I was up in Manchester at the beginning of this month for work. There were two nights, a presentation, and walks here and there throughout the city as I made my way from the conference venue to my Travelodge room. Here were the highlights for me.

There was lunch the Thai supermarket Siam Smiles (48A George Street, Manchester M1 4HF), where I had a large plate of khao kha moo (the sweet and salty stewed pork knuckle with rice) for £9.50. There was hot and sweet Thai milk tea too.

Hello, Manchester! My khao kha moo at Siam Smiles (I read the @marinagpoloughlin article on the place!).

A visit to the John Rylands Library was a necessity as I have a passion for libraries and I was not disappointed!

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The Victorian building was utterly gorgeous and I only wished I’d had more time in there. If you do stop by, make time to have a peek at the working original loos in the basement!

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The Christmas markets woven through the city streets were exceptionally charming, lending a festive air to the quiet city. There were plenty of stalls from the European continent as well as more local treats. I wished I had more space to sample the boreks I saw at one stall.

I'm loving Manchester's Christmas markets!

The Mancunian specialty I wanted to try was rice and three and I chose to have it at Kabana (52 Back Turner Street, Manchester M4 1FP). For £6, I could choose from the curries of the day; my choices were lamb, keema and potatoes, and channa. The food isn’t highly spiced but is very comforting with lots of fresh ginger and coriander. You won’t leave hungry!

Rice and three at Kabana

From a tip from a kind man at the John Rylands, I made my way to Chetham’s Library for a free tour just prior to catching my train back to London. This library is the oldest public reference library in the English speaking world and is part of Chetham’s School (specialising in music). The library dates from the 17th century but is housed in a building dating from the 15th century.

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There was first a glimpse at the freezing cold but impressive medieval hall with its humongous fireplace.

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The library itself is upstairs and looks like something out of a certain fictional wizarding school. It’s such an important bit of history and I’m so glad to have seen it.

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And that’s the very short report of how Manchester fed me and charmed me this festive season!

I can’t believe it’s already been 4 years since I first visited Greece. This time I was there for almost a week – Saturday night to Thursday night – and it was mainly for work. And this time, the quality of the food we had everywhere really made a big impact on me; I came back to London thoroughly missing the food and the weather.

I arrived at my hotel at about 9pm on the Saturday night and after dropping everything off in my room, headed straight out again for nourishment. Nearby to my hotel is Ravaisi, a souvlaki place with outdoor seating (packed) and a long queue for takeaway – promising signs indeed! At €2 for each sandwich, I thought things would be petite and hence ordered one pork gyros sandwich and one of chicken too. They were huge – each the size of London burritos – and, of course, I couldn’t finish them. They were excellent though!

Gyros! At €2 each, I thought they'd be petite and hence ordered one pork and one chicken. They're the size of London burritos and they're fantastic!

The next day was a free day for me before work would kick in. The weather was beautiful and I spent the morning wandering around the Ancient Agora …

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… and then the Roman Agora.

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Lunch was at a suitably Greek time of 3pm and I headed over to Oineas, which seemed to have good reviews on Google. I wasn’t disappointed.

Al Fresco at Oineas

The restaurant had a good selection of meze and main courses and solo diners can still have a selection of meze by just choosing those that are offered by the piece. The cuisine is Greek but with a modern twist. Highlights for me were the incredible cheese pie made with kadaifi pastry and then sat in a pool of melted cheese …

Cheese Pie

… and this homemade little burger patty with a delicious spicy sauce.

Homemade Little Burger

My main course was a tender grilled calamari and homemade fries and its size did defeat me after all that initial cheese and meat.

Grilled Calamari and Fries

I thought I couldn’t fit in another bite but when a little slice of syrup soaked walnut cake was deposited on my table along with the bill, I tucked into that too!

Walnut Cake

That afternoon was spent at the National Archaelogical Museum, which is truly worth a visit if you have the time. The treasures within are indeed jaw-dropping.

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Dinner that evening was with an old friend I was meeting again after many years and he took me to spiti, an Italian restaurant in the outskirts of the city. Now here was where the locals eat! We split a couple of excellent salads. Here’s a tomato and caper leaf salad with a local cheese …

Tomato Salad with Caper Leaves

… and a refreshing salmon and avocado salad.

Salmon and Avocado Salad

My main course was a grilled croaker served with a little mound of Swiss chard and tomatoes and an excellent lemon sauce.

Grilled Croaker with Swiss Chard

We couldn’t fit any more after this, which was a shame as the food really was very good. I loved seeing another side of Athens.

On my first night after work, a colleague brought us to Efxaris, around the corner from Monastiraki station. Despite its super touristy location, our colleague had been brought there in the past by an Athenian and the restaurant was indeed filled with locals. Between 6 of us, we split a fine moussaka, …

Moussaka

… a ridiculous meat platter (grilled meat, more grilled meat, grilled chicken, grilled kebabs, gyros, etc), …

Meat Plate

… an equally ridiculous seafood platter (fried and grilled and boiled things galore), …

Seafood Plate

… a Greek salad (not pictured), and finally a couple mountains of Greek yogurt with honey. Prices were extremely reasonable and I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a place in the heart of the city.

A mountain of Greek yogurt and honey!

Sometime the next day, I discovered Greek spoon sweets, the jammy candied fruits traditionally served with a spoon to guests as a sweet welcome. These little figs were insanely delicious and I after this introduction, I bought a couple of jars of spoon sweets to take home and we’re enjoying them with Greek yoghurt at home.

Today I discovered Greek spoon sweets. These were little figs candied in lots of syrup. You eat them with a spoon and have them with Greek coffee. Sweet but delicious!

The second evening, another Athens resident referred us to Scholarchio, a highlight of my trip. Yes, it’s quite touristy but you do find locals there too and after our meal, my Greek friend did deem the food very good and the flavours correct. And best of all is the price – for groups, it’s €15 a head for a set number of dishes to share, mineral water, another drink (ouzo, beer, wine or soft drink), bread and dessert. To aid with selection of dishes (we got to choose 17 between 7 of us), the waiter brings a massive plate of the available prepared dishes …

The selection of meze at dinner yesterday! We had 17 dishes between 7 of us... 😬

… and also recites what can be ordered freshly made from the kitchen. You make your selection, start with what’s already ready to go, and wait for the rest of the dishes to be prepared. Let’s see, clockwise from the right in the photo below, we have giant beans, stewed pork in wine, dolmades in lemon sauce, and tyrokauteri (a fantastic spicy cheese).

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Let’s see, left to right below, we have fava (one of my favourite dips, Greek yellow split pea puree), tzatziki, taramasalata, and spicy pork sausages.

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More! Clockwise from the bottom: a new favourite – horta (boiled wild greens), another meat dish (beef?), meatballs in tomato sauce.

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It didn’t end there! The freshly fried stuff coming out of their kitchen was all excellent. Fried whitebait was crisp and non-greasy.

Fried Whitebait

Saganaki (fried cheese) was very popular at our table …

Saganaki

… as were fried aubergines.

Fried Aubergines

One of our other meat dishes was a tigania chicken, a sauteed chicken dish made with lemon and mustard. There was also a tigania pork with balsamic vinegar and honey.

Tigania Chicken

Courgette and feta fritters were also delicious if a bit salty; nothing a lot of tzatziki couldn’t solve though!

Courgette and Feta Fritters

There were other dishes too – too many to keep track of! I recall a Greek salad and fried courgettes and fried potatoes. And maybe another meat dish. How many is that already? Dessert was another slice of the typical syrup-soaked cakes I’d been seeing – this time orange.

Orange Cake

It’s a fun place to eat and to eat well too. I enjoyed working my way through an excellent spread!

On my last day, a quick trip to the supermarket about a 2 minute walk from my hotel ensured that my dried oregano supplies are now at their freshest. I also loved seeing the impressive range of feta and Greek yoghurt available!

Greek yogurt in Greece! #latergram

Before heading to the airport to catch my flight home, I also couldn’t help popping back into Ravaisi to get one last stick of pork souvlaki (they call each souvlaki stick kalamaki) – this was a perfect snack!

One pork souvlaki snack!

Ah, I really do miss Athens and all the amazing food I had there! One thing I did notice was how fabulous all the tomatoes were at all restaurants, even at the cheapest places. Actually, all the ingredients were top notch everywhere…this is some excellent Mediterranean cuisine! As usual, all my photos can be found in this Flickr album.

After a couple days at home after Stockholm, it was back in the air and over to Bordeaux for another work do. I landed in the evening and immediately set out in search of dinner – a friend from Bordeaux recommended Le Scopitone and it was there I headed. I was very taken with the little retro restaurant!

Retro

I was brought a little tapenade on toast to nibble on whilst I perused the menu. There’s a fantastic set menu deal that changes daily but I went a la carte to get the fish I desired. Service was lovely – one waitress offered me a local newspaper to read while I waited for my meal (I was by myself) though perhaps the grisly front page news of a found body wasn’t so meal appropriate. Anyway, great service!

Tapenade

I started with a brilliant tarte fine with grilled vegetables…brilliant because it was an unexpected large pile of those grilled vegetables and salad and a soft boiled egg on a little sliver of pastry. Yes, take my word for it – there was a bit of pastry under that salad and I loved it all.

Tarte Fine with Grilled Vegetables

My main course was monkfish with morels, all with a rich cream sauce and an equally rich slice of potato gratin. Oh, and more roast vegetables. The food here was excellent and the portion sizes massive!

Monkfish with Morels

Le Scopitone

Le Scopitone
5 Rue Vieille Tour
Bordeaux

After dinner, I strolled around the city centre and it is exceptionally beautiful down by the water and here at the Bourse and the Miroir d’Eau!

Bordeaux Palais de la Bourse

Porte Cailhau

I was wandering around Bordeaux on another day when I came across this adorable Uighur restaurant – Route de la Soie. It was exactly what I felt like that afternoon and settled in for a plateful of polo, here served with the salad of the day and some yogurt. Polo was their pilau rice, very similar to an Uzbek plov, made with lamb and lots of grated carrots. The salad was mainly cold glass noodles with carrots and cucumbers in a moreish garlicky dressing.

Polo

This place is brilliant if you’re looking for a little something different!

Route de la Soie
48 Rue des Faures
Bordeaux

I didn’t have much time to see lots of sights but did have time for another bit of a stroll through the city.

Clocher Saint-Michel and Basilique Saint-Michel

Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux

I loved the quays area and found myself back there again, this time during the day. This time, I could see that the Miroir didn’t just fill up with water but could also release a spray that made everything look all moody and fantastic.

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On my last evening, a group of us headed back to the centre of the city and randomly chose a restaurant with a very Bordelaise menu – this turned out to be Père Chabrot, a relatively new restaurant located in an old wine cellar. My starter of salade de gésiers was delicious – the confit duck gizzards were wonderfully tender and the entire salad was enlivened with a raspberry vinaigrette.

Salade de gésiers

My faux filet avec sauce Bordelaise was cooked perfectly à point. Good stuff – I was a little surprised that despite its proximity to water, the cuisine of Bordeaux is mainly defined by meat. I loved the sauce Bordelaise, made with red wine and marrow.

Faux Filet avec Sauce Bordelaise

The accompanying fries were excellent and there were enough for the whole table!

Frites

Not bad!

Père Chabrot
30 Rue Saint-Rémi
Bordeaux

And, of course, one couldn’t leave without trying Bordeaux’s most famous pastry: the canelé. The place to get them is Baillardran, and there are quite a few branches scattered around Bordeaux and at the airport too. It was at the airport that I picked up a few to take home.

Last one. 😐

They’re apparently not everyone’s cup of tea and I originally thought they perhaps weren’t mine. I realised that I liked them when I tried the original size (as pictured above) – these were custardy and vanillaey and with a lovely chewy crust. You don’t get the nice contrasts with the smaller sizes. Go big with canelés!

It’s a great city to visit for a couple of days and there’s certainly some good eating there. If you’re a fan of wine, well, the recently opened Cité du Vin is surely up your street (not so for me as I cannot drink wine – a bit of a shame in Bordeaux!). All my photos from this short trip to Bordeaux can be found in this album.

Once the working week was over, there were only about 20 hours left to eat to my hearts content. The last dinner was at an Uyghur restaurant recently featured in Lucky Peach magazine. The Kashgar Uyghur Restaurant is located very close to the main train station (München Hauptbahnhof) and on first glance is a fancy kebab joint. We went upstairs where it’s a plain restaurant and you’re handed takeaway menus from which to order. We left it all to a colleague who was the most knowledgeable on Uyghur cuisine (from Xinjiang province in China) and he went ahead and overordered for us all.

I don’t have the ‘official’ menu names for anything – everything was listed in Chinese or German, of course. We started with samsa – baked handheld pockets of flaky dough filled with a lightly spiced minced lamb mixture. These were brilliant and I probably could have made a meal of two or three of them.

Samsa

A dish of cold spicy noodles (laghman) were topped with a hot stirfry of lamb and vegetables.

Cold Spicy Laghman

Beef stomach was soft and tender, not unlike slurping down beefy jelly.

Beef Stomach

Then came a stir fry….of lots of different things. And so we renamed it the stir fry of everything. Those flattish clear bean noodles were spectacular.

A Stir Fry of Many Things

Dapanji – Big Plate Chicken – was probably my favourite dish of the evening. Large flat belt noodles were served with the fabulously delicious bone-in chicken, pepper and potato stew. Here was just a portion for one – my friend would have ordered the larger version had I not stopped him!

Dapanji - Big Plate Chicken

Another dish! Stir fried egg and cucumber and meat. The mild cucumber was a soothing balm to our now tingling tongues.

Egg and Cucumber and Meat

And still there was more – ok, our final dish of stir fried laghman. Excellent as it was, we could only pick at it. Excellent noodles, yes, excellent.

Stir Fried Laghman

Overall, excellent! Highly recommended! There is another Uyghur restaurant nearby (that more resembles a Chinese restaurant) but according to my colleague who tried both, this was the better one.

Kashgar Uyghur Restaurant
Dachauer Str. 4
80335 Munich, Germany

And then on my last morning, before my flight back in the afternoon, I had to fit as many Munich foods as I could into my gob. I didn’t do too badly.

My main stop that morning was the Viktualienmarkt – Munich’s famous outdoor food market. Sure there are tourists around but you’ll also find locals shopping for the week or picking up something a bit special. I joined the locals in the queue at one of the mushroom stalls and bought a mixture of wild mushrooms to cook at home that night.

Mushrooms//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

I also stopped at the Münchner Suppenküche, one of my favourite stops from over a decade ago, and I was happy to see that it’s still going strong. This large bowl of chicken noodle soup was €3,50 and it remains one of the best chicken noodle soups I’ve ever had.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Münchner Suppenküche
Am Viktualienmarkt Abt. 3 Stand 5/28/29
80331 München, Germany

Leberkäse! This is one of my most favourite Bavarian foods. Yes, I should have also eaten weisswurst but leberkase! If you’re not familiar with it, I guess I could liken it to posh Spam/bologna. You can get it everywhere. At snack stands, a hot slice will be sandwiched in a roll. In restaurants, a slice is likely to be served with potatoes and a fried egg. As I was noshing on the hoof, it would have to be in a roll for me. I took a tip from somewhere on the Internet and got my leberkäse in a roll directly from one of the Viktualienmmarkt’s butchers – they’ll slice the hot meatloaf and weigh your slice (nice and thick!) before shoving it into a sliced roll and handing it over. Look at that massive wodge! With a little mustard, it was some fine eating on the hoof while doing some sightseeing in the centre.

Leberkase

I had to end my haphazard ‘meal’ with something sweet. I concluded my tour of Munich with a stop at Cafe Luitpold, close to Odeonsplatz. I only found out later that the breakfasts/brunch here are quite famous but I only had the time and the stomach space for Kaffee und Kuchen.

The Cake Counter

Choosing a cake from the massive display was certainly challenging! But in the end, it was another slice of Prinzregententorte. It was perhaps a more elegant looking slice but taste wise – well, both were excellent!

Prinzregententorte

Cafe Luitpold
Brienner Str. 11
80333 München, Germany

And then it was off to the airport! Goodbye, Munich!

Goodbye, Munich

I love the city! Other points to note include the fact that it’s safe. No one bothers you at night when you’re walking around and everything’s wonderfully clean. The food is good everywhere and there are plenty of options other than Bavarian food nowadays. I do hope to return soon (especially when my kilo of Ritter Sport runs out)!

Here’s a general tip – there’s a very well-stocked supermarket at Munich Airport. I bought tonnes of things to shove last minute into my suitcase.

All my photos from my trip can be found in this Flickr album.

So I was travelling again as you could probably gather if you follow my Instagram and Twitter feeds. This time work took me back to the Bavarian city of Munich for a week. I love this city – my first and only visit was about 10 years ago when my brother and I spent a wintery week there indulging in everything Bavarian and Christmas. This time there were no Christmas Market stands and the weather for the most part was quite pleasant; oh yeah, and there was mostly work too, forgot about that. And I now have a little bit more spending money than an impoverished student (I still shop like a student though – I brought home 1.2kg of Ritter Sport).

Surprisingly (or perhaps not, I don’t know), not much has changed about the city in over a decade. Sure there are a few more international high street shops but there are still lots of independent shops and little cafes. I think even the food scene has improved somewhat.

Our first evening’s dinner was at Kuchlverzeichnis, a very traditional Bavarian restaurant with, yes, lots of pork on offer. We all shared a few starters first. There was a traditional platter of Bavarian snacks (I really enjoyed the obatzda), …

Pork Platter

…a venison pate served with a berry and horseradish compote,…

Venison Pate

…and shredded duck in aspic. All excellent and all plates cleaned.

Duck in Aspic

For my main course, as soon as I saw schnitzel on the menu, I couldn’t look away. But instead of the traditional Viennese style veal schnitzel, I went with a Münchner Schnitzel, a thin pork cutlet first coated in mustard before being crumbed and fried.

A Munich Style Schnitzel

We had to try a traditional Bavarian Cream, here served with fruits. It’s simply a pastry cream thickened with gelatin, nothing much to shout about.

Bavarian Cream

Kuchlverzeichnis
Rosenheimer Str. 10
81669 München, Germany

On some afternoons, I hopped over to True & 12 which seems to be considered one of the best ice cream places in the city. The flavours were indeed pretty fabulous! Here’s a chai latte and mango+ginger…

A bit of ice cream this afternoon - chai latte and mango+ginger flavours!

…and ‘Happy Monkey’ – a banana ice cream with chocolate chips, caramel and cinnamon sugar.

A scoop of 'Happy Monkey' - banana ice cream with chocolate chips, caramel, cinnamon sugar. Happy happy!

I really liked that scoops were sold individually, so you could have just 1 or 100.

True & 12
Rosenheimer Str. 14
81669 München, Germany

One particularly memorable teatime was spent at Konditorei Wölfl where we had a difficult time choosing just one cake from the myriad of homemade choices. I settled for a Prinzregententorte, a Bavarian cake made with thin layers of sponge cake interleaved with chocolate buttercream and covered with a dark chocolate glaze. It was as amazing as it looked and sounds and their other cakes also got the thumbs up from my colleagues. I hear they get queues down the road on weekends and I would recommend trying to get there on a weekday if possible.

Kuchen

Konditorei Wölfl
Kellerstraße 17
81667 München, Germany

A few days in and the pork levels in our bodies were already starting to get a bit high. We took a break one evening with Afghani food at a place nearby – Chopan (to go). Massive plates of basmati rice pilau and tender lamb and heavily spiced spinach ensured that we left satiated, our tastebuds enlivened again.

Narendj Palau

Chopan (to go)
Rosenheimerstraße 6 + 8
81669 München, Germany

Sometime later during the week, a few of us were getting a little tired of the sandwich lunches and we left in search of a kebab. Oh yes, this was my first German döner kebab and now I understand what the fuss is about. I mean, look at all that salad! It’s, like, fresh and whatnot all on top of some quality meat (by quality, I mean I can identify it as meat, unlike those elephant leg doners).

Today for lunch, we sampled that super German specialty, the döner kebab.

It was back to Bavarian food for a couple more nights and our meal at Haxnbauer was memorable mainly for the ridiculous amounts of meat before us. Between five of us, we first shared a platter for two. Goodness, if this was for two, then surely this was for two as a main course.

Starter Platter

While I was freaking out about the size of the knuckles and thinking of ordering slices, the others were keen to order by whole knuckle (warning: this is not a budget move by any means). When you state that preference, your waiter will come along with a platter of knuckles, with prices stuck on toothpicks, from which to choose. One veal knuckle and one pork knuckle then. These were whisked back into the kitchen for slicing before being presented to us yet again. Both were excellent but my favourite was the pork with its crackling, of course.

One Veal Knuckle, One Pork Knuckle

We eschewed the usual sides (sauerkraut and mash) and went with an eclectic mix: potato pancakes,…

Potato Pancakes

… red cabbage with apple,…

Red Cabbage with Apple

…pickled cucumber with dill,…

Pickled Cucumber with Dill

…and creamed mushrooms.

Creamed Mushrooms

Of particular note were the cabbage (a little sweet and a perfect pairing to the pork) and the mushrooms (like a chunky cream of mushroom soup).

No, we didn’t have dessert; actually we had to pack up meat leftovers. Booking recommended.

Haxnbauer im Scholastikahaus
Sparkassenstraße 6
80331 München, Germany

More in Part 2!

Like the title says, this was a much needed weekend away. It was a girls’ trip and it was going to be all about food and shopping, a proper escape from the working weekends we’d all been having recently. We met at St Pancras after work on the Friday night and caught the last Eurostar train to Lille, arriving a little after 10pm. If you’re familiar with Lille, you’ll know that there’s not much open in the centre past 10 or 11pm but we did just manage to dump our bags at our hotel and then go straight to Flam’s for a flammekueche dinner.

We sat outside and dined on two of the flams and a warm salad. I loved the thinness of the tartes and how light it all felt (yeah, sure, there was cheese on top and plenty of lardons on everything but, look, salad!).

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And we couldn’t help it and shared a chocolate banana flam for dessert as well. With drinks, it came to only €30 total for all three of us. An excellent late night eat.

Chocolat-Banane

Flam’s
8 Rue Pas

On Saturday mornings, Lille has a small local food market around the Theatre Sébastopol and the stalls all looked excellent. We only bought some cherries and they were very good indeed. We didn’t find the breakfast we were looking for though, finding patisserie and not viennoiserie.

Cherries

Marché Sébastopol
Place Sébastopol

And so we stopped at a random cafe close to the market and fed ourselves with cafe cremes, croissants, …

Cafe Creme et Croissants

… and giggled at the cappuccino that came with whipped cream! Definitely more luxurious than your bog-standard one!

A "Cappuccino"

Then the shopping began in earnest… and I’ll spare you the details. Well, other than to say that the sales at this time of the year were fantastic and prices were already at their third markdown.

Lunch! I couldn’t get a dinner booking at Bloempot, run by Florent Ladeyn of French Top Chef fame, for any time in July and instead we tried to get a walk in table for the midday meal… and we succeeded! By going a little early (12:30) we had our pick of tables in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it restaurant down the end if a narrow alley; by 14:00 the whole restaurant was packed.

Bloempot

On weekends, they serve the same menus as weekday evenings. There’s a choice of three menus which differ on the number of courses you get and we went with the cheapest at €34, getting us a starter, main, cheese and dessert. Drink pairings are also available. It’s a surprise menu based on what’s good at the market at that time of the year, though they do take allergies and dietary restrictions into consideration.

The little extras were more generous than I was expecting. Prior to our starter, we received a mound of fresh radishes with plenty of salt, butter and a soft fresh cheese. Very good bread too, in a paper bag.

Radishes, Butter and Fresh Cheese

Our starter was a beautiful roulade of thinly sliced kohlrabi with a quenelle of a fresh drained cheese topped with tarragon.

Kohlrabi and Fresh Cheese

Our main course was fish. A perfect piece of skate was served with sliced razor clams, mangetout and the loveliest little potatoes.

Skate, Mangetout and Potatoes

Then came what we originally thought was our cheese course. This was a massive bowl of maroilles foam topped with lardons and parsley crumbs, served with a big hunk of toasted bread crust for dipping. (Maroilles is the famous odoriferous cheese of the region) It was insanely good and we requested spoons to hasten its transfer into our mouths.

Maroilles Foam Dip with Lardons and Parsley Crumbs

Our waiter then came around with three small glasses half filled with a yellow-green liquid. He explained that we were being served a limonade made using their homemade sorrel syrup and topped up the glass with fizzy water. It was a lovely and necessary touch to clear our palates after that cheese onslaught.

Limonade d'Oseille

Our actual cheese course then arrived – yes, the Maroilles foam was an extra. This was thin slices of tomme de sec bois topped with fresh raspberries, rose petals and a drizzle of syrup.

Tomme with Raspberries and Rose Petals

Dessert was a dream. Fresh perfect berries, sorrel sorbet, langues de chat and a milk custard ladled on the side – I could have had another few bowls!

Berries, Sorrel Sorbert, Langues de Chat, Custard

Bloempot is highly recommended!

Bloempot
22 Rue des Bouchers

Then it was back to shopping. When the shops finally did us in, we headed straight to Meert for refreshments.

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Thé Glacé

The cakes were all excellent as usual (and that waffle!) and the iced tea was exactly what I needed.

Meert
27 Rue Esquermoise

We swung by the hypermarket next to the train station and picked up goodies for home before finally taking a break at the hotel before dinner. Can you tell that we were trying to cram all the shopping in on Saturday? Like most other places in France, 99% of Lille shuts down on Sundays.

Our night was going to be spent on Rue de Gand, a street lined with restaurants and wine bars. I had made a booking at Chez la Vieille, a highly regarded Lillois estaminet (and one in which we couldn’t get a table the last time I was in Lille). They served large portions of hearty northern French food and we struggled to finish it all.

Croquettes aux crevettes were excellent and full of little brown shrimps.

Croquettes aux Crevettes

My friend’s Coeur des Flandres was a fantastic homemade tart filled with minced pork, onion and apple.

Le Coeur des Flandres

My Gratin de la Vieille was insane. An entire cooked endive (and a fat one at that) had been wrapped in ham and then drowned in plenty of bechamel and topped with maroilles cheese before being grilled on top. With frites!

Gratin de la Vieille

Estaminet Chez la Vieille
60 Rue de Gand

And then we crashed back at the hotel…and I think all the day’s cheese affected the others as they awoke around me recounting strange dreams the next morning. Haha!

We checked out, dumped our now overflowing bags, and headed straight to the Marché de Wazemmes. The walk along the way was through a deserted city but as we got nearer to the market, it became exceedingly clear that the entire city was there. The first thing I did was find the lady who was selling Tunisian bricks – this was the brick that got away the last time I was in Lille!

Brick!

Brick!

It hit the spot. This one was filled with minced lamb and onions and the essential egg.

After walking once around the market (and perhaps I’ll mention here that not everything was peachy – we had coffee at a specialist place where they treated us badly), we noticed there was a bar (L’Oxford) at one corner with plenty of outdoor seating and everyone sitting there had ordered drinks at the bar and were tucking into food purchased at the market. Yeah, we wanted in on that! We surveyed all the rotisserie chicken vans (there were a few) before choosing our favourite and for the grand sum of €9, we received one roast chicken, plenty of potatoes that had been cooked in the drippings, and a giant spiced potato and lamb patty.

Preparing our Lunch

Lunch!

That poor chicken never stood a chance.

Marché de Wazemmes
Place Nouvelle Aventure

The afternoon was spent in the Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille and when we emerged, it was raining (not in the original weather forecast!). We had a couple hours to kill before our train back and headed out to the Quai du Wault in search of a hotel that used to be a convent, hoping to wait out the weather. That was the Alliance Couvent des Minimes and we sat in their bar eating pastries…

Cafe Gourmand

… and ice cream.

Ice Cream!

Alliance Couvent des Minimes
Quai du Wault

And then it was time to catch the Eurostar back to London. Back to reality. I highly recommend Lille for a short break. It’s easy to get there and prices at restaurants are lower than similar restaurants in Paris. And if you’re there during the sales… well, I take no responsibility for that.

All my photos from Lille can be found in this Flickr album.

My last few days in New York were mainly spent at a work conference in Brooklyn. There were still a lot of opportunities to dine well though!

Lunch one afternoon was at Hill Country Chicken, next door to Hill Country Barbecue Market. Their fried chicken was good but not a patch on that at Pies ‘n’ Thighs. I’ve been told I should just get fried chicken at Popeyes rather than these ‘fancy’ places though!

Hill Country Fried Chicken

That night, I made my way to Chinatown where I went in search of a branch of Xi’an Famous Foods. Their famous liang pi cold skin noodles were excellent and the kind of light comfort food that was just what I needed. The slippery noodles had been tossed with a vinegary chilli sauce with lots of shredded vegetables and bits of gluten.

Liang Pi Cold Skin Noodles

I also ordered a spicy cumin lamb burger, another of their popular dishes. It was quite spicy but I felt that the lamb was a bit on the dry side; I would have preferred a bit of fat in there to give it all some moistness.

Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger

The next night, I was looking for a real New York institution as I was taking a guest out (hi, A!) and Katz’s Delicatessen came to mind. I’d not tried it and we were not disappointed! That pastrami was excellent!

Pastrami

Dinner

For me, I chose a soup and half sandwich combo. For the sandwich, their pastrami reuben, with plenty of pastrami topped with sauerkraut, melted cheese and Russian dressing. It nearly defeated me.

Half a Pastrami Reuben

On the side were two pickles – a very sour dill pickle and my preferred half pickled but still very crunchy pickle.

Pickles

My matzo ball soup was just ok – its chicken broth was just good enough. I had to leave most of it.

Matzo Ball Soup

We clearly over ordered. We ordered fries and I think we only had one or two. To drink, I had my very first chocolate egg cream, that fizzy concoction of chocolate syrup, milk, seltzer and no eggs. They featured heavily in the books that I read when I was younger and it was a bit of a thrill to finally taste one (it tastes exactly as you’d expect of the sum of its parts).

Chocolate Egg Cream and Fries

Dessert was easy enough; we just crossed the street to an extremely crowded (it was Friday night) Il Laboratorio del Gelato. Their gelati do change often so not all of their 200 flavours will be available. My Greek yoghurt and lemon ginger were very refreshing and my taste of their olive oil flavour…well, tasted of exactly that!

Greek Yoghurt and Lemon Ginger

Don’t forget to get a ticket as soon as you get in there or else you’ll be waiting for ages!

For lunch the next day, I brought another old friend and colleague back to Hill Country Barbecue for a brisket sandwich. A soft potato bun attempted to sandwich together a mound of peppery chopped brisket (both lean and moist) with lots of barbecue sauce. Good stuff.

Brisket Sandwich

That night, I met up with Diana and Michele and we had dinner at Cocoron which specialises in homemade soba. Homemade soba! I’d certainly not tried that and it sounded excellent.

To start though, we split a couple of cold appetisers: spicy cucumber…

Spicy Cucumber

… and a refreshing off-menu homemade tofu.

Homemade Tofu

The soba! I chose a cold dish for that abnormally hot day; this was their sansai soba, which came with a whole myriad of vegetable toppings.

Cold Sansai Soba

I poured the dipping sauce on top, mixed it all together and slurped down the delicious and surprisingly al dente noodles.

Cold Sansai Soba

For my very last lunch in New York, prior to my evening flight, I went with a suggestion from Diana, who proffered the name of El Tenampa when I told her I had a hankering for Mexican food. I took a subway train further into Brooklyn and got out at what appeared to be quite a suburban neighbourhood. After walking a few blocks, I found El Tenampa, a Mexican shop (‘supermarket’ would be pushing it) with a cafe in the back.

I arrived just before its noon opening time and so sat waiting in the dark with a couple of Mexican families. At noon, the lights were turned on and we queued to order at the counter. When our food was ready, we’d either be shouted at or pointed at if we were watching and it was up to the counter again to pick up your food. When you’ve finished eating, it’s back up to the counter again to settle your bill.

The best and most stressful part of the whole experience was the trip to the salsa bar! What should grace the top of your tacos? There was green salsa, red salsa, radish slices, lime wedges, pickles and, rather amazingly, guacamole. Guacamole at a help-yourself salsa bar. Of course, I guac’ed up all my chosen tacos: lengua, cesina, chorizo, and pastor.

Tacos

These were some legit tacos. I also had a tamal de mole. I love tamales and this was my first filled with the classic mole poblano sauce.

Tamal de Mole

To my surprise, there was a half a chicken thigh in there too, bone and all! And this was one fine tamal.

Tamal de Mole

I’ve read good things about their cemitas and soups too. And one couple I saw had a brilliant idea: buy some of the fresh chicharrones at the front of the shop and bring it to the cafe to eat with lunch. I wish I had an El Tenampa near me!

Hill Country Chicken
Hill Country Chicken on Urbanspoon

Xi’an Famous Foods
Xi'an Famous Foods on Urbanspoon

Katz’s Delicatessen
Katz's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Il Laboratorio del Gelato
Il Laboratorio Del Gelato on Urbanspoon

Cocoron
Cocoron on Urbanspoon

El Tenampa
El Tenampa Deli Grocery on Urbanspoon

And that’s it! That was our big trip to New York this year! As usual, all our photos can be found in this Flickr photoset.