Sunday, 26 October 2014

Dordogne: Paunat & Restaurant Chez Julien

The limestone village of Paunat
Sadly our holiday in the Dordogne was coming to an end. Having ticked off most of the places that we wanted to visit we decided to spend the day hanging around the village of Paunat where we were staying.

A picturesque limestone village, Paunat is on the pilgrimage trail. In the twelfth centurya pilgrims staff took root in village and grew into a tree. A large abbey was built at the site of the miracle. Although the monastery is no longer present, the large church of St Martia still dominates the village both in terms of its size and the bells which chime rather irregularly at 7am and 7pm daily.

The village is postcard perfect and I was surprised that all of the houses seemed quite large / high status. I'm not sure where the farm labourers stayed in centuries gone by. The only downside to the village as far as I was concerned is that it didn't have a boulangerie. I love being able to walk to the bakers to buy fresh bread, and maybe a croissant, every morning.

With no road signs in the village I also found it quite infuriating to navigate and it took me most of the week before I'd worked out which road to take in order to arrive at neighbouring town I was aiming for.

Our gîtes for the week
We ate twice at the village restaurant, Chez Julien, during our stay. On the first night we hungrily scoffed down our food after a long day travelling, so we returned on our last night for a more relaxed meal.

Chez Julien is a friendly and welcoming restaurant which probably explains why even in late summer they were still busy and you needed to book a table if you wanted to get in. On both occasions we visited there were a fair few English voices at neighbouring tables with expats and holiday makers coming in from the surrounding countryside for dinner.

A local brew from Limeuil
On our second visit I started the evening with a beer from the local brewery in the next village. When it came to the menu I decided to order local specialities that I either hadn't tried during the week or wanted to try again.

Cèpes mushrooms were in season so I went for the tartallete de cepes a la creme d'ail so that I could get in my last fix. For the main course I went for the confit du canard as I hadn't yet had any duck during the week.

The food was good, but it didn't feel like they were pushing any boundaries and that they have found a formula that they are comfortable sticking with. Every main course (on both nights) came served with the same vegetables, and not a very generous portion either.

After dinner it was great to be able to walk back to our gîtes across the village square and be in bed within minutes.

The next morning we were up early to drive back to Bordeaux train station. Despite one wrong turn we made it back to the train station in the centre of the city much more easily than I was expecting.

Tartallete de cepes a la creme d'ail

Confit du canard

Chocolate tart

Monday, 20 October 2014

Peckham Bazaar, Peckham

Baked feta parcels, marinated betroot and skordalia
The first thing I noticed as we stepped inside the Peckham Bazaar was the smell of cooking over charcoal. The second thing I noticed was a whole lamb rotating on a spit behind the open kitchen. It had me excited.

The menu describes itself as Greek, Turkish, Albanian and Iranian and there were lots of items that I didn't recognise like tarama, skordalia, adjika and kefalotyri. Our friendly waitress offered to help we any questions we had and was surprised when we only asked about one or two dishes. Our lack of questioning wasn't from any position of knowledge, but more happiness to make some random new discoveries.

Imam bayaldi, kefalotyri and sheep’s yoghurt
We started with the baked feta parcels, marinated betroot and skordalia (£6.50). We were both expecting the feta to be 'parceled' in filo, but it came in wrapped in tin foil. A much more suitable protector from hot coals. The star of the dish for me was the garlicky white skordalia.

We shared two main courses. The first was the imam bayaldi, kefalotyri and sheep’s yoghurt (£13.50). Half a slow cooked aubergine was sitting in a pool of sheep's yoghurt and was topped with some shaved kefalotyri, a hard sheep's cheese that tasted a little like parmesan. I enjoyed the dish and subtle spice of the aubergine, but thought it could have been enhanced by some fresh mint to help cut through the richness. It wasn't very substantial as a main and I thought a little on the pricey side for half an aubergine.

Spit roasted lamb, swiss chard gratin and greek salad
Our final dish was the one that caught my eye as we walked in, the spit roasted lamb, swiss chard gratin and greek salad (£18.50) from specials board. The lamb was my favourite of the food we tried. It wasn't as smokey as I expected, but the skin had a subtly spiced flavour and the swiss chard gratin was good too. However, for the price I was hoping for a much bigger serving of the lamb.

The Peckham Bazaar has been on my wish list for a while so it was good to finally make it. I liked the friendly service and the fact they are trying to do something different in suburban Peckham. Before I could become a regular they need to sort out the smoke which filled the dining room, got in our clothes and on occasion stung our eyes. I also feel they need to sort out their pricing too, better value might tempt me back sooner.

Peckham Bazaar
119 Consort Rd
SE15 3RU
Peckham Bazaar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Dordogne: The Panoramic Gardens at Limeuil & the Grotte de Rouffignac et Lascaux II

The Panoramic Gardens at Limeuil
The Wednesday of our week in France was a lazy day. Becks and I didn't leave the gîtes until early afternoon and we didn't want to travel far, so we headed down the road to Les jardins panoramiques de Limeuil.

The gardens are at the top of the hill above the village Limeuil with sweeping views of the Vereze and Dordogne rivers joining together. Perhaps it was a little hot to enjoy the gardens fully, but with the exception of the section over looking the rivers (which was stunning), I was a little underwhelmed les jardins panoramiques.

In contrast to Wednesday, Thursday was an early start as we were up and off to see some caves.

We started by heading to Le Font du Gaume. To protect the caves they only allow eight visitors a day with thirty tickets pre-sold and fifty available on a first come first served basis. We arrived at eight thirty only to see a long queue of people already waiting for tickets. We stood in a puddle of an hour, grumbling as people pushed into the queue, to inevitably miss out on tickets.

Plan B was to head for the Grotte de Rouffignac. Electric trains took is on a rather chilly one hour journey into the limestone caves. Caves were filled with over two hundred and fifty paintings of horses, buffalo, mammoths and more. Just as impressive as the paintings were the number of nests (?) that had been made by bears who hibernated in the caves. Virtually every wall was lined with claw marks from where the bears had been sharpening their claws.
Pumpkins in the gardens
On a cave roll we headed onto Lascaux II to see some cave paintings in full technicolour. The original Lascaux caves are closed to visitors and two of the most decorative tunnels have been faithfully re-created in the hills above Montignac. An English speaking tour wasn't available for a couple of hours so we jumped onto the next available tour in French. The Lascaux caves were smaller than I was expecting, but the ceilings were crammed full of horses.

It was then home for an elegant dinner!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Coopers Bakehouse Open Day

Rolling the croissant dough
Yesterday we popped along to the Coopers Bakehouse Open Day in their (relatively) new headquarters in Dragonfly Place.

For a bread nerd it was lovely to step inside a professional bakery and to have a look around. We got to spend a bit of time talking with Francis Cooper, the owner, who showed us the ovens he uses and we had a bit of a chat about my current troubles with the oven in the rental flat that we've just moved into. I get the feeling I've never cranked my oven up to pre-heat long enough before baking.

Coopers is on a much smaller scale operation to Sydney's Brasserie Bread that I visited three years ago. It was wonderful to see some ingeniously low tech solutions like the home made, high humidity, proving cupboard and to talk about how to get the best oven spring.

Around the tasting table we got to try both their white and wholemeal sourdough loaves, as well as one of the Danish pastries. I preferred the white loaf over the wholemeal, as I found the wholemeal a bit too sour for my tastes.

Speaking to a one of the staff over the tasting table, they start at 4am most days in order to get the deliveries ready for 9am. You clearly need to be a lover of early starts to be a baker, no wonder they said they'd never seen an episode of Bake Off.

I'd love it if they did some advanced bread or patisserie courses.

Croissants and Danish pastries shaped and ready to prove

Work bench

The founder of Coopers Bake weighing out some dough


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Restaurant Review: Le Vieux Logis, Tremolat, France

The Coxes before dinner
Before we departed for France I had a look at the, infuriating to navigate, Michelin Guide website to see if there were any recommended restaurants within striking distance of our gîtes in Paunat. The one Michelin starred Le Vieux Logis stood out as top choice. Although much like the Michelin guide, the restaurant has an annoying website, so it was difficult to find out too much and I had to put my faith in the guide.

I'm lucky enough to get  couple of fine dining opportunities a year and look forward to them with gusto. However, I think it would be fair to say there was a little trepidation in our group at the prospect of an evening of French haute cuisine. I was getting nervous that my dining choice would go down like a lead balloon.

The gradens od Le Vieux Logis
After a turn round the garden, we decided to skip a drink on the terrace and headed straight into the dining room to take our seats for the evening.

My default these days is to opt for the set menu as I, mistakenly as it turned out, think of them as the best way to experience all that a restaurant has to offer. Instead we opted for the al la carte menu and the mains, at €50 a go, might have made me draw my breath, but they turned out to be excellent value.

In addition to the courses we ordered, we were treated to an amuse bouche, two mini starters, a pre-dessert, kick ass petit fours and, in the case of Peter's dessert, a double shot of Armagnac on the side. It was generous.

Amuse bouche of rosemary and cheese foccacia, duck croquet with homemade ketchup and salmon with walnut oil and pickles
It is difficult to have favourites when the food was so consistently good. The fois gras crème brûlée was a fun twist on a classic. It was a bit challenging to eat with your brain telling you it should be sweet, while savoury notes appeared on the palate.

The high points of the mains, for me, were the sauces. The tomato essence that was poured over my sea bass was a heady liquor of summer. While the taste of the veal reduction I managed to sneak from Becks' main was excellent too.

The meal finished on a high with the red fruit ravioli petit fours. As the small parcel slipped off the spoon onto my tongue it exploded to give a burst of summer fruits in the mouth. I've no idea how they did it, but I'd love to know.

Thankfully my fears for the evening were unfounded and I think it is safe to say the evening was enjoyed by all. The food was generous, pretty faultless and the relaxed service created a welcoming atmosphere.

Quinelle of crab with apple, parsley, chive and a fennel cream

Fois gras crème brûlée

Filet of swordfish with fresh Cabécou cheese, summer vegetables and a tomato and olive oil sauce

Roast veal, boulangere potatoes, cepes tarlette, bernaise sauce, pomme purée and a taragon sauce

Three cuts of roast lamb, parlsey sauce and gnochi with nuts

A pre-dessert of choux pastry buns one with a walnut cream and a the other with a vanilla cream with a walnut brittle

Chocolate Grand Cru with basil and lemon

Figs cooked in their own juices

Summer fruits with meringue Chantilly and a strawberry sorbet and hibiscus

Petit fours: praline chocolates and red fruit ravioli

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Dordogne: Beynac, Sarlat and Domme

The Tuesday of our trip to France was our longest day out as we headed to Sarlat-la-Canéda and Domme, both places I'd visited years earlier on family holidays to France. Would I remember them?

On the way to Sarlat was passed through Beynac and decided to stop to visit the castle on top of the hill. I was thankful that we weren't in peak season as I had to negotiate the narrow streets and park the car.

After parking the car we walked up to the top of the limestone village to see the castle. We decided not to go into the castle, but had a quick look round the top if the village and spent some time at one of the vantage points looking out over Dordogne river and the valley below. In the distance we could see the Castelnaud-la-Chapelle castle in the distance. Castelnaud-la-Chapelle was held by the English during the 100yrs War and large catapults were used to fire between the English and French held Beynac.
Climbing up to the castle in Beynac
Leaving Beynac we headed onto Sarlat where I'd visited as a child on summer holiday with mum and dad. I had memories of meeting some family friends there and having a picnic in a little park near a river. My memory is obviously confused as Sarlat isn't on a river!

Another stunning limestone town we had a quick look round the pedestrian area which was looking great in the late summer sunshine.
The main square in Sarlat
We were keeping our eye out for somewhere for lunch and decided to stop in the small courtyard of Le Saint Julien tucked away in a backstreet. It was first, and only, menu du jour of the holiday. Full of seasonal regional ingredients it was great value at €12. You can't expect exceptional food at those prices, but nonetheless it was very tasty.

We started with  paté with a heart of foie gras, the main was a cep omlette with some very tasty saladaise potatoes and dessert was a tarte au noix.
Menu du jour at Le Saint Julien in Sarlat
After another walk round Sarlat and a stop at the post office to buy some stamps we headed onto Domme, another village I'd visited as a child.

The walled hilltop village of Domme has very tight streets and it was a bit of a nightmare to find a parking space. I got a Dutch tourist 'excited' when he come towards me the wrong way in the one way system and I refused to pull out of his way until someone had pulled out of a parking space and I could slip in.

Once in the village we bought some ice creams in the market square (excellent if you get to go) and sat eating them while looking out over the village below. I was too busy eating my two scoops to take any photos of Domme and the one below is the only pic I managed to take.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Dordogne: Part 1

A classic Renault 4 in Tremolat
We spent last week in the sleepy limestone village of Paunat in the Dordogne region of France. We travelled down by train which is a very civilised way of getting there, even if it did include a bit of a sprint to get across Paris to make our connection after our Eurostar was delayed by 45 minutes.

We spent the week doing very little which was just what the doctor had ordered after a pretty hectic time at work and the house project sucking up any remaining hours.

Our first full day was a Sunday and we followed the Dordogne to the market town of St Cyprien. I cleverly forgot to take any pictures of the market, but I was pleased to tick off the classic French market experience on our first morning. It is probably pretty touristy in season, and while there were still quite a few foreigners like us around, the majority of customers were locals. One stall selling only goats cheese had the longest queue of locals in the market so I randomly joined it and bought a round of cheese that I enjoyed for the rest of the week. My favourite purchase though was a couple of duck saucisson that I nibbled on during the rest of the week.
St Cyprien
After the market we climbed up through the village to the church for a quick look around before returning to our gîtes to while away the afternoon by the pool.

For dinner that evening I bbq'd a whole chicken we'd bought in the market. As well as a bag of charcoal, I found a bag of vine cuttings in the house which I added to the fire as well. The vine branches were pretty aromatic to say the least and the smoky smell lingered on the terrace for the rest of the week.

The only downside of our picture box village was the lack of a boulangerie so on the Monday morning Becks and I headed across to Sainte-Alvere before breakfast to pick up some fresh bread. It was Sainte-Alvere's turn to have a, much smaller, market that morning and they were just setting up as we pulled into the village. We had a quick look round the stalls and noticed that many of them were the same as those we'd seen the day before so we didn't stick around for the market to start.

Later in the week I learnt that Sainte-Alvere has France's largest truffle auctions during the truffle season, something I'd love to see if I was in the area at the right time.
Becks by the Dordogne in Trémolat
Later that afternoon Becks and I went to visit another local village, Trémolat. It was another unbelievably quiet picture box village. We headed first into the church which had an amazing echo from the high roof. Becks was a bit embarrassed by my singing, but I'm pretty sure the locals outside loved it.

After the church we headed down towards the river. To get to the Dordogne we headed slightly out of town and cut down a track to a riverside campsite. The weather was a glorious 25 - 30 degrees, and it struck me as the perfect time for a holiday, but the campsite was totally deserted with every pitch empty. It was very odd.

We walked along the river towards the bridge you can see in the background of the photo above. However, when we got there we couldn't find a way back into the village. We tried a footpath under the bridge, but were beaten back by nettles. So instead ended up climbing over a barbed wire fence to get out of the campsite.

As we jumped the fence we were spotted by a local man. I was momentarily concerned that we'd get into trouble, but we had in fact disturbed a cyclist who'd pulled off the main road to have a 'comfort' break. And with that lovely image, our first two days in France came to an end!