28 Aug 2013

Postcard from the Pays Basque | What's it like?

Last year there was no real family holiday, as my mum and I headed off to New York without the men. This year, I came home just for it. I had barely been in France for 24 hours that we were off on a seven hours long drive South to the Pays Basque. Brits will maybe know it as Basque Country, but it sounds prettier in French so deal with it. 

Things you will find in the Pays Basque:
- White houses with mostly red shutters and doors; sometimes green, very occasionally blue. Nothing else, as the colours correspond to the three occupations of the locals in old times: livestock farming, agriculture and fishing.

- Delicious food that will make your taste buds sing. There is something for everyone down there. Meat lovers will enjoy rib steaks a la plancha, platters piled with ham and chorizo, grilled duck filets and the most adventurous will love the local black pudding. (I'm far for a meat lover but man, their black pudding!) If like me, you're more into sea things, you should already be on your way there because I ate the best fish of my life in Bidart (roasted hake with olive oil dressing and garlic crisps at restaurant La Plancha, mind blowing, seriously.) They're also incredible at seafood, make delicious cheese, and cultivate their own regional chili pepper in Espelette. What's not to love?

- A difficult thing to escape in the Pays Basque is... tourists. They are everywhere, as it appears the region is rapidly becoming one of the most popular holiday destination for froggies. We saw these beautiful fireworks on an absolutely packed beach, as in I barely had enough room to stretch my legs (totally worth it though.) We were staying in a village of barely 1,000 inhabitants and had to skip lunch one day because all three restaurants were full! It needs going into the land and avoiding the most touristic villages to find empty places.

- Street art, surprisingly! The small village we stayed at had its walls covered in stickers of old people...

- Tons of pretty and interesting places to visit. I'll tell you more about what we did during the stay in my next post, but really I want to insist on how beautiful it all was. The land is surprisingly green (we were told it rains a lot), the all similar houses create a beautiful landscape, with houses decorated with chili peppers and animals sunbathing in the fields.

That's it for my first postcard from the Pays Basque, but I have another one coming up soon...

21 Aug 2013

Instafood round up #4: the drink edition!

I have a confession to make: I like alcohol. A lot. Not like, I'm a crazy alcoholic (although that's open to debates :p) I just really enjoy drinking and the taste of it and yes, I even love beer! Here are some spots I recently tried in London and really loved... Go try them out and let me know what you thought!

Camden and Shoreditch

This is an absolute favourite.

This year I developed an intense and irrational passion for craft beer. Craft beer is called thus when it's made by nice people in independent small-scale breweries for nice people to enjoy them with their nice friends. Originally quite a US based idea, it had its big break in the UK thanks to the awesome Scottish chaps at BrewDog.
They have two pubs in Central London where they sell their own as well as guest beers. The bars have a taster board on the menu, allowing you to try out four of the bad boys. I let the barman pick for me based on my taste and it was all kinds of beertastic. Especially the Hardcore.

198 Shaftsebury Ave

Hop down a hidden flight of stairs outside the nice looking café and you'll find yourself in secret pub Freud, now relatively widely known in London thanks to its affordable cocktails (£7ish, which I'll have you know is kinda cheap for central London) and cool location. The place was packed when we went but it's all worth it once you get through the queues. The mixologist  impressed/terrified us by juggling with our cocktails' shakers, but man was he skilled because they came out intact and ah-freaking-mazing. With a list of 40 or so cocktails, you'll definitely find something to your taste!

De Hems Dutch Cafe Bar
11 Macclesfield St (in Chinatown)

Why do I so often end up in a Dutch bar in Chinatown? I have no clue. But the beer is good and the prices surprisingly reasonable for a pub with such a central location. The staff is friendly and helpful (my knowledge of Dutch beers is v poor) and it doesn't hurt that their Dutch snack platters are zeer smakelijk. Try a pint of Vedett White, a personal fave from there! 

10 Aug 2013

A treat with Pierre Hermé

Last time I went home, my dad, being the sweetie he is, asked me if I'd like him to make macarons just before my return to London so I could take them back with me. Me, being the quick-witted gourmet I am, said yes.

What I didn't know, is that by bringing macarons to London, I was about to introduce a certain hungry demon to what would become his absolute obsession. He got a box of Ladurée beauties for his birthday, so naturally, we had to try the other big name of the macaron while in Paris. 

Yes, he was pretty excited. Also we ate them on the Champs Elysées because we're cool kids, so. He went for a large salted caramel one, while I got the lime and red berries, and another one that I can't remember well. I think it might have been the grapefruit, clove and nutmeg, but my memories are terribly vague.

The caramel macaron was apparently slightly disappointing. The problem of such a large macaron is that there's a lot of it and it can become a bit... too much, especially with a buttercream like the ones often used in salted caramel macarons. Still, I had a taste of it and the flavour was very nice.

Since I can't remember 'the orange one', I'll focus on the other: de-li-cious. I loved the marriage of lime and berries and how delicately the berries compotey thing was added in the middle. The little sugar grains on the shell were perfect to add a little acidulous taste to it. Noms. 

Only problem with macarons... they're not free. Really not free. But they make a gorgeous once-in-a-while treat. 

Pierre Hermé, multiple stores in Paris. Website
Available in Selfridges and at their London store 13 Lowndes St. 

1 Aug 2013

The Culture Feature | May/June/July 2013

Let me start by saying from now on, I'll stop pretending that The Culture Feature is actually ever going to be monthly. It's just a 'once in a while/surprise!' kind of event.

So, surprise! The past three months have been good to me, especially in terms of books. I've read a few great novels (mostly because I spent a whole week in a place with no Internet connection), dived right in in TV and discovered the joys of documentaries. I hope this post makes you want to get your hands on all these!

BOOKSWonder, R. J. Palacio
Wonder was a real gem and it's definitely the one that I'd recommend the most in this list. It tells the story of August, a boy with facial deformity who goes to school for the first time. Guys, we all know what school feels like. Kids are tougher than the world seems to think and bullies are a common. August has it even worse. Palacio shows what it takes to make it through hardships that no one can really imagine. August is braver and stronger than most; it's actually difficult to believe he is only ten, but then he is not everybody else... Although the book seems to think, ultimately, that we are all different. And it's good. Now that's a message I love, and after reading such a touching book I don't see how you won't love it too.

BOOKSExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
This had been on my to-do list for YEARS. I've been lucky to not have seen the movie (since I've been told it was terrible) so I came to the story completely uninformed. Another book about a boy, this one follows Oskar, 9, in his quest around Manhattan to try and solve a mystery left by his recently dead father. With 9/11 as a background for the story, the novel asks question about family, growing up and secrets, in Foer's very poetic writing style. This book is something else; the writing is special and precious, and the story will make you think.

BOOKS | Bossypants, Tina Fey
I downloaded this to my Kindle as a beach book; it felt like it'd be great to read with my toes in the sand. Except I started it an evening after coming back from the beach and couldn't put it down! I nearly finished it before introducing to the seaside... Ok so Tina Fey is hilarious + she wrote a book about her life = this will make you laugh lots (and especially so if you're a woman.) Fey is so full of self deprecation and twisted wisdom and speaks honestly about mountain climbing, the horror of cruises and even pee jars. It's just deliciously brilliant so read it now.

TV | Breaking Bad
Who hasn't heard of Breaking Bad? I feel like I'd seen Bryan Cranston's egg head everywhere ever since the show came on but I never got around to watch it (mostly because my mum, whose advice I highly trust, gave it a "meh.") But then summer and boredom and Netflix and I'm almost done with season two. The plot: a chemist teacher diagnosed with cancer starts cooking meth to save money for his family. I have to say I find it a bit slow to start, but the story in itself is so interesting and different from what I'm used to that I kept going on. Mostly, I'm hooked onto the characters (despite almost all of them really annoying me) and want to see how bad they can get.

TV | Luther
TWO YEARS. That's how long we had to wait for season three, but everyone behind Luther is amazing and it did not disappoint. Dark and full of secrets copper Luther comes back, angrier than ever. Everyone's against him, his (few) loves ones don't trust him and seriously creepy bad guys are still out there. I cannot insist enough on 'creepy': if you're easily scared, don't watch. You'll end up sleeping with scissors under your pillow just in case. But the scenario is so well written and the cast so very talented that it'd be a terrible miss.

MOVIESCraigslist Joe
Once thing I discovered in the past month: Netflix is endless. So instead of just using it to watch TV shows, I ventured out of my comfort zone and went for documentaries... The first I watched was Craigslist Joe, about a guy who lived a month relying solely on Craigslist for food, shelter, money, transport; in short, everything. Besides very interesting, it's a moving doc that renewed my faith in humanity.

MOVIES | Exit Through The Gift Shop
If you like street-art, this one is a no miss. This documentary by Banksy describes the story of Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman established in LA who took his filming hobby to the streets... literally, and started filming the local street art scene. Through his cousin, artist Space Invader, he got to meet and film some of the biggest names of the graffiti world, from Shepard Fairey to Banksy, until he took a chance at street art himself. This is such a great docu, for its description of the street art world, of the artists' process, of the marketisation of the industry... and for Guetta's very strange transformation from nerdy passionate to annoying arrogant brat—in my humble opinion.