acoustic of the place is horrible: while the restaurant was full but not packed, above all on our side, it was to me almost impossible to hear the waiter describing the dishes and very difficult to speak with Angela.

Finally, what Angela called the “human” element. At the end of the dinner, she told me she was fine but not impressed. And that she would have expected the Chef to come out of the kitchen to greet his guests. She told me: at that point, maybe if I shared a quick chat with him, I would have forgotten the things I did not enjoy about our dinner. I share this view. I think that, above all at the beginning of an experience, the personal element of the Chef might be able to cover those lacks or gaps that are normal when you open a new place. Well, this was not the case yesterday.

To conclude and sum up, as it was a pretty lengthy review this time. I had a pleasant dinner at An der Villa with Angela. I appreciated the strong presence of local elements in the menu of this very minimal – but noisy – restaurant out of town. I loved my scallops dish. Basically, there was nothing extremely wrong in our dinner, only couple of misaligned elements. Still, as probabily my bar of expectations was set pretty high, I was still not 100% satisfied and missed my WOW factor: food was fairly good – with some peaks up and down – but everything else was not. So at this point, my question would be: is this place worth the ride? I would say no at this stage, but I would probably give it another try in the warmer season to check if it was only a matter of time.

In the meanwhile, if you want to try it, it is perfect if you are looking for a local cuisine with an innovative accent. Great for dinner with friends or girls night out.

Expogast 2018 – It’s a wrap!

It has been a week, now, since Expogast, the most relevant gastronomic exhibition in the world of cooking, closed its doors and it is then time to make a quick summary, in the wait, not that short, of next edition, in 4 years time.

Our “Barefoot in Luxembourg” team spent much intense and funny times behind the doors of Luxexpo The Box, from the first day of the opening ceremony, with its fires and drums: we interviewed the chefs, photographed every corner and, of course, tasted the amazing food!

The Villeroy et Boch Culinary World Cup / Expogast 2018 in Luxemburg – that this year had a specific focus on respect for food and was particularly attentive to the fight against food waste – went finally to the Swedish National Team, the silver medal to the Singapore National Team and the bronze medal to Denmark. This is to talk merely about the final results, but if you had attend the Expogast during its 5 days kermesse you probably knew it was not just that bit.

Many other gold, silver and bronze medals have been awarded in the five days at Luxexpo The Box.

If we focus on the competition of National Teams, leaving aside minor competitors such as Juniors, Community Catering and individual Chefs, they participated in two different main categories:

– the cold food competition, “Show Food”, where cutting-edge techniques are used to achieve culinary design works for exhibition (preparation is not visible)

and

– the “Hot Food” category, where a 3-course menu had to be prepared in 6 hours  during spectacular show cooking, and then served to 110 people. Indeed, it was possible for the visitors to seat down and taste these fabulous 3-course menu, but – here come the trick – you should have booked your ticket well in advance through the Expogast website – at least, we know for next edition.

In both categories, National Teams received their scores by an international jury of chefs and industry experts.

For the “Show Food” the jury’s score was based on a visual examination of the final work. For the “Hot Food”, the judges observed the work on the team also during the preparation time in their boxes and evaluating through several different criteria: method, technique, innovation, cleanliness, agility, concentration, taste, aesthetics, presentation.

Among many we talked, we were impressed by the words of Chef Gaetano Ragunì, general manager of NIC, Italian National Chefs, who explained us that there are no big differences between cooking and soccer competitions. Cooking is as well a sport discipline in all respects, completed with sacrifices, study of new techniques, night tests, long years training, mental and physical concentration and, above all, a life around the world to support the team.

This comparison left me stunned, but with one new sport to support in my life: competitive gastronomy, of course.

Aside from competitions, the Expogast consisted as well in three main halls of food products and wines, that visitors can taste during the exhibition as well as buy. So next to stands selling Turkish sweets scented of orange flowers you can taste the excellence of Italian wines, choose your oysters and lobster, try Spanish ham and drink Luxembourgish cremant.

On the last day of the Expogast, after an electrifying dance and light show, in front the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, Sweden raised the well-deserved prize: a cup that is a symbol of chefs around all the continents raising the earth towards the sky.

This was my first approach to the world of cooking in Luxembourg and left me enthusiastic, I am already counting down for next edition!

Naturalia – A new Organic Grocery Store

For a long time, Luxembourg Gare area has been a very shady one but recently there have been a lot of improvements and new businesses have opened up. In the end of September, I attended at the opening of Naturalia at Luxembourg Gare. Originally from France, Naturalia is a  specialized in selling organic food items  such as vegetables and fruits but also cheese, wine, bread, rice and pasta. They also have a big selection of hygienic products, vitamins and food supplements.

Their new store is quite small but very bright and attractive. Presentation of fresh veggies and fruits at the entrance is lovely and the store even makes fresh “smoothies to go” in the morning. At the event, I had a possibility to try some of the different combinations they make and also some vegan raw cakes and other appetizers. I also liked the idea of them selling seeds, nuts and cereals from plastic containers from which you could choose the amount of each item you want to have  without additional waste or packaging.


The proximity to the train station certainly attracts many clients, especially because there are no other organic stores with a similar concept nearby and they have long opening hours. Even on Sundays. As ecological lifestyle is starting to be a growing trend in Luxembourg, I’m sure that once the possibilities for buying organic gets easier, people will also be more interested in green eating.

Naturalia Luxembourg
Address:
12-18 rue Joseph Junck

Opening Hours:
Monday-Thursday: 8.00-20.00
Friday: 8.00-21.00
Saturday: 8.00-19.00
Sunday: 9.00-19.00