Earlier this year (in May), I had my first visit to Quebec City, probably the last major city in Canada I’ve been very keen to see due to its history. And its old walled city (the only walled city in North America north of Mexico) is indeed a UNESCO world heritage site. It was a short visit as I was there for work but I think I managed to see most of the highlights in my free day and whatever free time I could muster.

My hotel was located about a 10 minute walk from the walled old town (top tip: best not to choose a hotel on Grande Allée Est if you’re not keen on nightlife running into the wee hours of the morning right in front of your window). For my first walk through the city, I looped around the old fortress and headed straight for the river.

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That would be the mighty St Lawrence river! It’s particularly wide here as Québec is located near its mouth. Notice the gloomy day – this was late spring and there were still large lumps of snow that had failed to melt. It was cold!

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My first view of the Château Frontenac was breathtaking (as was the wind that day) – it’s quite a majestic landmark and understandably is one of the main symbols of the city. If it had been winter, it would have been a treat to go down the toboggan slide (located on the left in the photo below) dating back to 1884!

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From the Terrasse Dufferin and its multitude of benches facing the river, it was down the stairs to the lower town below.

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The Quartier Petit Champlain is a particularly charming tourist area with many shops with local products.

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At the end of the main street is a shop specialising in all things maple (Québec is famous for its maple syrup and, I learned, wild blueberries). It’s where I chose to go for my maple taffy later in the visit. Here, maple syrup is cooked to the soft ball stage and then poured over snow (shaved ice here). A stick is used to pick up the taffy and it tasted even better than I expected! This was just one step in my dream to experience a Québécois sugar shack but, y’know, outside the actual season (typically March and April).

Maple taffy! (Recall Little House in the Big Woods?)

There’s a funicular to help you get back up that hill too… And I certainly made use of that when I came back one evening from a work dinner in the lower town. Handy!

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I continued walking around the port area until I reached the Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec. This market was made up of many local farm stands selling local products – I picked up some amazing fresh maple sugar as a gift for friends here.

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Fiddlehead ferns (têtes de violon in French – violin heads) were in season and were all over the market. I had a chance to have some at a dinner later on.

Fiddlehead Ferns!

My sugar shack style lunch was had at La Buche, a restaurant specialising in Quebecois cuisine. I went full on with their massive brunch platter that evoked a sugar shack kind of feeling. There were eggs, potatoes, sausage, bacon, ham, cretons, fèves au lard (the Québec version of baked beans), a crepe with maple syrup, toast with blueberry jam, and fruit salad. Hearty it was and I was very full the rest of the day – I did try my best but no, I didn’t finish the entire thing!

Sugar Shack Plate

There was a very nice dinner that night as well (oof!) and I’ll save that for a post of its own.

The oldest building in Quebec was across the street and it also holds another Quebecois restaurant – it’s not cheap but I’ve heard good things about it.

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Other places I particularly enjoyed visiting? Well, there was the side of the parking lot of the Anglican cathedral, where Aldo the donkey lives. He’s out and about most mornings, I believe.

We met an adorable donkey at the Anglican cathedral this morning! His name is Aldo.

I managed to wander into Le Monastère des Augustines – still a working Augustine convent but now also refurbished to be a hotel, restaurant, café, spa, and all round community space. It’s beautiful and very peaceful.

Le Monastère des Augustines

A visit to the Morrin Centre is a must for lovers of libraries. This historic English language library is tiny but gorgeous.

The Morrin Centre

Nearby is the Maison de la Littérature, a modern library created in a converted church. Again, absolutely beautiful but in its own different way.

Maison de la Littérature

A must-stop shop is the Épicerie J.A. Moisan, the oldest grocery store in North America. It has many of its original fixings and you can spend an hour here poring over all the goods. It’s also the perfect place to pick up an edible souvenir – I went home with some incredible wild blueberry compote.

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I couldn’t not have poutine in Quebec! That quintessentially Québécois dish of fries, cheese curds, and gravy is said to have originated in the fast food chain Chez Ashton. That’s where I went and I wasn’t disappointed. The cheese curds, in particular, were exceptionally fresh, squeaking in between my teeth.

Poutine!!!

My first time in Quebec was certainly good fun if a bit cold. My next post is on Légende, the restaurant, but if you want to see more Quebec photos in the meantime, I’ll direct you to my Flickr album.

I want to break up all these holiday eating posts with something a little more local. Croydon! In particular, Brasserie Vacherin in Croydon, one of our locals; it’s run by Malcolm John who also runs our beloved Le Vacherin in Chiswick. We’re often there for dinner and occasionally for breakfast but recently we stopped in for their relatively new weekend brunch menu. And it’s a cracker! Two courses for £12.95 or three for £17.50 and it includes bottomless Virgin Marys!

Last weekend we started with a red wine poached pear, blue cheese, walnut, and endive salad for Blai (his favourite and we never have blue cheese at home as I’m not a fan and I do most of the food shopping!) and crispy fried squid with roast garlic aioli for me.

Three excellent courses for brunch at Brasserie Vacherin. Here are our starters: a poached pear and blue cheese salad and crispy fried squid. And bottomless Virgin Marys!

We shared our main courses: a roast beef lunch (Sundays only) and fried eggs with chorizo and avocado and bacon. The roast was alright, just needing a little more seasoning – best not to take my word for it though, as I’m not the biggest fan of Sunday roasts. I’m not sure what compelled me to order it; I always feel like one about once a year. The eggs definitely felt more brunchy and the bacon was a standout.

A roast dinner on my side and baked eggs on Blai's, though we shared everything!

By this point, we were very full! But I wanted dessert (greedy!) and so we split a single crepe Suzette. Only it turned out to be crepes plural and the whole lot turned up on a dinner plate. It was huge! It was delicious.

Crepes Suzette! This was a dinner plate! 😜

It’s a brilliant deal and the food is all excellent. There are more traditional brunch options on the menu like eggs benedict or baked eggs or other more lunch items like a burger and fish and chips; we’ve tried almost all of these and so can vouch for them all. There’s something for everyone and I love it. Thank goodness it’s a local of ours!

Glasgow! I still need to write about our days in Glasgow (this was back in Easter!). Blogging has not come easy as of late though I am still prolific on Instagram. I think after a whole day of looking at a computer, I’m just not feeling as inclined to open up my laptop yet again at night. But there’s Glasgow to write about! And also a recent trip to Canada! And a day in St Albans too! Onwards!

On our arrival in Glasgow, it was first waiting out the rain in a bookshop and then our hotel before heading out for dinner – Paesano! This purveyor of authentic Neapolitan pizzas is rightly popular with the locals; there was a wait for our table but it was worth it. Our fresh Tuscan fennel sausage …

Fresh Tuscan Fennel Sausage Pizza

… and prosciutto cotto and mushroom pizzas were excellent.

Prosciutto Cotto and Mushroom Pizza

A side of artichokes and sun blushed tomatoes were lovely – the tomatoes were particularly good.

Artichokes and Sun Blushed Tomatoes

Dessert was one of the cakes of the day – a chocolate fudge cake with a side of soft serve ice cream. The portion was massive for £4!

Chocolate Cake and Soft Serve Ice Cream

The next morning, we trekked out to Glasgow Cathedral – it’s magnificent! I’d never visited the cathedral despite spending a little time in the city 17 years ago and I was surprised by its size.

Glasgow Cathedral

Across the street was the most interesting Provand’s Lordship, which I also highly recommend visiting! It’s a medieval building kitted out to be exactly like how it would have been around the 16th-18th centuries and it’s free to visit. Highly recommended if you’re visiting.

Provand's Lordship

We then took the subway to the West End where we lunched at Kimchi Cult!, a kind of fusion Korean joint that’s quite popular. A bibimbap with pulled pork…

Bibimbap with Pulled Pork

… and bulgogi brisket bao were both alright. The vegetables in the bibimbap were just raw and not blanched or seasoned which made it not taste entirely right to me.

Bulgogi Brisket Bao

Of particular note were the fries with kimchi mayo – they’ve hit on a winning formula here. I hear their fries topped with everything are very good.

Fries with Kimchi Mayo

The entire afternoon was spent in the brilliant Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, where we learned about the Glasgow Boys and their influence on UK art.

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And then I was back at Crabshakk – or should I say, I introduced Blai to the brilliant Crabshakk. We noshed on a few things by the bar. Let’s see… first were salt and pepper tentacles and gurnard (what a combo!).

Salt and Pepper Tentacles and Gurnard

Octopus with onion puree, chorizo, garlic pesto (!!!).

Octopus with Onion Puree, Chorizo, Garlic Pesto

Crab cakes (these are a must).

Crab Cakes

And finally seared scallops with anchovy (always go with the anchovy butter). Brilliant as always.

Seared Scallops with Anchovy

We walked all the butter off on our way to Crollas Gelateria, where we shared freshly baked chocolate chip cookies with two scoops of gelato. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Dinner was followed by ice cream on freshly baked cookies! 🍦🍪

As you can imagine, we rolled back to our hotel that night.

On the morning of our last full day in Glasgow (and Scotland), it rained cats and dogs and we could only sprint to the nearby Gallery of Modern Art where we spent a curious morning before we continued through the damp to Cup Tea Lounge where we shared a pear and orange salad and eggs royale.

Pear and Orange Salad

Eggs Royale

While the food was average, the setting was absolutely gorgeous with its ceramic tiled walls and its impressive gin bar!

Tea Lounge

We continued up towards Sauchiehall Street, making a detour towards the Glasgow School of Art. Alas, the original Mackintosh building was under scaffolding for a refurbishment but there was an excellent exhibition about it all in one of the new buildings.

We dropped into Singl-end for coffee and cake – well, hot chocolate and coffee and a vegan (!) cake. It was the most delicious vegan baked good I’d had – a raspberry, chocolate and pistachio cake. All their baked goods looked excellent as did their savoury brunch options.

Raspberry, Chocolate and Pistachio Cake, Hot Chocolate, and a Flat White

Our final dinner in Glasgow, in Scotland!, was at Bread Meats Bread, a popular and highly rated burger joint. My Wolf of St Vincent Street was a juicy patty topped with cheese, bacon, pulled pork, crispy onions and ‘nduja was almost too big to get my jaws around. But it was good!

Wolf of St Vincent Street

As was Blai’s Full House burger which was topped with beef brisket and pickles. Our accompanying sweet potato fries and poutine were also excellent. I like the creativity they exhibit through their fries – our neighbour’s maple and bacon sweet potato fries looked brilliant!

Sweet Potato Fries and Poutine

The next day, it was back to Edinburgh and then back to London from there. We had a fantastic time in Scotland – everyone was very friendly, there’s plenty to see and do, and, gosh, the food was good. As is usual, all photos from our Easter trip to Edinburgh and Glasgow can be found in this Flickr album.

I was back in Bordeaux early last month, this time with Blai as we were there for his work. There wasn’t much sightseeing as we both saw the city without each other but instead lots of general strolling and, of course, eating. Friends and family came along too and we were often a small group, always a challenge for me as the restaurant responsibility tends to fall on me! Luckily, Bordeaux has numerous fantastic restaurants and we visited quite a few of them. For a group of 4 or more, I would definitely recommend booking, even if it’s an hour ahead; we were turned away from a couple spots when we hadn’t made reservations.

There was an outstanding first meal on our first night at the Corsican Le Petit Mignon with pumpkin soup with a crusted soft boiled egg…

Pumpkin Soup with a Crusted Egg

…and my favourite salade de gesiers (confited duck gizzards).

Salade de Gesiers

Then a fabulous faux filet with a Corsican wine sauce …

Steak and Corsican Wine Sauce

…followed by their chocolate cake (more like a ridiculous rich chocolate torte)…

Chocolate Cake

and a bavarois de poire.

Bavarois de Poire

We liked it so much we returned another day for lunch. There’s a good value lunch menu with dishes like this tender grilled cuttlefish with vegetables.

Grilled Cuttlefish and Vegetables

Le Petit Mignon
33 Rue Saint-Rémi
33000 Bordeaux, France

For more classic Bordelais dishes, we went to La Table Bordelais, a very friendly spot with a set lunch that’s available all week. There was another salade de gesiers

Salade de Gesiers

…and another steak, but this time with a sauce bordelaise.

Steak Bordelais

And a confit de canard! Oh yes, and those potatoes – fabulous.

Confit de Canard

Blai and I shared this simple tarte aux poires but another dessert option was coffee with that classic Bordeaux pastry – the canelé!

Tarte aux Poires

La Table Bordelais
10 Rue Piliers de Tutelle
33000 Bordeaux, France

There was one evening where we came out of a concert and it was absolutely pouring down. Hungry and wet, we stepped next door to Le Régent, an old style brasserie on Place Gambetta. Many of us were coming in like drowned rats and somehow there was room for all. Portions were big here!

We shared half a roast chicken…

Roast Chicken

… and a brandade de cabillaud (made with fresh cod and not dried salted cod). The food was simple but it was all well prepared and hit the spot. They do pizzas too and those appeared to be very popular with locals.

Brandade de Cabillaud

Le Régent
46 Place Gambetta
33000 Bordeaux, France

There was another visit to Le Scopitone where we all opted for the excellent value prix fixe. There was a lamb spring roll to start…

Lamb Spring Roll

… as well as an excellent cream of turnip soup (I’m growing turnips for the first time this year and I hope to recreate this!).

Cream of Turnips

There was a fish fillet (I can’t remember the type of fish but I recall it’s one not familiar to these shores) cooked very simply but beautifully with tomatoes and capers.

Fish

There was an emincé de boeuf as well, with a sauce bordelaise, and it’s where I realised that no, emincé isn’t a mince but thin slices of meat. In this case, these were thin slices of a very rare piece of beef that would be boot leather if cooked any other way!

Emincé de Steak

Desserts were simple but excellent: tarte tatin

Tarte Tatin

… and an outstanding mango cheesecake.

Mango Cheesecake

Le Scopitone
5 Rue de la Vieille Tour
33000 Bordeaux, France

For me, one particular highlight was a lunch at Le Cagette, a beautifully light and airy restaurant. They too had a set lunch with plenty of choices. Watercress soup to start (this was an eye opener for me as I’m only familiar with Chinese pork and watercress soup)…

Watercress Soup

or a beetroot and orange salad (yeah, this wasn’t mine…I’m still not a fan of beetroot).

Beetroot Salad

For mains, a mushroom risotto…

Mushroom Risotto

… or my favourite, an excellent slice of meatloaf with the most impossibly airy mashed potatoes.

Meatloaf

Tarte tatin here too! Not sure if you can tell but dessert portions were ridiculously generous.

Tarte Tatin

La Cagette
8 Place du Palais
33000 Bordeaux, France

One more, one more! I became a temporary regular at the Patisserie Artisanale Gaston Bordeaux, which I can highly recommend. Their viennoiserie is outstanding: all the usuals plus combinations like pistachio and raspberry or vanilla and apple. I tried many of them but my favourite is always the croissant. I never got to try their pastries (as they were laid out after breakfast time) but they looked fantastic too.

I'm going to miss this.

Patisserie Artisanale Gaston Bordeaux
34 Rue du Dr Charles Nancel Penard
33000 Bordeaux, France

We fell in love with Bordeaux and I sure wouldn’t mind returning again!

Taiwanese food! I love it and I loved what we tried at Ho-ja on Goldhawk Road in Shepherd’s Bush. I was first introduced to the restaurant by a friend who organised a karaoke night in one of their two private rooms downstairs. While the karaoke was ok (language variety good, song variety in English meh), the food was memorable. I returned last week with Blai.

The location was one I remembered as being an old-fashioned British diner in times past – I recall having Spam fritters for the first time there! The business has turned over a couple times since then and is now Ho-ja. The space is large and is peppered with wooden benches and tables – we’re shown to the end of a large communal one as the smaller tables are all taken. We have menus but one needs to order and pay at the counter and the food is brought out to you when it’s ready.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

Our spread looks good, no? First up was a pork katsu bento – it’s not really in a bento box but is akin to the set meals that are typically Taiwanese. For something like £6, we got a slightly greasy fried breaded pork cutlet, some stewed cabbage, beansprouts, and rice. Portions are certainly hearty.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

A side order of their chicken popcorn is surprisingly greaseless by comparison. It’s extremely addictive and it would be worth ordering this as a bento main.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

The Ho-ja beef roll also comes with vegetables (steamed broccoli here) and are flaky scallion pancakes rolled around lots of salad leaves and some stewed beef. Fabulous stuff! We loved the freshness of the greens with the richer bread and beef. Just watch out for the skewers holding the rolls together… it’s easy to accidentally give yourself an unwanted piercing.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

With a bubble tea and a regular jasmine tea, the bill came to about £22, a pretty good deal. It’s definitely a place to look out for if you’re in search of a bite in the area.

Ho Ja
39 Goldhawk Road
Shepherd’s Bush
London W12 8QQ

Things have been busy and I’ve not been particularly keen to open my laptop to write posts once I’m back home. But I thought I’d give myself a kick today and post a recipe I made last night. Nikujaga!

That’s Japanese for ‘meat and potatoes’ and it’s a very common, very simple dish that’s served with rice. Due to its sweetness, it’s particularly popular with kids … and we like it too! Everyone seems to have their own ratio of soy/sake/mirin/sugar and I saw sugar amounts that ranged from 1 tbsp to 4 tbsp for the same amount of meat and potatoes. I went with my gut and the ratio below is what worked for us.

For the thinly sliced beef, to get it fresh, you’re likely to need to visit a Japanese or Korean shop that sells fresh meat. I find a good source of thinly sliced meat is also the frozen section of Chinese shops as the thin slices of meat are frozen in rolls, ready to go into hotpot. I cut them in half and in they go into my pot directly. Easy.

Nikujaga (with a red spoon)

Nikujaga
Serves 2-4 (depends if you have other dishes)

1-2 tbsp sunflower oil
200-250g thinly sliced beef (I use frozen like you use for Asian hotpot)
1-2 large potatoes, cut into chunks
1 small carrot, cut into bite sized pieces
1 large onion, sliced lengthwise
500 ml water
3 tbsps soy sauce
3 tbsps sake
1 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp demerara sugar
1 scant tsp instant dashi
A handful of frozen peas

Heat a medium sized pot over medium-high heat and add the sunflower oil. Add the onion slices and saute until just started to get translucent. Add the beef and continue sauteing until the beef loses all its red colour. Add the potatoes, carrot, water and seasonings, stir well and bring it all to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, partly cover and continue cooking for about 30 minutes, until the carrots and potatoes are cooked through. Scatter over the frozen peas and continue cooking for another five minutes before turning off the heat.

Go ahead and leave the dish to soak up the flavourful liquid until mealtime (it’s now a good time to make anything else you’re having for your meal!). Serve with hot white rice.

(Konnyaku noodles are apparently great in here too and if you don’t have peas, green beans work too.)

There was one particularly memorable lunch in Barcelona in Gràcia (closest metro station: Fontana). I’d heard good things about a Japanese-Mediterranean restaurant called Somodó and as we were planning on taking my mother-in-law for a nice lunch, it seemed like a good opportunity to try it. Reservations recommended as there’s only seating for about 20 people though we managed to book that morning for lunch for three.

You wouldn’t be blamed for walking straight past the restaurant – the windows are blocked up and there’s a very minimalist entrance, not unlike those I remember seeing in Tokyo. They have set menus for lunch and dinner but while both are very well priced for you get, lunch is the real bargain. Inside, the lighting is a bit dim but I guess that could be considered intimate. We were seated immediately at a round table laden with a small dish of olive oil and an apple. (We would later see apple threaded through the menu.)

Apple and Olive Oil

No printed menus were proffered but instead chef Shojiro Ochi himself came to our table and sullenly recited the choices for that day’s menú del dia to us in Spanish. No choice for the amuse and the first course. Fish or lamb for second; brownie or mousse for dessert. Between the three of us, we tried everything available – I love creating our own little tasting menu. Anyway, I believe the menu changes daily so you do need to listen carefully!

Excellent warm bread was brought to our table and turned out to be necessary to mop up all the sauces that were to come. Of course, it went well with the olive oil too.

Bread

I only thought to take a photo of the bread midway through the meal – don’t mind the crumbs!

Our first amuse/tapas was braised pigeon wings served with an apple sauce. We grabbed the little things with our fingers and gnawed away every last bit of flesh before mopping up the sauce with that excellent bread.

Pigeon Wings

The first course was an incredibly tender seared salmon fillet in a smoked tomato sauce. We suspected it had been first cooked sous vide but forget about any analysis – just eat. Eat and wonder if they’d give you a second plate of the same thing.

Salmon in a Smoked Tomato Sauce

It was at this point that more bread was brought to our table without our even asking. Those sauces! Not a drop was left on our plates.

For the second courses, the fish was monkfish with artichokes. You may want to note that portion sizes here run a little smaller than at your typical lunch joints but gosh, are the dishes fantastic here. The monkfish was perfectly cooked and served in a creamy sauce with a surprise slab of thick melting bacon underneath and fried artichoke slices on top.

Monkfish with Artichokes

The lamb was equally excellent, with mangetout, Japanese mushrooms, and kimchi! Yes, kimchi! I definitely didn’t expect to find it here; its strong flavour worked so well with the lamb.

Lamb with Kimchi

An unexpected cheese course came along at this point. A very strong local goat’s cheese (if my memory is correct) was served on little toasts with a homemade apple compote alongside.

Cheese

Desserts! The mousse of mató was topped with an apple sorbet and lots of little bits and pieces of various textures. Candied fruit, chewy jellies, blueberries and meringue. This was incredibly refreshing.

Mató Mousse

The brownie was made with chestnut (maybe it was more of a blondie?) and served with ice cream, caramelised banana and toffee and scattered with crushed popcorn. Oh, and yes, under a sheet of glass sugar!

Chestnut Brownie

Coffees were then proffered (a Japanese green tea in Blai’s case) and alongside we were offered onion financiers. We thought we didn’t hear properly but nope, that’s right! Savoury onion financiers! A bit of a surprise but still delightful.

Onion Financiers

By the end of the meal, chef seemed to have warmed up to us and waved us off with a big smile! In hindsight, I’d call it a Mediterranean restaurant with Japanese influences – but whatever it is, it’s excellent. And I haven’t told you the best part yet: it’s €20 for the menú del dia, including bread, water, wine, and coffee (the evening menus don’t include bread and drinks). If you’re visiting this beautiful city, go!

Somodó
Ros de Olano, 11
Gràcia
Barcelona 08012