Monday, 7 March 2011

I’M BACK (and not just from Paris).

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past week or so…. But there is good news. Things are on the up as I have, finally, found a job! It’s at a firm based in Huddersfield and all seems well so far. Everyone’s been really friendly and the systems used are the same, or at least similar, to those used in my last job, so hopefully I’ll settle in quite easily.

I have quite enjoyed my time off and I’ve done well at keeping myself busy, but it’s great being back at work. At last, I am contributing to the household again! So woo woo for work, for only being on the dole for a month and for staying sane throughout redundancy. Welcome back my suit wearing, arse kicking, employed self. You have been missed.

A welcome back to my physical self is also appropriate as I have just returned from a long weekend in Pareeeee (Paris).  The most romantic city in the world?  Mmmm, not so sure, but then I did go with a friend, not the husband! One thing I can say is that Paris is excellent for the gourmet foodie. I’ve never really been one for French food, but having said that I’d never really tried it, unless you count Café Rouge that is! 

After just one hour flight I felt a million miles away from the manky sausage breakfast sandwich I’d had at the airport.  On arrival our fantastic hosts (relatives of my friend, who I shall call Y & E) served us a luxurious lunch of foie gras pate, fresh bread, white wine and fresh éclairs. Needless to say, it was all very good and it was a sure sign of things to come!

Our first foodie outing was to Chez Grenouille (frog). It’s a cute little restaurant serving up traditional French food. On sitting and perusing the menu, I was delighted to hear the translation of some of the dishes. We’re talking offal and unusual cuts and those of you who have been following this blog will know that is right up my street!

We spotted a St Emilion on the wine list and it being my friend’s favourite wine, and one I certainly would never turn down, we went for it. Delicious. However the wine was not the star of the show; that prize was reserved for the food.


I went for carpaccio de rognons blancs au basilic et copeaux de parmesan which was a carpaccio (thin slices) of testicals (either lamb or veal). It, unsurprisingly (and thankfully), was loads tastier than it sounded. The slices were mostly white, with the odd pinkish fleck. On its own, a slice was a bit offaly, but still pleasant. With the garnish, which included spring onions, it was delicious.  

Another diner had presse de mamelles au jambon cru, or a terrine of pressed nipples and ham. Delightful yeah?  Actually, it was! I had a little and it was as tasty as any other terrine I have tried and the fact it was made out of pressed nipples made it the most exciting terrine I have tried!

Others had brouillade d'oeufs a la truffe noire, or scrambled eggs with truffles. Oh my! This is heavenly; very rich and very creamy. Mmmmmmm! I kind of wished I had gone with this, but how could I ever pass up on sliced balls?!

For main I had tete de veau avec cervelle ravigote, or calf’s head with brains. The brain was deliciously creamy, the head meat succulent and tasty. The only down side was the amount of fat in the dish; the head meat was surrounded by a decent layer of fat, but that was easily removed.  

Head & Brains
I was in heaven, I was actually in heaven!

You may have noticed that I have banged on about David Downie a bit on this blog. Food Wine Rome is simply the best foodie guide book I have ever come across and David's Cooking the Roman Way allows me to replicate some fantastic Roman dishes at home. So, after making contact with David via his blog, I was honoured to have the chance to meet with him, and his wife Alison Harris (a photographer who also does the photography for David's books) in Paris. We met for coffee and chatted about food (what else?) and life in general. David has a real passion for proper food cooked properly; traditionally. Fancy, farcical food isn’t his cup of tea… take a look at his recent article here on this point. 

It was a surreal experience meeting David and his wife, who were both friendly and chatty. I even managed to pass on some foodie info as he had not heard of Chez Grenouille before. I only hope that, if he does go, he enjoys it as much as I did!

A Typical Parisian Dinner Party

On the Sunday night Y &E threw a dinner party and we were treated to a more homely gastronomic affair. The day was spent in preparation for the evening with the purchase of ingredients from various specialist shops across Paris. Food shopping is always a pleasure for me and shopping in Paris was very pleasurable; especially the Cheese shop which stocked cheese from all over France and even had some good old British Stilton too.

Friends arrived at about 8 and we sipped champagne in the lounge where nibbles of olives and nuts were served. Starters of breads and homemade guacamole were also served in the lounge as I sat and tried to recall phrases from my GCSE French class. Bearing in mind that I studied French about 15 years ago, there were not many French phrases to recall. Anyhoo, the language of food is one I know well and the guacamole was good with a nice amount of heat. 

Dinner was to be served in the dinning room and we all took our places at the table. Rack of lamb coated with a pistachio and rosemary pesto type sauce and wrapped in bacon was the main event. Given that lamb is one of my favourite meats and it was cooked perfectly (nice and pink, but not oozing blood) I was happy. 

However, the highlight of the meal, for me, had to be the cheese board. As it came to the table we were immediately engulfed in the stench of stinky, sweaty cheese! There were about 5 on there including a yummy runny goats’ cheese, brie stuffed with truffles (!) and a very, very smelly one. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the stench! It was great to try so many different varieties; all were very different and enjoyable in their own way. Of course, the French eat their cheese before dessert, not after (each to their own I suppose!) and although I had gorged myself on the smelly stuff, I did have some room for a slice of chestnut cake.

I guess Parisian dinner parties are not that different to those we have in the UK… lots of chatting, lots of laughter, lots of food and lots of wine. You can’t go wrong really, can you?

The next day we took a trip to Sacre Coeur. Well, I say that, but we actually decided to admire it from afar and then go and drink some wine! La Fourmi was in my Time Out guide and looked as though it was worth a punt. It’s a bar serving informal meals and what I call a studenty bar. Think young and arty. My friend had croque madame or monsieur (I can't remember which), I had steak tartar. It was deconstructed so chopped capers, gherkins, onion, parsley and a raw egg surrounded the mound of raw steak mince, ready for me to mix. I love steak tartar and had only had it once before (at the Witchery, Edinburgh) so it was on my ‘To Do’ list for Paris. It was as expected – delicious!

Steak Tartar

That evening was Les Diables au Thyme. Another nice little place, more polished than Chez Grenouille but still serving interesting food. Quite helpfully they had a menu in English as well as French and more than a few dishes caught my eye. Of course, I couldn’t have them all so I chose Os à moelle, tartine de queue de bœuf or Marrow bone & toast with oxtail. It looked fabulous, but I was immediately concerned as to how I was supposed to eat it! Thankfully E showed me how to use the blunt end of the knife to push the goodness out. It was nice, but very fatty… good with bread.  The oxtail on the toast was tender and tasty after, presumably, being stewed away for hours.

There was also Raviolis farcis de petits gris et de ricotta, a l'huile de noisette, or Ravioli with small grey snail and ricotta with hazelnut oil on the menu. My friend really enjoyed this one and was pleased to have the opportunity to try well cooked snails!

For main I had Cochon de lait cuit de la tête aux pieds, compotte de dattes or braised suckling pig with stewed dates. I think the pig is a rather marvellous animal, for eating at least! We seem to be able to eat just about everything on the pig, from its curly tail to its trotters and from its crispy ears to its snout. In fact the French name of this dish declares that it is the suckling pig cooked from head to foot and I’m not entirely sure, but I think I was served a section from around the spine. I had an extremely ample piece of meat, on the bone along with some stewed dates and some mashed sweet potato. I'm not too sure what the pineapple was doing there as it seemed an unnecessary garnish and a bit too 80's for me, however, the meat was tender and moist and I was glad when it was suggested that I eat with my hands when the cutlery wasn’t up to the job any longer.

Others had Suprême de pintade truffé au foie gras, fricassée de salsifis et de poire au bouillon de poivre cubébe or Filleted guinea fowl, truffled foie grad, fricassee of salsify and pear with a pepper broth.....

....and Tarte Tatin aux endives, quenelle de fromage de brousse which was essentially an endive tarte tatin.

After gnawing away at my main, I didn’t have room for dessert. In any case, I’m not much of a dessert fan.  However E ordered a cheese board and knowing my love of cheese, he was eager to share that with me…. And how can I pass up the offer of cheese? So, once again I enjoyed some stinky cheeses.

Overall it was a rather foodie trip and one I’m sure I will repeat with the husband.  

So, what's the strangest thing you have eaten?  Nipples, balls, snails?  Have you been to Paris?  Any foodie tips to pass on?


  1. Nipples, definitely! "Golden-fried" cow's teats are a specialty of the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome... home of gutsy Quinto Quarto cooking. In Paris, the teats seem to grace every poster, magazine cover and TV screen, so perhaps people are less apt to devour them cooked.
    Lovely meeting you in Paris. Keep up the great work! Best, David

  2. Clare, I really shouldn’t read this just before my tea, have now got a saliva-filled mouth and a growling belly, I am desperate for stinkycheeses and pig (in my humble opinion I agree; the tastiest of all the quadropeds) and all I’ve got in the fridge is leftover Indian. Noooo! I wanna get on a plane to Paris and eat snails. This is top class stuff, a real pleasure to read; I can’t believe you ate bollocks, brains and nips! Absolute gold! That stinky cheese night sounds luscious, I could almost smell the cloying cheesefest!


  3. I loved all the food I had in Paris, and I thought I was a bit adventurous about cuisine, but I couldn't have eaten anything you described at La Grenouille. The other restaurant doesn't sound much better. The dinner you had with your friends at the hotel, the lamb, etc., now that sounds truly delicious!

  4. David - another reason to return to Rome it seems! As if I needed an excuse to return.... one day! We didn't spend that much time in Testaccio - a place to explore it seems.

    Katy - I must admit I am quite keen on a curry, so left over Indian doesn't sound too bad. But you are right - nothing can beat a good old cheese fest!

    Anonymous - If it's a bit strange sounding (and looking) I've got to have it! The lamb was very good, but it's not every day I get to get bollocks, brains and nips!