Agretti and Artichokes

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It seems like ages ago now, but for almost two glorious weeks around Easter I was in Italy on what can only be described as a gastronomic tour to give both Elizabeth David and Elizabeth Gilbert a run for their money.   It was also a most efficient holiday as I managed to spend time with my husband, my family and friends all in one trip.  We started in Rome, without plan or agenda, simply walking the streets in search of new sights and good food and wine.  On our first day we gave the Easter crowds a wide berth by avoiding the Centro Storico and Vatican.  Instead, we headed to the neighbourhood of Monti, with its quieter streets, more peaceful squares and treasure trove shops.  This was followed by a walk to Said chocolate shop, which has been producing treats for the Romans since 1923.  After stocking up on truffles and Easter eggs, we nipped in for dinner at Pastificio San Lorenzo across the road.  An excellent place to try a few dishes that veered away from the pasta/pizza fare of the centre of town and the perfect place to people watch over an aperitivo. 

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                                                                                                               A grocer’s and butcher’s in Monti

                                                                                                                   Monti’s back streets

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                                                                                              A florist in Monti taking a well-deserved break

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                                                                                                            Sicilian lemons and courgette flowers

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                                                                          Every market sold these gorgeous stripey aubergines and peppery pecorino

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                                                                                                                        A pasticceria in Monti

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                                                                                                                          Chocolate truffles at Said

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                                                                                                        Chocolate molds hanging behind the bar at Said

After this city break and in the midst of the Easter rush, we escaped to the countryside.  After surviving what was possibly the most terrifying taxi ride of my life (our driver felt he was quite capable of turning around and chatting to us at length while speeding down the motorway), we picked up our car at the airport and drove up through Lazio into the heart of Umbria and where my Dad is gradually semi-retiring.  We met him in his tiny little village near Orvieto, perched at the top of a hill with views stretching out into Tuscany.

Umbria is sometimes overlooked by tourists, but this relative quiet really only adds to its charm.  It is known as the il cuore verde d’Italia (the green heart of Italy) because of its verdant hills and agricultural abundance.  It certainly seemed like everywhere we turned there was wonderful produce – from the olive groves and vegetable patches around the village we were staying in, to the nearby vineyards and saffron fields.  Over the Easter period there were plenty of markets in the nearby towns and villages, manned by proud farmers showing off their produce.  We particularly enjoyed a blustery afternoon spent in Citta della Pieve, tasting salame, cheeses, beers and hog roast panini.

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                                                                                                                            Cabbages with a view

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                                                                                                                          Ice cream in Orvieto

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                                                                                      Courgette flowers, ready for stuffing with ricotta and deep frying

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                                                                                                                       Perfectly baby artichokes

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                                                                                                    Surely the most picturesque parking spot in the world?

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                                                                                                                     Cathedrals and Gelato in Orvieto

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                                                                                                                          Citta della Pieve

double 7After a few peaceful days in Umbria, I waved goodbye to my family and headed up the country to Florence, where I met a group of girlfriends for a long weekend.  Walking around the city was a strange experience, it seemed like there were ghosts of a past life on every corner, echoes from a long time ago.  I lived in Florence  for a year when I was 16, my father’s infatuation with Italy brought the whole family there at the turn of the millennium.  I went kicking and screaming, not wanting  to leave my friends and established life behind.  Of course when we moved from Italy year later, it was in further floods of tears.  I’d fallen hard for the city, the weather, the people (Italian boys, of course!).

Every street in central Florence brought back a memory, a conversation I had forgotten, a person I’ve lost touch with, a smell or a taste I can’t quite seem to place.  It was eery and a bit sad, but also wonderful to be reminded that yes, this did actually happen half my life ago and it was great and came to shape who I became as an adult.

Not least in terms of food.  I had a wonderful friend that magical year in Italy, called Hannah.  She was the daughter of the priest at the American Church in Florence (who from what I could tell spent most of his time marrying Japanese tourists, even answering the phone with a cheery ‘moshi moshi!’) and she was in the year above me at school.  She had bright pink, red or purple hair (depending on the week) and cooked like a goddess.  It was the first time I had met anyone my age who loved food and loved cooking to that extent.  Before living in Italy, I’d been a bit embarrassed by my love of food and kept it hidden and separate from the rest of my life.  It was something I shared with my family and only revealed to friends at the occasional school bake sale.

But Hannah made it not only seem like the coolest thing in the world (I remember watching in awe as she chopped a peach sans chopping board, delicately segmenting each slice in the palm of her hand), but also a viable career option – she always knew she wanted to be a chef and eventually open a restaurant or bakery.   Even at that young age she was taking birthday cake orders from all the moms at our school.  Although I haven’t seen her in many years as she now lives in Texas, from what I understand from social media she is well on her way to making that a reality.

My year in Italy was sandwiched between the two summers I worked at Lisa Elmqvist in Östermalms Hallen, Stockholm, gutting icy herring and rolling meatballs all day long – hard, physical and sometimes monotonous work creating those classic Swedish dishes.  And I loved it.  So I guess that year when I was 16 cemented my future in food.  I went about it in a pretty round about way, but got there in the end. 

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                                                                                                                   Wine for €2, help yourself.

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                                                                                                       Fruit and Veg stalls in Florence, artichokes everywhere

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                                                                                   An interrupted chef and clocks for sale in the Santo Spirito Antiques market

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                                                                                                 Wall poetry on a side street in Santo Spirito

I was immensely fortunate in my choice of travelling companions over that weekend.  We all share an obsession with good food and drink and so rarely went for more than an hour without eating, drinking or at least planning where our next meal was going to be.  Highlights from the weekend included the Cantinetta Verrazzano for the most delicious focaccia (the truffled mushroom was out of this world) fizz and coffee taken standing up at their pastry-laden counter.  The Enoteca Fuori Porta was also well worth the hill climb for a favourite for crostini and lengthy wine list.  Then there was the piazza Santo Spirito for nightlife and watching the world go by.  I also managed to pick up some wonderful curtains and prints from the monthly Santo Spirito antiques market.

Of course, I had to fill whatever small scraps of space in my suitcase with loot from the Italian supermarket.  Olive oil, parmesan wedges, dried mushrooms, biscotti and sauame all came with me.  As did a paket of curious greens that caught my eye in the vegetable aisle.  I wasn’t completely sure what it was, but decided to take a risk and do some research when I got home. 

It turns out I hit the jackpot – agretti, or ‘barba di frate’ (Monks’ beard) has all but sold out in the UK, I later found out.  It is quite delicate and subtle in flavour that is slightly spinach-like.  Cooked properly it has a lovely bite, a bit like samphire. It likes classic italian flavours – garlic, anchovies, lemon.  Although it’s not so easy to get hold of, it is well worth picking some up if you do happen to stumble upon it.  I also had to take some artichokes back as they were absolutely everywhere we went and wonderful to cook with.  The recipes below are inspired by these ingredients and the simple, delicious dishes that Italy is so renowned for.

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Agretti with Chilli, Ricotta, Caramelised Lemon and Pine Nuts
Serves 2

 You will need:

Large bunch agretti
200g spaghetti
1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 chilli, finely chopped
75g ricotta
20g pine nuts, toasted
small handful greek basil leaves

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Method:

1. Remove any tough ends of the agretti before plunging into a large pan of boiling, salted water.  After about a minute, drain and season with salt and pepper as well as a drizzle of olive oil.

2.  Cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions.  Meanwhile, strip the lemon of it’s zest using a zester or a sharp knife to create little shards of zest, avoiding any pith.  Heat a little olive oil in a large pan and cook the zest until golden and beginning to caramelise.  Set aside.

3.  Drain the pasta and toss in little olive oil.  Add the agretti, lemon zest, chilli and ricotta as well as a squeeze of lemon juice.  Season and serve, topped with pine nuts and basil leaves.

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Roman Baked Artichokes
Serves 4

You will need:

4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp grated pecorino cheese
4 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
4 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped oregano
2 tbsp chopped basil
juice and zest of 1 lemon
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra
4 medium sized artichokes
150ml dry vermouth

 

Method:

 1.  Preheat the oven to 200C.  In a small bowl, combine chopped anchovy fillets, minced garlic, pecorino, breadcrumbs, herbs, lemon juice and zest.  Add the olive oil and mix to form a thick paste.

2. Cut off about 2 cm of the artichoke tops and rub with the leftover lemons.  Pry oven the individual leaves and stuff with the herby breadcrumb mixture.  Sprinkle with a little olive oil and the vermouth.  Cover tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes, until tender.  Uncover for the final 10 minutes to allow the artichokes and breadcrumbs to crisp up.  Serve with chunky bread and a crisp green salad.

 

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Danish Rye

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                                                                                                                                   Nyhavn

I haven’t been to Copenhagen since I was quite young and my memories of the city are a bit hazy.  I think at the time I was most excited about seeing the mermaid statue- Disney to blame there, I’m afraid.   But it is fair to say that it was a much busier, livelier city than I remembered or expected.  Perhaps because I’m used to the relative peace and quiet of Stockholm, despite being a bigger city- at least in terms of population (or so Google tells me).   It seems like (and the Stockholmer in me can’t quite believe I’m saying this) somewhere with a bit more going on.  

While this buzz felt really exciting, I left feeling that it’s a city that has gained an international reputation (not least when it comes to food) perhaps before it was quite ready for it.  For example, there is so much to do and see, but everything shuts so early.  We found the service in general, with only a handful of exceptions, rather brusque and bordering on rude. But more than that, it seems to be a city very much in flux as the many building projects and developments hinted at- roads, offices, flats and bridges, growth spurts everywhere like teens in the summer holidays.  I’d love to go back in a few years and see what kind of a city it becomes. 

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                                                                                                     Looking across the water towards Noma

The food though, oh the food.  There is no shortage of exceptional places to eat and drink.  And yes, we did manage to get a booking at Noma for lunch as a once-in-a-lifetime, just-married treat.  And yes, it was incredible (with wonderful service, incidentally).  And yes, I took some snaps.  And no, I won’t be blogging about it.  Partly because it has been done, partly because I covered it at the time on Instagram, but also because no photos or description I could provide would do it justice.  It was entirely out of this world, mind-boggling and unlike anything else I’ve eaten and experienced.

Other foodie highlights include Granola on the lovely Værnedamsvej in Frederiksberg.  Nestled between little design shops, florists and bars, Granola seemed the perfect place to watch Cophenhagen style hunters go oby over, well, granola.  They also do fluffy pancakes, traditional hearty porridge (served with cranberries, cinnamon and butter) and eggs any way you’d like.

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                                                                                                                               Værnedamsvej florist

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                                                                                                              Cophenhagen courtyard

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                                                                                                                              Café Laundromat

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                                                                                                              BioMio in the old Bosch warehouse in Kødbyen

We were entirely spoilt for choice for where to go out on Copenhagen’s light summer evenings.  The one thing I would say is that it is a shame everywhere closes so early, particularly when the days are so long.  The streets were absolutely deserted by 11pm and forget about getting any food whatsoever post about 9pm, which didn’t suit our lazy honeymoon mindset at all.  We were caught out quite a few times, settling into a funky bar, ordering drinks and before we knew it (but just as our appetites started to wake up), they had stopped doing food.  Get with it Copenhagen!

Some fave areas included Nørrebro, where we found the Laundromat Café on Elmegade (yes, an actual laundromat as well as a café and bar, although no machines whirling when we were there).  The meatpacking district of Kødbyen (literally ‘Meat village’) would definitely be top of my list were I to return to Copenhagen anytime soon- most of the old slaughterhouses have been turned into restaurants, bars, cafés, delis and art galleries and the whole area makes for a lively place to spend an evening, wandering between place to place.  Some of the area’s original history still endures, turn a corner and you may well come face to face with a butcher’s shop window. 

Other highlights include Dyrehaven bar for its selection of beer and nibbles and the wonderful Torvehallerne market which overflowed with pristine fruit and veg, incredible fish and seafood and the most beautiful, almost architectural open sandwiches (which inspired my recipe, see below).  The cafés there will also do you a damn fine breakfast.   

I should probably but in a disclaimer at this point to note that you shouldn’t just go to Denmark or Copenhagen for the food.  It is a gorgeous city to walk or cycle around and of course you can’t move for design- the Designmuseum and Statens Museum for Kunst as well as the quieter Danish Architecture Centre.  But you can also see plenty of contemporary design for free at Hay House, George Jensen, Illums Bolighus and the Royal Copenhagen Flagship store to name but a few.  Not to mention a few recognisable landmarks that are worth seeing in person- we were delighted to be staying to close to the actual Borgen

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                                                                   The imposing entrance to Fiskebaren in the old ‘beef and pork hall’ in Kødbyen

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                                                                                               One of the remaining butchers in Kødbyen

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                                                                                                  Inside Dyrehaven bar on Sdr. Boulevard

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                                              Oils and other potions in Torvehallerne

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                                                                                                           Fruit and veg at Torvehallerne

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                                                                                     Fish and seafood at Torvehallerne- just look at those eels!

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                                                                                                                A selection of open sarnies at Torvehallerne

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                                                                                 Breakfast in Torvehallerne

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                                                                                                                                   Post breakfast

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                                                               Some ubiquitous Scandi design

One of the inescapable staples of Danish food culture is the dark, treacle-y seed filled roggebrød.  Dense rye bread, filled with hearty goodness and available at practically every meal time.

For me, this was what I was most keen to perfect from our trip so that I could enjoy it back at home in London.  I thought it was important to develop a simpler recipe that didn’t use traditional sourdough, as it would be easier to throw to together, although, I accept, finding rye seeds and flakes isn’t exactly something that you can do at your local Tesco Metro- I would go online for this and stock up.  I promise it’s worth it.  I’ve used treacle too, for depth of flavour.  The photographs are, once again, by the fantastic Faith Mason

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 Danish Rye Bread

Makes 1 loaf

You will need:

120g rye flakes
50g rye seeds/grain
80g sunflower seeds
20g linseeds
12g sea salt
30g fresh yeast
50g treacle
250g rye flour, plus a little extra
100g strong bread flour

Method:

1.  The night before you wish to make the loaf, soak the rye flakes, grain and all of the seeds in 200ml of water and leave overnight.

2.  The next day, mix the treacle and 100ml water (at blood temperature) together in a small bowl.  Crumble in the yeast and stir to combine.  Place the flours in a large bowl along with 12g of salt.  Add the yeasty mixture along with the seeds and grains.  Mix until you have a very sticky dough.  Turn this out onto a floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes.  It will be a very tricky dough to work with- sticky and dense, but that’s to be expected.  Hang in there.

3.  Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave  in a warmish place (an airing cupboard is perfect) for at least one hour, until the dough has visibly risen.  Tip out of the bowl and knead briefly, only for a few seconds, before shaping.  I baked my loaf in a lightly greased 900g/2lb loaf tin.  Leave, covered in a clean tea towel, for a further 45 minutes, until the dough has risen to fill out the tin.

4.  Preheat the oven to 230 C.  Sprinkle the bread with a little extra rye flour then place the tin in the middle of the oven.  Immediately turn the heat down to 180C.  You can also put a baking tray with hot water in the bottom of the oven, to create steam.  Bake for 40 minutes, until the loaf is dark and sounds hollow when tapped on its base.  Turn out of its tin and leave to cool completely before slicing. 

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It’s been a long time… and Bornholm

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It has been an absolute age since my post, practically a lifetime in blogging terms.  The reasons for this are simple and hopefully understandable: firstly, I got hitched!  Secondly, I’ve been embarking on a freelance career foodstyling and writing so between that and planning a wedding, something had to fall by the wayside and that, unfortunately, was this blog. 

However, I am back now and very much raring to go.  The blog has had a makeover which is now almost complete- just a few niggly behind the scenes bits to sort out and a long backlog of posts featuring wintery fare to warm your cockles. 

I couldn’t get stuck back in without sharing some photos and recipes from our ‘scandimoon.’  We spent the week after the wedding in Denmark- a few days relaxing on the island of Bornholm before heading to bustling Copenhagen.  Bornholm was the real surprise- perhaps a slightly unusual choice (I’m fairly sure we were the only honeymooners on the island), but absolutely worth the trek.  The island is in fact closer to Sweden than it is to Denmark (as I’m fond of pointing out), about an hour and a half by ferry from Ystad in Skåne. 

There’s plenty to see and do on the island and although we had hired a car, the most popular way to get around is definitely on two wheels.  Bikes are easy and cheap to hire and mean that you can whizz along the coast with ease- darting between pretty seaside villages, forests, cliff tops and beaches.  And what beaches- white sand, clear blue sea and a not-too-shabby 24 degrees in the water!  We were there in August and had many of the beaches to our selves, including the one at the bottom of the road from our little cabin/cottage (or ‘cabbage’ as we found ourselves calling it).

Bornholm is well known for its incredible produce.  It almost feels like the island could be self-sufficient, with its agricultural riches and hard working locals, who all seemed invariably passionate about their goods.  We came home with pasta made from durum wheat grown on the island, buttery, golden rapeseed oil, a basket of garlic and several bottles of the local brew.  We passed on the local wine, however.  Though perhaps that was a mistake as a certain famous Copenhagen restaurant proved to us later in the week with its offering of Danish vino (more on that in the next post). 

Every road was lined with little stalls filled with bags of produce, when we were there these overflowed with several varieties of spuds, with a little honesty box for your contributions.  Each little coastal town or village had something foodie to offer- flødeboller from chocolate shops and smoked fish from the smoke houses in Snogebraek, fish restaurants in Nexø, beer from the brewery in Svaneke and the Gårdbutik och Polsemageri in Hallegård.   This deli and sausage specialist was a bit tricky to find, but well worth getting lost down narrow country lanes for.  The unassuming farm also has garden with chairs and tables set up under fig trees and rosehip bushes where they serve a few open sarnies and nibbles.  However, the highlight is definitely their tapas board, laden with home-made charcuterie, pickles, veg, cheese and even soup. 

Bornholm was basically one giant food coma as it was (the cycling helped), but we still couldn’t miss out on dinner at Kadeau.  Inventive, local and yes, foraged, this is the place to experice New Nordic Cuisine on Bornholm.  We had the set menu bursting with freshly caught seafood, herbs, fruit and veg picked from their own garden.  The food was excellent, but it really had to be to compete with the ridiculous view.

Below are some snaps of the best of Bornholm- a round up of Copenhagen and a little recipe will follow shortly.

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                                                                                The back of Kadeau’s menu- a map of Bornholm with all their suppliers

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                                                                                    Garlic and cold pressed organic rapeseed oil from the island

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                                                                                                  Smokehouse chimneys in Songebaek

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                                          Raising the Danish flag in Snogebaek

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                    Sol over Gudhjem, a local speciality meaning ‘Sun over Gudhjem’- rye bread, smoked herring, chives, radish and a raw egg yolk.

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                                                                                        A flødeboller from Bech chocolate shop in Snogebaek

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                                                                                                    Bech Chocolate shop in Snogebaek

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                                                                                          Spuds for sale by the side of the road

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                                                   Denmark- where they take ice cream seriously.

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                                                                                                                The brewery in Svaneke

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                                                                                                 Lots of local veg to go on the BBQ

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                                                                                            The Bornholm way to get around- even on the beach!

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                                                                                                             Breakfast on the beach

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                                                                                           Rain splashed figs almost ripe for the picking

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                                                                  Taking shelter from a rare rain shower under a tree at Hallegård Gårdbutik

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                                                                                                                         Hallegård tapas

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                                                          Open sarnie with the most fantastic vanilla poached cherry tomato and cloud berries

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                                                                                      Just a few of the sausages for sale at the Gårdbutik

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                                                                                                               The beach below Kadeau

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                                                                                    Squash, fresh cheese, oysters, parsley, horseradish

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                                                       The best restaurant view in Scandinavia?

La vie est belle…

Travels | 26/10/2011 | By


Some scenes from a Paris trip Toby and I took over the summer-  a game of pétanque and breakfast on the terrace at a friends’ flat (Reminds me of my grand plans to make croissants from scratch one day.  I’m researching as we speak and I suppose now that I’ve put it in print, I’ll be held to it.  Watch this space).

After a particularly gruelling day being tourists, we collapsed at the Paris mosque’s café, sitting in the shade of the courtyard, sipping mint tea and munching a few baklava.
We did eat very well in Paris.  BUT, I have to say something controversial now.  Something very controversial.  So I shall preface it with a disclaimer: I was in Paris as a tourist and therefore thus inevitably didn’t know where to eat, although we did get some tips from friends and so on and so forth… I guess what I’m saying is that I’m no expert on the Parisian food-scene.  But I do feel you eat better in London.  There.  I said it.  I just get the impression that the Parisians have been resting on their laurels a little bit.  Got too cocky, think they have it made and don’t have to put in any effort any longer.   And all the while across the channel in London you can eat excellent food from absolutely anywhere in the world, and I mean anywhere, for under a tenner.  I really believe you can.  I had the most extraordinary Columbian brunch in Brixton the other week.  For a fiver.  I’ve had Ethiopian injera, Brazilian xinxim, Cuban croquetas, German currwurst (thanks herman ze german), Norwegian buns, Korean katsu, Antipodean flat whites.  I mean, you name it, you can get it in London. In fact, I will gladly take on any challenge to find a culture-specific dish in London.  I’m sure I could find it, eat it and enjoy it.

But that’s not really the point.  The point is, people come to Paris in part to enjoy the food.   And it can be great.  The markets and supermarkets make me green with envy.  When I was younger I was lucky enough to eat at the la Tour d’Argent and it was one of the most memorable meals of my life.   But in my experience dining at your average Parisian brasserie or local restaurant is very traditional, predictable and it can be, frankly, lazy.  I really do feel you can eat better in London for your pennies. 

Cue angry discourse and many examples of horrible dining experiences in Leicester Square (well, what do you expect?)  and soggy Yorkshire puds drowning in gravy.  

I shall instead leave you with a nice picture of something I have never seen on a menu in London.- Le Café Gourmand.  Which sounds like it might just be a coffee with a bit of cream or something just a little bit naughty.  Instead, it is a plate of mini puddings, a little bit of everything on the dessert menu and totally indulgent.  Wonderful.