The French House

the french house

I had lunch on Thursday at The French House, with friends (and fellow bloggers) Michelle and Steve from Gourmandistan. The French House is perhaps the last bastion of bohemian in Soho and is famous for being a regular haunt of Charles de Gaulle, Francis Bacon, Dylan Thomas, Tom Baker, Lucian Freud, Jeffrey Bernard (when not unwell and in the Coach) …and because it only sells beer in half pint glasses!

Back in 1992 Fergus and Margot Henderson launched The French House Dining Room above the pub – both have since gone on to achieve international acclaim in their own right.  Last November, I was very excited to hear, that Neil Borthwick, former executive head chef at Mercheants Tavern, was relaunching the restaurant above the French. My friend Oli was at the opening and described the food with relish – he also mentioned that Neil’s wife, Angela Harnett, had been in the kitchen helping out and peeling spuds!

french house interior

The restaurant, like the pub, is quite small, seating about 30 people at a time. It’s very popular, so booking is essential. Initially, I could only get seats at the bar, but the helpful staff manged to find us a small table, which was just right for three.

french house menu

The menu is simple – perhaps, top of the line French bistro style, but with local ingredients. I like the way Neil hand writes the list of today’s dishes and signs the bottom with a, “Bon Appetit, Neil” – it reminds me fondly of Julia Child.

house red

We drank the house red, while making our minds up – I wanted everything on the menu, it was a hard choice!

salt cod beignets

Michelle ordered Salt Cod Beignets with Aioli – these were light and crispy with a rich garlicky aioli. They definitely would have been my second choice.

pig’s head terrine

Steve chose the Pig’s Head Terrine with rocket and apple salad – which was a meaty brawn without too much jelly …ahh, that was my other second choice!

calve’s brains

So my preference was for Calve’s Brains with brown butter, capers and parsley. These were sliced brain, lightly fried, fluffy salty and savoury from the capers and butter. Excellent brains and a nice change from the deep fried version I often eat in Cataluña.

tamworth pork chop

Steve had a Tamworth Pork Chop with Lentils and Swiss Chard as his main course – this was a man sized chop, with beautiful caramelised fat along the edge. At about this time, I noticed that Neil was bringing many of the orders to the table himself – you don’t get that kind of service in a large restaurant!

roast quail

Michelle and I both ordered Roast Quail with Remoulade and Hazelnuts. The quail was cooked to perfection (probably about 18 minutes), the skin was crispy while the flesh was slightly pink and succulent. The acidic raw celeriac, mustard, mayonnaise and cream remoulade was a perfect foil for the bird with crunchy roasted hazelnuts on top.

green salad

We shared a green salad

mash

and creamy, cheese, potato mash with the main dishes.

yorkshire rhubarb meringue mess

For pudding, Michelle had Yorkshire Rhubarb and Ginger Meringue Mess. This was made with delicious forced rhubarb – in season now. Nigel Slater does an interesting version with sloe gin.

vanilla tart

I had a delightful Vanilla Tart (from the specials menu). This was light and delicate with crisp home made pâte sucrée. On the side were sweet marinated berries, which I suspect were black raspberries

cheese

Steve ordered the cheese selection – three generous portions of French cheese with pickle.

Having a simple menu and a limited number of tables, means that customers get food cooked to perfection and personal service from the chef himself. What’s not to like about that? We had a lovely relaxed lunch and didn’t leave until about 4.30.

The French House is at: 49 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 5BG.

Lunch is Monday to Friday, call 020 7437 2477 for reservations.

Recent glowing reviews by Fay Maschler and Grace Dent.

A little French pub history.

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La Tasca de la Vasca

la tasca de la vasca

At the back of Calella’s Market House, there’s a fantastic bar called El Nou Bar del Mercat: La Tasca de la Vasca. The bar is run by Ana Biurrun, from Donostia (San Sebastián) in País Vasco (the Basque Country), a region famous for it’s cuisine, Michelin starred restaurants and pintxos.

morcilla pintxos

Pintxos are like tapas (which originated in Andalucia and are said to have been small snacks on dry bread to keep the flies out of a glass of wine or sherry), but coming from the foodie capital of Spain, they tend to be far more elaborate. Pintxo comes from the verb pinchar, to pierce – most pintxos come with a toothpick piercing the topping to hold it on to the slice of bread underneath. Bar staff often count the empty toothpicks in order to calculate the bill. Pintxos and tapas alike, are not really supposed to constitute a meal – originally they were just intended to be a snack or appetiser with a drink. However, when small dishes are this good, it’s hard to resist having more than one.

jamon pintxos

I’ve spent time in San Sebastián and the pintxos in every bar are out of this world. I dropped a small fortune on bar hopping in order to try (nearly) all of them. That said, I’m sure you can imagine how excited I was to learn of a small Basque bar in Calella, doing a special pintxo deal on Saturday lunchtimes. I was not disappointed – one look at the counter and I knew I was in for a treat.

el nou bar del mercat

La Tasca de la Vasca sits in the middle rear of the market, with one side next to the vegetable stalls (above) and the other side (top picture) facing the back door. The bar was busy, I probably could have found a table, but as I ogled the pintxos, a stool became vacant at the bar, so I grabbed it quickly, in order to watch and chat to the staff.

jordi vertiendo sidra

I ordered Basque sidracider is very popular in North West Spain. It is traditionally poured from above the head (as Jordi demonstrates above) to aerate the drink and enhance the flavour. This is done for every single glass!

pintxos

To go with my first glass of sidra I had a fantastic pintxo of chopped jamón and allioli with a little piece of jamón skewered on top (left). This was salty, creamy and garlicky, all in one. While I scoffed that down, Jordi warmed up the morcilla (center) sitting on a slice of red pimento – roasted red pepper, with the burnt outer skin removed, which gives it a sweet smokey flavour. Far right is a spicy chistorra sausage pintxo, which was also heated up for me.

tigres

Hungry for more, I ordered a tigre and a couple of croquetas (below and to the right). Tigres are steamed mussels, which have been chopped up, mixed with a béchamel like sauce, breadcrumbs, white wine, onions, tomato sauce, etc. The mixture is returned to the shell and the whole thing is deep fried, breaded side down for a couple of minutes, until golden brown.

croquetas y tigre

Above is the deep fried tigre (left) and the delicious croquetas, squid ink (rear) and mushroom front.

bolas de patatas

Temptation had me ordering more sidra and a bola de patata con txampis al txakoli – a purée potato ball with mushrooms and txakoli wine.

txakolina

Txakoli is a dry, slightly fizzy white wine, produced mostly (but not exclusively) in the Basque country. It’s drunk young, up to one year after bottling and is poured from a height (for aeration) like sidra.

bola de patata

The bola de patata is deep fried and served with a little Mary Rose like sauce on top – it’s crispy on the outside and light and fluffy inside.

cangrejo pintxos

One more sidra and Anna brought out cangrejo pintxos – unbelievably delicious crab mayonnaise with a large pieced prawn on top. This finished me off, but what a great way to go!

idiazabal

I had to pass on the Basque Idiazabal raw milk sheep’s cheese

moussaka

and a beautiful looking Greek moussaka – I wasn’t expecting to see that!

carajillo

You will be unsurprised to see me finish my lunch with a carajillo de cognac – it really does pick you up after a good feed.

This has not been my only visit to La Tasca de la Vasca – I have been suitably impressed each time, especially as the pintxos change each Saturday and the staff are lovely. All the above, including 4 glasses of sidra cost €14.

El Nou Bar del Mercat: La Tasca de la Vasca is at: Carrer de Sant Jaume, 130, 08370 Calella, Barcelona.

La Tasca de la Vasca is open Tuesday to Friday 07.00 – 15.00 and 06.00 – 16.00 on  Saturdays.

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Mercat Municipal de Calella

mercat municipal

Callella has a small indoor market – Mercado de San Jaime, designed by architect Jeroni Martorell and  built in 1927. In contrast with Barcelona’s big city markets (La Boqueria, Mercat Galvany, etc.) this one is quite tiny.

david i cristina

Inside the front door, there are two fruit and vegetables stalls, David i Christina on the left

cal xoi

and Cal Xoi on the right – both selling top quality local fare.

fem salat

Next to David i Christina is Fem Salat, selling olives, salt cod and many prepared bacalao dishes, such as bacallà amb xamfaina (salt cod with ratatouille), bacallà a la llauna, bacallà gratinat amb all i oli (salt cod au gratin with allioli), bunyols de bacallà (salt cod fish balls), etc.

cento sonia

Suitably, the stall along side Fem Salat, is a fresh fish stall – Peixateria Cento i Sonia.

peixateria

The fish here is sourced daily from the local port of Arenys de Mar.

el nou bar del mercat

At the back of the market, there’s a fantastic bar – El Nou Bar del Mercat: La Tasca de la Vasca.

mercat a l’aire lliure

On Saturday mornings, Calella has a weekly market in the car park next to the market house, which you can see in the background.

taronges mandarines

There were oranges everywhere.

naranjas

Unsurprising, since Spain is a big orange growing country.

oranges

I noticed, last week, in the neighbouring town of Pineda de Mar, that the high street is lined with little orange trees, each containing at least two dozen mandarins.

taronges

Note the price here – 5 kilos for €3!

parets

Walnuts were also in abundance,

magranes

along with pomegranates – only €0.35 per Kg!

kakis

Kakis were similarly cheap.

verdures

All types of vegetable are available – most being locally grown, including what would be considered late spring and summer varieties in the UK.

pebrots

Most vegetables like peppers

tomàquets

and tomatoes are imported from Spain by British supermarkets during the winter.

tomàquets verds

I saw tomatoes and peppers growing on an allotment last week, so even Cataluña in the north has enough sun for two vegetable growing seasons.

calçots

Calçots are a particular Catalan delicacy – they are a forced spring onion, created in Valls, and cooked by blackening over a fire of vine branches. Calçots should be served with Romesco Sauce or Salbitxada.

coliflor

Here the vendor obligingly held up two green cauliflowers for a customer just as I raised my camera – note the fantastic large garlic next to the lemons.

carxofes

These baby artichokes looked perfect for deep frying in batter

setas

and there were still some saffron milk caps on sale – these are a very popular mushroom in Catalan cuisine. The sign next to them indicates that they are from the local Penedès wine region.

pernil

Vegetables are not the only thing on offer here – this charcuterie stall had all sorts of cured meat, sausages, bacalao, cheese, olives and hand cut jamón iberico.

formatge

The cheeses look to be a complete bargain at about a third less than deli and supermarket prices.

olles i paelles

The market isn’t solely for food – I came across quite a large stall selling pots and pans.

moda íntima

There were also a few people selling clothes and in particular red knickers! Calella’s wealth comes from textiles and there are many shops in town selling moda íntima (intimate fashion).

boticario

This apothecary stall sells cures for everything,

guareix

including diabetes and cholesterol!

packing up

As I mentioned before, the outdoor market is Saturday mornings only, at 2pm they start to pack up and by 2.30 it’s all gone.

Calella’s Mercat Municipal is at: Carrer de Sant Jaume, 130, 08370 Calella, Barcelona.

The indoor market is open Tuesday to Friday 07.00 – 14.00 and 16.30 – 20.00. Saturdays 06.00 – 16.00.

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Bones Festes 2018

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I found this fantastic mother pig pie and babies, in La Colmena – Dolceria de la Colmena is one of Barcelona’s oldest pastelerías (patisseries) and it’s always good to have a look in the window when you pass by. I assume the pig is a savoury pork pie, since suckling pig is commonly served here at Christmas. I noticed vacuum sealed pigs in the supermarket this week – they even sell them frozen, as per turkey in Britain and America.

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El Hogar Gallego

carrer de les ànimes

On Thursday we went to El Hogar Gallego for lunch. Calella is only about 5 streets deep, as you walk up from the beach towards the mountains – El Hogar is on Carrer de les Ánimes to the left.

el hogar gallego

El Hogar is a smart Galician restaurant, a tell tale sign being the high prices on la carta (menu)

el hogar carpark

and the palatial car park opposite!

el hogar bar

A beautiful wooden bar runs down the right hand side of the restaurant, with silver service dining at the rear.

langostas

For those of us lunching from the low price menú del día there’s a seating area to the left of the bar, alongside the crustaceans, who were very good company.

menú del día

You will see from the remarkably cheap menú del día above, that one gets 4 courses here (at lunchtime) for €10.90.

vi moraleda

Wine is extra, but this bottle of house Moraleda rosat was very good for €9.90.

consomé

We both ordered the delicious savoury consomé (spelled with one m in Catalan).

ous fregits amb patates

Oli ordered ous fregits amb patates (egg and chips) as his second course. I’m reminded of a time, when my Valencian flatmate (1991), cooked up a plate of egg and chips for lunch. He told me that it was a typically Spanish dish and asked what we had like it in England?

macarrons amb pollastre

I had macarrons amb pollastre (macaroni with a chicken sauce).

pa

Galician food is quite hearty – even the bread comes thick and rustic.

arròs negro

We both ordered the excellent arròs negro as our main course. This unctuous dish is like a seafood paella, made with Valencian rice and blackened by squid or cuttlefish ink. This one definitely contained squid and octopus. We ordered a little allioli on the side. Just before this arrived, I noticed that our impeccable waiter served the food from it’s dish with spoons, in the traditional silver service manner, albeit at a side table and not quite in front of us.

flam de café

For pudding, Oli ordered flam de café (coffee flan),

tarta de pistacho y fresa

while I had tarta de pistacho y fresa (a strawberry and pistachio cake with cream) – tarta can mean tart or cake in Spanish. This one blew me away with it’s incredible fresh strawberry flavour. The top (other side) was studded with crushed pistachios.

jamón

The restaurant has several sections. Towards the end of the long wooden bar, there’s an area dedicated to jamón – you will notice at least 14 hanging in the background.

fish fridge and bar

Beyond the jamón, is the fish fridge (left)

cranc

and finally next to the fine dining area, there are beautiful plates of crab and other fish.

el hogar nadal

I failed to notice the car park Christmas decorations during the daytime, but Oli alerted me to them the next day (after visiting the post office round the corner), so I grabbed my camera and returned to take a picture!

For a delicious lunch, in a beautiful establishment with first class waiters, El Hogar Gallego is a must visit restaurant in Calella. Our bill came to a modest €37.29 for 2 people. The New Year’s Eve menu is quite tempting – at €175 it sounds expensive, until you take into account that it includes a free bar and is open until 5am!

El Hogar Gallego is at: Carrer de les Ànimes, 73, 08370 Calella, Barcelona.

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Banys La Gavina

banys la gavina

Last weekend some friends came to stay and on Saturday night (after another lunch at Domèstic) we went to watch the Catalan Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band, Willy and the Poorboys. Someone spiked our drinks with alcohol, so on Sunday we stumbled down to the beach for restoration.

calalla beach

We went to Banys La Gavina, a bar and restaurant on the beach, with a walled outdoor garden and sea view. We’d been here for drinks back in July and it’s a pleasant spot to watch the boats go by…

vermutu.

I had a few vermut de la casa, Oli was on white wine and Jonas was drinking beer. After a couple of drinks we got to feeling hungry and asked to look at the menu.

banys menú

Being Sunday, there’s no menú del día, so we were on a regular beach menu. There were a few standards that took our fancy…

croquetas

We ordered 6 croquetas (which were excellent) and 3 had gone, in a flash, before  my camera could get to them.

paella

The paella was very good,

fideuá

but fideuá was the star. For those unfamiliar, fieuá is a paella like dish, where the rice is replace by short pasta (vermicelli), which when cooked correctly stands up straight in the paella (the metal dish that paella takes it’s name from).

honeymoon

By this time we were drinking Honeymoon wine with Oli and all our hangovers were cured!

leftovers

As you can see, we weren’t taking any prisoners.

carajillo

As per usual, I had a carajillo de cognac to finish my lunch.

la playa

As the afternoon wore on, we went inside for one last drink…

interior

There was a lovely local family function taking place, which added a little sparkle to our day.

vi blanc

When Jonas and friends left, Oli and I went outside for the real final drink

capvespre

and to watch the sun setting over Barcelona, 30 miles down the coast.

Banys La Gavina is at: Passeig Manel Puigvert | Lado Campo de Futbol, 08370 Calella, Barcelona.

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La Musa Bistrot

la musa

On Wednesday we had lunch at La Musa, a bistro on a tiny street at the back of Calella Església (the Church of Santa Maria and Sant Nicolau).

vi blanc

We drank a few glasses of vi blanc ecològic (an organic white wine which comes unlabeled), while we debated what to eat from the €13.50 menú del día – 3 courses including wine or beer.

la musa menú

Nookie decided to have two starters, so Oli opted to have two main courses – all perfectly acceptable, when you have a choice of starter, main and pudding and you swap amongst yourselves.

amanida de magrana i mató

Nookie’s first choice was amanida de magrana i mató ( a salad with pomegranate and mató whey cheese).

risotto de bolets

Oli ordered risotto de bolets (mushroom risotto) as his main course starter

hummus de cigrons

and I had hummus. When I asked for additional bread, the owner rushed inside and returned with fresh bread straight from the oven!

trinxat i espàrrecs

At this point Nookie’s two starters plan went wrong and she changed her mind. In spite of being mucked around, our hostess kindly offered to make Nookie a trinxat i espàrrecs (trinxat with asparagus), containing no bacon or pork fat.

trinxat de la cerdanya

Oli and I both ordered the regular trinxat de la cerdanya (cooked in pig fat to keep the Inquisition at bay), which came with a thick and crunchy piece of bacon on top and delicious crispy slices of garlic. I could have eaten this twice, it was so good!

figues amb mató i mel

For pudding we all ate the same – figues amb mató i mel (tiny sliced figs with mel i mató).

carajillo

…and no lunch is complete without a carajillo de congnac!

La Musa Bistrot is at: Carrer del Raval, 10, 08370 Calella, Barcelona.

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