French fun with friends

Hello all! Back again after a week off last week. Work is stepping up, which is nice as it feels almost ‘normal’, but it means weekends are sacred once more!

That being said, I thought I’d do a post on the food I prepared a few weekends back for our lovely friends who joined us for a French-themed dinner. Matt and I wanted to feature some of the produce we had brought back from honeymoon, and I was ready to flex my Classical cuisine muscles once more.

To begin, we provided some of our edible souvenirs from our recent trip. What souvenir is better than one you can eat and it immediately brings back wonderful memories. We did a charcuterie board, with Bayonne ham from Lyon and saucisson from Troyes. I also put out various pickles, included some pickled cucumbers using the glut from the garden. To accompany the meaty feast (our vegetarian guest enjoyed a selection of antipasti, which I realise is NOT in keeping with the theme of the evening!), we enjoyed freshly-made baguettes, courtesy of the brilliant recipe from Paul Hollywood

For main, I roasted duck legs and pan-fried the breasts until they were a rosy medium. A simple sprinkling of salt and pepper on the duck was all it needed to bring out the beautiful gamey flavour. That said, I also took full advantage of the local blackberry hedgerows which were practically crying out for me to help them with their burden. A simple blackberry, red wine sauce was simmered down to accompany the duck. For the vegetarian choice, I wanted to avoid ratatouille as it is rather overdone in my opinion, but I still wanted to provide a hearty main meal. This vegetable tian by Rachel Khoo was perfect and went really well with the Boulangere potatoes we all enjoyed.

Bubbling Boulangere potatoes

To end the meal, it would not have been right to have a French evening without cheese! We enjoyed a range of continental and British cheeses; brie, Stilton, applewood Cheddar, Boursin. All were accompanied by more baguettes and grapes. For those with a sweet tooth (everyone), I also tried my hand at vanilla macarons for the first time. Whilst they weren’t as picture-perfect as those we fell in love with in Beaune, the flavour and texture were surprisingly accurate. Some chocolate-covered strawberries and homemade mini brownies finished of the sweet treats plate.

It was such a lovely evening with wonderful friends. We certainly don’t take that for granted anymore, do we?! It was also nice to revisit some French memories as we ate (and drank!). Until we can jet off again, escapism can always be enjoyed in the form of food in my opinion.

The Spice Diaries

Last year, Matt and I had a wonderful holiday in Devon, frequenting all the lovely places I visited on many a family holiday. One place that was new to us, however, was The South Devon Chilli Farm (Website here). This independent, relatively small business is a fantastic, and free, daytime activity. There is a map of all of the chilli’s and where they are grown, a chilli treasure hunt for little ones and it’s just a lovely place to wander around and wonder at the amount of varietals that are grown in the heart of the English countryside.

The polytunnels are full of multicoloured chilli plants which hail from South America, Asia and even more remote areas which one might not associate with the fruit. I was amazed at the deep purple of the Purple Jalapeno, the various colours of the the Volcano, and just the amount of fruits per plant.

On finishing the chilli trail, we sat on the terrace and enjoyed some of the delights of the cafe. These included a savoury cream tea (well, when in Devon!), using cream cheese and chilli jam and the most succulent, salty and slightly spicy grilled padron peppers (which has led to a love affair with them for both of us!). Looking out at the orchard beyond, Matt was really taken with the idea of growing chilli’s and led to him buying, amongst other things, several packets of seeds.

He purchased two varieties; Ring of Fire and Volcano. The former was purported to produce red, waxy varieties which look like your typical chilli emoji (go and look at that now). The Volcano, as previously mentioned, would produce clusters of red and orange, stocky chilli’s. Both would produce a similar level of heat (67000 scoville), but with varying degrees of fruitiness.

So we had the chilli seeds and, inevitably, they were stored in the garage until we found the time to plant. Then Lockdown happened. Matt found the time he had been looking for to dedicate to his chilli fantasy and so began planting the seeds and placing the pots in our conservatory. I should say now, as we were not confident in our ability as novice chilli growers, Matt decided to plant ALL the seeds we had.

Fast-forward 8 weeks and we had various levels of little shoots popping up for both plants. Matt began a schedule of watering and feeding the plants and, as summer approached, it seemed that every pot would produce fruit.

And that is exactly what happened! As of August, we had 42 plants all producing fruit. We can’t get through them fast enough! We have given many fruits away and I have been experimenting with Tomato Chilli jam and a Siracha which is not for the faint of heart. The Ring of Fire has a wonderful fruitiness which works really well in stir-fry and with Caribbean cooking. The Volcano, on the other hand, is good for chilli con carne (or con carne chilli if we’re being pedantic) and curries. I will be experimenting with smoking and drying chilli’s too, posting the various successes and failures along the way!

Below are some photos of our journey so far!

Ripening Ring of Fire
Volcano
Just a few (!) more ripening!

21 Boulevard – Beaune

The last in our French series, but by no means least, is a round up of the delightful dishes we sampled on our last night in Beaune. Beaune is a beautifully quaint town in the Burgundy region, known for the copious amounts of wine it produces as well as beautiful architecture, including an impressive Cathedral.

We spent our last night here, and decided on booking 21 Boulevard as a bit of a treat. The restaurant is stunning; exposed stone walls continue the wine cellar theme, but with a refined, stylish edge as the rest of the decor is minimalist and modern. We sat on the beautiful terrace; eclectic candelabras and light fittings illuminated the exterior wall and each table felt incredibly romantic as there was ample space between them. We knew we were in for something special here!

The Wine Bible

Oh yes, you read that right. Perhaps the most famous thing about 21 Boulevard, as well as the fantastic owners who love to chat and advise wine choices, is the Wine Bible. Appropriately-named, this tome is the list of nearly 600 wines that are stocked in the restaurant cellar, all of which come from the Burgundy region. Matt was so happy to receive it to peruse! We also took the advice of Jean, one of the owners, and had two fantastic bottles of local red.

A Taste of Burgundy

The restaurant itself, and the menu, is elegant, refined but still traditional. We decided on the tasting menus, which promised to give a true reflection of Burgundian cuisine. However, this wasn’t any old down-home cooking; the plates were some of the most beautiful we had encountered on the trip.

To begin, we had an amuse bouche of melon gazpacho served with mustard puff-pastry straws. The fresh, slightly savoury notes of the cold soup paired perfectly with the punch from the pastry twists and was a really surprising and pleasant way to begin.

I then had ravioli of Burgundy snails; snails really are not something to be avoided. If you like mussels, clams, whelks you are likely to enjoy the texture and flavour of snails. These were not in their shell, but paired with small ravioli which were delicate and soft. The highlight for me was the garlic cream sauce that surrounded it; topped with chives, which brought a welcome onion tone, it was so savoury and moreish that I was quite sad when it ended! Matt had a traditional steak tartare, served with mustard, pickles and toast. He enjoyed the succulent meat and the crisp toast, with the pickles lightening up the iron-rich dish.

When in Burgundy…

Have Beef Bourgignon! Or an incredibly delicious twist on it. I had braised beef cheek, served Bourgignon style; which is to say that there was the infamously deep, sweet red wine sauce, the pop of tiny pearl onions and beef that melted against the welcome firmness of carrots and some silky mashed potato. Matt had veal two ways; a rose-pink, butter-soft escalope and earthy, rare kidneys which was accompanied by a deep red wine sauce. Both hearty dishes, which felt like a taste of the region on a plate.

Start as you mean to go on…

To end the meal, I continued with the wine theme (it would be rude not to) and enjoyed a spicy, red wine-poached pear served with dessert wine (yay, more wine!) and delicate vanilla ice cream. Matt had a beautiful raspberry macaron, filled with sorbet and ice cream, which was ALMOST to pretty to eat. Luckily, he overcame that, and confirmed it was delicious; chewy meringue, sharp raspberry and fresh fruit.

All in all, 21 Boulevard was incredibly special; not only because it was the final night of our trip. The whole meal felt like an occasion, without being intimidateingly (that’s not a word) fancy. The owners are knowledgeable without being patronising, the wine is exceptionally good quality and varies in price and the food was as satisfying to eat as it was beautiful to look at. I would definitely recommend to anyone going to Beaune.

Here endeth the French series. Don’t be too sad though, the Spice Diaries chilli update it up next! Until then!

Dinner with a Nice view: Calade

With its extensive views of the French Riviera, Calade restaurant on top of the Radisson Blu Nice is truly breathtaking. We were fortunate enough to stay at this beautiful hotel, situated right on the beach with views of the azure Mediterranean sea. Naturally, we had heard about the restaurant at the hotel and thought we would check it out, but it far surpassed our expectations.

Drinks before Dinner

The defining feature of the Calade restaurant and bar is that it has the largest panoramic terrace in Nice (fun fact!). We took full advantage of this by having a bottle of Duval LeRoy priced at 95 euros, but given to us for 75 as we originally wanted the cheaper bottle which was unavailable (+ we got 2 free glasses when the waiter popped the cork a bit enthusiastically and lost a bit of the original champagne). Watching the twinling lights of Nice and the coastal road was every bit as romantic as you would imagine, and felt truly luxurious with soft music playing in the background.

The Main Event

Having really savoured the sunset and champagne, we took a few steps to the restaurant. We were seated outside, with a fantastic view of the lighthouse shining at the end of the bay. The whole restaurant was dimly lit, with sweet little lamps on each one, which highlighted each table enough to see what you were eating, but also made it feel more private.

We chose to do the set menu, costing 49 euros per person, which I have to say was incredible value for what we got. The restaurant is modern European, and the presentation and taste certainly were high-end.

To start, I had the gazpacho with goats’ cheese cream and garlic oil. This dish had all the flavours of the Mediterranean; garlic, olive oil, sweet tomatoes and the slight hint of onion and basil. Off-set by the saltiness of the goats’ cheese and served with warm bread (which is unlimited and comes in an adorable fabric pouch, served with Provencal olive oil), this was a light but savoury dish. Matt had the tuna tartare with lime and coriander, which made the dish almost taste more Mexican than Mediterranean, but was a fantastic palate cleanser nonetheless.

For the main dish, I had seared tuna with avocado cream and artichoke. This dish was subtle in its flavours; the tuna was seared perfectly and wasn’t overshadowed by the lemon notes in the background of the dish. There were cracker shards served alongside, which was a welcome textural addition. Matt had chicken with grilled polenta and Mediterranean vegetables. He said the dish felt almost ‘homely’, but refined. The chicken was tender, the vegetables added an aldente crunch and the polenta was silky smooth. The aforementioned mood lighting, whilst lovely, wasn’t always conducive to quality photos, so forgive me!

To end the meal, because the dishes we had eaten felt so light and delicate, we went big! We both had the molten chocolate fondant with 66% Caraibe Valrhona beans. The cake was deeply rich, almost earthily sweet, but not too cloying, which can sometimes be the case with chocolate fondants. The cream that accompanied it, with a very slight hint of vanilla, sat surprisingly on top of a ball of vanilla ice cream. The combination of hot pudding and cold ice cream is always a winner, and I would argue with anyone who said otherwise! It was so delicious that we forgot to take pictures, but the presentation was not particularly different to a chocolate fondant you have had before.

Washed down with a lovely Provencal Rose at 45 euros, this meal, whilst not cheap, felt like incredibly good value for the quality and presentation of the food, the setting and the service. The hotel was also, whilst very busy at check-in and check-out, incredibly polite and made you feel like you were a valued and important customer, which is always nice when on holiday!

Once again, never sponsored, just an honest review of a lovely evening. Check out the restaurant’s website here, which can also be accessed via the Radisson Blu Nice website.

Calade Rooftop Restaurant, Nice

Just a little photo of the view from our balcony, just to rub it in!

My Top 5: Lyon Food Market

Continuing the French series, today I am going to revisit my trip to Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse, which is essentially one of the biggest, covered food markets in Lyon. I am equally ashamed and proud to admit that I had only heard of the term ‘les halles’ for food markets from the French pavilion in Epcot (it’s the name of the bakery there and it’s awesome- go there too). As much as I love it there, I loved the real deal even more. For a foodie like me, there was way too much to see, taste and buy, so to prove to you that I can do shorter blog posts, I’ve narrowed down my Top 5 purchases.

1: Tart Lyonnaise

My, oh, my; what a slice of pie. Actually, a tart to be exact. I had never heard of the famous Lyonnaise tart until I was researching for my trip (I feel it’s important to do this when you’re going to one of the gourmet capitals of the world and are only staying for a day…). This sweet treat is exactly that; layers of pretty pink caramel, with almonds interspersed throughout a sweet pastry case. It was decadent, chewy, but surprisingly not overly sweet, due to the sea-salt in the caramel. It seems the Lyonnaise pastry chefs were ahead of their time when it comes to the sea-salt/sweet treat trend. The texture and addition of the nuts made me think of a bright-pink pecan pie; and what can be bad about that?! A real pleasant surprise and I strongly recommend you educate yourselves by eating one. My enthusiasm really took over and I forgot to take a picture before eating, so here is one from the official Lyon tourism site:

Recipe for Lyonnaise tart

2: St Marcellin Cheese

I love cheese. All cheese. So obviously I nearly combusted with joy when walking through Les Halles. There are copious amounts of cheese supplied by several different stalls, and it can even get a bit overwhelming when you want to try them all (I wanted to, I really did). One cheese I knew I needed to try was St Marcellin, another Lyonnaise delicacy. This unpasteurised goat’s cheese looks like a Camembert from the white yeast coating on the outside. The texture is also similar to a brie or Camembert, but as soon as you bite into the creamy, silky flesh (can a cheese have flesh?), there is the unmistakable tang of goat’s cheese. In the most delicious way, a good cheese can sometimes smell of the farm (please tell me you get what I mean); warm hay, animals etc. It’s not overwhelming, but it makes you feel like you can imagine the process from milk to cheese and taste those stages. It was not a strong cheese, but it was definitely satisfyingly moreish and I would recommend to anyone who likes the aforementioned soft cheeses, but who might be a bit wary of goat’s cheese as this is a good in-between.

3: Bayonne Ham

Probably one of the more well-known products to hail from France, but a first for me. Bayonne ham is a cured, sliced charcuterie similar to Parma or Serrano ham. However, unlike the former, I felt that this ham had more depth, perhaps a bit more smoke to it without being overwhelming, and the salt balance was just right. It is a ham that stands up on its own; you don’t need to pair it with a cheese or even a piece of bread, that’s how tasty it is. Go get some, from somewhere.

4: Lyonnaise Sausage in Brioche

Think a hot dog, but fancy. Everywhere in Les Halles are varying sizes of this tasty, simple snack. Essentially, it does what is says on the tin; a frankfurter type sausage (sometimes with variations of herbs/seasonings) placed in the centre of a Brioche loaf and baked. Once sliced, you have something which is like a hot dog-pork pie hybrid, and I’m not mad about that at all. Very simple in flavour, but no less rich than the other highlights, this is the perfect combination of smoke, salt, butter and a little bit of naughtiness.

I’m trying to get better at not eating stuff straight away and having more self control. Until that day, have a picture from Eat, Little Bird.

Lyonnaise Sausage Roll

5: Bellota, Bellota

Ok, this one is a bit controversial, but it’s a Friday and I’m feeling sassy. Bellota, Bellota is a Spanish wine bar and charcuterie supplier in the middle of Les Halles. What I really enjoyed about the market as a whole was the small wine bars and cafe’s that line the middle (a little like Borough Market). We stopped here for a glass of wine, and it was really good. Matt had a glass of red, and I had a glass of white. The white I had was La Cana, available on their website, and it was fantastically crisp and fresh, with notes of apply and peach. It wasn’t too dry, and it quenched my thirst. Matt said his red was medium-full bodied, juicy with red fruits and a slight spice, but we couldn’t remember the name. To be honest, I would be inclined to think most of their wines are fantastic, so take a look on their site and see if there’s anything you fancy (not sponsored, just love wine; also they gave Phoebs free cut-offs from the ham, so they deserve the recognition).

Bellota, Bellota

Anyway, hope you enjoyed our whistle-stop tour of Lyon food market. I would encourage anyone to visit food markets when they’re away; the produce is fresh, the suppliers are passionate and the experience is like no other. Until next time!

A Short Stay in Epernay

It’s been a weird time. We all know this, so I’m going to keep this site free of any C-word (careful…) business, because let’s be honest you didn’t click on a food blog to be reminded of the 21st century version of the plague. So we’ll leave all that stuff there and I’ll just say that Matt and I went to France in the car for a few days as a mini-moon, after we postponed our US/Mexico trip. All the establishments mentioned in this series adhered to all safety protocols and distancing was fine; we did choose to sit outside though, as the weather was great. I highly recommend The Fork app for anyone wanting to explore places to eat in Europe (mostly). It’s like Open Table, so it lets you book on the app instead of struggling to do so in your GCSE-at-best French, but you also earn points and can get discounts on it too. I really liked it as they also listed the safety protocols the restaurants had implemented, so you could be led by that if you were struggling to make a decision. Disclaimer: I am in no way sponsored by The Fork, or anyone for that matter…it’s ok you can feel sorry for me later.

Epernay- The Home of Champagne

For those of you unfamiliar with Epernay, it is in the North-East (don’t @ me because of my poor geography please I’m just trying to set the scene) of France, a short distance from the perhaps more famous city of Reims. Both are surrounded by miles of lush vineyards, producing the bubbly beauty that is Champagne. Champagne houses, where you can taste multiple glasses (3-5 of around 70ml) for about £15-20, line the main avenue. There are of course famous names to spot on the gilded gates, such as Moet and Chandon, but I recommend you also try the smaller places which may not have the cellars onsite, but still do tastings. For example, we had a 3-glass tasting at LeClerc Briant Champagne house, which is opposite the beautiful Boizel cellars which are also worth a look. We sat on the terrace, shaded by pear and olive trees, and tried two Champagnes and one Rose Champagne from the area. What I loved about Epernay is the care the servers took over explaining the sugar dosage in each champagne which determines whether it is Brut, Extra Brut (i.e. the ‘dry-ness’ you get when you taste it), but also the knowledge they have about the area the vines are grown. You can see why Champagne can only be produced within a set area, and that those who do produce is are incredibly proud of that. Anyway, the tasting was 12 euros each and you can read more about the LeClerc Briant group here: https://maisons-champagne.com/en/

We then went to the Moet and Chandon (Moet et Chandon if we’re being authentic here) museum, shop and cellars and took part in a cellar tour. What I loved most, except the fact I got to try more Champagne obviously, is that the tour allowed us to carry Phoebe, our dog, with us. This meant no deciding who did the tour first, which would obviously have been me, for research… Anyway, Moet offer a selection of tours at different price points. We both went for the hour tour, and I selected the ticket with one glass of Moet (what was I thinking?!) and Matt selected the ticket with 2 glasses (that’s why I married him). My ticket was 25 euros, his was 37.50, so quite an up-tick in price for one glass, but you are also paying for the experience of one of the most famous Champagne producers. I had read reviews of the tour which said it seemed very one-dimensional and rushed, but I can honestly say we did not find that to be the case at all. Our guide explained the appellation of the region (the topography and geography of the set ‘Champagne’ vineyards), the fermentation process, how they turn the bottles one quarter one way and then an eighth back the other until the sediment collects to be removed and shereally seemed to enjoy leading us through the 28km of tunnel-cellars that there are (although, to be fair, we didn’t walk all of them- can you imagine?!). So, all in all, I would really recommend the tour; a lot of the other houses were closed on the Tuesday we went, so be aware of that, but Moet was a really great one and the shop is just too much temptation…(https://www.moet.com/en-int). Incidentally, if you don’t fancy doing a tour, or even visiting the Champagne houses (I’m judging you), then there’s a really nice bar in the centre of Epernay called C. Comme Sarl that do very reasonable tastings and excellent local charcuterie.

I realise, as a food blogger primarily, I haven’t mentioned any food yet, but I did this for two reasons: I really enjoy Champagne and we actually skipped lunch (this never happens) that day because we bounced (staggered?) from one tasting to the next. However, the food of Epernay must not and will not be overlooked and so I will take you first to one of the most beautiful patisseries I have encountered (and, not to brag, but I love cake so…). Maison Dallet was recommended to me by a friend of my sister-in-law and I will be forever grateful.

Maison Dallet

This little patisserie on the corner of one of the main streets in Epernay centre produced, to my mind, one of the best puff pastry items I have ever eaten. It was breakfast time, so we went there primarily for croissants, as you do. Matt got an all-butter croissant, the lamination so shiny you could see your face in it (attractive). The flakes of pastry melted in the mouth and, this is something I like about high-quality French patisserie, the flavour was almost of salted butter, not sweet like the cake-y (technical term) ones you can get from the supermarket.

I had an pastry filled with a slightly-spiced (cinnamon) apple compote and it was extremely moreish. Once again there was that slight savoury note to the pastry, which balanced the jam nicely, and left you wanting to catch the drips oozing out on the other side. 10/10 would recommend.

Another reason I love my husband, as well as his thirst for Champagne, is his ability to have zero self-control when it comes to sweet treats in the morning (this makes Disney trips particularly fun). So, not only did we get our pastries, he chose a dense, rich and cocoa-laden chocolate souffle from the patisseries section. My body is obviously a temple though, so I chose just 6 macarons from the rainbow-coloured counter. 6 for 6.50 euros, but man were they worth it. The flavours I chose were: Champagne (surprisingly detectable), Rose Champagne (less so), Raspberry (yum), Pistachio (so overwhelmingly nutty, in a good way), Coffee (woke me up!) and Butter Salted Caramel (indulgent to the extreme). Hands-down my favourite was the Pistachio; I have never before had a macaron that had so much flavour in such a small bite.

L’Oeil De Boeuf

Now onto savoury offerings. For dinner on our second night we went to another recommended restaurant. I always love taking recommendations, especially in other countries, so be sure to message me any you think are particularly yum! We went to a small restaurant, tucked round the back of our hotel, called L’Oeil de Boeuf (‘Bullseye’ or ‘Eye of the Cow’, which is how un-romantically I translated it). The restaurant is minimalist and Modern European in style. The inside is charming enough, if a bit basic. We sat out on the terrace, which is framed by a really interesting Japanese-style garden; a good use of such a small space. The service was friendly and relaxed, if not a bit too relaxed at some points (but hey, we were on holiday so we didn’t mind). The food was a mixture of inventive dishes, sharing plates and French classics.

For starters, I had the house salad. When I think of French salads of holidays past, this is what I think of; thick, dense and deliciously warm rounds of goat’s cheese on crunchy toast, bacon lardons in a mustard vinaigrette dispersed through a mixture of leaves, tomatoes (fresh and sun-dried), roast potatoes and a surprising crunch from pine nuts. Probably the least healthy, but definitely the most delicious, salad I have had in a long time. The portion was large too, for a starter, so could be shared (but why would you even think like that?). Matt had scallop carpaccio, almost the antithesis of my dish; delicate, clean with crisp notes of citrus from grapefruit and orange that was served with it. He made up for his lighter choice on the main though…

It was one of our first nights in France; I was craving steak, of course I was. I chose the Chateaubriand 400g (I’m a beast and finished it all), with Roquefort sauce, fries and salad. The steak was cooked medium-rare, as I like it, and the texture was succulent and melting. However, due to the nature of the cut, the flavour was not that prominent; not as much as it would be in a ribeye or something with more marbling. That being said, the earthy, salty Roquefort sauce made up for this and brought depth and much enjoyment when dipping in the crunchy fries. Matt had the butcher’s block; a 200g ribeye, a smoked duck salad, a bruschetta with local brie-type cheese melted onto it and fries. He was unfortunately beaten by the surprise cheese on toast (who wouldn’t be? Me.) but he said each individual component was well-cooked and incredibly rich.

All in all, L’Oeil de Boeuf was a relaxed, intimate restaurant in the heart of such a pleasant town that I would recommend to anyone. It wasn’t overly expensive; we shared a demi bottle of red (after all that Champagne we do have some sense) and it came to around 80 euros each. Unfortunately the website doesn’t have the menu up at the moment, but I’ll link it here for you to have a browse should you wish: https://www.oeil-de-boeuf.com/

Epernay may not be as famous as its neighbour Reims, but I would go as far as to say that, if you are anything like me, who loves a small provincial French town (with loads of Champagne), you should check it out.

 

 

Frolics a la Francaise

I have been itching to get back on here; having started a proper, ‘grown-up’ job (scary!), life’s been a bit manic, but a girl’s still got to eat! Before I start again with ‘one-off’ foodie posts, the perfectionist in me wishes to recount my recent foreign soujorns that now seem like a lifetime ago, in order to complete my travel posts. One of these holidays was a delightful girly trip to Paris with one of my oldest friends Miss Mollie. Having never been to the infamous capital, food was the main thing on my mind (when is it not?). I was not disappointed; we enjoyed the cultural diversity and inherent ‘buzz’ of the city not only in our site-seeing but also in our munching. For ease and to save you getting ‘square eyes’, I will summarise my highlights, but hopefully this will be enough to give you a taste of one of the foodiest places in the world.

We stayed in Le Rocroy hotel, just a hop and a skip from the Gare du Nord. The hotel is modern without feeling corporate, with beautiful, spacious rooms which face quaint apartments and their accompanying window boxes. We didn’t opt for any food at the hotel; there is simply no point in paying for a hotel breakfast when you can get meltingly scrumptious pain au chocolate with oozing frangipane from a local bakery for €1.50, or an exceedingly rich Croque-Monsieur for a similar price. With such sinful treats to keep you going throughout the touristy bits, the only real main meal we had was dinner.

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On our first night, having been blown away by the beauty of the Eiffel Tower at sunset and after ‘oooing and aaaahing’ at the sparkling lights which adorn it once it is dark, we turned a corner and found the quintessentially French Chez Ribe. Sitting facing the street and the steady throng of people, I chose to have the set menu of three courses for €20. To begin, a beautifully smokey, coarse-textured ham hock terrine with crisp sourdough and piquant gherkins which cut through the fatty pork. For main, I chose the steak of the day, cooked medium-rare but unfortunately slightly overdone and chewy. All was forgiven, however, after tasting the deep, glossy jus and crisp, seasoned fries. Dessert ended the meal on a high; sweet, caramelised apples adorned a traditional tarte tatin and, though the pastry had what most Britons shudder at- a ‘soggy bottom’- the warmth of the comforting pud balanced with silky vanilla ice cream was a joy to eat.

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On another of our evenings we decided to stay closer to base and found a small bistro (Le Nouveau Carillon) near the absolutely stunning Sacre Coeur (a must see). Here I tried my first snail; a pleasant, if overpoweringly garlicky surprise- a bit like a more meaty mussel. My main course was a  delicately seasoned penne dish with courgettes and subtly tangy goat’s cheese. The service here was not the best, due to a rather new waitress who did not seem to understand us (or my pigeon French) too well- probably more my fault than hers! The bill was around €25 each with a couple of glasses of wine; rather pricey for what it was, but the nearby beauty of the Sacre Coeur made it worth it.

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Lastly, a slightly maverick highlight. Being massive Disney fans, we took a trip out to Disneyland one day (only 45mins from the Gare du Nord) and it was here that I experienced one of the most outrageously indulgent desserts ever (and I’ve been to the US!). At the fun, retro Annette’s Diner, as well as gooey chicken quesadillas and a herby pesto and mozzarella burger, I chose the simply named Doughnut Burger for dessert. However, the name didn’t do this justice; it consisted of a glazed doughnut ‘bun’, spread with peanut butter, encasing banana ice cream, topped with caramel sauce, chocolate curls, peanuts and whipped cream. Oh, and roasted caramelised bananas. Got it? Good, because it was an experience! And a taste sensation. The combination of salty and sweet, warm and cold, smooth and crunchy was unforgettable, and my jeans certainly didn’t forget I had it either. It was worth every cent of €10. It just goes to show that you can be a foodie in a Parisienne bistro and in an American themed diner and have just as amazing food.

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So, a whistle-stop summary of my little French jaunt. With fab food and company, it was memorable to say the least.

As always, for those interested:

Le Rocroy Hotel Paris Gare du Nord

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g187147-d1035659-Reviews-Chez_Ribe-Paris_Ile_de_France.html

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g187147-d2325781-Reviews-Le_Nouveau_Carillon-Paris_Ile_de_France.html

http://www.disneylandparis.co.uk/dining/disney-village/annettes-diner/

My first taste of Croatia

Hello, only me! I have decided to write another travel-inspired post, seeing as this summer I am becoming quite the travel bug, and this time the post is about the wonderful cuisine of Croatia. My boyfriend and I stayed on the Istrian Peninsula, at a beautiful beach resort called Verudela (we stayed in the very modern, beautiful Park Plaza apartment complex), but we were only ten minutes away by bus from the city of Pula, full of Roman history and artefacts. Because we had the best of both worlds; sea, sun, beach and city culture, we were also very fortunate to be able to have many places to choose to eat. The Park Plaza complex itself- a sprawling, village-style resort overlooking the sea- had three of its own restaurants, but we also ventured outside of the hotel.

However, having arrived in the afternoon, on our first evening we went to the resort’s beautiful Restaurant Oliva, a pool bar by day, but a beautiful, romantic setting for a meal in the evening. It overlooks the coast, so diners are able to watch the many yachts and speedboats cruise into various facets of the bay, whilst enjoying well-cooked, pseudo-Mediterranean fair for a respectable price. I chose the ‘Sea Medley’, which consisted of a grilled fish (which they called ‘Noble fish’), two langoustine and some grilled octopus, served with a dressed salad (£12). The whole fish was crisp and well seasoned on the outside, with the flesh delicate yet meaty. The langoustine were sweet and plump and the octopus provided an iron-rich, savoury note. The salad was simple, but let the seafood shine because of this. My boyfriend chose a perfectly cooked rump steak, rare, with fries and a thick and luscious white wine and mushroom sauce (£9). The steak literally melted in the mouth and had a truly ‘beefy’ flavour. For dessert, we shared a selection of local cheese (£5), including a hard ewe’s cheese which was tangy and salty and a beautifully delicate, creamy gorgonzola. For two courses and two alcoholic drinks each, the bill totalled £17.50pp including tip, which I truly believe was a steal, considering the location.

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On our second evening we ventured into Pula, finding ourselves enticed by a restaurant which I can only assume translated as ‘Laurel and Hardy’s’, due to the picture on the front of the menu and, fortunately, only a small statue of the two on the terrace (had I known the theme before hand, I may have been put off- luckily the food was worth staying for). We sat on the terrace overlooking the square, where a jazz band played in front of the clock tower positioned next to a beautiful old monastery. We shared some gorgeous Croatian white wine (Croatian wine was a true revelation; well-balanced, fruity and easy to drink, whether red, white or rose) called Malvazija; we loved it so much we bought back rather a lot, and decided to start with some local anchovies and truffle-cheese. Strong flavours to say the least, with the anchovies providing a punchy taste of the sea and the cheese really showcasing the truffle, a Croatian speciality. For the main we shared a meat platter which consisted of perfectly succulent grilled chicken breast, pork chops, herbaceous sausages and garlic and rosemary-infused lamb meatballs rather similar to the Greek kofta. Served with fries, a beautiful tomato risotto, grilled vegetables and a red pepper tapenade which seems to be served with every main meal, we were extremely full and extremely happy by the time we left. Once again, having paid only about £20 per person, including a tip, the meal felt luxurious yet guilt-free.

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Obviously I cannot mention all of the restaurants we ate at, otherwise we’d be here until next summer, but a truly special meal was had on our penultimate night in the Verudela Marina at a hotel called Ribarska Koliba. The sleek fish restaurant overlooks the various yachts, catamarans and sailing boats (I would recommend taking a boat trip; we went on a glass-bottomed boat for 2 hours, which took us to three separate islands and allowed us to feed fish, all for £10 each). Although we sat inside, the giant ‘windows’ are completely open, so you feel the sea breeze and smell the salty water, without getting too hot. Obviously popular with Croatian celebrities, as attested by the various photographs on the walls, Ribarska Koliba pride themselves on sourcing their fish from a few steps away, at the marina’s market. Because of this, the catch of the day always varies and the ice cabinets from which you select your choice differ greatly from day to day. I chose the Fisherman’s Platter to start with, which consisted of beautifully tender cuttlefish, cold and dressed in a light vinaigrette, garlic and sweet chilli-marinated prawns, smoked tuna steak and a wonderfully smooth white-fish pate on crisp fried brioche. Matt chose a medley of local mussels, doused in a moreish garlic and white wine sauce which you could easily have drunk on its own. For our main I had the Fritto Misto, consisting of deep-fried calamari, snapper and shark. The calamari was, unfortunately, slightly tough (which I find hard to excuse in a fish and seafood restaurant), the shark was wonderfully meaty and the snapper was delicate, but nothing special. The star was the aioli which accompanied the dish; so powerful with garlic and lemon that I could have coated everything in it. The boiled parsley potatoes were soft without being powdery and I enjoyed the spinach, which didn’t appear to be too waterlogged or gritty. Matt chose a piece of bream and two grilled squid. Again, the squid tentacles were slightly chewy, but the white fish was prepared expertly and fell away from the bone. The portion sizes were rather large and we were given unlimited complimentary bread, but this was by far our most expensive meal. With a bottle of Malvazija and an extra glass each (hey, we were on holiday), and two courses, including a tip it was £45pp. However, if you want a special meal in a breath-taking setting, with a varied and tailor-made menu, I would certainly recommend it.

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That brings us to the end of our short culinary tour of the Istrian coast; I wouldn’t want to tell you every single detail, that’s for you to discover yourselves! I am currently collating a bank of material over the summer for my next few posts, so I will write another one in a little while, once you’ve all stopped salivating over what you have just read. Until then…

As always, for those who are interested:

http://www.arenaturist.com/croatia_resorts/park_plaza_verudela

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Greece is the word

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Let’s just completely gloss over the fact that I have been embarrassingly inactive on here for the last couple of months, you all know by now that it was due to the hideousness of final university exams. BUT NOW I am free and with freedom comes the exciting opportunity to get back to tippy-typing on here about my culinary adventures. The first (of hopefully many) being my recent post-exam celebration trip to the Greek island of Skiathos. Having only ever been to the mainland, and having studied Modern Greek language at university for two years, I wanted to explore more of the beautiful country, its culture and, particularly, its food.

We picked Skiathos at random, selecting the gorgeous Esperides Beach Hotel situated in Achladies Bay. The 4* institution offered a slice of tradition, which is certainly what we were looking for; simply decorated, white-walled rooms, beautiful golden sand beaches, clear-as-crystal Aegean sea and amazing food. Staying on a half-board basis, we were sceptical before going as to whether we would be satisfied with what was on offer each morning and evening at the buffet. Fortunately, we were not disappointed. As well as the wonderful, friendly staff, the selection on offer was varied yet authentic. Although it would take far too long to list everything I ate (I feel no shame), some hotel highlights will be described. At breakfast, the traditional spinach pies (spanakopita) and cheese pies (tiropita), encased in light, flaky filo were a salty and savoury delight. On the other hand, the traditional custard-filled morning sweet-treat of Bougatsa was creamy and indulgent. The bread was always warm and fresh, the Greek yoghurt thick and luscious and, consequently, the diners always full and content.

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The same could be said for the evening meal. Fat, juicy aubergines were often served, stuffed with savoury minced lamb, tomatoes, onions and dusted with feta cheese. Calamari, braised in red wine and spinach, offered an iron-rich stew of tender seafood and hearty greens. Sole goujons, perfectly battered and fried until crisp on the outside and beautifully tender on the inside put some of our battered fish establishments to shame. The tomatoes were always juicy and flavoursome, reminding me of how often an ‘English’ (i.e. from the supermarket) tomato is waterlogged and flabby. Of course, the olives lived up to my high expectations, delivering salty richness every time. On Saturdays, the chefs put on a traditional Greek grilled-meat feast, consisting of pork souvlakia (kebab), smoky and spicy sausage and lamb keftedes (meatballs) to name only a few delights. Pared with the gorgeous variety of salads always on offer- a personal favourite was a pickled cabbage coleslaw (think of a mild sauerkraut)- the simplicity was refreshing and comforting. For dessert, as well as a variety of cakes, mousses and fresh fruit, my pudding of choice was always the nutty, syrup-drenched bites of baklava. Due to their overwhelming sweetness, you only needed one or two (that’s saying something, coming from me), to round off the meal.

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However, we did eat outside the hotel on a few occasions. One being for lunch at a harbour-side tavern in Skiathos town (an absolutely stunning collection of white and blue buildings, churches and flowers). Ta Psaradika, named due to its affiliation with local fishing and seafood, presented to us a plate of sharing delights, including spicy cheese dip (tirosalata), tzatziki, taramasalata, deep-fried feta, stuffed vine leaves, aubergine and squash fritters and spanakopita. The morsels of each were small but delivered full-on flavour and we left with full bellies and smiles on our faces (perhaps helped by the accompaniment of a Mythos beer). On our second visit to the town, we stopped off at a tavern completely covered in vines; The Portobello. Located on the main Pappadiamantis street, the interior looked like that of a pirates’ hide-out. The highlight of our meal there was the feta parcel; wafer-thin filo encasing a soft, salty and squidgy centre of feta, with the neat package drizzled in honey and garnished with poppy seeds. The result was a flavour and texture combination that will stay with me forever; so simple, yet so special. On another occasion, we ate at a beach-side tavern to the left of the hotel. Maniatis Garden was a covered terrace, shaded by trees and decked out in the beautiful duck-egg blue and white scheme that immediately relaxes you. The halloumi and grilled vegetable salad, dressed with honey and balsamic, perfectly combined salty, sweet, smoky and sour. The courgette fritters, served with harissa yoghurt, were crispy on the outside and soft and cheesy on the inside. Rosemary and garlic roast potatoes provided the perfect accompaniment. It truly was a beautiful place to watch the world go by. The best thing about eating outside of the hotel was how reasonable everywhere was; there was never a need to spend over £17 for two for a substantial lunch and a drink.

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I have purposely had to restrict myself on this post, because given the opportunity I would describe in detail every single morsel I encountered. Suffice to say that, even without the food, Skiathos is a beautifully peaceful, serene and unspoilt island; the people are friendly and I truly felt at home there. Add to that the outstanding cuisine and I’m on the local estate agent’s website already…

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I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to give Skiathos a go, you won’t regret it. So, for those who want to know more:

Home

http://www.skiathos.gr/

http://www.portobelloskiathos.gr/

Bank Holiday + laziness = a mini Easter pub crawl (or should that be a waddle…)

Happy Easter everyone! It’s the time of year where it’s (hopefully) getting warmer, it’s certainly getting lighter and long weekends are becoming more frequent; how can any of those things be bad? They just can’t. What is bad, however, is how long I’ve been away. I can only apologise from the bottom of my currently chocolate-encased heart and give the feeble excuse that it is now final-exam revision time and it weighs heavy on me. I genuinely cannot wait for the day where this takes precedence; one day friends, one day (approximately any time post 15th July if you want specifics). Anyway, enough self-pity, time for food talk.

Although many people enjoy cooking over the long weekend, inviting family and friends over for a veritable feast and, indeed, we have been known to do such a thing many a time (and I still count my Easter-themed cupcake baskets which I made for family and friends this year as ‘cooking’), this year I ate out a couple of times instead. Obviously it’s my public service to all of you in case you need inspiration, and I suppose I’m happy to ‘work’ at the weekend if I MUST. Sigh. Anyway, my Easter celebrations started with a meal at the quaint, picturesque White Hart Inn in Margaretting Tye in Essex on Thursday evening. I have been to this pub on many occasions; a true family favourite, situated down a country lane just outside the village of Stock. The magnolia hue of the outside always makes it feel like summer, even on the coldest of days, and the surrounding farm land makes one feel as if they really are out in the sticks, when in reality it’s about 15 minutes from Chelmsford city centre. The menu changes frequently at the White Hart, with a sufficient selection of specials written on individual blackboards which hang above the cosy fireplace; the nucleus of the Inn.

On this occasion, I chose to start with Malaysian chicken strips. Despite not being Malaysian in any sense of the word (maybe they didn’t like the sound of Coronation chicken strips, not sure I do either), they were pleasant enough. Served in a pleasing, but unoriginal poppadum ‘bowl’, the crisp yet tender chicken was doused in a severely savoury curry mayonnaise. The flavours were indeed moreish, if slightly rich and unfortunately there was too much sauce, meaning the poppadom became extremely soggy on the bottom; now I’m no Mary Berry, but I’m not a fan of a soggy bottom on any day of the week. The saving grace was the perfectly piquant raita served aside, and a powerfully herbaceous onion salad which managed to off-set the cloying coating. On to the mains, and I played it traditional with fish and chips. The chips were perfectly crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside as they should be, but needed more seasoning. The fish was soft, if not slightly slimy, but the batter is what made my blood boil. In my opinion (and it is indeed humble), if you cannot fry a piece of fish in batter to achieve a perfectly crisp shell encasing delicate white fish, don’t put it on the menu. The batter was fine at the thinner end, but as I worked my way along, I was faced with a pappy, floury jacket of horridness that, needless to say, I left. A real shame, but I’ll move on. The highlight for me was the homemade tartare sauce; a great texture with chunks of gherkin and fragrant dill, it lifted the whole dish. By the time dessert came, I was rather full, but managed a duo of ice cream and sorbet; chocolate and mango respectively. I don’t usually pick ice cream as a dessert, but I fancied something sweet yet light. No one can quibble about the portion sizes here; the sundae glass i was presented with was mammoth, complete with crisp, buttery shortbread and fresh strawberries. The meal ended on a high and I rolled out happier than I would have had I stopped at the main. The service was rather slow, with the staff not seeming to know anything about the dishes when asked and disappearing/ getting distracted rather easily. In terms of price, a three-course meal and an alcoholic drink is probably around the £30-a-head mark and ordinarily that would seem justified at The White Hart. Perhaps they had an off-day. Maybe you can see for yourself.

I had just stopped feeling full from this meal by Easter Sunday, which was handy as it was time for another outing; this time to The Running Mare on the way to Chelmsford. Not quite as calm in setting, as it is set back off of the main road, but a delight nevertheless. Part of the Vintage Inn group I had also been here several times before and I am usually more than happy with the food, but I had never been for Sunday lunch. I was not disappointed. First of all, the service was absolutely impeccable; the staff were the complete opposite of those at the previous pub- knowledgeable, more than accommodating and genuinely polite. That started the meal off nicely. To start, I had the chicken liver pate, served with onion chutney and toasted poppy-seed bloomer. The pate was iron-rich and decadent, with the sweet yet sharp onion chutney restoring the balance. The baked brie also came with said chutney and the whole dish was brightened because of it. For main, I chose the rolled belly of pork, stuffed with sage and onion sausage meat, served with a deeply rich and silky-smooth mustard sauce, accompanied by a ‘baked’ apple which was in fact a fried disc atop a hockey-puck of black pudding. Some spring vegetables were neatly placed on the side. The flavours of this dish balanced so well I could have easily had a second helping; the sage and onion stuffing was meaty and fragrant, the pork succulent , the apple disc crunchy and sweet, paired perfectly with the smoky black pudding. Every bite worked so well, it was a delight. Despite this not being on the ‘Roast’ menu, I did see plates of roast beef and pork go past, filled to the brim with succulent meat, duck-fat potatoes,honeyed parsnips, spring vegetables, pigs-in-blanket and a Yorkshire pudding, all covered (but not drowned) in thick gravy. You certainly get your money’s worth here, with two courses and a drink on average about £20 per person. No dessert for me this time, far too much chocolate to get through (not that I’m complaining), but I certainly will next time.

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So there we are. I hope I have made up for my absence with effectively two reviews in one. Apologies for no White Hart pictures, I was sans camera and the lighting isn’t great in there. Anyway, in a few months’ time all the academics will be done and I can give myself over to eating my way through life. Though that’s not to say I won’t be doing that in the meantime too. Until next time…

http://www.thewhitehart.uk.com/

http://www.vintageinn.co.uk/therunningmarechelmsford/restaurantsfood/