Friday, March 30, 2007

Ye Olde Shoppe O' Sweets

Last weekend, the boy and I went to the North of England to attend his grandparent's Diamond Anniversary (that's a whooping 60 years of marriage, yon wee rascals!).

It was done in the great tradition of the boy and his wonderful family. Big, loud and lots and lots of fun. His Aunt, a historian, had rented a grand old double decker bus and toured around the area reliving moments of significance in her parents' life. It was magnificent. While on the bus, I must admit I was slightly distracted. You see, we were handed a bag of Olde Fashioned Traditional Sweets. Mostly hard candies and all of them new to me. So, wrapped up in my little paper bag of sweets, I hassled the boy's sister in law to tell me what all of them were and what they tasted like.

Here are the results of my hard research (all done for you of course):

(Apologies for the size of the pic. I'm not technically competent. You can see a slightly larger size here.)

To my absolute horror, the boy's lovely, lovely grandmother, as I was leaving, tried to hand me her bag of sweeties, making sure to tell me, "I didn't have many!".

And no, of course, I didn't take them. I'm not that awful!

Next report shall be on the foods I ate that evening. I am waiting to find out the correct spelling of the stuff I ate. I know it was "something in the corner" (I think it was sent to the corner for being naughty) and something else that sounds like "fun knuckles". I'll let you know as soon as I find out....

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


A week back, we went with friends to L'Ambassade d'Auvergne, one of the winners of Michelin's Bib Gourmand for 2007. Bib Gourmands are awarded to restaurants which serve quality cuisine at a maximum price of 35 euros, not including drinks.

I was excited to try it due to one particular side dish, the Aligot, which is a mashed potato, garlic and cheese concoction which seemed destined to please my greedy palate.

We went with the same friends with whom we had a very quick dinner at Chez Omar and all of us approached this outing with mild apprehension. We needn't have worried. This was about the furthest away from that experience, in fact, it was a parody of opposites.

We were greeted by an impressively mustachioed Maitre D' who took our coats before pointing us to the upstairs salon, where we were seated in a very large comfortable room, given menus for aperitifs, wine and food and left to decide what to order. The waitress patiently helped us decipher the different aperitifs before leaving to fill our order, returning with a plate of gourgeres to whet the appetite.

The light, cheesy gourgeres (cheese profiteroles) were so good and I was so hungry that I was well pleased when I saw that there were at least two per person, very generous in view that we were also served a small crock of terrine, and some lovely chewy bread with which to start the meal.
I went with the set menu, with a choice of lentil salad or boudin noire with apples, to be followed by either the magret de canard with the famed Aligot or pork with braised cabbage, to be followed by our choice of dessert, for a reasonable 28 euros.

One of our friends as well as myself went with the lentils, which arrived in a large earthenware pot, of which three heaping tablespoons were shared onto our plate. I couldn't finish my entree, much to the dismay of our charming waiter, who threatened no dessert if I didn't at least try, exhorting the others at the table to help finish our huge bowl of tangy, warm lentil salad with chewy, flavorful lardons. The four of us tried but in the interest of saving our stomachs for our mains, we ended up having to disappoint the waiter.

After a short break, the waiter came over once again to demonstrate the Aligot, stirring it forcefully on the burner then bringing over the copper pot to 'pull' the Aligot, showing the melted cheese and potato mixture, imparting a lovely warm fragrance. We were all dying to try it at this point.

Our magret de canard were plated and served and we all dug in. The warm Aligot was lovely, much chewier than I expected but with a nice, smooth texture. When it got a bit cold, it was not as nice, much chewier, a bit more like cooling fondue but not gummy in any way. A tough feat, I should think. Unfortunately my magret de carnard was a little too tough with the tendons and I was not able to finish the rich duck and the filling Aligot.

The waiter tsked again at my not empty plate but made "une exception" when taking my dessert. Either believing that perhaps we hadn't had *quite* enough food or that the few minutes before our dessert was served we were feeling peckish, the waiter also brought over a few slices of their house cake (I apologize for not remembering what it was called), which tasted, to me, much like the Italian Panettone without the fruit and raisins.

We were feeling very stuffed indeed when our desserts arrived. I had ordered a banana compote with bitter chocolate sorbet. I enjoyed the sorbet but found the 'naner compote a bit strange, with odd crusty, sweet bits and soft bitter bits.

However, these were just minor as I could not possibly finish the dessert, much to the chagrin of our waiter.

Total time in the restaurant? A whooping 4 and a half hours. And at no time during our visit did we feel rushed or unwelcome. We were well taken care of by the friendly yet professional staff, were very well fed throughout the meal and what with the Aligot demonstration, the conversation and the good food, it was a most enjoyable evening and one that I would be eager to repeat.

L'Ambassade d'Auvergne
22 rue du Grenier St-Lazare, 3rd
Tel: 01 42 72 31 22
Metro: Rambuteau

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fabled Star

Following the success of L'Atelier, Umami's husband suggested we try another Michelin starred restaurant, namely Christian Constant's more casual fish and seafood restaurant, Les Fables de la Fontaine. It had received good reviews from Pim herself as well as from my guide book and the Michelin guide and seemed like a shoo in for a great dinner.

The restaurant itself was very...cozy. It had a long bench along one side of the wall with tables placed quite closely together so that to get out of the tables required quite a bit of movement of your neighbours. On the other side were two other tables and a small bar type on the short end facing the street. We were seated rather close to our neighbours and the kitchen but made do.

We were first served a nice, albeit a bit too cold, amuse gueule of a layered shot of white, creamy mousse topped with what I think was creamed shrimp mouse with tiny croutons. I forget what the white cream was but I do remember it being fairly tasty, whetting our appetite for our starters.

The starters on other tables looked disconcertingly similar to our amuse-gueules with layered salads but we went with the choices and I started with Langoustines cooked "a la minute". Which turned out to be simply half a dozen steamed Langoustines served with a small dish of mayonnaise. I was undaunted and happy to dig in and get my fingers dirty but I was disappointed. The flesh of the langoustines were mealy and was not firm and sweet as I had expected.

The boy ordered what he termed a "posh prawn cocktail", which was lumps of crab meat with mayonnaise like sauce, topped with iceberg lettuce and a shrimp mousse that was a lurid shade of orange. It tasted... like a posh prawn cocktail.

Our mains consisted of a "pave de lieu a la plancha", which was like a pan fried sea bass with a crisp skin, plated with beans and squid, surrounded by Parmesan foam and a circle of balsamic reduction.

The other main, was a white fish, similar to John Dory with a buttery flesh, plated with a potato mash with leeks and I *think* celeriac, again surrounded by the Parmesan foam and a circle of balsamic vinegar.

Truth be told, I wasn't that impressed with either of them. Although in hindsight, I'm not sure what I expected, being a fish restaurant but I did expect some unusual combinations or something clever to be done with the fish. What I got was simple pan fried white fish paired with something quite average and plated not at all in an interesting fashion. I am not a snob but was surprised to see different dishes plated in the same manner, not really what I expected of a Michelin starred restaurant.

The theme continued onto dessert where orders of a chestnut and apple compote and a cherry and freeze dried banana compote arrived looking remarkably similar and uninteresting. As Umami rightly puts it, it looked factory-line made.

All in all, I don't think I'd return. It was average food and over priced for what it was. It didn't make me want to try Christian Constant's other starred restaurant, Le Violon d'Ingres.

I remarked to the boy as we left, "this restaurant's a bit squishy". It's funny how "cozy" becomes "squishy" after an average meal carrying high expectations.

Les Fables de la Fountaine

131 rue St-Dominique, 7th
Tel: 01 44 18 37 55
Metro: Ecole Militaire

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Firstly, apologies for the silence. I have been dealing with some health problems lately and after nine hours in the hospital watching streaking rats in the emergency, I needed some time to recover and regain my appetite!

Happily, the doctor told me to "Mangez beaucoup!" (Eat lots). Something NO doctor has ever told me to do. Quite obviously we are in France. Unfortunately, I still don't have much of an appetite but, I did have some places to tell you about before I fell ill....

So, first of all, for the the boy's birthday 2 weeks ago, I took him to L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, winner of one star in the 2007 Michelin Guide and a hopeful for two stars.

Upon entering, the first thing we saw was a teeny tiny pig rotating at the back of their open kitchen.

While looking at the menu, the charming Maitre D' came over to chat about the HK restaurant, offer us his card and to introduce the specials of the day, which included the tiny pig or cochon de lait. I went with his recommendations for the starters and chose the piglet as my main course. I was glad I did because five minutes after my order, the kitchen announced that there was no more cochon de lait left!

The boy went with the Menu Découverte which was priced at 110 Euros and consisted of a fabulous amuse bouche of a foie gras royale with port jelly and Parmesan foam. It was delicious, tasty and we were excited to try the rest.

My starter of l’oeuf cocotte crème was disappointing. I had high expectations, having heard of the luscious, perfectly cooked state of the egg coddled in cream. Unfortunately I have been spoiled by the perfect eggs made by those running authentic Japanese noodle houses and this was nothing special.

The boy's menu started with carpaccio of Saint-Jacques scallops with uni, whose delicate taste was sadly overpowered by the dill marinade.

His Langoustine ravioli was sumptuous, lush and rich. The boy would happily have a bowl of those for his dinner. Unfortunately this was followed by a type of fried fish dumpling which was way too mushy for my tastes.

My "grenouille en fritot a la purée d’ail", or deep fried frog's leg on a garlic puree was also a disappointment, with a thick breaded coating on the overcooked and much shrunken delicate frog's leg.

The boy's meal picked up with the chestnut soup flavored with celery, smoked lard and foie gras. This was followed by a nice piece of sea bass.

Our mains arrived, both accompanied by the namesake's famous light yet creamy potatoes. The boy choose the baby lamb chops (as opposed to the veal sweetbreads). These were lovely pieces of tender lamb but I was distracted. Not by the potatoes (which the boy insisted was, fancy mash) mind you.

It was my main.... Oh, what a main it was.

I must admit I had felt a twinge of guilt when I saw what a tiny piglet it was but that all melted away as quickly as the meat melted in my mouth. It was, without exaggeration, the best piece of pork I have ever eaten. I still dream about it and could have eaten another portion immediately. Pink, almost white, it was subtly piggy, tender and the most succulent piece of flesh ever. It was so damn good I'm drooling as I type.

My only complaint? Not enough crackling!! Love that stuff.

I was completely satiated at that point but the boy twisted my arm into ordering the souffle despite that he had two desserts in his menu.

I'm so glad I listened. It was the infamous Souffle Chartreuse avec crème glacée pistache. It was eaten up very quickly let me assure you!

The boy and I thoroughly enjoyed our meal and experience which lasted a good 3 plus hours. The Maitre D' was quirky, friendly yet professional, all the staff were incredibly friendly without any of the pretension and snootiness we are sometimes subjected to. The hostess even let me into the kitchen for a closer photo of the pig. The menu is a good deal if you are interested in a selection of dishes but if they have the cochon de lait, trust me, get it. It is very much worth the trip.

One thing you must be warned of though, is that due to the bar type seating of the restaurant, you may end up chatting to your neighbours. A somewhat disconcerting experience for my oh so English boy.

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon
5 rue de Montalembert, 7th
Tel: 01 42 22 56 56
Metro: Rue du Bac
(reservations only for the 1st seating; 11:30am and 6:30pm)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Le Dôme du Marais

Lucky for us the boy managed to get us an apartment in the Marais, a bustling place with plenty of restuarants to try. One of them, Le Dôme du Marais, is within stumbling distance of 2 blocks from our front door and had been given a good review so of course we had to go and drag Umami and her husband with us!

Their menu changes seasonally and the evening we went, there were a choice of two menus, one at 35 euros and the other at a little over 40 euros. There were a choice of 3 starters, 3 mains and 2 desserts on each menu with different ingredients in each of them. We went with the 35 euro menu due to the choices offered and a bottle of wine was chosen in deference to our visit to the Salon de L'Agriculture, to wash it all down.

After an amuse-gueule of a cumin laced lentil salad accompanied with a pea soup with a dollop of crème fraîche, three of us started with a tartare of salmon tartare, which were three generous slices of salmon, served with a parsley sauce and a tart green apple salad. It was very nice although I found the apple salad a little bit too tart.

The boy had a starter of fresh oysters dressed in a crisp, light, green apple dressing which seemed to actually enhance the flavor and played off the sea-saltiness of the oyster's natural deliciousness (I'm biased).

For mains I went with the veal cheek which was served with a kind of pickled red cabbage and topped with matchstick apples. It photographed horribly so I won't show it here but it did taste quite nice with the sauce and its soft, tender texture, as is normal with veal cheek. Umami remarked that it didn't have much of a "taste" being veal and I believe she is right but I think my palate may still be in need of more refining to identify such things! Umami also quite liked the pickled red cabbage which I didn't enjoy very much.

The other three guests went with the very charmingly named "Assiette de Monsieur Cochon", a degustation platter of organic pig. This was composed of a glazed and roasted porcine slices, which tasted very much like char siu, a kind of brochette of a centre cut pork chop, boudin noir (blood sausage) and a kind of a crêpe .

Besides the brochette of pork, the other three items were underwhelming. After tasting Monsieur Gilles Vérot's boudin, it has ruined me for others. I did not taste the crêpe although it was commented that it was a little strange.

Moving onto dessert, I couldn't resist the tarte chocolat noir et marron glace, spoom a L'Absinthe, which was a delectable dark and not too sweet chocolate tarte which had a layer of marron glace at the bottom, and a little cup of delicious light foam flavored with a sprinkle of Absinthe, giving it a nice anise-y flavor.

The more restrained among us went with sorbet and exotic fruits before indulging in the complimentary petit fours of some type of coffee custard, homemade sweet mint marshmallow, almond snaps and butter cookies.

Personally, for the price, the friendly service, the food, the atmosphere and the generous servings, I would return. Although I would have to try hard not be swayed by the cute sounding names in the future.

Le Dôme du Marais
53 bis rue des Francs-Bourgeois, 4th
Tel: 01 42 74 54 17
Metro: Rambuteau

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Salon International de L'Agriculture 2007

I went to the Salon International de L'Agriculture last week, an huge agricultural exposition showcasing all the diversity of local produce and animals as well, as of course, culinary specialties. The prestigious bronze, silver and medal awards for the Concours Général Agricole are also displayed and products sold.

The show ran from the 3rd to the 11th of March and unfortunately we did not attend the "Nuit de L'Agriculture" which ran until 11pm, I spent approximately 7 hours at the show.

It was great fun for the family as evidenced by the throngs of people crowded around everywhere. A friend asked whether it was as bad as the food expo in Hong Kong whereupon generations attend together, often carrying their exhausted children while loading up their baby strollers with produce, elbows way out and much pushing to get to the front of the queue or to grab a slice of saucisson from a vendor's tray. OOOOH yeah, exactly like that here too. Oh but it was HUGE! The food halls alone (in which, I am only slightly ashamed to say I spent 6 hours and 45 minutes) were massive and I barely made it through.

I quickly passed by the live animals, which were all beautiful, clean and brushed with their best face and hooves forward.

One sheep looked straight at me thinking "Do you f***ing believe this? Just eat me already, this is humiliating!"

In addition to this was a perfect specimen of a moo cow, you know, the ones that you draw in kindergarten when you think ALL cows look like this. I don't know where y'all live but I have never seen one looking so nice.

It was quite funny to see all the cows lined up neatly right behind the "viande" (meat) stand with chefs cooking their brethren. It's nice to see that no matter how fantastic the children thought the animals were, they had no issues tucking into the meat. No tantrums and threats to go vegetarian with this lot!

Besides the agricultural bit there were also interesting contests going on. While the competition as to who is the quickest to change the chain on a chain saw didn't really float my boat, these bad ass women with axes, they were wicked (or whatever "cool" adjective kids use these days)!

Until the lady on the far right winked at me. I was a little horrified for a second while smiling best I could (she had an AXE, man!) but relaxed and waved at her like a five year old when she mouthed the words....

..."thank you" after I took her picture.

What a woman!

Of course I lost it when it came to the food halls. There were mountains and mountains of huge wheels of bread at one stand;

varieties of dried saucisson ranging from wild boar, to liver to nut, cheese, wild mushroom and herb flavored, it was completely overwhelming and utterly delicious;

legs of ham strewed all over another booth;

while sugared fruits and marzipan was laid out like shiny jewels at a different stall;

and award-winning poultry, all tucked into white cotton socks seemingly dozed peacefully nearby, dreaming no doubt of becoming dinner shortly.

One of the more interesting, at least to me, interactive exhibits was the blind tasting, hosted by Dans le Noir, where we entered into a completely dark room, led by a staff who were visually impaired and were served three items; which ended up consisting of foie gras on toast (yum!), red wine and tapenade. The first two were easy due to the texture and the strong identifiable taste/smell but the second, I thought it was either a white or a rose, showing how sometimes your senses can trick you into what tastes heavier and lighter.

We also had to have a Grand Marnier crêpe, especially one which allows you to sprinkle as much of the wonderful liqueur as you wish on top of your crêpe. Despite the loud encouragement from the French ladies behind me to put more and more liqueur, the huge magnum bottle was tricky to handle when trying not to squish two crêpes into one sticky mess.

A most delicious day out.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Bakery in Belleville

I went on another tour last week, to one of the best bakeries (and that's saying something) in Paris, Au 140.

This bakery was the winner of the 2001 award for the Best Baguette in Paris for their Baguette Traditional, which is completely hand made, as opposed to their normal Baguettes which are formed by machine.

We were shown around the kitchens by Monsieur Laurent Demoncy, who showed us the enormous 22 ton brick oven which bakes all the boules needed for the day. The baguettes are cooked in a different, special oven held at a different temperature and approximate 1000 to 2000 are sold per day.

The "levain" or sourdough bread from Au 140 is special too, with the "chef" or starter used since 1983, made originally with a base of crushed wild grapes. Half of the chef is used each day for the new batch with equal parts flour and water added to the old batch for use the next day. The started is held at a constant 15 degrees, whereas Poilane's starter is held at between 20 and 25 degrees, which accounts for the higher acidity.

Monsieur Demoncy explained that sourdough bread, due to the molecules within the starter, helps to retain moisture better, which means that it keeps much better, as opposed to baguettes, which go all hard and inedible the day after. We then tasted a bit of their sourdough and it was delicious, just slightly sour but not enough to be off-putting.

We also tasted three kinds of baguettes, their normal baguette, their award-winning traditional baguette, and another version of their award-winning traditional baguette but slightly shorter and which cooks 3 minutes quicker with a little more flour .

Unsurprisingly there was a big difference between the normal baguettes and the traditional baguettes, with the normal baguettes more uniform in terms of texture but the traditional tastier, at least to me. What surprised me however, was the differences between the two traditional baguettes. The taste was quite different in terms of taste and texture, with the shorter baguette slightly more chewy and light.

It was interesting to see the back of the bakery and where all the chocolates and cakes for their other bakery, Pâtisserie de L'Église. Besides the short baguette and slice of the sourdough Monsieur Demoncy kindly gave us, I couldn't resist buying a round of kouign amman after David's drool worthy descriptions of flaky butter pastry. And yes, it was just as rich, delicious and as great with tea.

Keep peeled for new updates on Au 140. After 3 years on the jury, they are likely to be competing again this year for best baguette and croisssant in Paris. As for my opinion? They've won my heart for best pain levain in Paris, one that I will travel for.

Au 140
140, rue de Belleville
75020 Paris
Métro: Jourdain
Tel: 01 46 36 92 47

Monday, March 05, 2007


I recently purchased a Rachael Ray cookbook without really realizing who she was. Although I have heard of Rachel Ray as a type of 'celebrity chef of the 30 minute meals', I did not realize that she was the proponent of cheesy words, one of them being the much-lauded "Yum-O", which, although I have never seen the show, makes me feel like much "Slap-O".

So, in honor of my ignorance and my slap myself silly stupidity in choosing this as one of the 3 for 2 books on offer, I give you recent reviews of lunch and dinner (a meal the Ray calls linner).

I went to Le Petit Marché with a new friend, being as we were going to explore the Musée Carnavalet nearby the Place des Vosges.

We arrived at approximately half past twelve and beat two other tables by just 5 minutes. Within half an hour the place had filled up quite quickly.

We both ordered the lunch prix fixe for 14 euros with me having a starter and a main and my friend the main and dessert.

I started with the tartare of fish, which turned out to be salmon and an unidentified white fish, nicely spiced with bits of raw, sweet onion. Although the photo shows that the mint and parsley pesto to be heavy handed, it did not mask the freshness of the fish.

Following which, we both had the entrecote, which was served with big chips and a compote of caramelized shallots. The entrecote was nice, if a bit too well done for my taste but a substantial piece of beef, with the delicious compote. I felt that the compote could have been a touch sweeter and thicker to give it a bit more umami-ness.

My friend's dessert was one of the big stars of the meal. Labelled as a salted butter caramel mousse, I was somewhat surprised to see three quenelles of what looked like vanilla ice cream with a white base speckled with black. Upon tasting (new friend or not, I'm not shy), its looks truly belied its strong, rich, salty caramelly flavor. It was delicious. I would go back for this alone.

For 14 Euros, it was undoubtedly one of the best value lunches I've had in Paris given the quality of the food and the smiling service.

Dinner, however, was a completely different story...ourdinnerwentsomethinglikethis. Veryrushedandunsatisfying.


The famed Chez Omar didn't take reservations so we decided to get there early, at 7:30 in case we had to wait. We were seated immediately but not in the mostly empty main room, in a tiny corner at the front of the restaurant at the side of the bar. This would have been nice as it was facing the street, but for the fact that posters had been stuck on the windows blocking the view outside. On top of which, our waiter, shockingly for Paris, stopped by the table, asking for our order before we were ready.

One of the party quickly ordered a bottle of wine to appease the rushed looking waiter and to buy us some time in order to look at the menu. The wine appeared immediately and we were once again asked for our orders. We choose quickly, with three of us choosing mains of the mechoui lamb and the boy the stewed lamb. After smirking at our mis-pronunciation of some of the French, the waiter scooped up our menus and left. Given more time, we may have decided to choose a starter but quite obviously, there was no waiting around for us to decide.

After what appeared like a quick spilt second later, a platter of fluffy couscous and a huge pot of stewed vegetables was put down in front of us.

While we were still exclaiming at how quick the service was, the man magically reappeared with all of our mains. We were still reeling from the pace at which we were being served when we started loading up our plates.

The mechoui were significant hunks of lamb on the bone which is roasted and basted with spices and butter and should have produced crispy skin with very tender lamb. Although parts of the lamb was indeed very tender and the taste nicely spiced, I could barely find any skin at all (and everyone knows that crackling skin is one of the best parts) but instead had dried out meat on the outside. The boy's stewed lamb tasted like lamb which had been stewed in the pot of vegetables, fished out and plated haphazardly.

I have no complaints about the couscous or the vegetables and even parts of the lamb. But the incredibly rushed, bordering on rude service (my friend was still putting on her coat when the waiter jiggled the table impatiently to get her out!), the prices and the atmosphere of the restaurant were a real let down. You can only get away with all those cons if you have spectacular food and there was nothing spectacular about it at all.

Le Petit Marché
9, rue de Béarn, 3rd
Metro: Chemin Vert
Tel: 014 2720667

Chez Omar
47 rue Bretagne, 3rd
Metro: Arts et Metiers or Temple
Tel: 01 42 72 36 26