French Excellence in Edinburgh

Last November I was off to Scotland, staying overnight in Edinburgh, for some meetings and events. I took an afternoon flight from Bristol. I took the tram to the heart of Edinburgh and then walked over to the hotel the Radisson Blu. The room was nice and modern. After dropping off my stuff I went for a walk around Edinburgh.

I realised as I walked around Edinburgh having checked into my hotel, that I have been to Edinburgh many times over the last twenty years for work, but have never actually visited the place in a personal non-work capacity. I go to London a lot for work, but also go there with family to visit and explore. So I am thinking about possibly visiting Edinburgh in the future to explore and have a proper look around.

It was getting dark even though it was only 4pm, well it was November. I walked around the old town before heading up to the castle.

It was way too late to visit the castle proper so I just took in the evening views across Edinburgh.

There was a couple of shops I wanted to have a look at before I went back to the hotel so walked further into the heart of Edinburgh with the intention of walking around Princes Street and back to the hotel. On my way I passed what looked like a really nice French place, Petit Paris on Grassmarket. The menu looking really interesting and inspiring. They had a pre-theatre deal that looked good value. It was not as though I was going to go to the theatre, but  could take advantage of the deal.

As it was afternoon, I continued to explore Edinburgh, however as I walked around the weather got worse, so I stopped at a Caffe Nero for coffee and catch up with work stuff. I went back to the hotel more directly to get changed and then I headed out to get something to eat.

I went out to Petit Paris for dinner. The place was quite busy and I was given a nice welcome, before being taken down into the basement where there was a free table.

I looked over the menu and there was so many tempting dishes on there. I had to make a choice though, so for my starter I went with the garlic mussels.

This dish reminded me of snails in garlic butter, but this dish was done with mussels. It had just come out of the oven was really hot, so I was careful not to scald my mouth when eating it. Very strong garlic flavours, slightly overpowering the mussels, but still a nice start to the meal.

There was a lot of choice for the main course, in the end I went with something that I probably wouldn’t have ordered, but did so as I wanted to try a new kind of dish. I went with fish in a cream sauce with mashed potatoes.

It was delicious and very nice. The potato was smooth and creamy, the sauce was tasty and not too rich and the fish was cooked really well.

I didn’t want a sweet end to the meal and I like cheese so I went with some cheese.

There was a nice choice of cheeses.

Overall this was one of the best meals out I have had for a long time, the food was delicious.

If I get a chance to get to Edinburgh again I think I will try and visit Petit Paris again for a meal.

Time for Thai Mussels and Beer

Now as we enter a second lockdown I have been reflecting on some meals I had out over the last few years which never made it to the blog. Sometimes I just run out of time to write up a review and sometimes I forget to write up the meal.

I had the meal reviewed here in June in 2019 at Belgo in London. I had spent a week off on holiday in Sussex and the week after I was back to work with three days in London. It was at the same time a certain American President was also visiting London during these same three days! I had written up the delicious pasta meal that I had during the same trip.

During my three days I was staying in a hotel that I actually wasn’t expecting to stay in, so I hadn’t had the time to do much research about places to eat nearby and I really didn’t want to end up at the hotel restaurant, as they can be terrible food and over-priced. After checking into the hotel I had a look around the area to see where I could get some food. I had been tempted by the Union Tavern gastropub, but it was rather busy. Around the corner was a branch of Belgo. I had always liked the concept of Belgo, but there wasn’t one in Bristol so I had never managed to get to a branch. I had thought about visiting the one in Kingsway when I was looking for lunch when I was working in our London office, but it was a little too far away (and too expensive) for lunch. So the opportunity of visiting the Islington branch was appealing.

I quite liked the interior, modern and somewhat abstract. Part of me thought that a more nostalgic Belgian environment might have worked. I was given a warm welcome from the waiting staff and was shown to my table.

There was quite a wide choice on the menu, but my main reason for going to Belgo was the mussels.

To drink, I went with a Beer Flight. This is three small 1/3 pints of different beers. A lovely idea if you have no idea on which beer to choose. I really enjoyed the different beers, each quite unique, all refreshing.

For my starter I went with the Calamari, crispy squid with aioli.

This was not as good as I was hoping, but even so it was okay.

For my main course I went with Green Thai Mussels. These were mussels cooked in a Thai Green sauce with coconut cream, fresh ginger, lemongrass, Kaffir lime, chilli and coriander. I did think about going with the traditional or mariniére bowls, but thought that was the way I would always order, so lets go with something different.

I really enjoyed the mussels, the Thai sauce was nice, spicy but not overpowering.

The service was excellent and I did not feel rushed or ignored.

Since I visited we’ve had the covid-19 pandemic. In July 2020 on the back of the pandemic and the parent chain, Causal Dining Group went into administration and it was announced that Belgo would permanently close three of its four sites. It looks like I will need to find a different place to have some mussels.

Time for some seafood

Staying overnight in Cambridge, well over in Madingley, which is just outside the city. I was wondering where I could get something to eat. In Madingley there is a really nice looking gastropub, but was out of my budget, so I looked into the heart of Cambridge. Yes the Midsummer House was a possibility, if I had loads of spare money and no budget, but I didn’t, so no that wasn’t a possibility…

I had downloaded a Zizzi voucher, quick and easy I thought. Checking where it was, I saw on the map the Loch Fyne. I have been curious about the place for a while now, there are branches in Bath and Bristol, but I have never been, mainly as it was usually quite pricey from memory. I thought I would look at the menu and see what I could be missing. Accessing the website I saw that they had a January offer, 50% off mains. Looking over the menu, I saw lots of things I liked the look of, so that was the place.

The restaurant is on Trumpington Street quite close to the impressive Fitzwilliam Museum. It’s an older building and inside there are lots of wooden beams and low ceilings.

I initially thought, well it’s January, cold and a Tuesday, it wouldn’t be very busy, boy was I wrong. The place was packed. I was left waiting for a while, and then asked to sit in the foyer style area, until a table was free. I waited some more. At this point I nearly left.

In the end I went with Loch Fyne Seafood Mixed Grill. The dish as described consists of Scottish salmon, Scottish king scallop, golden shell Hebridean mussels, squid, sea bass fillet, samphire, wilted spinach, lobster butter, and a side of sautéed new potatoes.

I knew the place was busy, so didn’t worry too much about the speed of service, but in the end it was quite quick. The plate looked delicious. There was a huge prawn in the dish, which was nice, as that wasn’t on the dish description.

As I tried the salmon, I realised that the king scallop was missing. Considering how busy it was, I didn’t think I would be able to get the attention of the waiting staff, but I was lucky. He was very apologetic and took the dish and returned shortly with the added scallop, well two scallops.

The dish was well cooked, I enjoyed the salmon and the bass as well as the scallops. The squid was nice, as were the mussels. I couldn’t really taste the lobster butter, but there was a richness there I enjoyed. It comes with a side of sautéed potatoes, which were smooth, buttery and rather tasty.

I was surprised by how busy the place was, but I did quite like the environment. The service wasn’t perfect, but I put that down to the number of people in the place.

Did not meet expectations

paella

One of the regular stalls at the weekly Temple Quay meeting, but also the Wednesday street food market on Wine Street usually has a really large queue, so I often avoid it, due to time constraints. It usually serves beef chilli, stroganoff and paella. I have no idea of the stall name, as there isn’t one on the stall.

Having a little more time and quite liking the idea of the paella, I decided to join the queue. It did move quite quickly as the staff were quick and efficient at serving.

The paella was cooked on a large paella dish and contained chorizo, chicken, mussels, prawns and squid and was £6.00 a serving. The portion was provide in a plastic takeaway container and was given a garnish of fresh coriander and lemon.

I had quite high expectations about this dish, but alas I was to be somewhat disappointed.

The yellow of the dish came from turmeric, rather than the much more expensive saffron. I wasn’t too surprised by this, as this happens quite often. Even so I did like the flavour of the dish and felt it was very tasty. The dish though, I felt lacked enough of the core ingredients. It had one piece of chicken, two small prawns, a few pieces of squid, but plenty of mussels!

My main disappointment as a result is about value for money, was the dish worth the money I paid for it. I didn’t think it was worth the price and I don’t think I would try the dish or the stall again.

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.

Thai Mussels

In December 2009 I went to a conference in Auckland in New Zealand. A friend took me out for a meal at a wonderful restaurant. Alas I don’t recall the name or the location…

I went with the mussels.

This was a wonderfully freshly cooked Thai curry with mussels.

It was delicious.

Mussels

Do you know I can’t remember if I should only be eating mussels when there is an ‘r’ in the month, or when there isn’t!

Mussels

I use to really enjoy mussels, both fresh and those large New Zealand green ones, but recently seem to have gone off them. As with any food, too much of a good thing can result in one no longer enjoying it as much as one did.