Category Archives: Travels

Chez L’Amis Jean

Oh that cote de boeuf !

Wow, that previous post was a ramble – which needs to be quickly replaced with FOOD.

The photo of the food in this incredibly busy and cramped restaurant came out pretty horribly – the light was so dim and the place literally had barely any elbow room at all. But that’s not at all a reflection of the foodfoodfood of this wonderful bistrot.

Chez L’Amis Jean is in Paris, and it’s very firmly in the anti-Michelin realm of Parisien eats. Rather than three waiters per table, it’s three waiters for the entire restaurant, and I kid you not, when I say it’s cramped, believe me. Essentially the restaurant is one long banquette, with lots of little tables that are joined to make one long table. Each party is sat opposite each other, and as you are seated, the table is pulled out so that one of you can sit before being wedged in. Don’t drink too much water if you’re sitting inside ūüôā

The good thing about this cozy atmosphere is that you almost feel like you are at a wedding. You get to know the people sitting on either side of you, and everyone’s friendly and just happy to be inside (and on the night we were there, out of the lashing rain outside) with the warm hospitality of the staff.

And despite it being insanely full, the waitstaff were all blazingly efficient and always, always (and I truly adore this part) able to pause and wish you “bon appetite” with a smile – they truly want you to enjoy your food here. From the start, as you are waiting for your table, they serve up sharing boards of charcuterie. While you sneak looks at other tables to see what looks good (don’t tell me I’m the only one who does this), a large shared terrine with a big knife is presented to you to “have some”. It’s little touches of warmth and generosity like this that for me makes this such a memorable restaurant.

Ruiz au lait with praline and salted caramel

Not only is the food phenomenal – classic French bistro at its best, but the portions are enormous.

Knowing the portions were big, didn’t deter us from ordering what we wanted though – luckily we were happy to wander around the close-by Eiffel Tower after to walk some of our dinner off. Tres romantic !

We started our gargantuan meal with soup de Parmsan. A large bowl with crispy bacon bits and delicately sliced chives is filled in front of you with a creamy, rich, cheesy soup from a large(r) tea pot. Ridiculously delicious, and followed with the cote de boeuf – thick juicy slices of rib-eye, cooked on the bone, with generous shavings of black truffles. mmmmm…And because we truly have eyes bigger than our stomach, we ordered dessert ! Which was rice pudding served with praline and salted caramel. Rich, creamy and decadent, it was a perfectly balanced dish to balance out our dinner. Again, LARGE, again, superb.

They almost had to roll us out of there ! If you do¬†want to go (and if you are in Paris, I really think you should), two things I would strongly recommend. First, make a booking, or don’t even bother to turn up. Secondly, go hungry.

Chez L’Amis Jean
27 Rue Malar, 75007 Paris, France

Phone:+33 1 47 05 86 89

Septime, Paris, France

Octopus with oxalis, green beans, anchovies and pumpkin seed puree

In the 11th arr, near Bastille, Bertrand¬†Gr√©baut brings together this food training (he was trained by Alain Passard and¬†Jo√ęl Robuchon) and his passion for design (he was a former graphic designer) to Septime.

They are meticulous about ensuring their diners have a great experience at Septime Рthe ambiance in the brasserie is one of friendly, super-efficiency. The decor is all concrete and bare wood, with the diners sat close together, and with a view of the open kitchen, where there is some serious cooking going on.

Pan-fried cod with a lardo and a red wine jus with cauliflower, dill and chervil 

It’s all about the freshest ingredients that Chef¬†Gr√©baut can find on the day, meaning the menu changes daily, challenging them to create new dishes to delight diners. The flavours are pure, clean and fuss-free, ensuring the ingredients shine for themselves, yet work¬†together in surprisingly harmonious combinations. Fish with lardo and a meat jus ? Totally worked.

The menu being in French, and us having no prior experience there, we left it to the restaurant and ordered the carte blanche. The meal started with a fresh veal tartare with pear and turnip, followed by octopus with oxalis (a wonderfully lemony herb) green beans, anchovies and pumpkin seed puree.

A perfectly cooked piece of cod with a slice of lardo and a red wine jus with cauliflower, dill and chervil was next, and the last savoury course – venison with toasted butternut quince puree with a meat onion jus.

Sicilian lemon cream with an almond crumble, lime and lemon verbena sorbet with marinated citron slices with thyme and lemon balm

The final dish was a refreshing Sicilian lemon cream with an almond crumble, lime and lemon verbena sorbet with marinated citron slices with thyme and lemon balm.

Adding to the wonderful food, the wines are non-sulfite made by small producers, available for sale across the street at their new Septime Cave Рwhich is a popular neighborhood canteen for drinks & nibbles.

Septime
80 Rue de Charonne
75011 Paris, France
Tel: +33 1 43 67 38 29

Open: Monday – Friday 12.15 – 2.00pm, 7.30-10.00pm


La Table D’Aki

Restaurant kitchens in Paris are small. And La Table D’Aki is no exception, with just one man behind the kitchen. Akihiro Horikoshi (Aki) shops, preps, cooks, bakes, cleans dishes – everything – in this tiny 16 seater restaurant in the Seventh Arrondisement.

Chef Aki, a L’Ambroisie veteran, works in an open kitchen, where he prepares a prix fixe seafood meal. Japanese precision with French training Рcould not be a better pairing.

First course was a single seared scallop on pureed pumpkin with a cauliflower foam that teased our palettes with it’s silky textures. Entree of poached langoustine on top of roasted rhubarb was a perfect harmony of delicate langoustine served with a glossy drizzle of veal jus. The final savoury course was delicate cod fish and braised endive with a wonderfully tangy citrus sauce.

Dessert – simply described as “chocolate tarte with vanilla bean ice-cream”, made me marvel that something that delicate with contrasting crisp and velvety textures could be made by the same man who brought us the earlier three dishes, and not a patisserie chef.

Elegant dining. Delicious, clean flavours. Perfection.

La Table D’Aki
49 Rue Vanueau
Paris, France

Tel: +33 1 45 44 43 48
Bookings highly recommended
Closed Sundays and Mondays


Truffle Gourmet, Monte Carlo, France

Fresh white truffles over fried eggs

What’s a trip to the French Riviera without a visit to Monte Carlo in Monaco ?

Living in Singapore where it costs US$60-70K to just have the right to own a car, we haven’t driven in the last seven years. So how better could I surprise D for our tenth anniversary than to book D in for a few hours of driving around the French Alps in a Ferrari ? (And yes, I scored massive brownie points as “best wife” for this one ;))

Full disclosure – I am such a non-sports person that I didn’t even know that the hotel where we would be picking up the car was the famous Fairmont Hotel, over the Monaco F1 track !

OK so I’m going off topic here.

More truffly goodness over a simple homemade pasta

The other thing that we wanted to do while in Monte Carlo was to visit a place called Truffle Gourmet. The name says it all, really, doesn’t it ?

At the tail end of the white truffle season, we figured, if we were going to get truffles, it would be there.

I had a slight case of initial confusion (happens more than I’d like to admit) when we started to chat to the chefs: why are they speaking in Italian ? Then my brain caught up and realised how close we were to the Italian border.

The best way to enjoy truffles is to let them shine. Simple food, with fresh truffles shaved over always makes me smile. So when the recommendation of “over some eggs, and maybe over some fresh pasta ?” came, we just nodded vigorously.

The eggs were a little overcooked – the yolks had almost cooked through, but the pasta was just perfect. The aroma of the generous shavings of white truffles filled the air. Bellissimo !

Truffle Gourmet has coincidentally recently opened up a branch in Singapore. It’s a restaurant more than a counter-cafe but at least we will be able to enjoy truffly goodness locally.

Truffle Gourmet
15 , place d’ Armes, 98000 Monaco
Tel: +377 97 77 19 19


La Ramade, St Tropez

 

Saint Tropez is just a short bateaux ride across the bay from quiet Sainte Maxime. We wanted somewhere to enjoy some rosé after spending the morning at the Saturday markets, and we chanced upon what has to be the prettiest place we visited during our entire trip.

I felt like I had walked into one of Wonderland’s tea parties. Each table was decorated with enormous vases of blooming flowers. Sunlight peeked through the leafy trees onto our tables. Colour. Everywhere.

We were lucky to see a delivery of edible blooms – stunning yellow zucchini flowers (in the hands of a camera-shy chef), that would later be stuffed and deep fried.

Provençal tomato tart

Even the tomato tart seemed too brightly coloured to be true.

Grilled local sardines

Amongst all of that, the food at La Ramade is simple and rustic – think grilled fresh sardines and coq au vin. A little oasis from the hustle and bustle of the outside Saint Tropez.

La Ramade
3 Rue du Temple
Saint-Tropez, France

Tel: 04 94 81 58 67


More Marvellous Sainte Maxime

The best oysters I have ever had (fine de claire No3)

OK if you are ever in Sainte Maxime, in addition to La Maison Bleue, you mustmustmust go to La Reserve, on the main stretch facing the sea.

I went specifically because I wanted oysters (tick) and also a bouillabaisse (tick), which not many cafes served (they serve mostly the more simple soupe de poisson).

La Reserve is a restaurant, rather than a cafe, although everything in this town has that wonderful seaside-relaxed feel to it.

Oysters on the menu were Fine-de-Claire. I am a huge fan of oysters and try them almost every where they are offered. These, arguably, were THE best oysters I had ever tasted (backed up by the fact that the next night we tried the same oysters at another restaurant and they simply weren’t as good). Hard to describe why they were the best – the balance of the sweetness of the oyster and the saltiness of the sea was just PERFECT. I smile just thinking about them now (and my eyes have gone into a reminiscent blurriness).

Deboning the dazzling array of fish for my bouillabaisse

So, I had pretty high expectations for my main course – the bouillabaisse, and I was certainly not disappointed. The waitress appeared with multiple pieces of crockery, and then proceeded to debone an amazing array of local fresh fish, caught that day, onto a soup plate, before ladling a rich seafood broth from a tureen over the deboned fish.

ladling the rich seafood broth over the deboned seafood

I literally ate myself into a food coma. I simply had to eat as much of that dish as I could in one seating – it was, in a word, divine.

My amazing bouillabaisse at La Reserve

We also watched as other French classics such as beef tartare was prepared tableside to each person’s liking. I think the other testimony to La Reserve is that we went probably at the tail end of “the season” – not a lot of tourists were around, yet La Reserve was at full capacity with locals. Lots of cheek kisses and friendly conversation surrounded us. Happiness !

Restaurant La Reserve
8 Place Victor Hugo, 83120 Sainte-Maxime, France
Tel:+33 4 94 96 18 32


La Maison Bleue, Sainte Maxime, Cote D’Azur

 

Moules mariniere 

Last year we spent our vacation in France – in the French Riviera and Paris. This is the first time that we have been to the South of France and we were looking forward to indulging in their famous hospitality and wonderful produce and food.

One of our favourite places to eat was in Sainte Maxime, where we were staying a quiet seaside town across the gulf from the glitz and glamour of St Tropez.

La Maison Bleue is charming and bustling at the same time, with sun-dappled seating, just behind the main street of Sainte Maxime. The few waitstaff are busybusybusy – but still are able to say “bon appetite” with a smile, and pause long enough to explain what was on their cheese plate that day (and why they loved it).

They have a limited menu of simple dishes, spectacularly made.

The standout of our visits Рwe loved it so much we went every few days for a light snack (and maybe a bottle or two of the local rosé wine) between meals Рwas the moules mariniere. A big steaming bowl of mussels in white wine, served with (what else in France) a deliciously crusty baguette to mop up the sauce at the bottom of the bowl.

I have made moules marinere before – but they have NEVER tasted this amazingly good. The mussels are much smaller than ones I am accustomed to. Around Australia and Singapore we have easy access to the much larger New Zealand mussels. And as with a lot of shellfish, I find a lot of times the smaller they are, the sweeter their flavour. Even D, who usually immediately zooms in on the meat part of the menu, favourited this dish. Each small mussel filled your mouth with their juicy sweetness.

La Maison Bleue’s fish soup, served with the traditional rouille, croutons and cheese, was also superb. Make sure you book, as this gem fills up quickly.

La Maison Bleue
48 Rue Paul Bert
Sainte Maxime, France

Tel: +33 4 94 96 51 92


41 Degrees, Barcelona, Spain

Hands down, the best meal I have had. Ever.

41 Degrees started off as a cocktail lounge, attached to the tapas bar, Tickets, by Adri√†¬†brothers, Ferran and Albert. The intimate 16-seater bar then started serving a 41 “course” dinner of amuse bouches.

The meal is a totally immersive experience that I don’t want to spoil for anyone who has not yet been. Suffice to say if you’ve been, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then it’s an absolute must-visit if you are in Barcelona.

It’s also the closest thing to El Bulli, with owners, cooks and many staff from the famed, now-closed legendary restaurant. (Albert Adri√†¬†himself has referred to 41 Degrees as a “mini Bulli”).

Make no other plans for the evening – our dinner started at 8 and we left after midnight. And with¬†an almost ridiculous attention to detail,¬†we didn’t stop grinning at each other the entire evening. Every thing is intended to (and does) surprise and delight every one of your senses.

I heard that Albert is planning to return the space to its cocktail roots, and moving the dining experience somewhere nearby in Barcelon’s theatre district, but bookings can only be made via their website.


Restaurant Cal Pep, Barcelona

Assorted fried seafood – crispy deliciousness

An absolute must-go for tapas when in Barcelona. Get to Cal Pep early – you can’t book, and the word is out – the 20 stools in the front room were full as soon as the doors opened for lunch at 1.

We chatted to the waiter at the counter, asked for our favourites (pimentos, clams) and then left it to him to recommend, based on what produce they had that day. There didn’t seem to be an enormous range – the waiter explaining that ingredients are kept to a minimum, with the emphasis on freshness. Just the way we like it.

Every dish was a stunner.¬†Josep Manubens Figueres, the chef and owner (“Pep” is a common Catalan nickname for Josep), ensures the seafood at his tapas bar is the freshest that is available every morning at the fish auctions along the nearby Costa Brava every morning.

Cooks wait patiently until the first order comes in, and then they come in flying, thick and fast, with no reprieve, and what I can only describe as “organised chaos” ensues.

Chick peas with fried spinach and jamon

The dish of deep-fried seafood – lightly floured small fish, squid, calamari rings and small prawns – came out crispy and tasted of each individual piece of seafood, not just randomly of oil. The chick peas and vibrantly green spinach (not at all overcooked or gloppy) had bits of fried jamon, imparting the dish with its flavour and providing a nice contrast in texture.

There was just one meat dish – a speciality of the house –¬†botifarra de porc amb foie d’√†nec fresc, pork sausage with foie gras and port wine, served in inch-long slices over white beans.

Saffron milk cap mushrooms cooked on the grill

We also tried for the first time some mushrooms we saw at the Boqueria, the saffron milk cap. Bright orange in colour with deep green stains (which apparently appear when the mushrooms have been handled) – the flavour is mild and the texture is almost “crunchy”.

Simplicity is the key to the beauty of each dish – with every plate, there was nothing that didn’t absolutely have to be there.

Remember to get there early – or be prepared to stand impatiently behind diners like us. Their schedule is complicated, so check their website to find when they are open.

Cal Pep
Plaça de les Olles, 8, Barcelona
Tel: 011-34-93-310-7961


Las Estrellas Mirador San Nicolas, Granada, Spain

The entire Alhambra was too big to capture in one picture – this is just one third of the spectacular view from our table

En route from Seville to Barcelona, we stopped off in Granada to visit the breathtaking Palace, the Alhambra. One thing to note if you are visiting Рbe prepared for hoardes of tourists (of which we were, as well), which to me, slightly diminished the experience of the beauty and tranquillity of the Palace. I have to say that the Alcázar of Seville Рalthough not on as grand a scale as the Alhambra, is (in my humble opinion) equally beautiful, and you get to appreciate the beauty of the palace at your own pace, in peace and quiet, rather than jostling amongst tour groups and photographers.

But I digress.

The Alhambra is not only amazing inside, but can be viewed from a spectacular vantage point across the mountains. And perched on top of that vantage point, is Las Estrellas Mirador San Nicolas. Book ahead in advance and ask for the table next to the window.

Our hotel in Seville was kind enough to not only recommend this to us, but booked it for us as well, and we found ourselves in the enviable position of being smack bang in the middle of the window, watching the sun set behind the Alhambra. Nothing quite like it, really. And so amazing that I only remembered to take a photo after dark, and it certainly does not do the view any justice.

Creamy rice paella with lobster and seasonal wild mushrooms

Is the view enough to make Las Estrellas Mirador San Nicolas¬†a must-visit ? The food is good…just not great. I’m being super picky here, but I thought the presentation seemed a bit dated, and to be totally honest – and I do understand that it’s a completely different type of restaurant than the nearby tapas bar Kiki (which you should also visit if you are in Granada) – but the seafood at Las Estrellas just didn’t seem as fresh.

The food we did have was certainly not bad at all, and the service was impeccable. For an amuse bouche we had a cold cauliflower cream with white chocolate and pistachios, starters was a beautifully balanced home made foie gras terrine with a tangy red onion confit (which was actually my favourite dish of the evening).

Vanilla ice-cream profiteroles with a hot chocolate sauce

My main was a creamy rice paella with lobster and seasonal wild mushrooms and for dessert we had vanilla ice-cream profiteroles with a hot chocolate sauce.

Having said all that, I do actually think that if you are going to Granada, go to Las Estrallas Mirador San Nicolas. It’s a nice treat for the taste buds and a spectacular treat for the eyes. Ten stars for atmosphere. Remember to book “that” table !

Las Estrallas Mirador San Nicolas
Callejon Atarazana Vieja, 1
19010, Granada, Spain
Tel: +34 958 288 739
E: estrellasdesan-nicolas@hotmail.fr