Almanac Food: More culinary adventures in Europe and Hong Kong

The caravan is back in Oz after eight weeks of trekking through France, Spain, London, Bath and Hong Kong. A couple of weeks ago, I shared the culinary delights of The Ledbury in Notting Hill and Chez Nicole in Masclat , suggesting that art and beauty come in various appearances, including food. Coincidentally, last week The Times published a list of the top ten restaurants in England for 2019 with The Ledbury coming in at No. 10. Check its website and also read about Chez Nicole on TripAdvisor.

 

Almanac foodie and SA pub connoisseur Mickey Randall suggested that I share are a few more of the experiences we appreciated along the way. When we travel overseas, we tend to pre-book as much as possible, including accommodation (hotels, B&Bs), rail travel (Eurail), day tours to particular destinations (using TripAdvisor as a very reliable guide), and entry to any tourist attractions such as La Sagrada Familia where advance tickets can save you hours of queuing (although we still had to queue for two hours at Versailles!). Consequently, a good proportion of the discretionary money we take with us goes towards ‘treats’, such as a really good meal and above average bottle of wine somewhere.

 

In Paris, we headed back to La Cocottes Tour Eiffel where we had a great meal five years ago. (More on that in a moment.) The attraction here is to choose several small cocottes, small heatproof pots, and sample as many as you wish of the various plates on offer – an upmarket, rather more chic and gourmet French version of tapas. You can book a table or sit at the bar and interact with the very friendly staff and/or chat with whomever you chance to be next to. The last time we were there, the young couple sitting next to us had distinctive Australian accents so we got into a conversation with them. She was friendly and well spoken. He was a big, strapping bloke who looked like he could handle himself pretty well if necessary. Turns out that he’s Sam Groth (before he became more well known), in Paris trying to qualify for the French Open! What’s more, his best mate on tour at the time was Michael Look. I knew Michael (and his sister) when he was a student at Grace College and, later, my wife and I taught with his mother, Chris, on the same staff. Small world, top bloke!

 

In Bordeaux we stayed in the trendy Chatrons area at a great B&B, Casa Blanca. Our host, who has spent time working in Australia, suggested that we would find good eateries at the nearby Place du Marche des Chatrons. We stumbled across Le Murano des Chatrons, an Italian establishment. Good food, lovely fizz (Martini), good red, great service, reasonable prices. So good, in fact, that we ate there three times in four nights! On the third night, and by now on good terms with the young manager, I went to pay the bill to find that it had been reduced by 50% as a gesture of thanks for our custom! Amazing! Need I say more?

 

My brother and sister-in-law play the board game ‘Carcassonne’ after lunch almost every day. So we (vicariously) had to visit the real place while in southern France. The walled, medieval old city is a stunning place and we enjoyed another very good B&B with great hosts, Peter and Mike. Their breakfast crepes were absolutely scrumptious. They suggested that we eat in the old city at a place named L’Escargot, advising us to go early as it fills up fast – always a promising sign. It certainly lived up to its reputation so we went back a second time a couple nights later. In between, we did a day group tour of the Occitane region with six Brits from the Cotswolds who liked their vino. Lunch was in the village of Aigne where we ate at La Cagarol. We weren’t expecting much (day tour eating destinations are seldom particularly salubrious) but got our socks knocked off by a top quality, three course meal that any silver service restaurant would be proud to produce. All in a small, unpretentious village a long way from anywhere significant. The French love their food!

 

In Barcelona our resting place (Ofelias Hotel) was just over the street from the former bullring, Arenas de Barcelona, which was transformed into a shopping mall about 10 years ago. There we found Udon, a casual, Asian fusion bar/cafe where you line up for a seat when one becomes available. It serves delicious nosh at a good price. An alternative to the ubiquitous tapas, this tasty little gem also saw us return for seconds. Good red, too, as I recall. In Madrid, our hotel recommended Taberna Al Sur, a tapas bar that scores 4.5 on TripAdvisor. Hearty food, but what I remember most is that I had a pint of beer that came in the heaviest glass jug I’ve ever lifted. No need for weightlifting at the gym that day! Unfortunately we only discovered this place towards the end of our stay otherwise we would have returned there, too. In Seville we found El Pasage, again a recommendation from our hotel and another 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor. This was another place we revisited because of the mix of good food, good wine and good price. But, to be honest, after two and a half weeks in Spain, we were over tapas and, from a food perspective, happily headed to London.

 

Many of the pleasures of travel happen in unplanned, casual circumstances – we met a couple from the Sunshine Coast at a Paris laundry on a Saturday morning, the English lady living in the south of France who helped us in the Sarlat supermarket, a guy at Paddington Station who offered to help me out with a few pence to make my transaction easier. In Bath, returning from a late afternoon walk around the Royal Crescent area, we walked into Chandos Deli on George Street, initially for a coffee which all too readily morphed into a glass of wine. Almost at closing time and with the staff in winding down, cleaning up mode, we wouldn’t have been offended if they simply said, “Sorry, but…” Instead we got, “Come in, what would you like…” A recommended red was beautiful and the bowl of chilli-marinated, large green Spanish olives, possibly the best I’ve even consumed, was provided on the house. I bought a couple cupcakes for supper and, hearing that we were staying at a nearby B&B, the lovely lady gave us the day’s last three croissants which would otherwise have been binned. Not surprisingly, we were a bit stunned by both the service and the generosity given the overall context. We went back for the coffee the next morning to thank them again.

 

In London, we’re very fortunate to have accommodation available in the Knightsbridge area. Nearby is Pavilion Road which has been turned into an attractive and alluring gourmet strip. An occasion made for a visit to Granger & Co, one of Australian Bill Granger’s four eateries in the UK. Another case of come along and line up – at lunchtime that meant 20 minutes for us. Along with Brett Graham from The Ledbury, Bill Granger is doing the Aussies proud in the London eating scene. Another excellent and reasonably priced repast, served by a young Greek chap who had previously spent several months working in Australia. His wine suggestion was a perfect match for our dishes.

 

Our last treat in London was to meet up with my former student, Jason, whom I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. He’s a structural engineer working on the huge Battersea Power Station project. What a work site! No less than 24 cranes heaving away on this massive project. Very impressive. (And equally satisfying to see that Jason has gone on to achieve the great hopes we had for him when he was but a lad.) So was Cinnamon Kitchen, a modern Indian restaurant on site situated under the train bridge. A well-priced, nine-dish tasting menu hit every flavour bud on the tongue. A context that brought together friends, food and (my in-law) family.

 

Finally, on to Hong Kong. The hope was that a 36-hour stopover might ease us back through the time zones and reduce jet lag once we got home. It was a strategy that worked pretty well. As a treat, we stayed at the Shangri-La, Kowloon where we scored a 19th floor room with full harbour views. It’s amazing how many hours you can spend contentedly looking out the window taking in the expansive scene and fascinating commerce of this ‘so different from anything you’ll see at home’ city. The hotel’s breakfast buffet in Cafe Kool was extensive, to say the least, but what added so much to its enjoyment was Christian, a young Filipino waiter serving in our area. Effervescent, efficient, competent, congenial and attentive, he’s halfway through a six months placement at the Kowloon branch of the Shangri-La chain. He impressed us as someone willing is to work hard and develop even further his excellent customer service skills. Christian was the perfect final piece of our trip’s culinary journey. We wish him well!

 

Travel is great, a privilege, a learning experience, a sensory extravaganza, a blessing. Yes, it’s also tiring and hard work at times, especially in countries where you can’t speak the language. We’ll happily take a break now but, hopefully, we’ll be back in a couple of years.

 

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About Ian Hauser

A happy, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV - although I do share the never-to-be-beaten record for the tenth wicket for the long-defunct Unley Lutheran Cricket Club - a partnership of 62 with Craig Hartmann in 1973! A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I'm a firm believer in the notion that there is a fine line between winning and losing in sport. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. As well as being one of footyalmanac.com.au's online editors, I offer a comprehensive editing service for both new and experienced writers. Check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au Queenslander!

Comments

  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Fab read Ian! Part of the joy of travelling overseas is to experience local cuisine, particularly in the smaller villages, towns etc. I really loved Italy, the food was a delight, nothing too fancy, all local, fresh produce, with the most memorable meals being in Positano on the Amalfi coast, and Lucca. Lucca was fantastic. My wife and I were exploring the back streets getting away from the main tourist area to find somewhere to eat. Looking at a menu in the window of what looked like someone’s front room, a little, old smiling lady in black came out, took us in hand, sat us down at an old, long wooden table with about a dozen seats around it, and out of nowhere food was placed in front of us. It was magnificent, next, someone started to sing, others joined in. Drinks were offered. We had become part of the family, and it was a wonderful and memorable evening, and very cheap! Ahh, the memories!

  2. Thanks Ian. That’s a great trip with lots of culinary and vino highlights. A mate from Tanunda is lucky enough to have turned his passion for French food and wine into a wine-importing business. He travels to France twice a year and also publishes a magazine documenting this. He writes, his wife takes the photos. How good?

  3. Great experiences and recommendations. Thanks Ian. Southern Europe pretty much does it for me. Food, history, scenery and hospitable people. The Avenging Eagle being Croatian born helps. But not knowing the language is part of the charm. Like a cryptic crossword. And most of the under 30’s know English and help you out. Footy on the iPad has smoothed the pain of travel in the European summer. Cheers.

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