Bread, cheese and wine – Beaune, France – Part 2

This continues my families adventures in France. If you’ve not done so already, read Part 1.

The river in Beaune
The river in Beaune

Vin, pain et fromage

Lovely fromage
Lovely fromage

I have to agree with the French in their outlook on food and wine and Beaune did not disappoint us on this front. For a start Beaune is the centre of some of the best wine in France and there are numerous Caves around town very willing to prove it. There were some superb boulengeries and we ate (a lot) of very fine bread indeed. We also paid a visit to the Saturday morning market and got ourselves some splendid cheeses, the highlight of which may have been a fine, gooey Epoisse. Oh my we ate and drank well.

Lunch

On Sunday our hosts took us to a very lovely restaurant called Auberge des Vignes. We ate our splendid meal on the terrace looking out on a vineyard and with the gently rolling hills as a backdrop. The wine flowed, the food (including some snails) were great and we left with that nice glowing feeling. Pretty reasonable too I may add.

The view from our table at lunch
Our lunch venue - Auberge des Vignes

The Home of Photography

The house where the first ever photograph was taken
The house where the first ever photograph was taken

The man credited with taking the first permanent photographic image (previous ones faded after a few hours) is Joseph Nicéphore Niépce who lived in Chalon-sur-Saône not too far from where we were staying. As we were so close it would have been rude not to have gone to the home of photography. By chance there was a small museum attached to the house where Niepce took the first photo, so we took the tour.

On the one hand it was amazing to stand in the very room where the first ever picture was taken. On the other hand I couldn’t beleive that a photography museum wouldn’t let me take a picture myself. All I wanted was to take a picture out of the same window as an homage. Sadly not said the otherwise very nice guide. An interesting trip for photography buffs. I was fairly chuffed myself.

Wine tasting

A trip to Beaune of course would not have been complete without a visit to a cave for a spot of wine tasting.

Our hosts took us along to Bouchard Aine & Fils, a very distinguished looking place. We took the tour of the cave or cellar, which looked suitably dark and barrelly. Moving from cellar to cellar we were given increasingly nicer wines to taste, the last being particularly lovely. One nice feature was a room with lots of jars containing different flavours – oranges, cinnamon, chocolate etc. – to give an idea of smells to look out for. Possibly a gimmick, but I quite liked it and my one year old was highly intrigued.

Vineyards near Beaune
Vineyards near Beaune

What a lovely place

I can report that Beaune is a lovely part of the world and somewhere I’d be keen to spend more time in. A wonderful trip.

Le Relais de Venise, City of London

lentrecote
l'entrecote

I was initially attracted by the sheer simplicity of the concept – there is no menu, they only serve one dish. That dish is a green salad followed by steak and chips. The only choices are how you want your steak cooked and what drink to have.

Le Relais de Venise is decorated in what looks a fairly typical french bistro style that fits nicely with the Parisian feel to the whole thing. Service was polite and prompt from the french maid outfitted waitresses.

So how was the food? In an establishment that only does one thing, I had fairly high expectations that that one thing would be cooked very well. I was not disappointed.

The green salad starter was ok, although I felt the mustard dressing was a little over powering for my own tastes. The main course comes in two parts, they serve you half the steak and some thin fries while keeping a second portion warm for you.

It’s worth mentioning that the steak comes with a ‘secret’ sauce that works well with the steak, but even more so with the fries. My dinner partner likes their steak cooked ‘blue’, but has almost always complained that no one truly cooks a proper ‘blue’ steak. At least here that complaint was not raised. My own ‘rare’ steak was cooked exactly as I like it. maybe this is what comes out of doing one thing, but doing it well?

The thin, but crispy fries were also very nice and a great addition to the meal and they certainly come in fairly generous proportions.

After the mains we were finally presented with a menu as there does appear to be a choice of desserts. I just couldn’t resist some profiteroles, an old favourite of mine. Another generous portion, this time of five golf ball sized, cream filled choux covered in chocolate and if truth be told I was grateful for some help as this was probably too much for me to eat on my own.

I still have a slight nagging thought that £19 was slightly too much for steak and chips but then again it was cooked to perfection and I can’t really think of any complaints with the meal at all.

Very enjoyable, I would go again.

Breakfast at the Wolseley

The Wolseley

We’ve had a tradition over the last few years of going somewhere posh for breakfast on my birthday and this year we decided to go to the Wolseley in Piccadilly.

The decor
The interior of the Wolseley is almost worth a visit in its own right – a beautiful, high vaulted, art deco and very classy vision. On this visit we were seated facing the back, which is slightly unfortunate, however, my seven month old daughter just gazed up and around almost the whole time.

Even the tables, cutlery and other utensils are impressive – silver plate, for one, is in abundance.

The food
It’s always difficult choosing what to have here as there is a magnificent selection of breakfast treats. Probably the establishments star-turn is the eggs benedict but as I’d already had this on several occasions I wanted something new.

I settled on a plate of kippers to start with followed by some french toast. Deborah went for the eggs benedict plus some yoghurt and granola. It’s worth having a side order of toast just to get the wonderful preserves on offer and of course some good coffee was essential.

The kippers were perfectly cooked and of good quality (not the artificially coloured ones). They were a tiny bit bony but this is a small price to pay for such flavour.

I tried not to think how much butter went into the french toast and to concentrate on just how good they tasted. Crispy and lovely and with a generous slurp of maple syrup.

The coffee was good, if not great, but is served in fantastic silver pots.

The experience
The service, sometimes criticised in other reviews, was very good on this occasion, although I did get told off for videoing the room.

My wife tells me that this was the finest baby changing room she’s ever been in, something many places don’t even think about.

All in all, a wonderful morning and a great experience. We walking out into the cold full, content and satisfied.

I can’t wait to go again.

The Square, London

My expectations were very high, The Square is, after all a two star Michelin restaurant and is exorbitantly expensive. In this case I shouldn’t have worried, my expectations were well met and almost exceeded.

Up to now my wife and I have not really had an opportunity to go out in the evening together and without our daughter Rose. This has meant that we missed celebrating in a big way either Deborah’s birthday or our anniversary. Now that Rose sleeps from 7pm through to 7am we thought we could risk a night out. The restaurant was booked, the babysitter was arranged, a new dress was purchased and we were set.

Cocktails
As often happens, my keenness not to be late meant that we got to Mayfair almost half an hour early. No problem I thought, we can pop into the Claridges bar for a quick snifter. We opened the door, but instead of a serene and stately scene of sophisticates, the place was heaving. I battled to the bar and got Deborah a ‘Somerset summer’ and myself a classic G&T. I’d hoped for a little sit down in some comfortable leather while we chatted about everything or nothing. In the end we stood by the (lovely art deco) fireplace and tried to keep out of the way of the waitresses. Then it was off to the main event.

Amuse Bouche
Our coats were taken and we were whisked to our seats where we could then really start enjoying the anticipation of a first class meal. Having already had an aperitif at Claridges we declined some champagne while looking at the menus. As ever in these places were were each given a small selection of ‘amuse bouches’ which were delightful, the highlight being a fois gras in a tiny cone.

We then got the ‘pre-starter’ of a very tasty glass of chicken jelly, foam and something else. Only two mouthfuls, but delicious. Apparently our starters were going to be slightly delayed, so we got given a little prawn on gnocchi with truffle thing (amazing) just to keep us going. We were offered some bread, which I would only rate as ‘ok’.

Bear in mind we hadn’t even got to the starters yet.

Starters
I went for the ‘Lasagne of Dorset Crab with a Cappuccino of Shellfish and a Champagne Foam’ and Deborah the ‘Scallops with black truffle’.

That crab lasagna was probably the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted. It was incredibly rich with a strongly flavoured foam that went so well with the delicate crab. Stunning. Deborah’s scallops were top class too, although in my opinion they were ‘only’ very very good.

The only minor down point was the choice of an Italian Riesling to go with my starter. The wine was delicious in itself, but I think I could have done with something a little bolder, maybe an oaky white or maybe even a pinot noir. A demerit to the sommelier here.

Main course
For mains Deborah opted for the ‘Roast Saddle of Lincolnshire Hare with a Tarte Fine of Celeriac and Pear’ and I the ‘Fillet and Croustillant of Aged Ayrshire Beef with Cepes, Shallots, Bone Marrow and Red Wine’. The hare was sweet but gamey but yet quite delicate. It was on a bed of pastry and had a fruity sauce that was really appropriate.

Up to this point I’d thought that there would be nothing that was likely to top my starter, but my main may well have done. It was a real medley of meat. Apart from the main fillet itself there were what looked like little sausage rolls containing shreds of beef, cepes, pureed cress and an amazing sauce. Every single mouthful was astonishing and i’m sure I said ‘wow’ several times. Even the portions were fairly generous.

We both had lovely full bodied red wines with our mains and this time they went perfectly.

Dessert
To make sure we were eased gently into the dessert course we had a ‘pre-dessert’ of caramel, jelly and custard with a tiny doughnut on top. Again, only two mouthfuls, but wonderful. Normally i’d really go for the cheese board, but after two very rich courses I felt like something sweet.

There were many tempting choices, but eventually I elected to have the ‘Date Soufflé with Burnt Orange and Almond Ice Cream’ and Deborah had the ‘Brillat-Savarin Cheesecake with Passionfruit, Mango and a Citrus Terrine’. I really like a souffle and this did not disappoint at all. It was light and tasty and the orange flavour was distinct yet delicate. Deborah’s cheesecake looked more like a modernist piece of art than food and it seemed a shame to have to spoil the look by eating it. Both of our desserts were really good, but we agreed that again mine edged it.

Petit-fours
By this time we were well satisfied, but there were still the petit-fours and coffee to enjoy. Next to other top class restaurants I’ve been to I thought the petit fours were fairly average and the coffee nothing special.

This only left us with paying the bill and a cab ride home.

Summary
Deborah and I have been to a fair number of Michelin starred restaurants over the years (although mostly for lunch) and I think this was the best meal I’ve had out of all of them. The bill was slightly painful, but considering the pleasure and wonderful experience we’d both had it seemed like a small price to pay. A very magical evening and a top meal.

The Quay, Ilfracombe

It was the wife’s birthday, we were on holiday in Ilfracombe and we wanted to go to the best place in town. This, we were told was the Quay restaurant, owned by and displaying much art by Damien Hirst. There were big highs and a couple of small lows but overall a good time was had.

Decor and ambiance
We decided to go for lunch as this seemed an easier time to take our four month old daughter and were after something a little less formal. We were sat in what anywhere else would just look like a posh bar, in this case with a number of artworks and wallpaper by Mr Hirst. If your a fan of his then this is a bit of a treat. I’m a bit skeptical of any ‘genius’, but I do think some of his work is interesting.

Food

Lobster salad
Lobster salad

I had a wild mushroom risotto to start, followed by a lobster salad with chips. The risotto was really excellent, though a tiny bit too salty for me if I were being picky. Not much actual salad with main course, but I thoroughly enjoyed the lobster and the accompanying chips were top notch.

Deborah had a nice looking bit of halibut which apparently was really nice, though I heard some grumbles such as ‘a bit stingy with the veg’. For pudding Deborah had the ‘banana tarte tatin’ which was absolutely wonderful.

Service

Banana tarte tartin
Banana tarte tartin

Along with the casual decor, the service was also fairly informal, though friendly. There’s nothing wrong with this I guess, but considering the prices were o a par with a set lunch at Tom Aikens or Petrus I did kind of feel I wasn’t getting top dollar.

Overall
Had a really enjoyable and tasty lunch, though not sure it was the best value for money. Also on the plus side, my daughter Rose slept blissfully through the whole thing, bless her.

Simpsons Tavern

Simpsons Tavern
Simpsons Tavern

Some experiences are just a little surreal, but today’s trip to Simpsons Tavern in the city of London felt very bizarre indeed.

It was my assistant’s last day today and she suggested a cool place to go for a memorable lunch. ‘It’s a really odd but cool place’ she promised. Finding it is a bit of a trick as it’s down an odd little passage off of Cornhill. It felt a little bit like entering another time as the place looks like an edwardian chop house, all wood panelling and brass.

It’s really crowed and we get sat on a bench for six with some real traditional looking city types. The waitress looks like a dinner lady and is at least sixty if she’s a day. She’s pretty curt and looks like she doesn’t take any crap from anyone.

The food here is that of the traditional chophouse – chops (obviously), gammon, steak and kidney pies, mixed grills. I went for a beef and ale pie and my assistant had the roast beef with yorkshire pudding and both were excellent.

Thats a big bit of cheese
That's a big bit of cheese

I went traditional for afters – spotted dick – but my lunch partner went for the stilton. I was expecting a plate with crackers and a wedge of cheese, but no. To my surprise a whole round of stilton turnd up with a spoon and a huge basket of biscuits. It’s essentially an ‘all you can eat’ cheese with only your own greed and stomach being the limiters.

This was an ace exprerience and definitely somewhere i’d go back to. If you have someone in from out of town or another country, take them here and give them a taste of the old London!