Tag Archives: French Food

Cultural differences…

Well I have been watching the BBC 2 series about Chinese School “Are our are kids tough enough” – despite it’s infuriating editing making it seem a disastrous experience it does illustrate very well the differences between ours and their cultures.

This was also brought home to me following a recent visit of a young 15 year old Singaporean lad who spent two weeks staying with my family for some culinary mentoring.

His very polite and respectful nature for such tender years was refreshing – his eagerness to learn was also commendable – unlike some of the 15 year olds on the TV programme.

It was however the visit we made together to France for an eating and shopping fest that also illustrated to me how different our cultures are with just twenty plus mile of water between us!

We paid visits to some French hypermarkets… he was in awe of the 50 plus checkouts/tills and the range of produce on sale. We then paid a visit to a weekly market in the village of Etaples where the range of fresh seasonal produce was breathtaking. Fresh peaches apricots and nectarines were cheap and great quality alongside an amazing array of fresh tomatoes.

Stalls selling just cheese, fresh fish or one selling a freshly made Paella or another a spit roasted chicken all seemed quite exotic. We had also visited earlier in the week the farmers market in Tonbridge and whilst the produce on show was good the price differentials were eye watering. It seems that twenty plus miles of water has a great deal to answer for.

John Dory with a ginger beurre blanc sauce
John Dory with a ginger beurre blanc sauce

We also paid a visit to the local fish market after having had a wonderful fish based lunch at Perard in nearby Le Touquet – a hugely popular  and busy restaurant that seemed ever popular (it had been many years since my last visit) their infamous fish soup still as good as ever! The range of fish on offer at the Etaples fish market was stunning and so fresh looking – we succumbed to a purchase of three large John Dory at an eye watering forty plus euros. Worth every penny when we the next day filleted them and cooked them for supper.

It all illustrated very well how different our cultures are and respecting this is key to ensuring we appreciate what is on offer. It never ceases to amaze me how we expect to be able to eat an out of season strawberry at Christmas or an asparagus spear imported from thousands of miles away instead of only consuming when in season and more locally sourced.

We should all embrace cultural differences and what they can contribute to our daily lives and not treat them with suspicion or fear…

Rant over…

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Vive la France, Brasserie Zedel…

A little bit of France can be found in the heart of London’s West End… it was a Saturday and I was in town with Mrs HC, her sister and my fussy eater BIL for the VE Day celebrations on Horse Guards Parade – we needed a place to eat before the evening’s festivities.

I had been a few times to Brasserie Zedel, a mammoth basement restaurant at the back of the Café Royal a stones throw from Piccadilly Circus right in the heart of the West End. We had booked a table for 2:30pm as we wanted to leisurely kill a few hours before we had to sit outside for the musical and retrospective extravaganza being filmed for airing later that evening.

You enter the establishment via the café with its street tables and bustling atmosphere within. There is a staircase that delivers you down or a pair of efficient lifts (for the less energetic or in-firmed) that bring you to a lobby area with cloakroom.

Zedel-Brasserie-highres (8)Leading off from this there is a dimly lit “American Bar” with white jacketed bar staff,  of an evening “The Crazy Coqs” a night club/live cabaret venue and then a vast open door way leads you into the brasserie, resplendent with gilt and ornate columns with a real bright and airy buzz to it. In fact both Mrs HC and SIL immediately cooed appreciatively for the look and clever lighting making you think it was all naturally lit.

We were efficiently shown to our table to the right of the entrance deposited with true Gallic charm and flourish. Menus on large printed A3 sheets were proffered and we relaxed with our swiftly ordered and delivered pre luncheon drinks. As we all perused the menu the fussy BIL was relieved to find a good choice of classics he could partake of… for some strange reason they had even given him the English version of the menu whilst the rest of us drooled over everything from the classic set menu of the day to fresh oysters or classic Alsacienne Choucroute!

It seems an enormous choice but is very cleverly constructed of some classic combinations and real comfort food. Our choices made we settled down to soak up the atmosphere… It was buzzing with virtually every table full of guests eating at various stages and the waiting staff in white starched aprons bustling with laden trays to their waiting stations… pure poetry.

IMG_7367We had opted for a mix of dishes from the smooth chicken liver parfait to a French Onion soup with gratinated cheese crust and a coarse terrine “en croute”.  All were swiftly delivered and consumed with much passion! The main courses chosen ranged from a crispy Duck Confit leg on a bed of cabbage and bacon, to classic Bœuf Bourguignon, a truly unctuous beef in red wine stew with a creamy mashed potato. I myself stuck to a perfectly cooked (medium rare) Onglet Beef Steak served with a little bucket of fries and a rich shallot & red wine jus. Fantastic.

Wine flowed, beers for the BIL slipped down with ease and we continued to soak up the atmosphere. It was made even more authentic by the arrival at about 3:30pm of a large group of diners all dressed up to the nines in their best 1940’s garb… one even looked the spitting image of the “Queen Mother” Queen Mumin her sky blue tailored suit and perfectly set hair do. The Gents in their Oxford Bags or Military uniforms, the ladies with their well groomed hair, pencil lined stockings and sensible shoes and pheasant feathered hats all added to the VE Day look… we felt totally transported to a bygone time and were amazed at the efforts made! They really did turn heads!

Now feeling pretty replete we opted for a few of the desserts, Mrs HC loves a Lemon Tart so plumped for that and duly announced it was totally awesome and ranked as one of the best… SIL went for IMG_7371the Crème Brûlée which she also declared as near as perfect… I went for the “chocolate” Gateau Praline that had Mrs HC in true to form  continually diving into as well as her own. The BIL abstained and continued to sip yet another French beer.

Lunch had been a resounding success and some two and half hours later we surfaced to daylight and a stroll back down to Horse Guards parade to take up our positions to watch that evenings entertainment…

On a day of oft raw emotions we had managed for a few hours to transport ourselves to the centre of Paris and a genuine brasserie culture but also back in time to the mid 1940’s – what more could you wish for!

Brasserie Zedel 20 Sherwood Street, London W1F 7ED