Lidl French Week

I do quite enjoy the way that Lidl does themed flavour weeks, and I often visit just to see what they have and get a few things.

This week is French week.

I enjoyed the Rosette Air-Dried Salami, so much so, that I went back a day later to get some more, but my local branch had sold out. It was tasty salami.

The Laiterie de la Montagne Tomme de Montagne was a delicious cheese. Soft and mild flavoured, I really liked it.

I also got some Pommes Noisettes from the freezer, these are tastier than the potato pots we get from Tesco. The last time Lidl did a French week, they did some Pommes Rissolées, however this time these were absent from the promotion.

I got a few other things as well and we have had some nice meals with the different things I bought.

Time for a toastie…

Looking for a reasonably quick lunch, I decided to venture to Cafe Rouge at Cribbs Causeway. Parts of this venue are quite nice, those tables hidden away in the inside, the tables out towards the entrance are less cosy and it feels more like a service station or typical food court than a French bistro.

My phone contract often provides me with special offers, one of which time was with Cafe Rouge where I could have any burger or croque sandwich for just £5.

I did think initially to have a burger, but decided to have a croque toasted sandwich.

I went with the classic grilled Emmental cheese sandwich on sourdough with béchamel sauce, served with frites. The filling I chose was Portobello mushroom with baby spinach, goat’s cheese and a drizzle of truffle oil.

I went with the classic grilled Emmental cheese sandwich on sourdough with béchamel sauce, served with frites. The filling I chose was Portobello mushroom with baby spinach, goat's cheese and a drizzle of truffle oil.

I did think the béchamel sauce was overdone. I was expecting a bit more crunch to the bread, but overall there were some nice flavours.

The fries were a little overdone for my liking and a little bit too much salt.

Service was friendly and welcoming. Maybe a little too attentive, for example, I had literally just taken my first bite when I was asked how was my meal!

Overall it was a nice quick lunch, quite tasty, not perfect, but good value for money.

Temps pour un steak baguette s’il vous plaît

In the past I have had some poor eating experiences at Café Rouge so have generally avoided their branches when looking for somewhere for lunch. Either the food wasn’t as good as I was expecting, or more usually poor and late service. However I still like the concept of a French bistro and the menu often is quite enticing.

I had arrived early in Cheltenham for a meeting and wanted somewhere I could get some lunch I hadn’t even considered Café Rouge. I had a look round, and not wanting something too heavy or too expensive I wasn’t sure what to have. I then saw Café Rouge and recalled seeing a special offer with my Three Wuntu app.If you have a mobile phone contract with Three then you often can get special deals and offers. The Wuntu offer was for a baguette, burger or croque for just five pounds. Well that fitted the bill, so in I went, though I was a little cautious. There was a warm and friendly welcome and I was able to choose where to sit from a few options offered to me, which was nice. Alas for some reason I was unable to get a decent 4G signal at my table so was unable to do the work I had intended to do over lunch. Not sure why, probably the construction of the building. Glad I managed to sort out the special offer on my phone before I went in. This branch of Café Rouge looked similar to their other branches, they have tried to give the place a French feel and look. It works for me.

I perused the menu and in the end decided to go with the Steak Baguette. I didn’t really fancy a burger or croque so I went with the steak baguette. The steak baguette was filled with sliced Black Angus rump steak with red onion chutney, watercress and Dijon mayonnaise and served with my choice of fries or salad. I went with the fries.

sliced Black Angus rump steak with red onion chutney, watercress and Dijon mayonnaise and served with fries

It arrived on a narrow wooden platter with a bowl of fries. I wasn’t too sure about how I was going to eat this, as it felt like it might be a bit messy to eat. I should have asked for a plate!

The steak was cooked as requested and was quite flavoursome and tasty. I think it could have been sliced more thinly in order to make it easier to eat. The watercress and Dijon mayonnaise worked well with the steak, but I did feel the red onion chutney was a bit of a miss and I think it could have been left off entirely. The baguette was fresh, with a crispy crumb and fluffy inside. The fries were crispy and hot and were a nice accompaniment.

The only complaint I had wasn’t about the restaurant, but was about the deal, the steak baguette incurred a £2 supplement, which wasn’t clear in the offer terms and conditions. Also the steak baguette was cheaper than the burgers, so still not sure why it had the supplement. So it was £7 not a fiver, but that was still quite a good deal. It was nice to sit down and eat, rather than grab a sandwich on the go.

You never know I might go again!

Time for a really nice artisan baguette

Le Poivrot Sandwich.  Comprising an artisan baguette filled with saucisson, gruyere, cornichons, and mustard

Sometimes you can get surprised.

I know there are lots of places in Bristol to eat that I haven’t been to, but sometimes it’s nice to find places and go and eat there that you didn’t know about.

Having climbed the Christmas Steps, Bristol’s very own Diagon Alley, and visiting the most excellent gin and whisky shop, the person behind the counter recommended a little French place on Colston Street called Le Poivrot.

It looked really nice from the outside and going through the door we were given a warm welcome from the staff.

The lunch menu was limited, but for me this was a good thing, I would rather have a smaller choice, but made with more care and better quality ingredients and tastier results.

I was tempted by the soup, but in the end went with a sandwich, not just any old sandwich, but the Le Poivrot Sandwich.

Comprising an artisan baguette filled with saucisson, gruyere, cornichons, and mustard. The bread was lovely and fresh, great snappy crust with a soft fluffy crumb. The filling was a nice combination of sharp and salty flavours.

The service was excellent. I will certainly be going again.

A little piece of France in Bristol

La Buvette in Bristol

Down on Baldwin Street in the heart of Bristol is a little piece of France. La Buvette is a characterful little wine bar which also serves some really nice food.

La Buvette is owned and run by the Riverstation’s Peter Taylor. Peter runs a hotel in rural France called Auberge de Chassignolles and when it closed for the winter months, Peter came back to Bristol in December and he opened Bar Buvette a pop-up Parisian-style natural wine bar. It seems to have been a success and has become more of a permanent feature.

I found out about La Buvette from an article in the Evening Post weekend supplement. So the following Tuesday thinking that this would be a nice place for a quick lunch I popped down to find it closed. Alas they only open for lunch on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, so I had to find somewhere else…

Last week I was in Bristol on a Friday, so I thought, hmm, this could be a good time to try out La Buvette. I arrived at quarter past twelve, it was open and only one other table was taken, well it was quite early for lunch. The staff were welcoming and friendly and as they were still writing the menu out on the blackboard.

La Buvette in Bristol

Listening carefully I decided to go with the boudin with duck egg. When it arrived I was a little surprised to find that it was black pudding, or boudin noir! Maybe I should have listened a little more carefully. The waiting staff did say that this was a small dish, so I ordered a beetroot salad alongside the boudin noir.

The environment was really atmospheric, it felt very French, the wooden furniture, the bottles on the wall and the pictures on the wall.

La Buvette in Bristol

The boudin noir was cooked to perfection, it was soft and full of lovely flavours, and the richness of the duck egg complemented it well.

Boudin noir and duck egg

The beetroot salad was made from different dressed roasted beetroot complemented with goat’s cheese curds. This was sharp and tasty.

Beetroot Salad

Upon reflection I think I might have ordered just one dish along with some bread. This would have been better value for lunch, but I did really enjoy both dishes. The total cost was £12.50 as I basically had two dishes, with bread the cost would have been around £7.50 which is better, but still quite expensive for lunch. However the food was great, the staff friendly and excellent service, it will be a place I would like to visit again.

French Markets

Over on my “nowhere else to post, so it goes here” blog I have been posting some photographs from a trip I made to Normandy in the 1990s including visiting Honfleur and Caen.

I don’t recall which year I went, but one of my overwhelming memories of that trip, was a visit to the local market in Cane and the smell of tomatoes. You could smell them from some distance away from the stall.

caen-market_21220417888_o

I remember thinking how on earth did these tomatoes actually smell of tomatoes, it certainly wasn’t like the bland ones you got from supermarkets in England at the time. My memory of buying tomatoes from my local supermarket was that you had the choice of one kind, they all looked the same, they were all the same size and they tasted of, to be honest, nothing. Today you do have a lot more choice and I certainly try and buy tomatoes for their flavour.

Even today I have never found an English market come close to those that I found in Normandy on that trip. Certaiinly the Italian markets I visited at the same kind of time were similar, full of fresh produce.

caen-market_21220451528_o

There were things there that you would never find in the British markets (or supermarkets) at the time, but things have changed. There was vegetables and fruit that I had never heard of. As we were staying in a hotel I didn’t actually buy anything from the market, but I was so tempted…

caen-market_21397380082_o

I wonder if these markets still exist? If they do, are they much different from what I saw back then?

caen-market_21408262965_o

One thing we have much more now in the UK than we had back then are local farmers’ markets, full of local produce and great stuff you can get there too.

French Sausage at the German Market

Birmingham's German Christmas Market

I have been to a few German markets in my time, but have to admit I rarely buy anything from them, usually it’s time, sometimes it’s price and other times what on earth are they selling!

Most German markets I have been too have had some beautiful Christmas decorations and bits, but there are also lots of food stalls.

Birmingham's German Christmas Market

On the odd occasion, though I make a purchase, this time I went with what was described as a French Hot Dog. They looked really quite nice cooking on the griddle.

The blackboard was chalked with £4 each or £6 for a double. What you actually got was a split sausage for £4 and the £6 was for a whole sausage.

It was served in a split section of baguette, along with grated cheese and french mustard mayonnaise.

So what was it like? Well to be honest it was a bit of a nightmare for street food. The sausage was fine, but the skin was really tough, making it very difficult to bite through. I also thought the sausage was rather too salty. The cheese was nice, strong flavoured, but the mustard was a little harsh. Overall a bit of a disappointment, and I thought for £4 was somewhat overpriced.

Oxfordian French

I was recently invited for a meal out in, of all places, Oxford. The choice was Pierre Victoire, an independent family run French style restaurant. This is no way a regular haunt so was interested to see what the food was going to be like. What surprised me the most was how crowded the place was for a Wednesday evening. True there were a couple of big groups in, but it appeared to me that every table was taken. I don’t think I was the only one that was surprised, I got the feeling the staff were surprised too. They took our orders and then forty minutes later took them again as the original order had gone “missing”. Later on the desert choices went missing too! In the end we were in the restaurant for four hours, in reality I think it could have been much shorter. I did note though that other people weren’t getting forgotten as we were.

I really liked the atmosphere and the design of the place, it felt rustic French to me, no pretentions, this was going to be good solid French cooking, no messing. There were no fancy tablecloths for example. I don’t go to France much these days (okay the last time was nearly twenty years ago) but my memories of the restaurants I use to eat at, were family run affairs with great food. They weren’t chains with system cooking, these places cooked their food from fresh and used good local ingredients.

The house wine was a rough and ready red wine that wasn’t unpleasant, but did lack finesse, however that didn’t really matter as this was rustic restaurant and the wine suited this environment just fine.

The menu wasn’t too short, but also wasn’t excessively long either. I always worry about huge menus, how on earth do they manage to keep the ingredients fresh for such a range of choices. If you have a huge kitchen with lots of chefs and lots of covers then fine, I understand, but a small place with not too many covers you sometimes think how? Well actually I know how, the places use tins and jars. I remember going to an Italian restaurant in London and they had one of these huge menus, I distinctly recall the tomato sauce I had on my pasta was from a jar, it certainly wasn’t fresh. So looking over the menu at Pierre Victoire I wasn’t disappointed with the number of choices I was inspired and looking forward to ordering and eating.

For my starter my immediate reaction was to go with the pigeon breast, roasted pink and served with sweet potato, a red wine jus and parsnip chips. Upon reflection I did quite like the idea of the Moules or the Crab Salad. However in the end I went with my first choice of the pigeon.

pigeon breast, roasted pink and served with sweet potato, a red wine jus and parsnip chips

This was beautifully cooked, pink, tender and lots of flavour. The red win jus was just right and had the potential to be salty, but was seasoned perfectly. I did enjoy the parsnip chips and the sweet potato, but did think that there was slightly too much of the sweet potato. As a result for a starter it was quite a substantial dish. Having said that, it was beautifully cooked and I really enjoyed it.

For my main course I was torn between a range of dishes. I did like the sound of the chicken, Suprême de Volaille, a chicken breast roasted with a baby spinach & wild mushroom farce and served with gratin dauphinoise and a red wine reduction. However I always seem to be cooking chicken at home, so really wanted something other than chicken (but it did sound nice).

The steak and frites (chips) would have been the “boring” choice, so that was another item on the menu eliminated.

I really did quite like the idea of the roasted duck magret and confi’d duck leg served on a leek and potato rosti with a blackberry and ginger sauce, but as I had had the pigeon for a starter,I felt it would have been too similar a dish.

In the end I went with Moules~Frites, the fresh Cornish mussels served marinières à la crème.

Moules~Frites, the fresh Cornish mussels served marinières à la crème

The mussels were lovely and fresh, there was a good sized portion and they were delicious. Slight criticism was that the diced onion in the sauce was undercooked, but apart from that it was a dish full of flavour and very satisfying. I also really enjoyed the pommes frites that were the right size and texture.

I did like that the restaurant also served bread and unsalted President butter along with the meal, perfect as an appetiser and to mop up juices and sauce.

Desert for me was a no brainer, it was going to the cheese. Well so I thought, I did for a second or two consider the hazelnut desert however the thought of plate of cheese won out. Someone else did order the hazelnut dish and I didn’t think that much of it. I was expecting more of a pave, a slab of sweet terrine (or pate), but what they had was very different.

The cheese and accompaniments arrived on a wooden chopping board. Alongside the three portions of cheese consisting of Saint Albray, Roquefort and Camembert Artisan, was bread, biscuits, celery, grapes and chutney.

Saint Albray, Roquefort and Camembert Artisan

Didn’t eat the celery, don’t like celery, never liked it. Cheese was good, even the strong Roquefort was nice with the chutney.

Overall a delicious meal and some great company too. I finished my meal off with a single espresso which was perfect.

We chose from the “Party Menu” which was £21 for three courses.

French Style

Last year when visiting Nottingham for an event, myself and David Sugden, had a meal at French Living, as you might expect a French themed restaurant.

Not knowing a city means that you are either dependent on recommendations from friends there, going to a chain (with the usual potential of disappointment) or taking a chance (with an equal chance of disappointment).

Usually what I would do in these situations is roam the streets for a while looking at various places and seeing what was available. Sometimes this is successful, and sometimes it is downright a nightmare. I did this once in Preston and had a really nice meal, did it in London and had an Italian nightmare of a meal!

So I did something that I hadn’t done before (which surprised even me) and searched the internet for restaurants. I have used the internet to find restaurants (that I know of, or people recommended) but this was the first time I searched for suitable restaurants. I arrived at a selection, and I read and checked the reviews to see what other people thought.

I am slightly wary of reviews (and to be honest personal recommendations) as people’s perceptions of what makes a good restaurant vary so much. Some people will recommend (or not) a place on the quality of the food, others on the quantity of food, some on the ambiance, some even on the availability of car parking or a child’s play area! I remember someone recommending a place, purely on the basis that they gave you so much food you couldn’t eat it all, fair enough if you’re very hungry and don’t worry that much about what you eat I guess. A lot depends I guess on why you go out to eat. The context is also quite important, a quiet dinner for two is one thing, a group of you eating ramen and noodles at Wagamamas is something else. So as you might expect I was slightly sceptical of anything I read.

Having read a fair few reviews, I compiled a list on which French Living was one of a few choices. Why did we end up in French Living, well the main reason was that it was the first place on my list we found…

I think I have a good sense of direction and spatial awareness, so know where I am and where to find places. The reality is in fact very different, and if I choose not to accept that, then that is not just a problem for me, but also for people who believe me when I say that I do know where I am and where I am going. Arriving in Nottingham City Centre, I thought I knew where to go and park, it’s not as though I hadn’t been before, but in the end had no idea really where the centre was, where best to park and what was it with all those buses and taxis? In the end I did end up in a car park, no idea where it was and if I would be able to get back in again to collect my car.

So of we walked to find a place to eat, and as it happens the first place we found on my list was French Living. For future reference it’s at 27 King St, Nottingham, NG1 2AY. It certainly looked the part and reminded me of many of the (real) French places I had eaten at when I was younger.

Looking over the menu, there was quite a wide choice, though for me there were some good choices on the fixed price Menu Gastronomique so I went with that. With four choices per course, you might have thought it was limited, well even on the main menu there were only ten choices of main courses in all.

For my starter I chose Moules au Vin Blanc.

Moules au Vin Blanc

This was a bowl of whole fresh mussels steamed in shallot, garlic, parsley and cream broth. I do like moule, but rarely have them when I go out to eat as more often than not, they are pre-cooked and then reheated in the microwave, you know the kind that are easily purchased in the supermarket. It’s not as I don’t like that, to be honest I do have them now and again from the supermarket, it’s much more if I am going out to eat then I want freshly cooked food, not reheated food. Too often I find these days many places are just reheating food from a central supplier, rather than cooking it fresh themselves. These did taste as though they were freshly cooked, and from the look of the shells, they looked like it too. The broth was nice and I did enjoy dunking the bread in. As with any seafood broth it was quite salty, but not excessively so.

For my main course I had considered the Cassoulet de Castelnaudary, but wasn’t sure, so in the end I went with Chevreuil aux Myrtilles, medallions of wild Scottish venison cooked rare with red wine and blueberry sauce – gratin dauphinois and vegetable garnish.

Chevreuil aux Myrtilles

Well this was a wonderful dish, full of different flavours, the sauce contrasting well with the full flavour of the venison. I was pleased with the venison which, though having lots of flavour, wasn’t overstrong or overpowering. It was very tender and there was a good sized portion too. I did enjoy the gratin dauphinois which makes a nice difference to chips or pomme frites. Overall a really nice dish.

If you know me, or have read the blog, you will realise, given the choice instead of choosing a sweet desert I much prefer cheese. So it was no surprise for my “desert” I went with Assiette de Fromages, a selection of three unpasteurised French cheeses served with bread and mixed salad leaves.

Assiette de Fromages

I was less impressed with this course, I felt a little short changed on the cheese and would have liked to have a little more. Having said that it was very nice cheese.

Overall it was a really good meal, and the reviews I had read online were reasonably accurate and authentic. If I ever found myself in Nottingham again and I could find it, I would certainly go again.

French Picnic Lunch

Picnic  lunch

This photo appeared in David’s photostream recently from his holiday in France. It reminded me of the typical French picnics I use to eat in France when I was young and on my last visit there (back in the 1990s). There is something very French about a French flute or baguette, pate, cheese and fresh tomatoes. Maybe some saucisson sec or other dried salami. Washed down with a small bottle of French lager or possibly a glass of red wine. Just hungry thinking about it.