The Samovar


More bourgeois food
November 5, 2008, 10:53 pm
Filed under: Food | Tags: , , , , , ,

You’ve probably heard all you could possibly want about Obama, so here’s some bourgeois Parisian food I ate while Alastair was visiting me last weekend instead.

Let’s start with these macarons from Gerard Mulot.

macarons-from-gerard-mulot

We have from top left to bottom left in clockwise order; chocolate and coriander seed, passion fruit and basil leaf, orange and ginger, green tea, chestnut, and hazelnut. GM’s macarons are fantastic, but they’re nothing compared to the true master of the macaron, Pierre Hermé. Sadly no macaron pictures from PH, but here are some of the fantastic cakes on offer (click to get a closer view):

pierre-herme-cakes

This time, I had the tarte citron aux citrons which was a perfect lemon tart but nothing beyond the ordinary, and Alastair had the tarte au caramel which really was something beyond the ordinary, much more like a salted butter caramel (and a very salty one at that) than the usual creme caramel (which I’m not a fan of at all). We also managed to find time to have dinner at Alain Senderens:

senderens-from-outside

Sadly the pictures from inside didn’t come out very well (you can see the slightly bizarre orange lighting scheme), but here’s me doing a minimal job of pretending not to be scruffy. (I’ve done my best to correct for the lighting but it’s not perfect so the colour may seem a little odd.)

dan-in-senderens

We both went for the tasting menu, which featured an amuse bouche of butternut squash soup with mussels; a starter tout cèpe of cep (porcini) mushrooms cooked in many different ways with an oeuf mollet (like a poached egg); a fish course of an open ravioli of lobster with vanilla foam and shoots of tétragone (I don’t know what it is); a meat course of duck with various beetroot things and wasabi; a pre-dessert of pineapple and coriander jelly; and a dessert Fine Dacquoise au poivre de Séchouan,
marmelade au citron confit, glace au gingembre
(meringue with szechuan pepper, marmelade of confit lemon and ginger icecream). Of these, the mushroom starter and lobster were amazing (although Alastair is not a great fan of mushrooms so he doesn’t share my opinion there), and the rest were just very good, with the exception of the pudding which I was not a fan of at all. Meringue doesn’t do it for me and the flavours were overdone. All in all, an excellent meal but you’d be better off going to L’Astrance for lunch, cheaper and better.

Anyway, we weren’t quite done after all that so we nipped in to Angelina’s to try their famous hot chocolate. Well, it was pretty good, much better than the normal powder+milk combo you get, but really, mine is better. Angelina’s may have been making it for over a hundred years, but they put too much sugar in and it’s too touristy there.

alastair-at-angelinas

Bof! I suppose I should stop enjoying myself here and get some work done now…

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L’Astrance
October 26, 2008, 12:18 am
Filed under: Consumption, Food | Tags: , , , ,

My latest culinary adventure in Paris was a visit to a restaurant trois étoilés (with three Michelin stars). I found out that the restaurant L’Astrance has a lunch menu at a mere €70 (which for 3* cooking is a very reasonable price). The next problem was getting a table. L’Astrance only has space for 25 people and around 8 tables, so booking several months in advance is a must. The restaurant has a very unusual way of doing things, almost unheard of for a 3* restaurant: le menu surprise. You have no idea what you’ll be getting before it arrives in front of you. From what I’d read, I was told that they decided each day afresh what to make based on what was good at the market. That sounded improbable but it was always possible they had a set list of possible things they could make from which they chose afresh each day. After the meal I asked about this and they said the menu changes every month or so, so although there might be some day to day variation, it’s mostly going to be the same in any given month.

Anyway, the meal was absolutely fantastic and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone coming to Paris.

Here’s what we had (I don’t remember everything precisely):

  • Amuses bouches: sablé au beurre with thyme leaf, cognac infused grape, fresh walnut – this was just a little something to nibble while you looked at the menu (a wholly pointless exercise given that it doesn’t say what you’re going to get)
  • Palate cleanser: cauliflower mousse, mustard yoghurt, soy sauce foam – wow! this sounds kind of weird but it works incredibly well, somewhat like the grain mustard ice cream with red cabbage gazpacho they serve at Fat Duck
  • Starter: scallops coated in lemon zest with autumn vegetables and three sauces, lemon vinaigrette, peanut, and curry – another incredible dish. Next time I cook scallops they’re getting lemon zest on the outside.
  • Fish: red mullet (rouget) with autumn vegetables and peanuts, and a side dish of mussels with some sort of sauce – the fish was excellent, but for me it was the mussels that really shone here, I wish I could remember the name of the sauce they were with because it was amazing. Creamy, with some sort of fish stock base, and little bits of what may have been tomatoes or peppers or some such.
  • Meat: roast suckling pig with crunchy skin, vegetables “like at home” (err… no) – the only slightly disappointing thing. It was perfectly cooked and very tasty, but not terribly exciting.
  • Puddings – all four of these theatrically came at the same time with a suggestion to eat it in the following order:
    • Lemongrass and verveine (lemon verbena) mousse – a sort of palate cleanser bursting with flavour. Delicious, but slightly disconcertingly reminiscent of toothpaste!
    • Something with honey ice cream – I can’t really remember what this was now, damnit. Was pretty tasty though. I’m a big fan of honey ice cream.
    • Cylinder with various things including grapefruit and mango, and some sort of coulis with it – this one really blows your mind. You have this odd little white cylinder which when you crack it open has all these incredibly strong, tart fruit flavours which really zing!
    • Apple clafoutis with apple pieces and apple foam – for me, this was my favourite of the four puddings. Often I’m a bit dubious about apples because they’re almost always such poor quality, but here they were perfect, flavoursome and perfectly cooked, with the clafoutis just the right level of moist.
  • Petits fours: egg shells filled with egg yolk enriched milk with jasmine to drink, chestnut madeleines, various fruits – the fruits were a little odd, especially as they included tomatoes that were just unripe, but the chestnut madeleines were delicious and the egg shells were extraordinary. It may sound a little odd, but what was essentially cold jasmine infused custard or creme anglaise is a winner.

For reference, in case anyone is thinking of going, the choice of menus and prices when we went was as follows:

  • (Lunch) Dejeuner (70 euros, or 110 with selection of wines for each course) “3 courses” (actually somewhere between 5 and 10 courses depending which ones you count from above)
  • (Lunch) Automne (110 euros or more for wines) “5 courses”
  • (Lunch/Dinner) Astrance (190 euros or more for wines) “7 courses”


Girolles with hazelnut oil at Le Chiberta
September 7, 2008, 10:46 am
Filed under: Cooking, Food | Tags: , , , , ,

Last night I had dinner at Le Chiberta just off the Champs Elysées (in Paris). Had a fantastic meal – probably my nicest in Paris so far although I have a couple of rather tasty places lined up to go to before I leave. My only criticism is that it’s a little expensive and you can probably eat as well for less at other places. Some online reviews said the place had a slightly cold atmosphere, but I didn’t find that at all (although I think I was the only man there not wearing a shirt and jacket, bof!).

But what I wanted to talk about was the exceptionally clever pairings of tastes in the food because even if you’re living a long way from Paris you could try these out. For my starter, I had a sort of salad of girolles mushrooms, thin slices of artichoke, some sort of very fatty cured ham (I don’t remember the name) and hazelnut oil. An unbelievably subtle and refined set of flavours. The hazelnut oil and girolles together was an experience akin to eating truffles (and much cheaper!). I plan to do some experimenting with hazelnut oil, I think it has a lot of potential. Let me know if you have some interesting ideas or if you’ve tried some recipes with these in.

The other starter was a velouté (velvety textured light purée/soup) of green peas with a little blob of almond mousse, along with whole green peas on a slice of toasted almond bread.

My main course was lamb with a sort of ratatouille terrine (amazing) and tapenade. Delicious, but a bit more classic.

The other main course was chicken (poached and grilled, maybe sous-vide) with a gravy lightly infused with lemongrass. Surprisingly delicious combination. In our meal, the chicken was the probably rather difficult to get hold of volaille de Challans which has a very strong flavour unlike most chicken you buy in the shops (certainly stronger than any chicken I’ve ever bought), and maybe the dish wouldn’t work so well with a blander, ordinary chicken. Still though, definitely worth trying out.

My pudding was plums prepared three ways, with mirabelles, quetsches and Reine Claude plums (greengages in England).

Let me know how it went if you try out any of those ideas, particularly the hazelnut oil.

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Thai curry
November 4, 2007, 11:53 pm
Filed under: Consumption, Cooking, Food, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Today I finally got round to visiting Paris’ chinatown. It has taken me an inexcusably long time given that it’s only about 10 minutes walk from me, but my excuse is I’ve been busy. Didn’t take any photos, but here’s one from france-for-visitors.com:

quartier-chinois.jpg

Anyway, the good news is that this means I can now very easily buy the somewhat difficult to find ingredients for making a good Thai curry (recipe below).  I’m coming to the conclusion that one of the best ways to buy prawns is raw and frozen, in large boxes from Chinese supermarkets (at a very low price). Whenever I’ve done this in the past, they’ve invariably been really good quality, and today was no exception. Frozen prawns have a bad reputation, but perhaps that’s based on prawns frozen after being cooked, or ones that have been frozen, defrosted at the supermarket and sold to you looking as if they were fresh?

The recipe

This is how I make it, any thoughts?

  • Thai curry paste – you can make your own, but I never quite feel it’s worth the effort when there are quite decent ones available. I really should have a go some day though, it’s not that difficult. For the one I use, about 1 large teaspoon per person seems about right.
  • Coconut milk, about 200 ml per person (half a tin).
  • Garlic, chopped.
  • Some vegetables. I used mini-aubergines (I find the Thai green aubergines a little bitter for my tastes) and red pepper.
  • Some meat or fish (optional). I used prawns today. If using meat, chop it into bitesize pieces.
  • Fish sauce, to taste.
  • Lime leaves, finely chopped. These can be a killer to get hold of. Your best bet is in the frozen foods section of a Chinese supermarket. I used to live near a Thai supermarket that had them fresh, but apparently it’s no longer legal to import them unfrozen into the EU. I use about 2 leaves per person.
  • Thai basil, ripped or roughly chopped. The name is a bit confusing, as what one shop calls Thai basil another may call holy basil and a third may call sweet basil. The one I mean has an aniseedy smell to it. About 10-20 leaves per person.
  • Groundnut oil

Heat some groundnut oil in a wok or saucepan until the oil is hot but not smoking. Add the garlic and stir until it begins to colour. Put in the curry paste, and cook it, stirring, for a minute or two. Add the coconut milk and bring it to a boil. If you’re using meat or fish other than prawns (which only take a couple of minutes to cook), add them now. Add the fish sauce and a little water depending on how thick you want the sauce. It’s actually quite nice to put quite a lot of water in and turn the Thai curry into more of a soup, and eat it the Thai way (with a bowl of rice which you pick up with your spoon and dip into the soup). Add the vegetables and or prawns in an order which means they’ll be cooked by the time your rice is cooked. It only take about 6-7 minutes for chicken or about 2-3 minutes for prawns. Finally, a minute before the end, put in the lime leaves and basil.

Make sure not to attempt to eat with chopsticks (a common faux pas in Thai restaurants is to ask for chopsticks).