Jump to content

IrishAdventurer

participating member
  • Posts

    68
  • Joined

  • Last visited

Posts posted by IrishAdventurer

  1. I spent a few days in Cologne in November 2011, but was mainly interested in beer, not food. Certainly, there are plenty of entries in the Michelin guide (not just starred places) for Cologne, but I'm not sure there are any must-see or must-eat specialities. A good approach would be to eat in the different breweries/brew pubs as they offer pretty decent and traditional food. The other advantage of that approach is that you can't move in Cologne without seeing another brewery. If you're based in Germany, or visit there a lot, I'd suggest picking up the Good Beer Guide for Germany, as you'll often find somewhere to eat or drink (in the middle of nowhere) that you won't find in guidebooks. They also have separate city guide sections for the major cities in Germany, including Cologne.

    One word of warning: IMO, Kolsch, the beer that is brewed in Cologne (it can only be brewed there, and is usually the only style of beer that the breweries produce) is nothing special, and it's fairly similar no matter where you drink it. I'm not saying it doesn't vary, but don't expect (for example) the variety that you would get if you compare and contrast the breweries in Munich. On the plus side, it's neither too fizzy, heavy, or hoppy, so it's pretty approachable for non-beer drinkers, and it's served in small pipe-like glasses (200 millilitres) so if you don't like it, you won't be stuck with a gigantic jug full of it.

    I'm not sure if tours are offered (I can give you some brewery names) and you can check, and I'll also check which places we preferred in terms of the food and ambience (since the beer didn't vary hugely). Another bonus is that Cologne is pretty compact, so with some planning and determination, you could easily check out 4 or 5 places in a day, and eat wherever you are hungry or think looks good. We managed 9 in a day...I'll check and get back to you.

  2. Can anyone provide any updated info on Prague? La Degustation looks interesting, but I'm confused by the menu on their website. Are the costs per course? If so, how come the drink/wine pairings are twice the price of the food?

    I've heard a place called Cerny Kun is good, but I don't know how up-to-date that tip is. Aromi, Usudu, and U Medvidku all look decent, and I'm tempted to book a table at Nebozizek on the hill overlooking the city because the food looks good and it seems a nice tourist destination without being a trap.

  3. Like many of you, I don't read many UK critics other than Jay Rayner. I think overall he's very good. If you think he's pompous, you've never read Tom Doorley, the Irish 'critic' who is supposed to be a wine expert but couldn't tell you what colour wine is, and really is full of himself.

    Before the Times paywall went up, and when I still lived in Ireland, I read Giles Coren and AA Gill quite often. Never really liked Coren, and I think Gill is a good writer who happens to write about food some of the time. I like his style, but it doesn't always work when reviewing food. Plus (and I accept I'm likely to be abused for this opinion) I think it's slightly odd having a recovering alcoholic reviewing restaurants. The food should of course stand alone, but in most cases, people do drink alcohol when they go to restaurants and it is part of the experience, no different from the company and the occasion etc. You could argue that not having wine with his meal allows him to be more subjective, but at the same time, it means his experience of a meal will be different to probably 90% of the people who eat there (something that is also true because he's a well-known critic). It doesn't invalidate his criticism or praise of a restaurant, and I'm not suggesting he can't or shouldn't review restaurants, I just think it's an odd choice, even from his perspective.

  4. We spent a few weeks in different parts of France recently, and while the bread was good (very good in a few cases), we found the bread in Wallonia/Belgian Ardennes to be much much better when we went there earlier in the year. The viennoiserie sections are consistently very impressive (at least in taste) but we never had bread that made us swoon, which most certainly happened in Belgium. No idea why that might be the case though.

  5. Regarding my earlier post, the other restaurant in Bayeux was Le Pommier (it's in the Michelin Guide too).

    Our trip to Rennes was mainly (unfortunately) a stopover on the way to Brittany, but I was determined to get up early on Saturday morning to go to the market there, both to experience it and to get some supplies. This was a great experience. The outside area is made up of vast fruit and vegetable stalls, with some glorious things for sale. Unfortunately, due to space restrictions we couldn't stock up on those, so we had to focus on things like bread and cheese. I should also mention the seafood stalls (outside, but in an enclosed area separate from the fruit and vegetable stalls), which were also a real treat. I'm pretty familiar with lots of different types of fish, but they had things I'd only ever heard of and the prices for fish and shellfish seemed very reasonable. If you're ever visiting Rennes, it might be worth staying somewhere that is self-catering, because you could really cook up a feast after a trip to the market. Inside were the butchers, charcuterie stalls (some had both), pattissiers, fromagerie stalls, and a few other assorted stalls selling honey, jams and so on. In some cases, stalls were selling a combination of these products and everything looked amazing, from dainty little pastries to 5 pound loaves of sourdough that were about 2 feet across. We picked up some saucisson sec from a stall that probably had 30 different types of salami, and we found the prices to be very reasonable in all cases. We really could have run riot, but we had quite a long drive ahead of us and limited storage/refrigeration. Apart from strolling around the streets near the market with the medieval timbered buildings, we didn't do a whole lot else in Rennes, but I would certainly like to visit it again and try some of the great places to eat there. I think the market is a must-see for anyone interested in food or who simply likes visiting their own local market.

    Later, we had lunch in Morlaix, at Le Viaduc (also in Michelin) with some family and had a lovely meal. I had the local 'kig fa haz' stew (which was a bit like pot au feu, and very good), most of the other dishes were fish-based and all were very good. Prices were again very reasonable (lunch for 5, with wine, coffee, and water, plus a dessert or two came to about 120 euro).

    I could obviously go to great lengths outlining every last thing to do in Brittany, or even simply what we did, but I'll focus on the three main highlights. On the Monday, we visited the market in Auray in the morning (worth a visit) and went to Vannes in the afternoon. As you will know, most 'good' places in France are closed Sunday (especially evenings) and Monday, but we found a very nice place for lunch near the centre of Vannes. Oddly, they were only open for lunch on Monday, I think specifically to try and fill that gap created by other places being closed. It certainly wasn't a stopgap however, with a nice mix of 'typical' bistro food (pate de campagne, good steak frites, etc.) and fish dishes. They had a range of set menus, including a slightly pricier one with John Dory or scallops, and a plat du jour, with three courses costing around 18 euro. I should point out that all these places offered cider as an accompaniment, along with wine, and it was often a perfect (and cheaper) choice to drink with the food. I'll need to check the name again, but it's a place I'd recommend even if the other options are open.

    The first of the two remaining highlights was Chez Jacky, in Belon, where we had their seafood platter. I'll post some photographs to try and do it justice, but it was very impressive: we went for the 'with lobster' option, and for four people, and it was all served on a single gigantic platter. It was literally a pile of seafood. Personally, I realised that I'm not a huge fan of raw cockles, but everything else here was better than the equivalent I'd had in Cancale, and even cold cooked mussels were delicious. Obviously, things like whelks are a matter of taste, but I thought the tourteau was much better, and the langoustines were fantastic. Native and Pacific oysters were also included, and it was a great opportunity to compare the two. Both types really seemed different to others that I've had elsewhere, and were excellent, especially the natives. My wife isn't a big fan of cold shellfish, but she happily ate grey shrimp and ordered separately from the 4 of us who had the platter. She enjoyed her meal (scallop main course), and we did manage some desserts, which were a nice sugary hit after the protein overload. You certainly wouldn't miss the lobster, or go hungry if you didn't include it, but we did enjoy it.

    The remaining highlight was Gill, in Rouen. As I've said previously, Rouen is certainly a place I'd like to see more of, and there were plenty of narrow lanes that looked exactly like the type of place you'd find your new favourite restaurant. Gill had already been highly recommended by someone here, and I think it lived up to our expectation. We were seated at an unusual high table, in a small and fairly secluded part of the restaurant. I have no idea if this was a sign of favour, but we enjoyed having our own little space. We have eaten in quite a few * places, and one *** place, and this was our first **. The experience was much closer to ***, but the prices weren't a million miles from the * restaurants we've been to. This isn't a comment on the pricing, more a reflection of the standard of service we received. The food was very good, but the waiting staff were absolutely wonderful, especially when advising on wine and cheese.

    We went for their 7 course tasting menu, which consisted of four savoury dishes, cheese, and two dessert courses. To start, we had a pea panna cotta, with little chunks of bacon and foie gras, served with truffle. The texture was unusual, but with the meaty chunks and whole peas scattered on top, it was very tasty. Next, lobster in a smoked haddock cream. This was a delicious combination of very tasty tail meat (maybe the nicest lobster I've had) in a smooth, light, creamy sauce. It had a definite smoked haddock flavour, without overpowering the lobster at all. Then another fish dish: seabass in a miso broth. This was an unusual dish (for us at least) but very good, with the centre of the bass was barely cooked as it sat in the broth. The broth itself was tasty and certainly added to the fish but didn't dominate it. Perhaps the highlight was the dish that followed: veal osso bucco. This turned out to be different to what I had anticipated; in reality, it was a neat little cylinder of veal, a little pink right in the middle, that looked more like a miniature (but very thick) filet served with a little bit of asparagus. The veal was absolutely delicious, meaty and very tasty, but also very tender. The asparagus was also very good.

    Cheese was another trolley affair, with a good range and a generous touch. Again, personal taste is a factor here, but I think anyone would be more than satisfied with a selection that provided after a very engaging discussion about what was available. I asked if there was another wine they might suggest to accompany the cheese, and was served a magnificent glass of 2002 Pomerol. The first dessert course was strawberry millefeulle, and it was very good, but I think Grain de Vanille had spoiled us in that regard. If you hadn't eaten the freshly-made millefeulle there, then I'm sure you would be more impressed by the one at Gill, but I would also suggest that eating one version pretty much first thing in the morning and eating the other after wine and several courses of food, plus cheese, also played a role. The last course (before chocolate was served with coffee) consisted of a roasted fig with ice cream. I like figs, and enjoyed this course, but the ice cream was rather unusual-tasting. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't a grand finale by any means. My wife hates figs, so she wasn't best pleased, and didn't especially like the ice cream either. Overall, it was a hugely enjoyable experience, and one that I would certainly recommend. I look forward to going back there, and would go there again before going back to Les Coquillage, for example.

    I am happy to share my thoughts and comments regarding Reims and Champagne if people are interested, but we didn't eat at any notable restaurants, and the champagnes themselves are probably even more subjective in terms of taste. One matter to report is that Le Boulingrin, apparently a Reims institution (and my hope for a good meal on a Monday), has closed down due to a licencing issue. I can't say for certain what the issue is, but petitions have been drawn up in support to try and get it reopened.

  6. Well, we greatly enjoyed our vacation, with a lot of memorable experiences and nice things to eat and drink. I'll include some general travel commentary, but I'll focus on the food and drink side of things. If anyone wants more details on a particular aspect, just ask.

    I'll start by saying we didn't go to the eastern part of Calvados, where I had thought we'd do cheese and cider tasting. We just didn't have time. Likewise, we didn't even set foot in Caen, because we were too occupied with D-Day stuff and Bayeux. There was still cheese, and plenty of cider, but you could do a whole separate trip to the inland parts of Normandy and have plenty to keep you occupied. We also felt we spent far too little time in Rouen and Rennes (more on those later) and could happily go back to both places for a few days each, to do them justice. I won't go into obsessive detail about every meal we ate, and apart from one exception mentioned below, I don't photograph food so this won't be a slideshow, just food for thought.

    We stayed at a place called Les Mas Normand, not far from Courseulles-sur-Mer, a comfy and rustic guesthouse with just a few rooms. The owners are very friendly and welcoming, and we'd certainly stay there again. Breakfast was a real treat, with a hunk of different cheese and something homebaked every day, along with the other staples and fresh fruit. A highlight for me was baguette with salted butter (something I'm used to) and honey from Provence. The interplay was absolutely delicious. You're more than welcome to bring some food back and have a little picnic in the evening too, if you've had lunch during the day and just fancy snacking in the evening.

    Before we checked in, we had dinner at a place in Bayeux (I need to check the name) that was recommended in Lonely Planet for Norman specialities. I had tripes a la mode de Caen, and while it wouldn't be for everyone it was a very enjoyable meal. Soothing and soupy, I really enjoyed it and didn't find the texture offputting at all. The mustard served with it really made it sing. On another visit to Bayeux a few days later, we had lunch at Le Pet't Resto, just down the street. This really is an appropriate name; there are maybe 8 tables, and there isn't room to swing a cat, but we had an enjoyable and inventive lunch. The food wasn't amazing, but it was very reasonable, with some creativity in the preparation and presentation. Not everything 'worked', and the lunch menu was basically an 'either or' for three courses, so we didn't get to try some of the interesting dishes on their a la carte menu, but I'd certainly go back there. Incidentally, the Bayeux tapestry is well worth a visit.

    A short walk away, there's a place where you can try cider and Calvados without driving out into the country (also possible at the market) at Logis Les Remparts http://www.lecornu.fr/cave%20FR/default.html. Having tried some apple products elsewhere, I preferred some of the other ciders and Calvados I tasted, but it's certainly convenient if you're staying in Bayeux. When driving along the coast, and in the area in general, you will see signs for plenty of places selling cider and Calvados, and I'd recommend you stop and try them. I hadn't anticipated so many places where you could do so in that area (hence my initial comments about heading more to the east for cider tasting), but there are some lovely things to drink if you're prepared to make a stopoff. Another unexpected highlight was apple jelly (with cinnamon, or mixed with other fruit), often available where you can buy cider and Calvados, and delicious either as a jam for breakfast or with cheese.

    After a few days in that area, it was time to head west. Shortly before we were due to leave, we got bumped from our hotel in Mont Saint Michel, necessitating a change in plan. Since we had lunch reservations for Les Coquillage, it made sense to stay in Cancale the night before, rather than driving there on the day from MSM as we had originally planned. I'd recommend a trip to Cancale to anyone, but for food-lovers especially. It's literally wall-to-wall seafood restaurants along the seafront, serving (apparently) very good and very reasonable food, mainly in platter form. We had lunch at one place, again a guidebook recommendation, and really enjoyed it. I can't really do a compare and contrast; I'm sure some are better than others, and we mainly chose it because it was better value than the others, but prices overall were much cheaper than many other seaside resort towns you could care to mention, anywhere, and the quality is clearly very high.

    You can also just walk to the end of the seafront, near the pier, where there are several stall selling shellfish (mainly oysters) where they will open your oysters of preference for you and serve them on a platter for you to eat. We didn't do this, but there were certainly many enthusiastic customers. Prices depended on the size of the oysters, but were in the range of 6 to 15 euro per dozen, plus a token charge of 50 cent or a euro per dozen to open them, and 50 cent for lemon. Good value I think you'll agree.

    After lunch, we wanted to find Grain de Vanille, which we duly did, and had coffee and some pastries. If any of you have seen the episode of No Reservations where Les Coquillage, Grain de Vanille, and Chez Jacky feature, then you'll know what to expect, but all I will say is that you need to go there to really do it justice. We planned on going back there for some breakfast the following morning, where we were treated to the sight of a team of commis assembling their millefeulle. These are usually made to order, and I think all the large ones are, but they also had some mini ones that were available for walk-ins. We 'only' had the regular vanilla cream version (I think there are about a dozen flavours available), but it was frankly incredible. One of the best things I have ever eaten, for about 2 euro a piece.

    In the summer, there's a gourmet market every Thursday evening in Cancale, just around the corner form Grain de Vanille, and we happened to be there for the last of the season. A nice group of single-product artisan producers had a lovely array of mouth-watering food of all types, without it feeling like a typical French market. As luck would have it, the charcuterie place from No Reservations had a stall there, and we were able to get some of their products to try: a lightly cured, paprika-laced rolled pork belly, and lightly cured roast pork, in slices, with some pork rillettes. These were eaten with some bread from a nearby bakery, and chilled cider picked up from another market stall, while sitting on the seafront as the sun set. One of the best meals I've ever had, and you should certainly track them down at the markets they visit if you're ever in the area.

    We really enjoyed Les Coquillages; the setting and building are fantastic, and the staff are excellent (as you'd probably expect). Only the 135 euro super-duper tasting menu was available at lunch (I previously thought the 68 euro tasting menu was available too, along with the seafood platter), so we went for the a la carte menu (I'll mention their daily lunch menu here: we saw several tables having this, and it looked like incredible value for about 28 euro per head). We honestly could have gone for any combination of starters and main courses (there were about 8 of each, including specials), but in the end I had a sardine tartine to start and agneau pre sale (served with beans in a tomato sauce), and my wife had two fish dishes (i'll check, but I think it was a dish of smoked pollack to start, followed by seabass; they were both very good, especially the pollack as it had two different cuts of fish with different levels of smokeyness). We weren't amazed by any single dish, but they were very well executed and balanced.

    We both opted to go for the cheese course, and for 12 euro this is a bargain. Any cheese fan will literally drool when the trolley is rolled into the room, and they are very willing to prepare a tasting platter with a little input on your likes and dislikes. An array of jellies and chutneys to match each cheese is also available. Dessert is also served from the trolley, and heads turn when this makes an appearance. It's hard to make the cheese trolley look second best, but the dessert trolley manages it. Don't try to taste everything; you'll never manage. Pick a few favourites, and just enjoy it. Highlights for us included more millefeulle, profiteroles filled tableside with ice cream then liberally covered in chocolate sauce, and chocolate tart.

    After that, it was on to Rennes, which I'll describe in due course after I check some of the names of place I've mentioned above...

  7. Update: Gill is booked; if anyone is interested, then the 7 course tasting menu on their website is 95 euro, and the 3 course lobster menu is 135 IIRC. A 5/6 course tasting menu in a * place here would cost around 70 euro, so the tasting menu there strikes me as reasonable.

    Any thoughts on whether we should go for the tasting menu or the seafood platter at Les Coquillages? The price is the same, so that's not an issue.

  8. Hi Rick,

    We stayed just outside Hua Hin about two years ago, and really enjoyed it. I'm not sure what counts as authentic in that part of Thailand (or any part for that matter), but the food we had was certainly different to European Thai food, and it was very good in every case.

    We stayed in a small resort between Hua Hin and Cha-am, and had some very good local restaurants so we didn't go to the two larger towns too often. From what I recall, our travel guide (Lonely Planet I think) was a bit snooty about Hua Hin, but there were some recommendations for there too. I can check if you'd like. The restaurants built on piers over the water are obviously catering to tourists, but we found the seafood there (everywhere in fact) very good, and the setting really is lovely. My best advice would be eat wherever you want: I deliberately tried food from the little stalls built around mopeds (sweet and savoury) and it was uniformly excellent, without any gastro-intestinal distress shall we say. That isn't supposed to sound condescending either to you or to the food vendors, and if you're based in Hong Kong then I'm sure you're well-versed in street food culture but I think many visitors from the US and Europe would be a little wary. Dive in would be my advice.

    Again, I'm not sure if it's 'authentic' (I think it's one of those dishes that would provoke endless debate about the recipe) but try the Tom Yam soup everywhere you go. The variety is surprising and it is utterly delicious.

  9. Thanks for the replies and the helpful information. Our return trip is slightly crimped by the fact we're travelling over the weekend, so for example, quite a few places in Reims are closed on Sunday and Monday, and Origine in Rouen is closed at the weekend too.

    Our current plan is to try and get a table at Gill for Saturday evening in Rouen (they were on vacation until yesterday), and perhaps eat at the brasserie at Les Crayeres when we're in Reims. L'Assiette Champenoise looks fantastic (better than Les Crayeres IMO), but I don't think it'll fit the schedule. It will definitely be in the plans for a return trip, perhaps next year. The few days in Champagne are basically reconnaissance for a future trip (since we're based only a few hours drive from there), so we'll get a feel for the place and hopefully fit in a few tastings. Our preferred destination would be Veuve Cliquot, but they're closed (it seems) on Mondays when we hope to do most of the tastings in Reims.

    For Tuesday, we'd like to visit the following places in Oger: http://www.mariage-et-champagne.fr, where we can get lunch before hitting the road, and http://champagne-milan.com/. I'm interested in those for no reason beyond the fact they were featured in a newspaper article I read, and they sounded interesting and welcoming.

    Any other tips are more than welcome; I will certainly report my findings when I'm back.

    IA

  10. Hi everyone, I'm hoping that I can get some up-to-date information for my vacation in France next month. I have some draft ideas (and a reservation for lunch at Olivier Roellinger's place :biggrin: ) but I'd like to hear where you'd recommend for any food-related topic. We'll be staying on the coast near Caen for a few nights to begin, then MSM for a night, then Rennes for a night, before driving on to Brittany for a week. We'll be staying roughly between Lorient and Pontivy while we're there. We're planning on driving back (to Germany) via Rouen and Champagne.

    On the list so far are:

    • Calvados, cider, and cheese-tasting in Normandy
    • Roellinger, obviously,
    • Chez Jacky and Anne de Belon when we're in Brittany

    I've read some recommendations online, and have the Michelin Red Guide, but I'd love some recommendations for anywhere from Honfleur/Lisieux in the east to Quimper in the west (the northern coast of Brittany, including places like St. Brieuc, will be a little too far away I think but generally distances aren't a problem), and any hidden gems or less well-known Champagne producers that are worth a visit would also be gratefully received. I'm happy to share my experiences when I get back, and I'll post some other places we're considering in due course.

    Thanks in advance,

    IA

  11. It's several years since I was there, but I had a similar curiosity about that kind/level of French food. Of course there are better places to eat in NY, but we went nonetheless and enjoyed it. However, as someone else who has the cookbook, I think I cook their frites better (using the recipe in the book) than they do. It was an odd experience from that perspective, but we enjoyed it.

  12. Hello Harters, after reading your great descriptions about the places you've been to, I'm hoping you can give me some advice. I'm looking to stay somewhere in Kent before taking the Chunnel at the start of July, and would be delighted to eat at the Sportsman or indeed Eddie Gilberts. The problem: it'll be a Sunday evening when I'm there, and both close on Sunday afternoon. Any advice on somewhere else to eat? I have no accommodation in mind yet and am very flexible, but I will be driving from the Midlands on the day and simply won't be in a position to get to either of the above by 2 or 3 in the afternoon.

  13. I know my husband left a tip on top of the service charge, we were thrilled with the service and wanted to do so.

    We tipped at Per Se. Not a huge amount, but we wanted to show some appreciation for the incredible service. To be honest, I'm not sure there's any amount that would reflect how good it was.

  14. I've both roasted and braised lamb shanks many times, to great effect. They're possibly my favourite cut of meat, but I am a fanatical lamb eater. The main difference in how I would prepare them depending on whether I roast or braise them would be trimming the outside: when roasting, I'll leave the extra layer of fibrous fat on the outside, at the thick end. They release lots of tasty fat then. (I've bought shanks that lacked this layer though; shanks I've bought in Ireland and ones I've bought in Germany look very different, but I'm not sure why) For braising, I trim then back to the meat, then seal and braise them. When I first started braising them without trimming, I found the stew/sauce a bit too greasy. They make a great Moroccan style stew with tomatoes, dried apricots, and harissa paste, with a bit of saffron if you choose.

  15. There are some tragic figures and anecdotes cited in this topic; it seems some people are striving for heirloom tomatoes and the rest are reaching for Campbell's Tomato Soup (that's not a criticism of the soup, I'm just illustrating the two apparent definitions of 'cooking'). While quantifying how much each person does or doesn't spend cooking, perhaps we should think of it differently. Alasdair was/is presumably happy to spend his time cooking to provide sustenance for his family, like most of the rest of us on here I would say. We'd all be happy to spend more time, if it were available and would produce a better result/a meal we couldn't otherwise prepare. I think the difference is that most people who are spending just minutes a day 'cooking' or at least preparing food would like that time to be even shorter.

  16. So, here's a brief update after my trip to Bologna and the Ravenna area. Should I add my Ravenna (etc.) notes here too? I had to make a judgement call on where to eat lunch in Bologna, as we ended up spending just one day there. I eventually chose Da Poeti, and would highly recommend it. Their tagliatelli bolognese/ragu was voted the best of the trip (although a small place in Caorle, along the coast from Venice, was a close second). I was the only one to have two courses and wine, and was greatly pleased. A half-bottle of wine I requested was not available, so a full bottle of the same wine was offered instead. I politely declined, explaining that I was the only one drinking, and that it would be a waste. An alternative half bottle was suggested and provided, and was delicious (both were local Sangioveses). Ashamedly, I can't think what my primo consisted of, but I certainly remember enjoying it. Secondo was beef strips (stracci?) with rosemary, served with delicious roast potatoes. I may have been limited to one good eating opportunity (I had a weeks worth of places I wanted to try), but I did not regret my choice. I explored Tamburini with eyes like saucers, and bemoaned my lack of time and conservative companions. We did have a drink later in the attached bar, where I would happily have run rampage through their wine selection. While Bologna is a very pleasant city, and the central attractions around Piazza Maggiore are very impressive, I did get the impression that food is the big draw. Sadly, I need to add a warning: while we had time for just one 'good' meal, we did need to eat before we headed back to where we were staying, and I was obliged to pick a more non-foodie destination for something quick in the evening (the parking garage just outside town was closing early, at 8pm). I picked La Brace, on Via San Vitale, which was mentioned in our guidebook (Lonely Planet, since you ask) with the slightly worrying (and in hindsight, clarion-like) description that 'pizza and seafood aren't what Bologna is known for, but that's what you'll find here' or words to that effect. The place was a disaster. Perhaps, it was slightly self-inflicted: we turned up just before they were opened properly, at 7, and said we were happy to wait a while for service (apparently, the kitchen staff were eating). This didn't bother us too much; we'd walked a lot, were tired, and had limited choice and time when it came to eating at 7 and needing to be finished by 8. However, this doesn't excuse the brutal service, which was at turns too quick to demand our orders and then utterly disinterested in whether we needed anything else. No bread or grissini were served, despite an extortionate 2 euro per person cover charge (I don't disapprove of 'coperto' in general, but considering this was the highest we paid anywhere, including Venice, in two weeks, for the worst service by far, I think it's ridiculous). Other tables were provided with bread, for whatever reason. When the food did arrive (it was quick, I'll give them that), it was disappointing. The bolognese/ragu was a shadow compared to other places we tried it (in, and outside of Bologna) and was too salty. The pizzas were flabby and soggy in the middle, due to the use of inexplicably moist ingredients. I had ordered a pizza that included porcini (by design, it wasn't something I requested as an addition myself) which seemed more like those tinned button mushrooms you find in supermarkets. I realise that dried porcini aren't a practical or tasty pizza topping, but the amount of liquid they added ruined what would have been an acceptable (if slightly pricey) pizza. I departed before the rest of the party, to ensure the garage didn't shut, but I learned afterwards that the bill was very slow in coming, despite several requests. All in all, the place was a clear tourist trap, in a city seemingly devoid of them. I think it would have been bad by the standards of touristy places in Venice; somewhere like Bologna certainly doesn't need places like this. And don't get me wrong, this isn't snobbery: the decoration of the room with football shirts didn't put me off (I'm an avid football fan, and enjoyed identifying the teams), and I'm not saying you shouldn't eat pizza (or seafood) in Bologna. I just don't think you should go to La Brace to do either.

    So, on, or back, to Ravenna, where we were based for the first week of our vacation. We didn't eat much in Ravenna itself, however the Covered Market there is well worth a trip for foodies, being similar (even if much smaller) to the Bocqueria in Barcelona (or, if I may venture, the English Market in my native Cork). You won't find any chichi stalls here, just the usual staples (dazzling vegetables, delectable meat both raw and cooked, and wonderful larder ingredients) that make most tourists to Italy drool and concoct menus in their head as they take it all in (or is that just me?). We did take some sausages with us when we left, which were later barbequed when we arrived at our second destination. I would recommend getting ice-cream from the cafe right on the corner when you're leaving the Duomo though, it was top-notch. The big revelation in Ravenna was a restaurant close to where we were staying, near the beach resorts just outside town. It's a place called Il Molinetto, on the Canale Molinetto that links Ravenna to resorts like Marina di Ravenna, Punta Marina, and Lido Adriano.

    Initially, I was wary of the place, being largely in the middle of nowhere, but passing it most days, it always seemed busy (and it wasn't high season, bear in mind). So, we stopped off one evening for dinner to check it out, while only being in the mood for pizza which seemed a decent yardstick of the place. The parking area was very busy, a good sign, and when we went inside it was packed with what we took for locals. They found us a table (we were close to being turned away I think, and this was a Monday or Tuesday evening, not too late) and we settled in. The menu was quite long, but seemed quite authentic, rather than 'lets put every Italian dish you've heard of on the menu'. We chose some pizzas, while admiring the rest of the menu, and vowing to return to do the place justice. The pizzas were very very good, with everyone satisfied with their choices, and we noticed the large family groups evidently celebrating events together, with 3 generations being a common site. Those are all good indicators in my book, so later in the week we made a reservation for the following Friday evening. This time, with a booking, the service was even better, and we had a great table. Some of the less adventurous eaters in the party took a very chances and were very happy they did, and we covered a reasonable number of bases by ordering pasta, risotto, and different grilled meat platters/dishes. I had a wonderful scallop and truffle risotto which could easily have served two people, and would have made a respectable mini-starter for four people if it had been divided up accordingly. We had a half bottle of pignoletto as an aperitif, then a half bottle and a bottle of Sangiovese (only two of us were drinking wine). All were very good, and cost the princely sum of 22 euro in total (the risotto, the most expensive single dish apart from a grilled meat platter for two, was 14 euro). The two different meat platters for the second course were very good, with a nice variety of cuts served in a variety of ways. One piece of mine was a bit dry for my liking, but a carved steak that formed part of the platter for two was cooked medium well at one end and daringly rare at the other, a nice balance. It was a wonderful piece of beef also.

    Since it was a bit of a blow-out meal to mark the end of our time in the Ravenna area, desserts (semifreddo and crema catalana) were ordered, and they were magnificent. Once those were out of the way, a bottle of limoncello was put on the table with 4 glasses and an invite to help ourselves. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), the rest of the party were not fans of limoncello so I was left to my own devices. Shortly afterwards, another ice-cold bottle and more glasses were placed on the table; this time it was liquorice liquer. Note: liquorice, not aniseed. I love the former, and mostly loathe the latter. This dark, almost balsamico-like liquid was delicious, tasting much like you'd imagine good liquorice dissolved in alcohol would taste like. It was a surprise hit. Again, we were told to help ourselves. After we'd paid, and wheeled ourselves out of the restaurant, a small discrepancy was spotted on the bill: a bottle of wine, which was out of stock, had been included on the bill. We felt partly to blame, as we had asked a second waiter about it, and were later offered an alternative wine when told it was not available. We pointed this out at the till, and were immediately refunded the 15 euro in cash from the till, despite paying by credit card. The total, with three courses for 4 people, several beers, the wine (as mentioned), and several bottles of water, came to almost exactly 160 euro. This was a meal well worth 40 euro per head. It wasn't a guidebook type of place, but it felt like the local restaurant that your family always went to when you were a kid, or the place you always go to when you want a favourite dish. The food was well-executed, well priced, and served in a very comfortable way. For anyone staying in the area, it would be a great place to have on your doorstep. I'll add some comments elsewhere on Venice and Treviso.

  17. Thanks a lot Ambra, those details about the shellfish and baking soda are very useful, and we'll make sure that we tell the staff she's pregnant. We're staying near Ravenna for a week (with a few trips to Bologna I can't wait for), and another week near Caorle east of Venice.

  18. She had been avoiding all the 'problem' foods, and will continue to do so, I was just wondering if there were any 'stealthy' risks that I mightn't be aware of (like raw eggs in Caesar Salad dressing, which some people mightn't know about, for example). That's a good point about the smaller fish andd mercury though, thank you. She won't need telling twice to pig out on pizza and pasta!

×
×
  • Create New...