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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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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Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte – Steak frites, twice!

It was my lovely other half’s birthday recently and to celebrate we decided to try out a restaurant which had recently opened in Manchester. To be honest, there are so man great places to eat at on our doorstep in Chorlton, it’s difficult to find the motivation to go into the city centre much these days, but this restaurant held a certain allure.

Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte is based on its Parisian original and serves just one thing – steak frites! Great I hear you say, I love steak frites! Well, we certainly do. Even better however is you get it twice! Well, technically you get half your steak and half your portion of frites, then as you finish that, the clever waitresses brings you the other half so that it doesn’t get cold and remains at optimum temperature the whole time you’re eating – this sounded genius to us so we thought we’d better schelp ourselves along to the tram for a wee trip into town to test it out for ourselves.

I liked the fact that there was no big menu to peruse over, for a Friday night after a very long and busy week, coupled with my usual menu indecisiveness (I must admit I usually need the pressure of the waiter/waitress standing over me to make a decision – it all just sounds so good! ) this was very welcome. We started with some very nice red wine

The set menu included a walnut salad with mustard vinaigrette served with crusty baguette for starters. Simple yet delicious.

The steak came with the restaurant’s own special ‘secret recipe’ sauce. To be honest, the sauce was nice enough but I didn’t find it massively flavoursome… maybe I’m just too much of a stickler for a full-strength peppercorn sauce! Here comes the first portion… pretty generous size huh? Remember this is only the first half!

The frites were just as good frites should be – perfectly crispy, golden and crunchy on the outside, soft and warm on the inside. The steak was good. But, I’m sorry to say, not amazing. And I can’t help but think that if all you’re going to serve is steak frites, your steak should kinda be amazing… (it wasn’t a patch on Gaucho’s for example, but that’s another story…) Still, it was steak frites, and how could that not make you happy?

There was a small selection of deserts to choose from, true to form I spent some time deliberating between the tartelettes au citron and the creme brulee. (This just gives extra time for the steak to go down and leave more ample space for desert!) Creme brulee is probably my all-time favourite desert in the world. Ever. But I find it’s dangerous to order outside of France – too often disappointing. Therefore I swung toward the tart with the proviso that the birthday boy would order the creme brulee and that we would have tastes. In the end I was glad I had chosen the tartelettes au citron – the lemon was really tart and zingy and the pastry was absolutely perfect – no soggy bottoms here! The creme brulee on the other hand was tasty but a little anaemic in my opinion… not a thick enough layer of caramelised sugar on top for my liking – it failed the spoon tap test – nor was the rest of it set enough.



All in all, this was a nice meal and I’d say Le Relais de Venise is a good place to go if you fancy something a little different. Seeing as we were in town, we decided it would be rude not to finish the evening with some birthday cocktails!

 


Steak, chips & guilt-free peppercorn sauce!

Steak is one of our all time favourite meals, we love having it when we’re out for dinner, but it’s also a relatively quick and fuss-free meal to make at home for a weekend treat. I love a really juicy medium-rare steak with salty crisp chips, a rich creamy peppercorn sauce and large glass of red wine…. mmmm! Of course it’s not the healthiest of meals! In order to make the meal a little less naughty, I have devised my own much less wicked peppercorn sauce, and it’s still actually pretty good! If you have this at home with oven chips, it also brings the fat count down a little!!

This is what you’ll need for the peppercorn sauce, although I’m afraid as is the case with most of my sauces and dressings, I don’t really measure things out, just throw in what looks to be roughly the right amount of each ingredient then continue to adjust to taste!;

  • Semi-skimmed milk
  • Around a tbsp of peppercorns – some left whole, some crushed
  • Around a tbsp of gravy granules
  • A little cornflour mixed with cold water
  • salt & ground pepper to season

Gently warm the milk in a sauce pan while grinding your peppercorns

Mixture of whole and crushed peppercorns

Add the gravy granules and peppercorns and whisk well

Mix the corn flour and water together then add to the pan, continuing to whisk all the while to make sure the sauce is smooth and you don’t get any lumps! Add salt and pepper to taste and continue to gently simmer and keep stirring for around 5 minutes then serve straight away.

Griddle your steaks for the correct amount of time depending on cut, thickness and your preference of how well cooked you like it. Make sure the steaks are at room temperature before cooking, always oil the pan rather than the steaks and allow time to rest the meat after cooking before serving. I like to serve mine with a simple green salad with a liberal drizzling of homemade mustard vinaigrette. You’ll also see that I enjoy a rather obscene amount of peppercorn sauce on my plate… all the more reason to concoct this somewhat less indulgent version otherwise I’d be the size of a house!!!