The Food People at An Evening of Flavour

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I was recently enticed all the way across London in heat wave temperatures to hear about London’s food trends and sample a selection of John Quilter’s recipes using Loyd Grossman sauces. As I exited Old Street tube station, dripping with discomfort following a long, airless tube journey, I hoped the evening would prove worthwhile. As I sat, chilled espresso martini in hand, listening to Charles Banks pronounce on London’s food trends, I forgot the make up sliding down my face for a while. Self-lubricating, re-energised thanks to the caffeine in hand, this was my kind of event – educational and not just about stuffing one’s face whilst murmuring an appreciative ‘ah, delicious’.

Charles Banks is co-founder of the agency known as Food People. It consults on food trends, working with clients to build product and strategy appropriate to the current market. These folk know their onions, in a literal sense. Here’s the Food People’s breakdown of what’s hot on the London food scene right now:

  • Trends include American and Mediterranean food. Neither are new to London, but both are ramping up their volume a notch. Diner food like burgers and hot dogs has never been so gourmet. Chase them down with bubbly or bourbon cocktail, or think gimlet for an All-American experience. As for nosh from the Med, it’s expanding its perimeter and becoming more aware of seasonality. Recent TV jaunts around the area see chefs waving their whisks amidst the landscapes of the ancients. Given the delights of Mediterranean produce coupled with animated cuisiniers and the landscapes that wanderlust is made of, it’s little wonder that the food of the Med is seeing a revival, an update and a resurgence of popularity.
  • Mash ups are essentially the creative merger of two meal concepts with unexpected results. Nacho lasagne uses layers of nacho chips and cheese to replace the usual pasta layer. A ramen burger places the meat pattie between buns made of compressed noodles; and soup with mac ‘n’ cheese sees a dollop of the latter dunked into the former.
  • More styles see Small Plate Dining coming to the fore. The idea is to order a lot of small plates to share. The popularity of cicchetti-inspired eateries and Peruvian restaurants with an accent on small quantities with big flavour is where the appeal lies. It’s also far from being a burden on the waistline.
  • Dude Food is a style for the carnivore. Think meat, spice and the fire turned way up.
  • Everyday Food Done Better is where you take an everyday homemade meal and play around with the ingredients to make it same same but different. Think cheese on toast but replace your classic cheddar with gorgonzola and garnish with fresh pear. Or take fried chicken and add some Korean influence – a touch of sesame, a cup of gochujang – for a different taste entirely.
  • According to the Food People’s research, the trending flavour for 2014 is chilli. There certainly seem to be more colours, flavours and varieties available than ever before. My tip: get a selection and experiment with them at home so you know your jalapeño from your habanero.
  • Future flavours are predicted as being Persian, Israeli and Greek. This excites me. All things cardamom and saffron, chickpea and spice. Who said Falafel?
  • Fusing Flavour and Format is where you take the flavours of one cuisine and present them in the format of another. Think confit de canard with caramelised onions and chèvre presented burger-style in a brioche bun. Oh-so-very French, but within an American format.
  • Then there’s the developing trend for sensory restaurants. We’ve all heard about the one where there’s no light, in order to heighten the diner’s sense of taste. Well, now we’re seeing new concepts like the Edible Cinema, where you snack on particular items at key points during the screening of a film, each food relating directly to the current sequence and intended to add to the sensory experience, through taste, sound, sense and touch.
  • Further trending flavours feature Savoury in Sweet – for example a strawberry spinach salad or marmite caramel cupcake.
  • Lastly, there’s the age-old classic ingredient: alcohol. Slow cook some brisket in beer and hickory barbecue sauce or stir piña colada into a pannacotta. I think it’s time to dust off my retro-Cointreau chocolate mousse recipe.

Useful links:

The Food People

John Quilter, Food Busker

Loyd Grossman

The Underground Cookery School

Cirkle PR

Nossy Be, La Baule

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Following a rough pregnancy and even rougher ‘special delivery’ of our small person this summer, I seriously doubted I was up for a trip to France. Two months into parenthood, still feeling battered and bloated and somewhat embarrassed to be seen in public, I somehow lost the family holiday debate to the ever-persuasive Monsieur and we set off for his motherland for the first time with buggy and baby seat loaded into the car, not to mention our BABY.

One of the highlights of this trip was a stay in La Baule. It’s one of those French Atlantic seaside towns with whimsical, slope-roofed houses shaded by soaring, aromatic pines. I loved it from the very minute we arrived. However, I soon found that this was a vacation spot for the chic, slim, sparrow-boned French and every time I passed a reflective surface, my image screamed HEFFALUMP! How ever could I hold my head high in my current, still-swollen state, whilst surrounded by such studiously-maintained examples of the human form? If it’s one thing I’ve learned since meeting my Frenchman, the French are extremely efficient at commenting on one’s size and think nothing of discussing diets at the dinner table. I hoped the presence of my dear, precious child might cut me some slack this time.

On top of my confidence crisis, Monsieur and I were so new to taking our baby out that you could have hung L plates around our necks and called us Learner (Baby) Drivers. Just the thought of dining out with her was enough to make me itch with anxiety. What if she cried and we couldn’t soothe her? Would the restaurant have changing facilities? Did we have enough milk with us? Nappies? Wipes? Would restaurants even WANT us there, now we had a small child? It all seems so silly in hindsight, but at the time these were very real anxieties for us. The good thing about travelling so early on in our baby’s life was that it threw us into the parenting pool’s deep end and we were forced to swim which, with practice, we did.

Our first day in La Baule we decided to take a stroll along the promenade, in the hope of finding lunch with a view. I was positively dizzy with all of the above concerns, not to mention the heat. We reached one eatery on the beach, but it was down on the sand with no ramp, only stairs. There was no way we could get the buggy down to the door so we walked on. Eventually, we found Nossy Be, a smart establishment, also on the sand, but with a navigable ramp leading down to the entrance. So far, so promising, but once inside my heart sank. It was so super-hip modern that if a mirror ball had suddenly started twirling to the latest euro-beat, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. As for the patrons – they were all perfectly bronzed, in crisp polos and Bermudas, or ethereal kaftans with the style of sandal that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a goddess lunching at Mount Olympus. I, by contrast bright white and elephantine, was absolutely certain that we weren’t their kind of desirable and prepared for the ‘I’m sorry, we have no free tables,’ brush-0ff, especially as I couldn’t see any space for us in the bustling restaurant. I was wrong.

A waiter and his colleague asked us to wait for a moment, then busied themselves finding spare seats to position around a low table not far from the bar. In a flash, the table was set and we were seated, with ample room for the baby in her buggy. Menus arrived, as did chilled water – Ferrarelle, an Italian brand that I rate for its gentle bubble and faintly salty taste. So far, the brownie points were accruing fast in this eatery’s favour.

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Monsieur and I shared a starter of melon and prosciutto – the melon fanned across the plate in fine slices, contrasting with the insouciant tumble of ham.

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I followed on with a starter size of red tuna tartare, presented South-East Asian style, with a garnish of small beads of wasabi that looked just like luminous, green caviar might. A verrine of refreshing petits pois soup and mint ‘nuage’, or foam, accompanied the plate.

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Monsieur ordered a stir fry of rice with King Prawns, which he pronounced ‘excellent'; this is praise indeed from a particularly particular eater. It arrived atop giant petals of watermelon radish – at once arresting on the plate, but also cooling against the spice of this dish.

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This place was a revelation for an anxious new mum. We were impeccably looked after, were placed sensitively with ample room to care for our little one, the food was excellent in all respects AND we had a sea front view. With a glass of chilled rosé I felt less harried and more human. More human, that is, until a whiff of something a little earthy floated up from the buggy and I found out the hard way how important it is to find eateries with baby changing facilities. Trying to change a wriggling two month-old on a loo seat is far from fun, especially when there’s a queue of the be-jewelled and be-kaftanned lined up outside and your baby is letting out wails to rival the loudest siren. Blessedly, this was the only blip we experienced at Nossy Be.

In summary? Food – superb and not too calorific. Views – of beach, sea and excellent for people-watching. Staff – you’ll seldom find such helpful individuals. Family-friendly? Definitely. There were other babies and small patrons present – all accepted without fuss and kindly catered for. Downside? No changing tables for small babies, but the food and service were so good that this is just nitpicking. Budget – above average but acceptable, given the quality of produce. On my dime – anytime. Reservations – we walked in without one and were generously accommodated, however, another time I’d reserve, especially in high season.

Nossy Be, Beach and Lounge Restaurant

02 40 604 225

Plage La Baule, opposite 15 boulevard Darlu

www.nossybe.com                           contact@nossbe.com

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The Octo-Cocktail

I ADORE octopus. All eight legs of it. And the head. Even removing the so-called beak during kitchen prep no longer freaks me out. When I spotted a whole octopus at our local fish stall recently, I had to have it. Home it came, where I cooked it into a red wine and tomato sauce with a comforting depth that’s welcome on a wintry night. That recipe will come later. First, I have to show you what I call the Octo-Cocktail – a glass of guava-coloured juice made from tenderising the eight-legged beast over heat with just half a cup of water. The resulting juice, for use later in the casserole, was such a gorgeous colour that I felt compelled to play with my food. I poured it into an apéritif glass and garnished it with a soupçon of leg. Just a bit of fun, and NOT for consumption, but pretty as a Cosmopolitan, don’t you think?

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Epic Sherry Truffles

Every year, as Christmas approaches, I make a mound of sherry truffles. They’re lovely to have on hand as a sweet treat for the end of a meal – just one or two will satisfy any sugary craving. Sherry truffles also make a special gift for the grown ups on your pressie list – I bottle mine in preserving jars, which not only look attractive but are also practical in that they may be later reused, once the truffles have all been scoffed greedily down.

Here’s my recipe:

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150g rich tea biscuits

100g butter

1/4 cup cocoa

1 cup icing sugar

1 1/2 cup dessicated coconut

2/3 cup raisins

6 Tbsp sherry (I used Harveys VORS Pedro Ximénez (PX)

Blend the biscuits into a breadcrumb consistency and reserve.

Blend the butter, cocoa, icing sugar and coconut in a food processor.

Add the blitzed biscuits and sherry to the mixer and blend again until the mixture becomes a ball.

Remove from processor, place in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave overnight. This allows the consistency to settle and not be too sticky when you roll it into balls.

Using a teaspoon, take lumps of mixture and roll them between your hands until they form a shape similar to a small ping pong ball.

Then roll the balls in a  shallow dish of sherry before rolling them again in another dish filled with coconut. Not only does this help the coconut to stick, but it adds extra wickedness and sherry flavour to these rich, sweet mouthfuls.

May be served either with a cup of coffee at the end of a meal, or with a naughty little glass of post-prandial sherry, just in case the balls aren’t sherry enough for your tastebuds!

**I was sent a bottle of Harveys VORS Pedro Ximénez (PX) for the purposes of making my annual batch of sherry truffles. Whilst any sweet sherry will work with this recipe, the Pedro Ximénez has some deliciously intense notes, such as licorice, black treacle and chocolate, adding depth and extra flavour to this already moreish treat. RRP £21.76

 

Harvey’s Mulled Apple and Winter Spice

In our house, sherry is one of those Christmas staples: somehow the holiday just wouldn’t be the same without a taste of the stuff. This year, I’ve followed some Harveys suggestions to update our sherry repertoire. Sherry on the rocks with a squeeze of fresh orange (just a small squeeze, mind you!), garnished with a slice of orange not only looks the festive goods but is also refreshing – perfect for cooling down the rellies when they get a little flushed and flustered during the family charades tournament.

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Another brilliant take on the winter sherry tipple is mulled apple juice.

Slowly heat 200ml of Harveys Bristol Cream with 500ml of premium pressed apple juice, 6 cloves and 50 grams of sugar. Simmer for around 15 minutes – an ideal length of time for the liquid to warm and flavours to mingle.

Strain into a warm jug, garnish with slices of apple and serve in glasses with a star anise.

This is a beautifully warming beverage to warm everyone up after those bracing post-prandial route-marches. The sherry content can also be upped to a pleasant 300ml to 500ml of apple juice – giving it a little extra oomph without overpowering the mulled effect.

Bottoms up!

**Harveys sent me a bottle of Bristol Cream for the purpose of experimenting with their winter cocktail concepts. RRP £9.41 but I’ve spotted loads of pre-Christmas specials out there so keep your eyes peeled for special deals. 

Day of the Dead Layer Dip

We’ve made it through Hallowe’en, pumpkin carving and small ghouls with treat buckets haunting the neighbourhood, so what comes next? The Mexican equivalent, El Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, celebrated on 1st November. Here’s a Mexican Layer Dip that I feed to certain hungry Mexican food-lovers I know when Mexican holidays roll around and we crave a bit of chilli and spice. It’s also a great share platter to offer up to friends while you watch the forthcoming rugby fixtures. In our house it’s somewhat of a tradition to chow down on Mexican food when the rugby’s on TV. Perhaps it’s the heat in the food that helps us to scream louder and longer than usual at the ref, screen and opposing team? 

This recipe allows for four, generous, hungry adult servings, or more if you’re serving other food alongside the dip.

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Individual serving of layer dip, with Mexican lime lager on ice.

Ingredients:

BEAN layer:

2 x 400g cans of black (turtle) beans

1 small onion, finely diced

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 bottle of Wahaca Smoky Chipotle Chile sauce

RICE layer:

125g long grain white rice

Handful of coriander, chopped

Juice of 1 fresh lime

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 tspn garlic salt

CORN layer:

4 ears of fresh corn

1 red capsicum, chopped into 1 cm cubes

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 red chilli (or 2 if you like a kick)

CHEESE layer:

2 cups of grated mozzarella cheese

2 cups of grated mature cheddar (or other tasty) cheese

OR 4 cups of tasty Oaxaca cheese, if you can get your hands on some! (http://oaxaca-cheese.co.uk can supply UK residents. I recommend their Oaxaca or Chihuahua cheeses for this recipe because they’re great for melting)

CHORIZO layer:

4 regular chorizo sausages (each about 50g in size, or equivalent), cut into 0.5cm wide slices and lightly fried on both sides until just starting to brown

CREAM layer:

2 300ml tubs of soured cream

GUACAMOLE layer:

4 ripe avocados

Juice of 2 lemons

4 Tbsp chopped coriander

1 tspn minced fresh garlic

2 large tomatoes, diced, with seeds and juice

8 salad onions, chopped finely

Tabasco to taste

TOP TOMATO SALSA layer:

4 large tomatoes, diced, with seeds and juice

1 small onion, finely diced

2 Tbsn chopped coriander

1 green chilli, chopped finely

1 Tbsn vegetable oil

1 tspn salt

½ tspn sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

FINALLY:

Jar of sliced preserved jalapeño chillis

TO SERVE:

4 glass bowls, top diameter approximately 20 cm

Or

2 glass serving dishes, approximately 25cmL x 20cmW x 8-10cmD

For the bowls, use a quarter of each of the layer mixes

For the serving dishes, use half of each of the layer mixes.

How to make:

The WARM layers go first.

BEAN layer:

Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, then add onions and stir until translucent.

Add beans, stir for 2-3 minutes, or until heated through

Add the Wahaca sauce and stir until all combined

***if you don’t live somewhere that you can easily purchase the Wahaca sauces, add to the onion 8 cloves of minced garlic (less if your palate isn’t mad on the stuff) and 4 chipotle chillis, deseeded and finely diced. Next mix through 4 teaspoons of smoked paprika and pour in the beans. After stirring the beans into the pan add 4 heaped Tablespoons of cocoa for a hint of the Mexican mole experience.

Heat all for a further 5 minutes over a medium heat.

Remove from heat and set aside

RICE layer:

At the same time that you’re cooking the beans, bring to the boil a saucepan of water and add 125g of rinsed, white, long-grain rice.

Cook for 10 minutes,

Drain, rinse and place in a mixing bowl. Add oil, salt, coriander and lime juice and stir all until combined.

CORN layer:

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Add the shucked cobs and simmer for 10 minutes

Drain the water, allowing the cobs to cool

Trim the corn kernels from the cobs

Fry the diced red capsicum with the chilli in the vegetable oil for 2-3 minutes before adding the corn

Heat all through, but do not allow to brown

Remove from heat and reserve.

START TO LAYER the warm ingredients

Beans first in the bottom of the serving bowls/ dishes

Then a layer of the coriander and lime rice

Followed by a layer of the chilli corn and capsicum mix

Top off these layers with a generous spread of the combined grated cheeses

Place the slices of cooked chorizo in an evenly-spaced geometric pattern across the top of the cheese.

NB: You can always prepare these layers in advance and add the cool layers prior to serving. It’s also extra unctuous if you warm the first layers through in the oven for ten minutes before adding the cool layers. It helps the flavours to intensify and the cheese to melt into gooey unctuousness.

When you are ready to finish the dish, add the SOUR CREAM to the top of the cheese layer and spread evenly across it.

Then make the GUACAMOLE layer:

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Making the guacamole.

De-seed and skin the avocados, chopping the flesh into rough cubes. Then put them through a potato ricer or blend well with a fork

Add the lemon juice, garlic, coriander, tomato and salad onions

Mash all together

Add tobasco to taste.

Smooth a quarter of the guacamole mixture atop the sour cream layer in each bowl

Top it all with a sprinkling of TOMATO SALSA

Combine the tomato, onion, coriander and chilli.

Add the vegetable oil, salt, sugar and lemon juice

Mix through and spoon generously onto the top of each bowl. Spread until it forms a loose layer with the guacamole showing through. Dollop a generous spoonful of extra sour cream to the top centre of each bowl.

For those who like the added kick of extra chilli, you may wish to add slices of preserved JALAPEÑO to the top of the salsa, in a geometric pattern.

Serve a bowl to each of your four guests, with lots of tortilla chips and a giant mixed salad to share.

Dig in and enjoy with a jug of home-made Margaritas, or glasses of chilled Mexican lager, poured over ice with a couple of quarters of lime squeezed into each glass, and the fruit tossed in for extra juiciness!

TO DECORATE the salad for Day of the Dead:

I found vibrant Mexican skull images online, printed them, cut them out and taped them to wooden skewers to decorate the dish.

FOR YOUNG, ACCOMPANYING GUESTS:

Print off some basic, black and white skulls

Provide felt tip pens, coloured pencils or crayons in plenty of colours

Ask the kids to decorate the skulls for you, with flowers and bright and happy outlines. You may like to give them a couple of printed examples to follow, with a bowl of their own tortillas, a bowl of (not so spicy) guacamole, and a dipping sauce – perhaps Wahaca’s Habanero sauce, which we find our young friends gobble up without the need for too much water.

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The serving dish version – enough for two people to fight over.

 

 

The Crevette’s First Christmas

Christmas 2013 will be rather special in the Epic household for it will be our first with a baby: the Crevette. It may seem early to be gearing up for this but I find that with a very small, dependent person around, everything takes a lot longer than usual. (It just took over half an hour to type out the above two lines because of a loose bottle cap that spilled formula all over the baby, requiring a change of clothes for a wriggly child more intent on her next mouthful than being dry. Sound like anyone you know?) So, to avoid being a terrible Mrs Santa I’m starting my silly season to-do list NOW, just as the first Christmas cards are hitting the shops.

Everyone says that wrapping paper is more interesting to most babies than the presents themselves; I’m sure The Crevette will find the same. And I’m not a huge one for over-emphasising all things material at a time which really should be remembered for spiritual reasons. That said, I would still like to give the little shrimp something memorable – and durable -to mark her first Christmas with us. So, as she will be embarking on solids (way heeeey!) by then, this is what Mrs Claus will be leaving under the tree:

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It’s a lovely set for kids from three years on, so I’m a bit ahead of the game here. I figure we can put it away until such time as the Crevette can be trusted with her own mug and is hopefully past the throwing-food-and-eating-accessories-at-Mummy phase.

Then, when it’s time for The Crevette to start a little business supplying the neighbours with baked goods, or to start training for the Junior British Bake Off (no pressure, ma puce!), Le Creuset have the perfect set to start her off:

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Or if quiche and clafoutis are more her thing, we could always invest in the pie baking set:

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So that should take care of the next three Christmases for the Crevette. Given her already evident fascination with food and mastication I’d be most surprised if these gifts don’t prove to be a hit.

Bonjour, French Food!

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It’s sometimes surprising to think of London as France’s sixth biggest city, with a French population greater than centres like Bordeaux or Nantes. With so many French people living here, Monsieur included, there’s a definite demand for French food to stave off their homesickness for familiar edibles. Factor in a large population of Francophiles and the market grows unquantifiably larger. Even Ocado, the supermarket delivery service, has seen fit to introduce French supermarket staple brand Reflets de France to its warehouse shelves.

Now there’s a new kid on London’s French food block, called Bonjour French Food. For a monthly subscription fee of £29.00  (express delivery direct from France included) you can elect to receive their boxes of French food products, one per month, each with a theme. Each box contains between five and seven French food products for you to try, along with a little bilingual magazine crammed full of product information, recipes and food news. If you don’t want to subscribe, you can always order one-off boxes for £31.00, either for yourself or as a gift, and if you’re feeling particularly generous you can arrange gift subscriptions of multiple months. Bonjour French Food can also arrange for corporate gift quantities, if required.

October’s Bonjour French Food box had the theme of l’apéro, the French institution of pre-prandial drinks with a snack. Here’s what it contained:

  • petits sablés, little buttery biscuits a bit like French shortbread, only not nearly so chunky,
  • chocolate fondant pudding mix by the brand of Par Marlette, using all organic ingredients and a little salt from the pans on the exclusive Île de Ré,
  • wild boar terrine blended with mandarin and rocket,
  • duck breast terrine with honey and walnuts,
  • dry sausage rolled in pepper – beautifully stinky, just as it should be,
  • and a tomato, capsicum, anchovy and garlic spread.

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When my box arrived, I was jiggling with excitement because I had no idea what might be inside. After carefully opening it I found that everything was safely wrapped in shredded paper with vibrant blue tissue and nothing was included that could have either broken or perished en route. The product sizes allow just enough for a taster or two for two people, although the pudding mix caters for up to six people. That works, though, because you wouldn’t serve the pudding with the apéritif; it’s really just a sweet extra to round off the box and give the glutton another occasion to sit down with French food, and a digestif, perhaps, at the other end of a meal?

After the unwrapping, and a good, hard sniff of that sausage, I worked my way through the little Bonjour French Food magazine, which is beautifully presented and includes background to the manufacturers of the box contents – particularly useful if you’re not familiar with the brand. The website is easy to navigate, there are opportunities to give box feedback via Facebook and Twitter, and there are competitions to win further products – for free!

If you’re keen to indulge with a Bonjour French Food box, there’s currently a £5.00 off code if you visit their website, http://www.bonjourfrenchfood.com

Follow Bonjour French Food on Twitter: @BonjourFrFood

**I received one Bonjour French Food box, free of charge, for the purposes of this review.

Hotel La Coupe d’Or, Lisieux

Monsieur, the Crevette and I were driving south through Normandy when Lisieux, the pilgrimage town where Sainte Thérèse of Lisieux lived, popped up before us, just in time for lunch. We had a pleasant arrival in the small, sloped town, circumnavigating pretty roundabouts, one with a giant Norman apple as its centrepiece, and being the grateful recipients of a paid-up car park ticket handed to us by a smiling chap who left a space just the second that we started seeking one out – a parking angel in the flesh.

We set off in search of the Basilica and/or sustenance, in no particular order, but chanced upon La Coupe d’Or just as we realised that there was a hill to climb to the former and therefore the latter would be required tout de suite so we could push the buggy to the top of it. (Any excuse, really, where Monsieur and I are concerned.) I vaguely recognised the restaurant’s name as one that had been well-reviewed recently on sites I visit. More importantly, they had a reputation for being baby-friendly (similar to Giles Coren with his analysis of restaurant hand-drying facilities, we were now obsessed with ease of buggy access). Admittedly, we did need all our four adult hands to lift the Mini-Madame and buggy up several steps to the entrance, but were indeed welcomed and a table arranged for us with plenty of room for the Crevette, in an otherwise full dining room. May I just add that this was not the easiest accomplishment for a busy staff in the full swing of lunchtime service, yet it was all achieved with a smile and kind nods in the direction of our baby, and was much appreciated by her two Learner Parents, for whom dining out has been such a rarity of late.

Oh, how lovely it was for this new mum to sit at a table with a starched, white table cloth and eat Real Food again,  yet with some interest I noted that in spite of the possible perception of formality the atmosphere was far from starchy. This was fast proving to be an eatery where proper table etiquette and presentation were important, yet stuffiness was left at the door. The patrons were mixed in age and included several children, as well as a few quite elderly folk, a mix which I always enjoy. There is no ageism at this establishment. Since our visit I have also learned that disabled people are catered for here without any muss or fuss. I like that. A lot.

And so, to the food. As anyone knows, pushing a buggy to the top of a steep-ish hill requires a full three-course lunch, so Monsieur and I dug into a set menu each. After an amuse bouche of loosely-bound fish pâté (I’d like to say mackerel here) with golden croutons of baguette, my lunch started with La Trilogie de Tomate: a tomato-lover’s guilty pleasure featuring a verrine of gazpacho, another of layered tomato and mozzarella salad and a ball of tomato and basil sorbet. Everything was artfully arranged on a rectangular platter, with a generous garnish of green salad. All good, true flavours, in total contrast to the glut of tasteless toms on the market of recent times. What a relief to eat red fruit that tasted as it should – like tomatoes, instead of watery cardboard stuffed into a tomato-skinned shell! I was particularly impressed by the sorbet, where the tang of basil sang its own, distinct tune whilst retaining its function as the classic sidekick to tomato.

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I’m not sure who won the better plate here, though, because across the table Monsieur’s tartare de saumon frais was waggling its fishy finger at me in encouragement to reach across and nick some.

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The accompanying Creole salad was luscious with wedges of grapefruit and avocado chunks tumbled onto the plate. Somewhere, a Caribbean cove was calling and Monsieur was answering with sounds of olfactory satisfaction.

Monsieur now turned his attention to a brochette of mixed grilled meats – local lamb from the Pays d’Auge, chunks of beef, grilled chicken breast, with tomato and capsicum threaded between them – served with his choice of a pepper sauce (although Béarnaise, shallot and Camembert sauces were also offered). Every time a new plate arrived I was thrilled to see how much love appeared in its design. It was like eating rainbows without the rain. Good, honest, generally local fare, presented creatively yet without pretension and at fair prices.

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Some might say that my main course of escalope of salmon with a buerre blanc was relatively boring to behold in comparison to the above dishes, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and this beholder says that the Coupe d’Or’s salmon practically rocked off its plate. Yes, it was a classic dish, sans twist, but ah, how wonderful it can be to enjoy such a staid performer when it’s done perfectly. The sauce was a delight, imbuing the salmon with life, even if it did look a bit anaemic from a distance. To be fair, any butter-based sauce looks like it needs a course of iron tablets if not off-set by a little colour and, in this case, the colour wasn’t coming from the star of the show, the salmon, but from the supporting act: tomatoes. The retro lemon slice and cherry tomato garnish was really just designed to interrupt the pallor of the sauce-soaked fish but the larger half tomato accompaniment was heftily, yet not overpoweringly seasoned with garlic and herbes de Provence. Meanwhile its texture was soft and warm and welcoming, much like the service. Without it, the plate might have looked like a perfectly-coiffed Parisienne of a certain age caught without her lippy, yet combined with the dollop of ratatouille and a pair of silky spuds that spoke of being steeped in a light stock, the veg not only lifted the appearance of the dish, but combined to create a successfully savoury sideshow. This is an unpretentious plate that I could eat over and over again. No need for foams or liquid nitrogen or gold leaf adornment. This dish could win a round on MasterChef simply because it is executed properly and, as the French put it, is bien dans sa peau (comfortable in itself). It knows what it is and isn’t afraid to just BE.

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The third and final courses consisted of a Café Gourmand for Monsieur and a simple plate of local cheeses for me.

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The Café Gourmand is a French institution of the sweet variety, consisting of an espresso surrounded by mini dessert treats. In this case, the coffee came with a pistachio macaron, a teensy crème brulée with a hit of tart green apple (most appropriate in these orchard-riddled parts), a miniature chocolate fondant pudding and a small dish of the Norman rice pudding known as teurgoule. Monsieur isn’t a huge fan of rice pudding, but everything else received his hard-won praise.

Enter the cheese! Once more the glutton’s paradise of the Pays d’Auge was the producer responsible for the three varieties set down before me: wedges of Pont l’Eveque, Camembert and Livarot, all creamy, with varying intensity and, shall we say, fragrance? The salad was an exercise in simplicity and reduction of size without the loss of flavour: crisp, sweet lettuce, the crunch of bitter walnut, appropriately dressed for its size with just the right amount of home-made vinaigrette. Mrs Savoury and Mr Sweet were very happy campers, fully refuelled and ready for their hike to the basilica, baby and buggy in tow.

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In summary:

Monsieur’s Menu Découverte consisted of fresh salmon tartare, a mixed grill brochette with choice of sauce and a café gourmand, all for the grand total of €23.90. Other starter options for this menu included a classic south western duck salad (breast, giblets, foie gras all featured), a terrine of Pont l’Eveque cheese with grilled chicken breast, or a scallop and mushroom pastry. For the mains there’s a faux filet, pork shank with cider cream sauce, monkfish with fresh mango salsa and the desserts list boasts everything that appears on the café gourmand plate with a couple of extras, so if you like to taste a bit of everything, the café gourmand is probably your best bet.

My Menu Gourmand was cheaper at €18.90, but still allowed plenty of choice. I had the Trilogie de Tomate, a divine escalope of salmon and plate of three excellent local cheeses. Alternative starters included fish soup served with homemade rouille, fish terrine with green asparagus or warmed chèvre salad with almonds. As a main I may be tempted on another occasion to try the chicken supreme with Camembert, duck with peach confit or the dish of ham served Pays d’Auge style with apples. The dessert offerings are very similar to those mentioned on the more expensive menu.

Hotel La Coupe d’Or is located centrally, between the Cathedral of Saint Pierre and the foot of the hill atop which sits that famed basilica. Lisieux isn’t particularly large, nor is it ridiculously over-burdened with faithful visitors, as one might complain is the case in Lourdes. It’s a pleasant little town to visit for a few hours during a Norman excursion. Don’t hesitate to try La Coupe d’Or if you happen to pass through at a mealtime. The kind service, excellent fare and consideration shown towards those small or less able-bodied rates it highly in my little black book. Recommended.

49, RUE PONT MORTAIN – 14100 LISIEUX

tel 02.31.31.16.84

lacoupedor@orange.fr

 

A Bun in the Oven

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I haven’t posted on Epicurienne in months. Ten months to be precise. As I write this it is slowly, with my left hand only. No, I didn’t lose an arm; I did the longest cooking to date in my lifetime and baked a baby. She’s sitting here on my lap, gripping onto her father’s ancient desk, alert and keen to be part of the action at all times. Today, she’s learning how blogs work.

After the last post I wrote, about an autumnal visit to the delicious Chez Bruce, (God, typing one-handed is slooooow!) one of my blogging buddies left a comment to ask where I was. PlanetRoss said:  ‘Where are you? I’m sure you’ve eaten since October.’ You’d think so, wouldn’t you. At the time, his comment caused my lips to curl at the irony. By the end of November, I’d developed hyperemesis, an extreme of morning sickness, kindly publicised by Kate Middleton so that I didn’t have to translate the Latin for all and sundry for the next six months. That’s right, people, I had my head over a sink until the end of the seventh month of bun production. And that is why this book, bought with all good intention the minute the test stick had two very positive lines, was possibly the most unnecessary expenditure of the entire pregnancy:

As you can possibly appreciate, it’s hard to eat well when 95% of foodstuffs are going to revisit your line of sight following ingestion. I got to the point where my only true friends for months on end were Primula cheese spread on water crackers (chive flavour) and clementines. The growing bun also permitted chocolate to cross the placenta and enter her bloodstream. ‘Why don’t you just eat chocolate? At least it stays down.’ Monsieur pleaded after another evening of full-on, sink-blocking regurgitation. ‘Because it’s full of caffeine and will turn me into Jabba the Hut.’ I replied, silently wondering in a haze of desperation if either con could be really as bad as the constant stomach churning and illness I was currently subjected to. At that point, I had hardly gained weight, apart from that of The Bun, a fact you’d find hard to believe if you could see me now. These days I’m your classic, post-pregnancy Wide Load with an order out for low fat shirataki noodles.

So, to recap, Monsieur and I were thrilled to be expecting The Bun, and then I was pretty much ill for the duration. Even doing a supermarket order online (no vicious smells to send me back to the sink) made me want to vom. A roasting smoked chicken, which I’d usually demolish with a little help from ‘im indoors, had me slamming doors and running up stairs to escape the suddenly vile odour. Rotting leaves on a green down the road saw me retching so hard that I had to take alternative routes to the train so as not to smell them.  I was so consistently ill at work that it was truly painful to keep the secret until the traditional twelve weeks were up and we’d had a scan to say that The Bun was baking nicely.  I couldn’t really go out to eat, as you can imagine. I knew the location of all public loos en route to work and I could no longer blog, thanks to plummeting energy brought on by being sick so frequently during the day, not to mention that thoughts of my once-beloved food were now liable to make me very queasy indeed. I felt like the Exorcist child. Miraculously, my head never once swivelled, but it came close.

Towards the end of the bun baking I could barely eat for a very different reason: now, the sweetest little parasite in the world, who’d sucked all sustenance from me in order to grow, was a healthy enough size to be causing her mother breathing issues. Sitting at a table only ever lasted a short time before I had to leave and bounce on my giant birthing ball, the only seat in the house that was comfortable enough for my growing girth to balance upon. Invitations to dine with friends were turned down with apologies. I wondered if I’d ever eat well again.

And so the buzzer eventually went off and a bun came out of the Epic oven. When Monsieur came to pick us up from the hospital after a week’s stay (don’t mention the infections, the guess-what’s-in-it-leftovers food, or the rat tooth marks on the corner of my morning cereal packet), car seat in hand, he suggested stopping at Gail’s to pick up some San Francisco sour dough bread to add to a little celebration picnic he’d prepared for us at home. I needed no persuading. Gail’s is a stone’s throw from the area’s famed fromagerie, Hamish Johnston, an Aladdin’s Cave of stinky goodness that had been off limits to the runny, raw milk cheese-lover whilst baking The Bun. After nine months of smelly cheese deprivation, I was in through the cheese shop’s front door like a (very large) bullet, ordering hunks of Wigmore, a wheel of ripe and sticky Camembert, chèvre rolled in herbs, another in peppercorns, a mound of English-produced cheese imbued with garlic. BLISS. My gastro-mojo was BACK.

I’m on maternity leave until Spring, so there’s no excuse not to blog. Since The Bun’s arrival I’ve been making up for lost time on the food front – entertaining like mad (The Bun has a fan club, it would seem), checking out food shops and new supermarket products and daring to dine out with a buggy in tow (not as bad as I’d expected). So watch out for more regular posts on Epicurienne and get out your dribble bibs ‘cos I’m back and ready to EAT. Gobble, gobble, gobble.

 

 

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