Our annual pilgrimage to Birmingham this time of year for J’s gala dinner at Slimming World and to celebrate J2’s forthcoming birthday at Cadbury World saw us living it up in our own suite (equipped with jacuzzi!) at the Burlington Hotel on New Street. This cosy little 4-star luxury in the middle of a shopping oasis that includes the new Bull Ring complex is an absolute must for the ardent shopper and close enough to drop off shopping bags, and return for more retail therapy. And where better to get treatment than at the new Selfridges … it is simply an assault on sight, smell & taste – open plan themed bars litter the ground floor with a tantalising smorgasbord of indian, oriental, new york deli and of course there is the ubiquitous Veuve Cliquot champagne bar offering osyters with a glass of bubbly. Forget the continent – Christmas shopping can be just as good here, among the friendly Brummies!
Bonjour de Paris … Lille, Auxere, Chablis, Troyes, Champagne and Disneyland! As always, our visit to David saw us covering many more centres than our 4-day sojourn would have allowed. And afterwards, we agreed that we all felt rested and relaxed … even after the trauma of Indiana Jones at Disney, you know the one that loops the loops … backwards – geez, I absolutely hate that ride! But the rest of the time, we turned native and adopted local French attitudes as we surrendered ourselves to David’s kind hospitality and turned into singes capitulards mangeurs de fromage ;o) For me, one of the highlights was the sharing of a Cos d’Estournel ’89, purchased en place when we toured Bordeaux in 1994, when J-G Prats himself gave us a guided tasting. Then there was the delicious cognac by Michel Forgeron, a Grand Champagne at 51%, topped only by something labelled ‘Tonton Andre’ – a 40 year old nectar scooped from the bottom of a barrique that M. Forgeron acquired from his uncle when he took over the distillery. And that was just the first night’s treats!
The next day, we set off early-ish to Chablis, having abandoned grand plans to go further south into the heart of Bourgogne. A Moroccan lunch at our first stop in Auxere (a charming town btw) was lovely – my Zaalook in particular, cooked to perfection. But by the time we arrived at the first Chablis producer, I was fast asleep … and indeed remained so while J, David and the kids tasted their way through the region – a pity as I have since learned to appreciate this rather unique and steely presentation of Chardonnay. Troyes was our destination for the evening, but arriving later in the evening during the half-term break and on a week-end when Troyes was hosting a singing festival, we only managed to find lodgings in a spartan but functional motel some distance outside town. But dinner at the Bon Vivant more than made up for this inconvenience. Our first stop in Champagne was the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil s/ Oger at a producer called Launois, then another delicious lunch in Epernay, a visit to a superb cheese shop, Les Délices de la Ferme (rue Saint Thibault) for some cheesy comestibles, and back to Le Mesnil to see if David can charm the owners of Pierre Peters (which we had at the restaurant at lunchtime) to sell us a small quantity of bottles. She could spare some (normally one would have to be introduced to be allowed to purchase, naturally) and we spent a good hour there chatting and drinking what is probably the best vintage Blanc de Blancs I’ve tasted to date. The kids were beside themselves (literally), having been presented for the first time with their own tasting glass!
We also fooled around in Avize and took this photo of David. Later that evening, back in David’s apartment, we baked the Mont d’Or (Vacherin) as advised, by scoring the rind and giving it a good soaking of white wine and sat it in the a medium hot oven for about 8 mins. It was heavenly! We also concluded that foie gras, topped with melted Mont d’Or produced a remarkably pleasant combination of textures and flavours – David made a note for further experimentation. Disneyland was the destination on our 3rd day – the kids needed a run around and it was Halloween week-end.
On our last day, David took us on the abridged tour (which lasted about 2 hours) of Père Lachaise. He also reminded us that J1 once described cemeteries (after visiting Montparnasse) as ‘places where dead people live’ and admiring some of the great and sometimes ostentatious monuments to the rich and famous who were either French, lived or died in Paris, I found myself thinking how delightfully observant!
We caught up on some decent eating around Bristol at the week-end. The Al Madina is a friendly, cosy café serving Moroccan fayre and is tucked behind the Corn Exchange in the Glass Arcade aka St Nicholas Market. Décor is reminiscent of a bazaar, and when the sun shone, it was just possible to imagine being in the middle of a hot, sweaty market in Marrakesh as we struggled to keep cool by sipping at our mint teas. Actually in the mild dying rays of an October sun, it was more of a struggle to keep warm ;o) Don’t bother looking for it on the web – I couldnt find anything but in return for a yummy lunch, I thought the staff might appreciate some free publicity. J2 and I had the lamb tagine which fell off the bone, and the other mains were way above average … for the price, which only totalled £27 for four including drinks! A tip – try and get there for a late-ish lunch to allow plenty of time for the tagine to work the flavours into the food.
Dim sum on Sunday at the Dynasty on St Thomas Street was also above average and very reasonable. I thought the Fong Chow – chicken feet in black bean sauce – was exceptional (personal opinion of course since none of the others would touch it!) and the kids throughly enjoyed their beef Hor Fun, fried Szechuan style. J2 impressed us by stuffing himself but was clearly agile enough to earn his 10th Kyu karate grading later that afternoon. Good lad!
200 calories! That’s all I’ve burned, according to the computer thinghy when we went cycling on Sustrans Cycle Route 4 this morning – bet it didnt include the last 1/2 mile of bike pushing (maybe that’s why they are called push bikes!) all the way home after the air mysteriously escaped from the rear tyre. Ummmmm, somebody’s trying to tell me something. And then our Sky+ system decided to keel over and die … again. The usual hard disk problem, requiring a revival with a low-level format. Maybe I should get the new 80+hour Sky+ 160Gb when it comes out in October ;o) J got me watching a bid on eBay for a Luella Bartley handbag – a scarlet red Giselle, but we didn’t win it. If anyone knows another source for a black one, preferably at 1/2 price, drop me a line!