Restaurant Review: Bistrot Chez Rémy, Disneyland Paris Wednesday, Oct 21 2015 

The more cynical would assume that everything at Disneyland Paris is a rip-off, and truthfully, before visiting the Bistrot de Rémy at the Walt Disney Studios section of Disneyland Paris, I was expecting the same story again: overpriced, low-quality food in a place filled with screaming kids. Everyone’s dream, right?!

Either way, you have to book to get into this place – it gets booked up fast, and you can’t just walk in. (Tried it once. Failed.) It’s true that the picturesque setting appeals – it’s on the Place Gusteau, which also houses the Ratatouille ride and shop, and is convincingly set-dressed to replicate a traditional Parisian square. With cobbled streets, gilt-edged canopies over the restaurant door, authentic-looking road signs, and the massive Gusteau sign from the Ratatouille ride smiling down benevolently, it’s all very sweet.

Inside is a bit more chaotic. It’s true that there are vast cushy banquettes made of red leather to sit on while you wait, and plenty of Ratatouille memorabilia from the films adorning the walls for you to look at. However, even once you have given your name to the concierge and they’ve located your reservation, you still have to wait an inordinately long time to be seated, which leads to a backlog of families waiting and the subsequent generation of families’ worth of noise, making it difficult for wait staff to be heard when they do come to call your name. Add to this people walking in without reservations and taking a while to establish that they won’t be getting in without one, and you have one hot mess. They *really* need to streamline this whole process significantly.

IMG_2154Once you’re in, though, things look up considerably as you’re firstly struck by the creativity of the whole place. Seats really are made out of mock bottlecaps, the lights really are giant fairy lights, there are huge drinks parasols everywhere, and enormous plates form the partitions between booths, to name just a few touches. You really feel like you have stepped onto the set of the film and the overall feel is magical indeed. If you request a window seat when you book, you’ll also be lucky enough to see the Ratatouille ride (rat-shaped carriages galore!) gliding by as you eat.

The staff are also excellent – encouraging you to take pictures, providing exemplary service (even when you send food back, as a friend of mine did when the steak was not cooked to his liking), and even cracking the odd joke.

IMG_2152But what of the food itself? I’m happy to report that it, too, is of high quality. There are two choices of menu, and within that, two choices per course. The salad is made with fresh ingredients that in no way look tired or subpar, and the dressing is well-made, bringing the lively mixture of colours (lettuce, carrot, beetroot and tomato) together with zest. I’ve only sampled the steak for my main course so far (yes, I’ve been twice this year…!), but generally speaking it comes cooked to your liking, and is a good, tender cut of meat for your money. The pepper sauce is perhaps a little strong, but comes in generous portions – easily enough for your steak and your chips (which are perfect, for what it’s worth – crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle). Furthermore, it wouldn’t be the Ratatouille restaurant if it didn’t come with the signature dish – and this portion of ratatouille is full of flavour, and offers a variety of textures so that you don’t feel like you’re eating mush. On the frivolous side, it also comes with a tiny little plastic Rémy chip fork for you to take home with you 🙂

IMG_2156On the dessert front, you can go for cheese (which actually looks very nice by the way – a ficelle baguette served with a variety of cheeses and a pleasing-looking chutney), but as I have a sweet tooth, I have gone for the apple tart both times, which is about the size of my own face and comes with a stick of chocolate and plenty of custard. No regrets!

Your menu also includes bottled water (your choice of brand, or just tap water if you prefer), and you may also wish to sample the Lanson champagne made especially for the restaurant, which is light, effervescent, and again, of equally high quality. Failing that, you can go for the house red or house white, which are comparable in standard to that found in any genuine Parisian bistro. Coffee is decent too – and I say that as someone who has a machine at home which grinds the beans for them.

So atmosphere: tick. Food: tick. But what about the price? So far I’ve found that the €40 Emile menu (starter, main course, dessert and drink) more than suits my needs in terms of quality and quantity – you don’t pay a lot less in some of the buffet places at Disneyland Paris, and the €40 for three courses and a drink even compares very favourably to a standard Parisian bistrot. I’d even say you get better service at the Bistrot Chez Remy than in the city of light itself – the servers are friendly and swift.

I’d said to myself before going for the first time that if I didn’t think the €40 menu was good enough quality that I’d switch up to the €60 Gusteau menu for better food (the menu includes foie gras and premium cuts of meat and fish), but so far this hasn’t been necessary given the scope of choice even within the Emile menu. If you don’t want to eat that much, you can order à la carte (even though this is worse value) or try the two-course menus (Linguini, €46, or Remy, €30 – neither of which include drinks). There’s also a children’s menu that’s a frankly bargainous €17 for 3 courses and a drink.

On the whole, this might be one of the most magical and best value places to eat at Disney. Book your seat now – and go on, have some Disney-branded champagne while you’re at it, as you pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Restaurant Review: Le Maison Pic, Valence, France Thursday, Jul 31 2014 

You’d expect to find restaurants with three Michelin stars – and, indeed, you do – in major world capitals. London, Paris, New York, Tokyo…

But you also find them in more out-of-the-way places. How about Bray in the UK or Alba in Italy? Yountville, USA (with its grand total of around 3000 inhabitants)? Or why don’t you try Valence, France for size? As a Franco-British couple living near Paris, we have in the past found that you can pay a lot in France for dated or substandard food, served in places where the main aim is to see and be seen while paying €25 a crêpe. However, if you push the boat out enough, there is such thing as friendly and accommodating service (yes, I just used the word ‘friendly’ in relation to the French) and excellent food in divine settings. Le Maison Pic, whose bistro Le 7 we had already tested, certainly lived up to the standards set by its Michelin stars.

foie gras bruleeThis was not just down to the staff’s considerate and discreet attitude (for example, asking if it would be more convenient for them to speak to us in English after hearing us speak it at the table), or the luxurious décor (such as crystal water glasses and chandeliers), but also the innovative vision and high-quality ingredients that have clearly gone into the food itself. The amuse-bouches were prime examples of this, exemplifying delicate yet intense flavours, as well as textures that both complement and contrast each other. The foie gras crème brûlée was served with an apple mousse that cut cleanly through its creamy richness, and the peanut marshmallow, foie gras pearl and snail that were served on a single plate were surreal versions (in a positive way) of their traditional counterparts.

carrotsCrucially, even simple things were done well and with an emphasis on local produce. The bread (four different varieties: olive oil, black olive, buckwheat, and cereal) lives up to the excellent levels expected of the French, while utilising the olives for which the region is famous; meanwhile, local water from Vals-les-Bains is available for consumption throughout the meal. With these basic components in hand, we went on to the meal itself, which after the amuse-bouches, kicked off with carrots served three ways: in the form of a purée and a jelly, as well as raw, and complemented by a yoghurt flavoured with orange flower water and Voatsiperifery pepper. The latter’s potential to be overpowering was instead well-tempered, and even those who aren’t the biggest fans of raw carrot will appreciate the artistry involved in both presentation and in the combinations of flavour and texture.

berlingotsPerhaps Anne-Sophie Pic’s greatest achievement on this menu (the Menu Harmonie – one of three menus offered. More of which later…) was the goat cheese ravioli, served with a cress, bergamot and ginger soup. One cannot only chalk this achievement up to the fact that the dish is beautifully fragrant and spiced, but also the noteworthy presentation, which makes the ravioli look like leaves thanks to the dark green pasta and the pool-like illusion created by the soup and accompanying leafy herbs.

Perhaps after this triumph the next courses would seem to fall a little flat. The langoustines (served with green tomato and verbena soup) seemed just a little conventional and forgettable by comparison, and while the presentation of the ratatouille on the fish plate makes one feel like you have stepped straight onto the set of the eponymous film, the entire dish – from the fish to the vegetables – tasted overwhelmingly of dill, which is likely few people’s favourite herb to begin with. This lack of variation in seasoning (which naturally obliterated the camomile that was also allegedly included) was a little disappointing compared to the balance achieved by previous courses, but luckily the meaty punch of the Bresse chicken that followed, and its accompanying stuffing and sauce (made with brown rice tea, Tonka bean and parmesan as well as the chicken juices), was enough to wipe it out.ratatouille

Further to this, the Brie de Meaux foam (which in fact had a more mousse-like texture) was sublime, thanks to the elevation provided by the added Bourbon vanilla. This was effectively our pre-cheese course, with the cheese trolley itself being covered by an unusual (and large) wicker basket which drew the attention of the whole room (effectively stunning them into silence, literally, as the waiter explained the trolley’s contents). It’s possible that few people take the cheese course at Pic as the most basic menu doesn’t include it, charging you an extra €25 to add it separately. As we’d gone for the second menu, it was included, and if its sheer size and unusual presentation wasn’t a good enough advertisement to everyone in the room, it’s difficult to know what would be. Sadly, no wines are available by the glass in case you fancy matching a different tipple with your cheese – or indeed your dessert.

pre dessertIn this regard, there were also pre-desserts: one was an aduki bean concoction with a cherry centre, served with caramelised sugar discs and Clairette de Die (another local drink) ice cream. This again benefited from its contrasting textures, which ranged from a fine, slightly biscuity sponge base to a runny cherry middle. The other pre-dessert was a small series of petits fours, ranging from more traditional flavours (coffee and raspberry) to more experimental ones (green tea, pistachio and bitter lemon; white chocolate, poppy seed, orange, and Lapsang Souchong). All were stunning and delicious. This, in a way, leads to even higher expectations for your real dessert: our menu gave a choice of four, from which we ended up with a chocolate and beeswax tart, and a white millefeuille (built with vanilla cream and halva). Sadly, the latter was rather large, and by this point in the meal, one begins to struggle after so much food, particularly given the desserts’ creamy richness. The jasmine and Voatsiperifery pepper just disappeared under the weight of the millefeuille’s sugariness, although the chocolate option seemed better (thanks to its inclusion of pine and forest honey to counteract the chocolate’s bitterness and beeswax’s creaminess).

All of this was consumed with a white Château de Fonsalette, which proved a rounded wine with a spicy woody background. This matched virtually all of our courses well, without being too rich; the Clairette grape used in this Châteauneuf blend adds freshness against the power of the Grenache Gris and Marsanne varieties. The €150 paid for this exclusive wine can make it worth it thanks to the good vintage (2007) and the wine’s overall rarity.

IMG_0284After this came high-quality coffee and Pic-branded chocolates, which we were able to enjoy in the luxury of the restaurant’s separate lounge, where appropriately calm mood music is played to signify the end of your night. All of this eating and drinking took four and a half hours, and while going to Pic for dinner is a romantic and luxurious experience, you can’t expect to sleep well afterwards while your body tries to digest that amount of food. The people who go for the next menu up – L’Essentiel – need to find room for two additional courses: lobster later on, and a tomato dish in the early stages of the night. This blockbuster menu costs €320 per person, not including drinks. The lighter Découverte menu excludes our fish course, and only includes the Brie de Meaux course cheese-wise (as mentioned, the trolley is extra), for the price tag of €160. Our menu, therefore, unsurprisingly cost something in the middle: €240 per person. With drinks, we ended up paying a little over €600 in total, which is roughly in line with other Michelin-starred restaurants, and may even be considered a little on the ‘cheap’ side, seeing as the cost of the beverages is up to you (nobody ‘has’ to spend €150 on a bottle of wine). However, this is what overtime is for, and is without doubt an experience to savour.

285, avenue Victor Hugo 26000 Valence

telephone: 04 75 44 53 86

http://www.pic-valence.com

Ferret food from…France Friday, Jan 3 2014 

Naturally, with him indoors being French, French food is an influence in our household (and indeed our lives). French food is often thought of as being difficult, and sometimes it is: you just have to look in a pâtisserie window to know that it’s true. However, it can also have a delightful simplicity that means anyone can cook French food at home.

So what are some of my favourites? Here’s a list of my top 5 savoury (and, OK, my top 5 sweet) French foods:

  • Bavette à la sauce au poivre. Bavette is simply a flank steak cooked simply and quickly, served with a white pepper sauce made with green peppercorns, beef stock, cream, and cornstarch. Simply fry the steak for 3 minutes on each side, in a mixture of butter and olive oil. Serve with homemade frites 🙂  Popular in French bistros and homes alike.
  • Galettes. Galettes are savoury pancakes, normally made with buckwheat flour (which makes them thicker than crêpes). Try to make them yourself at home, or watch them be made in front of your eyes in moments on just about any Parisian street. The almost infinite range of toppings available means galettes are suitable for just about any taste or dietary requirement.
  • Moules-frites. Mussels steamed in stock and white wine, with just onions and seasoning for extra flavour, is an originally Belgian dish that’s now ridiculously popular in France. So not French, but what many people think of when they think of French food. Chips and/or bread obligatory for mopping up the sauce. Other flavour combinations are also available, but the classic mentioned above is the most popular without doubt. One of my best moments ever was eating this with my sister outside in France only for an accordionist to come along the road playing his instrument, thus fulfilling all possible clichés. Can be prepared at home, but is time-consuming. Eat it in a restaurant and think about the poor sous-chef in the kitchen who’s had to spend hours scrubbing all of the beards off the mussels.
  • Confit de canard. Originating in south-west France, confit de canard is made by cooking duck legs in duck fat for two hours, before it is canned and preserved using yet more duck fat. Scooping it out of the tin and into an oven-dish makes for near-instant dinner. Serve with potatoes (fried in duck fat, bien sûr), and keep the rest of the duck fat for future use. Confit de canard also features in another French favourite, cassoulet, in which it’s served with cannellini beans, sausages, and a rich sauce.
  • Boeuf bourgignon. This hearty French beef stew is perfect for winter and couldn’t be easier. It just needs some long, slow cooking and a little lovin’ (hey, you could even sing to it if you felt so inclined). Get a good Burgundy red wine to drink alongside it and serve with gratin dauphinois if you’re feeling especially naughty).

(The French in-laws also nominated blanquette de veau (a ragout made with veal, which is not browned during the cooking process), raclette – melted cheese served with potatoes and cold cuts of meat – and quiche lorraine. I particularly endorse the raclette mention at this time of year!

In terms of sweet treats, things get even trickier, but I’ve finally narrowed it down to the following:

  • Pain au raisin. Some people love croissants or pain au chocolat in the morning, but my personal favourite is the pain au raisin. Hey, you can even convince yourself that you’re getting one of your five a day with this classic French pastry (as you can with my runner-up, the chausson aux pommes).
  • Crêpes. It’s perhaps a little unfair to include this, given the inclusion of its savoury sister (the galette) above. Nevertheless, it remains an incredibly adaptable, fun dish to make and eat whether you’re at home or away, with endless possibilities regardless of your tastes. I always enjoy a crêpe suzette: a pancake served with oranges, butter, and sugar, and flamed with Grand Marnier.
  • Millefeuille. At a serious pastry crossroads with this one. Millefeuilles have been popular in France for centuries thanks to their textural contrast of crunchy puff pastry and luxurious crême pâtissière, but have only begun to gain popularity in the UK more recently, perhaps thanks to national food competitions like Masterchef and The Great British Bake Off. The mispronunciation of ‘millefeuille’ on British television is a constant bugbear! Thankfully, this isn’t a problem in France (where it’s pronounced mee-fur-y [with the y pronounced as a single letter, sounding like the y at the start of ‘yacht’]). Fêted for its impressive appearance and the numerous complex techniques involved, it’s a dessert for special occasions. Eclairs are a more prosaic pastry treat that I also love, made with choux pastry and filled with pastry cream. Tarte tatin also gets a mention for being generally yummy and for giving you that rollercoaster feeling in your stomach when you try to turn it out of the dish.
  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMacarons. Not to be confused with macaroons (the British coconut cake), macarons are delicate delights that are difficult to get right. Their pastel colours are always appealing and suit several occasions, from tea-time to weddings. While it seems relatively easy to make a macaron look acceptable, getting the texture right is far harder (as we’ll see in Ferret Food and Wines’ macaron face-off this year). A good macaron should be crunchy yet yielding, with an ever-so-slightly chewy centre. Definitely should not be powdery or biscuity, and the cream centre shouldn’t overwhelm the macaron.
  • Café gourmand. The best solution ever if you’re indecisive when it comes to desserts. Rather than having to choose a whole dessert, many French establishments are happy to serve you 3 mini ones alongside your coffee. These can include mini marshmallows, mendiants (chocolates embedded with nuts and dried fruit), mini sponge cakes…the list is actually endless. This endlessness means that when you’re making café gourmand at home, you can make your mini desserts according to the needs of your guests, according to the wines you’re serving, and according to the rest of your menu’s theme. (One of the best I made, I think, was a mini apricot cake, a mini honey and hazelnut sweet, and a baby apricot sorbet.) GENIUS. and OH SO CUTE.

Feel free to express your outrage at any of the fabulous French dishes you think I’ve missed out in the comments below :p

Restaurant Review: La Coupole, Paris Sunday, Nov 3 2013 

Paris is inextricably linked with a host of writers and artists that have passed into legend: creatives from Edith Piaf to Ernest Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso to Josephine Baker, have taken pleasure in the city of light and used it as their inspiration. La Coupole is no exception: this Art Deco restaurant, in the unassuming location of the fourteenth arrondissement, has seen all of these famous faces and more meet and romance under its roof. Today it continues to welcome locals and tourists alike – although despite the place’s eminence, it remains surprisingly easy to get a table (alright, so October isn’t exactly high season – but still). So is this ease of reservation a bad omen? Has La Coupole, after years of basking in its legendary status, finally succumbed to a rut of mediocre food and overpriced drink, and bitten the dust?

Not at all. It’s evident that there are many local businessmen who visit the establishment regularly, judging from the welcome accorded to them by staff, and regular local visitors are always a good sign. However, newcomers are certainly not frozen out either: we too were greeted warmly, despite my mother blatantly being a tourist, me being 20 minutes late, and us ordering nothing more exotic than tap water to drink. On the whole, this was most unFrench but most pleasant.

Very French, however, was the food. Having plumped for the two-course €30 menu, we began with a classic of a main course: a beauty of a Hereford steak, served with chips and Béarnaise sauce. Cooked to perfection (we asked for medium rare, and that was what we got), the meat was beautifully tender and flavourful, with a wonderful crust serving to contrast the Béarnaise sauce in both flavour and texture. This dish also represented exceptional value for money: if we had ordered it à la carte, it would have cost €25 by itself.

Dessert, equally, did not disappoint: while my mother ordered the dessert of the day (a layered pistachio and raspberry concoction), I went for another French classic: a fondant pudding made with Guanaja chocolate, served with salted caramel ice cream. While texture-wise it was a little dry (with my opinion likely being influenced by the most wonderful chocolate fondant recipe I have found, by London-based chocolatier Paul A Young), the flavours were undoubtedly supreme.

Staff were swift and courteous throughout proceedings, which was impressive given the size of the place, which has hundreds of covers. We did, however, have time to admire the art adorning the walls and ceilings of La Coupole. While some Art Deco features have been kept, such as the rectangular golden columns, there is also a fair amount of graffiti-style modern art on the walls, which doesn’t appear to be of as good quality and detracts from the venue’s 1920s history. Nevertheless, the surroundings are magnificent, and as far from red-and-black restaurant clichés as you can get.

While some might consider a price tag in the region of €60 for two people as being a little expensive for lunch, you without doubt get value for money: excellent food, bustling surroundings (even on a weekday lunchtime in low season), a unique taste of history, and yes – even efficient and friendly service. Now THERE’S something I never thought I’d say in Paris. Wonder if Hemingway would agree…

102 boulevard de Montparnasse, 75014 Paris

www.lacoupole-paris.com

Oscar le Restaurant, Paris Sunday, Sep 29 2013 

It has been a strange end of summer in Paris. Just when you think autumn is settling in for good and you have seen the last rays of sun, summer comes back. Last week certainly was very nice, with warm days and fresh nights, so, last Friday, with an upcoming trip to Northern Germany and a conference call ahead of us, we decided to have lunch outside. My colleague, a sun-loving Dane, and I set off towards the place du Marché Saint Honoré but the terraces were already packed. I then remembered seeing a restaurant with seats outside on the nearby rue des Pyramides. We sat down at a table in the shade of the Eglise Saint Roch (while we would have liked some sun on that day, it would be welcome on hotter days), quite far from the other guests so that we were not suffocated by smoke. The distance was also sufficient enough to make the boisterous gentleman’s talk of his wide experience of the Anglo-Saxon world (commonplace in Paris, as French people can be both fascinated and repulsed by their experience in NY or London – few venture beyond) more amusing than annoying. We ordered some tomato pasta, and the risotto of the day. After some time, the owner arrived and apologised because she had mistakenly asked the kitchen for a spinach risotto. With time pressing on us, I settled for the spinach risotto and the owner promised me a coffee to make up for it. While the risotto was a bit too creamy and cooked for my liking, it was nevertheless acceptable and I was told the pasta was equally good. The tap water was also chilled and drinkable.

In total, the bill came to 35 euros and I was a bit disapponted to find out I had actually been charged for the more expensive risotto (the one which I had NOT ordered but nonetheless got). Maybe it was the owner’s Rolex Daytona, or the fact she brought us chocolate even after I had refused coffee, but I did not complain.

Before leaving to buy coffee from nearby Verlet, we reflected on the meal and acknowledged that we would have paid marginally less to be closer to other guests and perhaps eat lower quality food on the place du Marché Saint-Honoré. I never thought I would say that, but you have to be realistic about this area of Paris, which is enjoying unprecented levels of wealth and affluence: among the many tourist traps that litter the place, I probably would return to Oscar.

The French foires aux vins Saturday, Sep 7 2013 

Despite the name, evocative of the medieval splendour of long forgotten trade fairs, the foires aux vins actually take place yearly in French supermarkets. Again, forget any clichés you may have in mind about French people leisurely doing their weekly shop at a bustling market, for supermarkets are in fact very successful (the term “hypermarket” was even coined in France). They are where the vast majority of French people shop.

French supermarkets are therefore very powerful and demanding with their suppliers, which has caused concern and anger amongst them, especially as the customer is not always the winner. The foires aux vins, however, offer a good occasion to take advantage of the supermarkets’ bargaining power as well as, in this particular year, of the slow down in Asian markets. Plummeting sales to Asia have apparently left a few suppliers with a lot of wine on their hands, which they are keen to discreetly get rid of. But enough talking: ferret has managed to get its paws on the catalogue for the foire aux vins at Carrefour Calais and would like to share a few potential good buys with you. In ferret’s opinion, it is best to focus on Bordeaux wines, as they are usually well represented due to the large quantities produced by even the most famous properties (as opposed to Burgundy).

(Red unless otherwise indicated)198190

Prestige buys

  • Saint Julien Château Gloria 2009 €29.90, £25.57 – not for early drinking though
  • Pessac-Léognan Château Carbonnieux white 2011 €24.90, £21.29 – a good introduction to the brilliant Pessac whites. Drink from 2015 over 10 years.
  • Pessac-Léognan Château Carbonnieux 2011 €23.90, £20.45 – also a good introduction to refined Pessac reds. Drink from 2017.

Value for money

  • Haut-Médoc Citran 2011 €11.50, £9.83. Excellent value for a wine that will drink until the beginning of the next decade.

And plenty of other wines: look out in particular for the 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux vintages.

  • Carrefour Calais
  • Avenue Guynemer
  • 62100 CALAIS

Foire au vins from 11th September to 6th October 2013

The wines of the Rhône Valley Monday, Aug 26 2013 

rhonevAlthough very small by comparison with, say, California, the Rhône valley, stretching in the South-East quarter of France from the south of Lyon to the south of Avignon, is home to a great variety of wine. For a start, one can distinguish between the northern Rhône valley – Lyon to Valence – and the southern Rhône valley (Montélimar to Avignon). Wines made in the former are more subtle and lower in alcohol than their southern counterparts.

Understanding the hierarchy

Basically there is a three-tier hierarchy of Rhône valley wines.

  • the Côtes du Rhône: the most basic level, with the least stringent rules in terms of location and output. This does not necessarily mean low quality: the red Côtes du Rhône from Emmanuel Reynaud (Château des Tours) and Jamet are among the most enjoyable, best value for money wines that I know.
  • the Côtes du Rhône village: here the rules go up a notch, and in some cases producers are allowed to mention a particular place name, meaning that the wine must come from a designated area. Both Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages are usually from the southern Rhône valley, although there are noticeable exceptions in the north (the Jamet Côtes du Rhône being a prime example).
  • the appellations: supposedly the top level, they have to come from a designated area renowned for its particular climatic and soil conditions (the terroir). Northern Rhône valley: Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Château-Grillet, Saint-Joseph, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Péray, Cornas. Southern Rhône valley: Châteauneuf du Pape, Vacqueyras, Rasteau, Gigondas, Beaumes de Venise, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Tavel.

Some to try

I recommend you try at least one Condrieu, a wonderfully aromatic wine made from the Viognier grape. Grown on very steep slopes south of Lyon, it has unique aromas of tropical fruits with a savoury finish. Sadly they are not cheap ( Waitrose offers 2011 Condrieu from reliable producer Guigal at £32.99 a bottle).

Looking at my favourite retailer’s wine catalogue, I would also recommend trying the 2011 Saint-Péray from Les Vins de Vienne (£14.99 from Waitrose)  or the 2011 Côtes du Rhône Villages La Redonne 2011 from Jean-Luc Colombo (£12.99), which should be a good introduction to northern whites.

Regarding red wines, try getting your hands on some 2010 Crozes-Hermitage for fruit-packed flavours.

LU, love you Saturday, Aug 17 2013 

I promised you a dedicated LU spinoff post not that long ago.

For those of you not in the know, LU is a French biscuit brand. They make all kinds of biscuity loveliness, and as much as I adore the offerings of British biscuit aisles in such fine establishments as Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, the French have their own range of biscuity delights that take me back, in their various guises, to times in my life as various as childhood camping holidays and tea times with the fella who’s now my husband.

So in no particular order, here are my top five LU lovelies:

BASTOGNE

Cost: €2,16 for 260g

LUvliness: Great crunch and a beautiful cinnamon flavour, which combine to make the perfect afternoon snack or cheesecake base.

Where can I buy some? Frenchclick.co.uk sells them for £2.60 a pack.

CHAMONIX

Cost: €2,12 for 250g

LUvliness: The combination of textures here is wonderful. Spongy cookie/cake exterior meets jammy apricot interior and smooth, crackly sugar topping. NOM.

Where can I buy some? Frenchclick’s price? £2.35.

HELLO

Cost: €1,85 for 200g

LUvliness: As well as being my French-camping-holiday equivalent of the Proustian madeleine, the combination of crunchy biscuit, melty chocolate chips and hard nougatine is a winning combination.

Where can I buy some? They’re trickier to get hold of these days, but many (French) supermarkets make their own version. If you’re ordering online, readers in Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium can buy from CGood.fr, who sell at the retail price (although they then hit you with a €14 shipping charge, so you’d better be buying a lot of biscuits). MonFavori.com is flogging them to UK buyers at £3.45 a pack, but shipping is dear there too. Another option could be Nouvelle-Epicerie.fr – they seem to ship to several countries, including the US.

PAILLE D’OR

Cost: €1,74 for 170g

LUvliness: The ‘golden straw’ of the biscuit name is perfectly encapsulated by the pale yellow ‘straws’ of wafer, welded together into wafer sheets and sandwiched with raspberry or strawberry jam. So light, yet so moreish.

Where can I buy some? On offer currently for £1.90 online.

VERITABLE BEURRE

Cost: €1,18 for 200g

LUvliness: A true French classic, this. Can’t be sure that LU invented it (many many brands make their own version), but this vision of the ‘true butter’ biscuit is very good: a generously-sized square that tastes beautifully buttery and salty without being too sweet. Merveilleux!

Where can I buy some? £1.49 from Ocado.

Do you have a favourite LU biscuit that I’ve missed out? Agree/disagree with my choices? Comment below 🙂

Roq-ing around the Christmas tree? Sunday, Dec 30 2012 

I apologise for the frankly appalling pun. And I am equally horrified that I haven’t posted here for about a month. I will definitely be trying to do better next year.

I came here chiefly because a piece of news has caught my eye, and it’s to do with this stuff:

Yep. ROQUEFORT. The smelly blue stuff that has fuelled the French fighting instinct for centuries (erm, probably. In any case, all Anglo-French battles ended with us bringing out the Cheddar in response, them saying “okay, you win” and shuffling home again). It’s rumoured that this cheese could help protect against cardiovascular disease and even combat anti-ageing – and thanks to our obsession with food, the British press has already jumped on this story with gay abandon (here are the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Guardian‘s takes on it just for kicks). However, here’s my take on it (which, let’s face it, was probably all you wanted to hear anyway :p ). In short, it got me wondering: how far could this story actually be true?

Here’s the findings in a nutshell: Roquefort contains anti-inflammatory properties that apparently work best in acidic environments – for example, in the stomach, and on the skin surface. For this reason, the Cambridge researchers behind this believe that these anti-inflammatory qualities could assist in crusades such as anti-ageing and cardiovascular disease. The boffins in the white coats have therefore linked these properties with the fact that the French cardiovascular mortality rate is fairly low, and proclaimed that if we were to eat like the French (and, presumably, quaff like the French, seeing as red wine has received similarly favourable reports), we could aspire to similar feats.

I’d need to read the full report and do a little number crunching before I could form a more solid view of it. But it’s my opinion that even if Roquefort does contain the anti-inflammatory properties that the report says it does, and even if these could help stop the hands of time or marginally improve cardiovascular health, instinct tells me that ultimately we could be onto a hiding to nothing here. Why? Here’s why.

I have lived in France for over four years. As a result of my marriage, I have French family. They eat just about everything (although they don’t all like Christmas cake yet; I’m working on that). This includes Roquefort and various other gloriously smelly cheeses, including one of my faves, Epoisses. However, they typically eat what the Brits would consider tiny amounts (NB hubby is an exception to this) – even though the reality is that they probably follow NHS guidelines, which state that a portion of cheese should be no larger than a matchbox.

This means that they probably consume such a small amount of the magical anti-inflammatory properties that it wouldn’t make a difference either way to their overall health condition. There is a myth afloat in Britain that the French live some sort of Bacchic lifestyle, imbibing huge quantities of wine and taking in massive quantities of food at a sitting. This is totally untrue. Unfortunately we Brits have taken this myth to our hearts, and the result? Binge drinking and obesity. Chances are that impressionable Brits reading the national press links above will take this on board equally enthusiastically, and thus consume enough cheese to have them end up in casualty.

This is not to say, however, that food can never be medicinal. Following on from this, I thought I’d look into a few of my faves:

  • CITRUS FRUITS. The human body can’t produce its own vitamin C, so you have to do the work yourself, putting in high-vitamin foods of your choice. Adults need between 75mg and 90mg of this vital vitamin every day, with breastfeeding women needing 120mg. The average orange contains 70mg, while papaya, blackcurrant, grapefruit, stawberry and lemon all score highly too.
  • GINGER. Sadly most ginger biscuits don’t have medicinal properties. However, stem ginger does – it can be consumed in candied form or steeped in water to make a tea, as well as being grated straight into food. As well as tasting lovely, it helps to ease muscle pain and nausea.
  • HONEY. Whether you spread it onto toast or stir it into your tea, honey is helpful due to its antiseptic and antibacterial qualities. Use it to treat sore throats, coughs, colds, and even burns. Can even be used as part of a home-made face mask thanks to its anti-microbial and humectant properties.
  • DARK CHOCOLATE. I love chocolate and don’t need any excuse to eat it. However, some studies may convince those who need a little more persuasion, although the results are mixed. Some research shows that dark chocolate could lower blood pressure, fight ageing, and protect against anaemia and cardiovascular ailments due to the vitamins, flavanols and antioxidants it contains.
  • RED WINE. Like dark chocolate, red wine contains several busters of bad stuff, including polyphenols (which combat tissue damage and are anti-ageing), antioxidants (which can help prevent colds), and resveratrol (which can inhibit harmful cell growth). However, grapes themselves will probably do the same thing, which is what’s behind the philosophy of beauty brand Caudalie.

All of this, though, probably comes down to the same thing: you probably shouldn’t be smearing Roquefort on your face as part of your latest beauty experiment, and if you just eat a balanced diet (a little of what you fancy, when you fancy it, ensuring you try everything at least once), you’ll hopefully turn out fine. Now, where’s that big bag of Valrhona chocolate I bought the other day…?

Cereal, French-style Sunday, Nov 11 2012 

One of the things we always stock up on when visiting the UK is cereal. With muesli in France typically costing a minimum of €3.75 for a large box of around 750g, and other cereals not coming in at much better (the lower-priced ones, even the supermarket own brands, tend to be either heavily commercialised or based on brand-name products, and are often full of sugar), the offers we see on cereal in the UK are very welcome (2kg of Jordans cereal for £4? YES PLEASE.).

So when I saw this cereal on buy-one-get-one-free on offer in our local supermarket recently, I jumped at it:

This is a form of Quaker Life cereal which doesn’t appear to be sold in Britain or the US. I normally like those cereals with the freeze-dried strawberries in, so felt hopeful. However, when I opened it this morning I was disappointed to find that it was just unbearably sweet: the cereal flakes on their own might be alright, but the strawberries seemed overly sugary and artificially flavoured, while the chunks of oats are probably fused together with sugar as well. Not what you would expect for a brand that is most famous for its oat cereals and which promotes a healthy lifestyle with a good start to the day (this cereal in particular also promises to lower cholesterol – but with the amount of sugar it must contain, I seriously doubt it would). I’ll be keeping this one to apportion into snack boxes to have when the 4pm munchies hit me, I suspect.

Worryingly this all makes sense given that the website for our local supermarket lists cereals and other breakfast foodstuffs under “épicerie sucrée”: namely, “sweet groceries”. That probably explains why the French think the concept of sausage sandwiches for breakfast is so weird.

So what do we usually have for our breakfast cereal here in France and what does it cost us? Here are the ones we most often go for:

MONOPRIX CORNFLAKES – €1,61/375g

Probably the cheapest option, this is the supermarket own brand version of Kelloggs cornflakes. My parents aren’t big brand-name buyers, but Kelloggs cornflakes is one of the few things they do always have in – and when they tasted these, their reaction was highly favourable. Definitely a good basic to have around – but sadly, the amount of air in any packet of cornflakes means a box doesn’t last as long as, say, muesli (of which there is usually more anyway, with muesli being sold here in boxes of at least 500g).

 

 

KELLOGGS CORNFLAKES – €2,02/375g

Basically the same as the Monoprix version, but 41 cents more. We only buy this if it’s on offer or the Monoprix own brand isn’t available.

 

 

MONOPRIX ORGANIC MUESLI – €2,22/375g

We should actually really get this one more often. With 25% fruit and 4 different grain types, it’s really quite filling and is possibly one of the most affordable mueslis out there (although at €5,92 a kilo, it’s actually more expensive than Jordans muesli kilo for kilo). It also comes in a handy pouring pouch that’s properly resealable, so is great for breakfasts on the go, and it’s probably this that you pay the extra money for.

 

 

JORDANS ORGANIC MUESLI – €3,45/500g

As with Quaker, Jordans’ range varies between countries, with a much wider offering being available in the UK (I went to their website to see if the organic muesli was available, and found that it wasn’t, but am still there drooling over their other choices). To my mind this is one of the best supermarket mueslis going, as it remains uncorrupted by those evil banana pieces.

 

 

JORDANS SPECIAL MUESLI – €3,75/750g

Yes, we are Jordans addicts in this house – and that’s even without the full range offered in Britain. This box obviously lasts us longer but enables us taking more of a hit at the checkout (as well us giving us a heavier box to carry home). Plus, even though it’s 33% fruit and nuts (definitely an advantage), it does contain the evil banana pieces for me to pick out.

 

 

JORDANS COUNTRY CRISP – €3,95/550g

The grandaddy of them all price-wise, it’s probably also the most sugary and the worst value for money, seeing as you only get 550g in the box. This box would probably last us about five days, meaning a last-minute dash to the supermarket on Friday night (NICE). While the pecan and maple syrup flavours are amazing, I’m not sure if it’s worth nearly €4 a box – especially as there’s also no dried fruit in this one, only nuts. And in the UK, this is priced at a mere £2 a box! How is that fair?!

Having surveyed our supermarket website to find our regular cereals for you, I’ve definitely learned a few things. Bigger branded boxes, or any own-brand box, is going to be better than the smaller offerings from the big names. A no-brainer really. Plus, some of the other supermarket own-brand cereals that I haven’t tried before now are definitely worth me checking out next time I’m there. I’ll be steering clear of Quaker Life for sure – but as I tell my husband every time I bring home something new and suspicious-looking, if we don’t like it, we don’t have to buy it again. Simples.

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