French Holiday Part III

The third and final French summer holiday instalment! While I previously mentioned in my last post that we didn’t eat out much in the second week of our holiday, preferring to laze around our longere barbeucing anything and everything and stuffing our faces with French cheese and wine, we did go out for one ‘special’ evening meal. We had a mooch around nearby town La Chatre and clocked quite a few interesting looking eateries. In the end we plumped for one just tucked away down a cobbled side street from the main square, called Auberge A l’Escargot and were really glad we did so!

This was a proper French restaurant with starched linen tablecoth and napkins and a m’aitre d’!

First up we were treated to a dégustation of some sort of chilled fish mousse (I’m afraid my French wasn’t quite good enough to figure out exactly which fishy as the waiter rattled it off in quick fire French with a flourish!) with a little bite size parcel of goats cheese wrapped in filo pastry. The mousse was incredibly light and delicious and contrasted with the little crunch and then melt from the filo pastry and oozing goats cheese, yum!

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Next up came our starters. I chose something called ‘Rouget Barbet’ which I think translates as red mullet. This was served cold with a mixed leaf and tomato salad, an intriguing olive oil cake, and two very cute little pots; one containing a lovely tangy and refreshing gazpacho, the other a selection of pickled vegetables. I really enjoyed all the different flavours and textures together, the whole thing felt really fresh and nourishing to eat.

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Rob meanwhile got stuck into his pate a la maision which was served with both the usual toasts, and the less usual ginger cake (delicious!) as well red berry chutney and green salad.

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Following a short break to enjoy our lovely local wine from a vineyard only a few miles down the road, we were presented with our mains. I plumped for the duck, one of my all time favourites. And it’s one of those meats which I find just never seems to be cooked as well in this country. So I had to take my opportunity! This lovely pink juicy magret de canard was crusted with sesame seeds and served with a perfectly sweet and moreish honey sauce, buttery herby new potatoes and some sort of puréed orange vegetable mousse (again, my French let me down here!), after much serious deliberation (slightly more tricky after half a bottle of wine) we decided it was most likely to be carrots, the fantastically sweet variety, rather than butternut squash or any other vegetable with the same hue.  However we were also both convinced it had some sort of nutty almost cheesy taste lurking at the back of the mouth…hhmm…. a touch of parmesan?! Or would that be too random?! Clearly we would fail the palate taste test on Masterchef! Still, my palate was more than capable of enjoying every little mouthful of this totally scrumptious dish. I didn’t want it to end. Some of the tastiest duck I’ve ever eaten (and I’ve eaten a fair bit!) I really enjoyed the honey sauce as something a little different from the more usual fruity pairing. Mmmm, more please?!

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Rob’s steak was equally perfectly cooked and delicious, It was served with a polenta cake, chimichurri sauce and lots of glistening earthy mushrooms.

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By the time it got around to dessert-ordering, I was preeeetttty stuffed, not having wanted to let any of the glorious food go to waste, I made sure I cleaned my plate each course! This meant I chose a dessert which I would normally have overlooked purely on the basis that I thought it would be the least filling (and of course I didn’t want to miss out!)

This was a millefeuille of chocolate wafers, strawberries and cream, served with a strawberry sorbet and strawberry sauce. While this was undeniably tasty, I have to say it didn’t quite live up to the standard set by the rest of the food up to this point. Perhaps my own fault for going ‘off-piste’ on my dessert choice!

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Rob enjoyed a banana tarte tatin with caramel ice cream and a caramel sauce (I can’t get past classic apple tarte tatin, but this did make an interesting change!)

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We rounded off the meal with a few little complimentary petit fours with our espresso. Itsy bitsy meringues with chocolate and some sort of cream and strawberry cups. I was beyond full, but managed to force down a taste of the little morsels (unfortunately before a picture was taken!) – they were only bite size, afterall!

All in all, a super French meal, which I would like to eat again! (especially the duck!!) I would highly recommed to anyone who was in the area!

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Shugborough Food Festival

Last weekend I went to visit my good friend in Stafford. Knowing me well, she had organised for us to go to a food festival at Shugborough Hall, a historic country estate spread over 900 acres of parkland.  While the day started out very overcast and grey, it was at least dry, and, having strategically just had a fruit smoothie for breakfast, I was ready for a day of eating! We decided to share everything that we ate, therefore allowing for more tastes of more things (again with the strategic eating!)

There were so many food vans and stalls, it was hard to know where to begin! After working our way round one of the large marquees and enjoying a few free samples (including some rhubarb crumble fudge!) we decided to give Rita’s Mexican a whirl.

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We enjoyed a tasty shredded chicken and black bean taco with red cabbage colesaw, cheese, chili sauce and sour cream, mmm!

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Washed down with homemade lemonade.

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We kept spotting people walking around with impressive looking sticks with some sort of sliced potato snack on. Having  consulted the festival programme map we hunted down the relevant food stall!

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These fried “twisted potatoes” could be topped with a number of different flavous, we opted for beef steak!

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After a break to peruse some more stalls (from one of which I bought the Hairy Dieter’s cook book after hearing such good things about it, looking forward to trying out some new recipes soon!) I passed one of my true weaknesses – sweet honey covered nuts. I can not resit them!

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Later on in the afternoon we watched a Man vs Food eating challenge. The contestants had to eat a chilli vodka shot, an extra hot spicy sausage with mashed potato and gravy and a chilli and mango sorbet as fast at they could. The victory time was, I think, under 3 minutes – crazy! While we weren’t tempted to join in, it did make us fancy a sausage! There were so many different vendors to choose from, in the end we plumped for a really tasty classic British pork sausage to share, which made a change from a lot of the (equally delicious!) continental sausages that are increasingly popular at these sort of things these days.

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Towards the end of the afternoon, the sun made a sudden, and strong appearance! After enjoying soaking up some rays in the grass for a while, we grudgingly shunned our planned churros dessert for a more temperature-appropriate ice cream. I was delighted to spot Ginger’s Comfort Emporium on the festival listing, a local “ice cream van for grown ups” that frequents the regular markets in Chorlton and elsewhere in South Manchester.

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Previous favourites of mine from Ginger are marmalade on toast, plum crumble and dark chocolate sorbet. This time I opted for the lemon and orange blossom sorbet while my friend went for so-called Chorlton Crack – the ludicrously luscious peanut butter and salted caramel ice cream. While this is truly and utterly delicious, it is rather rich and heavy, and alas I had to help her finish it!

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All in all, it was a great day out. I’ll leave you with snaps of two of the other exceptionally cute food  stands that I came across

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The Bistro delivers again

I have written before about our love for one of our all-time favourite restaurants, Bistro West and last night we had reason for a little personal celebration (which I won’t write about on here yet, but which I feel incredibly happy and relieved about) so it was the perfect excuse for our first visit in a while! Even better, the tram line extension to neighbouring Didsbury has just opened, which meant we could hop on for a quick two stop ride to get there! (Dangerously easy!)

For starters I plumped for the baked piri piri king prawns, red pepper and manchengo cheese. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with the description of baked prawns, but it was delicious! It came in a sort of mini lasagne dish with some handy bread to mop up the melty cheesy salty deliciousness. Happy.

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Rob meanwhile went for the lamb and cashew nut kofta with mini falafel. These mini falafels were actually the real stand out, so full of flavour, they were like mini taste explosions!

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For mains I knew as soon as reading the menu description I had to have the rosemary, lemon and garlic chicken kebabs. These came with a “warm Sicilian salad” of aubergine, tomatoes, olives, chorizo and baby new potatoes – five of my most favourite things! All on one plate! And  I was not disappointed, it was insanely tasty! Only problem was the massive portion, I couldn’t quite finish it!

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Rob couldn’t resist the fillet steak. This had a nice summery twist as it was served with battered courgette strips (deliciously crispy and creamy) and summer cabbage, peas and grean beans. The cream and Dijon sauce was to-die-for, and, even better, came with big chunks of mushrooms  in it which I was allowed to pick out (as my dining partner insanely claims they are ‘mould’ – missing out big time!!) Oh, and the chunky chips were damn good too – cooked to perfection (I had to eat one or two, just for check for the sake of the blog post you see).

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Dessert had to be one of the famous Bistro Trios. This time the theme was orange – orange creme brulee, orange and almond cake and, the pièce de résistance, a COINTREAU ICE CREAM. I won’t even try to convey the deliciousness of this in words but let you imagine for yourselves! Thanks to the Bistro for another stonkingly good meal on a very happy occasion 😀

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Lebanese at Zaytoon’s

There is a little strip just around the corner from our house, less than a ten minute walk infact, where there are a handful of restaurants and bars. This cluster is home to two of our favourite bars in Chorlton as well as our faithful Yakisoba, always a reliable fallback when we don’t want to/don’t have time to cook.

There are a few other restaurants here that we have been meaning to try for a while and so on Friday night finally got round to visiting the rustic little Lebanese place, called Zaytoon. The place was busier than we have seen it before and we luckily arrived in time to secure the last free table. The owner came over within a few minutes of us sitting down to welcome us and explain the menu which was lovely. This is a small family run establishment with just a handful of tables and shelves down one side of the room stacked with all sorts of knick knacks, it sort of lent the feeling that you were sat in someone’s living room, which I thought was quite a nice touch!

We ordered a beer each and began to peruse the menu, aside from the fact I could see Barlow Moor Road out the window and the icy wind that was whistling around outside, I began to feel  a little like I was on holiday!

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For starters we shared some moutabel – a smoky aubergine dip similar to baba ganoush with toasted pitta breads, and some absolutely delicious falafel which came with tahini and a tasty spicy little salad. I am a big fan of falafel but do often find them to be disappointing – either too dry, too heavy or just plain soggy. These little beauties however were absolutely perfect in both texture and flavour, delicious!

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The menu is quite small, which tends to go down well with me, a few expertly cooked dishes are much better than a large menu of dishes that are just cooked averagely. The owner also reeled off lots of tempting sounding specials however, including lots of fish and lamb dishes, some specifically for two or more people. We decided to order off the menu this first time however, although next time we visit (and there will definitely be a next time!) I think we will sample some of the specials.

Rob ordered a chicken shish kebab while I went for the chicken shawarma, both were served with plenty of hummous, more pitta breads and a lovely big helping of salad. The salad, which had a special name but unfortunately I can’t remember it, was liberally sprinkled with sumac. Sumac has quite a tart, lemony flavour, and it worked really well on top of the salad. I love lemony citrusy flavours anyway (zingy!) so this was a big hit with me, I have already been out to buy some as I think it will be a good way to get Rob to eat more salads!

The chicken kebab was incredibly juicy and moist with a lovely subtle garclicy flavour while the flavouring of the shawarma was a little more robust. Both were very tasty and it just felt nice to eat a nice healthy meal of grilled meat with lots of salad, bursting with flavour. I was impressed with how the sumac helped lift even the most tired bits of iceberg lettuce!

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The menu listed baklava as the only desert, although when you can eat baklava, you don’t need anything else in my opinion! We were trying to be good however so decided to sample this another time! And we definitely will be back to try out some more of these lovely simple homecooked Lebanese dishes, as we assured the owner on our way out the door! It is well worth a visit!


Birthday at the Tea Hive

So it was my birthday on Monday and I did as any sensible girl would do – took the day off in order to eat cake and drink tea. Where better to do this than in my all-time favourite Chorlton spot, the Tea Hive. Tea Hive is a small quirky cafe serving delicious home made cakes, lots of lovely and interesting loose leaf tea blends, and a select few dishes which are focused on fresh ingredients, locally sourced. It is decked out in mismatched vintage style furniture and furnishings with tea sets to match. Very cute. They also have a tranquil little garden out the back which is great in summer, if we ever get one again!!

I have previously blogged about a parsnip, pecan and maple cheesecake I delighted in here. Main courses include stonkingly good sandwiches served on doorstop granary bread from local Chorlton baker Richardsons and meat, I think, from local butcher Frosts. The problem I have experienced in the past is that both the sandwiches and cake portions are MASSIVE! So you finish your sandwich, groaning ever so slightly in pain, and lament the fact that there is no way you can fit in the cake! Luckily, Tea Hive has an answer to this! The so-called “light lunch”. It’s anything but light, really, but damn is it good! You get a smaller version of the sandwich, the soup or salad of the day and a slice of cake. Winning all round!

This is what I went for on Monday. I selected the mature cheddar, homemade chutney of the day and rocket sandwich on granary bread. This doesn’t sound all that exciting compared to some of the exotic creations you get these days, but the beauty is in the simpleness which allows the true deliciousness of the quality ingredients to shine though. Bread; gorgeous, cheese; delicious  chutney; oh so moreish. As a whole, the most perfect cheese sandwich you could ever ask for. The soup of the day was leek and spring greens, and it was light, fresh and lovely.

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To wash it down, I ventured beyond my two favourite tea blends (Earl Grey and Tea Hive Black Tea Blend) to try something new, Russian Caravan. Having an interest in many things Russian, the name intrigued me and I was very glad it reeled me in! This is an intense, smoky, robust tea which actually went perfectly with the mature cheddar.

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It was then time to linger at the cake counter as we tried to choose just one cake to eat for afters! Aside from the parsnip and pecan cheesecake, other previous favourites of mine have included honey and ginger, and orange and almond cakes – the selection is different everytime you go in. On this day however, despite sorely tempting me with a lemon, blueberry and yoghut sponge, there was a tasty looking carrot cake calling to me from behind the glass. Sometimes you just can’t beat the classics and carrot cake is one of my all-time favourites!

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This was incredibly flavoursome and moist, and also nice and coarse, just as it should be in my opinion – lots of big chunks of nuts, yummy! The icing was also spot on! The other half went for the salted caramel chocolate cake, which was demolished before I had a chance to take a picture! He assures me that it was also delicious, however!


Chorlton Green Brasserie

So after our great blow-the–cobwebs-away bracing beachy march this weekend, we worked up quite an appetite and finally got around to trying one of Chorlton’s newer additions – Chorlton Green Brasserie. Located at the end of the foody haven that is Beech Road, just opposite favourite Parlour (see post on their award-winning Sunday lunch here) we had high expectations. Luckily we were not disappointed!

The little bistro is done out in a fab mis-matched shabby chic style. It has not been open all that long and I think with maybe just one or two extra additions to make it a little cosier, it will look really great. I was pleased to see that the menu was nice and succinct with just a few dishes to choose from in each section plus a couple of interesting sounding options chalked up on the board. In my opinion it’s much better to do a few dishes really well than produce a menu that is several pages long which takes ages to read! But I’m probably biased given how indecisive I’m known to be!! I also liked that the wines were divided into the sections of Good, Great and Brilliant – a nice touch I thought.

With impressive speed (at least for me!) we picked out our starters – blue cheese and beetroot tartlet for me, poached duck egg with bacon bits on a mustardy potato cake topped with hollandaise for the mister. These were both absolutely delicious. Egg and bacon are of course a classic combo and the little twist on this worked really well. The texture was lifted by some lovely crunchy kale.

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Just look at that perfect ooze!

My blue cheese and beetroot tartlet was equally scrummy, the flavours were really tasty and the pastry nice and crisp. I only realised after hoovering the little beauty up that it hadn’t come with the ‘Manchester salad’ described on the menu – I was only disappointed as I was intrigued to know what such a salad was!

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Onto the mains and Rob chose off the special menu – slow cooked shin of beef with mushrooms in a port reduction with horseradish mash, while I went for the fish pie – made with fresh cuts from local fishmonger Out of the Blue. The beef was fantastic, the port reduction was so tasty and, added bonus, I got to eat all unexpected mushrooms (as he cried out ‘mould’ and ‘fungus’. Weirdo. What sort of person doesn’t like mushrooms?! Sigh, the things I have to put up with…. 😉 )

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Not quite sure what happened to this photo, it’s rather ghoulish! And I didn’t have the chance to take another as it was swiftly demolished with a fork with the horseradish mash plopped on top…! (although only once the ‘mould’ was scooped off of course!)

My fish pie arrived topped with creamy mash and a giant scallop!

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While the flavour was good and there was nothing really wrong with this dish, I have to say it was the one disappointment of the meal. I think for fish pie to be really stand out it has to be truly and absolutely spot on and I think that perhaps I have been spoiled by the bloody brilliant fish pie at Bistro West as well as my other favourite fish pie at a beach-side pub in Elie, Scotland! The odds were probably rather stacked against this poor fella from the start…

By this time we were pretty stuffed, but not to be deterred from our duty of testing out this new restaurant, we gallantly soldiered on and agreed to share a desert – and of course it had to be the Death by Chocolate Pot, especially when I read that this was served with the intriguing sounding beetroot shortbreads!

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Now there have been many Death by Chocolate deserts over the years, but this is one that really is worth dying for! (Well, almost!) It was absolutely sinful, filthy, luscious. Very likely the best chocolate desert I have ever eaten! Yuuuum!

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Desert was accompanied by espresso, look at this adorable cup!

All in all, I think the Brasserie is a welcome addition to Beech Road, plugging the gap for a slightly more upmarket ‘restauranty’ eatery on the road. With a just a few tweaks I think it could go from being Great to Brilliant (as per its wine menu!)


Sunday Lunch at The Parlour

The weekend before last I had a mission – to finally get to The Parlour on a Sunday afternoon in time for Sunday Lunch! Despite living in Chorlton for a year and a half, I have so far failed, despite several attempts, to get to The Parlour early enough to secure a table (you can’t book) for their legendary Sunday roast. (Winner of the Observer Food Monthly’s 2012 Best Sunday Lunch, no less!) The Parlour is one of my favourite places in Chorlton and I have eaten and drunk there many another time, in fact having lunch there one Monday on a day off was a particular tease as we tucked into the leftover roast beef in a sandwich – perfectly pinky red and juicy, cooked exactly to my liking. Mmmmm.

So this weekend we were up bright and early and at The Parlour for a rather early 1240pm! Even still we secured the last table for 4! After a little time warming up and letting our appetites grow while enjoying a pot of tea and the Sunday papers in the lovely cosy relaxing environment of The Parlour, we were ready to order. Despite the fact we knew there was a delicious and massive roast dinner to come, we couldn’t help but order some tasty starters to share. The mackerel pate with granary toast was absolutely delicious and definitely helped whet our appetite.

We moved from tea to red wine and soon it was time for the Main Event! We all went for the roast beef over the pork (or nutroast). It arrived on a plate towering with scrumptious looking food including perfect roast potatoes and mashed potato, roast parsnips, carrot and swede mash, braised red cabbage and a mahoosive Yorkshire pudding. All smothered in a generous helping (there’s nothing worse than having to ask for extra gravy!) of rich and flavoursome gravy. The beef, I must admit, was a teeny bit disappointing, in comparison to the beef I had previously had there – it was only just still pink in the very middle of the slice which is a bit over-cooked for my taste. However, I should probably have specified that I’d like some properly pink juicy meat! The roast potatoes were smashing – perfectly crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy inside. I’m a big fan of roast parsnips and liked that they came glazed with mustard. I’ve never had both mashed potato and roast potatoes on a roast dinner and remain somewhat unconvinced that both are needed. In fact, while the carrot and swede mash was tasty, I may just venture it out there that I’d perhaps like a little more un-mashed veg on my plate, particularly with all that scrummy gravy sloshing around, just to keep the texture varied. But maybe that’s just me! The two real stand outs on the plate for me were the red cabbage and the Yorkshire pudding. Firstly the cabbage, this was a welcome surprise to find on the plate! We couldn’t work out exactly what the flavours were but it seemed almost like cloves or star anise had been used. However it had been cooked, it was absolutely gorgeous! The yorkie, oh the yorkie. Thankfully this was not one of those towering Yorkshire puddings that looks amazing on arrival to promptly flop, collapse and go soggy leaving you underwhelmed and disappointed. No, this was a perfectly cooked Yorkshire pudding. The texture was bang on and it remained resolutely un-soggy right ’til the end – the perfect gravy mopping companion!

Please excuse the pictures, I had to resort to using my phone when my camera battery unexpectedly died!

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