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.

When my friend KK visits London, he hits the ground running, eating at all the best and interesting places. And he can do this as he’s supremely organised, whereas I just bumble along and am not so great at planning in advance! Speaking of planning, yeah, even this blog post is a few months old as we dined here before Christmas.

Anyway, we both ended up ordering the same items off the lunch menu as our tastes are very similar. We first started with a salami plate (not on the lunch menu) – thin slices of their own house cured salami went down rather too easily. This was some glorious pork.

Salami Plate

Radishes, Black Sesame and Gochuchang was the first of the restaurant’s famous pre-meal snacks to our table. I loved the combination of nutty sesame, spicy gochuchang mayo and the crunchy fresh radishes. It’s a great snack to try and recreate at home.

Radishes, Black Sesame and Gochuchang

The restaurant’s famous Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Pine Salt were little cornmeal nuggets served on a bed of pine needles.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Pine Salt

Oak Smoked Cod’s Roe on Rye was like the best taramasalata you could imagine. Wonderful.

Oak Smoked Cod's Roe on Rye

Our starter of Roast Scallop, Chervil and Miyagawa Satsuma was the only dish that afternoon that didn’t work for us. While the scallops were beautifully cooked, the satsuma and chervil combination didn’t do anything for it and I’m not convinced that the combination even gelled well. I would have been plenty happy with the scallops on their own.

Roast Scallop, Chervil and Miyagawa Satsuma

Luckily, our second course of Roast Chop of Rose Veal, Chestnut, Spinach and Brussel Sprouts was excellent. Everything on this plate sang autumn – the chestnuts, the chestnut puree, the lightly cooked spinach, the tender sprout leaves. And that veal was truly just gorgeous – tender and pink and flavourful.

Roast Chop of Rose Veal, Chestnut, Spinach and Brussel Sprouts

Our dessert of choice, Amalfi Lemonade, had use scratching our heads at first. Were we going to receive glasses of lemonade? Our waitress assured us no! And what arrived was fantastic – white pepper ice cream topped with lemon foam and little crunchy tuiles. I loved that novel combination of the white pepper and lemon – peppery and zesty.

Amalfi Lemonade

On our way out, we peeped into the tiny little room where all the salami curing takes place. Neat!

Curing Room

With drinks and the salami and the lunch menus and service, it came to about £50 each. No, not cheap in any sense but it is a lovely treat. I’d love to return for dinner as they have a 5 course meal (with snacks) at £55.

The Clove Club
Shoreditch Town Hall
380 Old Street
London EC1V 9LT

The Clove Club on Urbanspoon

We all slept in on our first day in Tokyo – that day at the onsen and the harried trip on the shinkansen the previous day had really taken it out of us. We slowly made our way to the famous Tsukiji market to see what we could and to grab some lunch. When we got there, we were, of course, too late to see any action at the wholesale seafood market but luckily, all the restaurants in the market surrounding Tsukiji were still going strong.

We joined one of the random queues outside the restaurants and soon realised we were lining up for Nakaya Donburi, a restaurant specialising in rice bowls topped with all sorts of seafood but really specialising in tuna. This was one of the pictorial menus outside the restaurant (really, two separate tiny shops but with one queue).

The Menu

The queue went much quicker than we expected and after taking it in turns to wait in the queue and wander around the market, we suddenly ended up at the front. We perused the pictorial menus intently and placed our orders before we were even seated.

And then we were in! The two separate shops making up the restaurant had similar configurations. There was a long bar that sat about a dozen people, elbow to elbow. Each shop was also ridiculously narrow and on the other side of the bar was essentially part of the kitchen.

The Counter

The tiny kitchen extended to the back. Yes, it’s minuscule. It was impressive how quickly the bowls were put together and how quickly one could be in and out.

The Kitchen

Pickles and tea were set out for us as soon as we sat down. A brilliant miso soup arrived not long after. See those blue post-its at the top of the photo below? My order was written on those.

Pickles and Tea

I had chosen a donburi with four different tuna preparations: ‘regular’ tuna, fatty tuna belly, chopped tuna and chopped fatty tuna with green onion. One of the men at the counter indicated how we should take the lump of grated daikon and wasabi and dissolve it into our little saucer of soy sauce.

Tuna Donburi

In addition to the donburi, you could order all the toppings as individual side dishes. Because I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by, I also ordered a side of uni (sea urchin).

A Side of Uni

Oh yes, this was a brilliant lunch – all the seafood was extremely fresh and tasty and did I mention it was a relative bargain too (for London standards)? This all came to 2500 yen (about £15). It was definitely worth the wait!

My Lunch

I know that this Tsukiji market will cease to exist at the end of this year as the wholesale market will be moved to a brand new building. What will happen to all the fantastic restaurants, like this one, surrounding the old market?

Nakaya Donburi
Tsukiji 5-2-1 building #8
Tokyo, Japan

We were in Nagoya for a work conference and for each day of the main conference, we would each pick up a bento box and juice/tea box for lunch. Now these were clearly mass produced bento boxes (they would have required about 1000 bento boxes per day) but the quality and variety of the food in each box was astounding.

On the first day, we received this beauty. It was a bit rice heavy but the fried fish, prawn (I got a second because my colleague couldn’t eat hers) and little hamburger were lovely. Everything was delicious.

Day 1 Bento

Our second bento was in the most beautiful box that I even managed to keep and bring back to London (after emptying out the food covered dividers!). Again there were three lots of rice but this was improved by having one of the rices cooked together with carrots and mushrooms. The sweet included in the top right corner was a curiosity – two large beans cooked in syrup! In the top left, there was an excellent braised tofu bundle filled with vegetables. Of all the bentos we had at that conference, I liked this one the best.

Day 2 Bento

The bentos handed out on the third and last day had one of its rices in the form of a Nagoya speciality – tenmusu, an onigiri with a prawn tempura in it.  This last box was a bit fried-heavy (the tenmusu, the prawn, pork in the middle and karaage in the top left corner) but just look at the designs printed on the food dividers!

Day 3 Bento

We even got a taste of ekiben, the railway bentos that can only be purchased at train stations or at special ekiben fairs. After our time in Nagoya, we took the shinkansen to Tokyo and while I bought this katsu-sando (most convenient for a train journey where you’ve not got a tray because your suitcase is in the way)….

Tonkatsu Sandwiches

….my colleague purchased this chicken yakitori ekiben that’s one of the specialities of Nagoya. He said it was brilliant.

Alessandro's Ekiben

I only wish there had been more time and more stomach space for me to try more bentos on this trip!

When the Korean healthy restaurant chain Bibigo opened in London last year, critics slated it but mainly for the very high prices they were charging. I had crossed it off my list a while ago but someone recently said that they had had a good meal there and it was enough to pique my curiosity again. I see now that they’ve addressed the price issue with a £9 lunch special (the “lunch club menu”) and a £12 early dinner set menu in addition to the usual expensive a la carte options. We tried the latter one recent Saturday afternoon (yes, also available on weekends!) and were pleasantly surprised.

For £9, you get a starter and a main course. Of the starters, there was a red chicken (I suspect crispy chicken pieces in a gochujang hot sauce) and a seafood pajeon; I chose the latter. To my disbelief, this appears to be a full sized order! I really enjoyed this pajeon; unlike many heavy greasy ones I’ve had in the past, this was light and crispy.

Seafood Pajeon

My friend chose the third available starter – the Tomatofu, a salad made up of soft tofu, tomatoes and rocket leaves. From the way she cleared her bowl, I’d say she liked it!

Tomatofu

For our main course, we both went with the Traditional bibimbap with beef bulgogi. The healthy outlook of the restaurant meant that it wasn’t topped with a fried egg (boo!) but it was still tasty with their accompanying ‘Kohot’ sauce (like the traditional gochujang based sauce). I liked that other sauces were also available – some were mild and would suit those fearful of heat.

Traditional Bibimbap

Other main courses available in the set menu were the bulgogi, bo-ssam, baby chicken, grilled scallops or the jjigae of the day (that day, it was a pork and kimchi jjigae). I notice online now that it was supposed to include a tea or coffee but we forgot to get ours!

Overall, the food at Bibigo was pretty good – sure it’s not perhaps the most authentic take on Korean food but I don’t then that matters so long as it’s delicious. The lunch set is a great deal with very generous portions and I’d certainly recommend that. The only catch is that you’ve got to sign up for their “VIP club” but this does get you a card that also gives you 20% off their a la carte menu.

Bibigo
58-59 Great Marlborough Street
London W1F 7JY

Bibigo on Urbanspoon

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas! We’re not religious at all but I’ve embraced the whole idea of Christmas and the fact that we get an enforced break from work and well, all of that eating, of course! Our feasting started Christmas Eve with a big Chinese meal for the three of us (Blai joined us this year for his first Christmas in London).

Christmas Eve Dinner

My brother had brought over a roast duck from Four Seasons (our usual duck of choice comes from Gold Mine but they had closed early the day before!) and I added a steamed fish, wontons in chilli oil, kai lan with oyster sauce and mapo tofu (I added some pork to that last recipe).

Mapo Tofu

A couple of the recipes came from Fuchsia Dunlop’s book Every Grain of Rice – and I highly recommend this book! I feel I ought to be cooking more Chinese food and I’ll certainly be using her recipes often.

Afterwards, there were slices of Heston’s Black Forest Buche (bought at Waitrose) for dessert. We’re still eating our way along the length of this excellent chocolatey buche.

Cross Section of the Buche

On Christmas Day, we rose late and started with a breakfast of smoked salmon and crème fraîche on blinis along with scrambled eggs.

Smoked Salmon and Scrambled Eggs

Soon after breakfast, I set out a few bites while the main course was cooking. A bit of cheese, A bit of charcuterie, a bit more salmon. It’s what the Catalans call pica pica, all these little bites.

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And the main course? Well, we can’t go wrong with another slab of pork belly – it always goes down well in this family. This year, I roasted it with apples and onions and I loved the sweetness and slight tang the apples gave. For a recipe, start with this one and instead of fennel, use a couple of sliced onions and a couple of sliced, peeled green apples and a bit of dried or fresh thyme.

Slow Roast Pork Belly with Apples and Onions

Very buttery mashed potatoes, pigs in blankets, sauteed sprouts, roasted carrots and parsnips and, of course, that pork and there’s my first plate made.

My Plate

And now it’s Boxing Day and that’s all about using up the leftovers… but first, I’d like to hear what you’ve been eating this Christmas! Have you tried new recipes this year or is this a time for sticking to tradition?

While everyone else is already talking about the latest and hottest restaurants in London, I’m still making my way slowly through my list of must-try restaurants. Roganic was one of these on the list. An inability to plan ahead meant I’d still not eaten there but my super-organised friend did manage to make a booking one recent Saturday lunchtime. Thanks, KK, for arranging it!

If you’re not familiar with the name, Roganic is the two year temporary London restaurant of Simon Rogan and the sister restaurant to Rogan’s highly acclaimed L’Enclume in the Lake District. Roganic is located in Marylebone and looks relatively sleek and finished for a temporary place. It’s a lot smaller than I imagined with just a handful of tables, all well spaced apart. I liked it and I liked our cozy table in the corner.

Before we even had a chance to see the menus though, amuses had been set down in front of us. What looked like a cracker turned out to be dehydrated mushroom with a topping of cream cheese, mint powder, cornflowers and something olive. The delicious fried morsel was pigs head topped with violet mustard and an edible flower. It was a good beginning to the meal.

Amuses

After we selected the three course lunch from the menu, a tray of warm bread rolls was brought to our table: these were (from left to right) whole wheat and ale, pumpernickel and rye, and onion and thyme. We scarfed them down with the whipped butter provided and used them to mop up sauces in the next few dishes.

Breads

With each dish, our waiter would come over and rattle off the most impressive sounding list of ingredients – it was almost impossible to keep track of them! For this next bite, we heard pea mousse, slow cooked beef tongue, split peas, calamint oil, aniseed powder, peashoots, pea flower. I’m sure I’ve missed something. It was delicious with the peas and mint going together very well – imagine an upmarket pea soup.

Pea Mousse and Slow Cooked Beef Tongue

Our three courses then started proper. First was Keen’s dumplings, cream of onion, nasturtiums and liquorice powder. The dumplings had been made of Keen’s cheddar and they sat in the most beautiful cream of onion soup. There was some grilled baby courgette in there as well.

Keen's Dumplings, Cream of Onion, Nasturtiums and Liquorice Powder

Reg’s duck breast with beans, sweetbreads, sage and corn was excellent, especially those battered sweetbreads. I can imagine food cynics scoffing at the use of foams and powders and whatnot on the dishes but each encapsulated the flavour of one particular ingredient and truly did add to the composition of the dish.

Reg's Duck Breast with Beans, Sweetbreads, Sage and Corn

Dessert was Douglas fir, cherries, goat’s milk and pennyroyal. It’s a cliche but I can safely say that this dessert was certainly greater than the sum of its parts. The douglas fir flavour was in the white foam and I could have eaten a bucketful of it. It was served with a cherry cake, a goat’s milk caramel and the pennyroyal leaves. This really was an absolute stunner of a dish.

Douglas Fir, Cherries, Goat's Milk and Pennyroyal

A little pot of what looked like mustard came after. This turned out to be greengage cream, mead jelly, and natural yoghurt hidden at the bottom. This went down smooth and easy…but wow, was that mead jelly strong!

Greengage Cream with Mead Jelly

A little treat came along with our coffees – Homemade Jammie Dodgers! The two buttery crumbly layers were barely held together by its filling of fresh raspberry coulis.

Jammie Dodgers

The three course lunch costs £29 or £35 with 2 glasses of wine; also available are menus of 6 or 10 courses and I’m dying to return to go all out with one of those. Service was very friendly and open and extremely knowledgeable. We asked what would happen after the two years was over and was told that Simon Rogan was in talks with a number of people with quite a few potential locations being discussed. I’m very much looking forward to seeing his next restaurant step.

Roganic
19 Blandford St
London W1U 3DH

Roganic on Urbanspoon

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