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Archive for the ‘restaurants’ Category

our bill for lunch at Le Cafe Anglais

Well, fo-di-oh-dee; what a wonderful weekend!  Kicked it off on Maundy Thursday with a visit to the remarkably beautiful Le Café Anglais, courtesy of their magnanimous Friend for a Fiver offer: this consisted of halving the total food bill for the two of us and adding just five pounds to the remainder.  For the mathematically minded, our alimental equation was thus:

£ (12+9.5+24.5+29.5+3)/2 +5 = £44.25

And what a terrific deal: we descended as a pair of locusts  intent of bankrupting Rowley Leigh by our greed but, on finding ourselves defeated by the gentlemanly generosity of his portioning, declined dessert.  A cover charge, wine, coffee and service boosted the bill considerably, but every penny was worth the spend.  What a thrill to sip chilled Saumur  (blanc et rouge), over a sunny spring luncheon in such stunning surroundings: a total treat.

No pix though; I’ve become a bit squeamish about photo-ing food in public and there are plenty already online… suffice to say the icy oysters could not have been fresher, a holy trio of hors d’oeuvres lived up to their legendary status, the St. George’s mushrooms were an earthly delight, the salsify cooked to perfection – yes, every complimentary cliché about this place is true.  And as far as I’m concerned, no photo could do justice to the majesty of the art deco architectonics either.  I recommend you go and enjoy.

Talk about putting a spring in our step; we spent the rest of the afternoon strolling across the western edge of Hyde Park,  admiring the view from the upper deck of a Number 9 bus before winding our way across Soho and Covent Garden to Charing Cross and then home.

Well, with the stunning weekend weather I think we all felt a bit resurrected by Easter Monday; fit and ready for fresh somethings – anythings after the long winter hibernation.  But, having forgotten to go to the farmers’ market on Saturday our only “fresh” fixings were frozen peas.  What? Ok, frozen peas: they’re “fresher” than fresh peas, so there.  What was at first a disappointment and a waste of ingredients I transformed into something that blew us all away, hooray:  fresh herbs and fresh ricotta can take you a long, long way.

pea, lettuce & lovage soup with pea & ricotta bruschetta

The soup took inspiration from Mark Hix’s multiple versions on The Independent’s website, or those given by Hugh Fearnley-Wittingshall at various locations.  I did it this way:
Soup
a goodly knob of butter – about 15g or 1/2 oz
1 or 2 leeks, washed and shredded
1 little gem lettuce, shredded
200g frozen peas
500 ml vegetable stock (I haul out the Swiss Marigold)
6 lovage leaves (strong flavour, taste as you go)
salt, pepper

Sweat the leeks in the butter until soft, about 10 minutes. Add lettuce and peas, turn to coat in butter and soften gently under a lid for 5 minutes-odd. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil then cover and simmer until the peas are tender – about 10 minutes. Blend, adding lovage leaves gingerly, tasting all the while. If, like me, you have a not-very-good hand blender it won’t do a great job and your soup will never attain the desired smoothness. I kept going to no avail, so eventually decided to sieve it. This produced a fine-flavoured thin soup and a mountain of debris – far too much to waste indeed, hence the bruschetta.
Bruschetta with pea and ricotta
leftovers from sieving pea soup
sufficient ricotta to lighten the leftovers to a spreadable consistency (2 tablespoons perhaps)
a grating of fresh lemon zest
several drops fresh lemon juice
small sprig fresh mint, chopped fine
a scattering of fresh chives, chopped fine
one small clove fresh garlic, any central green shoot removed
a couple of slices pain de campagne
a drizzle (YES – a drizzle) extra virgin olive oil, or, even better, lemon oil

Stir together the pea solids and ricotta, add the herbs to taste and season.  Grill the bread on both sides, and once lightly toasted, rub the garlic clove  over the surface, as when making Pa Amb Oli (minus the tomato, natch).  Top with the pea and ricotta mixture, apply the drizzle of oil and sprinkle with the scatter of herbs.  Serve the soup in small cups alongside the bruschetta.

ps – I can report that the soup tastes just as good, if not better, chilled the next day – perfect for the hot weather of late.

Le Cafe Anglais on Urbanspoon

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My first husband’s idea of wit was to exclaim, whenever the opportunity presented itself (surprisingly, gratingly, often);  “Anchovies? Smelly little fish!”   The marriage didn’t last long, but if by some warped circumstance we had found ourselves strolling the markets of Vieux Nice last week, I should have been delighted to waterboard him with a vat of poutine in response.

baby anchovies for sale in Vieux Nice

Now, fresh poutine is not smelly but it is most certainly a preponderance of tiny little baby fish: the fry of sardines and, yes-you-guessed-it, anchovies; rather rare, rather restricted and rather delicious, netted strictly by licence, only along the Côte d’Azur between Antibes and Menton, and only for a month at the end of winter (February/March): very local, very special and altogether too good for no-good husbands.  Happily for the peace of the Vieille Ville, I was accompanied by the darling Mr T, whose adult approach to things piscine is a joy, an ichthyic ideal.

Jacques Médecin, controversial erstwhile mayor of Nice, was a passionate advocate of Niçoise cuisine and I quote here from his well-regarded cookbook, La bonne cuisine du Comté de Nice:

A la saison de février, lorsque brille, sur les étals, la nacre de poutine, les rues des villes – vieilles ou nouvelles – retentissent de l’appel des marchandes: “A la bella poutina!  A la bella poutina!”  qui inspira mon vieux camarade de classe Gilbert Becaud dans sa chanson sur les marchés de Provence.

Around February, as the pearly sheen of poutine gleams on the market stalls, town streets – old and new – ring with the call of the vendors: “A la bella poutina!  A la bella poutina!”, the inspiration for my former classmate Gilbert Becaud’s song,  The Markets of Provence [Gastroplod’s rough & ready translation]

and for your extreme pleasure, here’s Gilbert Becaud himself – listen out for him calling “A la bella poutina” at the very end and you will have a charming early-spring echo of  Place St-François in Vieux Nice.


click here for the lyrics (in French)

I took my first and as-yet-only taste of poutine at the Café des Fleurs on the Cours Saleya, in one of its traditional preparations in the form of an omelette.  No surprises here, it tasted just like an omelette with all the briny flavour and savour of very fresh anchovies and sardines, and I did enjoy the sparkle of their teeny-weeny little eyes glinting in the sunlight.
omelette made with seasonal baby fish; sardines, anchovies, in Vieux Nice

French Wiki reference: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poutine_(Nice)

* this poutine has nothing to do with that somewhat-stodgier Québecois fries-gravy-curds speciality also called poutine: although I used to enjoy that version now & then in Vancouver, I know which I’d prefer now…

apartment rental

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spinny

Am I nuts? This short clip was taken over a year ago, and in the depths of winter, yet it still reminds me of sunnier climes. I’m just getting excited about getting back to Vieux Nice: next trip I’ll try to snap some sultry summertime footage.

Might be an idea to turn down the sound thanks to the blustery Mistral…or Tramontana…not sure which wind was blowing at the time but either way it made a horrible noise!

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Don’t get me wrong here folks, I have huge admiration for Michelin-starred chef/restaurateur/TV presenter/cookbook author Richard Corrigan, with his salt-of-the-earth bonhomie, clear-eyed yet unjaundiced worldview and his solid, down-home cooking style.  But I did a double-take when I saw his latest publication, The Clatter of Forks and Spoons placed next to Big Flavours & Rough Edges: Recipes from the Eagle – wouldn’t you?

roughandtumble1
It’s a terrific image so I don’t begrudge it at all – that’s my charity-shop-chic silver plate cutlery! – and Corrie’s text is so environmentally and politically astute, I can even find the recycling of a cover idea eco-fabulously forgiveable.  It’s almost a shame he couldn’t have borrowed the title too, but the rattle of battered flatware on a hard surface is even more gorgeously evocative of his writing.  Not a plain celebrity chef collection of restaurant recipe formulae, this book follows the current fashion, being a collation of discursive thoughts and memories, favourite dishes and discoveries: recipes sharing equal space with long tracts of text and a smattering of mood-evoking photographs; similar to Georgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy, for example.  To which I say hooray, by the way – who ever learnt anything about food or cooking from a mere recipe book?

On the other hand, I was going to recommend David Eyre’s excellent-in-parts Eagle gastro-pub-grub book – for its informative recipes but not its crummy index – until I realised it’s out of print and £95 – bloody hell! – so I’ll just be wiping the spills and splashes from my precious copy a little more assiduously in the future.  I will however, soon be sharing its best recipe: root vegetable & greens soup.  Prosaic-sounding, I know, but absolutely ambrosial, and to which I return time and time again: a soup apart.
Big Flavours & Rough Edges: Recipes from the Eagle
The Clatter of Forks and Spoons

And if you’re not into reading or cooking, sample Richard Corrigan’s hospitality at Bentley’s Oyster Bar 11-15 Swallow Street, London W1 (just off Piccadilly) – bliss – or scroll down and watch this captivating video of him talking about this book
.

His new place sounds pretty nice, too: Corrigan’s Mayfair 28 Upper Grosvenor Street London W1

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escalinada1

…and I loved it.  No, I wasn’t auditioning for a remake of Pink Flamingos, but as in the direct translation of the Nissard dialect’s Merda de Can and no, it’s not actually what it says on the tin, rather a gnocchi Nissarde made with swiss chard (blettes) and/or spinach, shaped to resemble its namesake; I doubt if the resemblance goes further than that.  This wryly-named Niçois speciality is one of my favourites I usually buy at a wonderful pasta and sauce shop, La Clé aux Pâtes in Vieux Nice, to cook at our flat around the corner or even freeze to take home in my luggage.  Other artisan pasta joints in the neighbourhood get more press coverage but in my experience their products don’t come close in quality to what is made on the premises here.  For a change though, today I enjoyed my traditional dish of canine poop with beef daube sauce at celebrated Old Town haunt of authentic Nissart cuisine L’Escalinada.

Merda de Can

How the young waiters manage their combination of cool insouciance, sharp wit, friendly yet professional service is beyond me but it’s very welcome when all too often any hint of an Anglo accent triggers the dreaded treatment touristique.

rabbit

The dish was delish, but I have to say Clé aux Pâtes does it more to my liking.  L’Escalinada’s chef produces a looser stool, metaphorically speaking, than does the genius on rue de la Boucherie, and I like my doggy do with a bit more bite.   T went for the sautéed rabbit which although on the dessicated side of succulent was saved by exquisite tagliatelle with pistou; both made on the spot, perfectly simple and simply perfect.

chickpeas
Couldn’t possibly find fault with our starter either – Ribambelle de l’Escalinada – a starry selection of niçoise nibbles for two to share: after a help-yourself bowl of chickpeas with raw onion and aïoli, our platter delivered sliced raw baby artichokes, stuffed vine leaves, beignets (fritters) of courgette and aubergine, roasted red pepper, marinated octopus and best of all, exquisitely teeny-tiny cuttlefish, freshly battered and deep-fried.  In contrast to its soggy-seeming appearance the beignet batter was light and crisp with a creamy interior, the recipe for which I am delighted to see featured in Nice Matin’s August 2008 review: must try and if it succeeds I’ll post with my recipe translation.

ribambelle

It has been raining buckets for the past week apparently but this afternoon we were treated to sunshine warm enough for basking outdoors on L’Escalinada’s jaunty terrace while sipping our pichet of Côtes de Provence rosé and watching the perennial people-parade along rue Pairolière: it’s so very nice to be back in Nice.

L’Escalinada, 22 rue Pairolière, Nice 06300
La Clé aux Pâtes, 8 bis rue de la Boucherie, Nice 06300

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Spotted at my local Saturday market: chewy snacks for the discerning doggie.

Fido\'s pick & mix
Top from left: cow throats, pig trotters, “paddy whacks” – what’s that?
Front from left: pig snouts, postman’s legs, honey roast bones

Also on display were rinds, knuckles and shanks plus a wide variety of unidentifiable edibles for – and by – animals. Although it’s good to know such things aren’t going to waste, I rather hope the credit crunch is over before we’re feeling the need to sneak them into a stew…and eating a dog’s dinner for real.  Although Mr T is such a flesh fiend he wouldn’t mind at all, I’ll be needing the fabulous, the fearless Fergus Henderson to hold my hand and show me the right way to deal with extremities: respect, Fergus!!

Fergus Henderson’s St. John Restaurants

Fergus shows Mark Bittman of The New York Times a thing or two:  

Douglas Blyde at Intoxicating Prose took a trip to St. John recently: read his review and salivate; then make your reservation.

 

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… we walk into a Menorcan distillery: undaunted by our desultory lunch at Cafe Baixamar we stuck to our plan and headed west for the Xoriguer Gin distillery tasting showroom, not much further along the Mahon waterfront.  T had the purchase of a bottle of G in mind and I tagged along: gin gives me shivers and not in a good way, but to my surprise we found a veritable kaleidoscope of balearic liqueurs set out for sampling.


And yet, like the fabled Marie Celeste, the echoing hall seemed recently abandoned, for beside each tasting barrel sat sinksful of cast-off tasting thimbles and at two in the afternoon our minds boggled at how long they might have been lying there.

So, summoning the bravado of Goldilocks and accompanied by a piped medley of classic rock tunes we set about our solitary tasting of the colourful concoctions:


Phew, well someone had to do it: there were rose, peppermint, coffee, chocolate, chamomile, herb, orange and some kind of butterscotch flavours; plus gin of course.  In memory – as in throat – they coalesce into a sickly sweet melange; my glee was short-lived and after downing a couple all I really wanted to do was brush my teeth, but we soldiered on, doggedly determined to do justice to the full, bewildering range.

Our verdict? I wouldn’t like to say, but we left without buying any and drank an awful lot of water afterwards.   Yet with free entry and air conditioning, I can think of worse ways to idle an odd hour in Mahon, tummy lining and teeth notwithstanding.  Needless to say, gin still makes me queasy.

Gin Xoriguer distillery
Moll de Ponent 93
Maó
971 36 21 97
entry free; open most shop hours
website

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