And so, the moment that you have all been waiting for, the eagerly anticipated inaugural European Food Adventure awards are upon us.
Favourite big city – tough one, but I think it’s got to go to Barcelona.
Favourite little city – got to be Porto.
Best meal – I really enjoyed my steak tartare in Montpellier.
Most interesting meal – I’m going to give it to the blood soup followed by tripe in Porto.
Nicest train journey – Milan to Geneva, no contest.
Favourite Producer – so difficult to decide, but I think it goes to Rota da Vila because of the incredible range of delicious products they make.
Best illegal restaurant – the family home down a back alley in Lisbon.
Best couch surfing host – Rui “Mr Porto” Brito and friends.
Best weather – It’s been beautiful everywhere for the last two weeks, but I think it was hottest in Lisbon.
Best pork products – Spain.
Best pastries – jointly awarded to Portugal and France.
Best array of knife, watch and chocolate shops – Geneva.
Best value for money – Porto.
Best moustaches – France.
Most friendly people – Portugal. Not just Rui and his friends, but everyone was really helpful. Special shout out to Jose in Aveiro as well.
Funniest moment – when Kendall fell on her arse into the only puddle in all of Monaco in front of a load of millionaires who proceeded to point and laugh.
As the last night of my European food adventure, I felt that I was justified in splashing out a bit (but not too much) for my last meal. There is a very nice looking seafood restaurant just along from the hostel, where you can sit out on the canal and it seems to be very popular so that’s where I headed. To start, I had one of my favourites - tuna carpaccio served with just a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil. It was, as always, delicious and it set me up nicely for my main course. I had ordered the smallest and cheapest seafood platter on the menu, but to my horror they accidently bought me a much bigger and more expensive one. As you can imagine, I was livid. I exchanged sharp words with the waiting staff, but in the end I begrudgingly agreed to eat it anyway at no extra cost. I hate it when you get a load of extra food for free! So, I tucked into my platter which consisted of 8 oysters, 2 huge raw muscles (the first time I’ve ever had them raw – very nice), 5 king prawns, 2 dog cockles and loads of whelks! It was all delicious and was accompanied by a nice glass of white wine. An excellent way to finish my food adventure, I’m sure you’ll agree.
This morning, well aware that I only had one full day in Paris, I was up at the crack of dawn (well not exactly, but still quite early) and I set about exploring the many attractions that Paris has to offer. Due to the time constraints, I enlisted the help of my old friend – the trusty bicycle. The system in Paris is very easy to use and as long as you don’t take a bike for more than half an hour at a time then it only costs €1 for the day! I managed to see pretty much all the major landmarks (Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur, Moulin Rouge, The Louvre etc.), as well as a whole load of other amazing places where I had no idea what they were, but enjoyed cycling past them none the less. Personal highlight was buying a picnic lunch and eating it in the park in the famous Parisian red light district next to a very talkative, but unconvincing drag queen called “Lucy”. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the French people as a nation for cultivating some brilliant moustaches! I’ve seen some absolute classics in my time here, ranging from the bushiest of handlebars to expertly crafted and maintained curled creations.
Upon arrival in Paris, I set out to the Oberkampf area of the city because I was told that it was the place to be for good, reasonably priced restaurants and that I would also be able to buy the best crepe in the world! There were indeed plenty of bars and restaurants and the locals spilled out into the streets with their drinks to create a great atmosphere. It was a very difficult task to choose quite where to eat, but I eventually settled on an authentic looking place which claimed to have been family run for 150 years. These sorts of claims are made frequently, but in this case I believe it to be true because one of the owners looked about 120 himself! I ordered what I was pretty sure was veal, and it turned out to be exactly that. There was a steak and a bit of liver, served very simply with great mashed potato and a pot of Dijon mustard. It was a lovely meal and set me up nicely for my potentially life changing crepe experience. I walked a little bit down the road, to the place where I had been told about, and the queue outside suggested that there was some truth in the rumours. I went for the classic plain chocolate with strawberries combo and it was a very pleasant crepe. It didn’t quite take me to the mystical crepe induced nirvana like spiritual place, like I had been told it would, but as crepes go it was very nice.
This morning, I discovered two more producers of quality products, this time both chocolatiers. The first has flourished in the last few years and they now have three shops in Lyon and two in Paris. Richart specialises in producing chocolates of amazing visual impact as well as fantastic taste. As you can see by the photo, they really are some spectacular chocolates and they taste as good as they look! The second chocolatier is running a much smaller operation at the moment but the steady stream of local customers quickly convinced me that success is inevitable for Paloma and her amazing products. Despite a strong language barrier, we were able to have a pretty good discussion about her passion for chocolate. I say discussion; it was more a case of her offering me chocolate, me eating it, and then us both nodding and smiling at how good it tasted! Her speciality is typical Lyonnais pebble shaped chocolates covered in a sugar shell. They are kind of like the best smarties ever and for adults! Some of them come in realistic stone like colours, whilst others come in bright pinks and blues. All looked and tasted spectacular! After a very chocolaty morning, I got on the TGV to Paris, and after such a great food experience in Lyon, I can’t wait to get my teeth into the French capital!
I was also lucky enough to find some great producers in Lyon. Patrick Clarmont owns a beautiful little shop in the old part of the city and he carefully selects the finest honey from around France to sell there. He has an amazing array of products, varying from an almost white colour on one side of the spectrum, to a dark oozing amber colour on the other. I was able to taste a few of these and it really is amazing how much honey can differ in taste. They even sell small pots of the much sought after royal jelly which was far out of my price range! Then as luck might have it, I found another amazing producer also called Patrick! This Patrick specialises in making olive products and of particular note was his unfiltered olive oil. It contains a certain amount of sediment and pulp which means the taste continues to develop after the bottling process. The flavour was so intense and rich and I can see why it has become his signature product! It was a great day of exploring the city, eating great food and talking to brilliant artisan producers. All topped off nicely with a market bought supper of French breads, cheeses and meats in the park.