Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Burgundy and The French Riviera (12 of 12) - Final Thoughts and Reflections

Burgundy and The French Riviera (12 of 12) - Final Thoughts and Reflections

In research for this blog post I found a cute take on Michelin Restaurants on a Youtube comment - everything on the bill, not much on the plate. Which is both not unfair and yet a bit unfair at the same time. I have had some stunning and memorable experiences at some Michelin starred restaurants. I have also had some disappointments where form has overshadowed substance. Which is probably as it should be. Some were brilliant, some not so. So it goes.

Looking back at all the Michelin Starred Restaurants visited both on this trip and the trip to Bordeaux and San Sebastian the previous April 2013, I find myself somewhat fazed and a bit meh with the Michelin concept. Most have been okay, with some dishes occasionally startling, though overall ultimately not quite satisfying. Seems the concept began to give travellers assurance that any listed venue had a standard of food which would not disappoint. In fairness, this remains true - the food at the Michelin restaurants did not disappoint in both preparation, service, presentation and taste. It is perhaps the price point that causes contention. Stars seem to allow the chef to raise the price margin by a premium he or she (mostly he) feels the market will bear. And given their general survival and ability to grow and thrive the market clearly remains happy to support. It is perhaps the "food as art" and the "juxtaposition of textures" and "deconstruction" sections that I don't seem to be able to totally connect with. There seems to be a sacrifice of quantity in the name of art or sensation, with a result that the idea that a restaurant should at root provide a satisfying meal seems to become secondary.  The experience of experiencing food out of its traditional context becomes the goal. Those that do BOTH are well at the top of my tree - Mugaritz I now understand, where the restaurant becomes both theatre and art and performance and school for the senses. Paul Bocuse and Robuchon fit here, with stunningly fresh ingredients impeccably prepared and presented in delightful ambient surroundings. Others seem to ride on a magnificent location and/or the retention of a starred chef - La Chevre D'Or and Mirazur fall here for me where the stunning locations can overshadow any memory of the food.  My standouts remain the steak in Extebarri, the fish in Paul Bocuse, the duck in La Route du Miam, and the chicken and steak in L'Hotel de Beaune. The steak and dinner at Chez Paul and the duck at Le Petit Sud Ouest are also places I hope to return to (and which I since have - Le Petit was excellent, Chez Paul not so). The lamb and potato at Robuchon was amazing, but having done it once then perhaps that is enough. Location wise, as said La Chevre D'Or and Mirazur were unbeatable, the others pleasant enough but not kicking the memory like these. Service wise, all were efficient and even, and none were below very good. Robuchon and Bocuse were standouts in service, but then this is part of the overall experience and one should possibly expect a somewhat higher standard at these establishments. The most memorable remains Marie helping us guzzle our wine at La Route du Miam and the ladies who lunched us at Chateau Palmer and Chateau Pichon Longueville on a previous trip to Bordeaux. 

But there always remains a context, and the one here is my present location on this path of seeking to understand both food and wine and their connections with each other and the world. I'm starting to get it, but I feel my default preferences probably play a greater role than I might be prepared to consciously give enough credence and weight to. Kind of like I aspire to be a gourmand but I retain the soul of a peasant. Looking at the writings, my preference is clearly meat - good, tasty, juicy meat with steak and pork and that Roast Duck and potatoes at La Route du Miam at the top. Next, I do enjoy the more delicate tastes and textures and taste contrasts of the higher end establishments that delight and titillate the tongue and belly. The palate is starting to understand and hopefully appreciate what the various chefs are seeking to do with their ingredients and preparation. The experiments of Mugaritz and the contrasts at Robuchon seared the memory here. The eyes have yet to get it - it still feels a bit poncey and ostentatious and whilst the way the food gets presented is delightfully creative and visually pleasing, the artistry of the presentation doesn't yet totally connect (though thinking back, Akelare in San Sebastian now makes a bit of sense). We pay the chef for his (and her) performance for us, much in the way we pay a singer. It's partly entertainment. I think my issue is the price expected for the performance, though strictly speaking the market determines what this will be - guess it's the Scotsman in me that doesn't really like to shell out so much for the show. But all things in their time. As said, there is always a context which changes as we grow in our palate and its demands for sophistication in tastes and textures. 

There's also a sense of focus on individual dishes and paired wines at the expense of the entire meal experience. How the tastes and textures follow each other and how they are placed in relation to each other tends to get taken for granted in Western cuisine and by me in both writing and eating. Start light, go heavy, finish sweet or cheesy and having appropriate wines at each juncture is pretty much a fixed norm of meal design. It's what we punters and our bellies expect because this is what our palates have been trained to expect. Not saying it's wrong, just that perhaps more attention needs to be paid to meal design than has been given it. Or maybe not. Matching wine is the kicker here. I've said elsewhere that Chinese style banquets alternate between light and heavy textures from dish to dish which gets washed down by tea. And that tea doesn't usually change, whereas in the West the wine is expected to. We have had great times with prosciutto wrapped around rock melon as canape appetizers. It's also a great match with good fizz.  Maybe try starting with fruits to settle the palate and have salads to follow soups to refresh the mouth might be useful experiments in meal design? Naaaaaaahhhh….

Ultimately, though, we mostly eat with our eyes, our nose, our mouth and tongue, and our belly and if we have no cutlery then we eat with our fingers. It was quite telling that when we got back to KL one of the first things we did was to get stuck into some Char Siew Rice which, after all the delicate tastes of the previous fortnight, was like a total homecoming in the belly. Absolute crackerjack with a glass of supermarket Australian chardonnay from the fridge. One of those where a satisfied "Harrrrrghhhhhhhhhh…" ends the meal. Much of the Michelin star food is exquisite, but Char Siew Rice feeds the soul.

Char Siew Rice from Jalan Sultan in KL - total soul food
Interestingly, the wine has become secondary in this Burgundy and South of France trip. Of the Bordeaux Tour in 2013, I retain memories of brilliant lunches and wines in Chateau Palmer, Chateau Pichon Longueville, and Chateau Troplong-Mondot, memories of our first night dinner at Le Cordeillan Bages, and the stellar wines of Chateau Pontet-Canet and many of the other vineyards in the tour. Of this French Riviera tour, much of the wine has gone by the way. It was nice and went well with the food, but there was nothing that really stood out. It was all very good Chablis or Burgundy or Riviera wine, and….   no more. No labels or Domaines made the memory. The one true exception was the champagne at the Hotel du Cap. Bottom end fizz, but given the glamour and history and the ghosts of all the movie stars for whom this place was their playground, it tasted like the drink of the Dauphins. Brilliant memories which I would not trade away. 

In closing, I have been quite astounded at how long this food and wine blog has survived. Coming up to nearly four years. It is something I clearly enjoy giving time to. The act of writing is both cathartic and stimulating and the challenge of seeking to describe restaurant experiences and sensations in words remains fun.

And while perhaps the eloquence lacks in contrast to the more established voices, the style is one that looks to contain and reflect the experience as it happens and as it gets felt. How long the blog is going to last has been troubling me of late. The wine and taste descriptions seem to be becoming a bit repetitive - same old descriptors, same old superlatives - and also running out of restaurants here in KL to write about. They have also become quite expensive thanks to rising food prices, lower economic power Ringgit and the introduction of GST. Notwithstanding exhortations not to raise prices, the establishments visited to date since GST introduction seem to have taken the opportunity to have done so. It has been a whack to the wallet on all occasions. We will go out less or be more selective of our eating destinations.

Further, part of the reason for writing this blog has been to independently reflect on the restaurant experience and share it as honestly and directly as my vocabulary allows with the world. I have opted not to invite partners to advertise. For me, my independence has to be beyond compromise - to let that go is better to pack the whole thing up. Once you get partners, there is an expectation of not being critical to varying degrees (usually complete elimination) for fear of deflecting business - the writing can become sugared and stylised and formula structured and lifeless. It can often become a sell job rather than an attempt at reasoned critique. Not my style. May not get as many readers, but that was never a motivator.

So there seems to be a squeeze on both sides which suggest less opportunities for writing. We shall see. 

My other, and perhaps real reason for writing all of this is as insurance should the Alzheimer creep up and steal the mind; the hope is that these scribblings will jog what little marbles remain and take me back to these places and times when I was a prince of the world and enjoyed some of the finest this life has to offer. With no guilt. Life is short and pleasures are fleeting and I thank every fate and fortune that I was able to visit these places and to be able to enjoy them with some amazing people and friends and with all my senses and faculties intact. Not the least of which was being mobile and having both the breath and the knees to be able to do it all. Reader, go do these things when you have the health to do so - creaky knees will catch up very soon and a holiday in pain ain't fun. You can always buy money but you can never buy your time or your youth or your good health. And as the recent passing of our Dr Gan forcibly reminded, we never know how much gas we have in the tank.

So while I do hope the blog is not coming to an end, I feel it may certainly slow down. There are other writing projects which will need increased focus - my music and movies and some libretto projects - and a foreseeable need to go back to some paid employment to secure a permit to stay here in Malaysia. My retirement is likely over, time to go back to work. So in case there are no more extensive writings, I'd just like to say thank you to everyone who has taken time to read my scribblings and I hope you have found them entertaining and informative. I must also acknowledge the Lenglui, my partner in so many musical and theatrical and gastronomic and oenophilic crimes and adventures - my joy, my light, my muse, my star, it could never be a tenth of so much fun without you to enjoy it all with. Long may they continue. As said, the blog has been a lot of fun and we'll see what the future holds - hopefully many more adventures in food and wine and theatre and music which I will be able to share. Cheers!!

Burgundy and The French Riviera (11 of 12) - La Route du Miam, Nice

Entrance to La Route du Miam

La Route du Miam
1, rue Moliere, Nice

Driving back to Nice was also uneventful, save for a petrol stop and a longish drive into town to the hotels. We got dropped off to check in and Steven went to their hotel and drop off the car. The Villa Victoria Hotel (33 boulevard Victor-Hugo, 06000 Nice, +33 (0)4 93 88 39 60 Euro175) was well located at a brisk ten minute walk into the central shopping area. Pretty garden view from the window, though the room was a bit pokey and small. Lenglui followed Lorraine to the Musee Chagall and I went off in search of a second hand store I had spotted from the Tram during our earlier day in Nice.  At ground level, Nice is pleasant though crazy amounts of cars zip past. Also need to look out for the big trams which creep up silently as you cross the tracks. 

There's a sign on the wall...
Back for a quick shower and into a cab for dinner at La Route du Miam. This was the restaurant we had missed for some reason on our previous visit. As memory serves, it was decided to buy the Bresse Chicken and barbecue it back at the Villa. Literally translated as "The Road Of Yum", La Route du Miam is a total hole in the wall place that takes about sixteen people maximum, and it proved to be one of the tastes of the entire trip. The duck we had was nothing short of magnificent - total Wow. Chef Michael and wife Marie ran the place like their home, with Marie serving (and helping to drink) a wide variety of somewhat mediocre wines to punctuate her engaging stories. Chef stuck to his beer. After some so-so salad starters, we went straight for the half duck and, oh man oh man, I can still taste it now. Juicy, tender, amazing skin and firm bite. Absolutely stellar. The wines were pretty standard and not standout, but it didn't matter. We were having the duck of our lives. Screw your Michelin stars - you get a duck like this you don't want to leave. Ever. Food for the soul. Amen. And the potatos roasted in duck fat - absolute perfect match. One of our party who fancies himself as a cook tried to get the recipe from Chef but didn't get past first base. Quite right too. The blog "iknowalittleplace" (from where the photo below was lifted - I was having too good a time to take any) says there are lardons, foie gras and duck herbs in it. We think there is brandy on the skin. Totally wonderful. 

I look at this and I salivate like Pavlov's dog - utterly stellar duck
Next to the Beef and Bresse Chicken in Beaune, this was the most memorable dinner of the trip. Om and amen. The gods fates and stars aligned for this one. Again, go if you get the chance and while it is still around (it is as of April 2015). Places like this are few and far between. Slept like a pig.

Trattoria Alla Langhe
6, Corso Como, Milan

Woke up early for the cab to the train station for the 7am from Nice to Milan, arriving after a five hour ride to get picked up and transferred by Alex to the apartment before heading to shop and eat at the Trattoria Alla Langhe. Apparently we had been here before. I have a vague memory of a raucous night with lots of wonderful ham and salami and prosciutto pig bits and serving Le Volte. This time was lunch and was way more subdued, except for some building work going on upstairs and next door. 

This place is on the same street as a uber trendy fashion outlet, sporting all the latest in avant garde and high end wearables. After my usual swift tour, I sat down and played with the new iPad. 

We shared a mozzarella salad with prosciutto ham and Lenglui and I shared a ribeye - tasty enough, though a shade overtenderised. Presume there must be a reason why this place is worth the fuss and fifteen minute taxi ride, though it wasn't evident on this outing. Good swift and attentive service, though. 

We took a cab ride back into town to take a stroll along the roads where all the serious fashion houses are located - the Via della Spiga and Via Montenapoleone which would, absent a few detours, get us back to our digs. Surprisingly, very little was bought here. That changed once we got into the Department store - two new suitcases got snapped up in swift order. Took a stroll to Peck to buy back ham and cheese for KL. Went back to the digs. Don't remember what we did for dinner that night.  Not much more memory of what happened. No photos either. Not a great fan of Milan for some reason - but then all I seem to have seen is the shops. Got final packed and the car for the airport took our bags and us to Malpensa. it was further out than I remember from previous and was a Euro90 trip. The airport was madness, with everyone checking in at pretty much the same gates and then long queues to get squeezed through the security check. All this took the best part of two hours, so not much time to do anything. Can't remember much about the airport nor the flight back home. Sometimes holidays end earlier than the day they are planned to. I guess I just wanted to get home and relax. Which we did. Nice to get back and slob out in comfy clothes with the TV and the aircon. Simple pleasures.

Burgundy and The French Riviera (10 of 12) - Mirazur, Menton

30 Avenue Aristide Briand, 
06500 Menton

This is a Michelin 2 Star outside a town called Menton on the coast between Monaco and the Italian border. We would be heading back to Nice for the night before some would fly to Paris and we would get a train to Milan. Someone also wanted to do a restaurant we had missed earlier in the tour. And just as well - it would prove one of the food stars of the entire trip.

Don't have much memory of checking out of Monte Carlo. I think I went to get some croissants for breakfast… or maybe we had bought something the day before… anyway, we had some coffee and something to eat and a fairly easy morning before out and off to Menton. Steven had a bit of trouble getting the car to the hotel entrance from the car park but he eventually got there and we loaded up and off we drove. No rush today, with an hour's drive to Menton ahead of us and another lazy lunch in prospect. 

Looking out to Menton from Mirazur
We got to Menton which was all slow traffic and shops and quite pretty in a seaside kind of way. We had input the restaurant into the GPS and were heartened when we saw signs to the restaurant. These quickly disappeared. The GPS was screaming for us to go out of town and back towards Monaco which seemed wrong so we doubled back. On finding a charming lady who spoke impeccable English, she advised that the GPS was correct and we had to go past the town and look for a left turn past a petrol station and the restaurant would be on the right. Which it was. We parked up and got seated and waited for the others. Lesson - pay attention to French GPS. 

Waiting for lunch to begin
We were slightly early which gave us more time to enjoy the ambience of the restaurant. One of those with another magnificent prospect overlooking the Med, and a brilliantly warm and sunny day to boot. We sat at our table and enjoyed the light and the sun and the delightful breeze on the coastal air. The others rolled in after about twenty minutes. Lunch was to be a fixed price (Euro98 though notes say Euro85 - must have upped his rates before we arrived) and again the food was okay, though little stirs the memory. Chef Mauro Colagreco came out to say hello. His name was pretty much emboldened on all the promo literature the Mirazur had on offer. This kind of PR seems necessary for the chefs to be seen to be hearty yet intense and presumably ready to hustle should potential investors make themselves known. No, I'm being cynical. But it must get wearing on these guys to have to press the flesh and explain why they are who they are and how they stand out. But I remembered him, so it must have done something. Don't remember much about the food or the wine though… again no notes. And even now looking back at the photos, no memory of tastes come through - perhaps too much in a short time. But a hugely pretty place in the late spring daytime. Glad we did this. 

Marbre de foie gras
Homard - Tomates et oignons confit
Loup - Moules de bouchot et sauce safran
Canard de Challans - Mouselline de carottes, jus corse au citron
Peches Melba
Marbre de Foie Gras

Bisque de Homard - lobster bisque

Sea Bass with Mussels and Saffron sauce

Roast Duck with Lemon zest

Peach Melba

Petits Fours and table decoration

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Burgundy and The French Riviera (9 of 12) - Robuchon Monte Carlo

At lunch in Monte Carlo

Joel Robuchon Monte Carlo (Michelin 2*) - Dinner
Hotel Metropole, Monaco

For this one I surprisingly had notes. 

We had driven directly from St Paul to Monaco and the GPS did brilliant work in getting us straight to our hotel. We had opted to stay at the better value Novotel perched on the Monte Carlo hill which made for a gentle downhill stroll into the main Casino and swish hotels part of town. Notwithstanding vague plans to meet for lunch, these didn;t happen so we had pizza and salad before doing the Hop On Hop Off bus tour around the town. Little bit confusing as to where the stops were until we spotted a bus pulling up on the road. It was full but another came quite quickly. The secret to these is not to Hop Off at the not so interesting places because the bus gets so full that you can't Hop back on. Darn hot, too. No joke to be stood waiting for a bus that you can't board. Tempers get a bit frayed, but the bus driver was typical French - shrug the shoulder and say yoo wait for ze next one or walk, yoo can chooze. We did not hop off until we did the full round. The place is lots of narrow roads and full of traffic. We saw the famous bits where the F1 cars zoom around and through which was quite fun. Thankfully the Hop On driver had few apparent ambitions to emulate Schumacher or Button. Some great vistas of opulence and yachts on the routes. The place oozes wealth in all its beauty and ugliness. Wealth buys pretty things and people but is often owned by the unbearably ugly and vicious. This became apparent when we got to the casino later in the evening. But jumping the gun here.

Got back to the hotel where Lenglui took a nap and I took a coffee at the very relaxing bar area. Back for shower and change ahead of dinner booked at the Joel Robuchon Restaurant in the Hotel Metropole. An easy walk to the Hotel along the main street and through a Park and we were there. The driveway of the hotel was lined with bigass cars of varying pedigrees, so Lenglui and friends naturally posed for a quick shot. 

Take me to the Casino. Now.
The others had opted to actually stay at the Hotel Metropole so as to be able to get ready and be smack on time for the dinner. Nope. We were spot on time and waited about 15 minutes for them to join, which gave me a chance to stroll around the bar area. We parked with a cocktail and I took some photos.  Very French and opulent, with ornate statues and plush seating and drapes that felt like they would swallow you whole if you got too near them. The stuff of nightmares to a young child like me. 

Bar of the Hotel Metropole
We got joined by the others and got escorted to our round table by the main window. This is a large restaurant, roomy yet a great feeling of exclusivity despite the bigness. It was a darkish affair, though we had been given a large round table near the window and right next to the dessert wagon which looked delightful. With the menus in front of us all, everyone started talking about going individual, but when Lenglui and I opted for the Discovery degustation everyone seemed to fall into line behind us quite quickly. Well, you're here maybe once so go for a taste of what the restaurant thinks is its best, yes? Oui. So that was that. 

Amuse Bouche - no idea what it was but it slipped down with a salty bite. The first course French Beans had liberal sprinkling of what felt like parmesan which, with the caviar, gave a chewy firm salt on the beans and the hint of virgin oil made for a very delicate and refined sensation. Soaking up the caviar oil with the olive bread was total bliss, blitzing the tongue tip with salt zap and carbo oil squeezy suck. It was a cracker with the Premier Cru Chablis that had been ordered to start us off. Should have got shots of the wine labels, but sometimes the food and the company is so good. You can't cover everything, eh?

Bar in the Restaurant Joel Robuchon
The Avocado and Lobster was a firm creamy bite of beautiful and superbly fresh seafood but with a spicy kick and suggestive of a splash of chili oil. Maitre'd later confided that it was in fact a charge of raw horseradish that gave the ensemble its fresh kick and electric zap on the tongue. This is the genius we pay for. Superb.

French Beans, Mimosa and Caviar
Foie Gras was of excellent quality, with the Apricot giving a sugar honey foundation as would a good Sauternes but at a snip of the cost. Must remember this next time Foie Gras comes our way. Ask for Apricots. The Amaretto gave an alcoholic boost and the whole combo kind of leaked and slid its way slowly down the throat. Superb again.

Lobster, Avocado, Spice Oil and Burrate
The Purple Artichoke felt like an overdose of mushroom in the mouth, though the chorizo gave a nice fat spicy spike to what was initially quite a bland dish. However, once the squid kicked in and with the chorizo body, it all came together like a fat spicy oily greasy coating in the mouth with a fresh mushroom crunch over Spanish Salami chew. Lots of this style of food seems to want to offer contrasts that either blend with each other or whack each other up in the sensation stakes. This one was a pleasant blend, giving a full mouth though not doing much for the remains of the Chablis. 

Not sure what it is but it looks pretty!
Wine wise, I have neither detail nor photographs. My notes say the first white was light and fruity, young and crisp The second white had more body and complexity, with apricots on the mouth and spice on the nose. A Premier Cru from Savigny Sur Mer, possibly. The first red gave off toasty oak with good acidity with crisp tannins and low sugar. Possibly a Premier Cru from Savigny Le Beaune. Very tasty, this one - meaty, good spice and chewy tannins. Also got a bit of minerality and steel in the fruit - not made in oak maybe? Heresy…

Duck Foie Gras with Apricots and Amaretto
The Sea Bass came out fried with a good crispy skin. On paper, this should have been a standard fish broth with beans but the addition of the chorizo made for an odd partner. In this, the bland Balotti beans kind of cancelled out the spice of the chorizo, though the contrast against the fish made for interesting sensations. Spicy fish oil but fatty and textured. New as this was, it didn't quite stun the palate. The broth was pleasant enough on its own and with the bread.

Purple Artichoke with Squid
My notes say the lamb cutlets were unbelievable. Tender and perfectly cooked, with firm bite in the mouth and a little crisp on the bone for taste. Oh my freaking god. 

The mashed potato had been built up as the stuff of legend, it being claimed by the world to be the best in the, er, world. Mine was very creamy and moist with an insane amount of butter. Metling in the mouth, rich and creamy, though perhaps I missed it. The texture was too perfect, too refined. We Welsh boys like a bit of potato in our mash and the poor dears in this mash had been blended pretty much out of existence. Some raved over it, others barely batted an eyelid. Nevertheless, an unforgettable sensation. Like sucking whipped mashed butter through a straw. Maybe an acquired taste.

Sea Bass
However, when the whole combo came together the result was sensational. The ensemble of the lamb, the garlic, the plancha, the sprig of thyme and the jus was totally delightful and amazing. Possibly the dish of the tour. 

The Lamb on the magnificent Mashed Potato
There was a great lemon zip on the dessert - good fresh fruit and low sugar. The texture with the Limoncello jelly was cute, lots of zippy citrus and doing a good job of waking up the mouth. The addition of a mint leaf on the strawberry helped it all work like a sorbet refreshing the mouth and palate, though probably one or two dishes too late.

The second dessert was a wild and fruity ensemble exploding ensemble of chocolate and cream and berries with some pistachio helping make for a good crunchy luxurious bite. The chocolate was amazing, rich pure cocoa and not at all sweet. And pairing with raspberry was brilliant, with the sharp sour zap giving the cocoa that bitter quality and setting things up perfectly for the coffee to follow. 

Le Delice Chocolat - yum
The service was pleasant, quiet and efficient and wonderfully non obtrusive. There when needed, but subdued and easy. Most excellent, one of the best service experiences ever. But then I guess that is part of what one pays for. In a previous life, I would never have dreamt of going to these places. But now I understand the food and wine and ambience and service combination a little more, I get why these places can charge what they do. The tastes and textures are subtle and charming, the service brisk and seamless, and the wine and setting underline and punctuate the entire process. Traditional western cuisine and service at its best. One of the meals of my life. If you get the chance, don't think - just go there and do it. 

The Bread Wagon
Discovery Menu

"al dente" mimosa and caviar
in an iced veloute of avocado, spicy oil and burrate
of duckserved hot, apricots and Amaretto
with squids, touch of thyme, chorizo cooked in a tajine
shallot and white wine broth, white beans, basil fragrance and chorizo
caramelised, stuffed with foie gras and served with mashed potatoes
perfect cutlets cooked on the planch with fresh thyme
champagne coulis. lemon sorbet and limoncello jelly
light red fruits cream and cocoa sorbet
with chocolate and caramel bonbon

After dinner we strolled in the Monaco evening air and found ourselves heading for the casino. A flash of the passport and we were in. Bathroom stop and while waiting for Lenglui there was this girl next to me shaking. "Are you cold?" I asked in French. "No, I'm terrified," she replied in a London accent. I faked nonunderstanding and quickly walked away - thoughts of fierce Russian yobs with firearms looking to target practice. Not very chivalrous, but the gut said discretion was the better part of valour here. Bit scary. 

The Casino is old school opulent gold and large walls. Mostly quiet as well, with some clearly private areas for the high rollers. Others were gathered around roulette and Blackjack tables and most were doing a brisk trade. We didn't stop long - neither of us are gamblers so we were not particularly interested to punt. Just to have gone in and gawped at the punters and strike it from the bucket list. Ho hum. Note - gents take a jacket and a tie. 

Gentle stroll back to the hotel to walk off the coffee and sleep. Didn't work. Didn't sleep.

The following are some shots from a visit to the Villa & Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat en route back to St Paul from Eze. Very pretty layouts, though we were being rushed around our visit due to a wedding that was to take place there so we didn't get too much of a chance to enjoy it. Bloody French. 

Looking out to St Jean-Cap-Ferrat
The Gardens - very nicely laid out
Sun, flowers and Lenglui - formidable!! 
Buy this for me? Please?
I wish...

Burgundy and The French Riviera (8 of 12) - La Chevre D'Or, Eze

En route to Eze on the Middle Corniche
A morning drive along the Middle Corniche brought us to the town of Eze. This is one of those hugely pretty drives where the views are stunning and demand regular stopping for photo ops. We had allocated one hour for the drive - two would have been better and keep slow because the opps whiz by quite quickly.

View from Oriental Garden, Eze
As I remember, getting to the Middle Corniche required a drive through Nice to get on to the road which also took a little time to get through the mid morning traffic. 

Eze is one of those mountain top cobbled stone path villages with that pink red brick medieval feel about it.  There is an Oriental Garden at the top with great views across the bay, though it gets to be a hard climb up the hill and the stairs to get there - not for everyone if the knees are a bit creaky. But the plants were pretty and so were the views. 

Cheesy bits and Rose fizz overlooking the Med
Was also a good way to work up an appetite for our lunch which was to be at the Chateau de La Chevre D'Or, a two star Michelin perched on the side of Eze village and overlooking the cliff down to the sea below. The name means "House of the Golden Goat" and the goat was well in evidence both at the entrance and as a mascot looking out to the sea.

The food is fading into memory, but the view was stunning. The restaurant has a truly breathtaking view across the Med and was worth the price of admission in itself. We got escorted to a balcony area where we started with Rose Champagne and some tasty cheese bits and crunchies on the Terrace under an awning to totally enjoy the breathtaking aspect across the midday Mediterranean. The weather was being truly kind to us - brilliant sunshine and blue skies. Can still taste the salty cheese biscuits and bubbles now and soaking in the sound and sight of that breezy cliff top overlooking the Med. Brilliant memory.

After about twenty minutes of lazy lounging in this perfect spot we got told that our table was ready and could we please be seated. On the way, I got a photo of Lenglui with a Buddha headbust that was parked next to an Oriental style indoor pool. Seemed an odd location for a Buddha, but with the water flowing there, the Qi was indeed very positive. Just to digress a shade, Qi (pronounced "Chi")is the Buddhist concept of the lifeforce that flows through everything, and good Qi is attracted by indicated by motion. Flowing water in particular creates good Qi and the positive vibes. So. There was a pleasant sense of peace in the pool. In contrast, the staff seemed a bit frazzled and bemused and not sure of who or where we were supposed to be sat. We made our way up some stairs to a corner window seat that opened the whole vista to us. One one side the hillside and on the other the sea. 

Hello Buddha...
It was a brilliant and perfect place to propose. I think I did and got turned down. Again. Choi…. no luck.

Ambience of La Chevre D'Or
The restaurant interior was delightful in white and splashes of violet from orchid like plants. The Michelin inspector says the restaurant is: 

"An exceptional hotel demands an exceptional restaurant! An institution amongst the eating establishments of the French Riviera, Le Château de la Chèvre d'Or combines the highest quality ingredients to produce sophisticated, fresh tasting cuisine served in a high class setting. Excellent service."

Hard to disagree. 

We had the Euro75 Gourmand set lunch and quaffed Euro500 worth of drinks between eight of us so after taxes it was not a cheap lunch. Coffees and water alone was Euro115 so the wine was also a fair whack. Not sure how they work the taxes but it came out at about 11%. But it is again probably once in a lifetime, and lifetime is never as much as we want or know so sometimes you just have to go for it. Not sure that the food was worth it. There is certainly little in the memory of what it was or how it tasted, though I seem to now recall the lobster was crisp and sweet and succulent whilst the Pollack was light and firm. Tasty wines too. Clearly pretty in its presentation, and clearly paying for the location as well as the food. Michelin + Eze = Whack the Wallet. But the location was magnificent. Perhaps that was the problem - so mesmerised by the view and no chance to concentrate on the food. Even so, to La Chevre D'Or I would like to return. Just for the view. And those cheesy bits with the fizz on the balcony. And that Goat statue shining golden in the sun. And a second attempt at proposing. Have to get her more drunk next time. Maybe I could also write about the food…

The Golden Goat - massive pretty restaurant
European Lobster, Green Beans, Claws in Tartar and Coral Mayonaisse, Razor Clams as a Tartar, Avocado and locally grown Peach;
Filet of Pollack, Truffles, Condiments and crushed Zucchinis;
Pure Creation "Juliene Dugourd" Red Fruites Panna Cotta
Wines: Giraud Rose, Montee Tonne Chablis, St Aubin Remilly 2011

Amuse Bouche
European Lobster and Razor Clam
Filet of Pollack
Red Fruit Panna Cotta
Eze Village
Kien and La Chevre D'Or Sommelier 
Signboard at the Restaurant
Entrance to Chateau de La Chevre D'Or

Burgundy and The French Riviera (7 of 12) - Antibes and Mougins

Lounge at the Hotel du Cap
Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc
Boulevard J.F. Kennedy
06600 ANTIBES France

Not strictly somewhere we went to eat but must include it.

We had spent the day in Antibes with a morning in the Picasso museum avoiding the rain and an afternoon wandering the streets of the town. Seems Picasso had spent a lot of time here in Antibes and the original owner of the museum had offered it to him to create. And he did, massively, with lots of output from the master in his time there. There is a happiness in his pieces here compared to his other more angry work. Good for him. Got to grab the happiness while we can, because age and pain and loneliness catch up soon enough. That is later life for most of us.

So relaxing... at the Hotel du Cap
Lunchtime brought sunshine and a nice stroll along the Cours Massena for sandwich and crepes. Tasty enough and filling and refreshingly alcohol free. Memorable for our neighbour's table parking a huge St Bernard dog next to us. A gentle afternoon stroll along the coast road found photos and toilets before a turn back through town and shops took us the carpark. Streets are a bit cobbled so not so good for the ankles and the knees. Antibes is a tidy, well kept town with enough shop interest to warrant a mosey along the shopping area. Much better in the sunshine.

We met at our original coffee rendezvous to head off further up the coast. The plan was for all to walk along the Sentier Littoral coast path and return to the cars for a drive back to St Paul and change for a drive to dinner. Somehow this got changed so that I would drive one of the cars to the Hotel du Cap and wait there for everyone. Which happened, notwithstanding some issues of not being able to reverse the car. The thing kept stalling in reverse because the brake would not release. Still don't know why. Got escorted to the Hotel du Cap by a French gentleman in his car. Driving into the hotel side, got directed to the restaurant part. Jockey parked and wandered into the very pretty lounge.

Postcard picture perfect - the money shot at Hotel du Cap
The Hotel du Cap was delightful and is a memory etched into my soul. It was perfect - grand, history, glory, and total Riviera of the fifties. Photos of old movie stars frolicking around the hotel and in the water were everywhere, underlining the point that the Hotel du Cap was and still in many respects is the playground of the Hollywood elite. This would be the place they would come to chill with movie friends to get away from the madness. It was very, very nice. Lenglui and I just sat there for about fifteen minutes drinking in the vibe and the history. Someone came and asked if we wanted anything. When he learnt we were not guests he said strictly speaking we couldn't order anything but he brought us tea anyway. Now that was service. Wonderful hour just chatting with tea and watching the sea and afternoon sky. 

We had a little explore around the huge grounds and took our photo opp photos on the gravel pathway to the hotel before heading to the restaurant bar to wait for the others. As they arrived we ordered champagne for them to quench their thirsts after the walk around the coast. Ten of us parked around two tables in the Hotel du Cap with two bottles of fizz as the sun was setting over the bay will stay with me forever. So will the bill for the booze, but sometimes better not to count cost. The memory is too precious. I stole a copy of the drinks menu - full of photos of the rich and famous who have passed through the doors of the hotel. You feel like you're breathing history in the place. Tangible. Must have so many stories. 

La Place de Mougins
La Place de Mougins
41, place du Commandant Lamy
06250 Mougins

Oi garcon, where's the wine? Ah?
As said, the original plan was to go back to St Paul to change for dinner, but time was now against us and given that the restaurant was on this side of the Riviera we opted to go straight there. Mougins is a pleasant town about 5km north of Cannes and houses lots of golf courses and what seems to be a specially constructed village of restaurants. Lorraine had booked La Place de Mougins. Took a bit of finding and GPS seemed to be taking us up a strange road. We asked a Frenchie who directed us the opposite way to what GPS was telling us. We opted to take Mr Frenchie's advice and good thing too - en route we saw one of our number taking photos so we doubled back and parked in the free public car park. A short uphill stroll to the village with vistas of countryside and valley and picture perfect buildings in the evening sun was lovely. La Place de Mougins restaurant was perched at the top of the square, looking like an old country house refurbished for modern tastes. We got ushered and sat and watered. There was a Euro75 prix fixe menu which we were having. Wines got ordered, photos taken. Lovely ambience here, with very good and creatively prepared and presented food. Standouts were the sashimi starter and the bread - warm, olive with rosemary and soft with light crisp crust - taste of heaven with a dip in the oil and outstanding with butter. I also seem to recall that the vegetables were stunning - the artichoke in particular was crisp and full of taste. Looking back at the menu and the photos, there are a lot of contrasts on the plates which worked very well - the sharp mango with the sweet langoustine, the sweet pea veloute with the mouth coating foie gras - which made for explosive little tongue bombs, all zappy and tingling. Very pleasant and unobtrusive service, with the dishes being explained by a helpful maitre d'. Well worth a return visit. 

King Prawn Carpaccio with Mango Sauce
Seem to recall a lot of marketing blurb on well produced cards and brochures. Chef Denis Fetisson is clearly not afraid to spend on producing quality literature and seems to have his name pretty much on all of it. A shade aggressive in the promotion? Perhaps. But he clearly keeps on able to deliver the food on the table and that remains the product on which La Place will naturally continue to be judged. Just wish my French was a bit better so I could better understand what Chef was talking about in his blurbs. There you go, eh?

Foie Gras with Green Pea Veloute
Michelin inspector says the cuisine is creative, where "Chic and pleasing are adjectives equally applicable to this charming restaurant and its cuisine, thanks to a passionate and creative chef. Month by month he gives pride of place to a succession of seasonal ingredients... celebrating the truffle, the asparagus and so on." Yet to get a star though. Given all the rave reviews on the Tripadvisor, shouldn't be long. Better go there before it does and La Place ups its prices. 

Poached Grey Merlu with Octopus and Lemon Cedrat
Getting used to the roads and the GPS by now, so it was an easy drive home along the main road and direct to the villa. Good signage on the roads in this part of France. 

Saddle of Aveyron Lamb with wonderfully crisp Artichoke

More wine for you Madame?
Mise en Bouche Autour du Produit a L'Honneur
(Appetizer of the season)

Carpaccio de Langoustines en Saveurs D'Agrumes
(King Prawns Carpaccio, Citrus Fruit Flavour, Mango Sauce)

Foie Gras Canard Poele au Sarawak, Veloute de Petit Pois, Cannelloni a L'Encre de Seiche
(Pan Fried Duck Foie Gras, Green Peas Veloute, Black Cannelloni)

Merlu de Ligne Cuit en Vapeur de Bourrache, Courgettes Trompettes Fumees, Petis Poulpes, Citron Cedrat
(Mediterranean Grey Merlu poached in "Court Bouillon", Zucchini and Octopus, Lemon "Cedrat")

Selle D'Agneau de L'Aveyron en Royale D'Olive Noire, Blettes au Gratin, Artichauts, Fevettes et Girolles
(Saddle of Lamb from Aveyron, Royal of Olive, Swiss Chard, Artichokes and Girol Mushrooms)

Pre Dessert

Souffle Chaud aux Fraises des Bois Biscuit Cuillere et Sorbet Fraise des Bois
(Wild Strawberries, Hot Souffle,Spoon Biscuit and Wild Strawberry Sorbet)

Pre Dessert