Posts Tagged ‘cheese’

Magical, Mystical, Marvellous Food

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

I have great news, boys and girls. Last week my dedication to writing restaurant and bar reviews on Yelp was rewarded. I, Jessica Davies, have officially become a member of the Yelp Elite Team, making me one of Manchester’s most Important People. Ok, that last bit is an exaggeration but I now have a little “Elite ’14” badge on my Yelp profile and I get to feel special. Coinciding with this promotion in Yelp status, I was lucky enough to be invited to my second Yelp Elite Event. Last month’s japanese saké and food extravaganza continues to sit fondly in my memory, occasionally bringing back taste-bud-memory hits of wasabi and soy, and so I was a wee bit excited when I received my invitation to March’s Magical Mystery Tour. Where we would go and what we would eat was kept a big secret from us all. Nobody knew. Let the tour begin.

Meet at Apotheca at 6.30pm

This was our only clue as to what the night would entail. Apotheca is one of the Northern Quarter’s hip and cool cocktail bars and somewhere I had been wanting to try. I once danced the night away there on a make-shift dance floor that my friend and I created but I had never sampled their cocktails. The Yelp Elite Team had the downstairs bar area to ourselves where we were greeted by our always-cheery host, Jonny, and a mojito. After standing around and meeting and greeting fellow Elite members, we were then treated to a variety of pizzas from Dough, the adjoining pizzeria. I had eaten at Dough once previously and while I enjoyed the slightly adventurous toppings, the bases were a little disappointing. Why can’t anywhere in Manchester make a decent pizza base? Once again I found the toppings delicious (the lamb with spices and sultanas was particularly tasty) but the bases were thin, cracking and far too perfectly shaped. They collapsed in our hands and had soggy bottoms.

While we were eating, we were invited to get behind the bar and have a cocktail making session with the mixologists. We could choose our drink of choice from their great range of drinks and then make them ourselves with the guidance of experts. I chose to make a cocktail called Just Beet It which contained vodka, beetroot juice, balsamic vinegar liqueur and basil. After adding all of the ingredients and giving it a good old shake, I was then allowed to drink my concoction. Amazingly good! I think my inner mixologist is bursting to come out.

Just Beet It

Just Beet It

I had to drink it fairly quickly though as our next destination awaited and it was time to move on.

Venue #2 – Pie & Ale

I had managed to get my friend and office-buddy, Hannah, to be invited to the Elite event so we were both a little concerned when we found ourselves walking back to the office. Pie & Ale is located next door to the office space we rent and we often get to enjoy the enticing smells of baking pies. Thankfully this time we were actually going to get to eat the pies – sixteen of them, to be precise. We were guided upstairs to a lofted seating area where we met the manager of Pie & Ale who explained what our next food and drink experience was going to involve. The chefs had prepared sixteen different pies for us to stick our forks into and sample and we would have three different beers to wash them down with. I tried to sample as many of the pies as I could – rabbit, wild bore, chickpea and, one of the highlights, crocodile. They were all very tasty although I think they could refine their pastry – it is very doughy and a bit excessive. And this is coming from someone who loves pastry and believes more is more.

Crocodile pie

Crocodile pie

The beers we tried were the Golden Arrow, Yippee Pie Ale and the 10 Storey Malt Bomb – basically golden, pale and dark. All very delicious with the dark ale coming out as my favourite. But who doesn’t like liquid caramel?

Our tour didn’t stop here – oh no. Why only go to two venues when you could go to three? Time to move on.

Venue #3 – Bakerie

We didn’t have far to walk to get to our next location. Bakerie is located next door to Pie & Ale and owned by the same company. Despite these connections, Bakerie is a bit more ooh-la-la and focuses on its wine. And cheese. You can imagine the delighted faces of us already happy Yelpers when we discovered we had free access to the “Wine Jukebox” – a glass fronted box containing approximately 12 wine bottles. Inserted into each wine bottle was a plastic tube. Above each bottle was a button. Push the button and wine is sucked up the tube and into your glass, giving you a taster-sized serving to enjoy. Glorious. Paris and all that I learnt about wine flooded back to me as I made a strategic decision about which wines I would try. My choices ended up being two of three most expensive wines in the jukebox – an Argentinian Malbec and the French Bourgogne. They were both amazing and the sort of wine I will drink when I am a world famous author. They were made even better by the cheese platters placed in front of us. Blue, smoked, goat, soft and squeaky (halloumi) – the cheese and wine combo made Jess a very happy girl.

This was the end of our mystery food tour and we all sat around rubbing our bellies, unable to believe just how much we had consumed and how wonderful the experience had been. The Yelp Elite are a great bunch of food-loving people and it was a really fun night out. It is nice to meet people who appreciate good food as much as I do and a huge treat to be able to be invited to such a gluttonous event. Bring on April!

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Snow

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Easter crept up on me this year – perhaps it was the lack of dried-fruit-filled-dough-balls, although I think I had enough of the Dutch fried version of these over New Years. Tom and I spent our Easter weekend (it was clearly stated as a ‘weekend’ in France and definitely not a holiday) with our friends Louise and Marcelo in the Alps. We stayed in Louise’s aunt’s cottage in a tiny village called Boudin. I felt like we had said farewell to civilisation and had run away to join a hippie cult in the middle of the French mountains. Boudin consisted of less than 15 wooden chalets that were inaccessible by road. You had to park your car in the car park at the base of the village and walk up.

Boudin

Boudin

It took us approximately eight hours to drive to Boudin from Paris – this was largely due to some bad advice from the GPS, and then a few misguided decisions as we worked out the best way to get to the mountains. By the time we arrived, it was dark, it was raining, the clouds were settling low and we had to drive up a one-lane, twisty road with some particularly useless windscreen wipers. Oh, did I mention the lightning?

Fear not, we made it and were all overwhelmingly happy to get our things into the house and sit down to some food and some good wine. The next day as the sun came up, the rooster started crowing outside my bedroom window and I finally dared to peak outside, I realised why an eight hour drive is really ok. WOW. WHAT A VIEW.

Boudin

Good morning, mountains.

Perhaps it is the Australian in me and my complete foreignness to all things mountainous, but geez those lumps of land are just spectacular! Particularly when coated in white snow. I think I have only stayed in one other place in the world that had such an inspirational view – Crete and our view of Plakias bay. I could have sat and stared at the mountains all day, watching the clouds roll through, the passages of rain and then light snow. Beautiful.

Boudin mountains

Fluffy.

Saturday we had a quiet day as the weather wasn’t great and we were all feeling very lazy. We bought a truck load of local produce – cheese (Beaufort is one of the towns nearby), fromage blanc, blueberry coulis, saucisson, and blueberry tarts. Then we essentially just ate all day. For dinner we made cheese fondu with locally produced cheeses. It is fantastic – you can go to the local fromagerie, buy the fondu cheese and they will lend you a fondu pot, the sticks to hold the bread and the little heating element to keep the cheese warm. All you have to do is bring it back the next day. Now that’s small town trust. I like it.

Fondu

They eat this every day in the mountains

On Sunday we celebrated Easter by walking up a snow covered hill. The idea sounded great – we would hire ‘raquettes’ (or giant tennis rackets that you attach to your feet), take the chair lift to the top of the first part of a mountain and then walk up to a restaurant where we would eat good food in the sunshine while surrounded by snow. Louise was the only person who a. was French and had been to the mountains before and b. had skis so she left the two Australians and one Brazilian in the middle of a field of snow, lost, lonely and cold. Not really, there were very obvious ski-routes to follow but still. So cold.

Raquettes

These shoes are made for snow walking

So we started walking and immediately discovered that walking with tennis rackets attached to your feet is really quite tricky. You turn into a transformer and your feet suddenly weigh a lot more than you ever thought they could. We set off completely unsure about what direction we were supposed to be going but eventually figured that as long as we were heading uphill we were probably on the right track.

Mountain edge

I think I'll avoid walking over that hill

The second thing I learnt is that despite it being cold, snowy and probably some sort of minus-temperature, if you are wearing lots of layers of clothing and are trudging up a hill with tennis rackets on your feet then you get very, very sweaty very, very quickly. I was soon stripping off my beanie, scarf and gloves and turning bright red and complaining a lot. I wasn’t the only one. It was really hard! Walking uphill in snow is worse than running 30km and I almost threw my walking sticks down into the snow in frustration. But the food! We were walking towards food! Onwards we went, meeting up with Louise once as she glided past on her skis, the wind in her hair, a smile on her face. She, of course, felt dreadful but everyone just laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation and how much we really wanted to get to the restaurant. Louise informed us we were almost half way. Great.

Raquette

Up we go

Two hours later we arrived at the restaurant, removed as many clothes as possible while attempting to remain decent and flopped into our chairs demanding water, water, water. My tshirt was saturated and I’m fairly certain the table behind me left due to my stench. But after a slice of beaufort cheese tart, a huge plate of chips (yes, delicious, salty, deep-fried chips… something I usually avoid but at this moment they were the best things ever), and salad followed by a Nutella crêpe, I was happy. And ready to walk back down the hill.

Beaufort tart

Tarte au Beaufort

Nutella crepe

Nutella-full

The walk back was AMAZING. I have to admit that the walk up the hill was completely worth it once I started going back down. There is something so wonderful about standing still on a snow covered mountain and listening to the silence. It is one of the most beautiful sounds on the earth.

Snow on pine tree

Snowy

The snow was such a pure white and everything looked like a movie. The three raquetteers were in much jollier moods walking back to the chair lift and we stopped at a patch of gloriously white, soft snow, threw ourselves back onto it and made snow angels. My first snow angel! It was heavenly to lie in the snow! It is so soft and luxurious – sure, I got a bit wet, but I was already drenched so who cares?

Snow angel

Don't I look angelic?

It was hard to drive back to Paris the next day as the sun was shining in the mountains and it would have been a great day to sit on the chalet balcony in the sunshine and read a book. Unfortunately work and responsibilities called and we repacked the car and drove another seven hours to get home. This time we had the joy of Parisian traffic jams as everyone returned home from their Easter holidays. Next time we’re all taking an extra day off work.

Café de Diable

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

It was Tuesday Lunch Club Day yesterday and Tom, Josh and I were kicked out of our apartments by the cleaning lady (ooh-la-di-da, Jess) at around 11.30am and we headed off on a weird trail set by Josh. It is interesting to see how other people visualise how streets connect in Paris – I don’t think anyone really knows the most efficient way of getting from one place to the next. The streets are far too confusing and diagonal here. No Perth-like grid systems for Paris!

We eventually arrived at Rue de la Roquette, a street full of restaurants and bars frequented by locals. The street eventually arrives at Place de la Bastille and then you will discover the phenomenon of “tourists” but for most part the street is tourist-free. Bliss. I had been recommended a restaurant called Café des Anges, which is French for cafe of the angels. Such a name suggests good things and so we decided to give it a go.

Considering there are no Parisians in Paris at the moment, the cafe was relatively busy, clearly with people who go there every lunch time during their two-hour break. We managed to secure an outdoor table “à la terrasse” – something that is apparently very important in France during summer. You’re low life scum if you choose to sit in the shade or inside during summer – unfortunately, outdoor eating in Paris also means passive smoking so I am often that low life scum, hiding away from the toxic fumes. So we had a table and then we waited for something to happen. And we waited.

Cafe des Anges

Our view from the terrace

Eventually a waitress arrived, looked at us with a puzzled look on her face and when I eventually said “Can we have a menu please?” she said “Oh! You want to eat? Ok.” and ran away. About five minutes later we saw her walking off down the street having just finished her shift. So we waited again. By this time we had decided to stretch our necks out of their sockets and read one of the blackboard menus and decided what we wanted to eat. But another waitress eventually spotted us and declared she would bring us menus as we helplessly said “No, we know what we want!” to her disappearing back. It took three waitresses and a lot of “Excusez-moi”s to finally get the waitresses to realise we wanted to order our food. It also took as much effort to get a bottle of water.

Luckily the sun was shining, we were at lunch club and we were all generally content so we weren’t that fussed by the strange behaviour. What amused and confused us greatly was when Josh (a vegetarian) asked if it was possible to exchange the chicken on the salad he wanted for smoked salmon. There was another salad on the menu that had smoked salmon in it but the other ingredients weren’t so great so we were at least certain that salmon existed in the kitchen. Here was the conversation (translated from French):

Josh: Can I have the Cob salad but with salmon instead of chicken?
Waitress: No. It’s too hard.
Josh: Really? But I don’t eat chicken.
Waitress: No, no, it’s not possible. The kitchen staff would get too confused and it would take a long time to make.
Josh: Ok… well I will just have the Cob salad with no chicken.
Waitress: Really? Are you sure?
Josh: Yes… it’s fine.
Waitress: Ok.
*Waitress walks away, turns around and comes back to the table.
Waitress: You can have potatoes in the salad if you like.

What is the difference between changing the chicken for potato instead of salmon? Apparently that wasn’t going to be an issue for the chefs in the kitchen and they would be able to handle it. ANYWAY.

Considering the speed of the waitresses, the chefs were clearly miles ahead and it didn’t take long for our food to arrive. And it was goooood. Tom was excited about his cheeseburger which had about five different sorts of cheese in it, all of which he declared were ‘real’. No plastic hamburger cheese here.

Cheese burger

Tom's burger

The bun was still full of sugar and out of a packet. I really don’t understand why the French think it is ok to serve such awful bread with their burgers considering how pedantic they are about bread normally. Tom still managed to make all sort of moaning noises while eating it so I believe it was good.

Josh’s salad was quite impressive including an entire sliced avocado and the magic potatoes. I didn’t photograph his food so I can’t show you but think salad, think olives, think green, think yum. It was worth the chicken/salmon/potato discussion.

I ordered a vegetarian lasagna and it was fan-awesomely-tastic. It was rustic, cheesy, and full of delicious vegetables, plus it was topped with a heap of rocket and parmesan cheese. What more could a vegetable and cheese loving girl want?

Vegetarian lasagna

Look at it! I want more.

The food was great and very reasonably priced so we certainly weren’t disappointed. However, we then wanted to pay and we had to rely on slow and incompetent waitstaff to deliver us our bill. The waitress who had been serving us the most (we’re fairly certain she was also the manager of the cafe) had to walk past us at least six times, each time saying “Oh yes! The bill! I will bring it!”, until she finally managed to print it off and bring it to the table. By this time we had looked at the menu, worked out how much we needed to pay and had scrounged together some money. My lasagna was 11.80Euros and I managed to put together the exact amount with a few small coins. I went off to the bathroom while we were still waiting for the bill to arrive and left the boys in charge of paying. When I came back, the waitress was rolling her eyes and grumbling because I was paying with ‘les petites pièces” and she wasn’t impressed that I had dared pay her the exact amount. So we left. If she expected a tip for her excellent service it would have been “Learn how to serve clients”.

It’s a shame when a cafe offers great food but is let down in another department. I can’t say I will rush back to Café des Anges but I did really enjoy my lasagna. So far the Tuesday Lunch Club has had some up and down experiences but I can’t wait for our next exciting adventure.

Cartwheel

I was so excited about lunch club that I did a cartwheel. Or at least pretended to.

Food, Food, Glorious (Sydney) Food!

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

What would be the point of going to Sydney and not eating delicious things? Sure, I might come away  with a visa for France, but where’s the fun in that? My friend Gill took me to the GPO Cheese and Wine Room, aka the cheese temple, on Friday night. It is located in the fancy grey-pants zone of Martin’s Place where all of the money people work. Located downstairs in the GPO, the cheese room is quite amazing. SO MUCH CHEESE! You can choose from one of their suggested combinations or pick 50 gram serves from their range of cheeses. We chose to do the latter.

Cheese

Someone invent a time machine – I need to get back to the cheese!

What a night. We choose three cheeses – an italian washed rind, an amazing blue, and an ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT French soft cheese with truffle. You can tell which one was my favourite. So so so good. We drank a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir and chatted for a few hours, stopping every now and then to remind each other how good the cheese was. Since living in France I have become quite picky about cheeses and always search for strong flavoured cheeses that leave you with bad breath. The stuff in Coles just isn’t cheese. I wish to live in the GPO Cheese Temple and become Jess – Queen of Cheese.

While I’m living in Sydney, I may as well also become Jess – Queen of Cakes. I ate some cake on the weekend as well. Nothing particularly breathtaking but the winner was definitely a pistachio and chocolate tart from the cafe at Alliance Francaise. We were served by an adorably French waiter who was overly polite and had the NICEST accent in the world. I fell in love with him briefly (sorry, Tom!) and turned into a giggling 13 year old every time he brought us food. Anyway, back to the cake. Gill and I shared the chocolate cake and a tarte tatin, a classic french dessert that is always a winner. Both were scrumptious and clearly made by French people who actually know how to make French cakes. I get sick of eating ‘french food’ that was cooked by someone who has never even been to France. I’d just like to say – there should never, EVER, be custard in an almond croissant. It is disgusting, wrong and should be illegal.

French cakes

Les gateaux