Monday, December 10, 2012

The Olde Bell Hurley

Work has been manic the last few months, I was the only Bid Coordinator in the business from the end of January until August when we hired a newbie who has never handled bids, so between churning out more bids and tenders than I care to count as well as training her, it's been a crazy year.

The other weekend I was working from home ahead of what I knew was going to be a big week (which indeed it was, culminating in a 21 hour day in the office!) So, determined to spend some quality time with Hussyband, I bundled him into the car for a little road trip for lunch.
The Olde Bell is in Hurley, Berkshire, just a short 30 mile jaunt down the M4 with a happy ending of some nice twisty turney country roads overhung with trees that were showing their last dash of autumn color. Parking was a breeze at the pub, with a huge carpark across the road, as well as lane parking for the daring who drive small cars.

The pub was warm and inviting inside with lots of padded benches and overstuffed chairs. Hussyband was stoked that they had a couple of different real ales casks in the bar, whilst I was designated driver (as usual) so I "happily" tucked into a delicious Raspberry Lemonade from Luscombe.

The dining room was full of chunky wood tables, with groups of people laughing and digging into some damn fine looking food. Lunch is a set price of 2 courses £24.50 or 3 courses £29.50. Upon being seated we were bought out a plate of mixed house breads with butter. My favorite was a seeded rye that just couldn't stay away from my gob.

I started with the Smoked Trout Rillete with Roasted Beets and Horseradish Cream, while Hussy went for the Charcuterie with Pickled Baby Onions, Toasted Rye Bread and Olive Oil. The trout was rich and lush paired with the beets and horseradish, although I would have liked some of the toasted rye bread on my own plate (since I stole Hussy's) to spread the rillette on. The charcuterie had Hussy moaning in pleasure. He does like his meat.

Mains saw us going for the Roast Sirloin of Beef, Yorkshire Pudding and the Loin of Dingley Dell Pork, Sage and Onion Stuffing, Apple sauce and Roast Potatoes. The beef came out perfectly bloody, with the yorkie providing the perfect diving board into its own depths of gravy. My pork was perfectly cooked with a huge slab of crackling to keep me crunching away.

Plenty of sides to fill the gaps between our protein heaven - lush cauliflower and cheese, cabbage, roasted parsnips and tatties, and carrots. We were groaning by this stage and took the opportunity for a pause before desert - so went for a walk out around the huge beer garden and attached walled vegetable patch. I want a vege patch like that one day (although in London it most likely wouldn't be possible on their scale!)

For desert we both selected the Pavlova with Black Berry Compote and Chantilly Cream. This was really tasty, but could have done with more compote - 4 blackberrys on the plate were not enough to cut through that gorgeous pav.

Will definitely head back there in warmer weather, maybe even stay a night so we can lounge out the back on the grass and enjoy the countryside and the great food. And so I can sample the wine list without having to worry about the drive home!
I NEED this light fitting when we buy a house
Address: The Olde Bell, High Street, Hurley, Berkshire SL6 5LX
Telephone: +44 (0)1628 825 881
Fax: +44 (0) 1628 825 939
Twitter: @theoldebell

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Drunken Burgers at MEATmarket

Now I should start by saying the burgers were not drunken last night, @Sushi_Junki and I were!

What started out innocently enough at Cellar Door, a typical Friday really, a few (too many) margaritas, a bottle of champagne and some nuts, saw us stumbling out onto the street i desperate need of carbs, fried food and silliness. 
 @Sushi_Junki swore she had a better place than Byron Burger in mind, so we stumbled up to Covent Garden, and into MEATheaven at MEATmarket. I placed myself in SJ's more than capable hands and let her order. 
Quickly our dinner was in front of us - Dead Hippy Burgers (2 beef patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles, minced onions and Dead Hippy Sauce*). The burgers were divine. Perfectly cooked medium rare beef oozing with flavour, soft but stable buns (nothing worse than a bun that falls apart in your hands!), pickles that were crisp and tangy. Only thing I would want to add is beetroot - but that is the Aussie in me where all burgers have to have a few slices of vinegared beetroot to slide and drip down your arms. I would like to thank my stunt woman SJ for modelling the burger so gracefully!

The sides that adorned our tray were the most amazing crispy fries (which we gently bathed in a combo of tomato sauce and mustard - so glad we were in agreement on that combo), jalapenos poppaz stuffed with cheese, dipped in breadcrumbs with a sour cream and chive dipping sauce blew my mind and mouth. Just the right amount of heat to have you coming back for more if only there was room!
To drink we had Hard Shakes. Bourbon and maple syrup thickshakes that reminded me of what my first sip of a Maccas thickshake was like when I was a young 'un, but these were oh so much better! They also have a rum and vanilla version that I may have to go back and try just for comparison. 

Now after so much booze already, did we REALLY need Hard Shakes? HELL YES WE DID! We needed them so much we ended up having one with our burgers, then another for desert. This was probably a bad idea, but you never know a bad idea until it bites you on the ass the next morning and you have to bat it down with sweet tea and Nurofen.
I will definitely be back, next time with the Hussyband and probably The Nieces in tow. Meanwhile I will sit hit, nursing my tea and just be joyful that my hangover isn't worse than it is!

*Note: No hippies were killed in the making of the sauce, or so I was assured at the time.

The Deck
Jubilee Market Hall
Tavistock Street
Covent Garden
London | WC2E 8BE
Twitter: @MEATmarketUK

Monday, November 5, 2012

Minced Pork with Green Beans

Back on my health kick, but have decided that it will be healthy dieting rather than extreme dieting a la VLC diet (Hussyband wont let me do it again anyway - I keep getting cold I cant shake, and bruises take FOREVER to heal when you are consuming less than 600 calories a day!)

Considering I love Asian flavors  and never want anything sweet after I have had them, I am aiming at more of an asian-style diet. Most of the time anyway! This little gem is from 'Everyday Harumi - Simple Japanese Food for Family and Friends'  by Harumi Kurihara (£14.00 on

500g green beans, sliced on the diagonal into 4cm piecces
40g leek, white part only
15g ginger, freshly grated
3 large garlic cloves, minced
Vegetable oil (I used a vegetable oil spray and just gave a few spritzes)
400g pork, lean minced
30-45ml soy sauce (I used salt reduced)
Chilies, dried or freshly sliced, to taste
Sesame oil, just a drizzle to taste

  1. Blanch the beans in boiling water, drain and set aside.
  2. Stirfry the leek, ginger and garlic in a wok or frypan over high heat with a few spritzes of vegetable oil (or a quick splash). Cook stirring for about a minute then add the pork stirring to break the meat up.
  3. Add the green beans, soy and chilies to taste and continue to stirfry until the beans are heated through. 
  4. Add a little sesame oil to taste, and serve with rice and a bowl.
This recipe serves 4 people.

We also had a bowl of miso with this, and I didn't have any rice. The calorie content per serve for this is: Calories: 226, Carbs: 12, Fat: 10, Protein: 23 and Calcium: 5. Nutritional info was calculated using

Hussyband hoovers this up, and I like the bite I get without the fat content. Hint: eating it with chopsticks makes it feel like you are having a lot more to eat than using a fork!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Granger & Co

I have been meaning to get to Granger and Co since it opened late last year, but horrid traffic aborted my first attempt, and then sheer apathy at the thought from travelling from South East London to West London for a breakfast queue.

Recently we moved from the pad in Charlton, back to the Mother-In-Laws (MILs) in Ealing to save money to buy a place of our own and stop paying other peoples mortgages. This means lots of savings, but minimal cooking (I think the slow cooker and bbq are going to really earn their keep over the next 12 months!)

This past weekend, following a lovely housewarming soiree by the Luscious Lyons in Bow Quarter, I was driving through a just waking London and decided a side trip was on the cards. Notting Hill wasn’t THAT far out of way, and a sudden craving for ricotta hot cakes had taken hold of me.

So, TomTom set, Hussyband struggling to stay awake in the shotgun position I was off. Twenty five minutes later I pulled into one of the few non-residents parking places on Westbourne Grove (£2/hour with a maximum stay of two hours) and walking the half a block to the restaurant.

I had been warned that the queues tend to snake around the corner on weekends, but with the luck of the Irish, there was only one couple ahead of us when we arrived just after 9.30am. We were quickly seated and had grabbed a selection of Sunday trash reading on the way so settled in to our seats and ordered drinks.

The Rare Tea Company breakfast tea (£3) was just what the doctor ordered and I demolished it quite quickly. Hussyband struggled a bit the signature hot chocolate (£3.50), deeming that effort required to stir the melted choc bits in the bottom of the glass into the milk too much for that time of morning.

Now the big dilemma of the day. Sweetcorn Fritters vs Ricotta Hot Cakes. It wanted SOMETHING savoury, so decided to have a "starter" of the Soft-boiled Cotswold Legbar Eggs and Buttered Sourdough Soldiers (£5.50) settled the rumblings in my tummy and had Hussy flinching bits left right and centre. They were requested to come out as they were ready - and were delivered to the table within 10 minutes of the order being placed.

Hussyband was a little hungover and tired, as you would be if you could drink like him! So there was only one breakfast option for him - The Full Aussie Breakfast - scrambled organic eggs, sourdough toast, bacon, roast tomato and chipolatas - and sans mushrooms for him - (£13.50). The extra chipolatas were appreciated to replace the mushies, and he declared the meal the perfect cure. I am curious though, the scrambled eggs come out in a perfect mound, but look more microwave scrambled than pan scrambled, the sides are perfectly smooth and the eggieness quite solid, as opposed to what I would normally see in a scramble. No pics - he ate too fast!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my Ricotta Hotcakes with Banana and Honeycomb Butter (£11.00) arrived and I was taken back to Darlinghurst, Sydney circa 1994.

I had stumbled out of a the Mardi Gras dance party and spent a few hours sitting in the gutter outside the Flinders Hotel with the other dregs of the party humanity. Not ready (or able) to sleep yet, but starting to feel the need for sustenance, a few semi-able bodied amongst us piled into cabs to head to Bills - the original (and I think still the best). Plates piled high with these delicious morsels revived and sustained us through the rest of the day of dancing and recovering.

Back in London 2012, they still please me with their plump lightness. The butter melting rivulets of happy badness down to the pond of maple syrup (of course I had to use the whole little jug!) Bliss.
Dragging myself back to reality, we paid the cheque quickly and headed back home before a post-breakfast food coma took hold.

On leaving the restaurant, the queue was indeed up the street and around the corner with strollers and toddlers strewn across the pavement at the feet of parents who were paying more attention to their reflections than their children’s safety - we had obviously arrived (and escaped) at the right time.

Granger & Co
175 Westbourne Grove
London W11 2SB
7am-11pm Mon-Sat (last orders 10.30pm)
8am-10pm Sun (last orders 9.30pm)
Warning: they do not take bookings

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I haven’t written about our Christmas holiday in Cuba before now for one simple reason - it is most devoid of tourists and much as the country needs the tourist dollar (or CUC which is the local tourist currency) I am loathe to see it inundated by tourists ruining a country that is stuck in its own time bubble. (Phew - that was a big sentence!)

But, with Fidel having less and less of a ruling hand, and his brother Raul Castro now "officially" running the country, entry to the country is now becoming more fluid, and whilst pretty much every country (except the USA - who can now travel there with a visa and as part of a group) has been allowed entry in the past, for anyone other than Canadians and South Americans its a long slog.

Now - I am obviously not an American, and unlike most countries in the world, Cuba has no American aspects other than its love of classic cars (mainly due to necessity as the cost to import cars from anywhere else is prohibitive) which have been lovingly restored over and over again. There is not a Starbucks or McDonalds to be seen in Cuba, and I for one loved it!

Flying with Virgin Atlantic (through Virgin Holidays) we jetted of in a very old plane for the 8.5hr flight to Havana. Leaving a grey, cold, drizzly London - stepping off our plane in Havana was like stepping from a refrigerated flying tomb into a hot wet steam oven. Smokey steam oven - as in Cuba, you can smoke anywhere.
We had chosen to spend the first 6 nights of our holiday doing nothing at an all inclusive resort on the Varadero Peninsula. AKA "Planet Varadero" - the peninsula is a gated area, with security guards with big guns and impassive stares guarding a flimsy barrier.

Our hotel, Sandals Royal Hicacos Resort & Spa, was brilliant - huge beds, huge rooms, huge baths and even huger cocktails of which we consumed a lot of. Thankfully the seats in the swim-up bar were not huge, and when we fell off them we were cushioned by the cool aqua pillows of watery goodness. And we did fall off. We also lost a dress, a pair on sunglasses and a single thong. Shoe thong – aka flip-flop, not the underwear variety.

We had heard mixed reviews of the food at the resort - I am not a huge fan of constant all you can eat buffets, and after the first day of blow outs, we were pretty well behaved. Breakfast was either pancakes of omelettes made to order with cold meats, smokes salmon and fruit (alright, and champagne, Bloody Mary's or a Canadian concoction called a Bloody Caesar which was made with Clamato juice - a drink made of reconstituted tomato juice concentrate flavoured with spices and clam broth - sounds gross but it was great for the constant hangovers we suffered!)

The facilities could not be faulted - the beach was amazing, the range of restaurants and bars vast, and the service of all the staff was amazing. (Check out my Trip Adviser review.)

We did a two tours while staying in Sandals - the first was a private guided jeep tour of the area with a highly knowledgeable and educated guide (he had 2 degrees, had worked as a teacher, but makes more money as a guide), and a day trip on a catamaran with snorkelling, swimming with rescued dolphins out at sea, lobster lunch and all the rum we could drink. I still get a ridiculous smile on my face when I think about the dolphin swim!

Moving onto Havana for our final 5 days of vacation we checked into the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. Now this is a "luxury" hotel above the Malecon, it opened in 1930 when Cuba was a destination for the well to do American tourists, then the embargo hit and Havana fell on hard times. The hotel, whilst grand, is in dire need of updating. Fresh paint would be a good start, with our room having peeling paint and a dire bathroom (see my Trip Adviser review).

Whilst in Havana we had a private guide for 2 of our days,  Dania Jomarron (below and to the right with the blue brolly), and she was one of the highlights of our entire trip and we saw more in 6 hours walking around town with her than we would have seen in 3 days by ourselves. You pay her by the hour, and for any cabs/meals you all share while out. Ended up costing us about 70CUC for the whole day - money very well spent! The first day spent walking all over downtown and Central Havana showing us around, orienting us, and giving us a history lesson along the way. She showed us a friend’s house, 1 block behind a recently redeveloped square, where the outside street was cracked and broken, and inside they had not had a roof for 3 years. 6 people lived there under tarps, but they wouldn’t move as the location was prime, and hey, everyone else has damaged buildings too!
The best way to describe the infrastructure and buildings of Havana is that they are beautiful in their decrepitude and decay. There is a severe lack in building trade skills in this country, where having money for anything but the essentials is almost unheard of. And people can make far more money is tourism than they can in other pursuits.

We ate at some amazing local’s restaurants and street food stands, but two that stand out as highlights for Hussyband and I were Restaurant La Casa and La Guarida.
Restaurant La Casa: Alejandro and his family were marvellous (and really, Alejandro (above)  looks like he should be on the front of a Mills and Boon novel). The food was of a very high standard and HUGE servings (I am still gutted that we couldn’t eat all of our lobster!) And I would kill for the recipe that was used on the fried chicken starter (and I don’t like fried food normally!) Mojitos to die for.
La Guarida: When you arrive at this out of the way street, I first thought the cab driver was going to mug us. But upon entering the building and passing inspection with the burly bouncer, we climbing the flights of stairs and come into beautifully restored rooms lit with candles and buzzing with conversation. The ceviche is amazing, as was the Chocolate Tres (Three Ways) I had for desert.

Highlights of our Havana time including spending a few hours in a classic convertible being driven around and sightseeing (puts London's open top buses to shame!), doing a tour around Jose Fuster's compound which is decorated to the nth degree in his mosaic work, and seeing the remnants of the Buena Vista Social Club band play one evening by the pool at our hotel to much smaller crowd than they would normally perform for in the auditorium - whilst we enjoyed the sea breeze and mojitos under the stars.

Food and drink in general - if you like pork, lobster and rum you will love Cuba. There are local mass produced beers, even a lone micro brewery Factoria Plaza Vieja (Cervezas y maltas) in town. There are street side vendors selling everything from churros to pizza and back to ice cream sandwiches. The Havana Club Museum served us the best Cuba Libres of our trip (with imported Coca Cola).

Would I recommend Cuba for a trip? Hell yes. Having wanted to go there ever since I heard the BSC album back in 1997 I was not disappointed. Would I go back? Definitely - I want to go back in about 10 years to see what changes the increase in tourism makes to this amazing country, and I hope it doesn’t get ruined in the process.

What you need to remember is Cuba is not a touristy first world country, where they are paid huge tips, have exemplary silver service, and access to the best produce on offer.

Cuba is restricted to pretty much what it can make, or import from South America and Canada. The staff earn a pittance and usually live in appalling conditions, and whilst education and medical are free - they are limited.

Cuban people are (generally) extremely happy, willing to share their knowledge and laughter and will go out of their way for you. They are curious about our lives and homes. Don’t complain that the food isn’t up to your standards - it is far superior to what the locals are eating and is fresh and tasty.

So if you visit Cuba, smile, tip them in CUC's, leave toiletries in your hotel (or even better give a bag of them to a random family in the back streets) to save room in your bags for rum and presents, and most importantly, take home the happy memories of a generous people that we now cherish.

PS: Although if I don't hear Guantanamera again for at least 12 months I will be happy!

Tour Guide: Dania Jomarron
Email is
Phone: 052975250 (send her a text message telling her to check her email as internet is sporadic and expensive there so she has to go to a cafe to check it)

Restaurant La Casa 
865 30 Havana, Cuba
Phone: (0)537 881 7000

La Guarida 
418 Concordia Havana, Cuba
Phone: (0)7 866 9047

Factoria Plaza Vieja (Cervezas y maltas)
San Ignacio esq, a Muralla, Plaza Vieja Havana, Havana, Cuba

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Asian Pulled Pork with Cabbage Slaw

First BBQ of the year broke last years record of sunny bbq days, but I had known all week that this "drought" we have in Sarf East London was going to continue unabated, cold and wet. So plans changed, instead of a bbq we were going to have a floor picnic instead. And picnics need pork. Lots and lots of pork.

So.....pulling on my thinking boots, I decided that slow cooked pork would not only taste good (as we know anything porcine tastes amazing) but would double as a heat source for the house. Brilliant (if I might say so myself).

After a few hours bubbling away in the slow cooker, Hussyband liked this so much he wanted to cancel the soiree.

Apologies for the lack of real pics with this post - Hussyband ate them too.

Pulled Pork

2kg pork loin (you could also use pork shoulder in which case go for about 3kg)
Chinese Five Spice
2 large yellow onions, peeled and cut in 2cm slices
350ml of char siu sauce (I picked mine up from a local Chinese supermarket)

Cabbage Slaw
1/2 head white cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 head red cabbage, thinly sliced
Bunch of coriander, coarsely chopped
Bunch of mint, coarsely chopped
Bunch of thai basil, coarsly chopped (best chance of getting this at an Asian supermarket, otherwise use normal basil - but it will change the taste as normal basil is sweeter and less fiery)
Fried shallots
100ml fish sauce
Diced birds eye chilies (optional and to taste)

To Serve
Chinese pancakes (like they use for Peking duck) or fresh baguettes

How To Make Pork Heaven

Line the slow cooker with the onions. Season the pork shoulder with a little bit of salt and lightly rub in a light coating of chinese five spice, place on top of the onions. Warm the char siu sauce and pour over the pork, using a pastry brush to coat it evenly. Cook on low overnight of on high for about 5 hours.

In large bowl, combine the cabbages, coriander, mint, basil and toss to mix. Season with the fish sauce and allow to marinate for about 2 hours before serving - the slaw will let off a heap of liquid, so just make sure you drain it well before serving. (Note: the leftovers the next day were amazing - so you could make this a day ahead quite easily.)

When the pork is cooked use tongs or forks to shred the pork into a large bowl. I poured off the juices from the slow cooked into a separate bowl and popped into the fridge, the fats solidified and I spooned those off, leaving a marvelous sauce that we used to keep the pork moist and as a sauce.

To serve, place a spoonful or three into the pancake and top with some slaw. Fold it up like a spring roll or taco and stuff into your mouth so nobody steals it from you. Repeat until you fall over into a pork coma and make sure you keep paper towels handy to wipe the juices from your chin, arms and cleavage.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Seared Tuna with Wasabi Mash and Salsa Verde

This is a super easy recipe, inspired by a dish I had at Asia de Cuba in London earlier this week with my gorgeous cousin LeeLee and the Hussyband.

Tuna: Tuna steak and freshly cracked black pepper
Mash: Maris Piper Tatties (or whatever tatties you like to mash), Butter, Milk and Wasabi Powder
Salsa Verde
2-3 cloves of garlic (peeled and roughly chopped)
1 small handful of capers (roughly chopped)
1 small handful of gherkins pickled in sweet vinegar (roughly chopped)
6 anchovy fillets
2 large handfuls of flat-leaf parsley (leaved picked off - you dont want the stems!)
1 bunch of fresh basil (leaved picked off - see above)
1 handful of fresh mint (leaved picked off - see above)
1.5 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
About 6 good glugs of really good extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

(1) Boil and mash your tatties as your normally would, then gradually add the wasabi powder until you get the strength that you like. For 5 large tatties you would be looking at about 1 tablespoon of powder - this will feed about 4 people.
(2) Once the tatties are going, put all the salsa ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until you get a nice fine slightly runny sauce, add extra olive oil if needed.
(3) Once the salsa is made and resting, season the tuna steaks liberally with the pepper and sear in a hot pan or bbq that has been very lightly oiled - about 45seconds each side for medium rare depending on thickness.

To plate, put a dollop of the mash in the centre of a warmed plate, top with the tuna steak and drizzle the edges of the plate with the salsa verde, and add a dollop to the top of the steak. For a bit of textural crunch, sprinkle a few wasabi peas around and you will be in a very happy place!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Francapades - Le Havre to Mont Saint Michel

Day 2 and we were on the road early to avoid resorting to a hotel breakfast, packing the car up it was time for some new tunes, and todays starting song was "Road To Nowhere" Talking Heads, and it set the mood for another day of back roads, country lanes and the occasional motorway with REALLY big bridges...well there was only one of them, which I am grateful for as to cross the Pont de Normandie is €12!

First stop was the picturesque town of Honfleur for nutella crepes, freshly pressed OJ and a cuppa tea. The markets were going when we arrived, so we wandered around and Hussyband looked worried while I eyed off antique wardrobes, cutlery canteens and art deco pieces. But I was strong, and stayed away from temptation (ok, not so far away that a few pieces were not stained with my drool...)

Wandering further into town we went in search of the Museum Erik Satie - an avante garde French composer and pianist, and was a prolific writer (who enjoyed publishing his writings under pseudonyms). He was a reknown booze hound - something anyone in my family can relate to as lets face it, we all like our booze. The museum is over several levels, twisting and turning and even includes a carousel. If you are ever on the area check it out. Gnossienne No. 1 is one of his most recognisable works (have a listen to the YouTube video to the left while you read this).

Wandering on we headed for the the tourist route through the Normandy Cidre region.  Sadly being a Sunday most of them were shut in the morning (something to do with religion??) but we managed to find a few, and since I was driving Hussyband selected a few for us to drink over the next week when we got to Montguillon and our cottage.

Lunch was a couple of baguettes with cheese and tomato near the causeway for Mont Saint Michel, our resting point for the night. Wandering along the riverbank we marveled at the engineering that had been undertaken to protect the area from the extremely high tides that the area is known for. Kind of looks like a smaller version of the Thames Barrier.

There are not a lot of dining options in the area - hotel restaurants, and over priced tourist traps on the Mont, so we sucked it up and dined at the hotel restaurant. The fixed price options of 2 courses + cheese grabbed both of us, so we went for the local salt bush lamb tagine with saffron rice, and salted caramel desserts. The cheeses were a local brie, and a nice chunk of Pont l'Eveque which was perfectly stinky and gooey - wonderful really (sorry Mum).

Early the next morning I got up as I wanted to try to get a photo of the Mont with the morning sea mist.

Stopping off on the way back to the hotel to wake Hussyband with fresh croissants and hot chocolate, we loaded up the car again and headed across the causeway to explore Mont Saint-Michel. The island has been a strategic point holding fortifications since ancient times, and since the 8th century AD it became the seat of the Saint-Michel monastery, from which it draws the name. The Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay are part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

Steep cobblestone streets are lined with tourist trap shops, creperies, and whilst we found it beautiful it felt contrived. Only when we climbed the steps up onto the lower battlements could we see the beauty and get a sense of what the builders had to go through to put this masterpiece together so long ago when there were no helicopters or cranes to ease in lifting masonry and beams can you appreciate why UNESCO think so highly of the site.

Hitting the road for the last leg of the trip to our cottage home for the next 8 nights, we stopped off at a couple of farm shops for local cidre, cheese and salted caramel in a few different forms (fudge, hard lollies, sauce, macaroons...oh the options were mind boggling!)

Next stop Montguillon.
No Washing Your Feet!

Maisons Satie
67 Blvd Charles V, 14600 Honfleur, France

Mercure Mont Saint-Michel
Route Du Mont Saint Michel BP 8 , Le Mont-Saint-Michel, Manche 50170 France

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Francapades - London to Le Havre

At butt fuck early on a Saturday morning, Hussyband and I loaded up Rhonda the Randy Honda for our first European Roadtrip. Cold Chisel blared as we zoomed down a deserted M20 at 4.30am - a time meant for clubbers to be stumbling home and bakers to be turning our fresh loaves of bread, not for being awake and driving a car down the coast!

The train terminal at Folkestone is pretty much bereft of anything resembling decent food, so a cuppa tea in a styrofoam cup was breakfast. Wish we had eaten more, as there was a delay on the trains and we sat out on the departure paddock for over an hour until given the OK to board our train.

Crossing the Channel by train though could not be easier, or faster, as in 25mins we were on the other side of the water and heading towards Le Havre. Following the coast, we drove through coastal villages and hamlets, stopping for a croque monsieur to take the edge off our hunger and adding to my caffeine consumption with a Red Bull and an espresso. 

Our first stop of the trip is Le Havre, where we stayed at the Novotel Hotel (along with the Scottish Womens Football team much to Hussybands delight!) After a soak in the bath and a nanna-nap we headed off in search of dinner armed with some suggestions of the concierge....and then promptly ended up somewhere else as we got lost.

Finding a small bistro opposite the marina, the menu looked tempting so we headed into "Restaurant La Voile Bleue" for a drink or two and to have an early dinner. 

Hussyband started with a bottle of Pelforth Brune, while I went for a rum punch that packed more than a wallop on my tired body. With a bowl of beer snacks, we chatted to the owner via her son who was recently returned from 12 months in Oz, and made our selections.

First course of the evening was a shared seafood platter piled high with plump prawns, oysters, a whole crab, aioli, lemons and the most god awful item of seafood I have ever tried - bulots. These puppies were so not good on the not good scale of things that Hussyband and I managed one each. 

Thankfully there was booze to wash it down with. We had to wash it down, a lot.

Moving onto our mains, Hussyband went for the duck breast with peppercorn sauce, it was perfectly cooked, just rare in the middle, crisp skin, and the sauce was just peppery enough not to overwhelm the flesh. Of course it came with the obligatory bistro sides of salad and frites....does anyone do frites better than the French? I have yet to find out, but wow if they do....

My main was very very naughty - i went for the foie gras burger, with blood rare beef, a huge hunk of tomato and mayo...yes, like foie gras needs any more fat added to it, but the French added saffron mayo...and it was FABULOUS. I washed it down with a nice big glass or two of Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux Le Verre.

Now by this stage of the evening I was struggling to keep my eyes open, even though it was only about 9am (the alarm had gone off at 4am, and I had driven a loooong way) so we headed back to the hotel for a nightcap and bed.

La Voile Bleue
Boulevard Albert 1er, 76600 Le Havre, France
Phone : 02 3 5 22 9
Mains: €15-30
Pros: price, staff, wine list, rum selection
Cons: That I didn't get to eat desert!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tapas Brindisa Borough Market

Ever since I moved to London just over 2 years ago, I have been trying to go to Brindisa at Borough Market. Unfortunately, as they never take advance bookings, you have to rock up and hope for the best, and until recently, the best was never in my favour with waits of up to and over 2 hours for a table even just for Hussyband and myself. To which I usually respond with a polite “sod that” and wander off elsewhere in search of victuals.

The other week I was meeting up with fellow expat Mrs_Mups for a quick lunch while she was passing through the area, it is rare for me to take a lunch break at work, normally I just heat up one of the boring soups and crack on with my day at the desk, gazing mournfully at the insipid sunlight London normally has on offer this time of year. But, on a gorgeous clear late winter day, I ventured out. Out into the big bad world of London Bridge.

Now, maybe it was the weather, or the fact it was the first day of spring, maybe it was because I was showing a disgraceful amount of cleavage, or just that the Food Deities were looking out for me, but I wandered in the door of Brindisa and oh my goodness gracious me, I got a table for 2 straight away!
Messaging Mrs_Mups were I was, I started to have food envy very quickly at the plates being delivered quickly to the tables around me. On MM’s arrival, we quickly ordered a couple of plates to share and settled in for some girlie gossip (of which I cannot divulge the topics as what goes on in GirlieGossip stays between the girls!)

Being good little construction employees, I had a diet coke, whilst MM went for a lemonade, but the wine list was very tempting, and quite affordable.
We started off with a bowl of plump Gordal Olives with oregano and orange (£3.50) – olives and me have had a love/hate relationship over the years, but the big green juicy ones from Spain have been love/love ever since I first had them when we moved over here.
Next up was a Ham Selection (£19.50) – now, paying that much money, for a few slices of hams, did have me a little worried, but the serving was generous, the meats (serrano, iberico and carved iberico de bellota) meaty and hammy, and the bread and olive oil were both chewy and unctuous in turn.
Needing something a bit more substantial we for one of the Cocina De Mercado – house specialities at London Bridge. The Huevos Rotos (£5.50) grabbed both of us by the heartstrings and did not disappoint. Just fried eggs broken over pan fried potatoes and iberico pork sobrasada had us reaching for any leftover bread we could lay our hands on to mops up the juices.
We finished off with a cheese course, of course. Deep Fried Monte Enebro (£7.60) – handmade goats cheese with orange blossom honey and crispy beetroot. At this point we had to ask for more bread, three times, but it finaly came and was much needed to eat the cheese and honey with. The beetroot chips were very moorish – almost reminiscent of bacon bits but so much better.

Just time for quick kisses on cheeks before we both rushed back to our respective offices with full bellies, sated appetites and happy hearts.

Tapas Brindisa
18-20 Southwark St
London SE1 1TJ
Tel: 020 7357 8880

Monday, March 5, 2012

British Pie Week - Left Over Lamb Roast & Mint Pie

This weekend London had a return to winter, and after talking to Mum back home, I had a craving for roast lamb with all the trimmings, especially burnt pumpkin. In my family, we always cook out butternut pumpkin (or squash in the UK) until it is black and caramalised on the outside, it gives it an amazing flavour. We couldn't have eaten all the pumpkin, so I steamed and mashed the leftovers with a cunning plan in mind.

Knowing that the leg of lamb (that I had picked up for a steal at Makro) was too big for the two of us, I planned to make the leftovers into a pie for British Pie Week, but I didn't want a stodgy pastry as I am trying to be healthy. After trimming all the visible fat from the leftovers last night, I refrigerated the rest overnight so that I could pull off the lard that I couldn't see this evening and then I mixed it with the leftover gravy, homemade mint sauce, and peas and piled it all into a pie dish.

The pastry is an old favorite that is very quick to whip up in my trusty food processor using the pastry blade. Mix together 90g of room temp butter with 150g plain flour (I used spelt), 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 120g of cooled mashed pumpkin (you could use any root vegetable for this - I have done it with potato, celeriac, carrot and would love to try it with beetroot!) and salt to taste. Blitz together until combined, then turn out onto a lightly floured mat and knead together. Roll out and cover your pie mix, cut a breathing hole and decorate to your hearts content.

Being a lamb pie tonite, I made a couple of wellie boots and the back view of a sheep - hey it was Kiwi lamb and we all know the boots are useful! And yes, that is a dag on its ass, not a tail!

The pastry was short, savory and nice and crisp, and was the perfect foil to the sweet minty lamb.

Now my Hussyband claims to be a boob-man...but I couldnt resist when serving up, and after tonite he may be an assman!

A Kiwi, a sheep, and a dog were survivors of a terrible shipwreck. They found themselves stranded on a desert island.

After being there a while, they got into the habit of going to the beach every evening to watch the sun go down. One particular evening, the sky was red with beautiful cirrus clouds, the breeze was warm and gentle; a perfect night for romance.

As they sat there, the sheep started looking better and better to the Kiwi. Soon, he leaned over to the sheep and put his arm around it. But the dog got jealous, growling fiercely until the Kiwi took his arm from around the sheep. After that, the three of them continued to enjoy the sunsets together, but there was no more cuddling.

A few weeks passed by, and lo and behold, there was another shipwreck. The only survivor was a beautiful young woman, the most beautiful woman the Kiwi had ever seen. She was in a pretty bad way when they rescued her, and they slowly nursed her back to health. When the young maiden was well enough, they introduced her to their evening beach ritual. It was another beautiful evening: red sky, cirrus clouds, a warm and gentle breeze; perfect for a night of romance.

Pretty soon, the Kiwi started to get "those feelings" again. He fought them as long as he could, but he finally gave in and leaned over to the young woman, cautiously, and whispered in her ear... .
Would you mind taking the dog for a walk?