Flying to Santorini was quite the trek. Rome to Athens, stopover, then Athens to Santorini. I did find it amusing during our stopover to listen to Americans trying to say ‘efharisto’, but instead saying ‘f-haaristooo’. I cringed and wanted to correct them but I was outnumbered, there were too many of them, not worth the effort.
Our overpriced taxi drive did not even take us to the door, but I suppose it serves us right for getting a hotel in the little cobblestone alleys of central Fira rather than in a smaller town like Imerovigli. Nothing mattered once we got to our room and patio.
The view makes everything better.
It was already 6pm and we were hungry, but Argentina were about to play Belgium in the quarter finals, a game we did want to watch, Argentina had to win! So we found a nice restaurant which had tv’s and sat down, after a detour to look at the view again.
Dinner was great, lots of tzatziki, greek salad, lamb and octopus. You can’t get much more Greek than that. I was exhausted after the game. Argentina won of course then we headed back to the hotel. Chris returned to the bar to watch game 2 that night while I tried to sleep. I don’t remember so much noise last time I was in Santorini, but then again I did not stay in Fira. We were in the thick of it, but so were the clubs, and what comes with clubs is their blaring music which we could hear all night and morning long. Needless to say we did not sleep that much all night.
Breakfast was served on our rooftop overlooking the glistening blue sea. I was ecstatic to see a plunger of coffee as it had been a good 2 months since I had had some, our Wedding day, I made a huge pot for all the people at my house getting ready. Good thing was that it was made well, and not burnt (as I found out later on a flight serving terrible plunger coffee). We paired fresh coffee with yogurt and honey, watermelon (sooo greek), boiled eggs, bread, orange juice and apple french toast. Healthier than the big buffet breakfasts we had enjoyed up until this point which was a nice change.
We spent the morning looking up our good friend trip advisor to decide on a restaurant for the evening, but in the end just took a recommendation from the hostess at the hotel. So we walked down, along the cliff face to book it in and tried to do the ‘selfie’ with the nice white buildings. FAIL. All we got is my hat and hair in the way.
Our light breakkie was also convenient as it left room for a Gyro lunch. We tested both the pork and chicken gyro. YUM. Fresh meat, salad and crispy chips smothered in tzatziki and wrapped in fluffy soft pita bread. The perfect snack before an afternoon at the beach.
Black beach in Kamari, famous for its black gravel that spans the whole coast.
We set ourselves up under a nice umbrella and it only set us back 6 euros. Compare this to the 15-25 euros they were charged in Italy and this is a steal. After we settled in we wanted a refreshing beverage, so I got us us frappes. Now Chris had become accustomed to this traditional Greek drink, even bordering on the point of liking it.
OF course to make them last longer we topped them up with cold water once we got to the halfway point. It would be blasphemy to finish a frappe in under an hour!
The water was surprisingly freezing and the wifi was not working at the beach so after a few hours we had had enough and went back to the hotel to rest before dinner.
I was able to capture the beginning of the sunset as there are ledges all around our hotel, perfect for setting up a camera on timer. I do love this photo.
Back to the cliff face and we were able to find someone happy to take a photo for us. The result, much better than my efforts.
Lucky we booked as we were given the best table in the house. Well sort of. It did have the best view, right on the edge, but at 7:30pm when we arrived the sun was still beaming strong and there was no shade cover. I suspect other tables opted to be further back so they weren’t as hot as we were for that first hour. Almost too much sun for even me, but we held out and the results were well worth it.
We also had a good view right along the coast and got to see packs of donkeys walking up and down the stairs. I do feel sorry for them having to carry so much so I was glad to photograph these donkeys not carrying anything at all.
Right everyone get your cameras and phones out as it is starting. The famous Santorini Sunset.
People at every restaurant along the cost were watching and celebrating.
Boats were out in packs too.
Once the sun did finally go down everyone clapped and cheered.
A nice romantic dinner, food wasn’t great but it was about the experience. It certainly made us want to sit side by side and cuddle up while we watched the changing colours of the sky.
I don’t think I could get sick of this view. Today many more cruise liners were out and it got me thinking. What a nice way to do the islands as it is calm, you don’t need to worry about choppy high speed boats or turbulent small planes. You don’t need to wheel your luggage up the cobblestone streets and you will always have a beautiful view…..maybe one day, but not today, we still have much more land to cover.
Today’s outing was to more famous beaches in Santorini, Red and White beach in Akrotiri. Incredibly they are just around the corner from each other yet they are so starkly different that you cannot believe they are from the same small bit of coast line.
We caught a boat out to see the three beach options for the afternoon then could dock at whichever one we wanted. First was Red beach. I had visited before but it is always so busy and there are not many umbrellas available, let alone empty beach space. So we gave this one a miss and went onto the next beach.
White beach. Such a view and like nothing we had seen before. So secluded there is no road nearby let alone any amenities. The next beach was Black beach but we had already been to a Black beach so opted for White.
Plenty of umbrellas available, and because it is so secluded it is surely a monopoly, 15 euros for the both of us. Well we coughed it up as we did not want to attempt lying on the hard white pebbles. We experienced them enough getting off the boat. Since the water is shallow closer to shore the boat docked about 15m out from shore. We had to get off the boat in our cozzies and thongs and walk to shore in waist high water, with out bags on our heads and trying not to trip on the pebbles. I did save my bag, but I did trip too, it is so hard to walk on those pebbles.
Once we were relaxing on the beach, and in the warm water, it was bliss – a quiet, calm beach with crystal clear water. Yes please!
All good things must come to an end, and our last day in Santorini had so far been paradise. Back at the hotel we got the good news from the hostess that she got us a booking at her favourite traditional restaurant there, Naoussa. We again got the best table in the house which we felt had an even better view than what we had seen before.
We were hungry so ordered big. Entrée consisted of Greek salad, tzatziki and cheese croquets (which were basically just fried melted cheese). All so delicious and as I am writing this I am salivating over this meal. We washed this down with a small jug of house white wine.
Mains were just as impressive. Moussaka, which I was so glad that they served in a terracotta pot. The waiter told me this was the best moussaka in Santorini and he was not lying. It was delectable. The béchamel was smooth as silk, creamy and the hint of nutmeg gives it that proper greek flavour. The meat, potato and eggplant all rich in flavour and as a whole dish YUM. Chris had slow roasted lamb with lemon potatoes which tasted good but was a tad dry, so disappointing for something that looked so impressive. The potatoes on the other hand were ‘just a-like-a home’ although would never be better than my Grandmothers, ever. But beyond my Grandmothers they were the next best.
Our view. The best ending to a fantastic time in Santorini. We have seen a lot of sunsets on our trip. This would be number one, Biarritz number two, everything else does not matter.
Santorini is just as beautiful when the night sky is out and the lights are on.
Our time has been full of much needed relaxation and tanning. If we are coming back to Australia after 9 weeks we most certainly need a tan, what else would people come to Europe in Summer for?
We left Rome with a quick 1hr train ride to Naples where we had a transfer ready to take us down the zig zag path to Amalfi. It was a busy Sunday afternoon so instead of the freeway we took the route through Sorrento, Positano, Priano and then Amalfi. Once we arrived at our hotel, after this two hour road trip, we were exhausted and so happy to finally be at a hotel and not still going left, right, left, right. Lucky our hotel was directly on the port so we did not have to walk far to find it. Our suite had the best view as you can see, not to mention 4m ceilings and an extra two single beds just in case we wanted a break from each other, I suppose!
We did not waste time taking a look around the main square and sussing out the restaurants for lunch. We noticed immediately that masses of people were lining up to drink and wash their hands from these small spouts of water. We did not try it straight away until we asked around that it was yes drinkable and extremely cold, most probably spring water, good on the hot days.
The town was extra busy on this Sunday, more than expected on a weekend due to it being St Peter’s day and therefore tourists and locals had come to see the grand church overlooking the town. It is unlike other churches we have seen in Italy but reminds me of churches in Marseille with a slightly Marrakesh influence in the detailing and design. It is no wonder so many people come to take photos in front, it is incredible.
We chose one of the many restaurants off the main square overlooking the ‘fountain’ and church and did not hesitate to order pizza and pasta. Chris got a simple napolitana pizza with salami which was again delicious with its soft and thin base.
From my last trip to the Amalfi Coast, which I learnt how good simple pasta was, I have since become obsessed with aglio olio, so that is just what I had. The WHOLE plate. In my defence I did stop half way…..but then I had a strand here and a strand there and then it was all gone. Wooops. Well at least I enjoyed every, single, bite.
Although we were full there is always room for gelato. Plus with gelaterias every two shops it is basically calling you “eat me, eat me, eat me”. Okay! I got blood orange sorbet and Chris had lemon sorbet.
Well a tad disappointing as these sorbets were so sweet we could barely eat them, and we left them to melt on our balcony.
We went for a stroll before dinner to look at the town, from a different angle. It is so beautiful and peaceful along the coast at night, which is the opposite to the roads that go inland.
These roads are blossoming with people, restaurants, singers trying to make a few dollars and of course the tourist shop with lemon merchandise everywhere.
We just picked a restaurant for dinner but it was not fantastic, or worth mentioning, not because it was bad, but because overall we had unforgettable food in the Amalfi and there is no point mentioning ‘okay’ food to you guys. But for the record I had Antipasti di mare, ‘seafood salad’ and Chris had Bolognaise.
Monday morning I was up bright an early ready to claim my stake on the beach. The day before it was St Peter’s day so Amalfi was PACKED. There was no space on the beach whatsoever and because it was now school holidays I had no idea what to expect on the Monday. So I went down bright an early, at 9am, pastry in hand, ready to get a good spot…..well no fear, it was a quiet day in Amalfi and the beach did not even get half full.
As I left early I enjoyed breakfast on the beach with my favourite Italian pastry, sfogliatelle. It is very crisp pastry in the shape of a shell with ricotta and orange peel piped inside. ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS. After half the pastry I was getting full and I realised I should not have gotten the biggest one I could find, but I would not let this beauty go to waste, so I finished it. I’m on holidays, I’ll burn it off when I get back to Sydney, our motto for the whole trip.
By 1pm we were getting hot and hungry so we left the beach to get some lunch. Again we tried a different restaurant off the main square as it was convenient and quite busy. Chris had a delicious pasta with fresh tomato and parmesan. Simple and delicious.
I ordered smoked mozzarella baked in lemon leaves and a salad. The salad was so small it was a joke and the ‘baked mozzarella’ was cold. I could not believe it. I sent it back but they did not accept it. Then they came out with a plate of overdone melted mozzarella, even though all my utensils had been removed. It was still terrible and a pathetic attempt to rectify this. Correct me if I am wrong but if you read ‘baked’ would you not expect baked?
After lunch we did not feel like more sun and beach, as it gets quite hot, even with the crystal blue water to cool you off. Maybe it is also the lack of sand and plethora of hot stones that slightly hinders the experience, a truly European beach! Well I am Aussie and do very much like my soft, non feet hurting sand. So we went back to the hotel to rest before more world cup games.
We had been doing the cheap thing and watching a television outside restaurant Pizza Duomo with many others, but tonight we did not want to wait 2 hours for the game to end to eat so we nabbed one of the last tables outside and enjoyed dinner while watching the game. GOOD MOVE. Dinner was so much better than any meal we had had so far in Amalfi. I had sole cooked in a lemon butter sauce with mash and Chris had an Argentinian steak. No pizza and pasta here tonight!
‘A’ happy couple.
They also passed around some Amalfi lemons which permeate the strongest, most refreshing fragrance. It is obvious why lemons are so famous in the Amalfi, they are ‘real’ lemons.
Our day trip to Positano, one of my favourite places in the whole wide world. It is a beautiful town with excellent food and a less touristy feel than Amalfi. We slept in so caught the ferry at 10:30. Once we got there we had a coffee while we caught up on skype with the family, did I mention our hotel in amalfi did NOT have wifi, how ridiculous is that in this day in age.
When you see these houses you think to yourself what an amazing place it would be to live. Yes I would agree, absolutely a beautiful view with tranquil surroundings, not to mention the nicest people.
This is what I have been looking forward to. This view, exactly like this. After standing, staring and admiring, we enjoyed free wifi at a coffee shop, skyped the family then headed to the port to find the boat with the red fish.
Not just any red fish, but the Da Adolfo red fish, full determination of getting a table without a reservation.
If you know me you will know that I HATE boats. Despise, shiver with fear. Yes I did catch the ferry service, but they are large and not catamarans, which I find much worse. So the little boat to Da Adolfo was at first scary but the water is calm and the boat does not go too fast so I will admit it, I enjoyed the boat ride. I enjoyed the fresh air, I enjoyed watching the houses on the cliff face as we moved along, but most of all I enjoyed seeing that little restaurant in the distance which made me smile, cheek to cheek.
As this was one of my favourite meals last time I was in this neck of the woods it would be rude of me not to share such an incredible experience with Chris. I love it so much I have a picture blown up on the wall of my kitchen, reminding me of this place.
What more could you ask for, a simple blackboard menu sitting on the rocks, chairs and tables on the gravel floor overlooking the beach. You are eating incredible food in what is almost your own private beach, no cars here, only a boat service on the hour.
Our luck is unbelievable, we got the last free table, again. I ran to the board to see if items I had last time were still here. YES. We will be having prawns for entrée, sautéed in chilli, salt and pepper. I will have the lobster spaghetti and Chris the spaghetti with pippies for main and all washed down with a bottle of Greco di tufo wine.
What doesn’t look good about these dishes.
Impressive much? Once I took all the meat out and mixed it around the flavours of cherry tomato, garlic, oil, lobster were having a party in my mouth, literally. Perfection…..so Trish says
Chris on the other hand thinks his pipis in aglio olio with a touch of parley is the clear winner…..well maybe. It is all so good.
This is it. The best restaurant in Positano/Amalfi/Italy. This may be because we did not stop talking about THAT lunch all night, and all the next day too. You could not fault an experience like that.
We found it back to Amalfi, sadly, and watched some more World cup on the TV’s at Pizza Duomo. It was already full so we decided to get dinner after instead and to try one of the restaurants overlooking the Amalfi beach.
It was a beautiful view, I will not deny it. It is more peaceful than Positano as a lot of the town is set back behind the port rather than Positano where it is all on the water. This restaurant was called Silver Moon.
Yes we did have more wine that night, we are on holidays, we are allowed.
Dinner was more spaghetti, bolognaise this time, for Chris and I had a seafood risotto. Chris’ dish was nice, but we are still comparing back to that first pasta in Rome, the ragu which was on another level. My risotto again okay, but really its no lobster paella in Valencia, which still reins as the best rice dish I have had on the trip. Enjoyable and fresh but I felt it needed lemon and chilli as it was a little flat.
No dessert, just finishing our wine before a relaxing sleep.
Beach again, if we were going to get a tan at all on this trip this is the place to start it, and who can complain, our hotel is just across the road. Convenient much?
We decided today to try one of the private beach areas where deck chairs and an umbrella may be a little more expensive but there is food and drink service too. We actually went back to Silver moon ‘beach area’. I think the red is much nicer than the other blue umbrellas.
We ordered pizza for lunch, but unfortunately it was not that great. The base was too hard and crusty and the flavours, not pow. We did spend the rest of the day relaxing here, I wrote, Chris enjoyed the free wifi and read, read, read.
Whilst using wifi we did look up good restaurants in Amalfi. There were a few options but some looked like they needed reservations. Our luck stikes again with Da Gemma where we got an early table, an in by out by. Usually I am not a big fan of these but we have not been having dessert recently so timing should be ok.
The restaurant was situated behind the port in one of the main streets leading away from the beach, but on the first floor. It was so nice to overlook the street, people watch and see the sun set slowly over the town.
Although we have been dining out every night not every night is at a fine dining restaurant. In Italy it has been mainly simple trattorias but every now and then it is a nice change.
We decided to share an entrée and since we had not yet had a caprese salad we chose the trio plate. Tick. First was crumbed and fried mozzarella with tomato and basil. I was the impatient child and jumped right in, burning the roof of my mouth with the hot fillings…obviously all those cheese and tomato jaffles as a kid did not teach me to wait. Next, at the end was a gazpacho like cold soup with aerated mozzarella cream. Nice, an unexpected style but captured the flavours well. Lastly the true Caprese with bright red, juicy tomatoes and delicious mozzarella. mmmmmmm
I decided to try the seafood risotto again, well crab risotto since it was made with a lemon base. BEST MOVE. It was so delicious, so aromatic, fresh, rich, al dente and way too much food but who cares, it was too good to leave so I had to finish it. That good!
Chris was also extremely satisfied with his ragu. As you can see, true ragu style, cooked for hours, decadent and flavoursome. It even came with a nest of parmesan, which impressed us.
We enjoyed our dinner very much and were happy to leave by 8:30 as we could not eat anymore, not even with a second stomach for dessert, nor would we want to ruin the flavours in our mouths at that moment.
You just cannot keep us away. We did it again. Positano and Da Adoldo although this time we booked, it was a Thursday so we thought it may get a tad busy closer to the weekend.
We were correct. We missed the first boat as people scrambled to claim the limited seats. I was not going to fight with some of these enthusiastic people, so we patiently waited for the next one. We all arrived at nearly the same time anyways as our boat was faster. It was incredibly busy. So many people being turned away and I thanked my lucky starts we thought to book. People without a table could go back to Positano or wait at this little beach until one became available. Not a good position to be in if you were hungry, as we were.
We decided on two entrees this time. The prawns of course and baked mozzarella in lemon leaves, proper baked mozzarella, not cold mozzarella like that stupid restaurant in Amalfi, this place is the real deal here.
The mozzarella leaves some of its oils on the leaves, with juice that are perfect to be soaked up with bread. It is like a creamy, lemony, smokey flavour that just reminds me of Positano.
I will agree with Chris now, and say it publicly, the spaghetti with pipis was the better spaghetti. We enjoyed it so much we actually did consider getting one more plate to share, just so they would not think badly of us, being pigs you know. We contemplated and did wait to see if we actually could. In the end our stomachs caught up with our eyes and we could not eat any more.
Thank you very much Da Adolfo, it has been sooooo great. We will be back for sure in the near future. As this was our last day before heading back to Rome we knew we this was our last supper for this trip. We sailed away knowing we had eaten the best dish, at the best restaurant in all of the Amalfi Coast and without a doubt the best meal on our whole trip. This is an easy question to answer as every day around meal time we kept saying to each other “Just take me to Da Adolfo for lunch” “Let’s just fly back to Da Adolfo”. I do not think a day went by that we did not want to go back just once more for that amazing dish.
I do make a lot of fresh pasta at home and always do an aglio olio base so once this trip is over I am experimenting with pipis. Watch out Da Afolfo!
The small cobbled streets of Positano get more colourful and picturesque as you walk around. There is never a dull corner, even the most simple of walls, in its context, is lovely.
Bye bye Positano, until next time.
It was like Groundhog day as we ended up at Silver Moon for dinner. The beach was not so silent but amusing none the less. There were a group of boys sitting, eating pizza then spent at least 20 minutes throwing stones trying to hit signs in the water.
Last time we were here we saw a girl having the salt and pepper squid and thought we must try that next time, so entrée was decided.
I was not as hungry as I was last time so only had a simple fish fillet with green vegies while Chris yet again had the bolognaise.
Our final day in the Amalfi was a perfect day in our eyes. This part of the trip has been the first spot we could just relax, do absolutely nothing. We would not be missing out on something, fighting cues or catching bus and train to get to one location. Life here was simple, easy, carefree.
Although I do love it here I do also love city life. I miss walking streets full of people, I do love shopping and aimlessly walking around taking in the city. So it wasn’t all sad when we got the transfer to Naples. I was nearly sick as it was without a doubt the windiest road possible, but arriving back in Rome made me feel reenergized and ready for the more.
I’m tired just thinking about it. When you go to Paris there is a list of things you need to do, in no particular order.
Louvre (closed on Tuesdays)
Musee d’Orsay (closed on Mondays)
Sacre Coeur + Montmartre
Arc de Triomphe
Bridge of locks
Four days really ‘is’ enough to do them all, but what is not on that list is rest or taking time to enjoy the holiday. We also need to factor in watching world cup games at night and the early mornings and late nights make for tired people.
We arrived in Paris and already had trouble with the French as we tried to drop off our hire car. What a great experience it was to drive from Barcelona over the border and all the way up to Paris. Yes there were A LOT of tolls, so people in Australia do not complain; we are talking some tolls that were 30 euros each. We also need to mention the 500 euro fee to drive a car over the border and not return it, but when you find out that trains are on strike through France, any amount of money to not have to worry, jump in and go is worth it. When we found the Hertz office we were told that we needed to go to a different one as it was closed. Trying to navigate in the centre of Paris is not easy, especially finding a small ramp with a even smaller Hertz sign on it.
Once done we had to walk with our bags to the hotel, cab would have taken a long time, but in the end, and a few wrong turns, maybe it would have been worth it.
The hotel was in Saint Germain on the South Bank of the Seine. Very central and close to many different monuments. So we dropped our bags then walked down towards the Musee d Orsay along Rue de Rennes, a large shopping street that also had quite a good little bakery on it. Lunch was baguette and nicoise salad. Better than all that we have had so far in France so this is a good sign. We walked walked waked in the heat to the Museum. The lines were not long at all so we were excited that waiting time would be limited. We took a few happy snaps, it was my birthday after all, then walked round to the entrance only to be told that on Monday’s the museum is closed. Shattered as I do prefer this museum to the Louvre we decided we might as well keep walking to the Eiffel Tower. More walking in the heat but once we made it there it was definitely worth it, plus who would complain about a sunny day in Paris where it is normally grey.
We waited in another line to walk up the stairs, for a lot less than we would have had we chosen to go up the lift. 700ish stairs. Our glutes were definitely feeling it.
The view was great but we were hit with another line, the line to take the lift to the 3rd platform. We considered it but were done with lines for today and would give it a miss, perhaps go back another day. So we exited, took a few more shots on the first platform as there is a viewing area made of glass right that looks over the ground and all the little people below. It is a tad scary.
We walked back to the hotel to watch Australia vs Spain (which ended up not being shown anywhere) then go for my birthday dinner, but just before we left Chris kissed me.
This is how I felt!
I found a little bistro nearby with quite good reviews called La Gauloise. It was on such a pleasant street full of bistros, ours however had nice white tablecloths. Finally able to relax and enjoy some wine.
Entrees came out and we were excited as they looked very impressive. I had the octopus and fennel salad, nice and fresh. My octopus was so soft, citrusy and the fennel was done two ways, fresh and sautéed down.
Chris had what I wanted but sigh, I cannot have asparagus and little did we know there was a layer of peas underneath the thick broth, another no no. The theatre of cutting open the egg with a large steak knife makes this dish even better as the creamy orangey yolk streams out and through the dish. Ok I did have food envy!
Mains were even better, if possible. I had the steamed cod served in a copper pan with pippies and potatoes in a white wine sauce. The fish fell apart at the slightest touch, almost as if it was confit. It was the most flavoursome, delicious fish I have ever had, and how much better can it get for my birthday dinner.
Chris had, surprise surprise, a steak, excuse moi, fillet of beef with pepper sauce. We finished the lot, how could we not, it would be a sin to leave such great food on the plate.
Dessert was a must, no candle though. I had the millefeuille with raspberries. The cream was not like boring whipped cream, it was thicker, more custardy and actually had its own flavour. Yippee. OK call me a pig but I did finish the whole thing. I’m allowed, it’s my birthday. I had told Chris we could share the dessert but he was determined to try the Chocolate pudding. Probably not a good idea. It was huge and I don’t know why something so rich would be served with salted caramel ice cream but it was, which made it even richer. Chris did not finish it.
Seriously satisfied we walked back to the hotel via the Eiffel Tower and just in time to see the light show. Very pretty, maybe not the most impressive thing I’ve seen, but a nice change of location for my birthday.
So Tuesday we DID go back to Musee d’Orsay. On the way we were certain we could find a nice boulangerie for breakfast. Wrong. We walked, and walked, and walked. I’m certain we walked along every single street without a boulangerie in St Germain. By now we were hungry, tired and hot and ended up at a café that we paid the tourist tax in as it was just across from the museum. We did not care. After sustenance we stood in line for 1 hour for the museum. It would not have made that much difference if we booked online as that line was long too, probably half an hour wait. You can see how thrilled we were with the lines.
Inside was so cool and air conditioned ahhhhhhhhh. Floor by floor we went, seeing impressionist after impressionists. Fabulous artwork. We got to the Van Gogh section and it was under renovation so all of his works plus more had been moved to a temporary exhibition downstairs which had another line.
We were sick of lines and decided to do that last after we had had lunch upstairs. The upstairs wing is my favourite with the likes of Monet, Manet, Degas, Renior, Cezanne and there should have been some Van Gogh too, but what I also like is the café in one of the clocks of the façade. I was so excited when we got the table next to the clock, the same table I had 5 years earlier when I visited, and I think the best table there as you can get photos with the clock, which actually turned out more like silhouettes.
We had energy now to wait in line. The estimate was 20 minutes but it ended up being 25. Totally worth it. The exhibition was from the point of view of another artist who wrote an essay about Van Gogh and how he could not have been insane like many thought. It gave an artists point of view on how people at the time should have been praising his work but instead just did not understand it. I think everyone would learn a lot from this exhibition, we were so glad we saw it.
So four hours later we were all arted out and walked back to the hotel, past the shops. Chris actually gave me free time to go shopping. YAY. The only problem was that the sales were starting the day after so I did not buy anything, what was the point, it was all full price still, I returned empty handed.
We rested before the dinner I have been looking forward to for a long time. Chez l’ami Jean. I wished we could have had this for my birthday but it was closed on Mondays. My stomach was playing up a bit from a quiche I had for breakfast so I was not terribly hungry, a point I would overlook for dinner as I knew the food would be great.
We arrived, the most dressed up two people there, me in a short black dress, and Chris suited up. Other diners were in t-shirts and shorts as it is a simple bistro. From looking at it yes, but the food is anything but simple. As it is so popular tables of two are not common so we were seated in a long row of tables along a wall which were moved around like tetris to let the diners sitting along the banquette out. Not quite the experience I was looking for sitting right up next to different group, but it is what it is.
So the menu was all in French and we were told we would get help to understand it. Nope, it was so busy that that wasn’t the case so we just decided to do the ‘Trust the chef” menu which means that the chef would just bring out whatever he felt like. We were then asked if there were any intolerances. All I said was onions, not gluten as I can handle that when absolutely necessary. The waiter looked worried. He went to ask the chef and came back saying it was not possible. I then pleaded and said if it was only small bits in stock its ok, but not fresh onion or chunks in dishes. He went back and again said that the chef refused to give me this menu as there would be onion and basically it was just no. I was deflated. The menu I had had 5 years ago, by myself, that was the highlight of France and something embedded in my mind was suddenly taken away from me. I even thought what was the point then? The waiter said that Chris was welcome to have this menu and I was to choose off the a la carte, which was still in French. So after very brief descriptions I ordered an entrée and main reluctantly.
I think they felt sorry for me as they brought out two bowls both with little ‘croutons’ of peas, bacon, parmesan ready for the holy grail of soups, their Parmesan soup. It was poured and I couldn’t wait but started slurping that up straight away. It is the best soup you will try, Chris agreed and he is not a soup person.
Next my entrée came out. Tuna tartare with strawberry, foie gras, beetroot and white truffle. I have seen the combination of foie gras and berries at a few places now and it is always fabulous, this did not disappoint. The creamy soft foie gras was balanced with the fresh tuna and sweet fruit. Perfect. I gulped that up although I was admittedly getting full, my stomach was still recovering from the morning and giving me a hard time about it over dinner.
As I ate two different tables came in all ordering the “trust the chef”. Chris’ next dish was taking a long time so we thought that the chef was waiting for them to catch up so he could serve 6 at one, makes sense. As my dish was being cleared his was being served. Squid with cucumber and radish in a soy sauce. Fresh and nice he commented.
I was then served main. Roast chicken with olive, green beans and you guessed it, more foie gras. I don’t think I could handle more. The chicken was so moist and soft and with the foie gras did taste divine, not like any chicken I could ever cook.
Next Chris and the other 5 next to us were all served crispy skin salmon with more Asian cucumber;
followed by poached tuna with miso and sesame;
next was sole (I think) with rosemary and orange burnt/infused on top and roasted pepper puree;
another fish we cannot remember with the parmesan soup ‘foam’;
and then finally some meat.
The problem was Chris was struggling by this stage to eat more, forcing more and more and more. The duck was roasted with crispy skin and served with shrooms and mash. It was rich, it was decadent, it was a memorable duck, what was consumed anyways. Toilet breaks were becoming more frequent as we tried to finish, knowing that dessert is still to come, and yes dessert was coming. We were given the option to have the cheese course first, which we opted out of, but looked on in disbelief as others nodded away. It was a hard cheese sliced thin served with fruit compote. I think we were cheesed out after Biarritz. Dessert was then served but was really two desserts in one. The famous rice pudding with salted caramel cream and praline of nuts, but also shot glasses of vanilla and chocolate milkshake and then a fruit and custard bowl.
A few spoonfuls and that was it. The towels were thrown in. Officially cannot consume anymore. We left and I was glad that Chris was overwhelmed thinking about the meal he just had, the experience I wanted to give him. They tried their hardest to give me the same but this time round things were different, that is what intolerances do to you, you have to adapt and sometimes are left without, but it is better than being sick so at least I had what I could.
It was probably a good thing that Day 3 we booked a walking tour, we definitely needed to burn off some of that dinner. Eeeek run run run we were late. We tried to catch the metro only a few stops to St Micheal but we could not even buy a ticket. Stupid French ticket machines, so we ran there and arrived 10 minutes late and worried we would miss out. PHEW they were still there taking group shots, probably getting all the housekeeping. We were allocated a group and off we went. First past the police headquarters on the small island in the middle of the Seine where Paris originated then past the ‘New Bridge’ with funny faces carved in stone displayed along it which the story goes the King at the time got his artist to sketch guests’ faces at the end of a huge party he threw and then they started popping up on the bridge.
We then crossed over the bridge of love/locks which interestingly had a panel of the bridge fall off the week before as the locks are so heavy the handrails cannot cope, hence they are continually being cut off.
The Louvre forecourt was the last stop before lunch which Chris and I were hanging for since we did not have time to grab breakfast that morning in the state of rush we were.
Fed and coffee’d we then walked through the Tuileries Gardens and up to the bottom of the Champs Elysees where the Obelisk from Egypt was, one of Napoleon’s accomplishments. The gold pyramid at the top however is not original and was the finishing touch by Yves Saint Laurent.
The tour was over but we were just getting started. I could see a street of shops, on sale I might add, but what Chris saw was the Arc de Triomphe to visit. As we walked up the Champs Elysees I kept having to remind myself, as we passed shop by shop, that I am on a honeymoon, more commonly known as time to spend with new husband, not time to run away from husband and spend all his money. So walk we did, t o the top, under and up onto the ‘round a bout’ where the Arc de Triomphe stands.
We saw the Unknown Solider grave and the Eternal flame. We did not wait to get up on top of the Arc, it also was another 9 euro entry fee and a view we felt we did not need after being up the Eiffel Tower just days before.
Back on the other side we just watched. Apparently there is a car accident every 15 minutes here as there are no lanes its each for themselves. We would definitely not drive in Paris after watching this.
Our walk back down the Champ Elysees was halted when Chris said he was hungry, a quick stop at Maccas for a “Royal with Cheese” or in Aussie talk “a quarter pounder”. The problem was that this must be the busiest McDonalds in Paris. Chris waited in line for 30 minutes just to order! He consumed in 5 minutes and then we left. Although there was some ‘free time’ I ended up with one jumper and Chris waked out of GAP with bags galore. Good for him I thought, the more he buys the more I am allowed to buy later 😛
We walked back quickly to get ready as we had tickets to the Moulin Rouge that night. What to do for dinner, time was running out? We ended up stopping at the corner bar/café for a meal. I ordered salmon in a butter sauce with sautéed potatoes and Chris had a steak. They were terrible! My sautéed potatoes were just fries and Chris’ steak was overcooked and dry. No time to find a better meal, we ate what we could and got ready. By now we were running a tad late so caught a cab and thankfully made it in time with 5 minutes to spare.
Unfortunately we don’t have photos from inside as they are not allowed but it was spectacular. So much glitz, glamour and variety of dances and scenes. It’s almost unbelievable so much can take place in two hours.
After the show we considered watching more world cup at a local bar but realised it was on a free to air channel and could watch it in comfort from our hotel room. Yippee (I could fall asleep before the end).
Day 4 we were up early to visit the Louvre. Our tour guide the day before had told us about a secret entrance. We were so happy just thinking about the lines we did not have to stand in. So we casually had our breakfast, no rush as we are skipping the lines, then walked to the secret entrance. Yes we did find it, yes it was another was in but no we did not pre buy our tickets. Back in line for us. Angry and not looking forward to lines in the heat we walked back to the pyramid to stand in the security check line.
Someone was watching over us as it was moving very quickly and it only took up 20 minutes to get down and the ticket line was minimal. I would liken our entrance into the Louvre, along with many others, like the scene in Rat Race where the race starts and Mr Bean says “It’s a race!”. Who can walk to Mona Lisa the fastest, dodging oncoming traffic. Do not get distracted walk walk walk. Everyone was heading in that direction so it was no surprise that when we got to Mona the crown around the barrier was large. Chris did eventually get to the front to view ‘him’, I waited from the side which was actually a better view. After Mona we saw Venus de Milo then spent a few hours in the Ancient Egyptian wing. I was desperately needed to sit down and consume some coffee by this stage, it was midday. We walked through a few more areas on our way to one of the café’s inside. I was done with Louvre art, it is not my style so I decided to stay at the café then visit the gift shops while Chris saw some more.
Lunch at our favourite chain of bakeries, Erik Kayser, then more walking to Notre Dame then Sacre Coeur. Notre Dame was free to visit but by this stage we are just over lines and waiting in the sun. I had such a different experience 5 years ago as it was raining every day and lines were very short.
So we saw the front but for me I think the back of Notre Dame is much more interesting and beautiful with the gargoyles and huge buttresses holding the church up.
It also has a nice park at the back with my favourite French tree. I don’t know what it is but I love how full they are, the colours of the leaves and the contrast to the white sand they always stand on. The only thing that would make this photo more beautiful would be if it was raining.
Tick tick. Only one more thing on our list and with only 6 hours left in our last day we made it with time to spare. A metro ride to Sacre Coeur however we got on the metro at the largest station, Chatelet – Les Halles, and had to walk through what felt like never ending tunnels, probably all the way there, well close. We did make it to Montmartre the suburb that Sacre Coeur is in and walked all the way up those stairs to see the view.
Many people were relaxing on the stairs or grass taking in all in and yes those men at the bottom were still tying string around girls wrists, why you would fall for that I do not know. I should mention that we also had a crepe up here but it was mediocre so that is all I will say. Tick though.
Tired and in need of rest we made our way back to St Germain for our last night. I looked up good bistros in walking distance and we set off, determined not to end up at the corner bar for terrible food again. We found the bistro and the owner came out, shook our hand then said he was full. If you could hear disappointment then as we walked off it your ears would be ringing. It looked so cute, so promising and now we had to find a plan b. Walking the streets when you are hungry is not a good situation to be in as you need to remember what you want, good food, not cheap bar food. We ended up a block away from our hotel and had a look at a restaurant we did notice on the walk up to disappointmentville. It was Russian, a first for both of us, and the menu looked good so we sat down. Chris ordered Chicken Kiev which came with rice and mushrooms and I had tuna and scallop tartare on blinis.
Both were fantastic and very tasty, just what we needed. It might not have been the perfect send off from Paris but it did us just fine.
To sum up Paris I think the past 4 days were full of tourist lists, sight seeing and must do’s. At least now I can say I had my birthday in Paris where my new husband and I kissed in front of the Eiffel Tower after a beautiful dinner (a bit corny I know). I can also say that we did a road trip across Europe. From Barcelona up the west coast of France, to Nantes to visit our friend Francine and into Paris. 1760km later and many funny memories had. I probably would not rush back to Paris or France for that matter. Beautiful and lovely as it is I don’t feel drawn there as much as I do to Italy which I am in love with……with that said, Bon Voyage and take me to Rome!
Our drive from San Sebastian was easy, not toll free unfortunately but beautiful. the one thing we noticed was how quickly the scenery changes to ‘typical French countryside’ or what I would expect in French movies.. As we drove towards the boast there is no way you could miss the hotel. It has large black gates surrounding its grounds, embellished facades and multiple entrances of the tiniest streets imaginable.
The Hotel du Palais is an old palace/summer house built in 1855 by Emperor Napolean III for his wife Empress Eugenie who loved to visit Biarritz. Today it is just as large, just as grand and makes every guest feel what it might be like to be a royal, in our case two days worth.
We parked our ‘grand’ Peugeot and walked to reception passing Aston Martins, Mercedes, Audis and Maseratis. The bell boys quickly ran to us to take our bags. The receptionist who took care of us then escorted us to our room advising us that there were fresh strawberries, mineral water and a small gift for us.
WOW. The view out of our bedroom was spectacular, blue blue blue as far as the eye can see. 180 degrees worth of ocean. Next door our own ‘walk in robe’ had another view of the sea. The bathroom had so many toiletries including mini Hermes colognes. Spoilt much? Wait there is more. The strawberries sitting on a little table were as red as you could ever wish and tasted like none I have ever had. You cannot get flavour like this in Sydney, no way. We had a personalised note wishing us a great stay and the gift was another Hermes cologne for us. I was in another world for a moment until Chris said to look at the TV. It had on the screen “Welcome Patricia and Chris”. Everything is so personalised, so perfect, so luxurious.
Well we knew there was an indoor pool and spa but the weather was fantastic so we quickly changed and hit the outdoor pool overlooking the ocean. We sat down at two deck chairs but were asked to get up for a moment while the pool attendant fitted them with cushions and clean towels for us. Sure, why not! We relaxed and soaked up the suns rays with some drinks in tow. This would have to be one of the most relaxing afternoons we have had. Chris was getting peckish so ordered a Club sandwich. Well we knew this was a very exclusive hotel but as we had pre paid everything we forgot about the prices. So at the Hotel du Palais a club sandwich will set you back 39euros….but then it was served. So we should not have expected anything less. More than enough for two people it was a very tasty club sandwich if I do say so myself after sealing a quarter (to taste).
A few hours in the sun was enough today. We retired in the room before our Michelin starred dinner at 8:30pm. The dinner was served in the main dining room which was a much better view than the side Michelin dining room. We were happy with this and thought as a weeknight that there may not be enough people to open up that dining room.
The Menu for the evening was already placed on our table, it looked good. Bread was served and I was happy when two large and warm gluten free bread rolls were placed by my side. Two butters accompanied – salted and carrot (an odd flavour). An appetizer was served for Chris parmesan pastry with jamon wrapped around, I received a plate of jamon, but French jamon which was cut thick and did not have the oiliness that the Spanish style required. We then were both served another appetiser of Ratatouille with bacon cream which we looked at in disbelief as it was white, then we tried it. Spectacular. What a great mix of flavours and light at the same time. Our excitement was growing!
Entrée – Duck foie gras terrine with sangria jelly and poached peaches. Rich, creamy, delectable especially when paired with the jelly. A very large portion however so we tried but had to hold off finishing this one as there were many more courses to come.
Main – Calf sweetbread fried in half salted butter coated in ginger and coriander and served with vegetables and sesame. An Asian flavour which everyone knows I am not normally a fan of, and sweetbreads, who isn’t scared when that word is on the menu. Surprisingly they were soft and the fat had a sweet creamy flavour which was cut back with the herbs and strong flavours in the sauce. A very enjoyable dish and something I would expect only the best chefs to be able to cook perfectly.
Now for the cheese trolley. The waiter was explaining the cheeses to us, some I were familiar with, a lot not though, but I did tell him I was adventurous and not scared of smelly. He went for gold and put the most smelly cheeses they had. Chris on the other hand described himself as ‘not as adventurous as her’. So he had some local hard cheeses and a creamy soft style. Well when I said I like smelly what I mean is that I like smelly in Australia, pasteurised, probably flavoursome smelly. Smelly in France is really like “I need to go to the other side of the room” smelly and not just in smell the flavours were unimaginably strong in a not so good way. I was not prepared for that and knew I had to ask more carefully tomorrow.
To say we had room for dessert would be correct but the dessert was not a flavour we normally like. Apricot.
Dessert – Whole roasted apricot, Madagascar vanilla and almond
Like the strawberries in our room these apricots were like apricot concentrate if there was ever a pure one made. I think our taste buds were done for the night. Strong after strong, rich after rich. I think a plain piece of bread would have cut it for dessert at that point as we just could not handle this much in one go.
Oh wow look at the time. 11pm and we are the last ones in the restaurant, everyone is now in the bar listening to the live pianist.
We decided to have some tea to help digest and were moved into the bar. Food was not over yet as we still had petit fours to go. How silly of me, missing a course in a French dinner, and before you ask, yes we did have sorbet to cleanse our palettes after cheese.
I was extremely tired as we had one glass for each course, plus another for some of the appetizers, add that to food coma and my body was telling me I just needed to sleep. The pianist was fantastic buy my body was giving in and I nearly fell asleep at our table. Up to bed we went ready for a nice sleep in tomorrow.
Well sleep in is exactly what we did. We closed the double windows so there would not be any light but still a little sound of the water crashing. It was such a relaxing sound and perfect to wake up to. Breakfast was the largest buffet we had ever seen. I’m talking cereals, pastries, breads, cheese trolley, small goods, salad, salmon, fresh fruits, eggs, bacon. Too much to enjoy especially after the dinner we had the night before.
After breakfast the sun was not out so we decided to give the indoor pool a try, it would be a sin not to. Empty was a good start, Jacuzzi at the end even better. Isn’t it funny that even though an indoor pool is heated and quite warm you still get cold as the air is normally even warmer. I had to spend most of my time in the Jacuzzi. We then gave the saunas and steam rooms a go. Boys in the Boys rooms but only of an afternoon between 4-6 are woman allowed to mix in that room. Shame it was only the morning.
Hot and steamy and nice and chloriney we went up to shower and I could not believe that I was hungry. Woot woot we can enjoy lunch outside at the restaurant, why not.
I had to try the steak tartare, surely at a place like this it should be one of the best. Chris ordered steak as always which was served with béarnaise sauce. Mmmmmmm both were fantastic and we weren’t shy to show it, finishing both plates and most of the chips. I thought I vowed after south America not to eat as much fried food? It’s not my fault everywhere in Spain and France add chips with meals. Chris was certain I wanted dessert and made sure he told the waiter that. This is his favourite trick you see, make the waiter believe I am a fatty and the only one who really wants to order dessert. Well he is the one who enjoyed most of our ice cream bowl. Vanilla, chocolate and coffee with mini meringues.
Why did we order dessert I am so full, and we have another big dinner in 6 hours. We need a walk! So we walked to the end of the public beach and back, not far but enough to make ourselves feel better then laid by the pool for the rest of the afternoon.
I was not hungry by the time dinner came round, but knew I had to soldier on and put that little note aside. Well once we saw the menu it was definitely not important. The menu looked incredible and so much better than the previous nights, well once our waiter told us what it said as they forgot to translate into English for us.
Again Chris had the parmesan pastry with jamon, I got a plate of jamon and rockmelon. Nice but I am not the biggest fan of rockmelon. We were also served the Ratatouille with bacon cream. Ok we finished that but only because it was so good.
Entrée – Blue Crab with gazpacho of confit tomato and citrus with tomato sorbet and olive oil.
Wow. The. Colours. Speak. For. Themselves. If you got this would you not be impressed? It was one of the most impressive seafood dishes we have had and refreshing was the best way to start the meal as you know you can eat and enjoy more. At this stage I am feeling good!
Main – Roasted pigeon with eggplant, foie gras pate, reduction of port, oranges and carrots.
I have only ever had pigeon once in a dish like this and it was terrible. What better place to try it than this. Succulent meat, soft and gamey almost with the slightly sticky port sauce. I suppose they have treated the meat almost like venison. I did not have the foie gras pate on my eggplant as it had onions in it so my dish was great and not as rich as what Chris got. Perhaps the one time my intolerance has benefitted me. Luckily the meals were coming out a lot faster this evening so we had less time to get full in between courses, plus we had a lovely sunset beaming into our window. It was like the perfect last night for us.
So cheesewise I stuck with what I know, goats cheese and my favourite French hard Ossau Iraty. Chris also got more hards and Camembert which we ordered another piece of as it was that good. Being full is for wimps we kept telling ourselves and we battles on.
Sorbet to cleanse the palate before dessert, of course.
Dessert – Chris had a raspberry cream tart and strawberries while I had the most beautiful dessert of fresh fruits and strawberry sorbet. Again mine was better if only for the sorbet which was out of this world. Lemon juice just adds so much to food.
So it was only 10:30pm at this stage after we spent time enjoying some more chit chat then we went to the bar, which was deserted, to enjoy the pianist. We requested many songs including Let it Be, Love me Tender and Over the Rainbow to name a few, which the pianist played at the drop of a hat, no prep, it was mesmerizing and a nice relaxing end to a night of extravagance, and with a view.
As I said to Chris the next morning as I struggled to eat anything at breakfast, “It is so beautiful here and I love it but I could not survive another night of food.” And with that we said goodbye to the Hotel du Palais. Next time we might enjoy the hotel without the gastronomic package and order a la carte, but there will be a next time.
We left bright and early from dodgy Granollers to set of on our way across Spain to San Sebastian. For all of you who are thinking “why would you drive across Spain instead of catch fast trains?” it is because all trains go through Madrid and not from Barcelona to San Sebastian. We would actually be adding time if we did it that way rather than attempt to drive the 550+km ourselves. Plus who doesn’t love a road trip?
Well our car which we have names Rufus, a large Peugeot, which is not manual but automatic with tiptronic, took a while to get used to. It also took a while to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road as we were forever veering into the next lane, but also speeds of at least 130km/hr for hour long stretches of straight road. I would say after 3 hours between us as we were both used to the car and the drive. We pushed ahead only stopping an hour out of San Sebastian for lunch in Pamplona. We did not explore the city as we were keen to get to our destination, but it we did enjoy a good burger (not a hamburgesa).
We arrived at our hotel early afternoon and luckily found street parking before we parked in the hotel car park. Our hotel, Astoria7 has a movie theme throughout and each room is assigned a movie star. We had Richard Perkins, the bad guy from Psycho.
After we dropped our bags then went for a stroll down to the water and through the bustling streets full of bars. Our hotel was a 20 minutes walk from the water, a good thing since we had been enjoying a lot of food and wine each day. The sunset was beautiful and makes me believe all the good things that are said about this town.
I again looked up our second best friend, Trip Advisor for some restaurant recommendations and found a small place called La Cepa. Every restaurant we passed looked fantastic but we held out and looked for the prized one. We found it and again nabbed the last free table. What is it with us and free tables? After 20 minutes we could not see the bar that is how many people had filled in standing at the bar.
Our table was odd, like an showcase of nuts and seeds as the table was made of perspex or glass with little pockets full of different varieties.
Ordering was easy. I wanted something fresh so the crab salad was right up my alley, especially after my stomach rejected the slow roasted lamb the night before. Chris ordered steak again. It turned out to be cooked extremely well, a blessing since the Granollers version of medium was 100% rare.
We gobbled up everything on our plates then contemplated the mandarin sorbet. Yes. No. Yes. Maybe? No. We gave it a miss and went on to explore the town more. On the way back though I had to stop in for a cone of choc mint.
Day 2 was cool in the morning so we decided not to hit up the beach. If we have learnt anything about Europe so far is that whatever the morning is, forget about it, by midday it will be hot. It was soo hot. That was ok for me as I just took cover in the air-conditioned 4 level Zara, and I might have bought a few things too. It is not my fault Chris that you wanted to wait outside. We then decided to split so Chris could go off and be cool somewhere else, a bar probably. I went back to Zara as there were more floors to hit up. By the time we met back up at 4pm it was sweltering. We considered walking 20 minutes back to our hotel and then back with swimming costumes, but by then it the wind, which has started, would have picked up, so we gave it a miss.
On the way home we stopped at a grocery store and bought some cheese, jamon iberico, bread and wine and had a picnic whilst watching more world cup (Brazil was playing). As the hotel had a movie theme they did in fact have a movie screen in the dining room which they were projecting games onto. What could be better?
Up early the next day to drive to Biarritz.
I feel like calling it the City of Angels, maybe because there is so much Gaudi and his spell is cast over the whole city? If there was no Gaudi would as many people visit Barcelona as they do today? It does have nice beaches, great food and an interesting history, but so many European cities do. What makes it so different? Gaudi……this coming from an Architect so maybe I am biased.
We arrived to Barcelona on a hot Summer’s day, our hotel located in the Gothic area and ‘Old Town’ near the port.The hotel seemed luxurious as it had air conditioning, something our friends in Valencia were lacking, and knew a good night sleep was awaiting us that evening. It was still early though, plenty of time to explore. First the roof top bar overlooking Barcelona.
We could see Gaudi’s mark on the city from way up here. Next walking through the small back streets of this gothic area seemed like a maze. Tall buildings seemed to encompass us with only small flickers of sun making it through the narrow distance between them.
Hunger hits. Not a problem, there are so many little bars that sell pinxtos small appetizer/tapas foods served on bread. So we stoped and loaded our plates.
It seems to be a continual occurrence that whatever place we decide to eat at suddenly gets extremely busy after we arrive. Needless to say that paying our bill was a struggle. Others came in, ate and then also waited to pay, I would say 30 minutes is a conservative estimate. We did finally make it out of there during daylight though and decided to walk to the beach. Our map actually cut off before it hit the water so we thought keep walking that way and we should reach it. WRONG. What we reached was an exact copy, or should I say that Darling Harbour is an exact copy of this port. Aquarium, Imax, Shopping mall, Food vendors, little trains. Tourist town to the max. We needed to get out of there quick smart.
So we did a loop, did not see any beach and walked back to the small alleys to get lost some more before finally making it t the hotel, tired, hot and wanting showers.
I looked up restaurants for that evening and we decided on a bar called “Bar del Pla”. Remember it. Write it down somewhere and go. Go early or be prepared to wait. We went at around 8pm (on a weeknight) and nabbed the last table available, again. People walked in and then back out the front door disappointed, a good sign that we are in a good place.
First up are tomato bread and roast chicken croquettes. Ok. BEST CROQUETTES IN SPAIN. You saw it here first. BBQ chicken, roasted, oven, cooked flavours are all here inside creamy, crunchy goodness that is a croquette. No chicken chunks, the whole filling is chicken mixture and the crumb is evenly cooked, not soggy, not falling apart. Perfection. Smiles all round. Tomato bread next. Wow. The vibrant red was not lying when that flavour hit our tongues. This is what a real tomato tastes like, but better as it is mixed with extra virgin olive oil and crusty bread. What could be a better combination. Again, you saw it here. BEST PAN CON TOMATE.
We are living it up tonight. The next two dishes we had to take recommendations from the helpful staff. Smashed eggs with Chorizo is like fried eggs smashed but they must be cooked over a low heat as they are soft and have no crispy sides at all. The chorizo was super super strong and did need the eggs to balance the flavour hit. Together smeared on bread. Heaven.
Last savory dish the scallops with green sauce and pine nuts. Scallops are just a hard ingredient to work with. They over cook at the blink of an eye, cool down rapidly and can taste bland if not cooked well. These chefs know how to cook up some scallop. These gigantic mummas were soft as butter and melted in our mouths. The dill sauce just enhanced the creaminess of the scallops, which were hot I might add.
Ahhhh with perfection comes food comas, naturally. Did I mention we had ‘a refreshing salad’ too? It didn’t matter as Chris HAD to order dessert. I just HAD to eat some too. Gelato. Simplest dish of the night. Chocolate, vanilla and Lemon and mint sorbet. They were all incredible but the lemon mint was so interesting and like a cocktail in our gelato. Refreshing in more ways than one and when mixed with vanilla brought back childhood memories of summertime spiders.
Chris can we come back tomorrow? He said yes. It was like a marriage that should last forever. Us and Bar del Pla.
Day 2 started off with a walking tour of Gaudi. The first building we visited was Casa Batllo in the ‘ritzy’ part of town. No teeny tiny alleys but instead wide roads where light is only hidden by trees and shops galore, especially the further away from the Port you get. Near Casa Batllo the road is boasting the likes of Zegna, Burberry and Jimmy Choo.
The beauty and uniqueness of this monument adds colour and breaks up the rigidity and repetition that the street possesses. Gaudi was the first to embrace the natural forms in more than just a handrail and ornaments.
The detail inside and leaves me in awe and wanting to replicate these mosaics in my house, but no time to dwell on that we are ushered onto the next building, Casa Mila. Unfortunately this one was under repair and the whole façade was boarded up. Finally, the last building on our tour, the grand Sagrada Familia.
What a structure it was. Unfortunately it is also under heavy construction which is forecast to be finished in approximately 15 years. We were so glad that we had a local guide to tell us all about the differing facades. Firstly the façade that was finished just after Gaudi’s death and one that only he had designed. It is the passion façade which is dedicated to Jesus, Mary and Joseph from the Angels telling Mary of her pregnancy to the birth of Jesus in many different scenes. The sculptures are all very organic with flowers and leaves an integral part of every scene. The reason for this is that in the time of Gaudi people thought that with the fast paced life post WWII that people will loose nature and forget what it was like, and this is why it was integrated into the architecture to remind us what it was like.
The second façade is the passion façade and symbolizing lead up and death of Jesus from soliders coming to arrest him, then Jesus carrying the crucifix to him being crucified. Although Gaudi did leave detailed information of what each scene should have, it was the interpretation of a new sculptor who had the job to finish this façade. The sculptures are much more rigid with their hard edges and are lacking life. Although it is very cold it is also beautiful.
We decided to save the interior tour to another day when our stomachs weren’t commanding so much from us. Off we went walking the few kilometers back to the old town and to the food markets. After Madrid we were inspired to try as many in Spain as possible. The Mercado de Santa Caterina was a very different experience to that in Spain. Although it is a building I have studied in Architecture classes, seen many photos of due to its interesting roof, it is not what we expected. A market for the people is the best was I can put it. Fresh seafood, meat, vegetables and fruit. No cafes, tables, bars to get some take away food or sit down at for a glass of wine. There was one or two nice restaurants on the edge of the markets but not cheap options at all. We ended up at a simple café just out of the markets for a sandwich and salad. Lunch and the afternoon were quite non eventful other than some shopping and more wine at a wine bar.
Day 3 was the day we had booked in a wedding photo shoot through the streets of Barcelona and also another of Gaudi’s amazing site, Park Guell. Our morning was simple hitting up our local coffee joint which is probably the only boutique roaster in Barcelona and was like finding gold. No longer did we have to worry about having bad coffee every day, now we could go and order our Americano and Cortado (long black and piccolo) and enjoy…We then stood in line to see the Picasso Museum which thankfully is in the Gothic area so we did not need to walk far. If you go please do me a favour and get the Audio Tour, you learn so much more about Picasso and also his artworks which adds to the appreciation of the tour. Lunch was a simple sandwhich and salad again, we were saving room for a nice dinner at Bar Mut.
So while I got hair and make up done for the shoot Chris went off for some beer, wine, CROQUETTES at Bar Del Pla and a Vodka, but he came back empty handed with nothing for me.
The photo shoot was great, hot but great. Our photographer, Gabby from Enroute Photography was helpful and told us exactly what to do, and what not to do! After nearly two hours in the gothic area we headed up to Park Guell where ‘the shot’ I wanted was waiting. Park Guell reminds me of Gaudi meets Willi Wonka as the park looks like it has edible gingerbread houses and candy everywhere. People had started to clear out as we were there right before it closed, waiting for that sunset shot. Well here are some of the shots we got. Worth it? I think so.
After the shoot we got back to the hotel and stripped just to cool down, but not for long, redress in more comfortable clothes for dinner. Bar Mut is not a restaurant you can find a lot of information on, its website only has a weird 25 minute long video which is more about the characters and their stories than the food. We got there and were sat up at the bar.
The menu was a board which were hard to decipher as it was in Catalan and not Castellano, which is more familiar to Chris and I. We were told some specials but just let the waiter recommend as we really did not know where to start. First came out croquettes which we were sure were to be pulpo but actually tasted plain. Definitely not pulpo in there, just crispy goodness and creamy filling. Well enjoyable nonetheless but nowhere near Bar del Pla.
Next was carpaccio of egg or a very runny yolky thin omelette with prawns and crispy noodles. YUM. We were instructed to mix it all together so it would be a plate full of crunchy, creamy seafood goodness. There was no point plating it up between us, I ate straight off the plate.
Fullness was kicking in right here, mind you I did eat the majority of that egg dish. I just love eggs! We had a break before our whole fish was displayed to us, cooked in a copper dish, prior to being filleted. It was enormous. The fish was emitting aromas of white wine, butter, herbs and garlic and those potatoes might just looked like cooked potatoes but they had soaked up all of those delicious juices.We ate and ate and ate until we could ‘ate’ no more. This was one of those times where you have used up your dessert stomach for mains and therefore dessert was not an option.
We found it incredible that large tables were coming in to dine at 11:30pm, but in Europe this is so normal. I will admit that when their main came out, the Chateaubriand we had serious food envy as we had not had a good steak in quite a while and wish we had ordered the meat. C’est la vie. We were full, satisfied and ready for a nice long sleep.
Day 4 we went for a long long walk. This walk started with us looking for breakfast, since we slept in and missed the hotel buffet. I remembered seeing a nice bakery but when we walked and walked and walked and still could not find it we gave in and just sat down at any regular bar for ‘brunch’ as it was now midday. I watched the waiter make us coffee. My long black was over extracted then the button was pressed for another extraction on with the same coffee. I was cringing everytime I glanced that way and wished we were back at the boutique roaster. To my complete surprise it was not bitter and it was drinkable but probably knowing how it was done made me not enjoy it.
We decided to find the beach so at least we could say we saw it. If we thought it was hot on our wedding shoot this was another level of heat. We walked and walked trying to hide in the shade of trees, which in the central gardens were not plenty.
We also could not exit the gardens how we had hoped as the Zoo blocked us out so we walked around the zoo then the Parliament blocked us out and geez look where we ended up, right back where we entered, wasting time and energy. So we walked AROUND the gardens now and looked out for public transport to the beach. Nothing, so we walked a bit further. We were ecstatic when we saw the light rail as the light rail in Valencia took us right to the beach so we hoped for a similar situation. Nope. It would take us 200m down the road to the final stop. We ended up walking the rest of the way to the beach. It was a beautiful beach with real sand and not pebbles.
We were kicking ourselves we did not bring our costumes with us. When we set out in the morning we did not know where we would end up. The heat made us think silly things like ‘let’s go in the water in our clothes’. Easy for Chris who had already stripped his shirt off and could easily jump in in his shorts. We walked along the beach back towards the centre until I realized I was getting a shorts tan. AHHH isn’t that something men only get? I had to get in the shade asap. Now we were done with the beach and on our way back but were on the look out for a 95 bus which would go near our hotel. Many buses past us and when the 95 did we ran to the next bus stop only for the bus to leave 3 seconds to early. Nooooooo. We walked back stopping for lunch and coffee then collapsed in our air conditioned hotel room for a quick rest then were up again to go to see the insides of Sagrada Familia which we were booked in for at 5pm. The plan was to do the church then go get dinner and watch the Spain vs Holland game.
Sagrada Familia is an incredible church not only for the sheer size of it but Gaudi’s mind and creation is just brilliance. Every single piece of glass, every column has a meaning and a need. I cannot even try to explain why things were done but here are a few photos which will try to show you the generous that is Gaudi.
When considering where to watch the game that evening we needed a large screen and dinner so we could get a good spot early on in the night in front of the screen. The place I went a few nights before was okay, not great but worth a try. We were definitely early as it was not terribly busy yet. We ordered our meals, both hungry for hamburgers after walking for miles earlier that day. Our hamberguesas came out and were not what we expected. A hamburger patty with two fried eggs and hot chips. Well not quite what we expected but we were hungry and devoured the plates. Well the bar did get packed and then we were glad we did not go to the Irish pub up the road as you could hardly see the screen there were that many people. We were comfortable at our table enjoying wine right in front of the screen.
There is nothing to say except Spain are terrible and the locals were walking out of the Bar at half time. Not quite the experience we wanted watching Spain play in Spain.
Our last night was a let down but we weren’t finishes with Barcelona quite yet.
The next day we went to pick up our hire car we would have for the next 10 days. Today we were driving it to Granollers, only half an hour outside of Barcelona to watch the Moto GP.
Picking up the car was ok, although it was not the car we had booked, it was much larger and also not manual like requested but automatic with the stop start at the traffic lights. The integrated GPS was a bit delayed when in a busy city so it took us at least half an hour to get out of Barcelona city and onto a highway. Once we did the GPS was fine and directing us like it should. Well. Granollers is not a sight for sore eyes. A small town which gets busy once or twice a year for the Moto GP and maybe the F1 too. Our hotel would have been close to the race track but a lot of roads had been closed so that traffic was directed in and out of the race track on only a few roads. We raced to see the qualifiers but as we were walking in after parking we could hear the crown go wild as it had just finished. If roads had not been closed and our GPS not so confused we would have made it. What can you do. We watched the Moto3 qualifiers then walked around to see the merchandise.
So if we thought that getting out of Barcelona was bad, getting out of the race track was probably 20x worse. We were not moving. Our hotel was a 10 minute drive away. It took us an hour to just get on the highway, then another 5 to the hotel. By this time we were hungry so drove straight into the town for dinner. It was 6:30pm at this stage. We went to the main square, found a restaurant and sat down. Unfortunately we were told that dinner does not start until 8pm so we only had the small bar menu to order off. It didn’t look to appetizing when I went up to have a look a the options. I ordered a few things including chorizo, potatoes and tortilla. Chorizo was served in a pool of oil, the potatoes were ok but the tortilla was still raw. We nibbled then went to the bar next door for a wine. The bar also happened to have a tv and world cup games on, so we stayed there all night and had simple snacks to get us by. Not a gastronomic experience at all.
Race day we were up early to get a good park and watch warm ups. We were also worried about the traffic getting there. No problem, it took 10 minutes and we got a good park as the car park was not full yet. The effects of this wouldn’t hit us until later in the afternoon.
The Moto GP however was full of excitement. Valentino Rossi lead for the first half then Marquez came to first and Pedrosa in second. After this is was like musical chairs and they kept changing but the local Marc Marquez won in his home town and the crown went wild. We did not stay to listen to the interviews post race as we did not want to be in a long line driving home.
Well I think it was inevitable. We were at the back of the car park and actually did not even leave the car park for at least an hour. In hindsight we should have done the shifty like everyone else and push in on the side. The whole drive took us an hour and a half to get out and into town. A lot of people were driving back to Barcelona so we were happy we were going back into the small town.
We were experienced today so went for a pre dinner drink and waited until a nice restaurant opened at 8:30pm. Finally we had a proper dinner of steak and slow cooked lamb and we enjoyed every bite. Unfortunately my stomach did not appreciate the sudden change to super rich food and I was not feeling too well that night!
Thankfully the next morning I was better ahead of our 5hr drive to Saint Sebastian……but that is another story.
Valencia was hot when we arrived, hot at night and hot when we left, perfect weather for beaching and post dinner strolls. We got off the Train from Madrid, map in tow, and walked up this corner, around that one. Stop. Where are we? Back to that corner. Wow half an hour has passed in this heat. Oh we are there! Ok this is the street. I can see the hotel! Finalllllly. Of course we arrived hungry so after dropping our bags we went on the search for food. We really did not want to walk further than a block, lucky it was a big block, and after walking around ¾ of it we found a bakery. It had a huge selection of pastries, emapanadas, sandwiches, pizzas, sweets and Coffee! We had a jamon y queso sandwich each and suddenly felt so satisfied. Simple and delicious. Now that we could think we had to plan for dinner. So back to the hotel to do a little research and not long after I found what I thought would be the perfect restaurant. It looked funky, new and ‘gastronomic’ but not pretentious and posh. Dressed up and starving again we set off with the help of our dear friend, google maps. It was not a leisurely walk as one might think. When I am hungry I am on a mission and basically power walked my way to that restaurant, poor Chris trailing behind. I blame my Dad when we were little kids. Can you imagine a 6’4” man with two little kids holding his hand, each as tall as his knee, running just to keep up with him. As I grew my pace slowed but now I have developed a comfortable and fast power walk in addition to a pet hate of slow walkers in the street who block my path. So. Vuelve Carolina. If this restaurant was in Sydney it would have a very good chance of actually staying open. Great central location. Tick. Fresh décor consisting of light timbers, Mini plant wall and contemporary lighting. Tick tick. Bookable. Ding ding ding. Winner. Did I mention the interesting dishware?
The menu is set out to share so we chose 4 dishes to start with so we could suss out the food descriptions. Papeles – Papel & steak. Worth a try……WOW served ON newspaper, paper thin steak with what tasted like a hamburger on top, just deconstructed. Memories of cheeseburgers as a child flooded back without feeling guilty about going to McDonalds. If this is the first dish we are onto a winner!
Next Huevo a baja temperature (eggs cooked over low temperature) that secretly hid roasted shrooms, although you did not need to see that, the flavour permeated through the whole dish, even with the creamy yolk blended through. Ravioli gyoza? Not quite.
A layer of what I could only guess is solidified beef stock was the ‘pastry’ above a ‘san choy bow’ with prawns. Again we were left licking the plate wanting more. We could not leave without trying the Mini Burger Carolina served with fried and wrapped in newspaper. Mini is correct, small enough to fit in even my big mouth, no. How do I attack this?
Like Chris I suppose, open as wide as possible and shove it in. mmmmmmmmmmmmm Juicy meat, pickles, sauce, soft bun. Do we have another burger? We could still eat more but thought we had better try something new. Our one mistake. We did order the sesame chicken cooked in paper, thinking there might be a dipping sauce. No the skewers of chicken were cooked in paper so nice and smokey in flavour but the sesame part was quite boring, not like our journey so far. Sigh.
Hopefully dessert would pick us up. White chocolate cream, mango and passion fruit looked promising and fresh. It was exactly what it sounded like, white chocolate cream in a passionfruit soup with noodles of mango sorbet.
Needless to say we were fighting spoons for the rest of the course trying to get as much as possible. I think being in constant need of walks after dinner will be how we spend our whole honeymoon. Our eyes are bigger than our stomach and the food is too good to say no to. So walk we did tonight through the main square up to the fake Colosseum to watch a random 16km Marathon being held at 11pm on a Saturday night in Valencia.
There were hoards of people lined up the streets cheering on friends and a batucada group drumming away to motivate the runners, some of whom really needed it.We watched for half an hour until the group of runners died down then went back to our hotel and attempt to sleep in the heat.
Our second day in Valencia we were determined to hit up the beach since we had not been seaside for quite some time. Valencia is known for its long and large beaches so it was definitely something we had to tick off the list. A metro and light rail ride later we were there. The beach spanned as far as we could see down the coast and was at least 50m deep till we reached sea from the pavement. Huge is probably an understatement.
We found a spot and tanned for a few hours until our stomach were telling us to stop. All along the beach there were cafes with Menus of the Day. We walked up and down and found one of the cheaper menus to try. Well probably an indication of what was to come, slow service, not so great food. To cheer us up we walked up the beach to find ice cream but settled for a calippo, probably a better option too. To be honest I did buy a maxibon first but after a few bites of the cheap creamy ice cream I had to throw it out and enjoy icey cool lemoney calippo.
We continued walking along and after too much sun went back to shower off . Dinner we decided to wing it and walk around the town to find a little bar. We found a bar in a back street that was full and with not too many English speakers around so we thought it was worth a try. No. Crap croquettes, mini frozen prawns attempting to be garlic prawns and a not so fresh salad. Today was not a good food day, let’s just leave it at that.
The next day we went had booked in to go to the Aquarium which is part of the Culture Park of Valencia. It has a number of buildings and bridges designed by the world famous architect Calatrava. They were magnificent and just incredible to admire.
The scale, the geometry and just concepts were not like anything I have seen before in person. The aquarium had so many little ‘worlds’ including tropical, Mediterranean, Artic, Antartic, Shark, wetlands and a dolphin show. It kicks the Sydney aquarium in the butt.
On the walk back I decided to try and find a hairdresser to get my hair done, try being the key word since it was siesta time. It was not easy as many were closing at 4pm for the afternoon. I feel that Valencia is a lot more relaxed than Madrid and adhere to siesta times. I had told Chris that I would be back by 6pm at the latest. Well I found a hairdresser, waited for an hour, then it took 2hrs for her to do my roots, I was one of 3 clients in the salon. I must admit it was probably the best colour I have had but the fact that I confirmed it would be LESS than 50 euros before I started, then we enjoyed some chit chat where the hairdresser learnt that I was Australian and a little about me gave her the right to charge me 52.50 euros for a simple roots dye. In Sydney I pay $30 for this, so basically she ripped me off, but what can you do? I was not going to start arguing in the little Spanish I know about 20 euros. At least we got a good restaurant recommendation for that evening! Marisqueria los tres Mares. The restaurant specialised in seafood and it was time to try what we had come to Spain to try, paella. A dear friend of mine Panayiota has always told me that she had the best ever lobster paella in Spain, although it was from Barcelona I thought it was worth a try in Valencia. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though entrée first. Garlic prawns? Surely anything could have been better than last night’s attempt. Well the giant king prawns served in a fresh garlic oil with potatoes was 1000% better.
We gulped it up quick smart. Amateur mistake. Had we even noticed the size of the paellas? We were not expecting what came out. A HUGE 50cm diameter paella dish at least with two half shells of lobster resting on top. This was for two. Um how was I supposed to finish that? Simple. It tasted so good with the little squid, prawn, octopus and other seafood pieces, saffron rice and of course crunchy crust that we just had to force ourselves to finish it as it would be a crime to leave any on the plate.
We did try but just could not eat any more. The equivalent of how full we were can be likened to the fullness you have after your grandmother keeps telling you that you have not eaten anything then puts another plate of food in front of you that you feel bad not to eat. That full. Not wanting to disrespect full. Well almost that full, there was room for lemon sorbet to help digestion. That 52.50 euro hairdye just paid for itself with the satisfaction we both had. Needless to say we did a long walk back to the hotel. The next morning we packed up our things ready to catch the train to Barcelona. We had come to know the streets of Valencia much better than when we had arrived. Luckily we did not get lost on the way to the station as we boarded our train as soon as we arrived. Sit down, relax, it’s 3hrs till we reach Barcelona.
Ah Spain, how lovely our first meeting was. I loved so much arriving in sunny Madrid to a nice hotel, H10 in the centre of town with big large windows overlooking the old style apartments across the street.
I was so hungry after getting off the plane though that we needed to feed me straight away. Lucky you had a plethora of bars along our street that we were able to enjoy some tapas and a bottle of wine at 4pm, and OMG what great tapas they were. If the flavours from this first manchego and jamon iberico plate is anything to go by, we will do just fine together.
…..and it was sooo fine!
The rest of our first day we spent walking through the large central park, contemplating whether to hire a row boat in the middle of the lake (although it was now so balmy and almost uncomfortable in the sun).
We decided to find shelter in the streets near our hotel which, I was so happy to discover, were full of shops. No shopping yet I was told. Another thing we discovered was a gluten free bakery. A WHOLE BAKERY dedicated to the gluten intolerant. It was called Celicioso – Like Delicioso and Coeliac (well Spanish spelling). Closed now but definitely a place we were to return the next day.
We rested in the afternoon and ended up napping for 3 hrs due to the jet lag flying from Peru to Spain and the 7hr time difference we had to make up. Dinner was just there to cure our cravings of meat since we had not had much ‘steak’ in Peru. So it was a boring steak place, but we promised ourselves we would be m ore authentic going forward.
What did surprise us though was that Madrid was always buzzing. When we left the restaurant at midnight people were still walking the street, eating, drinking, walking their dogs. It is almost a city that does not sleep. I was falling in love already. I kind of imagine this to be a mini New York if you add lots and lots of European culture and super old buildings, Maybe???
Our first/and last full day in Madrid (we only had a short 2 nights together) we decided to hit up the gluten free bakery first to have coffee and I had a nutella alfajore (shortbread normally with dulce de leche inside but instead nutella). AMAZING, does not crumble at the slightest touch + coffee = a happy Trish. Not wanting to spoil my appetite for the food markets I restrained myself and we left. We walked the streets towards the food markets and as Chris pulled me along I was writing a mental list of shops I wanted to visit.
The food markets are called Mercado de San Miguel and are near the central Plaza. On the way there we stopped at the Museo de Jamon “Museum of Ham”. Wow red red red everywhere. Jamons hanging left, right and centre. The bar in the centre had queues lining up just of people wanting to have a small tapas plate or a jamon bocadillo “sandwich” from this institution.
We kept walking remembering the prize at the markets, a much larger selection of foods and highly recommended by my food mentor Andrew, so if Andrew said it was good, it was GOOD. He did not disappoint. MY eyes were like I was seeing 100 shooting stars. I could not control where I was looking as there was too much to see, too much to smell, where do I start????
This was mainly for the tourists due to the expensive prices but also sold fresh seafood, meat and vegetables for the locals who wanted to spend a little bit more. It reminds me of what David Jones food hall is but much more interactive with the people and just better (full stop).
We settled on more jamon iberico, aged manchego, wine and chicken croquettes. The jamon was strong and oily full of flavour rich fat; the manchego brittle, dark and nutty; the croquettes creamy, crunchy and ‘taste like chicken’. Sad but true we were full from jam and cheese, again, but still have weeks left to discover more dishes, plus I had just spotted mini ice cream cones that I found room for, and a flavour I had never seen before lemon sorbet with shards of chocolate through it. Someone in Sydney should be making this as it is perfect for all those people who feel like chocolate but need something refreshing instead and cannot decide.
We then walked through the city, past the parliament, main church and back to the hotel with a little bit of shopping included. Well rested we set off to another recommendation “El Tempranillo” a little bar close to the food markets on the other side of the main plaza. We walked through peak hour of people on the streets and after a few wrong turns, dress ups and seeing a naked man on a hotel balcony, we made it to El Tempranillo lucky to nab the last table. All of a sudden groups arrived wanting tables with none available for a while and we thanked our lucky stars we had timed it right.
The service was interesting as the waiter did not seem to care if we were sitting there or not. After a while we got some chunky cured chorizo as an appetiser. The globules of fat burst in your mouth and woke our tastebuds which were screaming for more….well more would have to wait a bit as the waiter had not even come back to take our order. So we ordered 5 different tapas with the waiter’s recommendations and after some more waiting, they arrived. Maybe us two Sydneyciders are just impatient people but the Spanish seem content everywhere we go, this must show the restaurateurs that fast service does not matter if you have a quality product. It is probably the same theory used when people wait in lines for long periods of time to buy bread, gelato or a pork roll sandwich. Well let me tell you we were not complaining once we took our first bites. We ordered:
– Fried egg, asparagus and chives;
– Grilled vegetables, goats cheese and olive oil;
– Smeared tomato and jamon iberico;
– Foie gras and pear;
– And we forgot the last one but it was just as good as the rest.
All simple flavours but just done so well. We did not know how to order and probably should have had some larger dishes, but we were so content after this, and 1.5 bottles of wine, no more food was required.
Looking around you could not see the bar any more as it was packed in here like sardines. We decided to leave and give someone else a table, but our dear friend the waiter did not care that we wanted to pay. I must admit for the amount of people in there perhaps more than one waiter should have been on. Well it worked for them, they were turning people away and the crowd was happy so I suppose it probably does not matter to them.
Walking the streets we could not help ourselves when we stumbled upon a churreria “churros house”. Like amateurs we ordered 2 hot chocolates and churros but our neighbours were sharing the one hot chocolate between them. Smart, very smart. We probably had 1/5 of the hot chocolate each as it was the richest little cup of warm chocolate ganache I had ever tasted. Unlike Peru’s first picarones disaster our first churros were not a disaster at all. So so crunchy and with the slight salty flavour it paired so well with our cup of brown glop (I’m sorry chocoholics but it was just that rich I nearly could not have it).
And this my friends brought Madrid to a halting end, but the “meet-cute” we shared would be the start of my desire to return, and to enjoy a nice affair with one day.
Day 11. We survived Cusco. That story needs to be explained in person for effect! Back in Lima we had planned to go with Tia Rosa to the Incan Markets in Miraflores which have a lot of crafts and souvenirs, but first lunch. On my hit list was ‘eat at a Cevicheria’ or house of Ceviche and since we have previously had such great experiences at Gaston’s restaurants Panchita, Tanta and La Barra, why not add another to the list, so off to La Mar we went. Taxi’s in Peru are another interesting and new experience for me. They firstly do not have a GPS or even a street directory, nor do they actually need to know where to go BUT the benefit is that you negotiate the price before you go, so regardless of the traffic the price is what was agreed. This is actually good for Lima since the traffic is horrendous. So on this particular day the driver said yes yes yes, but then took a wrong turn. A half an hour journey turned into an hour and with four people stuffed in the back seat, my comfort levels were not very high. We arrived and all I wanted was to sit down at the table, no chance, a table was a 40 minute wait, so wait we did. At least we scored two bar seats after 15 minutes and chowed down on canchita (air dried corn seasoned with salt) and had a few drinks.
The wait was well worth it! I ordered a plain ceviche with mixed seafood, Chris had ceviche with chicharron, Chris’ sister actually hates all seafood except tuna so she ordered causa, a potato and tuna stack with egg, and then Chris’ mum and Tia Rosa shared a mixed plate of goodies which we all tried to finish without success, it was huge!
Although we were sufficiently stuffed there would always be room for dessert and it would not be right if we did not order Picarones. I was already disheartened after the last Gaston effort but had to give it the benefit of the doubt that this would be better. It was, they tasted as good and as crunchy as they look.
So after the diverted taxi ride and long wait I can say that this cevicheria experience was just as flavoursome, colourful and enjoyable as I had hoped, well I finished with a coffee, that may have helped too.
Absolutely full we hit up the markets buying handicrafts, more blankets, Chris even got some ‘alpaca’ slippers, lets see if they are as good as Aussie UGG once we get back.
A well overdue siesta was necessary before Brisas that evening, a dance performance that showcased many of the traditional dances and costumes from Peru. As most of you know I am an early bird and struggle to stay awake, well God help me, the show started at 10pm and we did not get home until 3:30am! Good effort I think, although the table was looking like a nice bed from about midnight. The dances were incredible as were the costumes. So much colour, detail and varieties for the different regions and styles of dance, most of which I have already forgotten the names.
Once all the performances were finished it was our turn to get up and dance. I was being taught the Huayno dance which is a stamping dance from the country, looks easy but is so NOT easy. One leg stamps once then the other stamps twice alternatively. After realising that you should not lift your legs too far off the ground I was able to get a bit of rhythm and by the end of the night I got it for about 20 seconds until my legs got tired! Its incredible to see people doing it for countless numbers of songs. Their legs would be getting the best workout, no Gym needed here.
Sleep that night was not to be as I was cooking Sunday lunch for the family. I thought to myself “What is a good Greek dish that is different souvlaki or pita?”. Then it hit me, I could make a Pastitsiou, which is a typical Greek Lasagne, and who best to ask for the recipe than the Queen Pastitsiou maker, my Thea Betty. I have only ever made it once before as I have never needed to, Thea Betty always does. After receiving her recipe I went to the markets in the morning to buy ingredients and start cooking as lunch needed to be ready by 12pm sharp! Papa Raul expects lunch at 12 and I would not want to leave a bad impression.
Unable to find good rigatoni or tubular pasta, I settled on a fat round pasta that will have to do. The meat was easy although I did not cook with onions as I was going to use some of the meat for a mini gluten free, onion free version for myself. The hard part is definitely the béchamel sauce. Basically you cannot leave the stove until it is done, that is how much you need to stir, stir, stir. Funnily enough I am not a patient person at all, but I am patient with food. I am happy to cook pasta from scratch for 2hrs or prepare bread over 4hrs as I know how good it will be and how happy it makes people. This patience comes from enjoying the process rather than just wanting the finished product. The béchamel needs to be done slowly with only small amounts of milk and egg added each time to allow for a smooth texture and to ensure that all lumps are whisked out of sight. My béchamel might have taken at least 30 minutes to prepare but it tasted heavenly. It’s lucky I am lactose intolerant otherwise I would have eaten far too much from the pot. I assembled the pastitsiou and was ready to bake it in the gas oven.
I was told earlier that morning when I went to heat the oven that they do not know if it works, Papa Raul and Mama Celes have not used it as long as they can remember, if ever. Eeeek. Well worth the try in my eyes, I still remember the taste that a gas oven gave my Yiayia Eleni’s baked potatoes, there is nothing that ever compared or even reached the level of flavour they had. If this is the effect the gas gave my grandmother, then maybe I would be lucky and my Pastitsiou for Chris’ family would turn out perfect.
An hour later the top was certainly browned and the edges nice and crispy, and with 15 minutes to spare as the clock ticked 11:45am. I set the table, called the troups and plated up. Sorry, I forgot to get the Inka Kola for the table.
As I sat there with my gluten free pasta and onion free meat I envied the family who were about to eat the creamy and delectable pastitsiou recipe I prepared, thanks to Thea Betty (although I can say that as I did taste test a small piece and OMG crispy edged , creamy top and rich meaty sauce were heavinly). The response from the family? Well I think Papa Raul summed it up well, he asked me to give him the recipe so Mama Celes could make it for him. We all laughed, I was immensely satisfied and grateful it turned out so well. What better for a Sunday lunch than family, traditional dishes and laughter.
Day 13 and the cooking classes did not stop as I was lucky enough to learn a dish called Papa Rellena from someone Chris holds dear to his heart, Della. Della used to help out the Alzamora family when they lived in a suburb only around the corner from where they live now called Matute. Christopher lived in Matute when he was 9 years old on his 4 month visit to Peru. He showed me around the ‘residential village’ that was his playground for those months, where he roamed free until the early hours of the morning when he would return and Della would make sure he was washed off before he went to bed. Now Della has a family of her own and lives in that same flat that the Alzamora family used to live in, so my cooking class would take place where Mama Celes used to cook for the family which was a nice feeling.
I felt so terrible that Della was up since 4am preparing for this dish, which is understandable when we saw how many she was preparing as there were at least 40 large Papa Rellenas (enough for 20 people), some prepared and some waiting for me to practice on.
Basically a Papa Rellena is soft potato stuffed with a meat mixture, almost like an empanada but instead of pastry there is potato. Suits me just fine and for all those out there who are gluten intolerant. So the base is the same as for gnocchi, you boil the potatoes then mash, although Della has mashed each potato into individual balls so they are evenly portioned out. The meat mixture has the standard Peruvian base of garlic, cumin and aji (and for everyone else onion too). Then the side dishes are prepared – sliced boiled egg, olives and raisins, if you like them inside. Once ready to make you flatten a ball of potato in the hand, put two tablespoons of mince inside then add on top some egg, olive and raisin before closing the potato around the filling to form an egg shape.
Before you fry you lightly cover the outside of the potato with flour then add an egg wash. Fry away until browned evenly and enjoy.
MMMM so so so good. I cannot wait to make these at home and try new combinations. I am already thinking waygu bolognaise with mozzarella would be one of the first things I would do. YUM. I had to finish both balls but unlike most Peruvians who eat double carbs at every meal, I was fine without rice to accompany my papa rellena, I wanted to enjoy every mouthful without interruptions in my mouth. Plus I needed to leave room for dinner at La Rosa Nautica. Thanking Della we waked home, out of Matute and farewelling many new memories.
Siesta complete we all got dolled up to go out for dinner. We were lucky that Tio Pedro who works at La Rosa Nautica was to join us for dinner as he is able to get a 50% discount. The prices once converted into Australian dollars is still very cheap but who wouldn’t pass up that offer.
We arrived just at sunset and took photos of the surfers enjoying some ‘colour’ in the sky.
Once we sat down, the city lit up. Oh no wait, that is just the constantly bad traffic jams.
Once we started to relax a large BANG that sit the building, a wave, and a common occurrence and the reason Tio Pedro’s wife, Herlinda, did not want to join us as she is too scared of the waves. Chris’ sister and I ordered main dishes – Lomo Saltado and Salmon with aji potatoes respectively – and Chris’ Mum, Tio Pedro and Chris shared a mixed platter of seafood, however that was only entrée for them. For main Tio Pedro had organised a hot seafood plate which included fillets of snapper, squid, prawns scallops and potato.
I ordered a Malbec from Argentina which we all loved, but too bad, it was the last bottle. Then we moved over to Rioja in Spain and had a Temprinillo which in fact was even better! Chris’ Mum ordered a Chicha cocktail just to be different, and as we can see she enjoyed it very very much!
How could we pass up dessert? I certainly could not, especially after polishing off every morsel on my plate. Us young gals ordered the chocolate fondant, although one each was probably an oversight, sharing would have been smarter. Chris’ Mum ordered the Lucuma dish expecting ice cream but a tart came out. Tio Pedro had to help her finish it, and also finish Chris’ Apple tart
I must say that I was sooo impressed with the food and will make the huge statement that it was the best meal I had in Peru, better than all of the Gaston restaurants and better than the food in Cusco. The dishes were simple, not fancy and overdone, but had flavours that jumped out with every bite. I have not finished entire plates of a main and dessert in a very long time, lucky I was wearing black and my top was loose!
Our last full day in Peru we spent visiting the city centre, something I am told we cannot leave Lima without doing. To be honest the temperature had dropped this day and the sky was still gloomy so I was not thrilled about leaving the nice, cozy, warm house of Mama Celes, but I did not want to regret staying home. The centre reminded me of the Rocks in Sydney, touristy, old and once you have seen a bit, you have seen it all. We decided to take a tourist bus to do a loop of the city so that we can see everything the centre has to offer.
The only problem was we decided to go on the bus at 5pm when the roads were in grid lock, more than normal due to peak hour, and the temperature had dropped due to the sunset, so our outdoor seats were not looking so good. The one hour tour took an hour and a half. We could not get away from the bus quick enough and into a taxi to go and get dinner. What better send off meal than BBQ chicken with the family in a warm restaurant only a short Micro bus ride away from home. Perfect!
Here we said a final goodbye to Tia Rosa. I will miss her smiley face and I know she will miss me trying to translate words into Spanish. For example, she kept joking around one lunch and I tried to say she was ‘cheeky’ which is a harmless playful English word. My dictionary told me to tell her she was ‘descarado’, or even better I wanted to say that she was ‘rude’, but again in a playful way as English would allow. Nope, my dictionary told me to say ‘indecente’. The laughter amongst the family was so loud, I wanted to crawl into a hole for trying, but it was all in good humour. The final miscommunication was when I asked Tia Rosa before dinner whether “Tienes hombre?” Do you have a man? but what I meant to say was “Tienes hambre” Are you hungry. She replies “No tengo homre o hambre” I don’t have a man and I am not hungry. I know these phrases are going to be joked about with the family for a loooong time to come. At least I got one right as we were saying goodbye “Eres decente” You are a proper and lovely person, a big hug and we were off on the Micro back to Mama Celes’ house.
The day of our flight we packed, had a simple lunch and said our goodbyes. It was so sad as I know that Mama Celes and Papa Raul cherished the visit, cherished the blessing we had at their church and appreciated us coming to celebrate the 88th birthday of Mama Celes. Chris’ Mum was also crying as we would not see her and the rest of the family until Christmas, so it was a sad time for all.
To say I was disappointed to leave is not correct. I was very much looking forward to our travels through Europe, coffee being available at every corner, carrying my camera around my neck to take endless photos and also have alone time with Chris, as we have been busy with family from the time we stepped off the flight at 2am to the time we were to board at 5pm. What I will miss are the people, the generosity, the love and the hospitality. Experiences like this cannot be bought as I was lucky enough to see many different sides of Peru and was able to put on my ‘tourist’ hat in addition to my ‘I’m part of the family’ hat, even ‘hablo terrible espanol’ hat, but I tried. I opened my eyes and saw a part of the world I had never seen before and for that I appreciate my life and how lucky I am so much more.
Now off to spain!
Peru, a place unlike any other I have been before, a place full of extremities and little in between, but a place full of many unique and beautiful experiences.
From when we arrive the love and hospitality was evident. Our plane was an hour late so we flew in at 1:30am, that did not deter Mama Celes who at 87 insisted to meet us at the airport, flowers and hugs ready for our first meeting. The joy on her face spoke the emotions I am sure she had, seeing her Grandson and new wife for the first time after their wedding. The last time Chris had seen Mama Celes was in 2010, but that four year gap was insignificant as he picked up right where he left off. Papa Raoul waited patiently at home for us to return, again with the same excitement and arms wide open.
Lots of sleep was necessary due to the large time difference, 15 hours behind Sydney! Day 1 we spend locally,walking around the suburb, markets and of course to change money from the guy standing on the corner of the intersection with a calculator, I am told this is the completely normal. A simple lunch with the family of grilled chicken, vegetables and rice showcased how flavoursome the ingredients are in Peru, something we are not so exposed to in Sydney with an array of bland flavoured produce. Dinner was test one for me, will I like the infamous Jamon del pais sandwich from the Japanese guy from around the corner. Waiting patiently in line we watched as he used his chopsticks to assemble the roll. Soft white bread rolls are filled with a smear of mustard, chunks of specially cooked pork, a mound of Spanish onions which are almost pickled in lime (lemon) juice, then to finish a slice of fresh aji (chilli). Due to the fact that I cannot eat onions I think there is no point even trying the sandwich as the onions are such a huge component of this sandwich, they add crunch and also the liquidy juices of lime break down the rich meat. I added some more aji verde paste when we got back to the house so that MY sandwich was not as dry and boring……..the verdict, its OK. Chris was horrified as we now cannot share one of his true loves. Test one, fail.
After our local dinner we decided to head off for a drink and try one of Gaston Acurio’s restaurants, Panchita. So from one extreme of walking around the local suburb at night, without handbags or cameras just in case we got mugged, we set of for Miraflores, the Double Bay of Lima where a different class of people live. Fancy cars zoomed past, jewellery was out for show and handbags were hanging off all the women. The restaurant was full of chatter, full of laughter and it is obvious that jokes are welcome. We sat up at the bar to have ‘a drink’ and ended up consuming a mixed platter and picarones, how could we not. I did need to try as many traditional Peruvian foods as possible so the mixed plate went without question as it featured Tamale verde, Papa rellena, Chicharron, Choclo y Papates con huancaina, Causa and Anticuchos. Tick, tick, tick, my list instantly got a lot smaller, then add Picarones and I am almost ready to leave after day one. Unfortunately the picarones, which are rinds of sweet potato donut were slightly undercooked. This Greek girl knows a thing of two about donut cooking after cooking many locomathes (greek donuts) in my time. Disappointing but that is ok, I kept dreaming about the tamale verde which were stuffed with cheese that had melted through th already rich corn surroundings. Test two for me was Chicha morada, purple corn juice which in Australia you can really only get in the form of a cordial. Freshly made it normally has a twist of lime (lemon) in it to lift the strong flavour. OH noooo, yuck, eeek not to my taste at all. Chris’ Sister looked on unable to comprehend how I did not enjoy it. Test two, fail.
We retired that night for to catch up on our sleep until 5am when the phone rang right next to my head, prank calls apparently were common, not a welcome start to my morning. After breakfast we headed over to Lince to visit one of my Mother in law’s friends. Since we did not have a car we decided to catch a micro today, as opposed to a taxi. A micro is a vehicle of any sort like a small van, mini bus, old school bus etc, that locals have painted a route on, drive around without any concern for rules, actually PARDON there are no road rules in Peru at all, and even if there were, no one follows them. These micros are private and basically do not have a timetable. They just race each other around the place to pick up people and fares, so you need to be prepared to jump on and off very quickly so you don’t slow them down. Well we arrived in Lince in one piece but had to be weary on the streets as it is not the safest suburb. People were on the street fighting, many homeless people were trying to sell the little items they could to raise some money too. Suburbs like this do however have their little glimmers of beauty. The apartment we were going to was in an old Spanish building made out of mud brick and still had the original timber staircase up to the first floor. Due to the tremors in Lima the staircase had sunk into the floor so that the treads were no longer at a 90 degree angle, but rather sloping down like mini ramps. As an architect you can admire buildings like this, especially standing on the solid timber balcony overlooking the streets. I wish I had photos but this was a no handbag, no camera type of place. It was even a place that I was nudged to remind me ‘no english’ as we do not want to draw attention to ourselves.
Lunch was a la Mama Celes, Quinoa and queso, a delicious and simple meal with the trio of Peruvian ingredients, garlic, aji and cumin. Tio Augus came to visit and took us to Jockey Plaza for coffee and a sneaky shop. I must say for me this was a little bit of a sanctuary, a place I was comfortable with after being exposed to ‘the reality of Peru’ as Chris’ Mother puts it. It had Zara, which I did enjoy some retail therapy in, and we had a coffee, my first since arriving, and what joy it brought coffee addicted me. Chris ordered Lucuma Ice Cream, another favourite of his. Test number 3. Bah-bow. No go. This was disguising. It was like a rough melon cream that had an odd tart flavour too…..well things aren’t really going to plan to enjoy Peru like Chris does when I dislike every ‘memory food’ he gives me.
Siesta tick, now time to eat again. Dinner was Pollo a la brasa (BBQ Chicken) which is a favourite of Chris and mine, a la Lebanese from Charcoal Kingdom back home, so this was something I was very much looking forward to comparing. The chicken was delicious, skin crispy as required, but what makes the dish is the generally the sauce, today we had yellow spicy aji sauce. Like toum which I can eat by the tubful, this aji sauce would be a welcomed permanent condiment to my fridge, but of course it is very hard to find these sauces in Australia unless you make it yourself with dried aji or aji paste, probably not the same. As you can see from the photo, no one drinks water except me. It is almost as if water is not required in your body, but instead your body cannot survive without Inka Kola. I am so astounded at the amount of sugar Peruvians consume on a daily basis and surprised more do not have diabetes.
After dinner I met the lovely Tia Rosa who took us to the central park where there is a nightly water and lights show. The light show is projected off water fountains and showcased different cultural dances, all of which I was to see at Brissas, the local dance show. We ran around like kids, playing with the water, ooing and aahing at the colours and tried not to get wet as we followed the processions under the arch of water. What a contrast to suburban streets only two blocks away. Going to the bathroom is an interesting experience too. You pay 50c and get given a wad of toilet paper to use, and you even get a receipt!
Day 3 we had a private tour around the city, first stop the statue of The Unknown Soldier which is one of the highest points of Lima perfect for a 360 degree look. It only strengthened the idea of extremities being just streets away. In a suburb called Chorillos there is a hill where people just find space and build a small house. It looks almost like favelas of Brazil and if you move your head slightly to the left we have San Borja which is like the ‘old spanish town’ and a very touristy and pretty area to visit, not a slum at all.
We then visited the Parke de Amor which is dedicated to love. Love is all around and I think it is impossible to miss the point with a giant statue of two people kissing and an organic wall with seats fully mosaicked in love quotes and names. It is a very beautiful park and adds some colour into the grim and sombre colours of Lima. It occurred to me that there is never sunlight in Lima due to a layer of smog above the city that cannot make it over the Andes. This smog acts like permanent cloud cover and is what I think London looks like for most of the year, grey and dismal.
Our last stop was La Rosa Nautica, an iconic restaurant that overlooks the sea and I would call it that signature restaurant every city has with the best view in town. It was lucky for us that one of the family’s uncles, Tio Pedro worked there so we went past to say hello, and of course have a drink and snack. The bar has around 48 different piscos and does all kinds of variations on the classic pisco sour. Since we were looking out at the sea we decided to try a small ceviche, another tick off my list. It was perfect in my eyes, fresh and soft fish with the perfect balance of acidity from the lime (lemon) juice and strong chilli. I enjoyed the leche de tigre very much without the need to order it as a separate item off the menu.
We were picked up for lunch by Tio Augus who due to the culture of long lunches was able to take us out for a couple of hours to try Cuy (guinea pig), another tick off my list. The restaurant/eatery we went to specialised in food from Arequipa which is a country region from the south. The cuy was deep fried and served with choclo, fried potatoes and onion salad, obviously to break down the large proportion of fat in the meat. Once we cut off the head it was not unlike other small animals we are accustomed to such as quail or wild hare, slightly gamey, but some might just say “tastes like chicken”. We then went on a hunt for a café so I could enjoy a coffee after my meal. For a coffee lover like me I am blown away that in a region that contributes so much to the coffee scene of Australia with high quality beans, there is not more café’s or a coffee scene at all, I actually started looking up Starbucks to add to the list of destinations we had daily as I knew there would at least be quality control and would satisfy my needs. I realise this is sad but what do you do when you are used to drinking two long blacks a day?
Dinner was another Gaston Acurio restaurant, Tanta. A bit more casual than Panchita but no less impressive, and yes we still have to line up for half an hour for a seat. I had a bit of a food coma all afternoon due to so much frita frita frita. Everything is fried here too, so chicken salad for me went down very well! The others of course had to try the Lomo Saltado, as they do in nearly every restaurant, clearly a favourite, unfortunately I cannot have it as it is made with onions and soy sauce and it really would not be possible without these key ingredients, so I get a pass from this test. We were all so full after dinner we had to walk to digest so we walked down to Larco Mar, the big shopping centre on the water in Ritzy Mira Flores. It was funny watching the young line up to enter the night clubs, and it is not an unfamiliar scene to Sydney with girls barely wearing anything, having to change out of ‘normal’ clothes in the bathrooms into their outfits packed in backpacks. Ahhh how glad I am to be married and not go through such a scene.
Day 4 we visited Gamarra, a large central markets which yes was an experience, not all good though. Basically if I knew it was going to be that chaotic, that crazy, that scattered I would have said no, please take me to the shopping centre where people are calm, things are easy to find and there is no chance of getting mugged. For an outsider or someone who is not used to things like that, it is not all fun, especially when my hand was getting squeezed and I was getting nudged left, right and centre as a reminder not to speak English. Yes things were cheap and yes we needed to buy some items ahead of Cusco, but at the end of the day I would be happy to pay more for sanity than go back there and fight the crowds. For those who have not seen it, I would liken it to walking through Town Hall at 11am on Boxing Day to go to the sales in Sydney…. A nightmare.
By the end of the day we planned to get our hair done ahead of the big family lunch tomorrow, but as we arrived at the hairdresser, which you cannot book, we were advised that there were people waiting ahead of us. An hour later we left, another example for me of un-organization, something I am told Peruvians are not famous for, and as a Project Manager, something that is foreign to me.
Day 5 we rose bright an early to prepare for our wedding blessing and lunch with the family. This included doing my own hair and make up as shops do not open until quite late in the morning. Family rolled in from 8am we greeted and took photos with then left for the church around the corner.
The ceremony was lovely and our blessing I know was appreciated by all that were there. Back at the house Chris and I even did a first dance and then continued to dance with many family members, like a mini reception. The day was not only for us, it was also the 88th birthday of Mama Celes. We seemed to do things in reverse as we cut a cake at the house then left for lunch at Gaston’s new restaurant La Barra at Casa Moreyra. The restaurant itself, Casa Moreyra is an old Spanish style house which was to be sold only to Gaston or not sold at all, we are told. La Barra or The Bar is like an semi indoor/outdoor space with plenty of natural light and a casual atmosphere about it.
There was nothing casual about the service though, they were on top of every request we could possibly have had, none more annoying I am sure than the kitchen preparing an individual menu for me without gluten, onion or lactose. I had my own bread which was delicious, stretchy (i.e. did not fall apart like normal gluten free bread) and was actually soft and fresh (not frozen). I also had an individual portion of every dish of the menu as I know the others did not want to share my intolerances with me. Here is the food that we enjoyed on the day.
LA BIENVENIDA (The Welcome)
Aceitunas olivar de San Isidro, maní acaramelado con curry, aceite de oliva, pan campesino, pan chapla, pan para Celiacos
San Isidro olives, caramelized peanuts with curry powder, olive oil with an assortment of breads
DEL MAR (From the Sea)
ALMEJAS, chalaca, semillas de tomate confitadas, flores de cilantro
Clams with corn, tomato seeds and coriander flowers
CAUSA, bonito ahumado, aceite de escabeche, mostaza y piel de limón
Causa with cured tuna, pickled olive, mustard and lemon peel
TIRADITO, salsa nikkei, nabo, frejol chino, sésamo blanco, ají limo
Tiradito with salsa Nikkei, turnip, chinese beans, white sesame and lime chilli
CEBICHE, pesca del día, leche de tigre al rocoto, chicharrón de calamari
DEL CAMPO (From the Country)
SALTADO DE QUINUA, langostinos cristal, verduras crujientes, naranja
Sautee of quinoa, lobster, green vegetable crudités and orange
ALCACHOFAS FRITAS, arvejas, jamón, huevo frito, hojas de menta
Fried artichoke with peas, ham, fried poached egg and mint leaves
DE LA CIUDAD (From the City)
YUCAS ESCABECHE, jamón del país, alcaparras, cebolla, aji y hierba buena
Pickled yuccas with roasted pork, capers, onion and herbed chilli
AEROPUERTO, de pulpo y papada, pecanas, fideos fritos, huevo, frejolito
Stir fry with octopus, pecans, fried noodles and egg
LAS FUENTES DEL DIA (Large dishes of the Day)
Stir fry of beef with fried potatoes, onions and tomatoes
POLLO ENRROLLADO, de hongos y hierbas, papa huamantanga con crema acida y ajíes dulces
Rolled Chicken with mushrooms, herbs, potatoes with cream and sweet chilli
POSTRES DEL DIA (Desserts of the Day)
TORTA DE LÚCUMA
Lucuma cake, one without gluten or lactose (I am boring, but I was the only one who had a piece so at least everyone else got to taste the real cake, which I was told was delicious. Surprisingly my not so fun cake was soft, flavoursome and also ‘ricisimo’)
We were all so full before we even got to the large plates that we had to take home quite a few doggy bags which we shared around with some of the guests. It was such a great lunch, not only due to the relaxing atmosphere, live music and sunlight streaming in but the great company. For me restaurants like this are quite the norm but for a lot of these people they would not dream to dine like we did. You could see how appreciative and just excited they were. Their faces beamed when we met Astrid, one of the owners of Astrid & Gaston and Casa Moreyra. A lot of the guests raced towards her hoping for a photo which she was more than happy to pose for. She gave us her time and best wishes and was such a pleasure to talk to. Like many of the guests meeting Astrid made my day too.
We left all with food babies, probably twins, and retired for the rest of the afternoon…..but our rest was short lived as we had to pack for our next adventure, Cusco, which we were to leave bright and early the following day. That is a whole other story!
Last night I was lucky enough to eat at Intermezzo, a restaurant in the historic GPO building. The setting is perfect for so many occasions, lunch times are packed with suits and in summer tables spill out onto the plaza, but at night it becomes dim and spot lit highlighting the historic features of the space like the sandstone walls, enormous mirrors and glass roof.
To start you can sip on a glass of beautiful and crisp Soave, like me, or maybe some Veuve Cliquot like the girls and nibble on some antipasto of cured meats (proscuitto, salami and coppa), sardines, mixed marinated olives, fresh mozzarella, grissini and char grilled bread rubbed with oil. (I forgot to take a photo).
The atmosphere when full buzzes, but when you have good company or something to celebrate time just goes and before you know it an hour has passed and you have forgotten to order your mains. Lucky Chef sent out a little something to wet the palate……succulent scallop wrapped in proscuitto on a gorgonzola sauce. So tender and the sauce was soo incredibly creamy but not piccante, quite mild with just the smallest hint of blue. As Samantha said, and rightly so “this sauce is so good I could eat a whole bowl of it”, and then I directed her downstairs to the cheese room where they serve cheese fondue!
Our drinks disappeared too quickly and a suitable bottle had to be chosen. Without previously discussing it I suggested a region that I love and that I was craving, to my surprise it was the one Italian red both girls knew and also enjoyed. So that bottle of 08 Cianti Classico Castello di Fonterutoli came streaming into our big wine glasses. Swirl, sniff, taste. Perfecto!
It was now time to cleanse out palate before mains. Out came 2 sorbets which brought back childhood memories for all of us sitting on a summers day sucking on frosty fruits. The flavours were so intense pineapple and mixed berry but the baby basil leaves add that very much needed savoury note. Great combinations and we all slurped this dish up very quickly.
Mains look delectable as they are served. Kelly was first with her Crispy Skin Snapper on creamed peas with sauteed shrooms. She insisted it was amazing and the mushrooms are to die for, clearly they aren’t just your standard button mushroom but a mixture of all shapes and sizes, the way it should be.
My Barramundi, mussels, tomato and spinach cooked in a bag with white wine was very delicate and light. A great choice for those long dinners when you know you will be having many courses. The fish was perfectly cooked but you can’t get over the intense flavour of the mussels which perked up the mild taste of the barra.
Finally, the most beautiful dish……Samantha’s Scampi Linguine. The looks did not deceive and she finished every last bit, hailing the chef and announcing it was the best scampi she has ever ever had. She insisted us all taste this scampi and it was outstanding. Sweet with a soft tender texture.
All starting to get full, but of course know what is coming our way. The room starts to empty and luckily so as the wine is kicking in and our conversation starts to get a little rowdier with uncontrollable laughter happining a lot more frequently now. Come on, 3 girls, a lot of wine and a birthday to celebrate, how do you expect us to act?
Only one thing shuts us up……..the presentation of dessert!
So stunning. Caramelized apple tart with candied figs and apple mint ice cream.
But my favourite is the sweet ricotta canolli. At the sight of this I tell my stomach it is going to have to cope with a chunk of gluten as this opportunity cannot be passed up…..and does it disappoint? Not at all! Just as good as Papa’s in Haberfield, and a lot less packed!!!
We stroll out of there at 10:30pm and decide the night is not over but a post dinner cocktail is in order so Prime happily accommodated our presence and soon we were sipping on espresso martinis and caprioska’s.
Kelly was completely over the moon and delighted to have spent the last few hours of her 23rd year with her sister, Samantha and I. The staff were fantastic and the food was outstanding. What a perfect atmosphere and location full of history for us two architects. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
No. 1 Martin Place
Lunch: Monday to Friday – 12pm to 3pm
Dinner: Monday to Saturday – 6pm to 10pm
I was so surprised when my colleagues at GPO gave me my birthday present…..a HUGE black truffle from WA. Wow my own truffle. I could just imagine how much this was worth and already dishes were flashing in my mind of what I could do with this piece of gold.
I knew I had to make time that weekend, in between all the birthday celebrations to cook and use it all up. There was no delay, I knew exactly who I wanted to share my present with…..a few friends who I have met over the past couple of years. One is Assistant Sommelier at Rockpool B&G who I met working at a ‘not so great’ restaurant and the other is an amazing Webcoder who has exceptional knowledge and a photographic memory of wine whom I served when he first arrived into Sydney from California. I made the calls, set the time and now it was up to me to work out a menu. I had three days to do so.
You would think truffle had to go with eggs…and yes I would have loved to do scrambled eggs with truffle, however, I am not good at scrambled eggs and so figured I did not want to waste it on something I am not confident at cooking. Also I was worried about storing it. When I got it, it was in a cryovac pouch with rice, but if I opened it premature to my dinner party would it keep at the same standard? Would it spoil? I could not have that happen, so I held out and put all my eggs into one basket. The whole truffle was to be used at that dinner party.
Reading, searching and skimming through countless recipes took up my weekend. I decided on fish souffle, risotto, then changed that to baked gnocchi or polenta. Recipes were ticked then ripped up as I tried to create the perfect dinner party, but finally they came together to create a simple yet tasty meal which will pair with the foods I was told I needed to match.
Entree needed to match an Alsacian Reisling or something similar so for this I could have gone either two ways: spicy or creamy. As a lot of you know I am not the biggest fan of Asian cuisines and so for me to do something of this sort it is a miracle. The latter seemed easier to achieve and more in the realm of my comfort zone. I did look up a whole range of savoury souffles which would be fun to make, however the twice baking, which lets face it, looks so much better, would take a lot longer and I wanted to prepare most of the meal beforehand, so out it went. Finally I decided on butter, poaching in butter sounds quite decadent but not as much as something the majority of which is cream, so tick tick tick, this one stuck.
Mains were to pair with a nice Burgundy, so nothing too heavy or overpowering. Poultry of some sort that not only had to match the wine but also highlight the truffle. I did want to do something with seafood to start with, but since entree was to be seafood I really did have to switch over to meat for mains. It was quite hard to find recipes with truffles and poultry I must admit. A lot of my cookbooks are too basic to feature truffles and the ones that did were either a risotto or an appetizer with scallop. Finally I did stumble upon a recipe which I was able to tweak a little which featured quails which were stuffed with truffle. Achievable and not too complex. Perfect.
Of course I do love to cook complex dishes that take days to prepare, however I was cooking at someone else’s house so ability to transport had to be considered.
So this is how it went down. I prepared the stuffing for the quail and the mash ahead of time. Once I arrived at my friend’s house I set to work. Task 1 was of course to get the truffle ready and sliced. Wow what a beautiful piece of specimen. If it were a piece of steak I could tell you it would also be of an extremely high quality. Look at that marbling!
I was actually quite surprised at how much it yielded. I could have gotten more but my mandolin was set a little too think.
I separated my yield into three piles, one for the mash, one for the quail stuffing and one for an extra dish I threw in. Firstly I chopped up the truffles for the mash so they could infuse through and develop in flavour.
Next was to chop the truffles for the quail stuffing then stuff them so they can also develop in flavour.
Then lastly I layered the truffles for my pop up dish until it was ready to bake. This dish is a variation of a dish from the Pier cookbook. They used marscapone, but I was using buffalo mozzarella. I sliced the scallops in half then layered the truffle then mozzarella on top.
While the cooking started, we also started ‘refreshments’.
NV Domaine de Montbourgeau Cremant du Jura then a 2009 Le Pere Jules Poire Pays D’Auge. The former is a blanc de blanc style and is from only Chardonnay grapes. This gives it its deep yellow hue and rich flavours of green apple and nuts yet has a lovely minerality an high acidity. The latter which is very low in alcohol (only 2.8%) was basically like drinking fizzy sweet pear juice, and hence it goes down very easily. Unfortunately we drank them in the wrong order, but hey, we still enjoyed every drop.
After a few hello’s and drinks, I got straight back into it and prepared all the vegetables for the entree: Balmain Bugs poached in butter with a witlof and fennel salad. I added the butter, and here there was no holding back, then sauteed down some eschallot and fennel which were very finely sliced. Once that was ready and the salad was dressed and plated, the bugs were ready to go in. They don’t take long at all so you need to be watching them constantly, as overcooked bugs will be tough and not have the nice sweet flavour they should, not to mention it will be a waste of money. Once cooked I plated and served. It was divine!
This dish was supposed to be enjoyed with a 2007 Domaine Huet Le Mont demi-sec (Vouvray) however the bottle was mixed up and we actually opened this instead. A 2009 Domaine Belluard Gringet Les Alpes (Savoie), which was still a beautiful pairing. Don’t worry the former bottle was not wasted and we enjoyed that too, a little later on.
As we sat and digested I decided to throw the scallops into the oven at a reasonably low heat, round 130 degrees, as I did not want them to cook instantly without the mozzarella having ample time to melt. Again this is a piece of seafood which is very very easy to overcook to an unpleasurable point, so I was watching and watching for their flesh to change to a stark white, and as soon as it did, I took them out. I was surprised at how much juice they let out, which I am sure would have been lovely stirred through some rice or other carbs seafood dish, however, it was not needed here so I just carefully scooped it out and then served.
I did not want to rush the next dish as we again needed to digest but also finish our drinks before we moved into the burg. Unfortunately my partner did not come, and really it was his loss as each course had that extra serve leftover which we ‘had’ to eat. Tough life really, but a shame he could not enjoy the truffle. Oh well, I am quite certain the others had no objection to enjoying more.
The burg that we were enjoying was a 2001 Robert Groffier Chambolle-Musigny “Les Hauts-Doix” and was opened quite early in the night to open up, and it was needed as the wine connoisseur said it was quite tight and needed some air. By this stage it was very smooth and earthy, which was especially chosen to go with the truffle flavours, and with a good body.
The quail took about 20 minutes to cook, which was good timing for a dinner party because the past thing you want is to be stuck in the kitchen preparing or waiting an hour in between courses. The only thing I had left to do before plating was blanch some green beans and heat up the mash, but again it was a quick fix and did not take me away from conversation for too long.
Mains were served: Mushroom and truffle stuffed quail with truffle mash and green beans.
The quail was delicious if I do say so myself, and actually watching people eat quail is interesting. I did not even bother with the fork and knife but went straight in with my hands. Those little creatures have too many bones to play with, if you have not bought de-boned ones, which I do not know where you can find. The others started off being ‘proper’ and attacking them with cutlery, but quickly resorted to my method.
We were all very full and satisfied by this stage. The truffle has been demolished except for one serve of quail which ended up being someone’s lunch the following day.
The consuming of wine continued. Once we finished the burg we moved back to white to a bottle that was opened by mistake, then onto another red, a 2009 Dard & Ribo Hermitage Rouge which is a natural wine that is bursting with berries and so extremely different to the burgundy we had just had.
I did spring dessert on everyone too, and actually had not planned to prepare anything, however I did make choc-orange brownies that morning to take to another friend who ended up being sick and not able to enjoy the truffle, although when I went to deliver them to him he was not home. I did not want to bring them home as I already had enough, so warm gooey choc orange brownies with creme fraiche ended up being dessert, not that anyone was complaining….
Overall it was a very very successful dinner, and I think one of the easiest dinner parties I have done. It was so smooth, the recipes were extremely simple and even cooking wise, each of them were quick to dish up. Of course having a truffle to work with does make it extra special, but I am so glad I got to share it with these friends who truly appreciated it.