Posts Tagged ‘wine’

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!

Christmas in Manchester

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

According to the calendar, there is only one month to go until Christmas. I’m in a slight state of denial about this as I am not entirely sure where the rest of the year has gone and I am avoiding facing the arrival of 2014 and the fact that it is about time I grew up. But I can’t deny the red, green and silver tinsel and Santa overkill in every shop window I walk past. Maybe it’s just a phase…

In the same week as Bonfire night, I attended a second lot of fireworks to mark the turning on of the Christmas Lights. Leading up to this potentially momentous occasion, I had witnessed cherry pickers and electricians attaching strings of lights to lamp posts at various points throughout the city. My expectations were great – soon the city would be covered in glorious oh-so-pretty sparkly things that would bring festive joy and endless happiness to young and old. I went to the light-turning-on ceremony at the Town Hall with my friends Damien and Eli and we pushed our way through a crowd of teenagers and old people to find a good viewing spot to watch ex-winners of X-Factor perform LIVE for our entertainment. We patiently waited through the average singing to finally count down to the pushing of the Lights-Are-Go button by James Arthur (X-Factor winner, 2012). Three… Two… One…

Waiting patiently for James to push a button.

Waiting patiently for James to push a button.

Not only did lights apparently turn on, but fireworks exploded from the roof of the Town Hall and we witnessed a ten minute display that consisted of the same fireworks over and over again. My favourites were some horizontal flames that spurted out from the side of the clock tower. Once that was over, it was time to go home, and as we walked away, my friends and I asked each other – where were the Christmas lights?

Boom! Bang! Whizz!

Boom! Bang! Hiss!

It would seem that Manchester City Council has spent most of its Christmas money on markets (there are nine market areas across the city) and a giant, fat Santa who sits menacingly in front of the Town Hall. There are some gold winged-star things attached to most lamp posts and some very funky (this is sarcasm), flashing-pixel Christmas tree things down the pedestrianised King Street, but that’s about it. However, since the installation of hundreds of wooden huts for the Christmas markets, things have improved. Now there is definitely a festive Christmas vibe spreading across the city and everyone is loving the hot wine. It now takes me 10 minutes longer to walk home from work as I have to go through at least three Christmas markets, dodging people carrying collector mugs filled with dangerous staining glühwein.

Wooden tower of Christmas wonder

Wooden tower of Christmas wonder

I’m not a complete Scrooge – I have been one of these festive revellers and I do enjoy a good cup of warm, spiced wine myself. I also have to give Manchester two thumbs up for their markets – while there is a lot of repetition of stalls, they are of a much higher quality that Paris’s Champs Elysées. Nothing will beat the markets in Germany and eastern France, but Manchester has put in a fine effort. So here’s to more overpriced glühwein and bratwurst – Merry Christmas Month to all!

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

 

Beaujolais Nouveau

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

It’s that time of the year again where the French grab their wine glasses and gather around bottles of Beaujolais to drink and celebrate the release of this year’s harvest. The Beaujolais Nouveau is set free at 12.01am on the third Thursday of November each year and is a particularly young wine – it is only fermented for six to eight weeks. It is therefore fairly awful. It is quite sweet, lacks tannins and looks like weak cordial. But that has somehow become the reason why you drink the wine – because it is Beaujolais!

The concept of Beaujolais Nouveau is one of the best marketing strategies in existence. Not many other companies can produce a below average product, set a release date each year and then have millions of litres sold both within the country of production and overseas. It is pure genius. The festival of Beaujolais Nouveau moved from the Beaujolais region to throughout France in the 1970s and has since spread further afield – I know there was a Beaujolais night at Alliance Française in Perth.

This year I met up with three friends from Paris and my primary school friend, Jane, and we had a girls night in the 12eme. We has one glass at a very cool looking bar, Le Siffleur de Ballons but it was too busy to get a table. So we headed around the corner to a local brasserie where we ate food and consumed two bottles between us. As I said, it isn’t my favourite drop, but I love the idea of celebrating the wine harvest. While everyone in Australia stops for a horse race in November, the people of France stop to drink wine. I think I’d choose wine over horses any day.

Beaujolais Nouveau

A glass of Beaujolais from Le Siffleur de Ballons

Fun Times Count Down

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

You may have realised by now that I enjoy counting down to things – moving to Paris, my birthday, Christmas. Things become even more exciting if you watch the time drop away and the thing that you are looking forward to moves steadily closer. Counting down to things that you are less excited about isn’t quite as good and so I have decided to forget about the days in January as my flight back to Perth inches closer and closer.

However, people around me have suggested it might be a good idea that I look at the bright side of going back to Perth (ie. sunshine, the beach, family, no French people) and so I have decided for the next however-many-days I have left in Paris I am going to make sure that I do (at least) one thing that is new, exciting, fun or delicious. That way, if the French government says I can’t come back to France then I can say, “Oh well, that’s your loss. I’ve already eaten ALL of your nutella crêpes.”

I will, of course, be informing you of my adventures over this count-down period so that you can either be pleased that I am enjoying myself or just plain jealous. Although I decided to do this last night while having a shower (it’s where I get all of my good ideas) I will include yesterday as my first day of Fun Times Count Down. Here is the fun thing that I did:

FUN TIMES COUNT DOWN #1

After spending most of the day at home, at 5.30pm Tom and I went and met our friend, Phillipa (she is also leaving Paris in a few weeks and is feeling as despondent about the whole ‘going back to Perth’ thing as I am), and we had a drink at a bar. It was a last minute decision that turned in a few hours of laughter, chatting, cocktails and tapas. It isn’t called Happy Hour for nothing. We were eventually kicked out so that a table of people who actually wanted to eat food could sit, and Tom and I walked home through the streets of Paris with a bright, potentially full moon guiding our way back. A simple yet enjoyable experience that will kick start my Fun Times Count Down.

Wine Time

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

I’m sure I have mentioned this previously, but connected to the residence that I live in is one of the coolest, hippest, and most sort-out cafés for the BoBos of Paris. In case you don’t know, a BoBo is a person between the ages of 21 and 38 who wears a lot of ‘vintage’ clothing and who hangs around in public spaces with other BoBos hoping to be seen. They usually wear oversized glasses and lots of layers. Anyway, the cafe, Café A, is cool. So cool that in summer there is a line of BoBos pleading to come in while my fellow residents and I walk past in our BoBo-offensive clothes and sit at our residents-only tables. You can probably tell I get a kick out of it.

There are often concerts, exhibitions and random events at Café A and this past weekend there was a two-day wine tasting event held within the café and the beautiful chapel that is connected to it. This chapel is part of the original convent building of the Récollets and is rented out by the Architects society (they now somehow own it) for excessive amounts of money. Therefore it is very rarely open and when ever it is, I try my hardest to get in there.

On Sunday evening, Tom and I walked in the back door of the café with our friends and fellow residents, Becky and Vivien. Why go in the front door when you can sneak in the back? We then talked our way into getting free tasting glasses and not paying the 10 Euro entry fee because ‘we live here.’ Seemed fair to me.

Salon du vin – Café A

A blurry photo but lots of people and lots of wine inside the chapel

The chapel was set out with 50-plus tables allocated to different organic and biodynamic wine producers, offering tastings of their wines and information about how they produce the wine and the region it comes from. These wine tastings are particularly helpful to us as there is so much difference between choosing a wine in France than in Australia. Back home, I usually choose a grape variety I like and then go by price and whatever label interests me the most. This doesn’t work so well in France and I have managed to choose numerous very bad wines as a result.

Vivien, the only true-Frenchman of our group, was put in charge of wine selection and we started off with his favourite region – Bordeaux. There were three different Bordeaux producers and we sampled three different wines from each. The flavours between each wine varied significantly and it was amazing to see how different the wines could taste despite containing similar grape blends. It all came down to handling, time, barrels and general competence.

After Bordeaux, Vivien took us on a grape tour of his life in France, moving between regions where he has lived, studied and worked. Every region produced significantly different flavours of wine and each vintage varied just as much. It was a taste-bud sensation and a big learning experience for me. Of course, after sampling a few different wines from various producers, they all start tasting good and there were a fair few people who had clearly been ‘sampling’ for most of the afternoon and evening. It was a great way to get a better understanding of French wine although I have come away with even more confusion about how to choose a wine when at a wine store. No matter what bottle I choose it will taste completely different to the last wine I had from that region. So I guess I have to return to my “try it and see” methods.

Christmas Market Time

Monday, November 28th, 2011

The Christmas Markets have arrived in Paris, with young Audrey Tautou (of Amelie fame) turning on the Christmas lights along the Champs-Élysées last week. Tom and I dared the crowds on Saturday afternoon and elbowed our way through, mostly in the hope of finding a warming Nutella crêpe. We had been out walking all day heading from our house, down to the river, a quick duck into Sainte Chapelle, and then towards the Grand Palais. It was bloody cold and my hands were falling off so I needed something to warm them up with. We found the solution:

Vin chaud and crêpes

Hand warming.

Vin chaud and crêpes. Ahhh… I love Christmas in Europe. I hate it in Australia because of the excessive commercialisation and the too much food and too many presents. But here there is something more festive and REAL about it, although the Christmas markets in Paris really disappointed me as they are largely commercial stalls selling awful mass produced goods that are ugly and tacky. Plus, our Nutella crêpe was made using Nutella substitute which just did not hit the spot. Then I saw the vin chaud lady pouring more wine into the urns to heat up and it came straight out of a giant cask. It was essentially goon with spices, and it was all pre-mixed. Nothing real here.

I will go and have a better look at the markets when it isn’t a Saturday afternoon. I think a Monday morning when everyone is going to work with a depressed look on their faces is probably the best time to check them out.

Eating Oysters From a Car Bonnet

Monday, October 31st, 2011

On my list of things I like eating, oysters come close to the bottom with absolutely no desire whatsoever to eat the sloppy, gloopy, ocean-filled things. But when our new neighbour, Julie, invited Tom and me for lunch at Le Baron Rouge in the 12th arrondissement, her description of what we would be eating appealed even to me – let’s stand around eating oysters and drinking wine off car bonnets. Yes please.

Le Baron Rouge is a wine bar where masses of Parisians (and a whole lot of Poms) flock every Saturday and Sunday to drink wine and eat oysters and charcuterie plates. The wine bar itself is tiny – a typical French bar with lots of wood, blackboard menus and effervescent staff. By the time we arrived it was getting close to 2pm, so the place was packed with people carrying wine glasses, laughing, spotting friends on the other side of the room, and generally feeling very pleased to be alive. The lack of space meant that patrons had spilled out onto the footpath and road outside and had created mock tables using the lids of bins and the roofs and bonnets of cars. Luckily the bar is located in a quiet streets so traffic wasn’t a problem.

Baron Rouge

The place to be.

We pushed our way in, with Julie and her friend heading to the bar to buy wine and charcuterie, while Tom and I joined the queue for oysters. We were worried we would miss out, but basket after basket of fresh oysters continued to arrive as people ordered mounds of the disgusting things. The speed and agility demonstrated by the oyster shuckers was amazing – they had a very simple oyster shucking ‘machine’ – basically a blade on a handle connected to a wooden block. The oyster was placed on the block, the blade inserted, lifted et voila! A freshly shucked oyster.

Baron Rouge oyster shuckers

Quick hands required to shuck oysters for so many people

We bought two dozen oysters and headed to where Julie and two friends had secured our own car bonnet (a little white Opel). It was here that we consumed two bottles of wine, two dozen oysters and two plates of charcuterie and pâté. Amazing. Want to know how much it cost? This is the best part – for all of that, between five people, it was less than 15 Euros a head. HA HA HA!!! Take that, Australians! You may have sunshine and beaches, but we have fine wine and oysters.

Wine, charcuterie, oysters from the Baron Rouge

What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?

This wonderful experience is going to be repeated. It was one of those moments that you wonder how on earth you got there and when you are going to wake up. Thank you, Paris.

Madrid Part 2

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

The Food

It was impossible not to involve yourself in the buzzing night life – at 6pm head to Bar Number 1 and have a glass of delicious Spanish red wine (so much better than French wine but don’t tell them I said that) or Sangria. Your drink will be served with some form of tapas – chips, chorizo, olives. Still hungry? Order from the tapas menu something small to nibble on. Then head to Bar Number Two where you’ll do it all again.

Tapas hall

A large tapas hall in Madrid serving a wide range of high quality food

Tapas

That's good tapas.

At around 10pm you will settle in one place, order a bottle of wine (for no more than 10 Euros) and a carafe of sangria, fill the table with fried mushrooms, spanish ham, potatoes with tomato sauce, omelette, olives, oxtail, cheese, or whatever excites you and eat and drink the night away. Before you know it, it is past midnight and you’ve eaten some of the best food of your life.

I believe Madrid has more bars than any other city in Europe – how they all survive, I don’t know. We managed to find some brilliant places to eat, full of locals enjoying themselves. It was amazingly cheap and therefore very dangerous to our livers and arteries as we stocked up on somewhat excessive amounts of alcohol and finger-lickingly good oily food. Everything was deep fried, coated in oil or served with cheese. I don’t know how the Spanish people aren’t a bunch of fatsos. No green-age on the plate, which made it a tad tricky for our vegetarian travel companions. Thankfully everywhere did patatas – fried potato with tomato sauce and/or garlic mayonnaise.

Sangria

Sweet, sweet Sangria

How Embarrassment

Friday, April 29th, 2011

My folks have been in town since Monday and it has been wonderful having them around. Free food, lots of hugs, and some presents. What more could a daughter want? Seriously, I have always had a good relationship with my family and it is a joy being able to show them where I live and all of my favourite places of Paris. That said, I clearly need to keep a better record of where my ‘favourite places’ are because when I try to return to them they can be hard to find! My parents have already been to Paris a few times and have ticked off most of the main tourist attractions so we have been walking the back streets and visiting areas not usually highlighted on the map. We often end up walking past a major must-see and ducking our way through the crowd and finding the closest side street to escape to. I am so glad to be living in a less popular area of Paris – I don’t know if I could handle the tourist crush and the never ending camera flashes all-day-every-day.

Anyway, I want to go to bed but I thought I would write a quick entry about our evening last night. My third or fourth cousin (She’s my mum’s cousin’s daughter so I don’t really know what the relation is. I call everyone my third cousin – I have many of these distant relatives that don’t have an easy title) lives in Paris and I met her for the first time last night when she invited my parents, Tom and me over for dinner. It was a lovely evening with great food and lots of easy conversation. It always amazes me how family members, no matter how distant, can still find a strong bond or connection. I’ve felt this with various distant relatives of mine and I love it. Family ties are very long.

The reason for the title of this entry is based on the fact that my cousin lives with her boyfriend who is an American who has lived in France for most of his life and has gained a lot of knowledge of French food and wine. He cooked an amazing meal of pintard (guinea fowl) with asparagus and was quite the host. He also provided us with some delicious wines which he produced from his wine fridge, chilled to the optimum temperature and explained what we were drinking and why we should be eating a certain food with it. Of course, being guests and wanting to provide something to the meal, I bought a bottle of wine to go with our dinner. I soon realised the mistake I had made choosing a bottle of wine from my local supermarket when we were drinking some quality wines that don’t cost 3 Euros like mine had. It was the equivalent of bringing cask wine to a dinner party in Australia. Our hosts were very polite and even served the bottle as a second drink with dinner. But how the Australians laughed when we realised what we had done. Further thought and perhaps a few more Euros will need to be spent for the next dinner gathering.

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