Restaurants


It had been a lazy day in Marseille. We had missed the bus to Cassis and instead took another couple of buses to Marseille’s beaches south of the main city. A very lazy day by the beach. And what was for dinner that night? Pizza. Pizza in Marseille? Yes, and I was really looking forward to it, especially after my great pizza experiences in Nice a couple years ago and also another cheap pizza we scoffed earlier on this trip. My French colleague had sent me off with only one recommendation for Marseille – Chez Etienne – which specialises in, you guessed it, pizza.

The restaurant is easy enough to find in Le Panier, Marseille’s oldest neighbourhood just north of the port. We got there quite early (19:30) and got a table, no problem. However, it started filling up swiftly and when we left, it was completely packed. Get there early.

Pizzaria Etienne

Service was generally grumpy here. There was one or two friendlier waiters but in general, don’t expect anything too pleasant. It’s a good thing the food was good!

There are only two pizzas available at Etienne: anchovy or cheese. We followed the suggestion of my colleague and ordered a pizza moitié-moitié, half and half (€14). The pizza arrived on a tray and the surly waitress dumped half of it on each of our plates and whisked the tray away. The anchovy pizza was just anchovy and black olives and tomato sauce and was very good but what was even better was that ooey gooey cheese pizza (also with olives). The crust was thin and almost cracker-like; it felt like a particular unique sort of Marseillaise pizza. If I get the opportunity to return, I shall be only ordering that amazing cheese pizza.

Pizza

We followed our pizza starter with an order of their famous supions (€16), the little squids popular in the Marseille area. Here they had been sliced up and fried with a healthy amount of garlic and parsley and a little something to give them a bit of a coating – flour? Anyway, they were delicious, all garlicky and tender and made just perfect with a squeeze of lemon. The man next to us was also a visitor to Marseille and when he asked a (friendlier) waitress for a suggestion, she suggested the supions; I’ve also since heard that they’re considered some of the best in the city.

Supions

Bread (perfect for mopping up the garlicky juices) and a dressed salad were served alongside. However, we found the salad dressing to be just a bit too spicy, having been made with an uncomfortable amount of hot mustard.

Salad

The rest of their menu looked good, especially their pastas and meats we spied on neighbouring tables. The pizza is a must, though, and is what they’re famous for. Apparently in earlier days, everyone eating at the restaurant was forced to eat pizza as a starter!

Chez Etienne
43, Rue de Lorette
13002 Marseille
France

It was absolutely boiling in Aix-en-Provence. We were here in this former capital of Provence on a day trip from Marseille, having travelled very easily and smoothly along the highway by bus, a bus not dissimilar to the Oxford tube from London to Oxford. When we arrived, it was just about lunchtime and after seeing a couple of the very pretty buildings in the city, we then headed to Chez Charlotte on Rue des Bernardines for our midday meal. The restaurant was one recommended online but I had no idea what to expect, especially since the entrance didn’t seem particularly promising, all small and narrow. We walked through the empty restaurant to find that the action was really all the beautiful shaded back patio. Stunning really. And a cool relief that day too – we wouldn’t have to dip our toes into the fountains though that looked quite fun actually.

The back patio

Service matched the lazy, dreamy look of the back garden but as we weren’t in a rush to see anything in particular, we were fine with this. Refreshing chilled bottles of cold water were brought to the tables as we perused the very short menu.

Blai chose the day’s special starter of a salad with duck hearts. The hearts were grilled until tender and weren’t as offally tasting as I expected. He enjoyed it!

Salade avec Coeurs de Canard

My starter of oeuf en cocotte was incredibly simple but no less flavourful for it. An egg, sitting in a bed of creme fraiche, topped with cheese and baked until cooked. Ooey gooey goodness and so perfect for mopping up with baguette slices.

Oeuf en Cocotte

We both went for the dish of the day as our main course – roast leg of lamb (gigot d’agneau) with fried potatoes and runner beans. It was gorgeous. Tender slices of lamb studded with garlic cloves sat in its own jus – no mint sauce required here! The boiled runner beans with chopped onions were simple but good and the potatoes…I have no idea what variety of potato was used here but there was a hint of sweetness in its flesh.

Gigot d'Agneau

It felt wrong to leave without dessert. After watching a couple of ladies next to us tuck in enthusiastically into their desserts, I called the waitress over and ordered their charlotte. It didn’t look like much but that web of ladys fingers held together vast amounts of whipped cream and tangy forest fruits.

Charlotte

Two courses are €16 and three are €20. Either go early or try to make a booking. Most of the other customers were locals that lunchtime and there were only a few tourists…very few considering how many there were in the rest of the city.

Oh, and by the way, their steak tartare looked amazing.

Chez Charlotte
32 Rue des Bernardines
13100 Aix-en-Provence
France

All my photos from Aix-en-Provence can be seen here. It’s a beautiful city with plenty of history and lots to see. We went on a market day (Tuesday, also Thursdays and Saturdays) and I would highly recommend that if you like food and flower markets! Apart from just strolling the picturesque streets, the Musée Granet is also worth a visit.

We started our holiday with a bang. We were going to be spending two weeks by the Mediterranean, the first in Marseille and the second in Barcelona. The timing also coincided with our wedding anniversary and we were going to celebrate it by eating Marseille’s most famous dish – bouillabaisse. After scouring the internet and getting a few recommendations from friends, we settled for Chez Fonfon for lunch on our first full day in the city.

The walk to the Vallon des Auffes, where the restaurant is located, was longer than we expected from the port but we got there in the end (uh…give yourself time!). But when we did, we couldn’t see the restaurant anywhere (we were up at the top on le Corniche du Président-John-Fitzgerald-Kennedy). We should have paid more attention to the location – a vallon is a small valley – and sure enough, there were some stairs that took us down to this beautiful tiny harbour and there was the restaurant!

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Le Vallon des Auffes

We got settled inside the very modern-looking restaurant quickly (that third photo above, that was my view!) and were brought delicious homemade taramasalata with croutons while we perused the all-fish, all-seafood menu. There are no other meats nor are there any vegetarians options from what I could tell. If you’re not a fan of anything that swims, stay away.

Taramasalata

We would share one order of bouillabaisse (there’s no need to order this in advance at Chez Fonfon – it’s so popular and they always have it everyday) and one of their fishes of the day, grilled with a side of our choice. The waitress ran to the kitchen to bring over a basket of the fishes they had available – there were red mullets, and a couple of fishes I didn’t recognise. After we asked for a recommendation, she suggested that the sea bream would be best grilled and we went with that, with panisses on the side. While we waited, we were again shown another basket of fish; this time, this was the selection of four fishes that would play a part in the bouillabaise.

After we had made our selections, we were brought an amuse – melon gazpacho, a lovely way to chill out that hot day. We appreciated having the windows open in the dining room as well; it was a hot day.

Melon Gazpacho

The grilled sea bream came first – it was presented to us tableside where a waiter filleted it. On the side were lemon, olive oil and a lovely generous bowlful of homemade tartar sauce (I hate it when you have to make do with a tiny ramekin’s worth). The fish was gorgeously fresh and so delicious just with a squeeze of lemon. The panisses on the side (made of chickpea flour) were lightly crisp on the outside, soft and moist on the inside, and surprisingly filling.

Filletting

Filleted Grilled Sea Bream

Tartar Sauce

Panisses

The sauces for the bouillabaise were already at our table; there was an aioli and the classic rust-coloured rouille. They did forget the croutons though and we had to ask for them – these are essential! A soup bowl was set down before me and a waiter came by with a large tureen and ladled a very dark fish broth into the bowl. By itself, it’s a great, flavorful fish broth, very dark and rich and comforting. But it really comes alive when you smear some of spicy and garlicky rouille on a crouton and float that baby in that bowl. Ah… I drank a lot of that soup. And we could have as much of the broth as we wished – that tureen kept making the rounds of the tables.

Aioli and Rouille

Bouillabaisse Broth

With Crouton and Rouille

The fish from the bouillabaisse was presented alongside not long after, on a bed of potatoes that had also been boiled in the broth. You could tell there were four different types though I can’t remember them all for the life of me. It was fun trying the different textures from the different species. Anyway, you eat the fish and you eat the potatoes and then if you’re like me, you try to fit in as much soup, croutons and rouille as you can.

Bouillabaisse Fish

After all that fish and soup, I could barely even think about dessert. What a shame, as their dessert menu was full of delicious sounding things! Chocolate fondant with a chestnut heart? Dammit – no space!  Blai found space for a selection of their delicious sorbets though. Their fruit flavours were just about perfect – I suspect they’re all homemade.

Sorbets

I just got a coffee which came presented with these excellent little sweets – delicious fruit jellies, orangettes and two types of calisson – regular (white) and rose-scented (pink). A sweet yet light (and caffeinated) end to the meal.

Sweets

Of course, this could hardly be called a budget lunch. The total was about €120, including mineral water and service. But then, this was an occasion that required something rather grand and I think we got it. Happy anniversary, my love!

Chez Fonfon
140 Rue du Vallon des Auffes
13007 Marseille
France

Bookings are essential.

So it turns out there’s a fantastic Malaysian restaurant in Croydon! Well, it’s in Thornton Heath, which is in the London Borough of Croydon and from what I can see, it’s quite the local favourite. Bunga Raya has been open for over 30 years and while the decor does look a bit aged, the food is still alive and kicking. We visited on a Sunday for lunch, when we discovered that they only served a “hawker style” Sunday lunch buffet. Yes, why not? It was only £11.50 a head.

The Buffet

Here’s my first plate. Char kway teow, fried meehoon, fish curry, chicken satay and yong tau foo (vegetables and tofu stuffed with meat or fish paste). That chicken satay was excellent, with a brilliant marinade, and you’ll soon see that we went back for seconds and thirds. The meehoon was better than the char kway teow but I think it’s just that meehoon (rice vermicelli) survives under heat lamps a little better. The curries were excellent and there were at least four or five on offer.

Char Kway Teow, Fried Meehoon, Fish Curry?, Chicken Satay, Yong Tau Foo

As we ate, the room kept filling up and many of the diners were Malaysian. Most were families, gathering together for a taste of home.

Next plate! Nasi lemak, chicken rendang, satay again, fried wonton, sambal okra. This plate was all sorts of excellent. The nasi lemak, while the grains of rice were a bit broken, had a good coconut flavour and the sambal okra, not too spicy but with lots of flavour and a touch of sweetness, was probably the best I’ve had in London.

Nasi Lemak, Chicken Rendang, Satay, Fried Wonton, Sambal Okra

Something I need to mention at this point is that everything tasted homemade. That fried wonton was chock full of a well seasoned chicken mixture and everything about it screamed homemade – it was excellent! It felt like eating in a Malaysian family’s home – they even welcomed all their regulars by name.

I had a laksa interlude at this point. It was a put-it-together-yourself affair – rice noodles and beansprouts in your bowl and then pour over the rich and creamy soup.

Laksa

Back to the big plates! Satay again (it was excellent!), more nasi lemak, fried Malaccan chicken wings (I think they’ve got something fishy in the marinade that gave it a deep savouriness), kari kambing and more sambal okra.

Satay, Nasi Lemak, Malaccan Winglet, Kari Kambing, Sambal Okra

There were lots of savouries I didn’t manage to try – somehow in my sambal okra excitement, I forgot to stop by the pigs trotters, the steamed dumplings and lots of other things too! I was impressed that they even had Penang acar (a pickled vegetable mixture) though, of course, it’s not as good as my mom’s!

There were desserts too. In addition to a huge platter of sweet orange wedges, there was a platter of banana puffs (kuih kodok, and they were ok) and a lot of refreshing mango and sago. And a platter of carrot cake as well though its texture and serving style was more reminiscent of a Malaysian cake – so perhaps it’s really a kek carrot?

Banana Puff and Mango with Sago

Before we left, I was invited to provide them with my email address so that I can be sent information about further buffets. It turns out that every fortnight, they change what’s on offer – one weekend was Hokkien mee and Hainanese chicken rice, another weekend was asam laksa and won ton mee! I just received the email with highlights of the buffet for the next two Sundays – mee rebus, bak kut teh and gula melaka!

Oh yeah, I’ll be back. Often.

They do have a regular a la carte menu for most other days – please see their website for their opening hours/days. They also advertise buffets on certain nights and also curry and karaoke nights!

Bunga Raya
785-787 London Road
Thornton Heath
Surrey CR7 6AW

Bunga Raya on Urbanspoon

It’s not everyday that one is invited to the Ritz. I’d never even stepped into the hotel prior to this invitation and I’ve been in London for 15 years! When one thinks of The Ritz, afternoon tea is usually the first thought that comes to mind (they serve 400 teas each day), not fine dining and I certainly never thought I’d ever see their kitchens, let alone dine there. But there I was on a Saturday morning, down in their basement kitchens, taking part in a pastry masterclass with The Ritz’s head pastry chef, Lewis Wilson.

Lewis Wilson

I forgot to ask Lewis whether he did this on a regular basis but he was a very very good teacher. He had an infinite amount of patience and explained everything very clearly. And everything was laid out, ready to go. We were going to make a vanilla, chocolate and hazelnut ice cream bombe. See that copper mould? It’s a Victorian one, sourced on ebay!

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We went through all the steps, from making the ice cream to making the hazelnut nougat parfait, to filling the mould all the way to decorating. It was fun and I certainly learned a few tricks here and there. We also learned how much work went into one of these pastries!

Here were the decorations, which had been prepared for us in advance (I mean, look at them!!!).

Chocolate Decorations

Here we are pouring the chocolate shell over the finished molded ice cream (a hazelnut core, followed by chocolate ice cream, followed by vanilla ice cream and the bottom was a hazelnut daquiose).

Pour

Here’s Lewis teaching us how to pipe (I did the other one and was quite chuffed with my results).

Piping

And here’s the fiddly decorating. It’s very fiddly and the kitchen was a bit warm so the decorations kept falling over.

Decorating a Bombe

And there’s one of the finished bombes – I say one of because we obviously weren’t working on just the single bombe that entire morning as the ice cream and chocolate needed to freeze and set in between stages. Lewis had carefully organised many bombes at various stages of production.

Chef's Finished Hazelnut and Chocolate Ice Cream Bombe

After all that hard work, we were brought up to the restaurant for lunch – what a treat! Here were all things classically English and I’m not just talking about the food! The dress code is smart…and smart for men means a jacket and a tie, as one in our party discovered. He was lent the suitable pieces that he was missing. Women, of course, can get away with a lot in the name of ‘smart’.

Anyway, dessert that afternoon would be, of course, the bombe that we made.

The Table

But first, the bread basket. A fabulous selection was brought out and I selected these two: a crispy thin white flatbread and a pancetta and caramelised onion brioche (very similar to that at The Ledbury). The white flatbread also turned out to have a thin layer of parmesan baked into it, rendering it into quite-possibly the best cheese cracker ever.

Breads

A tray of amuses was a good start to the meal proper – here were cheese gougeres, prawn crackers topped with prawns, and a curiously melting macaron of smoked salmon.

Amuses

Our starter of Var Salmon, Beetroot, Horseradish and Orange almost looked raw but was most definitely cooked – was this cooked sous vide? Anyway, it was a fabulously moist and tender piece of fish that had some lovely accompaniments. The tiny little cucumber flower was particularly memorable.

Var Salmon, Beetroot, Horseradish and Orange

Our main course was Loin of Lamb, Herb Crust, Caramelised Shallot and Peas. What I didn’t expect was the other parts of lamb included. There was the beautifully cooked crusted loin. There was a roll of pressed confit lamb belly (gorgeous) and on top of that was a meltingly soft sweetbread.

Loin of Lamb, Herb Crust, Caramelised Shallot and Peas

And then there it was! A serving table had been set up behind my chair and the bombe was brought in and shown to us – was there ever a dessert so photographed? There’s something so old-fashioned and yet fun about having something large brought to you and served tableside (I also saw lobster served this way at another table and later crepes suzettes being prepared tableside).

The Chocolate Bombe

That ice cream bombe did look quite tricky to portion out, what with its solid chocolate shell and if you take too long, there’s a risk of it all ending up as a very expensive puddle. But our waiters did magnificently – here’s my portion:

A Portion of Bombe

Mmm…. the hazelnut, vanilla and chocolate layers were all distinct yet blended together beautifully. I’m not normally a fan of chocolate covered ice creams (Magnums in particular as their shells are too thick) but the layer of chocolate here was much more delicate.

We finished the meal with coffees and “frivolities”, the Ritz’s way of saying….sweets. From the front, we had salted caramel filled chocolates (they use Amadei), vanilla macarons, passion fruit jellies, and little almond cakes topped with raspberries. All were delicious but as you can imagine, we were struggling to put them down by this point.

Frivolities

Needless to say, service at The Ritz was phenomenal. Every waiter always had on a smile, could always see when we needed something, was always there with the small talk required. I would love to go back but, of course, the only thing holding me back is the cost of the meal – though I can imagine saving up for a special occasion. Or perhaps first I should go for tea!

Anyway, it was a magnificent lunch – it was a fantastic opportunity to visit the kitchens at The Ritz, to learn from their head pastry chef and to dine at their restaurant. Thank you very much to Sauce, Lewis Wilson and The Ritz for a wonderful day! All my photos from the day can be found in this Flickr set.

The Ritz London
150 Piccadilly
London W1J 9BR

The Ritz Hotel on Urbanspoon

I’ve been wanting to try Kateh, a Persian restaurant near Little Venice (north of Paddington), for a while. And when I joined a few colleagues for a dinner there one Friday night, I was not disappointed. What I didn’t expect was such a tiny yet elegant restaurant and the terrace where we were seated was lovely. Though it was chilly that evening, the heaters were on full blast and we never felt cold.

Back to the elegance, this is possibly the most refined Persian restaurant I’ve visited in London. Portion sizes are more European in size rather than the usual overflowing platters I tend to get at other Persian restaurants in London. But it’s a lovely, rather romantic place, which, of course, I visited with my colleagues (ahem). The menu was full of things I’ve not seen in other restaurants and the grills had a distinctly Indo-Persian flavour to it (chicken tikka?). We stuck to the purely Iranian things.

We split three starters between us. My favourite was the kashke bademjan, a dish of grilled baby aubergine topped with kashke (a dried yoghurt), dried mint, fried onions and walnuts. Oh, that silky aubergine was gorgeous – I could have eaten just a few orders of this for my dinner!

Kashke Bademjan

Less impressive was the Dezfouli salad, a mixture of pomegranate seeds, cucumber, dried mint, angelica powder and lemon juice. While the combination sounded magical, it tasted alright at best. Perhaps we expected that angelica powder to make quite an impact! (I’m still not entirely sure what this is!)

Dezfouli Salad

The mast va khiar damavand was a refreshing combination of thick yoghurt and cucumber mixed with dried mint, raisins and walnuts.

Mast va Khiar Damavand

We mopped up all that yoghurt with a couple orders of freshly baked taftoon, a delicious Persian flatbread that’s just slightly thicker than lavash.

Taftoon

We also split our main courses. The mixed grill (for two) was a combination of their various kebabs: koobideh (minced veal), joojeh (saffron marinated chicken breast), chenjeh (marinated pieces of best end of Organic Rhug Farm lamb), and rack of lamb. The meats were very good but of particular note was the chenjeh – that lamb was incredibly tender and tasty.

Mixed Grill

With everything came perfectly cooked saffron rice, here topped with butter (there should always be butter…especially with kebabs – and perhaps I’ll adopt that as the motto for my life). The only quibble I have is the portion size – I can really down my rice and a larger serving would have been welcome!

Saffron Rice

The classic fesenjan (a pomegranate and walnut based stew) was served here with confit Barbary duck leg. While I thought the duck could have been a bit more tender, the sauce was rich and complex and utterly wonderful. I really do need to learn to make this at home.

Fesenjan

Aloo Esfanaj was one of my favourites that night and a real discovery for me. This stew of baby chicken, spinach and fresh Bukhara plums was a fabulous mix of sweet and sour and I almost licked the bowl clean.

Aloo Esfenaj

We ordered some Persian tea which came in what I believe is not a traditional Persian teapot. The black tea was very welcome after all the rich food though and with dessert.

Persian Tea

Desserts were also shared. A melting chocolate fondant was served with pistachio ice cream.

Chocolate Fondant

A couple slices of baklava cake, though while not strictly Persian (um…neither is chocolate fondant), were fantastic with the tea.

Baklava Cake

The bill came to a little over £30 for each of us (food only, no drinks except for the tea). It’s the kind of price I’d expect for the quality of the food and elegant plating and posh location but it was possibly the most expensive Persian food I’ve had in London. But still, if that’s the most expensive Persian food I’ve had in the city, it makes Persian food still a bargain, no?

Kateh
5 Warwick Place
London W9 2PX

Kateh on Urbanspoon

I woke up early last Saturday morning. Very early. I was meeting a good friend for breakfast and he had chosen Koya Bar, which surprisingly, with my love for the original Koya, I had not yet tried. This slightly smaller neighbouring restaurant was open all day, from breakfast to dinner, and I’ve been keen to try their morning menu. We found the place half empty that morning, though whether it was because it was breakfast time or because it was a bank holiday, I’m not sure.

Koya Bar

Their breakfast menu is full of both udon and rice dishes and it was one particular rice dish (actually a rice porridge) that was on my list of things to try. Their kedgeree (£9.90).

Kedgeree

What is served to you at the bar is a tray with a bowl of the rice porridge and a side dish of umami-rich fish flakes. Snuggled in the warm embrace of the thick porridge is an onsen egg (a slow poached almost half-cooked soft egg) and next to that were scattered a few shards of crispy fried fish skin and thin slices of spring onion.

Kedgeree

We stirred the fish flakes and all the toppings into the thick porridge and also found pieces of smoked haddock within. We spooned the mixture into our mouths and to my surprise, the curry used in the kedgeree tasted like a proper Indian-style curry powder rather than a Japanese curry. It was excellent, all warm and savoury and soothing. It was gone in no time.

Fish Flakes

I do need to try the rest of the breakfast options at Koya, especially the onigiri I saw on the specials board. Highly recommended for a fortifying yet quiet and relaxing start to the day!

Koya Bar
50 Frith Street
London W1D 4SQ

Koya Bar on Urbanspoon

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