Near to where I stay in Nice is a small family-owned bistrot next to a corner filling station. A nearby van sells wood-fired pizzas to passers-by. Chez Michel has outside tables under a red sun-blind that doubles when it needs to as a rain cover. There are usually three or four dishes of the day, simply cooked and good value. I had to leave for the airport after lunch, so I chose to eat it nearby at Michel’s. I opted for the veal Milanaise, a veal escalope dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and lightly fried. It was very appetizing, and while the chips were tasty, too, there was about three or four times the quantity I could actually eat! I ate outside in the warm sunshine and enjoyed a chilled glass of Provence rose wine.
They take French wines very seriously at the Green Man and French Horn in London’s St Martin’s Lane. I used to go there many years ago when it was a pub serving real ale. Now it’s a French restaurant, tiny and crowded, with a huge wine list of French wines listed by region. They might take French wines seriously, but I chose one with a touch of humour, Le Telquel. It means “as it is,” appropriately enough for an organic grape, naturally-produced wine, but it also sounds quite like ‘teckel,’ French for dachshund, and hence the drawing on the most un-French-looking label. The sommelier looked nervous when I ordered it and insisted that I try a taste first, just to be sure.
I found it very fresh indeed, an unexpectedly young red wine. It has a deep purple colour, with a tang of cherry and cranberry. When the bottle came and I drank from a full glass I found it spicy with more berry fruits and a slight mineral edge. It was actually slightly petillant, with a light prickle on the tongue, and as evidence of bottle fermentation, there was a little sediment at the end. I drank it after that first taste diluted with a little water. One puzzle was that it clearly said “pinot noir” on the list, but scanning notes on it, I read that the wine is a blend of grolleau, gamay and pineau d’aunis. I suspect the latter might be true, because there was a gamay-like feel to it. I regard it as an interesting novelty, but I don’t think I’d make it a standby.
This is finally it. St Stephen’s Club in Westminster closes its doors for the last time at the end of the month. It had a small but devoted following as the only club in the area, and certainly the nearest one to Parliament. It closed as a club in December, but remained open for functions. Prime Minister David Cameron liked it as a venue to unveil policy initiatives, and the Adam Smith Institute favoured it for lectures, receptions and evening events. The ASI’s last function there was on Monday March 25th for a book launch for my “Silver Dawn.”
I used to enjoy lunch there, not in the restaurant, but in the bar, where a few dishes and sandwiches were on offer. I went there on its penultimate day, Wednesday March 27th and enjoyed one last serving of their fish and chips, a change from the beef and horseradish sandwiches on brown bread that I usually ate. Two of us shared a bottle of prosecco, and then it was finally over.
When staying with friends I think it is only polite to cook. This crossed the line from manners to obsequiousness, though, because it was so absolutely scrummy. I sealed the beef and then roasted it until pink and moist. Then, while it was resting, I set-to making the sauce. I added shallots and garlic to the pan and then, when they had begun to caramelise, I deglazed with port. Once this had reduced I mixed in dijon mustard and cream. Mashed potatoes and tenderstem broccoli made this a hearty meal. Well, that and the sheer size of the portions.
As fast food goes, fish and chips probably predates the hamburger. The first fish and chip shop was opened in London in 1860 by Joseph Malin, though a blue plaque at Oldham stakes an earlier claim. The dish was a staple in the working class diet, made possible by the use of trawlers to fish the seas around Britain, and the appearance at about the same time of deep-fried wedges of potato. As a child I had fish and chips several times a week, usually for a late supper rather than for the main evening meal itself. It is nutritious with plenty of protein in the fish, carbohydrates in the potato and the batter, and energy from the fats. There are vitamins, too, if the traditional mushy peas are eaten with it.
I had it for lunch at Balls Bros wine bar on the corner of Buckingham Palace Road. The fish was beer battered haddock, served with chunky chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce. For reasons I never understood they provide a wedge of lemon. I never use it, since if you squeeze it over the fish it softens the batter, whereas what you want is firm, crunchy batter, as this was. It was nicely cooked and presented and made for a very satisfying lunch, while bringing back fleeting memories of childhood enjoyments.
The outgoing chairman of CUCA always holds a dinner in college near the end of his or her term in office. Ingram held his in Selwyn College. It started with a cava reception, then we moved across into the hall for the meal itself. It began with chargrilled chicken salad, and went on to pan-fried loin of lamb on a bed of cous cous with minted yoghurt dressing. The lamb was deliciously pink and tender. There was ginger bombe with spiced apples to follow, but I was too full to eat it. I did, however enjoy coffee and college mints. The wines served were an Alandra Branco 2011 Esporao, a Las Condes Merlot 2011 and, of course, the college port.
Gosh. It’s been nearly 15 months since I posted on the food blog. I’ve enjoyed reading Robert’s posts since he revived it. Then he asked if I’d like to post myself from time to time. Why not? I just made a moussaka with a few short-cuts, not in the Delia ‘cheat’ league, but very convenient nonetheless.
I made the meat sauce early by cooking minced lamb on the stove-top, and carefully spooning off all the fat that came out. I added some purple onions I’d fried, Napolina tomato pasta sauce, and tomato purée (double concentrate). For the cheese sauce I made one of goats’ milk and cornflour with grated cheese melted in.
I tried something new with the aubergine, pricking the skin and microwaving it for 4 minutes to soften it before slicing it into strips. Then I layered the meat and tomato sauce, strips of aubergine and cheese sauce, and repeated it for another layer, finally topping off with grated cheese to form a top crust. I gave it 30 minutes in the oven, though everything was already cooked. It was good, tangy and appetizing. Bon appetit.
And a different kind of quiche! The word ‘quiche’ originally comes from a Lorraine word for cake, so though it might seem like an unusual choice for a birthday, it’s what I’ve had for the last few years (as I don’t have much of a sweet tooth). Mum stumbled upon this recipe which substitutes pastry for a hollowed-out boule loaf. It results in a bit of a chewy – not to mention hefty – crust, but aside from that is pretty marvellous. The depth of the loaf means you get a good, deep wedge of savoury custard, cheese and – in this case – Fry’s vegan polony (which I’ve mentioned before. Do you need another hint? Buy some already.) It’s a novel take on the traditional quiche, and has quite the rustic wow factor.
What is better than a chocolate cake? Chocolate cake with acoholic icing. This was one of two delicious birthday treats made by my mother and for this one she steeped stawberries in port and blended them up with icing sugar to make a gorgeously sloppy, sweet, fruity-boozy topping. Fresh strawberries finished it off a treat!
For Christmas I received a culinary blow torch. This was my first chance to try it out. Creme brulee is considered a tricky dessert (as are most simple desserts). It’s so simple if it didn’t taste so good it would be boring. Using one egg for each ramekin you’re using and three fluid ounces of double cream per egg you don’t even need to follow a recipe. Just whisk eggs yolks with sugar until pale and fluffy and boil up some cream with vanilla and then allow to simmer long enough for the vanilla to infuse. Then pout the cream over the eggs, put in ramekins and bake in a bain marie for 30 minutes at 100C. Doddle! After allowing them to cool and then set in the refrigerator (this takes about an hour all told) I sprinkled them with sugar and caramelised it with the blowtorch. Because baking can be macho.