I am writing this from the Winery in the Languedoc. Here it is hot and things move slowly, even a rain-bearing electrical storm that grumbled and sparked all through the night, gently sousing the land and yielding the brief respite of a fresh morning. So thoughts slow and travel is kept local... One might just make the beach though, and if so... it's rosé time. So a glass can be raised to the life of Orri Vigfusson, a great fighter for our Atlantic salmon stocks who sadly has passed away. Someone who kept the debate alive and made a real difference.
I was recently in the privileged position of accompanying Olivier, one of the last licensed salmon-net fisherman out onto the Adour Estuary in Bayonne. He is the president of the local association and he gave a spirited argument for their continued existence and livelihood. However, he had few kind words for the game fisherman further upstream which is symptomatic of much talk about conservation and sustainable stocks. Orri got many to work together, he will be missed. Meanwhile, the debate continues on eels and what fish (eels are fish) one should and should not take for the plate (and from whom). As for salmon, well spawning salmon in our rivers need protection, and there is farmed salmon, of course. Use farmed? Well, that's really your choice. However, salmon at St. JOHN? Er, non!
Governmental control, the individual tags that follow the caught fish to the table
That trip meant we’d could say hallo to some friends who have a little restaurant in San Sebastian, Arzak. We are lucky people, and happy as you can see in the photo below. And a tip for San Sebastian? Go eat at Gerald’s Bar, good food and a good list. Sometimes the media gets ahead of the actual content and pinxtos can be quite routine, not in a bad way but not to be confused with Cal Pep in Barcelona say. Gerald (yes, he of happy nights in Melbourne) and his work partner Bella are a local credit!
So it’s the Summer holidays, still thinking, but more gently. I liked Fergus’ comment that we are not Luddites, but perhaps we are Luddish. Onward, gently…
With Elena and Juan Mari Arzak
I have now recently eaten smashed/bashed/massaged avocados on both coasts of America, in Melbourne, Sydney and other places in between... and the list goes on. Is there nowhere to take refuge from the 'trend'? Apparently not. I went to Saumur in the Loire this week and was taken by local winemakers of repute to a restaurant of repute. The amuse-bouche? I kid you not, it was bloomin’ avocado! How deep runs the meme? (not sure what I just said, just wanted to use the word).
One thing though, talking of memes (am I? I stand to be corrected), we did not drink any “natural wine” in Saumur. Well, we did by some criteria you can apply, but it was simply good wine, well made. Which is to say that it tasted like wine with no hint of rainwater - a commodity which is now presumably even more globally precious as it irrigates a planet full of avocado “production facilities”.
Saumur, where the avocadeau is traditinally grown
A wine travel tip for you: when in the Loire don’t chase that crowd to those certain doors. Instead check out folk like Domaine de Haute Perche, Vincent Ogereau, Francois Crochet
, Filiatreau, Chateau Langlois, Jo Pithon… but as the region is the most diverse in France, here’s a cheats tip, just look at RSJ Restaurant
in London which only lists good things from the Loire, or go to Jim Budd’s website
for his extensive knowledge of the region.
Sadly I missed the article “How to Instagram your food” in a recent Waitrose Magazine, think of the tips I could have picked up, here’s mine, having happily eaten in Ben Shewry’s (all 'round good man) "new" Attica recently, amongst the camera people – just try and do it in the comfort of your own home!
Travels throw up good places to eat so here are some: Amsterdam, good folk, good people and a stylish operation indeed, Joris Bijdendijk’s Rijks, at the eponymous museum, and two good men and late-night entertainers of St. JOHN folk, Giel and Bram at Kaagman and Kortekass... all very different from the days of tourist rijstaffel on the menu in Amsterdam!
Restaurant Passerini, Paris 12me, a good spot for lunch amongst a sophisticated dontcha-know crowd and for a photo of Fergus as “the man at the window”.
Fergus as "the man in the window" in Paris
Meanwhile at the other end of the world, indeed planet, a v. good burger with the thrash, the T-shirts, the cocktails, Mary’s in Sydney, Jake and Kenny are a force.
There will always be lunch at Chez Georges in Paris, it has really quite sensible opening hours too.
Finally, now the chance to drink an Alsace Pinot Noir might not be available at any of the above, even Chez Georges, however, just to say that the best reds, given price and all the other criteria that I have tasted with a view to listing this year, are Trimbach’s two Pinots, both 2014s, the Reserve and the Cuvee “7”. For those of you who know your Pinot history, there was a time when…
I put the Reserve straight on the list, Fergus is happily on quality-control duties.
Finally, (because I asked Ben for one) a small photo of a large egg
Our Max witnessing transhumance in Domaine Tempier
Some recent travels threw up some nice moments – we were in Bandol and after family lunch at Domaine Les Luquettes I took the chance to see if we could visit Domaine Tempier, grandaddy of them all in Bandol.
Veronique, the granddaughter of Lucien Reynaud (the man who gave us the Tempier of today), was both generous in showing us around and treating us to a tasting, including the treat of a 1988 Cabassaou! Here are a couple of photographs: Max witnessing the vineyard end of transhumance for the first time, and Veronique holding a copy of a certain famous cookbook, click here you cookbookistas... now there’s a little history. To get hold of Tempier wines in the UK contact Jason or Tom at Yapp Brothers.
Lucien Reynaud's granddaughter Veronique, with a copy of her grandmother Lulu's lauded Provençal cookbook
And on the other side of the world, a recent trip to Australia saw the vinyl, natural, tattooed, small-plated, brickwork operations well established, of course. However, amidst the 50 Best junket – me a fringe attendee – someone did leave me with two Australian “natural”, oh, let’s call them “not-so-longer-new-wave" wines, to taste. If you can find them, try them: Si Vintners Margaret River 2016 Lello and Salo Yarra Valley 2015 Chardonnay – New World triumphs.
So January has passed and there's a flicker of longer days to come. The water and flamingos have replaced the late Summer salt beds in the etangs in the deep Mediterranean South West of France and Le Pen is a force across the whole Languedoc Roussillon. Elections are coming and there are tensions, not just her. We (who shall remain nameless, let's just say a party of folk) endured an, um, 'difficult' meal in Paris a week or so ago with an even more difficult "natural" wine list. What can I say! We buy wines from some of the same producers, but not these wines. Are there such folk really drinking these? Sadsacs in a post hipster malaise? Sadly it seems to match the zeitgeist! My zeitgeist being a little different, theirs unknowingly maybe being bad wines for bad times!
Those wine glasses - some would call them 'iconic', we have used them for over 20 years.
To make it worse, as globalisation continues its march (and the refrain is "nothing wrong with that as long as it's my factory not yours"), our bloomin' glasses have gone out of production! More scrabbling around warehouses in Europe to buy up discontinued stock.... ho hum. But on to good things, some recommendations: Chez Georges in Paris for lunch as ever! Refugi del Llacs dels Pessons above Grau Roig in Andorra, you'll need snowshoes to walk up, but what a good lunch! Good Spanish wines too from Alion and others (we went for lunch and not the skiing). And in Toulouse, Au Pere Louis where the usual good welcome is to be had, along with andouillette and their particular frites, all correctly cooked. The wine list is no great shakes, but happy, and there is the defiant patron who insists on lighting up inside before heading out! And we went to Amsterdam to cook at the newly opened Rijksmuseum, there’s good food in the Dam these days.... so, in conclusion, reasons to be cheerful always!
Thoughts turn to filling the festive storecupboard. Let's raise our glass to all those in the parts of little Britain that support our independence of mind and spirit, as they eat less meat but eat better by buying from their local farmers, and it’ll be the same with their wine purchases too. They’ll spend that little bit more, enjoy the wines a little better and keep another local store run by enthusiastic folk going a little longer.
Or... Will it be Lidl and Morrisons et al for all their needs, meat and drink? Sadly I know the answer. As they say, be careful what you wish for... or rather, now don’t be surprised with what is in store!
One thing about dining at Paul Bocuse, the King of Lyon's restaurant, was the appearance of the man himself. More cameo in later years but every chef I've been there with has loved that photograph with the Maitre outside on the steps of his eponymous restaurant, the tallest toque in the world!
I was in Lyon having lunch at Paul Bocuse recently, a happy surprise for a chef's birthday, and for the first time, there was no Maitre Bocuse to be seen (his son Jerome was at the helm). Those longest standing three stars that were never going to be taken away, that toque that never diminished, those painted walls and murals of une vie culinaire, and Lyon that celebrated a chef like nowhere else in the World.
Now I didn't ever really think that his daily routine - market/kitchen/service/mistress/shoot for the pot/home to see the family/kitchen/evening service/repeat - was really and still was an every day thing; this was, simply put, part of the legend.
Lyon has produced a thrash of would be Bouchons Lyonnaise recently. They are not Bouchons, they are for the tourists, as is the once fabled market nowadays, and I'd taken to stop visiting. However old Lyon does exist, if you know where to look, so hail the King still and those that protect Lyon's heart.
I’ve been to the Houses of Parliament a couple of times recently, with drinks available at the reception on the Terrace, those striped plastic tents you see on the balcony on the news. A prosecco, tap water or industrial orange juice were my options (caveat, I did not taste, or wish to, this juice or the prosecco). Really the old Palace of Westminster is redolent of institution, in some elements not the ones you’d want to be either educated or hospitalised in.
But just as there is the sense or realisation here in London that our country’s lights and standing just got a little dimmer following our decision to leave the EU, and as our reputation for cooking and latterly good wine making hopefully remains intact, please don’t subject our guests to-- I'm being careful with my words, average catering services. It should be splendid. Oh and this week’s gathering was for…. the British Hospitality Industry.
This week’s wine recommendation, if you're heading to the House, have a glass first!
Back in June, I was crossing the étangs down in the very far south west corner
of France, pointing out the flamingoes to the unbelievers. The flamingoes were wading
in the brackish waters doing what flamingoes do.
Come August, some lagoons are now salt pans and the flamingoes have flown
to wetter parts. The summer has been good for the holiday makers but the lack
of rain is now a real concern for the vignerons as we approach harvest—
we need rain!
"Flamingoes here really? I’ll take that with a pinch of salt…"
In trying to find something positive from Brexit, I find myself thinking of what I did that night following that fateful morning.... Nicola and I went to the Camberwell Arms
and his partner Lucie, and listened as Lucas recounted stories from his time spent canvassing for the Remain campaign. Mendacious does adequately begin to describe the depths that the Leave campaign stooped to during the
run up to the referendum.
It had been much too long since I had last been at the Camberwell Arms (very unacceptable given that my ties to them go right back to the Fire Station days), but I suppose the silver lining in the day had been to bring us back. So we talked, tears may have been shed but good food was consumed along with enough wine to suit the mood (we did what Brits do)!
May such a time never repeat itself. But if so, the Camberwell Arms is there to bring solace. It is so good, and I really did like the Brockley Bitter (repeat pint required given the moment...)
Who’d have thought something called Brockley Bitter would be so delicious?