I love to eat. And when not eating, I love to talk about food. Here are my reviews and favourite recipes.

Many of the recipes and comments can also be found on Fabulous Foodie, and all the Restaurant Reviews can also be found on Qype.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Review: Cafe de Paris, Monaco 18 October 2008

Cafe de Paris is one of the main tourist traps in Monte Carlo, situated as it is on Casino Square.

For a quick coffee while touring the Principality, there's nowhere better, and you can sit in the square watching the tourists dribble over the vast array of supercars parked outside the Casino and Hotel de Paris. The hot chocolate is especially good, served in a jug rather than just a small cup.

As for dinner - that was more of a mixed blessing really.

Firstly, it's a good idea to dress for dinner - while there seemed to be no public statement of the fact, simply everyone, French or otherwise, were outfitted in suits and dresses.

Despite its size, service from the waistcoated staff is quick and attentive.

Our starters were both excellent - Gerry went for their onion soup, which was fresh and tasty (though not as deeply flavoured as others) and I chose a soupe de poisson, served with side dishes of grated cheese, croutons and rouille. It was fully flavoured, and deeply satisfying. First class. However, while my main course of grilled whole seabass was as good as my starter, Gerry's chicken was disappointing - slightly overcooked and a little dry.

The meal was washed down with a bottle of white, and we skipped desserts.

Overall, this meal was an enjoyable experience, but not really worth the 135-Euro price tag. It was merely a good meal, and for that sort of cost in the UK I would expect excellence, which sadly wasn't delivered.

In conclusion - you should definitely visit Cafe de Paris. But go there during the day for coffee, and find somewhere else for dinner.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Review - BeefBar, Monaco 17 October 2008

42, quai Jean-Charles Rey
98000 Monte-Carlo, Principauté de Monaco
Tel. +377 97 77 09 29

Monaco. The glittering Principality with petrol in its veins, and a place where a simple steak frites can be elevated to fine dining.

BeefBar is situated overlooking the harbour in the Fontveille quarter, so you enjoy your meal while gazing covetously at the superyachts moored there. There's no dress code (which seems quite rare for the better restaurants in the area), however we were advised by the concierge at our hotel that I would be 'more comfortable' wearing a shirt. Thankfully, a tie wasn't necessary!

The menu is simple - a few starters, some cold meat dishes, and a range of cuts of beef, arranged on the menu not by cut, but by nationality, with a description of the key points of each nations' offering.

I started with pan-fried foie gras served topped with ground nuts and figs, which was absolutely sublime - however, I actually preferred Gerry's starter of chunks of seared tuna, marinated in garlic, shallots, wine vinegar and ginger, served with individual pots of wasabi cream and ground pistachio. It was almost, but not quite, a ceviche, and utterly fantastic.

Both of us chose sirloin steaks for our main course - Gerry opting for an Argentinian steak, which was as good as Argentine beef always is - and I went for a Kansas beef, from a slightly older animal (27 months as opposed to 18). Both were superb - the differences in flavour were clear, with the Kansas beef more intense and with a fuller, herbier flavour.

The steaks were served with a small pot of creamed potato, which I think will become my accompaniment of choice for beef in future. However, as no mention was made of this accompaniment on the menu, we also ordered some side dishes, and this was unfortunately where we were a little disappointed.

The frites were excellent, and the dish of steamed legumes also well cooked and presented - however the kitchen forgot about our leek gratin, and when it did come out was cold and the parmesan topping unmelted. The waiter handled our complaint well, and as one would expect we weren't charged for the offending dish.

The whole meal was washed down with a bottle of decent French red, surprisingly reasonable given the cost of the rest of the meal!

We didn't bother with desserts, as the portions of the previous courses were more than adequate (especially the 400g steaks). Though the portion of creamed potato was a touch small for two.

Total cost for the two courses, including wine and service, was a not-inconsiderable 195 Euros. However, given that this was in Monaco, which is somewhere we're unlikely to visit very often, it was worthwhile even at that cost.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

A True Man's Dinner

A recipe for the times we Men are alone, and cooking just for ourselves.

1 Steak (see below for specifications);
1 Griddle Pan;
A good handful of peppery salad;
A large handful of asparagus spears;
1 Bottle good Scotch, plus the mixer of your choice;
Salt & Pepper to taste.

First, take your bottle and pour a large Scotch.

Next, place the griddle pan on a high heat, turn on the extractor fan and open a window. You'll need it.

Heat the griddle pan until it's smoking hot. Then heat it some more. And some more. Heat until you can hear the cast-iron singing and the kitchen feels like a sauna.

Heat some more.

Take 1 steak. Sirloin. This is not for preference, it's mandatory. Aged darker than an Aboriginal's arms, streaked through with yellow-tinged fat, thick as two of your fingers. Cheap Tesco meat is not an option here.

Add the steak to your griddle pan.

Cook for three minutes. Revel in the sweat pouring off you. Pour another large Scotch to replace the fluids lost.

Turn the steak. Ignore the flames and smoke. Cook for another three minutes. Boil 2 inches of lightly-salted water in a steamer. Pour another Scotch -for medicinal purposes.

Remove the steak from the pan, and the pan from the heat. Place on a bed of peppery salad (I recommend Waitrose Watercress, Rocket & Spinach) and leave to relax for ten minutes.

Put the asparagus onto the steamer, and cook for ten minutes while the steak is relaxing.

Season to taste, and serve it all with a peppercorn sauce if you must. Bearnaise is for girls.

Revel in the glory of being both man and cook.

Enjoy. And pour another Scotch.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Review: Frankie & Benny's, 4 October 2008

Frankie & Bennys
New York Italian Restaurant and Bar

Ozone Leisure Park, Oxford OX4 4XP

Last weekend Gerry and I took the boys out tenpin bowling, and we decided we'd stop for a spot of lunch beforehand.

We're trying to avoid the usual haunts of McDonalds and Burger King, and take the boys to places they may not have been before, so for a combination of convenience and speed decided to use Frankie & Benny's - after all, it's right next to the bowling alley!

In all honesty, we wouldn't use it for any other reason.

In style, look, decor and even menu, Frankie & Benny's feels like the poor Italian-American cousin of TFI Friday. And let's face it, even that's not saying much.

We didn't bother with starters, instead choosing to share some garlic & tomato bread - a simple pizza base that is almost impossible to mess up, and so it proved on this occasion.

The boys both had pasta dishes from the kids' menu, Gerry went for Chicken Penne Romana, and I plumped for the Manhattan burger.

The food was - alright. Average. Filling without being satisfying. My burger, for example, was large and well-topped, yet the meat was a touch overcooked and despite the amount, the cheese was strangely tasteless. The pasta dishes for the boys were bland and the portions too large, especially for a three-year-old. Our youngest's spaghetti bolognese was a pretty daunting size, even to my gluttonous eyes!

Another small niggle I have - and this is aimed at ALL restaurants which have a children's menu - why do you not have smaller cutlery for children? What's the point in having a small portion, if the knife and fork are too large for small hands? A teaspoon, while a nice offer from a helpful waiter, ain't much use for spaghetti really, is it?

that said, in their defence they offered a well-stocked goodie bag to each of the kids, who also left with a balloon.

Service was attentive throughout, except when it came to paying the bill. I was kept waiting far too long while the waiter chattered with a colleague, and the longer we waited the more fractious the kids became.

Overall, F&B's offered distinctly average food and an equally average experience, not quite managing to be good in any area, while avoiding complete awfulness. Pricing as well was distinctly average, coming out at £38 including service.

In all, then, Frankie & Benny's is a place I'd avoid. Mediocrity is never something I enjoy where my stomach's concerned, and sadly mediocrity seems to be all that F&B can manage.

Review: Carluccio's Oxford 5 October 2008

42 Oxford Castle, OXFORD OX1 1AY
Tel: 01865 24413

I have to confess that the idea of a quick lunch in Carluccio's Oxford didnt fill me with huge anticipation. To be honest, I was expecing Yet Another Generic Italian Restaurant - and my feelings about those are well documented in prior reviews!

However, I was utterly mistaken in my expectations, and ended up pleasantly surprised!

The place itself feels a little strange, walking through the deli area to get to the tables. While we had a table tucked away at the back, well away from the main door and any potential draughts, I would think it would feel a little exposed sitting near the retail area.

The shop itself is, of course, an Aladdin's Cave for a foodie, with a wide range of traditional Italian delicacies, along with other treats and dry goods. The only thing missing was the smell - while there's lots of good food around, there wasn't the welcoming smell of fresh produce and herbs that one might expect.

For lunch, we started with the savoury bread tin, which comprised a lovely range of breads including a delightful focaccia, with a light texture and a well-salted crust. There was also an excellent sun-dried tomato and walnut (I think) wholemeal. All was served with a first-class, fruity olive oil for dipping.

Our antipasti were a chicken pate for The Darling G (good flavour, and with a firmer texture than most, which gave it a more substantial feel), and for me a surprising dish - Vitello Tonnata. This was thin slices of medium-rare veal, topped with a tuna mayonnaise and capers. I was surprised at how well they went together, and thankfully the capers added to the overall dish rather than overpowering it, as they can so often do.

On to the main courses, where Gerry went for Penne Luganica, which was a delicious ragu made with sausagemeat. I opted for Linguine al Frutti Di Mare, which was packed with seafood and had a clean, clear sauce sparkling with garlic and chilli.

Portions for both courses were more than adequate!

We were in a hurry, so skipped desserts and coffees, but if they were anything like the other courses then I'm sure they'd be good. The bill was reasonable at £41 including a tip for (excellent) service, however neither of us were drinking which pushed the overall cost down.

In all, and as I mentioned at the start, this is anything but a Generic Italian Restaurant. The food's excellent, the service quick and attentive, and the price reasonable. While the nature of Carluccios would make it less attractive for an intimate dinner for two, for a good lunch it's hard to fault it.