Life is best lived by ending a meal with your favorite bite.

Le Bouchon

Both of my favorite meals in France were eaten in rustic restaurants, with people drinking wine from elegant carafes, and Le Bouchon absolutely aims to channel this image in it’s bijoux location opposite the Mary Evan’s picture library. It’s pretty successful in doing this actually, especially on a Sunday evening where a singer and a guitarist strum whimsical French and English tune and the sun streams through the windows. We had not eaten before arriving and we knew that we would have to order food to accompany any drinking that needed to be done.

We anticipated cheese and ham platters, but what was a delight to find was that Le Bouchon offered a choice on every element of the platter. You could pick your own cheese and deli meat, each detailed on the menu and you could have as much or as little as you liked. We both ordered tapenade, which arrived with the equivalent of a small loaf of bread each, with dark rich olive dip that was hard to put down. Next came the cheese (with strawberry jam) we’d chosen Comte*, mature goats’s cheese, with a creamy depth that went well with the jam, and the best: a spongy and richly flavoured Ardechois bichonne, encased in mould. The meats were duck saucisson and Bresi (cured beef, smoked for 8 weeks), both curling on the edges with dryness and herbs.

 

 Now, since childhood, my mother has wisely ingrained in me the truth that life is best lived by finishing any meal with your favorite bite. This presents challenges when there is too much food, like in cream teas when you don’t actually have room for the spectacular looking cake at the top of the cake tray, after your sandwiches and scone with clotted cream. But Le Bouchon presented a different challenge…. It was not possible to decide which bite to end on. In fact, I relegated the Comte as ‘first finisher’, but I regretted it… with its extra dryness and maturity reminding me that this was not just any old version of one of my favorite cheeses. Having assigned Ardechois bichonee as the cheese finalist, the whole assessment had to be reconsidered in the light of the saucisson. My husband suggested that the Bresi was the best of the two, I committed to believe him and not think about it anymore at risk of frying my brain with the decision, and totally forgetting about the tapenade.

We ate all of this with a Bordeaux, and my husband had a St Chinian, Languedoc. Now, I have to remind you this is not a wine blog, but we both found the Bordeaux to be great alone, and less good with food, and the opposite with the wine from Languedoc. Yes, we sipped from each other’s glasses in order to know this. Every other table had a carafe, which looked temptingly romantic, but we just don’t drink enough to justify it. This didn’t cause the slightest of problems for the bar who opened fresh bottles for each of our glasses, and then resealing them immediately with a resealing machine.

The only flummoxing thing about Le Bouchon was the existence of ‘cake of the day’ on the menu. Cake is not the first thing I think of to complement wine (although, now I come to think of it, an olive oil polenta lemon and thyme cake might just do the trick) but my brain is hardwired to default cake as the most desirable item on any menu. But there was no further cake information to be found. There was no cake on the tables around us, or in a display stand or written on the blackboard behind me. It’s rare, but I looked around for a sign of cakeness for a few seconds, and then forgot all about cake amongst the wine and the deli.

*Sorry, I do not know how to add French accents on my keyboard. French accents abounded at Le Bouchon, though. Adding to the authenticity.

The Top is the Best Bit of Any Pie

The British Oak’s social media image has been raising an inviting image for some time, but errr, well, I’ve not been too sure how much of a lack of multiculturism to read into its name. In fact it took the closure of The Royal Standard (which, now I come to think of it, is a also a very imposing name – and it’s easy to mix up the two), for my friend to finally arrange drinks there. The kitchen normally closes at 9:30 and we were to be a 9:45 arrival, but the pub promised to stay open to serve us pie. The welcome turned out to be continued well beyond the electronic and telephone level, despite having staff training.

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The bar is inexplicably divided into what seems to be more of an eating area, and a drinking area. Ok, a split would be normal, but in the Royal Oak you can’t go from one to the other without leaving the pub. We started in the bar area, and rushed around to the eating area just in case our friend might be in there without us. She wasn’t, she was just taking a sociable time about arriving. Even had she been there she would have been perfectly content, the whole atmosphere of the eating area was happy and chilled. No lack of multiculturism seemed in evidence at all. There were even brummies present (myself included).

The Royal Oak sources pies from ‘Pieminister’. It would be nice to believe that the British Oak made the pie themselves on site themselves, but it didn’t really seem to detract from the combined, real ale, wood panelling, friendly pie eating experience.

I can’t claim credit for the excellent pie choice, as I insisted that I couldn’t eat a thing. There was a supposedly healthy pie option, called topless, but I have issue with the topless pie concept. I am after all a dieter, you know. But the top is the best bit of any pie, browned and crispy, while the base of the pie is frequently soggy and made up of the dreaded ‘waste of calories’ the fear of which dominates many lives. Please listen award winning Pieminister… Bottomless pies are the way forwards. You can put it all in tin foil to stop the contents falling out.

So being unable to eat a thing, I waited for my husband to order and then ate half of his pie. This was the ‘free ranger’, free range British chicken & ham hock pie with leek & thyme. Man, it was gorgeous and the gravy was even more gorgeous, so were the crispy shallots and the mushy peas were a seriously good upgrade from the chippy…. Mushy peas with bite.

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There wasn’t a thing to dislike about the British Oak, with charming staff and flowers on the tables and food and atmosphere. There really is something for everyone, and I think it may well be the best pub in SE3. I can’t remember what worried me about the name now… I have loads of oak in my kitchen and my home office and use both frequently (the kitchen more than the office).

Who told me that the food was bad in Iceland?

Who told me that the food was bad in Iceland (the country)? I mean, I am pretty sure that everyone told me that the food was bad in Iceland. They were misinformed. I journeyed out to Iceland thinking I would have to eat hot dogs every day as a penalty for being able to see the Northern Lights. In reality there was too much food to choose from.

We’d missed the tour of Reykjavik due a late night arrival and so battled into the city along amidst the snow storm that had prevented our next tour from even going ahead. Then we battled to the conference centre that was not just funky looking, but it was the nearest shelter we could see, spent as long as humanly possible looking in the souvenir shop, while we plotted how we would make the ten minute walk to the harbour side, and what we would do if there was nowhere to warm back up there.

We were rewarded for risking that 10 minute walk in the snow, in which we conjectured that the divorce rate must be high in Iceland. It is impossible to hear anything when you are wrapped up in hoods, hats, high snoods: “Did you remember to turn the lights off?” “Did you hear me?” “Did you remember to turn the lights off?…?!…?”. It took about half an hour in the end, because we found ourselves debating which of the 3 rather good looking cafes and restaurants we would risk. We settled on the fishy looking Hofnin. Here is a quick flash of the menu:      Do you see that pizza marina thing going on in the left of the menu? Pizza express eat your heart out! Didn’t have that, though. And that traditional all Icelandic fish stew… Nope, didn’t have that either. Even the waiter seemed confused when I asked for a recommendation. In the end, he said that fish broth is the reason everyone comes here. So I ordered that, sadly forfeiting all other options (well, what else could I do? Order the whole menu? Even I have my limits).   My broth arrived in a teapot, and I poured it over a reserved amount of fish food, including a sensitively cooked scallop. And once I had done that, there were flavours bouncing around all over the place. How can there be so many good flavours in a uniformly coloured broth? I wonder if I missed out on some incendiary new ingredient that will do nasty things to my insides in later life to make up for the experience.  The broth was rich and lightened by bubbles of cream dispersing into it.

My husband’s main course was salted cod with lamb fat and rye bread.    The lamb complemented the cod, this apparently being a very traditional combination for the Iceland. But what you really wanted to do with the lamb fat was dip into it with the Icelandic Rye bread. The very sweet rye was close to being Jamaican ginger cake. Seriously this could have been dessert. I wish I could have taken it home with me. The only flaw of this dish was that these flavours eclipsed an otherwise perfectly nice brown butter sauce

Some of the local rye breads are cooked in the volcanic ground. This led to a rather stomach busting experience at a spa that offered bread on a buffet later in our holiday. They were foolish to put this in a buffet, with all those tourists knowing that they had one week only to make the most of this bread. Butter is often serverd whipped with other flavours like beer and lavender.

Those main courses were not quite lived up to by the regimental parade of desserts.   Much effort seemed to be put into the staid appearance, but little into flavour, despite the menu sounding a little more promising. I am not sure they really understood dessert. But frankly, after that main course, they didn’t really have to. I recommend someone invents sugared rye bread and lamb fat. I jest not.


It gently snowed as we sat over looking the harbour with our coffees. Well it’s always gentle when you’re watching from indoors The coffee was good.  They certainly seem to understand coffee around here. There is something quite perverse that the further you get from a place that you can grow coffee, the more you ritualise it.   Exciting meals did not stop at Hofnin, however my notes have fallen away as my stomach enlarged. I feel kind of guilty about this, because I cannot name these exotic combinations served by ‘The Fish Restaurant’s’ guest chef Adam Dahlberg during the Reykjavic Food festive. You will not guess at the ingredients without the menu, but please enjoy the pictures:

  

  

  

I very much recommend Iceland as a place to go to just for the good food, at a good price. There is something very intelligent about the Icelandic approach to tourism. they do not miss a single trick to make money, but none of it is arch, pushy and all done with impeccable politeness. you tend not to find, for example, that you have been tricked into unneceessary expenditure. 

No, I mean Iceland the country, not the supermarket, and you are about the 57th person to make that joke. it’s not funny anymore.

Is there anything as rustically beautiful as an Oyster?

A review of the Oyster and Steak Bar in Waitrose Canary Wharf.

I know you don’t come here for reviews of supermarkets, but even if you find them very boring you will be in them very often. It’s not reasonable to expect me not to have an opinion no them when I eat from them so frequently.

I think we were shopping in John Lewis, which was why we ended up in Waitrose Steak and Oyster Bar. We were entangled in a rather expensive affair about the wrong type of wine glasses in the right boxes at a till on the upper levels that made us want to sit down and relax relatively soon.

To be honest, the view when coming to sit down was a little grubby. This was a late lunch, but it seemed that no one had cleaned up before the visitors preceding us. The menus were also a little wrinkled. The other disappointing thing about the menus, was the lack of a steak and oyster combination. I mean, maybe steak and oyster isn’t ‘a thing’, but it becomes ‘a thing’ in your head when you go to a bar that is called a steak and oyster bar. There was a degree of surf and turf, but it featured lobster rather than oysters.

So we ordered 6 oysters to share. Followed by steak. This seemed the only appropriate response to the crisis.

Is there anything as rustically beautiful as an Oyster? If I tried to paint one with photographic perfection, it would still look like I had messed up the paints.  And these oysters were pure seaside. I always put the proffered lemon or chilli on them, and then decide that really they are best eaten just alone.

There was a veerrry long wait for the steak. Perhaps the chef had read my review of Cau and thought that he should charcoal my steak to be sure not to receive the same verdict. We could see the chef breaking open packets of Waitrose steaks to cook. I had thought that there was a good range of sauces, and went for chilli and garlic butter, with just a little regret that I did not choose tarragon butter as my husband did. However these arrived as discs of butter (yes, they had said butter) and I think that sauces would have been vastly superior. But both steaks were excellent.      Who can account for the amount of daytime champagne drinking that occurs at a steak and oyster bar? Is it the oysters have a knee-jerk relationship with champagne. (Oysters don’t have knees, so this doesn’t make a lot of sense). I really wanted champagne myself, but I have learned that day time drinking is not for me and on this occasion my sensible side won out.  

  Just so you know, the wine glass debacle has resulted in me having white glasses and red glasses. This feels a little too snobby for me, really and I am still trying to come to terms with it.