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:
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:
Or if quiche and clafoutis are more her thing, we could always invest in the pie baking set:
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.
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.
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.
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.
On a UK Monopoly Board, Piccadilly is the sixth most expensive property at a whopping £280.00 and bears the colour yellow. To build a Monopoly hotel on the site will set you back £1,200.00. In reality, Piccadilly is a busy, multi-lane thoroughfare in London’s West End, running from Hyde Park Corner past Green Park to Piccadilly Circus. It’s home to the Hard Rock Café, The Ritz and the Royal Academy. Piccadilly is where Russian spy, Alexander Litvenenko visited a branch of Itsu just after he was poisoned by polonium, a deadly radioactive substance, in a modern-day Cold War power struggle. It’s where to browse through book stacks at the amply-stocked bookstores of Hatchard’s and Waterstone’s, ogle gourmet delights at Fortnum and Mason and Caviar House or refuel at The Wolseley, where weekend brunch tables are a hot ticket. With such esteemed neighbours, both historic and present, it’s no surprise that Piccadilly is where the French hotel chain, Le Méridien, decided to install their landmark London hotel – a stone’s throw from Eros and the Circus’s famed flashing signs. It has now resided at the Regency property of number 21 Piccadilly for a sound twenty-six years, since 1986, in a purpose-built building that first housed The Piccadilly Hotel in 1908 and Masonic temples in its basement.
I’m ashamed to admit that Le Méridien on Piccadilly is a place I must have passed thousands of times yet never once entered and I cannot fathom why. This has recently been rectified; not only have I now entered Le Méridien Piccadilly, I’ve also luxuriated in its underground swimming pool and snored soundly in one of its gigantic beds, oblivious to the busy West End traffic artery located mere feet from my head.
My recent stay at Le Méridien has also educated me in their all-pervading approach to art. The arrival art is what a guest encounters first. As part of Le Méridien’s re-branding at the hand of the Starwood Hotels and Resorts group since they took ownership of the chain in 2005, art has been incorporated into all areas of the guest experience, starting the moment you walk through the door. Before I’d even reached the check-in desk I’d already noted a display of limited edition umbrellas by designer Duro Olowu, with snazzy geometric prints that any connoisseur would be happy to shelter beneath in a London rainstorm.
Even the lowly key card has been welcomed into the LM artistic experience. My card, a work of art in its own right, sported part of a Yan Lei Colour Wheel, its design being part of the LM Unlock Art incentive: not only does the key card open your door it forms part of a collection by a contemporary artist. The current featured artist at LM Piccadilly is Langfang-born Yan Lei, a member of the LM100, the collective comprising 100 influencers who contribute to the LM experience, through their expertise across a wide selection of the arts, from art and design to cuisine and perfumery. Some of the previous Unlock Art card collections, by fellow LM100 members, Hisham Bharoocha and Sam Samore, hang in frames by the lifts, but form and function are only two facets to the LM key cards; they also provide free access to Tate Britain and Tate Modern exhibitions – all you have to do is tell the concierge which Tate exhibitions you’d like to attend so he can arrange access for you, then just flash your key card when you get there, unlocking a local cultural experience for free.
Yan Lei’s Colour Wheel paintings hang in the Piccadilly lobby, the bespoke carpets underfoot are awash with lines, thoughtfully reflecting the inspiration for the company’s name – the meridian lines which criss-cross the globe, and in the ground floor internet den the shelves are set with contemporary ceramics, smart and stark against a dark background. There’s a video installation, created especially for Le Méridien, playing on a loop behind the Guest Relations desk and, on your way to the Longitude Bar, you’ll pass an elegant series of black and white portraits of the people responsible for the overall artistic experience that a guest will enjoy at Le Méridien – the LM100. As for that subtle aroma wafting through the lobby? That’s the signature Le Méridien scented candle, LM01, created by more members of the LM100 clan, Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi. It’s a unique blend of frankincense, iris absolute and musk with cedar notes, gently adding to the sensory welcome so carefully constructed with a guest’s first impressions in mind.
The final and possibly most important part of Le Méridien’s atmosphere is the human component. In my time at the hotel I truly appreciated the comportment of the staff. From greeting to leaving, there was always a smile, a courteous hand, nothing too much trouble. Lift doors were held open without asking, a troublesome door catch dealt with immediately by not one but three kind and patient staff, an unusual breakfast order delivered on-time, without issue, a forgotten toothbrush taken care of, taxi doors opened and closed, a myriad small kindnesses. Whomever I spoke with on the staff seemed to genuinely care that I had a positive experience of Le Méridien Piccadilly. That’s what I call the Art of Hospitality, and in the travel environment it’s absolutely priceless.
A luxury hotel, lashings of fine dining and a whirlwind of contemporary art? Chez Epicurienne, that’s what I call a killer combination that I’d be happy to dive into on any day of the week. Courtesy of the Le Méridien hotel group, I was recently invited to partake of just such a tantalising synthesis of sensory stimulants during an arts-focussed stay-cation, based at their landmark hotel in London’s Piccadilly. I’m still recovering, in a good way.
A top hotel’s relationship to food is a no-brainer; the two go hand-in-hand, but where does art enter the equation? In this case, Le Méridien, the forty-year old international hotel chain, has incorporated art into its properties so that wherever guests look, art will meet their eyes – be it on arrival, on relaxing, even on using their key card. Steering Le Méridien’s artistic intentions is Jérôme Sans, the French art curator and critic, in his capacity as the LM Cultural Curator. What’s more, for the past five years Le Méridien has been a principle partner and supporter of an arts initiative called OFT – the Outset/ Frieze Art Fair Fund to Benefit the Tate Collection. Through OFT, the Tate is able to bypass purchasing bureaucracy to acquire work by emerging artists featured at the annual London fair for contemporary art: Frieze.
Over two days, our small group of bloggers along with various members of hotel management and Le Meridien’s PR company, Fleishman Hillard, managed to experience one art discussion panel, several types of unforgettable hors d’oeuvre, one unusual afternoon tea, six delicious meals, one international art fair, three world-famous art galleries, exhibitions various, two nights of sumptuous sleep, meetings with key art experts and personalities, a lesson in Le Méridien’s history and brand and various forms of London transport – including the water kind. For obvious reasons, I will not attempt to squeeze everything listed above into one post, lest it resemble a hefty artistic monograph. Instead, I invite you to join me on a multi-post tour of Le Méridien’s London art-u-cation. It’ll be an inspiration – for locals and visitors alike.
Photo above courtesy of the Le Meridien website, http://www.lemeridienpiccadilly.co.uk
My New Best Friend on the other side of The Pond is Adam Zettler of MetroMarks. He’s recently launched a regular feature called My Favourite City on the MetroMarks website, where you can find all sorts of insider info about an ever-growing number of cities around the world. They kicked off My Favourite City with a post about Toronto, Zettler’s hometown, and this week they’ve given me some space to rave about Venice, Italy. If you click on the link below, you’ll find out my top three must dos in Venice, my favourite restaurant for both memorable views AND food, as well as other reasons why I find this city so special. Most importantly, perhaps, are my tips on how to enjoy Venice without falling into the typical tourist traps.
Click here to read My Favourite City – Venice.
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Follow MetroMarks on Twitter: @MetroMarks
To sign off, here are a few photos of Venice from earlier this year:
Casanova and his latest squeeze, spotted near Frari
A trio of palazzi
View of St Mark’s Square from the bell tower at San Giorgio Maggiore