Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Foodie Mini-Break Guide: A Romantic Weekend in Paris

Earlier this year my boyfriend and I jumped on the Eurostar for a romantic weekend away. Two and a half hours later and we were in Paris (just in time for lunch!).

Canal Saint-Martin

We stayed at Hotel Le 123 Sebastapool, which was number 1 on Tripadvisor at the time, and perfectly placed - just 15 minutes walk from Gare du Nord and 10 minutes from the Canal Saint-Martin and the stylish boutiques and fashionable restaurants of Le Marais. Le 123 Sebastapool was a lovely boutique hotel, with lots of special touches which made for a memorable stay. It's themed around French cinema, and in keeping with this, guests are treated to a paper bag of pic n' mix sweets on arrival, and a self-service popcorn machine (accompanied by a buffet of snacks and drinks) in the lobby. Fantastique!

The Seine

We began our visit with a stroll through Le Marais, and an unsuccessful attempt to visit Breizh Cafe for galettes (definitely worth booking ahead!). Eventually we found a local bistro, and had a traditional menu du jour instead, followed by ice-cream from Amorino (I know, they have one in London, but it's the best!). My boyfriend ordered the surprisingly delicious combination of "l'inimitabile" (rich Nutella chocolate) and raspberry sorbet, which is definitely on my list for my next visit!

After lunch we wandered along the Seine in the sunshine towards the Eiffel Tower. The love lock trend seems to have spread since my last visit in 2013, and more and more bridges are covered in locks. We passed through the courtyards of the Louvre and through the gardens before stopping for overpriced coffees in a touristy cafe and heading back to the hotel.

On the recommendation of David Lebowitz' excellent blog (well worth a browse if you're planning on visiting Paris) we had booked a table at Astier, where we were treated to an absolutely fantastic bistro meal. We weren't the only tourists, but the restaurant still had a very authentically French vibe. The service (unusually for Paris) was great, the food was delicious, and they serve the most enormous cheese platters I have ever seen (the idea is, they give you an absolutely gigantic quantity of cheese and you eat your fill...I'm assuming you're not supposed to finish!).

Cheese platter for one!!

We both had soup to start - mine was the healthy green one, which wasn't quite as good as the sumptuously creamy veloute above it - followed by steak with pommes puree (accompanied with a huge and very sharp knife!). My boyfriend got the cheese course, which I skipped, and somehow still found room for a tarte au chocolat for dessert, while I went for a delicious apricot and almond mousse concoction.

We had meant to go for drinks afterwards, but were too full and sleepy after the enormous meal, so headed back to the hotel to sleep it off. Despite our plan to wake up bright and early for more exploring, the black-out curtains and comfy bed meant we woke with a shock after 10am. We passed on the complimentary buffet breakfast at the hotel in favour of a trip the Cafe Angelina, where I indulged in one of the best hot chocolates of my life. A jug of rich, molten chocolate, thick enough to stand a spoon in, and served with a (slightly gratuitous!) pot of whipped cream...Mmmm!

Just beautiful...

Our final stop before we left was Montmartre - a steep climb up to the Sacre-Coeur, followed by delicious egg, ham and gruyere galettes for lunch (to make up for missing out the day before) - before boarding our train and getting home in time for dinner. A fantastic weekend away, without the hassle of flying!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Foodie Mini-Break Guide: Jersey

My boyfriend grew up in Jersey and I've been lucky enough to spend a lot of time there over the past few years. The island is small - just 5 by 9 miles - and achingly pretty.

The coastline is stunning - with wide stretches of sandy beach in the South, East and West and a craggy landscape of cliffs, rockpools and caves in the North - and the interior isn't bad either: lush woodland and grassy meadows (complete with doe-eyed Jersey cows), dotted with pretty villages and handsome granite farmhouses. All in all, it's pretty idyllic...

Gorey Castle

Admittedly, there's not much to do when it rains, but when the sun comes out, there's sailing and surfing, cute harbour-side cafes, rock pools, cliff top walks, castles and a lovely zoo. And then, rain or shine, there's the food - the best, freshest fish & chips (which taste even better if you eat them on the beach) from Entwhistles in Gorey, lobster thermidor at the Oyster Box (overlooking St Brelade bay), delectable seafood at Green Island on the South-East coast and Corbiere Phare in the West for breath-taking sunset views of Corbiere lighthouse and delicious espetadas (hot metal skewers threaded with juicy chunks of beef and succulent king prawns, dripping with garlic butter).

Then there's the Hungry Man in Rozel, serving up ridiculous burgers (the Double-Decker Health-Wrecker - double burger, double cheese, double bacon) and the most over-the-top hot chocolates I have ever seen (topped with a mountain of whipped cream and a sprinkling of Maltesers), or, if pizza is more your thing, what must be the most fortuitously situated Pizza Express in the British Isles; french windows opening onto St Brelade's Bay and a glass roof which rolls back to let in the sun.

Greedy seagull at The Hungry Man

For families, the Boathouse/Treehouse/Farmhouse/Spicehouse - all part of the Boathouse Group - are also well worth a visit. My favourite is The Boathouse, which boasts beautiful views over the St Aubin harbour.

My final foodie recommendation is the ice-cream from Jersey Potteries - if you can spot one of their vans, the soft-serve is out of this world (a few summers feasting on creamy, golden-hued 99 flakes has set me up for a lifetime of disappointment with the artificially white foam churned out by the Mr Whippee vans in London).

Make sure you try the potatoes!

In conclusion, it's definitely worth a visit. Jersey is just a thirty minute flight from Gatwick, and perfect for a long weekend away, filled with beaches, walks and food (and hopefully, some sunshine!).