Delicious Destinations

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Food inspired by travel, now doesn’t that sound familiar? Having travelled from the UK to India in a campervan, Charlie Bigham became inspired by what he saw and what he ate during his trip. The adventure then resulted in Charlie producing tasty meals for the UK market.

Following the epic journey to India back in 1994, Charlie set up his own food business in 1996. With three recipes under his belt, Charlie then pitched his food around various London retailers. This then resulted in major supermarkets stocking Charlie’s ever-expanding range such as Waitrose, Asda and Tesco. 

The whole aim for Charlie was to bring the flavour of each delicious destination to the kitchens of people back home. Having been obsessed by hunting out authentic food in the very place that it all started, we can really relate to Charlie’s mindset. 

As I headed into my local Tesco, it didn’t take long to spot Charlie’s range. The packaging is eye catchingly colourful and occupies its very own section. The range to choose from is varied and tempting. In the end I managed to narrow it down to Chicken Tikka Masala with Rice and Spanish Chicken with Roasted Potatoes. 

Of course, there are many others to choose from. Depending on your mood you could easily opt to head in a more easterly direction for Thai Green Chicken Curry or take the French route with Beef Bourguignon and Dauphinoise Potatoes. Many of the meals comfortably serve two people. 

Time to cook dinner. This couldn’t really be any simpler. I began with the Chicken Tikka Masala which came in a wooden box along with the rice in a separate box. Interestingly, Charlie Bighams provide foil within the rice box in order to get that perfectly steamed result. Very good attention to detail. 

Most of the packaging is recyclable other than the wooden trays. Although many people opt to use the boxes to grow herbs in – how clever! Onto a tray and into the oven for 25 minutes, no stress whatsoever. 

Instantly, the smell hit me. The smell unlike any ready meal that I have ever had in my kitchen. The curry had a fresh aroma, almost like it had been cooked there and then from scratch. This is something that I hadn’t seen previously across the ready meal market.

As predicted from the giveaway scent, the taste was authentic. A rich, creamy sauce with proper pieces of chicken. Nothing reformed, nothing added, everything 100% fresh and on the money. The rice also was perfectly done with the foil trick allowing it to steam. We were very impressed. 

The next day, we headed from India to Spain. Spanish Chicken is one of my favourites, who couldn’t get excited about Chicken in a rich tomato sauce with chunks of chorizo? This meal also contained olives and chickpeas for a variance of flavour and texture.

A top tip from Charlie is to tip the potatoes out of the box and onto the baking tray in order to get maximum crispness. I decided to leave mine in the box due to the aggressive nature of my oven when it comes to browning. It later proved to be the right call. 

As with the curry, the aromas coming from the oven were promising. The chicken and chorizo emerged beautifully golden with the potatoes perfectly crisp. This meal took 30 minutes in the oven from chilled which is ideal for anyone short on time. 

I was astounded at the flavour packed into these wooden boxes. The freshness of these meals is incredible. Exactly as it would be fresh from the pan. Flawless quality in the chicken yet again with a rich tomato sauce packing tonnes of flavour to enshroud it in. 

Chorizo, olives and chickpeas are classic mainstays of the Spanish pantry. Each element brought something to this in a big way. The crispy potatoes were a world away from the soggy, greasy efforts that you tend to find in many ready meals. 

For £7.50 per meal, this is a very fair investment. Dinner for two has never been simpler, nor has it been better quality. Ready meals often get bad press and in some cases rightly so. With Charlie’s range, I think that we have turned a corner. Pick your delicious destination and Charlie will gladly take you there. 

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Website: www.bighams.com 

Tiramisu with Coffee Ice Cream

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Tiramisu with Coffee Ice Cream

Tiramisu is given an Asian twist with this amazing Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream from the wonderful range at Yee Kwan.

This Tiramisu is traditional for the most part but the ice cream really gives that intense coffee hit along with a new texture. The two parts work incredibly well together to create something halfway between a traditional Tiramisu and an ice cream sundae.

This recipe can be made well ahead of time. In fact, the Tiramisu benefits from a few hours in the fridge to set and for the flavours to develop. The silver leaf decoration is entirely optional but highly Instagrammable.

 

For two people, you will need…

250g Mascarpone

50ml Espresso Coffee, cooled completely

150g Madeira Cake

3 Free-range Egg Yolks

50ml Marsala or Brandy

100g Caster Sugar, plus 1 tbsp

Yee Kwan Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream, to serve

 

1. Start by filling a saucepan one third full with water. Bring to a simmer. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl and place the bowl onto the saucepan, ensure that the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Begin whisking.

2. Add the brandy to the egg yolks and whisk until the mixture becomes creamy and thick. A good way to know when the mixture is ready is to drag the whisk through creating a ‘ribbon’ effect. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

3. Cream the Mascarpone in a separate bowl to loosen the mixture. Whisk in 25ml of the coffee followed by the egg yolk and brandy mixture. Whisk together to combine then reserve in the fridge.

4. Slice the Madeira cake into rough cubes, around an inch thick. Place the cubes in a bowl and pour over the remaining coffee.  Add a tablespoon of caster sugar and toss the cubes until they are well covered.

5. Layer up the Tiramisu. Take a wine glass, or shallow bowl. Add a layer of coffee soaked sponge followed by a good helping of the mascarpone cream. Cover the glasses or bowl and leave to chill in the fridge for 2-4 hours or even overnight.

6. Finish the Tiramisu with a scoop of Yee Kwan Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream and, if you’re feeling extravagant, a leaf of edible silver. Bellissimo!

Tiramisu with Coffee Ice Cream Tiramisu with Coffee Ice Cream Tiramisu with Coffee Ice CreamYee Kwan Tiramisu

Yee Kwan Ice Cream: www.yeekwan.com

Purchase Yee Kwan Ice Cream direct from Ocado here

This is a sponsored post for Yee Kwan

The Rib Man, London

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When legends of the street food trade are spoken about in London, this man’s name is often right amongst them. Mark Gevaux AKA The Rib Man has been trading at Brick Lane Market for the best part of a decade. Mark’s stall has been on my list to pay a visit to in London for as long as I can remember. Today was the day that it would finally happen. 

The backstory of The Rib Man is quite incredible. After suffering a terrible leg injury following a car crash in 1991, Mark went through a series of operations before asking for his leg to be removed. This unfortunately terminated his former employment as a butcher. A trade that he had been involved with all his working life. 

With a knowledge of butchery, and in particular ribs, Mark had the idea to set up a street food stall selling slow cooked ribs in sandwiches complete with his very own hot sauces. The sauces have become legendary and regularly sell out on his website. If you needed any insight into just how hot the sauces are, the names include Holy F**k, Christ on a Bike and Holy Mother of God. 

We arrived in Brick Lane on a pleasant Sunday Morning. London was strangely quiet but nicely so. It was a pleasure to actually get around without having to dodge the crowds. Brick Lane Market starts at the northern end of the street so just follow your nose and sure enough you will find the mass of food stalls.


There are no actual set hours for The Rib Man. As a rule of thumb, the earlier you can make it to the market, the better. The stall usually begins trading from around 7am and looks to finish at around 2pm but regularly the ribs sell out before then. 

The Rib Man stall, incredibly, was empty when we arrived. This provided a good opportunity to chat to Mark and find out about his upcoming appearance at Digbeth Dining Club. A place that we know well near us in Birmingham. Whenever you approach the stall, you can be guaranteed friendly service and a good chat about all things meat and hot sauce. 

The lure of shredded meat in a bun, plus an ever-growing line of people, meant that we couldn’t put off eating any longer. Mark put together two small sandwiches for £6 each, complete with the standard issue sauce – Holy F**k. If this is a small size, i’d love to see what an XL looks like!

Our first bite had us hooked. You can really taste the quality of the meat with the pork coming from Norfolk and Suffolk. One of the best areas in the country for pig farming. With rib meat being closer to the bone than say pork shoulder, the flavour was a lot more intense. Very juicy and melting in the mouth with a smokey hit from a combination of charcoal and the rub dusted over the ribs prior to cooking.


How about the sauce? Holy F**k is a good name for it. The sauce has a real kick from juiced Scotch Bonnet chillies and a mix of spices. What I love so much about the sauce is the balance. Many chilli sauces either fall into the ‘too sweet’ category or completely blow your head off. This has a superb blend of heat and sweet.

Other hot sauces also have a tendency to knock my stomach sideways. With Mark producing his sauces completely from natural ingredients, I had no reaction whatsoever to it. I can’t speak highly enough of this sauce. When you grab a sandwich, be sure to have some.

Many people venture to The Rib Man to cure hangovers from the previous night. As far as breakfasts go, this was right up there with the best and probably most unique that i’ve ever had in London. The Rib Man also operates outside of The Boleyn Tavern before West Ham United home matches if you can’t wait until Sunday for your rib-fix. 

After a further chat with Mark about Digbeth, hot sauces and all things ribs, we had to sadly leave the stall and head back into central London. Before we went, Mark was kind enough to give us a bottle of his hottest sauce to date – Judas is Scary Hot. This sauce is made from pure chillies and is not for the faint of heart. 

It was a genuine pleasure to meet such a prominent figure of the street food world. The food is outstanding from The Rib Man and I would happily demolish another of Mark’s sandwiches in a heartbeat. The best ribs in London? Yes, without a doubt. 

Website: www.theribman.co.uk

Nearest Tube: Aldgate East (Brick Lane Market), Upton Park (The Boleyn Tavern)

Japanese Afternoon Tea at Ginza Onodera, London

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When it comes to Afternoon Tea, the options in London are simply overwhelming. Many places offer various different menus and styles but none are quite as unique as Ginza Onodera. A Japanese style of Afternoon Tea is available here and we would be heading along to try it. 

Situated down Bury Street in swish Piccadilly, Ginza Odonera is quite simply a stunning venue. Ginza Onodera is part of the Onodera group founded in Ginza, Tokyo. With branches in New York, Paris, Shanghai, Los Angeles, Hawaii and now London. Incredible given that the group began with a single 9 seater restaurant in Tokyo. 

Walking into the restaurant lets you know straight away that you are in a classy London venue. The restaurant itself is situated downstairs below ground level. Complete with Teppanyaki stations and private dining for those experiencing sushi made before their very eyes, this was like stepping off a London street and into Japan. 

The dining room is equally beautiful. Mirrors along the wall and lights overhead really bring to life the spacious aspect of the room. Chairs and tables are spread a good distance apart with the hum of relaxing music for company. An ideal place for a relaxing meal. 

We then met Shunpei, the restaurant manager. A kind man who explained both the menu and the ideas behind the concept of taking the Afternoon Concept a little further east. It makes complete sense to provide specialties found in Japan, both savoury and sweet and to serve them alongside a formidable selection of teas. 

The menus begin from £29 for a choice of one tea plus food. Prices increase to £72 for bottomless Champagne with the food inclusive. A Japanese tea ceremony option allows you to try a variety of Japanese teas along with the food selection. A cocktail option is also available. 

We began our experience with a glass of Drappier Champagne. The bottle even proudly displays the logo for Ginza Onodera exclusively for the restaurant, a lovely gesture by the people at Drappier. The Champagne was of very high quality with a refreshing taste and not as gassy as many vintages can be. 

The Japanese are famed for their precision. When it comes to presentation, this left us spellbound. Each small dish was displayed beautifully on a circular wooden stand. The dishes included Beef Teriyaki, Chicken Karaage, Spider Crab Rolls, Wagyu Sliders, Salmon Tataki, Crab Croquettes, Kinako Blancmange and Chocolate Gateau. 

Starting with the hot items, we began with the rather tempting Wagyu Slider. Widely regarded as some of the best beef in the world, Wagyu is highly prized by the Japanese. Upon tasting the rich, flavoursome and almost buttery meat – I can now see why it is so revered. Complete with cheese and a slice of tomato this was outstanding. 

Crunchy on the outside and soft in the centre with a fresh flavour of the sea, the Crab Croquette was by no means overshadowed by the Wagyu. Our Afternoon Tea experience had got off to the best possible start. 

The crispy Chicken Karaage was up next. Fried chicken in any form regularly hits the spot with us, however, there is such a lightness to Japanese fried chicken. A squeeze of lemon juice is all that is needed to produce a taste sensation. 

Shunpei would inform us later that because refrigeration was not an option years ago in places such as Tokyo, other methods were in fact used to preserve fish. Many households would either cure, sear or eat raw seafood straight away. The Salmon Tataki was a prime example of this. 


A lightly seared piece of salmon, barely cooked, garnished with a salad dressed with plum and cucumber. So delicate were the flavours within the salad that you could really taste the freshness of the fish. This began to unlock a whole new level of Japanese food for us.

The Beef Teriyaki also had that rich flavour from good quality meat, quite possibly Wagyu again. Garnished with Teriyaki sauce and a cherry tomato, the skewer had a ton of flavour for something so small in stature. 

Time for a tea break. Our first two teas to try were Kabusecha and Sencha. The Kabusecha consisted of leaves that are covered for 10 days to produce a sweeter tea. While the Sencha aimed for more of a balanced cup of tea.

Having a sweet tooth naturally, the Kabusecha was my instant favourite. Both cups contained a really clean flavour and refreshing hit to the palate. Very good options in the Japanese Tea Ceremony style of Afternoon Tea. 

Like many, we would associate Sushi with raw fish wrapped up inside both rice and seaweed. The Sushi at Ginza Onodera is not only raw fish. The fish, in this case, was Spider Crab. Deep-fried and rolled with a spicy sauce, rice and seaweed to encase it all in. 

Every single flavour stands out in this roll. The sweet crab, the spicy sauce and the precise cooking of the rice just make this one of the best rolls ever. The whole Sushi experience at Ginza Onodera really began to look tempting off the back of tasting the Spider Roll. Skill on a very high level. 

Just the sweets remained as our stand began to look rather empty. The first of the dessert dishes was a take on panna cotta – a Kinako Blancmange. The actual Blancmange is made from soybean flour which takes on a flavour similar to pistachio. The glaze on the top is a dark sugar caramel with a fresh blueberry and raspberry garnish.

The texture is comparable to Creme Caramel. The flavour, as described, more like pistachio. Either way, this is a delicious dessert and satisfying to any sweet tooth. Equally so, the Chocolate Gateau had a soft, flourless texture with a rich flavour. Perfect with a crisp sesame tuile and a great way to round off the meal. 

A couple more pots of tea accompanied our digestion. Two Matcha Green Tea types, in this case Hojicha and Genmaicha. The Genmaicha was described as having a buttery taste and it really does! A lovely tea. Both cups possessed a fascinating scent and it was hard to choose between them as to which we favoured more. 

After a tour of the restaurant’s private dining areas, including Teppan-yaki stations and Sushi bars, we thanked the service and Shunpei and said our goodbyes. We really didn’t think that Japanese food could get any better than Kushi-Ya but we have found a firm favourite here in Piccadilly. 

At Ginza Onodera, you can expect a classy meal to remember. Courteous and kind service along with food to take you thousands of miles east. The concept of the Afternoon Tea is a real stroke of genius. Absolutely the most unique way to spend an afternoon in London. 

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Website: www.ginzaonodera.uk

Nearest Tube: Green Park

Help! I Don’t Speak French…

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la marine paris canal saint martin

I have always been more word-orientated than numerical. This is a huge advantage when it comes to travelling. As I have hopped from country to country, I have endeavoured to learn at least a few basic words and phrases.

My most proficient second language happens to be French. I hold GCSE qualifications in both French and German but France is a country that I can’t stop returning to. The food, the people, the culture – France has it all.

If you are a first time visitor to France, you may have heard the horror stories before you go. “The waiters in Paris are rude and snooty to non-French speakers” “The people will ignore you even if you attempt to speak in their native tongue” these are two examples just for starters.

The fact is that the people in France and Paris in particular are, on the whole, lovely. They will appreciate any attempt made by visitors to their country to engage in their language. No matter how basic the word, phrase or how dubious the accent may be. Do not be scared to try.

Here are some key phrases to help win you new friends and give you confidence when in certain situations. No matter what comes out of your mouth, a smile and showing interest in what is being said will get you a long way.

Let’s begin with the basics…

 

To say hello it’s simply “Bonjour” (bon-jaw) or “Salut” (sal-oot) this will often be followed by “Ca va?” (sah-vah) which generally means “How are you?” The way to respond to this is “Ca va bien, merci!” (sah-vah bee-an mur-see) which means “I’m fine, thank you!”. Congratulations! You have now mastered a traditional French greeting, plus the two kisses of course.

If you happen to meet someone in the evening for example, you can adapt “Bonjour” to “Bonsoir” (bon-swah) which translates to “Good evening”. This is particularly handy when visiting a restaurant for dinner or meeting friends for drinks.

Now you’re in a shop or market. Help me! What do I say?!..

marche d'aligre paris

Quite often, if it’s a boutique shop or retail outlet, an assistant will approach and ask “Puis-je vous aider?” (pu-ees juh voo’s ay-day) which means “Can I help you?” quite often i’m just having a look around. So, if this is the case, a simple “Je cherche juste, merci” (juh shur-shay jooste mur-see) “I am just looking, thank you”  and a smile is enough to allow you to carry on browsing.

Of course, to go into more detail the language barrier starts to get a little higher. Luckily, many shops in France have staff who do speak English or various levels of other languages. In this case, you can ask “Parlez-vous Anglais?” (parlay-voo ong-lay) “Do you speak English?” and this usually makes proceedings a lot smoother.

When at a food market, the prices of certain items are not always displayed. This was very much the case at The Aligre Market in Paris. Armed with your new found confidence and broad smile, ask the vendor “Excusez-moi, combien s’il vous plaît?” (excuse-ay mwah, com-bee-an sill-voo-play?) and politely point to the product that you would like, this simply means “Excuse me, how much please?”.

Many times in my experience, the stall holder can detect the non-French lilt in my accent and will respond with the figure in English. On other occasions they have been kind enough to write down the number which really helps.

La Terrasse at Galeries Lafayette, Paris

Other key phrases that really come in handy in everyday situations while in France are as follows….

“Oui” (wee) – “Yes”

“Non” (non) – “No”

“L’addition, s’il vous plaît” (luh-addi-see-yon-sill-voo-play) “The bill, please”

“Je m’appelle” (jum-app-ell) “My name is..”

“Au revoir” (oh-rev-wah) “Goodbye”

“Je voudrais” (juh-voo-drays) “I would like..”

“Aidez-moi!” (ay-day mwah) “Help!”

“Tres bien” (tray-bee-an) “Very good”

“Je suis” (juh-swee) “I am”

Of course, this is just the basics. For additional learning, this company are just fantastic. Listenandlearn.org offer a range of language courses specialising in various different languages taught by native speakers. Other highly recommended language courses can also be found at Rosetta Stone and Babbel.

Each course comes with a tutor that has the language that they teach as their first language. Complete beginners can accelerate to elementary level in just 12 sessions of two hours duration.

My confidence became so much greater the more French that I spoke in social situations when in France. Once you begin to immerse yourself in the culture and language of a foreign country, the need to know more really intensifies.

Communicating with a foreign individual in their native tongue ranks as one of the most rewarding experiences of my travelling life. With the help of Listen & Learn, this becomes so much easier.

HelloFresh Herby Italian Chicken Recipe

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What if we could live in a world where we could get to choose our own favourite recipes and have the ingredients delivered to our door…..Well, the good news is that you can. All thanks to HelloFresh.

HelloFresh offer a service whereby you are in control. On a weekly basis you can choose how many recipes, what kind of cuisine and for how many people. HelloFresh will take care of the rest. Everything comes freshly packed in a box for complete convenience. 

The recipes generally take between 20 and 50 minutes to prepare. Our challenge, set by HelloFresh, was to road test one of their enticing recipes and see if it really is just that simple. The chosen dish was Herby Italian Chicken with Roasted Sweet Potato and Vine Tomato Salad. 

The full recipe can be found right here 

Sounds healthy, right? Well, this was perfect in terms of nutrition to fit in with our healthy eating plan. HelloFresh provide the nutritional breakdown of each and every recipe. This Italian Chicken dish only contains 5g of fat per serving with just 1g of saturated fat. Absolutely spot on for what we were looking for. 

Ingredients for the dish were simple also which means minimal effort is required to create a tasty meal. Just six ingredients go into the dish, plus a drizzle of olive oil and a little seasoning – that really is it. Nothing more required. 

I began by dicing up two sweet potatoes with no need to peel them beforehand. Not only does this shave a few vital minutes off the clock but later enhances the flavour of the sweet potato when roasted. I laid out the potato chunks, cut around 2cm thick, on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.


A good helping of Italian seasoning plus a drizzle of olive oil ensures that the sweet potato pieces are flavoured to the max. Adding a generous pinch of salt and pepper completes the job and it’s into a preheated 200C oven to bake. Easy enough so far, right?

The next job is to dice up a couple of juicy, rich vine tomatoes and toss them in a bowl with chopped fresh coriander and balsamic vinegar. This is a salad garnish for the dish and the longer it sits in the bowl, the more the flavours intensify. Not forgetting of course to season to taste with salt and pepper.

I very rarely pan-fry chicken breast. The oven is my usual preferred method of cooking. In this case, HelloFresh suggest using a frying pan with a light drizzle of oil to cook the breasts on a medium heat. The gentle nature of the frying, along with another hit of the dried herbs, allow for a much more relaxed cook. 

After turning the chicken a few times to produce even colour and cooking, the meat is left to rest. You can do this by either wrapping the chicken in foil or simply keeping the pan on the lowest heat setting. 

Once the sweet potato pieces took on a golden colour and a soft texture to the touch, it was time to take them out of the oven. Up to now, the recipe had taken me little over 20 minutes, including prep time. 

All that was left to do was to crush the sweet potatoes with the back of a fork and to slice the chicken breast into four pieces. The aromas filling the kitchen at this point were making me salivate at a rapid rate. 

The dish looked inviting, colourful and substantial. If this was my daily offering from HelloFresh, I would be a very happy man. Looks are one aspect, but what about the taste? It was time to dig in. 

It’s honestly hard to believe that this is healthy food. The number of flavours and textures within the dish were incredible. The sharpness of the salad and the sweetness coming from the crushed potatoes worked so well together.

The chicken was so juicy that i’m actually contemplating changing my approach to cooking it. The pan-frying method almost gives you more control over the end result. Yes, it takes a bit of time keeping it company but the end result is so worth it. 

HelloFresh provide a service that ticks so many boxes. Meals that fit in with both your favoured cuisine and lifestyle, fresh ingredients and straightforward recipes. With life becoming ever more busy, it’s a huge helping hand to have a company like HelloFresh making things that touch easier.

This is a sponsored post for HelloFresh

Find out more at HelloFresh.co.uk

 

La Maison Marie, Lyon

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Lyon is a city in which one is simply spoiled for choice when it comes to eating out. After incredible experiences in the local bouchons, we fancied something a little lighter for lunch at a low price. We found exactly what we were looking for at La Maison Marie.

la maison marie lyon

This is an idyllic and very popular spot in the centre of Lyon. A short stroll from Cordeliers metro station, La Maison Marie is definitely worth arriving at with a reservation. Fortunately for visitors outside of France, you can book a table online through the restaurant website.

la maison marie lyon

With our table secured, we arrived for lunch. The weather outside was beautiful so we couldn’t turn down Marie’s offer of a table out front. Marie is just lovely. speaks very good English and is incredibly friendly, a great host.

la maison marie lyon

The lunch menu stands out a mile. Two courses, either a starter and main or main and dessert, comes to just €18.90. Three courses is €23.90 with three courses plus cheese coming in at €28.90. Very good value whichever option you choose.

We decided on three courses. Starting off with a very generous Aperol Spritz we perused the options with two dishes to select from per course. For the starters, we decided to try one of each.

la maison marie lyon

A beetroot gazpacho is something that I would never normally head towards on a menu. With the weather being so perfect, it made real sense to try this famous cold soup. Complete with fromage blanc to add sourness and Bellota Ham for that salty, Spanish kick – it did sound tempting.

The portion was incredibly generous. A large soup bowl of purple, chilled goodness garnished with a baguette crouton, Bellota Ham and spoonfuls of fromage blanc is indeed a wonderful thing. The sourness and creaminess of the fromage blanc really works well with beetroot in similarity to goats cheese. Perfect on a hot day.

la maison marie lyon

A salmon sashimi, not typically French, appeared across the table. Garnished with green beans and shaved parisian mushrooms, this was a unique take on a salad. The salmon being in its raw state provided a fresh hit and was the star of the dish.

I couldn’t really turn down a piece of beef that had been cooking away for 50 hours now could I? That’s exactly what arrived for the main course. Large slices of fork-tender protein unusually served on top of a creamy risotto,garnished with vegetables and finished with a reduction of the daube sauce. Very tasty it was too.

Continuing the theme of ordering opposite dishes from the lunch menu (in a way, creating our own tasting menu) Ali went again for fish. In this case, hake. In a similar style to the beef, the hake sat on top of a creamy onion puree and arrived garnished with similar vegetables to the beef. The fish was superbly cooked and the puree was smooth, rich and moreish.

la maison marie lyon

The French are in a different league when it comes to desserts. The selection of two desserts was a tough one to decide between, so we did exactly as we had done with the previous courses and picked opposites.

I’m not a great fan of figs but these roasted figs with mascarpone ‘snow’, crushed biscuits, strawberries and caramel shard tuiles were truly epic. This was simply an unbelievable pudding. The figs were full of flavour and juicy in stark contrast to the lifeless ones that we seem to get here in the UK. The combination was sensational.

la maison marie lyon

The other dessert option was a tribute to a Mont-Blanc. A chestnut biscuit with chestnut cream, raspberry cream and mint. A lot lighter than a heavy, cream-laden Mont-Blanc but with all the flavour of a traditional version. The fresh mint running through the cream was a lovely touch.

la maison marie lyon

With the spritz’s coming in at €9 each – the final bill arrived at €65.80. Given that this is a beautiful restaurant in the very centre of town, this was incredible value. The service throughout our meal had been spot on, the food was a relief from the heavy cuisine around the city and we left extremely happy. We highly recommend La Maison Marie when in Lyon.

Opening Times: Tuesday-Saturday 1200-1400,1900-2200

Nearest Metro: Cordeliers

Website: www.lamaisonmarie.com

Le Gavroche

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If we’re talking famous restaurants in the UK then the name of this place is generally one of the first to come up. Le Gavroche first opened its doors on Lower Sloane Street in 1967 with brothers Albert and Michel Roux.

The restaurant then went on to become the first in Britain to be awarded the maximum of three Michelin Stars. These days Le Gavroche occupies a prime position in London’s Mayfair on Upper Brook Street and holds 2 Michelin Stars with Albert’s son Michel Roux Jr at the helm.

le gavroche

Getting a reservation at Le Gavroche is no easy task. Occasionally if you try your luck on the off chance of a cancellation you can get lucky. We booked our seats three months in advance for lunch. Extreme you may think but this is after all the restaurant that has had a hand in training such chefs as Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing and Marco Pierre White

Arriving at the restaurant is a bit of an anti-climax. The building looks just like any other in Mayfair with a simple sign above the door indicating ‘Le Gavroche’. Inside, the bar area is a strange colour of red Scottish tartan, about as far removed from a French theme as you can get.

Gentlemen are required to wear jackets and should you arrive without one, they have a sort of ‘lost property’ style area and will provide one of theirs for you to dine in. Luckily I brought my own.

Another strange part of the Gavroche experience is that the actual dining room is in the basement. As you descend down the stairs pictures of Albert, Michel and Michel Roux Jr hang proudly on the walls.

le gavroche

The dining room is immaculate and intimate. All thoughts of this being below ground level are quickly eradicated – that is until you realise that you have no phone signal. Menus are presented with one containing prices (usually for the gentleman or host of the table) and one without prices.

It’s a great deal if you have the menu without prices as the a la carte about gave me a heart attack. It may be a traditional way of dining in parts of France but for me I would rather have honesty across the board – especially dining in somewhere as exclusive as Mayfair without money to torch.

One other slightly underhand tactic about the menu situation at Le Gavroche is that the reasonably priced set lunch menu at £72 for three courses plus half a bottle of wine, water, coffee and petit fours is completely in French! A tactic to steer you towards the more expensive menus perhaps?

It made more sense to go with the ‘Menu Exceptionnel’ a menu of 9 courses priced at £112 without wine pairings. A half bottle of Gewurztraminer at £30 proved to be the perfect companion through our journey of French delights.

le gavroche

As is customary in many Michelin places, an amuse bouche was served. A couple of tart cases filled with celeriac remoulade arrived with nuggets of fried lobster. A very luxurious start to the meal.

The Souffle Suissesse has been a mainstay on the menu at Le Gavroche since the day it opened. As this was a tasting menu, I was expecting a smaller version of this class – how wrong I was.

le gavroche

This thing was huge! A fluffy cloud of beaten egg white and bechamel floating on a pool of double cream gratinated with gruyere cheese, not one for the cholesterol conscious. It’s so worth the extra saturated fat, this is not only a taste of history, it’s a delicious one at that.

Next up, a true French classic. Terrine of Foie Gras with Madeira Jelly and Toasted Brioche. Rich and buttery foie gras is sensational, this is as close to the quality of France that we have tasted in Britain. The jelly and toast complimented the flavours of the terrine perfectly.

le gavroche

Le Gavroche is not a ‘stiff’ place. Diners will actually relax and engage in conversation with you. We really enjoyed speaking to couples on the surrounding tables exchanging opinions on menu choices and dishes sampled.

I never really had ordered fish in restaurants prior to this dish. Braised Octopus with Soft Shell Crab and Sweet Tomato Salad. This was the dish that I feared most, octopus looks grim in its raw state and a salad of tomatoes wasn’t the most inspiring description, what was I doing?

As it turned out, I had massively underestimated this dish. This was absolutely delicious. I would go as far as to say that this is the best plate of food that I have ever eaten anywhere. The crab was deep fried, crispy and being soft shell, entirely edible. The octopus had a delicate texture and subtle flavour from being thinly sliced ‘carpaccio style’.

le gavroche

The tomato salad had been marinated in lime juice with a lime syrup giving a sweet and sour flavour. This course was simply out of this world and a pleasure to eat.

Our waitress declared the next course as her personal favourite. Stone Bass with a Pastilla of Arabian Spices. The dish arrived looking smart and simple with a portion of stone bass sitting adjacent to a sliced pastilla of rice with a stalk of baby fennel linking the two.

le gavroche

I had to disagree with our waitress. This dish didn’t eclipse the octopus. Saying that, it was a very good dish with subtle spicing coming from the pastilla with the stone bass well cooked. This was a few notches down in superlatives to the previous dish but still very good.

A regular sight during lunch service is watching Michel Roux Jr do a lap of the dining room. Every credit to Michel as he shook hands and signed menus on his way around. We found him to be friendly and pleasant just as his television persona reflects.

le gavroche

As Michel left our table, our next course arrived. Homemade Black Pudding, Crumbed Egg and Tomato Chutney. This felt like an impromptu breakfast in the middle of our tasting menu. A delicious black pudding with a rich egg and a shard of bacon is always going to be a winning combination. A comforting course after the fireworks of the previous few.

le gavroche

Our next meat course was one that I was very much looking forward to. Pigeon with Peas a la Francaise. I had seen Michel feature this dish on Masterchef: The Professionals, a tricky one to get right. Ours was sublime.

The pigeon was soft and gamey, perfectly cooked to a rosy pink colour. The legs really aren’t anything more than a garnish as no meat could be detected no matter how hard I tried. The peas mixed with bacon lardons and carrots cooked in a rich chicken stock were a level above any peas that we’ve ever had before.

le gavroche

How the staff manage to navigate the behemoth of a cheese cart around the dining room is anyone’s guess. “Wheech one would you like?” asked the waiter in a very heavy French accent. It was very much a case of ‘Where the heck do I start?’ but we settled on some gruyere and comte, two excellent cheeses served with crudites and chutneys.

 le gavroche

After cheese comes the dessert. A very simple dessert at that. Mille Feuille of Raspberries and Chocolate with a Raspberry Coulis. Quite pedestrian for a two star restaurant but delicious all the same – in many ways we were grateful for the reduced size.

le gavroche

The petit fours signal the end of the ‘exceptionnel’ experience. So what was the final total? Just under £300 as it turned out. A very reasonable sum for the quality and quantity of both food and service.

le gavroche

Le Gavroche is an institution in London, a restaurant up there with the most famous. It would be easy for Michel Roux Jr to serve sub-standard food and charge the earth for you to eat it. He doesn’t. The restaurant is full day and night for a reason, this is where you come to eat and be treated like a king for a day. Long may it continue.

Opening Times: Tuesday – Friday 1200-1400, 1800-2200

                         Saturday 1800-2200

Website: www.le-gavroche.co.uk

Nearest Tube Station: Marble Arch

Bottomless Brunch at The Hilton Hotel, Nottingham

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After recently celebrating 100 years as an operational hotel chain, The Hilton welcomed us back for a newly launched experience – a Bottomless Prosecco Brunch. The Brunch is a 90 minute period of unlimited Prosecco and two courses of your choice.

Eton mess Bottomless brunch Nottingham Hilton
Eton mess

We returned to the scene of the celebrations for the 100 years party – The Bric Restaurant. Walking in here always feels good as the staff are friendly, the setting is relaxed yet smart and the food on our previous visit was very good indeed.

Bottomless brunch Nottingham Hilton

Lucia would be looking after us during our experience. It’s always a nice touch when the staff are happy to chat and take a keen interest in the menu. Our Prosecco arrived in a large ice bucket which is far easier than the staff having to keep filling up glass after glass.

Prosecco Bottomless brunch Nottingham Hilton
Prosecco

The menu features a mixture of sweet and savoury dishes.  Early morning favourites such as croque monsieur, omelette Arnold Bennett and scrambled eggs appear alongside Eton mess, pancakes and waffles.

Menu Bottomless brunch Nottingham Hilton
Menu

At a very reasonable price of £25 per person, this appears to be a good deal, but does the food match up? We opted to start savoury with two dishes – omelette Arnold Bennett and eggs royale.

I had seen omelette Arnold Bennett done previously at The Savoy in London. It is a classic omelette that is traditionally served with smoked haddock and a cheese sauce flavoured with mustard. The omelette arrived beautifully presented with the sauce on top with a small garnish of pea shoots.

Omelette Arnold Bennett
Omelette Arnold Bennett

The omelette was just perfect for how I like it. Soft and not the slightest bit rubbery as it can be when overcooked. A generous filling of fresh smoked haddock and cheese inside paired with the rich sauce on the outside resulted in the perfect combination of flavours and textures.

Omelette Bottomless brunch Nottingham Hilto
Omelette Arnold Bennett

Over the table, the eggs royale looked equally majestic. Two poached eggs on English muffins both layered with smoked salmon and finished with hollandaise sauce – yum! The seafood alternative to eggs benedict – soft runny yolk, quality smoked salmon and rich hollandaise sauce, all together, absolute heaven!

Eggs Royale Bottomless brunch Nottingham Hilton
Eggs Royale
Eggs Royale Bric Restaurant Nottingham
Eggs Royale

The Prosecco was also going down nicely. Often I find Prosecco to be quite dry and gassy with some varieties but this bottle of Bolla Prosecco had a slightly sweet taste to it. A great quality Prosecco and a great pairing with our meal.

Prosecco bric Restaurant Nottingham
Prosecco

Before our sweet courses arrived, the service asked if we would prefer them straight away or in a few minutes time. This is something that doesn’t usually happen in restaurants and I happen to quite like it. This gives the diner a more relaxed experience. Full credit has to go to The Hilton for that.

Our choices from the sweet category were Eton mess and Belgian waffles with bacon and maple syrup. The mess happened to be as far removed from a mess as you could possibly get – extremely neat in presentation of meringue, cream, fruit and ice cream.

Desserts Bottomless brunch Nottingham Hilton

A delicious vanilla cream with fresh berries, meringue and vanilla ice cream – a suitably seasonal dish with the summer approaching. This dessert paired wonderfully with the Prosecco. Many Eton mess versions can be quite heavy, this was light by comparison. Ideal for a Brunch menu.

Eton mess Bottomless brunch Nottingham Hilton
Eton mess Bottomless brunch Nottingham Hilton

The waffles, on the other hand, were not a light dish. Nor should they be. A gutsy mound of streaky bacon slathered in maple syrup on a crispy Belgian waffle is something to indulge yourself in.

Waffles and Bacon Bottomless brunch Nottingham Hilton
Waffles & Bacon

It’s quite possibly the first time that I have ever munched my way through this particular dish but my goodness it was good. Sweet, salty and savoury all in the same bite. No one flavour overpowered the other. This is comfort food done very well.

We came to the conclusion that we don’t do Brunch nearly as much as we should. To sit down in a nice space with a chilled glass of fizz and decent food is good for the soul. Full marks to The Hilton, Nottingham for a wonderful experience.

If you would like to add that special touch to your Bottomless Brunch experience then there is an option to add a glass of Champagne, Unlimited Beer or Prosecco and speciality Tea or Coffee for £35 total per person. The perfect way to spend any lazy afternoon.

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Opening Times: (Brunch) 1200-1600 Daily

Nearest Train Station: Nottingham

Parc de la Tête d’Or, Lyon

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Some say that the best things in life are free. This is very much the case in Lyon. A free park boasting botanical gardens and a free zoo? Surely not. Well, that is the case right here at Parc de la Tête d’Or.

parc de la tête d'or lyon france

On a beautiful sunny day in eastern France, we headed from our base at Sans Souci to Brotteaux metro stop. From there, it’s an easy 10 minute walk to the park down the Boulevard de Belges.

parc de la tête d'or lyon france

Outside the park, you can rent bicycles. This is a popular option with many of the locals. Entering from the Avenue Verguin side of the park, our first port of call was to the Botanical Gardens.

parc de la tête d'or lyon france

When the sun is shining and the birds are tweeting, there’s no better time to be strolling around admiring the beautiful array of flowers in the garden. The gardens do occupy a large area of the park so you will need a decent amount of time to get around.

parc de la tête d'or lyon france

Further on from the gardens, you will come face to face with a bear. This signifies that you have now entered the zoo. It’s hard to believe that an attraction like this is free of charge but it is exactly that. There are so many animals to see including giraffes, crocodiles, zebras and lions.

parc de la tête d'or lyon france

Other features of the park include a lake which hires out pedalos. The lake itself is beautiful and in keeping with the tranquil nature of the park. Sadly on our visit the pedalos were not being hired out but during the summer months, expect to find them in action.

parc de la tête d'or lyon france

Beside the lake, there is a small cafe serving food such as waffles, crepes and baguettes. We did find this place quite expensive though. It’s worth noting that on the streets around the park, you can easily find supermarkets that are a lot cheaper.

parc de la tête d'or lyon france

For a free attraction, in particular for families, this is a great way to spend an afternoon. I have never come across a free zoo before on my travels, nor one with such happy animals. The gardens equally so are a pleasure to walk around.

parc de la tête d'or lyon france
parc de la tête d'or lyon france

Parc de la Tête d’Or is rightly up there with the top attractions in the city, such as Fourviere. A wide open space to relax and escape the busy life of the city. This is a real gem right in the heart of Lyon.

parc de la tête d'or lyon france
parc de la tête d'or lyon france
parc de la tête d'or lyon france

Opening Times: Daily 0630-2230

Nearest Metro: Brotteaux

Baguettes Sandwiches & Tradition, Lyon

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The French love their baguettes. Some of the finest sandwiches in the world can be found right here in France. Close to our ApartHotel at Lagrange and situated on a petrol station forecourt, we found the most wonderful baguette shop.

baguette and sandwich tradition lyon

Granted, the smell of petrol and diesel fumes isn’t exactly what you would associate with a decent place to grab lunch, but stay with me on this one. The shop caught our eye instantly with the selection of freshly baked cakes, sandwiches and quiches – not to mention the convenient location and queue out of the door.

baguette and sandwich tradition lyon

Drinks are also available here with many choosing to take out coffee. Although this may have been something to do with the drinks fridge being quite warm. Warm drinks aside, you can’t fail to be impressed by the multitude of options when it comes to lunch. Directly behind the counter you can also spot a baker shovelling loaves to and from the ovens.

baguette and sandwich tradition lyon

We decided to make this place a regular stop. Why? Because of the sheer quality of the products. First up, a Ham and Cheese Baguette. A classic in the pecking order of French lunchtime staples. When it’s done as good as this, in a crusty baguette with quality ingredients, it’s a couple of euro’s well spent.

baguette and sandwich tradition lyon

The sweet stuff is equally brilliant. Lyon is famous for the Tarte au Praline Rose (Pink Praline Tart). A sweet, sticky filled pastry shell with the filling comprising of melted down pink pralines. It’s chewy, sweet and delicious. Diabetes in a slice? Possibly! However, it’s highly addictive!

baguette and sandwich tradition lyon

Pastry seems to be a strong point of this place. Undoubtedly the choux pastry on the chocolate eclairs is as good as any patisserie that you’re likely to come across. That is put in the shade somewhat by the sheer skill visible on the Quiche Lorraine.

baguette and sandwich tradition lyon

I’ve never seen the filling to pastry ratio in a quiche done so well. Back home, a supermarket quiche is a bland and boring affair. In Lyon, and in particular at this place, this is light years away from all of that.

baguette and sandwich tradition lyon

Chunky cubes of bacon enshrouded by an egg filling topped with caramelised, grated cheese is my idea of heaven. The buttery, crisp and almost impossibly thin pastry crust is out of this world. I had to include this on every order throughout our trips to the shop.

baguette and sandwich tradition lyon

As the location dictates, this is a popular spot for people to pull up in their car, grab some fuel and also their breakfast or lunch. Many would opt for a smart cafe or a patisserie to sample some of the best food in the city. Sometimes however, it’s not always the places that you expect.

In a city famous for its gastronomic contribution to the country, there are a huge variety of amazing spots to find the best food. Baguettes Sandwiches & Tradition would be right up there on my list of places to visit.

Opening Times: Monday – Friday 0700-1930

Nearest Metro: Sans Souci

La Vina, San Sebastian

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Rumour has it, there is a place on the Kalea 31 de Agosto that has shelves full of freshly baked cheesecake. As we wandered through the doors at La Vina tapas bar, we could see straightaway the cheesecake wall feature in all its glory – time for dessert after another pintxo binge at Sirimiri.

La Vina, San Sebastian

La Vina does have restaurant seating to the rear of the bar but the main action (or rather, scrum) happens in the bar area. In the surrounding bars you’ll find dainty, pretty pintxos stacked up ready to be eaten – here, it’s a little different.

This is more of a nod to homely Basque food. Pots of Albondigas (meatballs) sit on the counter along with huge wedges of Tortilla and ‘Rabo de Toro’ in red wine. You don’t come to La Vina for a couple of light snacks – this is food how it used to be.

We were here for one thing and one thing only – Torta de Queso. I was half hoping the gentleman behind the bar would forget his previous encounter with the rude American tourists waving credit cards at him and grab me a cheesecake off the shelf. Fortunately, he did.

Ok, it wasn’t off the shelf this time but the serving contained two huge wedges per plate! I ordered up two mistakenly thinking it would just be a slice per portion – muchas gracias La Vina! As is customary, I ordered up a couple of beers to go with it and paid at the bar.

We managed to grab a seat next to a couple of (other) American tourists. Their gaze at my cheesecake and little murmurs of “oooh maybe we should try the cheesecake” were noted. This resulted in me eating my dessert slowly, like the lady off the Magnum ice cream advert years ago. I could almost feel them drooling on me.

Like the Americans, you’re probably wondering what this tastes like. Well, it was absolutely delicious. It’s very rich and comes with that baked New York cheesecake texture but a lot more creamy. There doesn’t seem to be much by way of flavourings, just good quality ingredients and a gorgeous almost crunchy top.

For €5 per portion, it’s a really good deal. Dessert options are always welcome on a pintxo crawl around San Sebastian. With La Vina’s prime position on quite possibly the best food street in town, this is the perfect place to end any evening in San Sebastian.

Opening Times: Tuesday – Sunday 1030-1700, 1830-0000

Nearest Train Station: Donostia