•October 22, 2011 • 1 Comment
•September 16, 2011 • 1 Comment
I never would have thought it but Paris has brought out the meat-eater in me (previously the only meaty forms I could stomach were bacon, ham, sausages and duck.) To be more precise I’ve discovered I just can’t resist meat when it’s accompanied by something sweet (like a sticky sauce or a honey glaze.)
The culmination of my new-found discovery came when I visited L’Avant Comptoir, a tiny wine/tapas bar specialising in meat. Now, previously the idea of black pudding had somewhat repulsed me, but when I tasted their black pudding macarons I swear I came close to a foodie orgasm! A round slice of warm black pudding is sandwiched between two sides of a macaron with a bit of chilli jelly to hold it together. No jokes, this has to be the best thing I have had to eat in Paris. I also tried their Japanese style tuna bites which were simply seared on all sides and ever so tender. For pudding? Nothing could live up to that black pudding macaron but the caramel rice pudding came close… they used bits of flaked caramel to give it some crunch!
L’Avant Comptoir is a must! Inexpensive, perfect for a pre-dinner bite standing up or even dinner itself. One thing’s for sure, if I ever get the chance to go back, I’ll be ordering macaron after macaron all night long.
•September 15, 2011 • 1 Comment
This is a special post to thank Ros, Chris and Simon for their hospitality and the incredible birthday celebrations they put on for my 21st in August. My parents, grandparents, aunt and Rachel came over to spend the week with me in Normandy where we stayed at our relatives’ beautiful, rustic ‘chambre d’hôte’ in the middle of the Neufchatel countryside.
With Ros being an undisputed culinary goddess we were in for a real treat on the evening of my birthday. It started off with champagne and nibbles. For starters, scallops in a delectably lemony, creamy sauce. Apple and calvados sorbet, (made from apple from their own orchard) to refresh the palate. Ever so tender duck with a rich wine reduction and vegetables. An assortment of local cheeses and salad. Irresistible meringue roulade for pudding. When we though it was all over, out came the delicious chocolate torte birthday cake.
To really set the night on fire, we launched sky lanterns and watched them drift into the night sky. Needless to say, we were relieved to find the surrounding woodland intact the following day!
Thanks Ros, Chris and Simon – it couldn’t have been more memorable!
•September 9, 2011 • Leave a Comment
“Tu vois, c’est vraiment un truc de ouf”
This is one of the phrases I hear the most at work. What does it mean? Ouf is slang for fou, crazy. However, what my colleagues usually mean is something more like ‘man, that place is radical!’ It’s no big secret that French cuisine has slowly been losing its status as the best gastronomy in the world. Eating well in Paris is more difficult than it seems, especially if you want to be spontaneous – I soon learnt being spontaneous here translates into paying extortionate prices for reheated, industrially processed dishes and yet another average crème brûlée, fondant au chocolat or tarte aux pommes. And to think that the French take the mic out of the British for their food!
The tables appear to be turning but France is by no stretch about to cede its claim over the world’s best gastronomy. It’s fighting back, fusing with foreign cuisines and trying to adapt in order to avoid becoming a thing of the past. This is what Le Fooding is all about – food that is innovative, exciting and open to new influences. For around ten years they have been following the nouvelle vague of modern French cuisine composed of intriguing new kinds of chef – the rebel who doesn’t give a damn about Michelin stars, the self-taught chef that challenges traditional methods, and the artist who expresses himself in deeply personal ways. Chefs have stepped out of the kitchen and into the spotlight of the media and the media have gone crazy over them. During my time at Le Fooding I have taken some long lunch breaks to try out some of the restaurants, bars, cafés whose descriptions have been tantalising me no end during translation. Here are some of the highlights:
- If Parisians were Gods (as some of them would like to think they are) their nectar would be sushi. Everywhere you turn there are sushi restaurants many of which were Chinese restaurants ten years ago. Some owners cottoned on to the changing market and to avoid going bust changed their menus but kept the same Chinese staff and chefs! The best place for sushi has to be Icho, 3 rue des Tournelles. Ultra-fresh, not a bland sushi, maki, salad, or bowl of soup in sight here. Lunchtime set menu for 14€. Unfortunately I forgot my camera but you can see photos on their website: http://dev1.icho.fr/
- Then there’s Septime, whose chef trained as a graphic designer before having a change of heart. What a change of heart that was! Thankfully this place is the result. The menu is seasonal and changes everyday according to what the market has on offer. When I went I had fish with raspberries and a cucumber granité, followed by pollock with yellow courgettes, beetroot and gherkins. Dessert was seemingly flown in from another planet (seventh heaven perhaps?) – mango soup with red berry sorbet, vanilla cream and mini meringues.
- Perhaps my favourite place to go regularly for a low-key lunch – Le Bar à soupes, 33 rue de Charonne. Located a stone’s throw away from the Bastille, this is the place to go to avoid the bobos. 6 different fresh soups made every day, usually 5 hot ones and 1 cold. Some inventive flavours too like celery and pear or watermelon. The owner is friendly, a real cream as the French would say, and it’s inexpensive.
- My most recent discovery, Le Dauphin. Sister restaurant to the Chateaubriand. The starter, tuna fish eggs with a selection of vegetables, was just stunning. Followed by a melt-in-the-mouth tuna steak with aubergine and dried orange. And for dessert a good dollop of tiramisu :
- Vietnamese – Paris Hanoi, 9 rue de Mont Louis. Huge portions and an atmospheric setting with a view of the kitchen and its infernal flames.
- Best bar/restaurant/club – Favela Chic – Brazilian bouffe delicious on all fronts – passion fruit mojito, a fabulous stew accompanied with a whole banana covered in breadcrumbs and fried, and finally a chocolate pudding with caramel, almonds and vanilla ice cream. Again, apologies – the cocktail hit me very quickly meaning all the photos from that night are pretty awful.
French cuisine is changing. Indeed more so in the past 10 years than the fifty years that came before. Sat in front of a semi-frozen, mass produced fondant au chocolat however, I find myself wishing it would get a move on!
•August 21, 2011 • 1 Comment
A high-brow literary reference turned cultural cliché, Proust’s madeleine has been the subject of endless speculation for both academics and food bloggers. They attempt to recreate the authentic recipe to produce that distinctive crumbly texture as well as postulating on the way in which the madeleine was supposed to be enjoyed. Whilst it may seem a far cry from the most worthwhile and enlightening approach to further understanding his seven gigantic reams of À la recherche du temps perdu, there are some interesting, if entertaining theories out there…
Edward Levin, writing for Slate dallies with the idea that maybe the madeleine was stale and hence this could explain its crumbly texture. http://www.slate.com/id/2118443/ He goes on to conclude that the madeleine never really existed as it is described in the text, that Proust just got a bit carried away with a slice of soggy toast.
All this talk of madeleines and lost time immediately got me thinking about ‘pain perdu.’ I reckon it would have been right up Proust’s street – after all it is made of stale bread and, despite its fried exterior, it does have a somewhat soggy bread texture. An easy pudding with humble origins using basic ingredients with a waste not want not attitude.
– mix together 2 eggs with 2 tablespoons of caster sugar and some vanilla seeds (or essence). Add a dash of milk (or more depending on how eggy you like your pain perdu. You can also add cream if you’re really going for it.)
– soak the old bread slices in the egg mixture for about 5 minutes
– melt a knob of butter in a pan and fry until nicely golden on both sides.
The serving possibilities are endless – flambéed in apple liqueur and served with apple compote à la normande, or with caramelised oranges and cinnamon. In the absence of a stocked fridge I opted for some pears poached in a vanilla syrup with cream… now hopefully that will get the good old involuntary memory into gear.
•July 28, 2011 • 1 Comment
Forget about money growing on trees, if I could wish for anything it would be for cakes to sprout from the branches of the trees that line the boulevards of Paris. If such incredible plants did exist then there’s no doubt that pâtisserie Pain de sucre would be a nursery for them. Pain de sucre was actually one of the first pâtisseries I ever visited in Paris. But, as anyone who’s ever seen me eat can testify, I like to keep the best till last and sadly my time in Paris is starting to run out.
It might be going a little far to call this place a horticultural themed pâtisserie, but these were the exact words that popped into my mind when I first entered the shop. Aside from the little sprigs of thyme and other herbs used to decorate the cakes, there’s something in the way they arrange their square fruit tarts that reminds me of a fancy garden centre.
Owners Nathalie Robert and Didier Mathray are all about using fresh seasonal ingredients in their cakes and revisiting the classics whilst not losing sight of tradition. What interests me is their pairing together of herbs with standard pâtisserie flavours like fruit, coffee and chocolate. I think they have a real point too – herbs are an integral part of French cuisine (where would a stew be without a ‘bouquet garni’? for example), so why should they not be used in cakes?
One gâteau, called a ‘squeeze’ is made of green apple pulp, coriander, wild strawberries, quince jelly and pistachio crumble. I decided to go for a ‘Garden party’ however – almond pastry, wild strawberries, fresh mint, and pistachio and mint cream. Wild strawbs beat farmed ones hands down anyday. I love the fact that they were made into a pulp to fill the tartlet but they still retained their texture.
Then because I simply couldn’t resist trying black olives in a sweet context I went for a ‘Kalamata’ verrine – apricot marmalade with vanilla, a layer of black olive sponge, hazelnut cream and Kalamata black olive pulp. I know so many people hate olives with a passion, but this little glass contained the perfect balance of oliveness, tangy apricots and sweet hazelnuts. In fact it was so perfect I think it could convince almost anyone to give them a second chance!
•July 8, 2011 • 1 Comment
I recently bought some peaches from the market. They were beautiful, not overly ripe, sitting there tempting me with their rosy mattness. Back in my flat I couldn’t wait for the refreshing burst of perfumed peachiness. Sinking my teeth in I kept waiting for that moment, waiting… but it never came! Instead I got a sort of watery impersonation of a peach. Disappointment doesn’t even cover it. The only solution was to poach them!
Luckily enough (and I swear this hardly ever happens when I want to do something spontaneous) I had all the ingredients necessary – sugar, water, a squeeze of lemon and a vanilla pod. I even had a few mint leaves left over from a recipe to garnish.
– heat equal amounts of water and sugar in a pan with a squeeze of lemon and the split vanilla pod (seeds scraped out.)
– simmer for a few minutes then add the halved peaches and poach for 2-3 mins each side (depending on ripeness)
– remove with a slotted spoon and plunge in cold water. Remove the skins (they should just slip off.)
– Turn up the heat and simmer syrup for about 5 mins longer.
– Chill and pour over the chilled peaches
– Serve with some fresh mint leaves and a dollop of crème fraiche
And hurrah! What was once a sly impostor of a real peach now has all its flavour and characteristic peachiness restored.