Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Green Man and French Horn: offaly good..

Cosy. On a cold November's eve, the wind blustering, the Christmas lights shining (why oh why so early?), we needed a restaurant to warm our cockles, to provide comfort from the Outside. So it was to France we turned, specifically the Loire - stepping inside The Green Man and French Horn, you leave the Outside well and truly behind. A warm welcome, soft lighting and a hallway of a restaurant that somehow makes you feel that it's not just that, we were set up for a night of jollity.

Now I had high hopes for Mr Green and his horn, he is backed by the kind of people who know how to run a restaurant. People who have done this before, well. Take Terroirs, a split level restaurant just by Charing Cross serving two different menus, everything excellent. Brawn, another of theirs, may have run out of their namesake last time I was there, but my oh my did the rest of the menu make up for it. Needless to say I hardly came to this most strangely named of former pubs without expectations.

And I am glad to report that there is no need to draft in Mr Blonde, Mr Blue, Mr Brown or any of the others just yet, Mr Green is doing just fine. A raft of small plates were on offer: London's favourite, rilletes; Jerusalem artichokes, that oh so windy of veg; leeks with brown shrimps. You could make a meal out of these and leave very, very happy.

We decided to get a few to share: "Fresh cheese" was an undressed burrata, resplendent in its nudity; duck egg and salty anchovy soldiers, umami heavy, was a combo to be repeated at home; Game terrine, rich with the weight of venison; sweet and soft Rillon (pork belly), with bitter endive leaves and the punch of mustard. 

"Fresh cheese"
Duck egg with anchovy soldiers
Game terrine
Rillon and endive
Of course, being in "France", we had to indulge in some snails - tender little morsels with a subtle parsley and garlic sauce, interspersed with the crunch of croutons and fried hedgehog mushrooms, a real highlight.

The snails
So onto the main course we marched and I did my usual thing. If there's offal, I'll have it - I just can't help myself. At least this time I knew what I was getting into, despite the kindly look of concern from our waitress. Andouillette - a French sausage like no other. I first had it in Edinburgh when out with a group of mates following one too many pints of IPA (Deuchars, of course), it was described to us as a sausage made with belly. We assumed, belly pork, the meat. No, no, no, you need to go a little deeper than that - it is essentially chitterlings (small pig's intestines), mixed with tripe and wine, encased in more offal.  It is pungent stuff, but once you get over the wiff, it is something to be treasured. And none more so that at the Horny Green Man's place, it may not be from the Loire, but they have it nailed down. Splendid.

Andouillette with mash and mustard sauce

Others went for mussels and clams (both tasty, but a little measly), a rather pricey piece of sea bass (£23 for a smallish portion), and the skate  - pan fried, the whole wing was served. All eminently serviceable, but not up to the same highs as the starters.

On to something sweet - others had the poached pear and salted caramel sauce, "winemaker's tart", and the rice pudding. All great, but the pudding was the star; it enveloped you, a great big bear hug of a dessert. As usual, I had the cheese - limited choice, but what we had was great.

By this point we had worked our way through a little of their rather splendid wine list (which focuses on small scale French producers), and had warmed up sufficiently to contemplate the Outside. Sad as we were, it was time to venture back out into the bluster, leaving behind only memories of a thoroughly enjoyable evening. 

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Saturday, 16 November 2013

Dinnerathon Goes to Mexico: The Yucatan

Cancun, baby! Spring Break, pool parties and long, long beaches. That's pretty much all I knew of the Yucatan.  Not somewhere I would have thought to visit.  But, recently, I did. And, yes, from the state of the people getting off the plane from the UK, I am sure that Cancun is all of those things. But, as I found out, the Yucatan is so, so much more.

We headed straight for a taxi on landing, down the coast to Tulum (two hours drive south, a very reasonable $100). Tulum town itself it is a little disappointing, a strip stretched along the main highway south.  But it is not the town you go for, it is the beach.  Now I am not a beach person at the best of times, fill a beach with people and  I will be even less enthused. But our hotel, El Pez, was situated on a point, an empty beach on both sides, waves crashing outside our wonderful room as we slept. Delighted.

Paradise at El Pez
So to the serious task of eating.  Tulum is set up for tourists.  There is no getting away from that, so options for the real deal are limited.  But the food at El Tabano was excellent, and the steak at Casa Banana was great.  One place of note is El Camello in Tulum itself, a ramshackle place at the end of the strip, it serves mountains of fantastically fresh ceviche. although the tacos were less impressive.

The ceviche at El Camello - super fresh!

In terms of things to do, the impressive Mayan ruins on the coast take a day, and the Grand Cenote is certainly worth a visit.  We went by bike to both, the best way to get around, but ensure your bikes are fine before you set off. Cycling with a flat tyre is no fun, as we found out.  Other than that, there's not much to do, but that seems to be the point.  It is a place to leave the world behind.

Mayan ruins at Tulum
So two books and a great deal of sleep later, we reluctantly left Tulum. We had intended on getting a bus to Chichen Itza, but there was only one space left. A taxi for £40 for a two hour ride seemed eminently reasonable, so we went with that instead.  For proximity to the ruins we stayed at Hotel and Bungalows Mayaland - a vast place, full of tired rooms and some of the worst food I have had, anywhere. The hotel was set up for large tours, my idea of hell. One night would have been more than sufficient.  However, one perk of the place is that it has its own entrance to the ruins, allowing you to be the first one in.  Quite a special experience standing at the foot of the main pyramid, sun rising, not another soul around.  The Cenote nearby is also absolutely worth a visit, but get there before one to avoid the hoards.

The (one and only) benefit of staying at Hotel and Bungalows Mayland

The Cenote
From Chichen Itza we moved on to Merida, again by taxi.  Yucatan's largest city. Merida is the administrative and cultural centre of the Yucatan.  On a recommendation from The London Foodie, we stayed at the Hotel Hacienda Merida.  Situated in a colonial townhouse, this hotel was one of the highlights of the trip.  Beautiful room, a stunning pool and some of the friendliest staff I have ever come across.  It was a real oasis from the hustle and bustle outside.

Hotel Hacienda Merida

Food in Merida was a mixed bag, the stalls at Mercado Santa Ana served up some of the best slow-cooked smoked pork I have had, La Chaya Maya the worst food of the whole trip (old fish, pushed on us in an attempt to shift it almost made me sick - to be avoided at all costs!). Rosas y Xocolate had an interesting take on Mexican fusion, albeit in rather cold surroundings.

The best slow-cooked pork I have ever had from Santa Ana Market

Chilies in Merida Central Market
Tortilla making in Merida
But our favourite places of all in Merida had to be La Negrita and their sister bar La Fundacion - both full of locals and without the usual tourist tat that seemed to be the mainstay of so many places in the middle of Merida. La Negrita is an old cantina. a place men used to go to escape the world, given a lick of paint and more than a hint of style. We ended up going so many times, the barmen got to know us. Local artisan beers, some of the best bar snacks I have ever had, and a great laid back vibe. La Fondacion is more a late night place: an impressive selection of mezcal and live music make for a great night out watching the locals try to out dance each other.

The bar at La Negrita - a Mexican Dalston
The "snacks" at La Negrita - the "ticames"(I think) at the front right was incredible fresh!
 The Yucatan had been fun, but now we were off to Oaxaca - holy mole, I couldn't wait.
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