Category Archives: food and wine

Eating for two – Texas style!

I know the saying “eating for two” when you are pregnant is NOT something you should take literally, but I think I forgot that a few weeks ago. On my way to California I had a layover in Dallas for two days to visit a good friend who used to live here in London, but now lives just North of Dallas. We had a great time hanging out, shopping, playing with her son and eating. Eating a lot. Seriously, our days were planned around what restaurants we were going to hit.

One thing high on my list was to eat some Texas BBQ. I had never visited anywhere in the south, but have always heard about how great the bbq is. Fran knew just the place to take me so on the afternoon of my departure she took me to Hutchins BBQ in McKinney.

OMG, it was so good! We made complete pigs of ourselves and I probably embarrassed Fran a bit by taking a bunch of pictures, but it was all so yummy! All the meat choices followed by a bunch of hot and cold sides like mac-n-cheese, potato salad, macaroni salad, jalapeno cornbread and ranch beans. I think there were also a few veggies in there, but I bypassed them all for the most fattening, carbo-loaded choice available.

After we polished off the majority of our lunch we went for dessert which consisted of a giant trough of vanilla pudding with bananas and Nilla Wafers and a warm pan of peach cobbler.

I don’t know if Hutchins BBQ is the best out there, but it gets a thumbs up in my book.

Going Underground

About a month ago Charles and I and two other food-loving friends attend our first “underground restaurant”. Underground restaurants or supper clubs have been around for awhile now, but they have become really popular in London over the past two years. They are a cross between a dinner party and a restaurant; you have a home cooked dinner in someones house, but you pay them for the dinner, plus you bring your own wine. The payment is “technically” called a donation as these dinners are not “technically” legal. Maybe that’s part of the reason that they have become so popular? Or maybe it’s because you get to meet some fun and interesting people in a relaxed home environment while eating some really good food.

After reading several great reviews we secured four seats for dinner at Fernandez and Leluu. The proprietors, Simon and Uyen, serve up a new menu every few weeks combining both their backgrounds, Spanish and Vietnamese. The night we went they were sold out and when we arrived the living room/dining room was filled to the brink with 24 excited diners. We were seated by Uyen, who doubled as host and server, at a table with a couple in their early 30’s and two girlfriends in their early twenties.. After introductions were made we popped open our first bottle of champagne and got ready to partake in a seven course meal.

The first and second courses did not disappoint. The starter, pea and ham soup with basil, cream and white wine with pork scratchings and Parmesan shavings was absolutely amazing! Next up were Mini Ham-Burgers made with pork, served inside Turkish bread with cherry tomatoes and gems lettuce were super juicy and quite generous in size.

Before the third course we decided to open up our first bottle of white wine. Charles had bought a case of really nice Meursault about three years ago and he had been saving the last bottle for a special occasion. The four of us had all tasted the wine before and told everyone at our table how good it was and that it had been saved for years and that if they were really nice we might let them have a taste too. Well, apparently (or should I say, obviously) moving a bottle of white wine from two different flats, packing it up in storage for a year, then keeping it in your fridge for a year and then opening it up 6 years after it was made is not a good idea. The wine was horrible. Undrinkable, in fact. We had to run down to the corner store to buy a new bottle of white to replace it. Very sad. Luckily we had five more courses of food to distract us.

Course three – fish and chips made with fresh sashimi grade tuna, with ginger, soy, mirin and wasabi dressing, chips, pickled shallots and wasabi mayo (pictured below). This was one of my favorite dishes, although quite an odd mix.

Course four – sweet potato tortilla and Ferdie’s ketchup. Interesting. Very filling dish that made me wonder how on Earth I was going to eat three more courses. A nice bottle of red wine helped wash the tortilla down.

Course five – poached egg set in a tarragon and chicken jelly and served with a bacon pastry that had cream cheese, cheddar cheese and spring onions (pictured below). So, this was my most and least favorite dish. The bacon pastry was amazingly good and super rich, but the egg set in jelly… not to my liking, at all. I mentioned in a previous post how much I detest jelly (jello), but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from at least sampling the egg dish. Although very clever and nicely flavored I couldn’t get past the texture. And I was not the only one. Simon didn’t even touch his egg. No worries, we had more wine to help us move on to the next course.

Course six – slow roast spring lamb with cous cous. Very simple and probably the most disappointing of all the courses. We were all pretty stuffed by this point so it wasn’t really a big deal. Plus, we had another very nice bottle of red wine to drink!

Course seven – lime mousse with chilli chocolate topping. This was a nice way to end our meal because it was light and refreshing. I’m pretty sure we also had some more wine.

After dinner was over our hosts Simon and Uyen were able to sit down and chat with us and have a glass of wine. Yes, more wine. I’m pretty sure we were all slurring our words by this point and didn’t make the best impression. They were both very good hosts and I think it’s incredible that they open up their home to large groups of perfect strangers every month. And they only charge £35 pp. Their love of good food and relaxed entertaining was very obvious and hopefully we will be able to visit them again. Only this time, I don’t think I will drink as much wine ;o)

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The Language of d’Oc – Part 2

You can read about Part 1 here.

Sometimes getting lost is not a bad thing. Sometimes your mistakes turn out to be a blessing. Case in point; our choosing to drive to Sete was a mistake, but if we had not gone there we never would have ended up in Pezenas, the blessing, disguised as a charming little village where we stayed on the second night of our trip.

The drive from Sete to Pezenas takes you through Meze, a seafood paradise, of which we came back to later for a meal. Meze is between a lake and the Med. Thousands of oyster beds line the waterway. Charles drooled his way through the town with oyster bars lining the streets.

With the help of our trusty TomTom and advice from the Michelin Guide, we found our way to a nice hotel in the centre of town called The Grand Moliere. Walking through the front door and into the lobby I could see why it was called “grand.” Fifteen-foot ceilings, walls covered in beautiful tapestries and carved mirrors and heavy gilded furniture.

I did my very best to butcher the French language a bit more as a non-English speaking clerk checked us in to the hotel. By the time we were settled it was late afternoon and we knew most of the businesses in town would be closing soon so we set out to see what we could before everything shut down.

Pezenas is what I think of as the perfect little French village. Winding cobblestone streets, beautiful old buildings, charming shops and friendly people. We spent about an hour wondering through a maze of streets, checking out all the shops and deciding which ones we would come back to the next day when we had more time and more shops were open.

Well rested and ready for a night on the town we left the hotel in search of a restaurant. We didn’t make it too far because we were distracted by the country western line dancing French dance troupe in the town plaza. Yes, you read that correctly, line dancing, to Alan Jackson, in France. Very strange, but highly entertaining.

On the recommendation from one of the local shop keepers we searched out two different restaurants for dinner only to find out they were fully booked. Figuring we were destined to eat at one of the touristy cafes lining the town plaza, we were really happy to stumble upon a nice little bistro tucked back into a dark corner of the village. Our waitress was incredibly sweet and helpful, the food and wine were pretty good and the fact that every ten minutes the lights went out due to a faulty circuit breaker made our dining experience very memorable.

Those of you who know me and read this blog regularly, you know that I love outdoor markets, especially food markets. So, I was super excited the next morning when we woke up and walked outside to see that the main street through town was now a big market. We grabbed a pain au chocolate and a café in the village and then spent a few hours roaming the streets, checking out what was on offer. Charles only lasted for about two hours and then took off for a beer while I continued to roam for another hour or so. Although it wasn’t the best market, it was a great way to start the day.

After the drive-by-sighting of all the oyster beds the day before and checking out multiple stalls selling fresh oysters and various other shellfish we back-tracked about 30 minutes to the tiny little town of Mezé. Once there, we chose the nicest looking seafood shack and ordered a small mountain of shellfish for lunch. I am not a fan of oysters, but Charles loves them and he couldn’t stop going on about how they were the best oysters, and the biggest, that he had ever had. I pigged out on a big pot of moules and frites (mussels and French fries) and we shared some cracked crab and a really good bottle of wine. Mezé and its great seafood were definitely worth the stop.

So far we had been lucky with the weather and with our choices of towns to visit. I guess we were due for some ugliness and that came in the form of nasty thick fog and rain and a totally uninspiring town called Millau. After lunch we couldn’t decide where we wanted to stay for the night, so once again we consulted the Michelin Guide and chose a little town somewhere in the middle of the mountainous Cévennes National Park which was supposed to be beautiful. I can’t even remember the name of the town, but I do remember the hellish drive there on twisty little roads shrouded in really thick fog. After deciding the town didn’t have anything to offer we headed toward the next town that we thought might be interesting and arrived in Millau. I don’t even want to waste space writing about this place so I will just say, don’t go there. Don’t waste your time, keep on driving and don’t look back.

On Easter Sunday morning, after a quick breakfast, we programmed the TomTom to take us to Roquefort-sur-Soulzon so we could partake in a little cheese tasting. Home to the creamy blue-veined cheese, this little town was well worth the visit. We toured the Société cheese cellars and learned all about how Roquefort cheese is made. Although the tour was given in French they were kind enough to give us a very detailed six-page paper on the whole process. Apparently, thousands of years ago (or maybe hundreds, I can’t remember) there was a big earthquake and part of the mountain in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon collapsed. The collapse created a bunch of tunnels and caves that are now used to make the famous cheese. Each cave, with its different temperature and humidity level, creates a distinct flavor for the cheese. It was really very interesting and we got to taste a bunch of the yummy cheese at the end. Nice!

Albi, birthplace of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and home to a museum that houses a large collection of his work was last on our list of things to see. Toulouse-Lautrec is one of my favorite artists and it was really cool to see so many of his drawings, paintings and lithographs. We also took a peak at the gianormous Cathedral St. Cecil next to the museum and walked around town a bit before we had to run back to the car because it had started to rain. On to Toulouse!

We had booked an 8:30pm flight home figuring that we could have a stroll around Toulouse and a nice dinner before heading to airport. Poor planning on our part as it was Easter Sunday and we got into town at about 6pm. Most decent French restaurants close between lunch and dinner and don’t open back up until about 7pm. After driving in circles for about 30 minutes trying to find a decent place to eat before heading to the airport we settled on a classic… McDonalds. Really, how sad is that. Our last meal in the South of France was at a McDonalds by the airport. Surprisingly, our Cheese Royal (cheese burger) and Le M (big mac) were pretty good.

The flight home was uneventful, which was good. We breezed through immigration thanks to IRIS (a machine that scans your iris for identification allowing you to bypass the manual immigration procedure) and hopped a train and a taxi home. Even though we were only gone for four days it seemed like we did and saw so much. It was really fun to see where the road took us and not have reservations anywhere. Of course, we took a few wrong turns, but that only made the trip more exciting. Charles and I both want to go back to the Languedoc region someday because we enjoyed it so much and there is still so much more to see. Au Revoir!