Sunday, 19 June 2016

Chateau de Beaucastel - The Estate

If you had the choice of visiting any of the iconic Southern Rhone vineyards, Beaucastel would surely be close to- if not at the top of- your list. It certainly was mine and if I didn't feel lucky enough already waking to a bright and sunny morning in May then hearing that they only accept a few private visitors each year only served to emphasis my bonhomie. As we bumped down the lengthy drive past field after field of perfectly regimented vines (2m by 2m apart in case you are interested), our path was temporarily blocked by what looked like a tractor on steroids- wheels high above the ground. 

Thursday, 9 June 2016

L'Isle Sur La Sorgue Sunday Market

The French are not yet en accord with the British habit of shops opening on a Sunday. Unless you live in a large town with the occasional open shop, the best you are going to do is an early morning croissant from the boulangerie. Need a litre of milk? Non, nous sommes fermé!

The small town of L'Isle sur La Sorgue some 25 km from Avignon is therefore something of a natural mecca for tourists on Sundays. Compared to its sleepy neighbours, the small town provides an assault on all the senses. Bustling traders call out their wares. Granted this is not somewhere that you are likely to do your weekly shop- prices are a little on the steep side- but the provenance of the food is unparalleled all hailing from and marked proudly with the names of neighbouring villages. Strawberries from Carpentras, chunky white asparagus from Mazan; both under 20km away. 

It would be a travesty to come here with a cold as your sense of smell is very much in for a treat. I am convinced you could be led around blindfolded and know exactly what was being sold. Wheel after wheel of cheeses  with a tendency towards goat are laid out on multiple stalls.

The presence of a multitude of cured meats in a French market comes as nothing of a surprise but what was more unexpected was the wide variety of less than traditional flavours. Donkey sausage anyone, or bull? Some stalls had in excess of 30 varying flavours from over 10 different types of beast.

Of course every market in France has saucisson and cheese; that is stating the obvious. But what makes this market unmistakably Provencal in my opinion are the presence of four things. Firstly the beautiful golden honeys that take their distinctive flavour from the garrigue on the hillsides and the endless fields of lavender. Not cheap at around £10 a jar but utterly delicious. 

Brightly coloured pottery adorned in reds, umbers and blue with olive branches a go-go cry out to be filled with rosé wine and salads to adorn our picnic tables on those few days of the year when we can dine reasonably outside. 

Many stalls offer pots of tapenade in every conceivable shade of pale khaki green through to the blackest of black depending on the olives used. Alternatively, buy the fresh olives and whizz up your own in the processor when you get home with capers, garlic and a few anchovies- the easiest of home made canapés. 

The other aroma that pervades the air is lavender offered in every possible guise from soap to little bags to an array of beauty products. Surely field upon field of bright purple flowers is what many of us conjure up when we think of Provence? This is also one of the things at the markets that is very reasonably priced (although cheaper still in Avignon itself).

As you are wandering round the stalls don't overlook the town itself. Built on the confluence of three small rivers, the little bridges and rather huge moss covered waterwheels make for a pretty sight. The town is also known for its antiques shops which are there all week round but beware the price tags; as one local put it "priced only for Americans and Parisians" - take from that what you will! On a Sunday in late May the town was already awash with tourists. In August you might want to get there very early indeed. If you're suffering withdrawal symptoms from your Sunday roast and the aforementioned supermarket is closed then buy one of the rotisserie chickens on offer and some fresh veg and what could be nicer?

Yes, its pricey, yes, its busy, yes, there is an element of the pastiche to it but L'Isle sur La Sorgue makes for an alternative half day out to wine tasting and following the footsteps of Van Gogh and who doesn't like a market?


Friday, 20 May 2016

#WineGrapeChallenge 4: Hondarabbi Xuri

For those of the procreating variety half term dawns again and Facebook begins to be filled with humblebragging status updates about the queues at Gatwick or "treating myself to a glass of rose by the pool #blessed". For those of us not off sunning ourselves in foreign climes, knocking back cheap local plonk and thinking it’s the bee’s knees, spring can drag in the city.  Seemingly interminable rain showers make us wonder if summer might never arrive, or worse still has been and gone. Thankfully there has been the odd evening in the last couple of weeks like tonight when we can spend long evenings sat outside bars and restaurants behaving like we’re in the middle of San Sebastian rather than somewhere off Carnaby Street in the middle of Soho with a faint whiff of drains in the air. No matter- a hubbub of chatter and a plentiful supply of tapas can lead me to only one grape this week – Hondarrabi Zuri!

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Paris: Kitchenware of Les Halles

Paris holds a special place in my heart having been obsessed with the likes of Edith Piaf, Montmartre and Toulouse Lautrec since my early teenage years and the sight of the light beaming out of the top of the Eiffel tower after sunset will never grow old. Once you've lost count of the number of hops you have made over (or under!) the channel , however, you probably aren't beating a path to the Louvre or Galeries Lafayette anymore. On my most recent visit, I decided to go a little more off the tourist track on this visit to find some very French kitchenware. Les Halles is probably the closest equivalent that Paris has to the Covent Garden in London. Once bustling with porters swerving trolleys around market traders shouting out their colourful array of food wares, for the most part its role as a central food market is consigned to history. Some hints as to the area's alimentary past remain however in the form of a treasure trove of shops. 

E Dehillerin
18 et 20 rue Coquillière 75001 Paris

The ultimate in French stores has to be Dehillerin. This shop is unbelievable. It is like stepping back at least 5 decades in time. It is incredibly dark Aladdin's cave rammed from floor to ceiling with weird and wonderful gadgets. If you are hoping to find a souvenir that you won't find anywhere else then Dehillerin is where you are going to find it. 

Nothing is priced but is instead labelled with a code. At the end of each row are brochures listing prices alongside all the codes. Confusing but I guess some of this stock has been here decades and its easier to change the brochure than the labels. 

Friday, 5 February 2016

Zelman Meats

A cold, rainy night in central London. Wandering through Soho, we wanted good quality, comforting food without the need to queue in the street or be turned away from venue after venue. Or in other words; meat. In all honesty we were using St Ann's Court as a cut through to get from Dean Street to Whitcomb when we remembered Zelman Meats. Its hard to ignore as you walk past actually, mainly due to the neon sign glowing like a homing beacon to steak lovers.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Martinis at Dukes

Another year, another January. I began, of course, full of good intentions for the year ahead starting with writing more often and making sure I do things on my bucket list (commencing with creating a bucket list). So here we are on the 31st with my first article. What my resolutions most certainly do not include, however, is drinking less.

I understand the rationale behind the current fad for “dry January” but thank goodness we are nearly at its end as temperance fundamentally makes absolutely no-one happy.  Not the person abstaining and certainly not the people around them because the ascetic is generally as miserable as sin. Social plans are ruined because one of the group isn’t drinking and doesn’t want to go to a cocktail bar. Bring into the equation the myriad of diets being touted around and eating out is off the agenda too which is a crying shame when, for once, you can actually get table reservations in most London restaurants.

Friday, 2 October 2015

#WineGrapeChallenge 2: Pedro Ximenez

It would be wrong of me not to dedicated my grape post for this week to Pedro Ximenez considering I've been exploring the wilds of its home, Andalucia. PX is most commonly known as by far the darkest and most syrupy of dessert wines; often cited as a rare match for chocolate dishes or good mainly for pouring on ice cream (although the latter might be a British thing). This is doubtless delicious but feels like what can be a bit of a waste of a better PX. It is true that many of the cheaper versions of PX served up in the UK are of the throat-itchingly cloying variety- lacking in acidity and essentially like attempting to drink liquidised raisins but a good PX can be a thing of beauty- balanced and mellow. If you are interested in how the sweet versions are made Bodegas Robles have a very good pictorial overview here
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