Tagged in: gourmet

CO CO, 7-11 Linenhall Street, BELFAST, BT2 8AA

If you haven’t been yet try it out. We were invited by friends to the Hi-Life Dining club get together celebrating  COCO winning their Restaurant of the Year award.  Due to circumstances beyond my control this is the first chance I have had to update my site.

When we arrived there was a very accomplished all girl swing/jazz band performing in the foyer.  A chat with their manager somewhat later in the evening identified them as the Swing Girls.

This intro was accompanied by a remarkably good Prosecco Frizzante (last time I had one this smooth was in Treviso) and canapés.

Our companions for the evening were the  Grahams’, the Johnstons’, both of whom we have dined with before, and William Wallace and his wife Claire. Two famous names on one table!

The first course was Hand Dived Scallops, seared, with Jerusalem artichokes, gnocchi and a lobster gratin and accompanied by a South Australian white wine.

To clear the palate a grapefruit and Campari sorbet followed.  This is not for the faint-hearted. I am a Campari fan and found the combination, how shall I put it, interesting.  If one is not a Campari fan I can understand the comment “breath taking”!

The main course was a Chateau de Blomac Minervois 2008 – Oops! Sorry! that was just the wine that went with the roast sirloin, potato rosti truffle Madeira etc. By this time the conversation and craic had become as important as the meal and the impeccable service, overseen by Tom, the Aussie manager, assured that a memorable evening was under way.

I’ll not repeat the error of the previous paragraph, the sweet was an Apple Tatin, I’ve added a link to save explanation, with vanilla ice cream and; yes, you’ve guessed, a superb Sauternes.

The coffee was a real godsend and we did manage the petit fours, though in truth we did not really need them!

All in all an  evening memorable for the food, wine and excellent company, not necessarily in that order.

An experience we hope to repeat in the not too distant future.



Café des Amis, 11-14 Hanover Square, London WC2P 9JE

Café des Amis

The Café des Amis is tucked away up a very narrow side street, designated as Hanover Square, between the Long Acre and Floral Street.  We had come across it on the Top Table website where they were offering half price on food which seemed too good to miss.

It has a downstairs bar and the restaurant is at ground level. We arrived fifteen minutes early and were shown directly to our table. Eeven at 5.30 it was beginning to fill up! A waitress brought menus and the wine list and asked if we would like a drink.  Beware if you order shorts and mixers.  We are not used to the bulk dispensers, common in London bars, so did not think to ask for the whiskey with just a splash of ginger.  Josephine got a full glass.  It was not a problem with my gin as I would always use the full bottle of tonic.

We ordered starters, Josephine the French onion soup, whilst I opted for the classic steak tartare, which is not something one sees too often these days.  These arrived with astonishing speed. The soup was thick with onions and topped with cheese on toast and very satisfying.  The steak tartare was served with crisp toasted french stick, salad and a drizzle of dressing.  It is chopped with onion rather than minced which gives it a smoother texture that I have had before.

The house red was Le Bosq Rouge, which was from a variety of grape types and would suit just about any palate.  Definitely a good choice.

Our main courses were sirloin steak with a pepper sauce, served with chips and vegetables for Josephine and calves liver with smoked pancetta on a bed of mash for me. The only complaint would have been that, compared to Irish mash or champ, it was a little watery.

Service in general was very good and the waiters efficient and smiling.

All in price including the now mandatory service charge £72.00.

Veeraswamy, 99 Regent Street, London

Veeraswamy Regent Street

The oldest Indian restaurant in the UK, Veeraswamy’s has been in the same location in the Nash Arch, Regent Street, since 1926.  It has recently been refurbished and is far more open-plan than I remember from my last visit back  in the ’60s. There is still a doorman, but he no longer the enormous turbaned Sikh.

We had joined up with Les & Dot Jones for an evening out on the town and as we are all Indian food fanatics had booked a table for 4 at this famous hostlery.

Having passed coats, etc. on to the concierge, we took the lift to the first floor restaurant.  Our table had been booked months ago and even then we could only get a 7.15 time slot.

The service is smooth and unobtrusive. We ordered the “non vegetarian” platter all round for starters. This consisted of a spiced lamb kebab, a beef “burger”, and chicken accompanied by a dip.  Exceptionally tasty all round.

We picked a variety of main courses, sea-bass wrapped in banana leaves, a chicken chatpatta, paneer in a fruity sauce and for me a duck Vindaloo.  It would be hard to pick a favourite as they were all so different.  The duck vindaloo was outstanding and not, as one might have expected, fiery. The sea-bass was firm and the complimentary spice brought out the favour perfectly.  Too often fish curries are mushy and the fish is lost in the sauce. It was all accompanied by a bowl of simple rice and a basket of breads.

For wine three of us had an Italian Bardolinowhilst Dot tried their ginger cooler, which she assured us was delicious, and gingery!

It is not the cheapest place to eat in town but the quality of the food and the service certainly compensates for this. The cheapest bottle of wine is £24.00 The overall bill, including service which is automatically  added at 12.5%,  for the two courses, a bottle of wine and the cooler was a little under £220. I have paid more for a less satisfying evening.

If you are an Indian cuisine fan it is a must.

Well Fed!

Bastille, 182a Lisburn Road,Belfast

The only thing missing is escargot! The Bastille has a distinctly French approach to food and decor.  Our party of four had  pretty eclectic tastes and the menu certainly caters for a broad range including a seperate vegetarian section.  My starter choice was potted rabbit with onion marmalade whilst my companions went variously for frogs legs, mussles and the bouillabaisse (not the Marsailles version with fish heads etc.).

A very good Côte du Rhône (well two actually) accompanied the main courses of which the medallions of monkfish with wild mushrooms on spinach and the barbary duck were especially outstanding.

We shared two crème brûlée and a cheese board.  both were outstanding and the lattter more so for the choice of around six cheeses and not a hint of cheddar.

We wound up with port, coffee and brandy, plus one grand marnier.

Service was pleasant and efficient and with an overall price tag around £225 very good value for money.

La Gondola, 373 Antrim Road, Glengormley

What does one do to cheer onself up on a wet Sunday evening?  Having been to La Gondola in the Olivia Centre, Glengormley, we now have the answer.  It has taken us 7 months to get round to trying this Italian restaurant and I am wondering why.

It does not try to emulate some of the better known Italian restaurants around Belfast city but it is reminiscent of many family Ristorante in urban Italy.

We were welcomed by the waiter, I will get his name next time, and given the menus and a complimentary slice of pizza.  There is not a wine list; they keep one red, a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, one Italian white and one Italian rosé.  Naturally we settled for the red.  You can bring your own at £3.00 for corkage.

The menu is set out Italian style and is kept simple, there are a good selection of starters or a mixed Antipasto. Pasta, chicken or sirloin mains and a selection of tagliatelli dishes. The pizza menu is separate. There is also a Continental Gourmet section.

This had Beef Carpaccio as an option.  I do not normally have a starter but who can resist raw slivers of beef marinaded in lemon with parmesan and crushed black peppercorns? Well not me anyway.

Josephine did side step and just settled for a main of  breast of chicken in a porcini sauce (special wild mushrooms with brandy and cream).  I got a taste of the sauce and it was delicious to say the least.

My main was Tagliatelli Arribiata, smoked bacon and piquant chilli and tomato sauce. I did not leave any!

Luigi, the chef and owner, came and chatted in a mixture of Italian and English but I will not pretend to have understood much of the Italian.  It is one language with which I have never managed to become conversant.

One of the waitresses unfairly slipped a Dolce Menu next to me, but I managed to put off ordering for at least five minutes! There were Crêpes Comedie Francais, which turned out to be two crêpes wrapped around vanilla ice cream and smothered in orange and brandy sauce. Sort of suzette with attitude.

There is no grappa on the drinks menu  but, seeing as it prides itself on being authentic Italian, I was sure that if the question were asked it would be forthcoming.  Right again; and it went down really well with the coffee.

The chef sent us a lemon liquer over and, having chatted him up we got an invite to his table for Monday night when they are holding a Salsa demonstration.

This is a welcome addition to the myriad of Chinise and Indian restaurants in the area.  One hopes it will be supported enough to remain in business.

Deanes Seafood Bar – Update

As I was in town for a meeting thought I’d better check up and see that Deanes was keeping up it’s standards so I met up with Josephine and we headed for Howard Street. The board outside showed the special of the day to be whole sole, so that solved the choice problem; and they had not run out of Pinot Grigio. The sole came on the bone with a light lemon butter and was accompanied by green beans and new potatoes. Josephine is not a great lover of beans of any variety so that was my gain. We shared (2/3 to me) a crème brûlée which came in a sweet dish almost the size of a soup plate. Enough said, the standard and service are as good, if not better, than they were in April.

Paris, May 2010

Gare de l 'Est

None of us have been to Paris before so this was a new experience. Our first venture, having collected our luggage, was to acquire a taxi to take us to our hotel, the Opera Franklin which is off the Rue La Fayette. We took the next available from the rank which was driven by a gentleman of unknown origin who had never heard of either the hotel or the street. Luckily his satnav was able to direct him, though with my limited French, I disagreed with his interpretation of the final leg.  It did not make any great difference as we arrived safely.  The Opera Franklin, as I discovered from their welcome pack, is one of the Ibis group hotels and lives up to their reputation for basic, clean tidy accommodation. They are currently refurbishing the top three floors so there was a bit of a smell of fresh paint and the occasional crash of drilling, but nothing to to upset one unduly.  The receptionist said that they hoped to have the bedrooms completed by July and the foyer area by September.

Having booked in and parked our cases we bought the two day tourists tickets for Les Cars Rouge (€24 unlimited travel) and set off to walk to the Opera, this being the nearest stop. This is Paris so nothing is as easy as it should be and we took a little time to find our bearings, even with the courtesy map!  The bus is red (surprise, surprise) and similar to all other city tour vehicles except that this one offers complimentary earphones has a commentary system in a choice of eight languages.  The French version definitely differs from the English but I am not sure by how much!

Although it was dry there was a biting wind and I was the only one who braved the upper deck and even then I made forays down stairs to get my fingers working again. We went round the complete circuit, Champs Elysée,  Grand Palais, Invalides, Louvre, etc.  and ended up for lunch in the brasserie of the Cafe de la Paix. This is decidedly on the posh side but the menu was pretty good and Trevor and I settled for the cappachio of beef with parmesan and capers which came served on a sheet of slate, Josephine had a croquet Monsieur and Helen settled on the home made Burger. Trevor and I finished off with coffee viennasoise. We did consider an Armagnac but at €40 a shot felt this was a little excessive.

We wended our way back to the hotel where we indulged in the said Armagnac at €4.80. I wondered if it were just a matter of the decimal point.

We had asked the hotel concierge to recommend a restaurant that evening and she sent us to Hugo a small bistro on the Rue de la Papillion about 10 minutes walk away. This is a truly memorable little restaurant and is described in more detail in the Eating Out section.

Day two started with breakfast which I was pleasantly surprised to find included salami, ham and cheese as well as the inevitable croissants and jam.

Following this we set off again to catch the Red Bus with the intention of visiting the Louvre and then the Musêe d’Orsay.  We had noted quite a swish tailors the day before and I nepped in to see if I could get a bow tie (papillion, en français) but was  a bit taken back to find they only sold ready tied. I tried a number of shops after this, including Galeries Lafayette, with no avail.  So much for French savoire faire!.

We arrived at the Louvre which was not at all what I had expected. One it is a huge building set round an imposing square which then extend on two sides to form the Cour Napoléon which contains the fountains and three glass pyramids which look down into the the entrance to the museum itself. Froom here one moves out across the Jardin du Carrousel towards the Tuileries Gardens. We never did get to visit the museum itself as the queue was enormous. The visit was well worth it just for the arcitecture and overall view.

We headed over the Pont du Carrousel and down the Quai Voltaire for lunch in La Frégate, a typical brasserie with the usual parisian varieties on the menu. The Soupe à l ‘Oignon was a meal in itself, none of your dainty croutons, 3 slices of crusty topped with melted cheese. Trevor’s omelette aux champignons got lost in the system somewhere but turned up eventually! Everybody was very friendly and helpful as usual.

Following this we headed down to the Musêe d’Orsay.  The queues there were even longer than those at the Louvre.  It is definately a must to get tickets in advance! The rest of the party decided to take the bus back to the Opera but, haaving had enough of buses I elected to walk.

It is definately the way to see Paris once you have got your general bearings from the bus tour. From the Quai d’Orsay across the Pont de la Concorde and on across the great square with it fountains and statues and central obelisk. Across the road I noticed a Nicolas wine shop.  My first bottle of red wine was bought from an “offy” in Birmingham around 1957 and was Vieux Ceps by Nicolas. Strangely for those days it had a plastic stopper.  From there past the Marie Madeleine Church and Maxims. It was when I reached St. Lazare station that I realised that I should have taken a right at the Madelaine! Ah well It was a straight run back to the hotel past La Trinite, I would not have seen had I gone the right way.

Thinking that the rest of the party would already be back and resting I ordered a large Armagnac and collapsed into a chair in the lobby bar with a bowl of nibbles.  Surprise, surprise the rest arrived five minutes later having stopped off to buy a handbag.

We had booked for a Seine Cruise and dinner with Bateaux Parisians as our farewell to Paris and an excellent evening it turned out to be. The service and food were excellent.  I had not remembered that wine was included in the price and was a little taken aback to see that the cheapest red on the wine list was €75!  On being seated we were served with a Kir cocktail and our waiter for the evening, Jacques, introduced himself. The menu is not extensive; one would not expect this on souch a tour, but it coveres most tastes, you’d be pretty miserable not find something suitable. Starters included a “cappuchino” style soup with lobster and slow cooked morels,absolutely delicious, and duck foie gras with asparagus.  The veal with madeira sauce and truffle essence was robust and cooked to perfection and my companions reported the same about the Beef tournedos in a Bourdelaise wine sauce.  The vegetables and potatoes passed muster with no complaint. My Crêpes Suzette, orange butter with Grand Marnier were flambéed at the table, nice touch, and I believe that the Cantai maature cheese with apple and grape condiment were not to be sniffed at (no pun intended). The wines, a 2008 Medoc and a Château la Capitelles Chardonnay, all French of course, complimented the meal perfectly as did the coffee.  In fact the food was so good one was to be forgiven for not watching the Paris illuminations glide by.  There was, in addition a very competent singer accompanied by a small combo to ensure that we did not get bored.  We arrived back at the Eiffel tower to the spectacle of a fireword display which wound up the evening perfectly. On our way to the taxi rank at the tower we encountered our first roller skating gendarmes and security guards, neat!

On Saturday morning we set off to the Gare du Nord to catch the Eurostar.  This station does not rate as one of the top 100 stations I have been to.  It did not help that there had been some sort of alert in the tunnel and that all trains had been halted.  The poweres that be had roped off access to the Eurostar section of the station which is on the first floor and there seemed to be a general lack of information.  Luckily, about 45 minutes later, it was announced that the problem had been cleared and that trains would begin to run again.  In true French style the put up seperate queue notices for the two trains that were due to leave.  After about fifteen minutes they changed the notices round so nobody knew which was which. Happy days!

We eventually boarded about an hour and a half late.  We had booked Leisure First tickets which, seeing as we are all pensioners, coast about £15 a head more than the standard fare and gave us big comfortable seats free wine and an excellent three course meal.  My choice  of with a gorgonzola sauce was a definite hit. Not that I am obsessed with food you know. The rest of the journey was uneventful and Trevor was able to increase my knowledge of British rolling stock to quite a degree, but I was starting from a very low base.
I would recommend Eurostar; even with the delays it was smooth and quick and dropped us into the centre of London without the hassle of transfers.

As a final note we got a cab to Liverpool Street to catch the Stanstead Express and were treated to a true East End commentary on everything from the way to improve the economy to his holiday in Spain. Priceless and a great end to the holiday.

Click on the photo below to go to the full album and then choose slide show.


Back to Orient Express

Simplon Orient Express, Venice to Paris

This was to be an “experience of a lifetime” holiday with our friends Trevor and Helen Rankin; with them celebrating their 45 wedding anniversary and for us, Josephine’s (if you don’t know, don’t ask) birthday.  After a completely uneventful journey, all flights being on time and the Aviance business lounge at Gatwick North being a haven of peace and quiet whilst dispensing restorative alcoholic beverages, we arrived at the Hotel Kette in Venice by water taxi in the pouring rain.  22⁰ mind you. 

It is an old fashioned hotel with a charm of its own.  The staff are friendly, the rooms comfortable and the prices reasonable. We dropped our bags and hied us into the bar for a much needed cool drink.  No local beer, but they do a great line in 7.7 proof Danish Ceres! 

We elicited the concierge’s help in picking a restaurant for dinner and he recommended the Antico Martini.The report on this can be found as a separate post.  It was magnificent! 

Having got back to our room we discovered that it was only nine pm so we ordered a bottle of Chianti from room service and endeavoured to stay awake until a reasonable hour for bed. I will not  enlighten you with further details of the evening.

We awoke early to the sound of the hotel service boat exchanging laundry three floors below. The weather had cleared so I decided to go out for a stroll and found that St. Marks square was about a 3 minute walk away. Six thirty in the morning is the ideal time to wander the streets of Venice. The only people about are the early shop keepers, joggers and a few hardy tourists. The clean smell of the sea wafts between the buildings and one can take in the sights without being bustled along. 

I collected Josephine and retraced the walk before meeting up for breakfast at eight.  A goodly spread it was; fruit, cereals, cold meats, cheese and coffee to die for. 

We were collected by a water taxi to take us to the station to embark on the next stage.  We thought that it would just run round the Grand Canal, however, we were treated to a tour of the one way system which short cuts the curves of the major thoroughfare. 

Our bags were collected from the taxi and transported to the booking in desk for the Orient Express. A word of warning;  do not use the currency exchange on the station – I was offered €47.60 for £60. I know sterling is not particularly strong but that is ridiculous.

The train, 17 coaches long,  is everything that you would expect; even before one embarks it exudes an aura of opulence, added to by the liveried carriage stewards who greet you at the door.  The cabins are luxurious without being large; with built in washing facilities, complimentary dressing gowns, fan etc.  As we had adjoining cabins we opened the connecting door which gave the appearance of far more room. Our carriage steward duly instructed us as to how everything worked. 

We went to the first sitting for lunch, a three course extravaganza starting with asparagus lasgne and followed by monkfish tail on a sweet pepper crepe with a curry sauce, fennel and basmati rice in a red pepper shell. Josephine and I chose a Chianti Classico whilst Trevor and Helen went for the Sancerre. The sweet was a mixture of fresh berries with ice-cream and splashed with fresh prosecco. Yum! 

We retired to our accommodation to take a snooze and watch the passing scenery. If you are contemplating a trip on the Orient Express do pick the Venice to Paris option. We have spoken to people who have taken the London to Venice route but the views are of flat countryside and by the time it reaches the Alps it is dark. 

Dinner is a black tie affair, although this is not de rigueur , and it was disappointing the number of people who appeared in lounge suits.  This did not detract from the food.  We opted for the 7.00 sitting which proved a good choice.  This time four courses, opening with sautéed filet of Turbot meunière, tarragon and tomato sauce and diced vegetable ragout (not my favourite accompaniment). The main was a roast rack of lamb with pesto and simmered purple artichokes, accompanied by a lamb spring roll with parmesan cheese and crispy potato “Anna” cake. The lamb was perfect. I would normally cremate mine but this managed to be medium and still fall off the bone. A cheese board followed, fairly frugal but tasty and then came the coconut blancmange with cardamom scented mango. If this was not enough coffee (or tea) was served with pastries. 

We hied ourselves down to the bar for a nightcap.  The bar seats 39 people approximately and the second dinner sitting were there.  We managed to acquire seats and get served.  What followed can only be described as Pythonesque. more people came from our sitting and passed down the car towards the bar and the piano. This continued for some 30 minutes. At about 9.30 they called the second sitting for dinner and people began to file back up the carriage.  I am still do not know where the came from as once again there was a steady stream. I am just glad that we did not opt for the 9.00 dinner as it was served nearly 45 minutes late which meant it would not have finished before 11.00 – not too good to sleep on! 

We returned to our couchette which was now transformed into a sleeping compartment with bunk beds.  I had the top.  Given that it was a strange environment we slept remarkably well.  Note that these are Victorian and there is no en-suite toilet.  They supply dressing gowns (€40 from the boutique if you want to take one with your) and slippers for night time excursions. 

We had booked breakfast, which is served in the compartment, for 7.00 so at 6.45 our steward arrived to convert it back to a sitting room. A class act that took no longer than three minutes!  Breakfast consisted of fruit juice, fruit salad, yoghurt, rolls, croissants, honey, cheese, jam with coffee and tea on the side! 

We rolled majestically through the countryside for a further hour and duly arrived at the Gare de l’Est around 8.20. 

Our luggage was delivered to us at the end of the platform and the next stage of our adventure began! 

Click on the photo below to go to the album for the trip and the choose “slideshow”.

Orient Express Trip

To read about the Paris adventure click here.

Hugo, 12 rue Papillion, Paris

This restaurant was recommended to us by the hotel and, having checked the location out, was a little concerned as to it’s pedigree.   There is a large moroccan restaurant opposite and a very swish looking french restaurant a couple of doors down.  As they all close down for the afternnon and do not re-open until 7 p.m. there was no way of getting an indication of the interiors. Hugo has a small yellow door with hand painted notices in the windows announcing 2 courses from €15. The sign over the door says cuisine créative et provençale. Nothing ventured, nothing gained we arrived at around 7.30 and found it to be a fairly small room with around a dozen wooden tables with chairs to match.

There was one waitress and the menu came to the table on a blackboard. The wine list was on another blackboard on the wall and wines were offered in a choice of 5 sizes from whole bottles to small glasses. No prizes for guessing the size of our order.

The food! What can I say; creative; definately:  provençal; never having been there I cannot comment.

All starters €7.  I chose the Croquant de Chèvre à La Figue & aux Amandes. Do not translate this literally. It is a thick slice of goats cheese topped with fig conserve and almonds and it is mouth watering.  The rest of the party were conservative and settled for the Foie Gras Maison aux Cranberries. They may be spelt the same but the cranberries here are not like those from Tesco’s.

Main Courses – €9 for salads or vegetarian and the dearest €15.

I had the speciality of the day which was  a mix of prawns, whitefish, squid and octopus,  pan seared and with a simple herbed olive oil sauce. I am at a loss to remember what everybody else had, but they made appreciative noises and you can see the choices on the board!

All Desserts €6:

I could not resist the Fondant Chocolade with Salade de Fruits.

All in all another memorable meal in a great atmosphere.

Antico Martini, Campo San Fantin, Venice

We were recommended to eat at the Antico Martini by the concierge at the Hotel Kette, it being less than a stone’s throw across the bridge from the entrance.  In better weather it must be stunning, but even in the rain the ambience is not to be faulted.  The staff collected our umbrellas, waterproofs and hat and ushered us to a table under the rainproof awning looking out on to the small square which still sported a smattering of tourists braving the weather.

The menu and wine list were duly provided together with a complimentary hors d’ouvre in the shape of a miniature kilner jar containing a parfait of basil sauce and a whole prawn.  Exquisite!

Helen and Josephine chose the giant scampi with courgette; I opted for the tagliatelli with prawn and wild mushrooms whilst Trevor decided on the veal. Helen chose a glass of rosé and the rest of us shared a bottle of the local red, Rosso del Veronese, which proved to be eminently drinkable.

You are probably fed up with me using superlatives but, if you are eating in Venice, this is a restaurant not to be missed. The scampi would have been lobsters in another life, the tagliatelli sauce was as delicate as (good taste leaves me speechless) whilst Trevor’s veal melted in the mouth.  I speak from firsthand knowledge.

Somebody slipped in the sweet menu and, having gone a whole day with very little sustenance, we were caught in another trap.  The girls settled for the fruit tart and the boys for the baked crepes stuffed with vanilla sauce (and raspberries and blackcurrants). I got a share of Trevor’s as well!

We (Trevor and I) decided on a coffee and liqueur to end the experience.  The grappa is a must, although Trevor disagrees on this and settled for Benedictine!

The price tag of €326, including 14% service, reflected the quality of  both the cuisine and the service so we have no complaints.