Eating Out Dilemmas

Eating out on a Whole 30 can be challenging; what’s made it particularly difficult are some of the restaurant waiting staff I have encountered on my recent culinary journeys. A good restaurant with well trained waiting staff who are helpful and understanding can make a world of difference when trying to enquire about the possible dairy and grains which might be lurking inside an apparently harmless, seemingly whole 30 compliant meal. You can’t be too careful when it comes to these hidden nasties and believe me, there are many more than you might think. This doesn’t just apply to eating out when on a Whole 30, anyone who eats a relatively Paleo diet will find that certain restaurants cater better to our fairly basic food requirements than others. It’s easy enough to leave out all the simple carbs, but sugars and dairy hide in the most unlikely places and can sometimes be tough to spot on a menu description; I mean it’s not like you can simply read an ingredients list from the packaging.

#Whole8

A lot of waiting staff, if they don’t know the exact content of a meal, will be kind enough to ask the kitchen and help you on your way to making the right choice; exceptional waiting staff will know the answers, make alternative suggestions or advise the kitchen to leave out certain parts of the meal to keep within your specifications. These are rare and extremely welcome when on a Whole 30; the issue I have is when I have to fork out a reasonable chunk of change to dine out at a ‘good’ restaurant, only to encounter unhelpful, uninformed and sometimes rude waiting staff who are simply unaware of what goes into each dish and who are unable or unwilling to meet your requirements.

Sunday lunch (day 8 of the Whole30) was a wonderfully simple meal at Dean Street Townhouse where I experienced some of the most attentive and extremely helpful waiting staff I’ve come across during the Whole 30. Monday night’s dinner was quite the opposite; I took my mum out for a quiet dinner at Villandry on Great Portland Street where the waiting staff were not only rude and inattentive, but had absolutely no idea what each dish contained, nor did they make any effort to assist in obtaining any information from the kitchen. Quite besides the food lacking in flavour, the entire experience made it quite difficult to stomach the £60.00 bill for only a few simple starters. Disappointing, to say the very least.

#Whole7

To recap the last few days of my Whole 30:

Day 7: Brunch of Scrambled eggs served with sauteed kale, mushroom and courgette and half an avocado. An early dinner of leftover Tricolore Paleo Pie to finish off the day, and a banana somewhere in the middle to keep me going on a lazy Saturday!

Day 8: Brunch of poached eggs with almond milk poached smoked haddock; simple and satisfying. Having arrived back in London in time for a late lunch I decided to stop by Dean Street Townhouse for an amazing Sunday Lunch which consisted of a smoked salmon and pickled cucumber starter, followed by Sea trout served with fennel, cockles and monks beard (a type of chicory); aside from having to remove the butter from the lemon sauce, the entire meal was Whole 30 friendly and utterly delicious. A big thank you to the fantastic waiting staff for their patience and helpfulness.

Day 9: Monday morning began with a gentle 15km run – long and slow and utterly fabulous in the early dawn watching the sun rise over the Thames. Sunrise is my favourite time of day for running because even on grey and cloudy days, somehow the sunrise still manages to find it’s way through the clouds and it never ceases to amaze me how incredible nature can be at the most unexpected moments. Breakfast was the usual green smoothie, followed by half a grapefruit and then a plate of scrambled egg and avocado. Light and protein packed for post run refuelling. Lunch consisted of very simple steamed broccoli, bean sprouts and spinach topped with a small grilled salmon fillet. Dinner out at Villandry – almost inedible duck breast salad, flavourless salmon tartare and overcooked lemongrass prawns with a side of equally undercooked green beans.

 

Paris by Night, and Day

A weekend break to a romantic city is always going to be good but my mission, as I see it, is to do these things differently; think bigger, better, more indulgent and on a tighter budget. It can’t be done, they say. I beg to differ. There are magical places to be found in Paris, and if you look hard enough you might find something that literally astonishes you. I hadn’t been to Paris for quite some time and I thought of doing a little research prior to the trip but then decided that I would take everything as it came. I started my planning by booking into a hotel I had stayed at previously; The Saint James Paris is an institution among Parisians and it houses a members club for locals and regulars, it’s pricey but if you travel at the right time and scour websites such as Booking.com or Expedia, you might just find yourself a deal – on this particular occasion I managed to grab a room for 50% less than normal AND I was upgraded when we arrived. This, my dear readers, is how it’s meant to be! The Saint James has it all; a superior fine dining restaurant, wood pannelled bar, creative interiors, beautiful garden and a listed library. Not only is the interior and the history of the building astonishing, the service here is what really makes this place shine – it is, without a shadow of a doubt, some of the finest hotel service I have ever experienced; on our first night the valet even entered the address of the restaurant we had booked into the sat nav before bringing the car round for us – it’s the meticulous attention to detail that just adds that special something you might not find anywhere else.

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Next on the priority list is food. Restaurants in Paris are tricky; there are a lot of restaurants, granted, but only a small handful worth eating at. I love French cuisine, but you’ll find more authentic French food if you look outside Paris. That said however, all hope is not lost. If you are after a traditional French Brasserie steeped in history and class, look no further than Brasserie Bofinger; a timeless classic that sits quietly in the Bastille area, it is almost 150 years old and its history, charm, the old Belle Epoque decor and its star studded guest list, continue to draw people in from all near and far flung reaches of the world. The food at Bofinger is exceptionally well done, very traditional French brasserie fair; nothing fancy and reasonably priced, served up by waiters in tailored uniform with impeccable training and decorum. It is neither too much nor too little and you would feel comfortable here in an opera gown or a pair of jeans and a semi-smart shirt. It’s one of the only true ‘Brasserie’s’ left and it is a shining example of true Parisian history and style. Don’t expect too much from the food, this is no Michelin starred restaurant and it does not pretend to be, it is warm and wholesome and perhaps even a little romantic, in that way that only a Parisian restaurant can be. I recommend the traditional French Onion Soup, it’s the best I’ve ever had. The food here is fresh and well done without being complicated; the sauerkraut dishes are the house specialities, but even if you’re not much of a sauerkraut fan there is plenty to tempt the taste buds and the dessert menu is pretty punchy, if somewhat over indulgent.

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So after our first night in Paris dining at Bonfinger and sleeping in our uber-cool hotel room we decided to keep the next day pretty mellow, not least for the simple fact that I was sick with a cold and in no fit state to be running around town. A walk up to a local cafe for a light brunch / lunch, a further walk getting slightly lost and stopping to indulge in pastry and coffee at the first patisserie we spotted, followed up with more walking and a little shopping trip for my own foodie indulgence at a local speciality food store; the varieties of Fois Gras on offer was simply mind blowing (this is Paris remember!). After a quiet nap to recharge the batteries we set out for our second dinner, which also happened to be a surprise for me; I hate not knowing what restaurant I’m going to as I find it frustrating and this generally spoils the whole affair, but on this occasion I was more than pleasantly surprised. Chez Paul is honestly one of the most beautifully rustic and friendly restaurants I had ever been to (yes you heard it right, a friendly restaurant, with friendly waiters, IN PARIS!!). I over indulged, but it was so worth it. Undoubtedly so. The food was rich and filling and cooked as though it were made in a French country kitchen, it’s the kind of food that makes you feel warm and incredibly happy, and you just know there was love somewhere on that ingredient list. The restaurant was busy and the service sometimes a little slow but the atmosphere and the food made all the difference. Don’t get me wrong, I love over ambitious fine dining establishments, but I love authentic food just as much; perhaps sometimes I love it even more because, like this, it is served in a place that has character and soul.

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Our last morning in Paris was a slow and quiet one but we definitely ended on a high note; it was my turn to show off a bit of a rustic old haunt that I particularly like. Chez Prune on the Canal Saint-Martin is a local hangout and definitely one of the best relatively cheap and definitely cheerful brunch spots in Paris. It’s quirky interior and haphazard restaurant and bar area make it something of unique spot, not to mention the view over the canal. This is not a tourist attraction, it’s a little off the beaten track and it can be challenging if you don’t know a little basic French or at least make an attempt at it. It’s busy and loud and colourful, the brunches are good in a sort of French-take-on-the-English Breakfast kind of way, with a few interesting additions. It is pleasant and the coffee is reasonable, the atmosphere and general artistic vibe to the place make it a fun and interesting place to spend a Sunday morning, and I hear it can be quite lovely in the evening too. After brunch you can walk along the canal and find several interesting shops and local stores and it is really quite beautiful in the spring and summer. Paris, unlike any other city, is both dirty and breathtakingly beautiful all at once. It does rustic as well as it does refined and there is very little middle ground. I implore you, if you have never been, to go, as soon as you can. It is a wonderful city for walking and exploring and it is, without any shadow of doubt, the city of love. Especially if you love food.

Cafe Mila – It’s a Family thing

My father, the nature-documentary-maker turned yoga teacher turned restauranteur, opened a cafe in the small town of Godalming, Surrey, in late 2011 and this little cafe-come-yoga studio has been growing in popularity ever since – it’s located just off the Godalming High Street in Angel Court (near the Boots pharmacy if you’re ever there). It’s not surprising really; they say if you love the work you do, people will enjoy the fruits of your labour that much more, and if Cafe Mila is anything to go by then this surely must be true, since I have never known a man to work so hard nor love it quite so much. You might think I have a biased opinion since the owners are my father Steve and his wife Jane, but quite the contrary, it is not I who has been singing their praises, I have just been listening. The locals who frequent Cafe Mila sing a never ending chorus of praise to the friends and family members they bring in to the cafe for coffee and cake, or to try one of the awesomely healthy lunches and salads, all of which made fresh on the premises each morning. The cakes, thanks to the wonderful chef Jodie (who’s mother is standing in for her at the moment while she is away on maternity) are packed full of amazing fruits and nuts and wholesome goodness; these are definitely not the usual cafe-style treats you might find elsewhere, instead they come bursting at the seams with all the  flavour and moist, juicy, deliciousness that a cake should have. I don’t like sponge cakes, I find them plain and pointless, so I suppose that’s why I love the Cafe Mila cake stands, because they are never plain and never boring and there isn’t a sponge in sight.

The coffee, a carefully chosen blend that  is prepared by the skilled baristas who works the machines behind the counter at Cafe Mila, are always great. I say great, and I mean it; I love my coffee and I am quite careful about where I buy it as I have grown accustomed to good coffee and will not settle for anything less. A good coffee is always part-bean, part-barista; a good roast is nothing without a good machine and a skilful hand who knows how to prepare it well, of which Cafe Mila has both. It’s not just the wholesome food and good coffee that make this place so warm and inviting, the staff here are always smiling, the place is always busy and the atmosphere is always energetic. People like being here because this feels like it could be your living room, (despite the lunchtime rush of mothers with children) mostly due to the fact that it’s comfortable, friendly and relaxed. If you do have children, this is the perfect spot to bring them, it offers healthy treats for all ages and is very child-friendly. If you don’t have kids then there is space upstairs which is clearly marked as a ‘quiet area’ for adults and well behaved children only. It’s the balance and harmony that you can feel as you step through the doors at Cafe Mila that keeps people coming back, the energy here is just right.

In addition to the awesome food, which is locally sourced and mostly organic, the incredible cakes and comfortable seating, friendly faces and oh-so-yummy coffee; Cafe Mila offers up one last drop of goodness to its patrons. Upstairs from the cafe is a dedicated Yoga studio which offers an assortment of classes throughout the week and you will almost certainly find something to suit just about anyone. They are currently expanding this list of options to include other activities besides the traditional styles of yoga, although the majority of the classes here are most definitely for yogi’s. This bright open space with its calming off-white walls and the beautifully painted ‘Cafe Mila Tree’ is exactly what you might imagine it to be – a space for unwinding after a long day, getting energised in an early morning class, or simply sitting quietly with your thoughts. Just remember to head downstairs for coffee and cake after yoga; perhaps not as virtuous but definitely worth it.

Cafe Mila | 1 Angel Court, Godalming, Surrey GU7 1DT |07793 006467 | http://cafemila.co.uk/

Organics are GO at the Foodbarn

Franck Dangereux has been one of my favourite chefs for many years, ever since he was showing off his refined style at the ever popular La Colombe (Constantia Uitsig) many years ago. That was before I left South Africa, and I have cooked many a meal from his cookbook (Feast) since then, which I believe is still on a shelf in my mothers kitchen.

Since being back in Cape Town I have been hearing all the wonderful news and reviews of his latest creation, The Foodbarn in Noordhoek; the brainchild of Franck’s collaboration with Pete de Bruin, the ever charming host. The two men created this restaurant from their combined passion for food and their love for their families, and it really is a place where the two come together in incredible style. The food is simple ‘French Bistro’ style food (as described by Frank), and yet it still has the flair and precision which this master chef is best known for; in addition, the restaurant has an exceptional wine menu, mostly local but perfectly matched to the seasonal produce available. There is a tasting menu available with or without wine pairings; an unconventional take on a ‘tasting’ menu, Frank chooses the dishes for you and it’s a bit of a pot-luck surprise when the meal arrives – I wouldn’t worry though, everything here tastes phenomenal, so if you’re the adventurous foodie type then this one’s for you.

I went for lunch on Sunday, which was beyond amazing; the de-shelled prawn tempura served on a confied tomato, aubergine and avo tian, finished with a chilli & red pepper syrup and basil salsa was the perfect start to the meal and I would recommend it to anyone. The second course was rack of Karoo lamb in a bread crust with an amazing chickpea flour cake or ‘panisse,’ which was finished with the most wonderful jus. My dessert was the Cocoa Millefeuille with chocolate Marquise and peanut brittle praline cream, served with vanilla sauce and salted peanut ice cream – This. Is. Amazing. I’m not normally one for peanut anything, I don’t enjoy the taste, but this combination is a sure fire winner in my books, and I hope to have it again before they take it off the menu! I might come back just for that.

The food here is locally sourced where possibly and much of the fruit and veg is grown by Frank and Pete in the restaurant garden or at home. You can taste the freshness in every meal and the flavours of each season shine through the menu as each meal is carefully crafted using the very best of the available seasonal produce available. This is taking organic, sustainable food to an entirely new height.

So, if you are in the area and looking for a really good meal, be it with family, friends, kids or your loved one, this is most certain the top of the list!

The Foodbarn Restaurant & Deli | Noordhoek Farm Village, Village Lane, Noordhoek, Cape Town, 7979 | tel: +27 (0) 21 789 1390 | www.thefoodbarn.co.za | info@thefoodbarn.co.za

Give me a Signal

The Signal restaurant at the Cape Grace Hotel in Cape Town has been one of the most revered and respected restaurants in the Cape for as long as I can remember, and rightly so; the hotel itself has seen many changes over the years, but has always remained the pinnacle of Cape Luxury. I’d been looking forward to finally having dinner at the Cape Grace for a long time, and when the evening finally arrived it was as though I was a small child on Christmas morning, full of anticipation and excitement.

From the moment you enter the hotel you feel as though you have stepped into an alternate world, a world of luxury and comfort which is homely and understated at the same time. The restaurant is warm and welcoming and the staff are attentive without being invasive; there is a sense of purpose to everything and each detail is overseen with the utmost care and attention.

The menu at Signal is simple; nothing is over complicated and they use only the freshest seasonal produce which adds to the overall authenticity and flavour of each dish; the wine list is extensive without being overwhelming and the sommelier is on hand at all times to help you make the right decisions. We started with a Sous Vide Quail which was exceptionally tender and flavoursome, perhaps a touch too much salt for my palate, but otherwise a rounded dish; the sesame aioli was particularly enjoyable. The second starter was a confit duck and Parma ham terrine served with mango and coconut atchar which was lovely and sweet, offsetting the salt in the terrine perfectly. If you like terrines, then this one should definitely be on your list.

For a main course we had a slow-roast pork belly with bean cassoulet  – the serving was quite substantial but it was so incredibly delicious that we managed to get through it in the end, although if you are having the 5 course tasting menu I would suggest sharing this dish. We also ordered a rack of Karoo lamb which was served on a bed of lentils with truffles creamed potato – the portion was much more manageable and the flavour just as intense and enjoyable, I strongly recommend trying both. I noticed all the while we were sitting there that the waiters floated elegantly across the room, always there when needed and keeping out of sight at all other times; the service, it must be said, is impeccable.

For dessert we had a pecan and caramel tart served with chocolate ganache, bruleed banana and vanilla ice cream; I am not a fan of pecans, or most tarts, but this really was something else entirely and a total winner. Textured, sweet and totally decadent – all the things a really good dessert should be. We then shared a cheese board which was small, light and phenomenally tasty, although I might have enjoyed more of an explanation from the waiter with regard to the cheese selections. All in all though, a thoroughly enjoyable, almost heavenly meal, and I will be back for more very soon.

Signal Restaurant | Cape Grace Hotel | 130 Victoria Wharf St | Cape Town | 021 410 7100