Tag Archives: baguette

Vin et Fromage – stretching my blogging legs

So. After four months of exam-and-frolic-based neglect, I decided it’s about time I resurrected my poor dusty blog before it got relegated to the back of the shelf like an out-of-date packet of cup-a-soup.

It wasn’t an entirely unprompted decision – as usual, it had something to do with cheese, and quite a lot to do with coffee.

Last week, I reluctantly returned from France. The reluctance was twofold. Firstly, it was a 4am ferry, so every follicle and molecule was urging me to sleep. But secondly, and much more importantly, I was leaving behind not so much the land of milk and honey, as the land of wine and cheese, where each day was spent in the warm embrace of a soft chevre, a speciality of the Loire Valley, and a glass of cool red.

Coming back to the wonders of a Shell garage somewhere on the M4 didn’t really help. Somehow we’d swapped cafes selling salads which sang with yesterday’s plastic sandwiches, glowing with E numbers.

It’s not as cheap now anymore, of course, and skipping round a supermarket knocking about 2 euros off the prices is a thing of the past. Plus now Milka and Mikados are available in the UK, part of the joy I always used to have on school exchanges has gone.

But – the coffee! No more decaf-half-fat-frappe-latte-milkshakes masquerading as coffee – in France, it’s either white, or black, small or big, in delicate cups. Strong and smooth, it goes hand in hand with a ladylike glass of Stella (no wifebeater jokes here) and should send shivers of fear through Starbucks.

And I’d forgotten about the bread. Forgotten how a 70 cent baguette from the baker’s in the square manages to be better than the poshest, posing-as-artisan bread here. The crust crispy but chewy, the inside white, fluffy, verging on sourdough as it stretches gently when you pull it apart.

And of course bread, and a jug of water, come with everything, almost without asking. And salads aren’t relegated to the bottom of the menu and doused in Caesar dressing – they are bright and bold, with delicate vinaigrettes, sizzling lardons, molten cheese, generous slices of cured ham…

They cost virtually nothing in labour, and at 8 euros is probably a bit cheeky, but it’s so much nicer to see maybe three or four salads on a menu, with perhaps a quiche and a croque, than a whole litany of ‘and chips’, chosen by the not-so-discerning hands of the freezer and microwave.

But the most striking thing of all were the two lonely shelves in the supermarket selling British food. I will defend custard and HP and Marmite and all the rest to the hilt, but Loyd Grossman, really? And Batchelors’ Pasta ‘n’ Sauce? And Tiptree jam at four times the price of rhubarb Bonne Maman?

Is dried pasta in powder really the best we can do?

Of course not. But good food is taken for granted in France – it’s still a 50/50 gamble here.

Commonplace rant over. I’m going to go and bake a (frozen) pain au chocolat, and pretend I’m not really in Suffolk.

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The food ghost and the best chips of my life

After three weeks of work experience I seem to have become a kind of food ghost, existing on a diet of Pret and M&S and Tesco Metro, with a helping of eating out which I really can’t afford. Not that I’m complaining.

Country bumpkin that I am, I still get a little bit excited about Pret (particularly their more-like-rice-pudding-than-breakfast porridge and their new rare roast beef baguette), and the  M&S food hall is, as I’ve said before, like getting a hug from my mum, even if I still haven’t quite adjusted to the incongruous sight of Cadburys and Cornflakes alongside the minibites and ultimate mash.

But none of this food really seems – real. It’s all so anodyne and plasticked and removed from anything vaguely arduous. Staying in other people’s houses and now at a B&B, I’ve no choice but to select the easiest thing, but it’s so dull dull dull. Especially Tesco. I hate the fact that, certainly in London and now increasingly in Cardiff , there’s one on every corner.

Each is equally tiny, with the same small and miserable selection of meals for one, drearily picked up by dreary food ghosts, sometimes with one of those miserably miniature bottles of wine for one, followed by a dessert. For one. All in several layers of plastic and at several removes from the field it should have started in.

I know I’m perilously close to food-snobbism, or worse still, poor-me-ism, but it’s just all so – sterile.

However. I was saved, at approximately 7.30pm on Thursday, April 15, by the best chips of my life.

I had just spent 5 hours outside the Oakington Detention Centre near Cambridge, helping to cover a rumoured “disturbance” there for the Cambridge News. It was a great experience but, also, as the April sun faded and the gates stayed quiet and closed, very, very cold.

By the time I got back to my B&B, I was frozen to the bone, absolutely starving and far too tired to make any kind of food decision. I did my dutiful ghost wandering around the Co-op, but somehow the prospect of a day-old chicken sandwich with a red reduced sticker slapped over the top didn’t fill me with joy.

My stomach was asking for only one thing. Chips. It wasn’t a want or a craving or even a fancy. It was, I swear, a genuine need.

So, having garnered a strange look from the man behind the counter in the Co-op for buying a solitary can of Grolsch (I’d just spent ten zombie-eyed minutes staring at the beer section trying to decide), I headed to the Viking fish and chip shop, next door to my B&B.

It smelt good. It looked good. It didn’t also sell Chinese and/or kebabs (a Crwys Road special). And, best of all, one of the options was ‘chips with homemade chilli’. I waited the five minutes extra, handed over my £3.10 (less than a Pret baguette, for a start…) and had to stop myself running back to my B&B.

I smuggled them in illicitly and there, on the floor of my bedroom, wantonly spread out the golden chips in their paper. God they were good. Covered in salt and vinegar, they were crispy on the outside and just the right balance of creamy and fluffy in the middle. Hot and satisfying and beautiful. And the chilli was gorgeous – chunky tomato and onion, good quality beef and spicy enough to need the calming stodginess of chips as a balm.

With nothing more than yesterday’s Cambridge News, a chip fork and the spoon from the morning’s coffee cup for accompaniment, it was perfect. At that moment, had someone offered me a Michelin-starred meal, you wouldn’t have moved me from my chips and my B&B floor.

This was food with a bit of soul and not a hint of plastic. Circumstance is all. So, tired and hungry and cold ghosts – abandon Tesco, and head to the chippy. It might just give you a smile like the woman above…

p.s. When I nipped outside to throw out my illicit chip paper, I went back to the fish and chip shop and raved about them to the owner. You can’t do that at Tesco. Although she did look a bit confused…

Goat’s cheese and galettes – Madame Fromage review

Madame Fromage is the kind of restaurant a small, malicious part of you doesn’t want to live up to the hype. Homemade pies, locally-sourced food, a deli you can drool over as you wait for your lunch to be prepared – it ticks too many boxes.

Unfortunately for my malicious side, at the third time of trying, Madame Fromage has yet to disappoint.

Tucked away in Castle Arcade, this famous Cardiff haunt combines Welsh classics like bara brith and lamb cawl with French-influenced galettes and traditional rib-sticking comfort food.

Part-deli, part-cafe, you’re greeted by a table piled high with freshly-baked bread and a deli counter filled with an impossible choice of cheese when you first walk in. The scent of homecooking and garlic more than makes up for the fairly limited seating area, tucked just inside the deli itself.

The menu is huge, but only because the range of ingredients on offer is so broad. Last time I visited, my friend waxed lyrical and loud about her galette (a savoury crepe) filled with melting goat’s cheese and homemade red onion marmalade, so this time round, after much deliberating, I followed suit and went for one with chilli cheese and chorizo.

The wait seemed interminable, not because of poor service but because in the closely-confined space you are surrounded on all sides by gorgeous food and It’s impossible not to stare.

When it finally arrived, my galette was light and crispy at the edges, little more than a vehicle for the cheese which oozed out at the first cut. The chilli and firm, meaty chorizo cut through the richness perfectly, and a generous side salad doused with balsamic vinaigrette stopped the cheese from being too overpowering.

My friend’s lamb cawl was a bowl full of goodness, tender chunks of lamb and winter vegetables in an aromatic broth, served with huge chunks of fresh bread from sundried tomato to wholemeal.

Despite homemade chocolate fondant, brownies and cheesecake tempting us from the counter, we were too full even to consider dessert.

It’s slightly pricey for a cafe – the baguettes jump from £3.50 to £6.50 if you choose to eat in – but it’s an ideal weekend treat, especially for cheese lovers.

Reposted on Capture Cardiff