Category Archives: Further Afield
Final stop of the East Coast trip was to New York. I absolutely love New York, the buildings, the people and ahh the food. I met my Uncle Rod and his super partner Pat. They know New York pretty well so we were in their hands for restaurant bookings.
The 21 Club: Cured Steelhead Salmon with marinated cucumbers, sea beans, sesame seeds and horseradish creme fraiche; Smoked cider glazed pork belly with braised cabbage, fried potatoes and grain mustard and a chocolate bourbon pecan tart with caramel sauce for dessert. The restaurant was incredible it had the most amazing buzz, rich and poor rubbed shoulders united by the fantastic food. Even in the toilets you are charmed by a toilet attendant who cracks hilarious jokes as you attempt to relieve yourself. Its definitely a must book for a NY trip but book ahead as it is extremely popular.
Felidias: Elegant Italian food with exquisite service. Felidia has a huge reputation in New York and it is well deserved. I ordered the most amazingly simple chicken soup to start which was assembled at the table. It was quite possibly the best thing I have eaten all year. Light and delicately flavoured I could have eat a whole cauldron of it. To follow I had the Pappardelle with braised shredded duck. It was rich and deeply flavoured, again, finished off by the table. Service was incredibly accommodating and friendly. I can’t wait to go back.
Carnegie Deli: Eating at the Carnegie Deli is like a rights of passage act for a New York Tourist. From the outside it doesn’t look too promising and the service is typical of New York, efficient with no time wasted on over-friendliness. We were crowded into the room, elbow to elbow with our neighbours and tried to take in the huge menu which must have about 200 menu items. Even with all that choice, everyone has the corned beef sandwich which is outrageously stuffed between two slices of rye bread. I had the Woody Allen which had a mix of corned beef and pastrami. For some reason I ordered coleslaw as well, what was I thinking. I doubt if many people finish the whole sandwich, I managed half and the waiter cheerfully offered to bag the other half but I knew I would carry it round for 1/2 hour and then toss it so I declined. So much food must be wasted. It was really delicious but it feels more like a challenge than an eating experience but you just have to do it once!
Following on from our trip to Washington we went to ‘visit awhile’ in South Carolina with our friends Tony and Betsy in Columbia, South Carolina. Betsy and I had such a great time together swapping recipes and cooking tips. I am fascinated by Southern Cooking and the ingredients and came back with a huge stash from the local Piggly Wiggly.
On a day trip to the beautiful Charleston, South Carolina we were directed to one restaurant above all others as an example of the best of Southern Dining. Magnolias. Before our reservation we went to a super cook shop across the street from the restaurant and I bought the recipe book of the restaurant called ‘Magnolias – Uptown, Down South.’ which later, the waiter happily got one of the cooks to sign. The restaurant is bright and open with large windows and clean lines. We were seated promptly and offered menus. I really wanted to try Fried Green Tomatoes which were huge and came breaded in cornmeal and lightly fried with a cream tomato sauce and salad. They were really delicious though this dish seemed rather substantial for a starter. Other starters around the table were plump and meaty scallops and the signature shrimp and grits.
I’m not sure about grits. I had them for breakfast that morning and even with loads of whipped butter found them to be bland and watery.
For main course I had the classic buttermilk fried chicken breast served with cracked pepper biscuits, mashed potatoes, collard greens, cream style corn, served with grilled roma tomatoes and sausage herb gravy. It was fabulous. Chicken was almost steamed within its crisp breaded coating and the mashed potatoes and collard greens completed the ultimate in comfort food. I wanted to curl up and have a nap halfway through and was surprised that I finished it but I just couldnt resist devouring it. Wonderful!
For pudding I had the Red Velvet cake which was a rich delicious gateau that was oddly dyed red with food colouring. Fine but not particularly exciting. Service was efficient though rather cold. Perhaps we worried if the English know how to tip in America.
We stayed recently in Washington as part of a wider tour to include South Carolina and New York. Stayed at the Sofitel which is a brand of hotel I very much like. Trendy, comfortable and with attention to detail. Great room, huge beds. Hmm perhaps this stuff should be saved for Tripadvisor.
First night we ate at the W hotel a little further down towards the National Mall. W is another great sub-brand of Westin with a more nightclubby edge. It was obviously a quiet night and we bypassed the velvet ropes and were whisked straight up the the roof top restaurant with an incredible view of the White House and Washington Memorial. Service was friendly and after a couple of outrageously potent Martinis we both plunged for a Bavette steak which is sometimes a little tough but seemed pretty tender to me, similar to sirloin. Plenty of crisp fries, sauteed spinach and good Bearnaise made this a perfectly acceptable entrance to Washington dining and sadly one of the best we experienced.
Checked out the Tripadvisor number one and it was Michael Minas Bourbon Steak which is in Georgetown to the west of downtown Washington on a rather quaint colonial street. I love the Four Seasons and try and stay at least once a year for a treat. Washingtons Four Seasons isnt particularly interesting looking but as soon as you enter the lobby you immediately experience the softly spoken luxury that makes the brand so desirable.
For starter I had a lobster corn dogs which were light, delicious and a lot of fun. It came with a whole grain mustard dipping sauce which was rather sweet and lacked heat to match the richness of the corndogs. For my main course I thought it had to be steak and was advised by the waiter against my instinct to have the skirt steak which needs very careful cooking otherwise it is like boot leather. It wasn’t bad but was a little too tough for me. However the flavour was extremely good as were the accompaniments off copper coloured beets, whipped potatoes and spinach which were served rather maddeningly in tiny bowls so had to be emptied out before eating.
The worst meal I had in Washington was definitely at a nouveau italian restaurant called Portenza. Everything looked so right with the huge bakery behind glass which you could watch while you are eating and the mixed buzzy crowd but from the starter of sauteed brussel sprouts (I know I should have known better) which were undercooked and burnt at the same time, things continued downhill. My main course of Orichiette with sausage and broccoli was bitter and watery. This was replaced with pasta with buffalo ragu which I thought couldn’t be messed up but it was the addition of barbeque sauce into the ragu which made it just vile.
The owner was obviously becoming frustrated with the failed attempts to impress us and came over for a chat and agreed the food wasn’t that great. He asked what he could do to improve things and I asked rather facetiously for the address of a decent italian restaurant and to his credit without a beat gave us the details of one!
On to the Museum of the Native American on the National Mall and following advice from fellow travellers we were told perhaps unfairly to skip the exhibition and go straight to the restaurant ‘Mitisitam’ on the edge of the ground floor auditorium. Set out like a cafeteria it is split into different areas corresponding to the tribe and its cuisine. Sadly the most popular tribe judging by the queues were the south west american indians as their food was pretty close to Mexican food. Thats where we chose and tried the ubiquitous ‘Fry Bread’ which was like a puffed up tortilla, fried at the edges. On top of this was lukewarm chilli and it was served with native american fries which were really just chips with chilli salt on them. Not impressive!
The best meal by far was at Sei which is a trendy japanese restaurant in downtown Washington. Dimly lit with clean lines and space age formica tables this restaurant would impress even if the food wasn’t great, but it is! Friendly and knowledgable staff guide you through the slightly confusing menu to help you assemble a meal. We had Japanese guacamole which was similar to the mexican type but with wasabi and cleverly comes with fried wanton chips rather than tortillas. We had the brilliant kobe beef roll and an amazingly
clever fish and chips roll which had flounder in the centre and salt and vinegar potato straws on the top. We also had sea bass sliders, three little fish burgers in tiny buns. Really clever and fun. Would definately go back here and explore more of the menu.
Another interesting eat were great oysters at Old Ebbit Grill which is the oldest tavern in Washington.
Washington is culinarily odd as it seems to be catering for big power eating for senators where everything seems to have to have a twist and more often than not this subtracts rather than adds.
Vacation time and since I promised myself business class travel after nearly crippling myself on what must have been the worst seats on a BMI plane coming back from Las Vegas a few years ago I plumped for my old favourite Virgin Atlantic. If you travel at the right time it actually isnt that extortionate and you can class it as part of the holiday. The holiday starts at the Clubhouse in Heathrow which takes the traditional business class lounge to a new level. In between a complimentary jacuzzi, haircut and massage you can eat in the Clubhouse restaurant and eat what ever you want from the menu as often as you like. No wonder people have been known to get to the airport 8 hours before their flight is scheduled to leave.
We went for the breakfast as it was a morning flight and a freshly prepared bacon, sausage and poached egg was brought out with plenty of freshly squeezed juice and good coffee. After that I lounged on a oversized day bed and drank a couple of bloody marys before being called to the flight.
Of course this starts a cycle of booze, from pre-take off champagne, to hand mixed cocktails, including drinks at the sit up bar at the back of the cabin. Food on Virgin Atlantic is great in Economy but not a huge upgrade normally as you move forward through the plane. the chair cum bed has a huge pull over table which is dressed with fresh linen and set with proper cutlery and cute aeroplane shaped salt and pepper pots.
After lovely warm breads we were given choices of wine and then into the starter of Smoked Halibut and marinated prawn with radish and shiso cress was delicate and moreish. A main of Fennel and mushroom risotto with chicken and saffron oil really tasted freshly prepared and was in a word delicious. Following that was cheese and biscuits and more booze followed by more after dinner drinks.
The seat was then converted to a bed and I was slowly rocked into a post prandial nap before being woken for our landing into Washingto Dulles.
I have to say that the food has definitely gone up a notch at Virgin, with competition in the sky as fierce as it is this isnt surprising but it certainly keeps Virgin as my number one choice across the Atlantic from now on.
Quick weekend in Paris on an unseasonably warm weekend in October. Early Eurostar mean breakfast in the first class lounge (Thank you American Express!) and lunch near the hotel while they were preparing the room. We were at the Best Western L’Etoile on Blvd Haussman near the Arc de Triomphe.
We went to a pretty modern restaurant on the Blvd called Restaurant Eugene. Full of chandeliers and flock wallpaper it offers French bistro cuisine with a modern edge. We had a selection of tartares of fish to start with which were zingy and bouncingly fresh. They were served with a light remoulade which complimented it beautifully. For mains we had a steak tartare which is my default position in a french restaurant. The tartare was delicious, came with perfectly cooked fries and interestingly was slightly grilled on either side. Like the best of both worlds, burger and tartare.
For dessert we had the largest profiteroles I have ever eaten. Light, crisp and delicious.
166, bd Haussmann, Paris, France. Tel: 01 42 89 00 13.
Next day we headed out to the Grande Arch at La Defense, the sort of Canary Wharf of Paris. It was another beautiful day but sadly the Arch seemed to be permanently closed so we sought consolation at a nearby bistro.
I started with Foie Fras which came with a caramelised nut bread with the texture of cake and was absolutely delicious, the best thing I have eaten in Paris by far.
Main was steak frites which was superb and for dessert Tarte Feulletee with Pomme and Poire. Absolutely excellent. All served with a perfectly chilled Sancerre.
Restaurant Le Paname, Le Parvis de La Défense 92800 Puteaux France
I’ve never been particularly keen on Paella except perhaps a strange affection for the Knorr dehydrated variety which was very popular in the seventies. Subsequent visits to Spain did nothing to change this view. The seafood always seemed overcooked, tough mussels shrunked to the size of raisins, rubbery squid and dense burned rice. It was more of a ritual trying to supress my gag reflex than a great eating experience.
Things changed though on a recent trip to Barcelona. My eating companion was my mum who had never been to Spain and not tried paella even though she is a huge fan of seafood. Indeed I have to save the prawn heads for her so she can suck out the brains, thats how into it she is!
We took the taxi to Barcelonetta, the seaside area by the port. Potentially foolishly, we asked the taxi driver for his recommendation and he drove immediately to Restaurant Salamanca on the beachfront in Barcelonetta. Seeing the driver shake the hand of the owner didn’t fill me with confidence so I took a good look at the restaurant before deciding that we would definitely eat there. I needn’t have worried. The experience turned out to be excellent.
We were led to a great table overlooking the beachfront between a huge table of locals enjoying assorted platters of seafood and cooing couples sharing a paella. We were brought good bread and slices of sausage as an appetizer. We ordered a portion of razor clams to share and the Paella Salamanca. It wasnt cheap, the paella was 30 euros each and the razor clams about 18 euros. While we waited we watched the neat choreography of the waiters who were attentive and dedicated without hovering.
The razor clams arrived and were huge! Cooked in olive oil, wine, garlic and parsley they had were incredibly meaty and delicious. We polished them off with ease. A slightly longer wait for the paella which is a good sign as so many paellas in Barcelona come microwaved to table. As it arrived it was taken to a side table and divided evenly onto two plates.
It looked and tasted incredible. Cooked in an intense seafood stock, the rice would have been delicious just on its own. It was crammed with clams, prawns, langoustine, squid and crowned with a glorious half lobster which made it ‘Salamanca’. No finger bowls were provided but napkins were constantly switched out. I couldn’t manage the whole portion but was incredibly impressed. Everything was cooked perfectly, a first for me with paella. Defeated, we were offered coffee which we declined but were served some moist almond cake which was delicious.
I read reviews of the restaurant when I got home and was shocked to see that many people accused it of being a tourist trap which we didnt experience at all. Alas, a lot of Barcelona is a tourist trap (Did I mention to never eat or drink on the Ramblas?) but we found Restaurant Salamanca to be an authentic spanish experience and will remain as a happy memory of Barcelona.
Almirall Cervera, 34, 27
Tel. 93 221 50 33
Fax 93 225 51 56
Just returned from a great stay in Barcelona. The weather was superb which was unexpected. I made a late packing change, removing swimming trunks and adding umbrella and waterproof jacket which was very badly judged in retrospect. We hired an apartment on the Ramblas right next door to the superb Boqueria Market. Good idea on paper. Bad idea in reality. The Ramblas is the incredibly busy entertainment street in Barcelona and is busy and noisy until about 2am. The market starts up at around 4am, therefore my window for sleep was about 2 hours. Oh well.
Unlike Borough Market, it feels that little has been changed to appeal directly to tourists. Sure, you can buy little portions of fruit for a euro which is probably the most bought item by shy non-spanish speaking visitors, but half of the market has not been given over to food stands like at Borough. If you want to eat in the Market you need to brave the seafood stalls around the edge or one of the tapas bars inside the market.
I felt a little guilty taking photos in the market as I didn’t really want to mark myself out as a tourist (well, besides the camera round my neck and the Timeout Barcelona guide in my pocket). In London, I used to be one of the tourists taking pictures of piles of olives and sun-dried tomatoes but now market tourists just get on my nerves as they puncture the adventure of exploring all the produce by making you stop constantly so that they can take a photo that thousands of people have already taken and probably a better example of it can be found on Google image search. Gosh, London has made me bitter!
The market has been there in some shape or form since the 13th century, the breadth of produce that it sells is overwhelming. The seafood ‘circle’ in the centre is especially breathtaking. Every edible living thing from the nearby seas is beautifully tumbled onto ice ready for purchase. We bought huge prawns one night and cooked them with a simple seafood sauce and mopped up the juices with bread. We were also inspired by the razor clams, their huge foot drooping out of the shell when held aloft, like honey from a spoon. More of that in another post! Fruit and vegetables look garden fresh and were snapped up by local residents. Its no wonder that the local ‘Carrefour’ super mecado had little fresh produce other than bulk items when you can buy such amazing produce directly from the market.
It can seem a little overwhelming initially. I wanted to buy steaks one night and just couldn’t see the cuts that I wanted so sadly I retreated and bought them from the supermarket (they weren’t very good). Later in the week I plucked up more courage and found the sellers to be charming and very willing to help.
Barcelona’s Boqueria Market feels like the beating heart of the city. Indeed if you are looking for heart you can buy it by the kilo here though not beating though of course. It is definitely worth a visit and to me it is the most wonderful market in the world.
This easter I had the great fortune to stay with my good friends Francis and Adam in their hamlet in the south of France not far from Montpellier. Both Francis and Adam are great cooks and we enjoyed several superb meals with them making the most of the superb produce available in the region. On Easter Saturday we went out for a delightful meal in a neighbouring village Saint Rome-de-Tarn. Like many villages they take have many fetes during the year and tonight was no exception. Spirits were high despite the damp weather and as always I felt humbled by how welcoming the event was. It was especially good to see young and old people interacting and having fun.
Back to the meal, Hotel des Raspes is a very pretty hotel with a somewhat alpine feel to it. We were made to feel welcome immediately by our beautiful host and shown to our table. Wonderfully, in France other tables greet you as you make your way to your table and again as they leave. I’m not sure that this would happen in Paris however.
The set menu seemed to be the way to go. There were three menus, slightly rising in price. We all went for the Menu des Raspes which was the middle priced one at 30 Euros. The mise en bouch was an amazingly meaty mussel stuffed with sausage meat and served with a saffron sauce. Following that I had the foie gras salad and the others had the Coquille st Jacques. Both dishes came amazingly presented. My salad was in a basket made from a very thin galette and had a very generous portion of foie gras nestled in there. Sadly I didn’t take any photos as I just felt it would have been rude as it was so convivial.
For main course we all went for the lamb. This was excitingly prepared by a very dilligent chef in front of the fireplace which dominates the room. Coals were raked forward and the lamb was cooked on a rack above it. It came with wonderfully fresh seasonal vegetables including asparagus which was partially cooked in what seemed to be an omelette which was delicious.
Cheese course came next which offered wonderful local cheeses from the area which seem to be mostly sheep. Roquefort is only a couple of miles away which is pronounced ‘Rock-a-for’ by the way.
For dessert I had a marquis of chocolate which was again wonderfully rich and intense and an amazing way to finish the meal. For wine we just had a glass of house white with the starter and then a pichet of red which generally in France is always ‘ok’. This was pretty good.
Hotel Les Raspes
Avenue Denis Affre
12490 Saint Rome De Tarn – France
On the last day of our trip we were going to try a restaurant that had been featured on many travelogues and also reviewed on Essex Eatings great blog. It was right by the station so we could spend our last hour enjoying great french bistro food before plodding back to St Pancras. In the end we decided that we would have to lug our luggage with us so decided to eat somewhere before heading back to the station.
Paris has a fantatic bike hire system which we think is soon to be adopted by Boris in London. You use your credit card to subscribe to the scheme, then I think it something like 1 euro per hour. There are 400 racks where you can pick up or drop off the bike and after initial confusion with how to release a bike, we found the system easy to use. We had a fantastic time whizzing down boulevards and generally getting lost in neighbourhoods we hadn’t visited already.
Outside of Le Bar a Huitres we were immediately attracted to the display of seafood perched on a mountain of ice outside of the restaurant. We chained the bikes up to a handy railing nearby and headed inside past a large tank of lobsters. Mmm my menu choice was deciding itself for me.
We sat in a covered verandah and ordered a half bottle of Sancerre. We both took advantage of the blue lobster deal which offered 9 oysters, a whole lobster and a dessert for 45 euros which we thought was a pretty good deal. The oysters can come on ice or natural which appeared to be on a bed of seaweed. They came on ice and were plump and tasty.
The lobster quickly followed and came with rice and some sauteed vegetables. They tied bibs on us before we ate. I took a look around to see if anyone was sniggering. My paranoia told me that they only do this to foreigners. No one else was eating lobster so will never know. The lobster was dismembered using an array of implements that made the table look like a scene from the movie ‘Dead Ringers’ (google it). I enjoyed extracting as much protein as I could from the plump crustacean, though as always was disappointed by the golfball sized pile of meat I managed to harvest from each half of lobster. Sadly my biggest mouthful had a piece of shell in it so I spent a few minutes trying to decided the etiquette for its removal. After trying to seperate it for a while with my tongue I ended up choosing the worst option and spitting the whole lot into the cloth napkin. I placed it on the side but was dismayed when the waitress tried to relay it on my lap showering me with half chewed bits of lobster.
There was a great choice of desserts. Mine looked like madness on a plate but tasted delicious. Sorry about the photo. This is all still new to me so I took a bite before remembering to take a snap. It was Pistachio Financiers Cake with mango sorbet, Brandy snap basket with creme patisserie. I thought it was delicious in a retro sort of way.
The meal left us satisfied without being full which was great as we were heading back to the hotel before heading to the Eurostar. I would definately recommend eating here if you get the chance. Just dispose of your lobster more discretely than me!
We decided to eat at La Fontaine de Mars following a very positive review from Kang on his excellent London Eater Blog. We booked in for our final night via the concierge and got a great table seat on a very narrow pavement. Squeezing in of elbows was required occasionally to let pedestrians past but it was charming all the same.
We started with a couple of glasses of champagne and took a look at the menu though to be honest, I had decided what to eat before I got there thanks to Kang’s mouthwatering descriptions and previewing the menu ahead of time on the internet.
We shared our starter of Oeufs au Madiran ” façon meurette ” which were softly fried eggs on a reduction of shallots and red wine avec huge chunks of bread. It was utterly delicious and they kindly split the dish into two seperate servings so we could devour them unhindered. Eggs in France are marvelous. They take me back to my childhood when eggs were full of flavour. The yolks were huge and deep orange. I imagine it must be something to do with their diet. I hope it wasn’t because of the addition of colouring. Made a mental note to myself to see if I could buy french imported eggs in London. I bet you can.
For mains I followed Kangs advice and had the duck confit which was deliciously crisp and flavourful. Often duck confit is so rich that it leaves you with a ‘carsick’ feeling after eating it but this contained moist flavourfull flesh and didn’t taste greasy at all even though it was served with fried potatoes as an accompaniment.
Rich had the fish which was the special that day. He kind of liked it, the fish was moist and well cooked but the choice of accompaniment clashed slightly with the fish and in the end his opinion was ‘It was ok.’
For desert my long term wish came true and I tried the Illes Flotante. I first saw this dish on Masterchef, it appeared to be small islands of meringue floating in a sea of custard. The one we were seved instead had a huge Krakatoa of an island surrounded by sauce anglais. It looked and tasted delicious and light. We followed this with a well put together plate of cheese with a basket of wonderfully fresh bread.
Service was precise and friendly. We were told a little about Obama and families visit earlier that year and learned how the road was closed and the street swarmed with security.
Overall I really enjoyed this restaurant which lacked any form of pretension, had honest well cooked food and cheery service.