Saturday, 31 July 2010

A State of Undress in the South of France

So fresh, each morsel was eaten nude bar the merest spritz of lemon

The village of Neffies. An excited sun.

Villa. Pool. Five girls and fifteen bikinis.

This trip was strictly educational. We learnt much about our capacity to eat. Informed enough to tell you the merits of panaché versus shandy and to advise on only choosing figs that almost puncture at the touch, we can also prove that it is possible to consume €300 worth of cheese and wine. Over 3 days. By a pool. (See Must Drink below for sauce suggestions)

But we took a break from sun-ripening and pool-dipping to venture over to the town of Bouzigues in the Etang de Thau - the largest oyster-producing area in France. La Palourdière is the sort of restaurant one has to snaffle out rather than stumble across. With views overlooking the spectacular oysterbeds that cultivate the Bouzigue flat oyster, it is worth snaffling out.

Rumour has it that Rick Stein, on his French Odyssey, fell in love with this place. Though there’s no evidence to say it was here (he refused to divulge the name of the restaurant), we like to think it was.

The menu at La Palourdière was thus:

Bread and aïoli
I verily believe aïoli improves everything savoury.

Le Pêcheur - Fresh mussels, snails, prawns, clams, oysters (photo top of page)

Moules Gratinées
Plump and juicy with the delight and satisfaction of a cheese-flavoured crunch.

The waiters undressing the grilled bream and sea bass
I was disappointed by this undressing- I like the ritual of eating the whole fish.

The bream undressed

Gambas flambées à la Provençale
Prawns probably spritzed with brandy

Zarzuela (which means ‘Operetta’)
A Catalan dish - a mix of seafood cooked with tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers. We affectionately named this vuvuzela as it was victually just as noisy.

So, by the end of our trip, what had we learned? Not much, to be honest. But what we do know is that our cheese eating abilities can only be complimented by our amorous seafood tendencies.

Thank you Hannah for introducing us to a French life beyond panaché and piscine.

La Palourdière
Port Loupian
04 67 43 80 19

Must Drink
A better man than me - Hugh Johnson - said Picpoul de Pinet is "perfect with an oyster". Since we were eating oysters in the Bassin de Thau, just a few miles south of the demarcated area where Picpoul de Pinet wine is grown and made, it would have been silly to drink anything else. And Hugh Johnson is right. A mouthful of lemony fresh Picpoul, followed by a gobful of salty shucked oyster, followed by a mouthful of lemony fresh Picpoul, and so on, and you could easily lose an entire afternoon in these lipsmacking flavours. And so we did... At its best, Picpoul is mineral and mouthfilling, with flavours of citrus, dried herbs and white flowers, tasting of the smell of the Languedoc countryside. Even at less than best it is still light and crisp and wonderfully refreshing. A glass of this is like diving into a cool, green pool under the hot Languedoc sun.
Ruth Ford

Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux de Languedoc AC, Languedoc, France
White wine
Grape: Picpoul Blanc
Available: Majestic, Oddbins, and other independent retailers

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Two Exciting Things: Part II - Guest Wine Botherer

Photo: Kirsten Bresciani

Very often the authoritative voice on food cannot have the same level of authority on drink. And this is a pity. I often wish that Nigel Slater’s sumptuous recipes will be accompanied by the perfect drink suggestion - alcoholic or not. The absence of direction is odd when the flavours of the drink will be taken at the same time as the flavours of the meal.

I have a few cookbooks - Le Gavroche Cookbook for one, which have wine suggestions, but they are too expensive for low-key occasions. The book which I think matches food and drink well is How to drink, by The Guardian's Victoria Moore, which has a great emphasis on food and gives context to most of her drinks ideas.

So I’ve asked close friend Ruth Ford - a self-confessed 'Mancunian wine-botherer' - whose palate I am in awe of, to tie in wine and drink recommendations. Every now and then she will be giving a guide on how to match the wine to the food under the section she quite rightly titles with an urgent imperative:

Must Drink

She is the Olly Smith to my Saturday Kitchen - blonde and talented, but curiously prettier.

One area we’re both interested in is exploring how Asian food can work with wine. Whilst the Asian restaurant scene in UK has readily improved over the last 20 years, my own experience of wine in Chinese restaurants has been confined to either late-night tart whites sloshed illicitly from teapots, or obscure breeds served quaintly in Michelin starred hangouts.

The middle ground is - yes, there is a wine list, and no the waiter has no idea if the Sauvignon Blanc will go with the braised goose web. And of course, there is the question of whether wine is even the best thing to drink with such dishes of savoury and spice.

Please give Ruth a warm welcome and soak up the advice. And I can’t wait to learn gems from her so I can say things like - ‘you just can’t go wrong with a gavi di gavi’.

How to Drink by Victoria Moore, £15.99 is published by Granta
Le Gavroche Cookbook by Michel Roux Jr, £14.99 is published by W&N

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Two Exciting Things. Part I: New London Review (again)

I’ve been inexcusably absent from voracious. A brief sojourn in South-East Asia regressed into a sabbatical from web-logging. During this absence there have been unwarranted trips to France, the start of a new job, an unsteady obsession with the Straits Chinese cooking of Malaysia, and many barbecued spatchcocked chickens - all of which I’m sure will manifest itself coherently on here.

However, this post is one of two exciting things - the second of which will pop up in the next few days.

The compelling culture of South London's Brixton has reared cult-like culinary fervour. And rightly so. The market is the essential artery - its community the throbbing pulse. An indisputable respect for food means there is no room for indifference here.

The advocates are not hard to find. For the launch edition of New London Review magazine, I spoke to Rosie Lovell (author of Spooning with Rosie, and young matriarch of Rosie's Deli Cafe in the market) whose affection for Brixton was almost tangible.

The second edition is out now - and spotlights another Brixton Market success story. Franco Manca's enigmatic and exuberant Giuseppe Mascoli divulges the secrets of his success whilst I indulge in his wine, pizza and mellifluous musings.

So, I thought I'd post a preview of my interview with Giuseppe here.
The brilliant snaps are taken by Kirsten Bresciani.

I also round up the best of outdoor South London in a festival special which has the treat of a little Q&A with Fat Boy Slim. This summer - hedonism, urban art and farmyard animals await. If anyone is going to South West Four festival on Clapham Common over the August Bank holiday, I shall see you there.

South London Festival Special

If you've not managed to pick up a copy, you can subscribe by clicking here.
Front cover