Tag Archives: coffee

Ol’ Blighty


Gday Tony.

I heard a rumour that you have been/are travelling? Anywhere luxurious? Somewhere full of tasty food?

We’re just back from a quick trip to London and Dubai. London for a short break, Dubai for a cracking good fun wedding.

Now before we went to London (I’ve never actually been before), I sought guidance from some trusted foody friends who lived there for a good period. I was half expecting to find stodge, the other half 300 quid/person uber Michelin star greatness. Guess what, we found the stodge.

Ok, so I didn’t try and secure a table at The Fat Duck or any of the other super premiums, but we did look for some simple, go-to food for mere mortals.

Staying in funky Fitzrovia, we expected this would be simple. A diverse selection of local eateries, each packed night after night with eager inner-city London dwellers had me, I must admit, a little excited.

Imagine my surprise to find that, in general, the food was pretty ho-hum though pricey. But we were expecting that.

In fact, we did find some cheap stuff in London…beer, chocolate and flowers. Everything else is ouchies expensive.

We did find a great little breakfast joint. As it happened, across the road from our Airbnb place. It was called Lantana. Guess where the owners are from? My go to was the slow braised ham-hock smoky beans. Worthy.



Now, living in Melbourne, coffee is an institution. Get it wrong and your café will not last the season. London however seems to pride itself on some pretty lousy stuff. Yeah, it’s reasonably priced, but that’s a bit like not-quite genuine, but pretty close to it truffles or caviar. It’s just not worth bothering.

Londoner’s seem to take pride in good ol’ fashioned pub grub. So, who were we to go against the grain. First night was a random pub nearby. The food was reheated, with soggy chips. The beer was cold though. We tempted fate and chose another pub, the Marquis of Granby.  This time the food was ok and the beer was cold. Guess you have to be in the know, as both pubs were bursting at the seams.


We tried to have some food at Harrods, after strolling around for the day, but baulked at the 27 quid hamburger. Needless to say, Harrods is not a thrifty place to obtain sustenance.

Qantas directed us to the American Airlines lounge on our way out. Not sure what to say about that. So best I leave it. I don’t even know if there was food to be had.

Dubai is next. Different place, different context.



Au naturel


Hi Tony,

Sounds like a nice time had in France?!

The oysters sound great, but I’ll see your oysters and raise you some Kumamoto’s from Tomales Bay! Tiny little tasty morsels…and when I say tiny, I mean about the size of a ‘quarter’, but oh, so good.

After heading north from San Francisco on Highway 1, we found ourselves driving along the coast of Tomales Bay and oyster lease after oyster lease. Every once and a while some quaint little restaurants built over the water with benches outside serving oyster chowder and raw oysters. We stopped at Nicks Cove and sampled some of the Kumamoto’s. They had 3 or 4 other varieties, but these caught our attention and had that ozone-y freshness. Washed down with a nice local amber ale. Much goodness.


We ventured further north along the coast then turned inland along the Russian River. Wine country. To be more precise, cool growth country. Pinots, pinots and surprisingly more pinot. Ok, I get the pinots, but other people in the world with cool growth areas make other stuff too…not sure I count Sauvignon Blanc from NZ though. That is an anomaly, but what about some Chardonnay or, heaven forbid, some Riesling? Nary a drop to be found. At least in our limited time there.

On a non-wine note, pretty cool place. We stopped at the information centre (chamber of commerce in American) in Guerneville and were happily set up with a free tasting at Moshin. Dean was pretty excited about some Aussies visiting and opened up a bunch of special treats before sending us off with another free tasting to Ridge Vineyards where the same sort of hospitality was offered.

Stunning scenery as the road meanders along the oh so attractive river which is lined with redwoods and the odd house with killer views. This place is on our list to head back to and explore more.

Napa. What a mistake. Tour buses, the same cabernets, merlots and chardonnays. It’s a little like Disneyland for people who know a little about wine (sorry Disney!). I used to like the Napa Valley. Not so much anymore. That said, a stop at the Oakville Grocery is well worth it for a fresh deli sandwich. Their “espresso” coffee is ok, but mine was hotter than the sun…which made tasting anything for the remainder of the day just that much harder.

If I had a little luck, some careful timing and the money, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Thomas Keller’s 3 Michelin starred The French Laundry, though the 100+ page wine list would be sure to stretch a sitting out some. I’ve heard there is a twist at the end?!

Lake Tahoe is the next stop. Snow? Well, there is supposed to be…I wonder if US skiers drink coffee yet? I suspect not.

Chat soon.


French toast

Cancale oysters (1)

Hey Dan,

Isn’t it strange that we should both be travelling at the same time, particularly to these destinations.

Despite the absurd ‘freedom fries’ debacle ten years ago, Americans and the French have more in common than either would like to admit. Unfortunately that includes their ‘cremate it and stew it’ coffee. No wonder the minority of Americans with passports all seem to be in Paris.

You can get a half-decent espresso if you ask nicely, but anything with milk in tends to come with the sense that the coffee grinder was on strike that day.

Funnily enough, it was a decent coffee that lead me to one of my better lunch experiences in Paris. I was walking past a place called Le Pain Quotidien (http://www.lepainquotidien.com) at coffee-o’clock and stopped in, and was surprised to get something that tasted like coffee. That they also had some great-looking bread and organic vegetables on the menu – April in France isn’t great for vegetables, as they tend to eat seasonal, and that limits things to asparagus – decided me on coming back for lunch.

I thought it was a real find, but then I discovered that it is a chain that originated in Belgium, and that even has four outlets in Sydney! Still, quality is quality – franchise or not.

The vegetable thing also led me to Le Richer (http://bit.ly/1lHGTE2), a bit of a hipster bistro on Rue Richer in the 9th arrondissement. The menu is limited to three starters, three mains and three deserts, and they don’t take bookings – arriving for a late mid-week lunch we got a table instantly – but the food is actually worth a wait.

My main featured the most tender and succulent rabbit I’ve ever eaten, though the addition of cuttlefish to the sauce seemed unwarranted. Good service and Agent Provocateur Belgian ale on tap, as well as a choice of wines by the glass or up to about €60 per bottle (most are in the €25-40 range), and a pretty decent espresso to finish. What’s not to like?

The eating highlight of this France trip was in Brittany in a little town called Cancale though. At the Port de la Houle there is a row of restaurants facing the water, and at low tide oyster beds are visible at one end of the bay. Tractors towing trailers full of oysters ply the street in front.

The oysters were so good at the casual Au Pied d’Cheval for lunch one day we went back and tried the slightly fancier Le Surcouf the next night, and they were even better. That lovely fresh seaweedy, sweet salt-water flavour and beautiful silky texture – my mouth is watering just thinking about them. Their moules marinières weren’t bad either. All washed down with a 2012 Pouilly Fumé – unlike you, Dan, I prefer my French whites while they’re still in diapers.

All-in-all a memorable experience, and one that reinforces my feeling that really good ingredients don’t need to be messed around with much.

Enjoy the rest of your California sojourn, I hope there’s some more good eating.


California Dreaming


Hey Tone,

So, I’ve been in the US for a little more than a week. It’s taken me this long to figure out that the food here is either quite good or appallingly bad. While the choice of dining venue would, in most other countries, give some sort of indication of what is about to be served, this place seems to be an exception.

Probably the thing that is most curious and disappointing at the same time is the ‘if we increase the serving size, it is better’ mindset. That’s fine if a normal serving size is three scallops; increasing it to four is not something many (other than those with a shellfish allergy) will complain about. But, seriously, who really needs an extra 250g of fries, on top of the huge pile already on the plate.

We might have accidentally happened on the solution at Fish Hopper in Monterey (www.fishhopper.com/monterey/‎)… order an ‘entrée’ to share. They were nice enough to split the herb crusted albacore tuna onto two plates. Done.

And, where do I start about American coffee. It is hard to call much of what is offered coffee…I think it should be renamed ‘hot caffeinated beverage’ instead. There are a few who are trying… Blue Bottle Coffee Co in San Francisco (www.bluebottlecoffee.com/‎) for instance. Clearly people want one of these hot caffeinated beverages with some flavour, some character… perhaps even resembling coffee. The queue shows how eager the masses are to get off the gravy train and get on the coffee train.

San Fran has been interesting. More diverse, with emphasis on quality that other stops. But – and this is the big but – stay away from the main tourist precincts. We found a place called Aliment tonight (alimentsf.com/) and thought the simple, clean menu was just plain nice. A pint of EvilTwins Hipster Ale set up the meal so nicely. The fitout was hipster clean, staff discreetly tattooed, wine list short, but plenty of choice and the scallops were the size of… well, they were huge.

We are off to wine country in the morning. Russian River, Sonoma and Napa. I’d like to think that wine people will embrace good food, without the need to drop $275/person on a meal designed by Thomas Keller’s team…

How was France?