For our last few hours in Paris that weekend, we walked. We walked across the river, through the Jardin des Plantes, through to the Grande Mosquée de Paris, where we were to stop for a drink and a bite. For yes, the Grande Mosquée has a restaurant, a hammam and a salon de thé in its little garden and all of them appear to be very popular. The food served appears to be Tunisian/Moroccan and it all reminded us of our time in Marseille last year.

We found a table in the shade and from the roving waiter, we ordered two teas and from the counter within the building, I ordered two pastries. The teas were strong, hot and syrupy sweet.

Our Lunch/Tea in the Garden

Our savoury choice was a meat filled brik…

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…while our sweet choice (which may have pushed us over the edge in terms of sugar) was a syrup soaked almond cake. The pastries were extremely fresh, what with the high turnover.

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The garden is gorgeous and its trees provide not only shade for us tea drinkers but also a perch for some adorable sparrows.

Sparrows

Unfortunately, the sparrows do make a nuisance of themselves, jumping on tables and attempting to take pastries directly from plates or even hands!

In the Garden

Sparrows and all, I highly recommend it! The restaurant was also very popular and I’d love to stop there next time.

Grande Mosquée de Paris
2 bis Place du Puits de l’Ermite 
75005 Paris
France

We spent our wedding anniversary in Paris! Yeah, it sounds romantic but I forgot about it until late in the day – haha! Luckily, I had planned ahead and already booked a table for dinner at La Régalade Conservatoire, the third and newest location of La Régalade under chef Bruno Doucet. TimeOut Paris even called it one of the most romantic restaurants in Paris; I was sold.

We arrived to a warm welcome with excellent service throughout the entire meal. There’s a menu for dinner – 3 courses for €37, with supplements for some of the specials of the day.

We started with a huge (and delicious) pork terrine that was plonked onto our table. We were to help ourselves to as much as we desired.

Terrine

There was some excellent bread to go alongside…

A Little Starter

…and a crock of equally excellent cornichons. It’s too easy to fill up on all of this but we did have to keep room for the dishes we actually ordered!

Cornichons

Starters. Makis de maquereau, concombre et poivron, mayonnaise citron vert et avocat. This was a refreshing salad with rolls of mackerel and cucumber.

Makis de maquereau, concombre et poivron, mayonnaise citron vert et avocat

Risotto crémeux à l’encre de seiche, gambas rôties à l’ail, émulsion de vache qui rit. Rice, seafood, garlic – what’s not to like?

Risotto cremeux a l'encre de seiche, gambas roties a l'ail, emulsion de vache qui rit

Just look at the fabulous colour of that risotto! There was even a bit of dried cuttlefish or something similar on top that had a great salty chewiness. And a foam of vache qui rit cheese? Genius.

The risotto was a fabulous colour

Main courses. Veau en deux cuissons, caillette au jus de veau et quasi rôti, légumes verts de printemps. Here we had veal in two styles – a roasted cut akin to a lean loin and a caillette (kind of like a forcemeat ball). It was all gorgeous. This was served with lots of spring vegetables – peas, mangetout, peashoots, onions.

Veau en deux cuissons, caillette au jus de veau et quasi roti, legumes d'ete

Onglet de bœuf rôti aux cinq baies, carottes et navets nouveaux, champignons de Paris et cresson sauvage. Again, perfectly cooked meat served with lots of fresh vegetables.

Let's see the beef!

Desserts had to be ordered right at the beginning but as the portion sizes had been well thought through, we were feeling very comfortable and were looking forward to our sweets. Soufflé chaud Grand-Marnier seemed to be one of the favourites with our neighbouring tables as everyone seemed to have one. And yes, it was glorious – all hot and fluffy and with a strong hint of Grand Marnier.

Souffle Chaud Grand Marnier

Pêche plate du Lot-et-Garonne cuite au four, émulsion de verveine et sorbet pêche. Oh gee, this was swell. What a fabulously gently cooked flat peach, topped with the peachiest of peach sorbets and a hint of lemon verbena.

Peche Plate du Lot-et-Garonne cuite au four, emulsion de verveine et sorbet peche

With our post-dinner teas came warm madeleines, served in the tiniest basket you ever did see. Teas were from Le Palais des Thés in Paris – and they were fantastic.

Madeleines

Portion sizes were very well thought out and we only realised afterwards that there were no extra carbohydrates on the plates – there was only bread on the side. And there were plenty of vegetables too – and we loved it all. It’s definitely a lovely restaurant to spend a special occasion (or even a not very special one!).

La Régalade Conservatoire
9 Rue du Conservatoire
75009 Paris
France

We stopped for tea that first afternoon after our time in the Musée Picasso in the 3eme and as we were nearby, I dragged Blai to Jacques Genin’s shop. The one on rue de Turenne has a small salon de thé where you can taste his famous chocolates and caramels as well as pastries. His other shop on the other side of the river is just that – a shop.

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We settled into a sofa in the lovely air conditioned room. There’s a menu but the waitress also rattled off the various flavours and other pastries also available (and I believe they are made in the laboratory upstairs). We chose a chocolate millefeille that would be put together a la minute. This was one excellent millefeuille.

Millefeuille de Chocolat

Coffee for me and a citron pressé for Blai. The chocolates they provided with the drinks were utterly amazing. Seriously, just get them.

Chocolates

We bought a couple of his caramels to takeaway (look at the cute little bags they have for small numbers of sweets) and ate them about an hour later. By that time, they’d softened in the heat in my bag to possibly a perfect texture – they were utterly luscious.

Caramels

I only wish I could have brought back more but the very hot weather prevented all of that. Here’s a good tip: this salon de thé is open on Sundays.

Jacques Genin
133 rue de Turenne
Paris
France

We spent last weekend in Paris – it was a much needed break from work though it did feel like we traded one city full of tourists for another. That said, I love the change of culture, of language, of scenery. On Friday evening, we caught a Eurostar train to Paris, checked into our hotel in the 11eme and then headed straight out to find the nearby Les Niçois, a bar/restaurant that brings the French Riviera to Paris.

It was crowded on that Friday night but we just managed to find the last two seats in the place. We also managed to order food just before the kitchen closed and we dined on an Assiette Nissard, featuring a variety of Niçoise specialties: pissaladiere, pizza nissarde, panisses, tapenades noire et verte, anchoiade. With a basket of bread, this was a perfectly sized sampler of fantastic treats from the south for one person.

Dinner at Les Niçois in Paris on Friday night. The place is brilliant! You can play petanque in the basement!

But we were two and we needed a couple other light dishes. Croquettes were filled with a vegetable mixture similar to ratatouille, the flavour of which was very reminiscent of the south of France.

Dinner at Les Niçois in Paris on Friday night. The place is brilliant! You can play petanque in the basement!

I couldn’t leave without an order of grilled sardines. These little oily fish were perfect. Just perfect.

Dinner at Les Niçois in Paris on Friday night. The place is brilliant! You can play petanque in the basement!

As it was close by to our hotel, we even dropped by for a drink on our last day, prior to picking up our luggage and heading to the train station. It was quiet on a Sunday afternoon and they were preparing for the barbecue they hold every Sunday evening.

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I’m leaving what’s possibly the best for last! They have a games room in the basement, complete with a petanque court!

Basement Petanque

It’s a seriously fun place!

Les Niçois
7 Rue Lacharrière
75011 Paris
France

Nuh uh, I don’t have a glut. We only have two courgette plants but together, they pump out enough courgettes to keep us feeling like we’re eating courgettes at every meal. Some days it’ll be a massive one the size of my forearm; other days I’ve got a handful of baby courgettes to use up. But a glut? Nah, surely that’s when you have more courgettes than you can use, right? Because we’re using up all our courgettes so far!

And anyway, they are succumbing to powdery mildew now and I’ll make a note that next year, I should stagger the plantings for a longer courgette season!

This recipe used up some courgettes and some of our chard as well; the latter is also pumping out leaves at a phenomenal rate! It’s a very versatile recipe – we ate it as it is or let it cool and mix with beaten eggs and turn it into a big omelette. Or even stir it through some pasta. It’s the garden in a pan!

Courgette and Rainbow Chard

Courgette and Chard Sauté
Serves 2

2 courgettes
A small bundle of chard
Olive oil
A handle of pine nuts
Shavings of pecorino Romano or some other hard cheese
Salt and freshly black pepper

Cut the courgettes and in a large sauté pan, cook them in a little olive oil over medium heat, stirring once in a while.

Meanwhile, clean your chard and separate stems from leaves. In a small pot of boiling water, blanch the stems and after a couple of minutes, add the leaves. Drain after a minute or two. Add the chard to the courgettes (which should be colouring by now) and stir.

Empty the small pot and put back over the heat. Add a little olive oil and toast the pine nuts, pulling them off the heat when they start to colour – the residual heat with continue to toast them.

Stir the courgettes and chard together and when all heated through, season. Stir through the pine nuts and plate, scattering the shaved cheese on top.

Last month, I was invited to an event being put on by GingerlineThe Secret Island. I wasn’t familiar with the company and had to turn to their website to find out exactly what it was they do – and that turned out to be putting on dining experiences and The Secret Island was their first “multidimensional experience”. This event was being held in conjunction with the Singapore Tourism Board to celebrate 50 years of Singapore. As per their social media rules, no photos nor blog posts can appear until they give the all clear (that is, after their final day of The Secret Island). So yeah… it’s over now. You’re going to have to wait for their next event (their website indicates Autumn 2015).

My friend and I arrived at the secret location with plenty of time to spare before our “departure” to the Secret Island. The waiting area was set up like an old fishing port, complete with ferryman to take us on our journey and his daughter who played games with us. When our departure time was called, we all lined up to get into his “ferry” (some of us laden with wine bottles for the meal ahead) and we lay in there…

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… and whoooosh, our “ferry” sent us hurtling into another room, or should I say, another….jungle (there’s a great video of this experience on their website!). This was Singapore’s jungles, complete with colonial explorer in the grips of some tropical fever.

In the Jungle

The attention to detail was what really wowed me. Our first course of a mango and tomato salad were served in these plastic spheres which were dangling from the ceiling – I mean, “from the trees”! We were “foraging” for our dinners in the jungle!

Foraging

A small chest also appeared, filled with seared salmon sesame lollipops!

Sesame Salmon

Soon, we were ushered to the next room, which was fixed up to be a hawker market (styled in a way that’s perhaps reminiscent of Blade Runner). This was manned by one crazy hawker who certainly would not be passing Singapore’s strict hygiene laws!

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Luckily, our food wasn’t prepared by him but by an unseen kitchen hand beyond the room. We were served a Singapore chilli crab spring roll and an open fresh rice paper spring roll with char siu pork, coriander and rice noodles.

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When our allotted time was up, again we were ushered to the tranquility in the next, slightly smaller room – the Boardwalk.

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And yup, we sat on the boardwalk with our legs dangling over the “water” and sipped on cocktails served in bags, just like drinks (well, soft drinks) are in Asia.

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And then onwards we went to a dining room in a Peranakan home. Seeing this room and our hosts, the strict Auntie and her timid daughter-in-law, both dressed in Peranakan sarong kebaya, … well, it made me all warm and fuzzy inside as this was my heritage! The room was utterly beautiful, with its family portraits lining the walls (I wonder which family!) and painted lanterns.

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Served in a Peranakan tiffin was opor ayam with turmeric rice. The chicken dish was a spiced one with lots of rich coconut milk.

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On the table were bowls of chilli oil and sambal belacan to heat things up, …

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… a tomato raita to cool things down, …

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…and a green papaya salad for crunch.

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We were regaled with a lullaby in Malay and while Auntie fell asleep, we were rushed out to see the future of Singapore (hosted by the “great great grandson” of our previous hostess).

Singapore in the Future

I’m still confused as to whether this guy was supposed to be human or android. *shrug*

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Dessert was brought out from seemingly nowhere (hidden microwaves). Here was a pandan panna cotta, lychee gel, coconut puffed rice, yuzu and palm sugar caramel – a brilliantly modern dessert but with the traditional flavours found in Singapore.

Dessert

We’d never been to one of these immersive experiences before but thumbs up! It was fun! The food was a very gentle introduction to Asian food in general but it worked very well with the storyline. And I can only imagine how difficult it is to cater for so many people all night – there are a number of groups each evening and each group had about 16 people.

Thank you very much to Gingerline and the Singapore Tourism Board for the invitation! Tickets for this event were £50 each, and I’d expect it will be roughly that for their next event (don’t take my word for it). All my photos from the evening can be found in this Flickr album.

I wish I could say that my pre-birthday lunch at Gymkhana was outstanding but that would be a lie. In a weird way I’ve been wanting to write up the meal and yet at the same time I’ve felt entirely unmotivated to do so due to our overall general experience.

I’ll start with the good. Good: the food.

We booked for lunch last Saturday – I’d been really looking forward to trying this restaurant but as they close on Sundays, finding a day that would work for both me and Blai had been a bit of a challenge. Anyway, this opportunity arose and we went for their lunch menu: 3 courses for £30.

Drinks! Our Angoor Sharbat was the better of our two nonalcoholic cocktails, being more unique, made of homemade spiced grape juice and seltzer. The Lemon Teaser was a lemon (and lemon thyme!) fizzy drink. I really liked their nonalcoholic offerings – all were interesting and there were plenty from which to choose.

Lemon Teaser and Angoor Sharbat

Our meal started (or was supposed to start with as you’ll soon read) Cassava, Lentil & Potato Papads, Shrimp Chutney & Mango Chutney. I didn’t entirely understand until we received the basket that there would be two kinds of poppadoms here, with two distinctly different textures. I loved both.

Cassava, Lentil & Potato Papads

And both chutneys served were mind blowing. The mango chutney was the finest I’d ever had while the shrimp one was an intensely savoury and unique condiment.

Shrimp Chutney & Mango Chutney

For our starters, we chose the Soft Shell Crab Jhalmuri, Samphire

Soft Shell Crab Jhalmuri, Samphire

… and the Dosa, Chettinad Duck, Coconut Chutney. Both were excellent though the dosa just pipped the crab to the post. The crab was well spiced and tasty but that duck and dosa was really something.

Dosa, Chettinad Duck, Coconut Chutney

Dosa, Chettinad Duck, Coconut Chutney

Our main courses were the megastars of our lunch. Our Tandoori Chicken Chop, Mango Ginger, Leg Chat was amazing, easily the best tandoori chicken I’ve ever had. The chicken was just perfect, perfectly spiced, perfectly grilled, perfectly tender. And I must mention that ‘leg chat’, which was a tandoori spiced mixture of cooked and chopped chicken leg topped with crispy potato bits.

Tandoori Chicken Chop, Mango Ginger, Leg Chat

Our Hariyali Bream, Tomato Kachumber was also brilliant. This incredibly tender bream had been schmeared with a coriander paste and grilled and served with a fresh tomato relish; I’ve found the recipe online and hope to replicate at home one day!

Hariyali Bream, Tomato Kachumber

To go with our main courses, our set lunches also included a side each of Dal Maharani (creamy lentils) and Saag Makkai (spinach and corn). I loved these additions, rounding out our Indian meal.

Dal Maharani

Saag Makkai

For carbs we were given a bread basket with a naan and roti and also a large bowl of basmati rice. They were particularly generous with the rice and we didn’t manage to finish that!

Bread Basket

Desserts were very good indeed. A Rose & Rhubarb Kulfi Falooda was a ball of rose kulfi with rose petal jam, braised rhubarb, jelly bits, basil seeds and vermicelli, all served with a small pitcher of sweetened reduced milk for pouring over.

Ras Malai, Tandoori Peach Chutney

Ras Malai, Tandoori Peach Chutney was probably the finest ras malai I’ve ever had (clearly a theme throughout this meal) but I only wish that they’d been a little more generous with the fabulous chutney.

Rose & Rhubarb Kulfi Falooda

Overall, this was some of the finest Indian food we both had ever had and for that we were glad we tried the restaurant. The meal ended with these excellent passionfruit and chilli jellies but we almost didn’t get these as I mention below.

Passionfruit and Chilli Jellies

Now, the bad. Bad: the service. I’m not sure what it was about us but we were clearly getting shoddy service compared to those around us. I could see everything go flawlessly around us which really rubbed salt in the wound.

What we do not tend to expect from a one Michelin starred restaurant:

  • Waiting ages to be served. Having to ask for menus.
  • Receiving the first opening dish (the poppodoms and chutneys) after the second.
  • Watching the waitpeople roll their eyes above the heads of diners.
  • Waitpeople who try to clear our dishes about 2 minutes after we received them (yes, they were still half full).
  • Waiting 15 minutes for a single espresso, especially when we have a time limit on the table.
  • Being denied petit-fours, despite every table around us getting some. I only got them (the jellies above) after asking for them (and simultaneously making a complaint about service).
  • Waitpeople who, in general, avoid you.

Now, each event taken in isolation could have been considered an honest oversight but taken all together, it was increasing clear that we had been judged for some reason and judged to be lacking in some way and thus treated differently from everyone else. I made a complaint to our waiter but his response left me feeling very uncomfortable and I perhaps regret not speaking directly to management.

The day after our meal, a generic “we value your feedback” email popped into my inbox. I took the opportunity to send detailed email feedback to the restaurant and to their credit, they apologised and said they’d spoken to the waitstaff mentioned. But the fact that it even happened in the first place….not on, Gymkhana. While the food was spectacular, the whole lunch left a distinctly bad taste in our mouths.

Gymkhana
42 Albemarle Street
London W1S 4JH

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