Cats in a Bath

Oh no… that didn’t seem to work so well!

Ah, this is more like it… so a couple of cats went to Bath!

At times, the sheer volume of tourist visitors to this internationally recognised city of historic and cultural heritage can be overwhelming. So, pick your timing for a visit carefully. Instructive street signage combined with an unusual welcome from a top-hatted bird might just help set a favourable tone!

But I’m sure what you, and millions of others, came for was undoubtedly a glimpse of the Royal Crescent. Always good to spend a few moments dreaming of what is and what can never be, I guess!

But climbing that hill while taking in a large dose of culture and history will surely require some sustenance. Maybe a chance to stretch the finances to indulge those fantasies of wealth. Well, fear not, award winning nosh is close to hand, not to ignore the tempting wine selection hidden behind the restaurant name… Corkage comes with great prior reviews, so let’s give it a look…

Amongst a wide range of liquid temptations, an enticing invitation from Puglia takes centre stage. With a little nudge from the wine waiter the more expensive vintage is ordered, in a nod to the opulent surroundings of this whole trip.

But the question is what to have with it? Maybe ‘spiced sweet potatoes with pickled red onion, lime and sumac yoghurt’ sounds a mystifying enough temptation. Then again, ‘frogs legs pan fried with grilled baby gem, lemon breadcrumbs and satay sauce’ would at least demonstrate the British openness to all things European, in the ongoing shambles of Brexitland. Then again, ‘colley fillet with wild rice, pan choi, tarragon hollandaise and chilli oil’ keeps swimming into vision. But the wine choice is red, so perhaps that ‘lamb rump with smoked mashed potato, roast parsnip and coffee jus’ is what’s really standing up to be counted here. But, wait a minute, ‘rabbit ragu with tagliatelle and mustard’ also comes hopping into view.

Decisions, decisions… with a further range of other tempting options putting up their hands for attention across a small but extraordinary menu. Then it comes to you… there is that most wondrous of phrases in the English language… ‘All of the above‘! And just then, you’re helpfully reminded that this restaurant does a small plates approach to dining. Not to be confused with tapas, no, not that small. Something that perfectly solves the ‘all of the above’ dilemma…

Such perfectly proportioned finery may even permit space to encourage surprise and more than a little admiration from a certain US based dessert aficionado. Why not bring on the burnt Basque cheesecake with mulled wine plums, garçon! After all, I’ve given in to more of these dessert temptations during this spring season than I have across the previous decade. However, I don’t think anything more than the world’s smallest spoonful of that chocolate affair, even with its rhubarb ganache, miso cream and crispy caramel, will pass these lips though.

Such a fine and delicate dining experience demands a post-meal walk; which is beautifully accommodated by this place of history and intrigue…

A comfortable place to rest is the next item on the itinerary, preferably with a seductive location for breakfast. Got that covered as well, as long as you’re not spooked by a strange equine companion closely observing you…

Until we speak again, perhaps there is a near perfect cappuccino to be found more easily than a recent US quest! Step forward Cortado, near Pulteney Bridge… and chill (return and repeat)!

How to eat a whole city!

Step 1: You’re on holiday, so leave the usual routines behind. This isn’t just about casually checking what you’ve got in the fridge. You’re travelling to a special place, so remember you’re eating for your home country’s reputation… go for it and don’t hold back!

Step 2: Choose somewhere that’s well worth devouring… somewhere that offers a mind boggling range of culinary delights, whether you have any idea what you’re eating or not.

Step 3: If you’re including posh dining joints, check in advance if you need to book tables or not. You don’t want to create an international diplomatic incident when you turn up hell bent on eating only to be asked if you’ve booked a table. You know you’re eating the food, not the table… but if you’ve already been drinking UK-style traveller industrial quantities of alcohol your hosts may not appreciate any nationalistic cliches or sense of humour.

Step 4: Do some prior research and plan a route (however rough it may be). Don’t start with the first eating joint on the edge of town and work your way along the street. You may find you’re on a foreign version of Cardiff’s Caroline Street… where everything is a local variation of chips+!

Step 5: Snacking between meals is fine… you’re on holiday for ‘F’s sake’!

Step 6: Do some prior research on establishment opening times. If you’ve had the aforementioned UK pisshead level of lotion, don’t turn up to evening restaurants in the morning and brunch places later in the day!

Step 7: If you find yourself in New Orleans this is how to do it…

Who needs breakfast when brunch provides timing that better accommodates last night’s festivities? Two Chicks Cafe in the Warehouse District provides a perfectly good starting point to the day, particularly if you want to line your stomach with Papa’s French Toast with a side of Bacon.

Keep Google Maps to hand, as this place is a well disguised challenge for the casual unprepared customer. Don’t forget to have the freshly squeezed OJ as a psychological trick for believing you’re doing something healthy to kick off the festivities.

Don’t delay, you’ve a relatively short walk to the Streetcar Cafe on St Charles Avenue where something called Biscuit & Gravy will mess with any nonAmerican gastronomic sensibilities. Also, remember to wear loose clothing, as most American menus are designed to promote a larger version of yourself on exit than the one that entered!

The Palace Cafe on Canal Street is conveniently just around the corner, as you don’t want to be wasting too much time travelling between courses, do you? The signature Crabmeat Cheesecake can always be washed down with the addition of Turtle Soup… but remember to keep room for the Catfish Pecan. After all, it’s not every day you get such an opportunity.

Dessert anyone? You might need something to complement that strange French White Wine you’ve never heard of before! Louisiana Strawberries with whipped cream or a combination of Ice Cream flavours may help to settle down any initial rumblings from the digestive region.

You’re on the boundary of the French Quarter, so perhaps now would be as good a time as any to visit the historic (well, by US timescales) The Court of Two Sisters!

Buffet layouts don’t normally float my boat at any time of day… something about preferring food freshly cooked to order. But, a historic entrance to a courtyard setting like this with a Jazz trio accompaniment just demands that certain personal culinary judgements be left outside and picked up again on departure.

A classic Mimosa provides a basis for the relaxed enjoyment of a cold buffet followed by a hot buffet of Louisiana standards of grits, jambalaya, crawfish etouffee … not forgetting to top up your Turtle Soup levels at the same time.

Now may just be the time for a good walk… so I suggest a hike across the French Quarter to Bywater along the banks of the Mississippi River to Elizabeth’s where Korean Brussels Sprouts will provide a gear change before you get back to another variation on the Catfish theme with something entitled Bayou Breakfast. A side of Callas (me neither? but it’s worth a re-visit) will no doubt further extend your culinary range… nothing like some deep-fried concoction with a sugary maple syrup for accompanying any type of egg with your catfish (you’re in New Orleans, so of course, this all makes sense… well, to the locals at least!).

At least now you’re geographically out on a limb, and probably physically wondering whether your limbs are going to support your weight. So a lengthy walk back in the direction of the city should be quite timely. Do find one of the few benches in Crescent Park if you need a lie down for a minute or two.

After a brief rest reviewing your evening meal bookings, why not stop off for a chocolate heaven interlude at Piety & Desire over in the Garden District? The produce is locally sourced and handmade, and what a selection… even including the green one with a layer of duck fat! As you may have read in a previous post… the cappuccino isn’t that bad either.

Ready for an evening meal? It’s probably best to head over to the Treme/7th Ward boundary for a shift of gear from Deep South US to European fayre. The Green Room offers up an eclectic mix of Slavic originated dishes in a bar/restaurant vibe. The Blini Trio starter is of particular note, as it provided a mixed burst of different tastes with a much needed lightness compared to the entree Slavic Sampler. Kielbasa, kapusta, golubtsy, and pierogi all provided interesting flavours, but this meal is definitely a heavyweight designed for the demands of a colder climate.

Back in the French Quarter, a beguiling range of options are on offer, but if we’re gradually climbing a gastronomic ladder, it’s possibly going to be Orleans Grapevine Wine Bar & Bistro for the next stop. It seems timely to go for an Arugula Salad at this point in the day, at least as an appetiser before diving into that Roasted Duck Breast and Lamb Chop combination of main dishes. The local Louisiana Strawberries make a second appearance decoratively accompanying a Creme Brûlée, and an after dinner Port for no other reason than I’m being coaxed against my better judgement into the world of desserts.

Muriel’s on the corner of Jackson Square just along from the cathedral brings us back to some quintessential Louisiana dishes done in what claims to be an historic setting (Note to locals: history to a European goes back further than last month!). Boudin Egg Rolls provided a delicately spiced appetiser that made me wonder why it’s taken me so long to sample this dish. The Oregon Pinot Noir complemented this dish perfectly. As for Shrimp & Grits, this is a dish of ubiquitous familiarity, but here it’s done with a delicate twist that adds a higher level of subtlety, adding some much-needed flavour to the grits. Switching to a German Riesling was definitely a good move with this entree.

Until we speak again, still got room for more? I hope so, as you need to check out the previous Dining Fine NOLA-Style post, because August Restaurant on Tchoupitoulas Street in the Central Business District offers the pinnacle of the New Orleans eating experience (other pinnacles may be available!).

If you’ve eaten all of this in one day the only question that comes to mind is… what’s wrong with you? I guess you’ll be too full to answer that one, and are likely to be focused on what’s for brunch tomorrow!

To Juno’s Dismay

The long deceased inspiration for this 10-year blog could just be spinning in her grave… if such a thing existed. For here I am, back in New Orleans sampling Catfish in some of its diverse yet delicious presentations. And I’m really fussy and limited in the types of fish I generally eat.

I can sense Juno’s paw tapping me on the chin as she informs me that cats are cats, superior in all ways; fish are fish, purely for eating. But mixing the two is strictly, well, unusual to say the least.

First stop was ‘Elizabeths‘ in the Bywater district of the city. This is a venue not visited in previous sojourns to the Big Easy, so this was definitely on the list of new places to try on this occasion.

How do you like your eggs with your Catfish? Not a question I had anticipated tackling until arriving here! Then there is a side of something called Calas, which has the ability to stop you in your tracks and ask you how you’ve lived this long without sampling such a delight. This is a Creole deep fried rice, eggs, and sugar mix complete with honey-infused dip. Not for the calorie-obsessed diner… but then again, hardly anything in New Orleans is!

The next variation was provided by a place frequented as a favourite whenever I mosey on down the Mississippi…the Palace Cafe. We can’t avoid the signature dish of Crabmeat Cheesecake, this time with a side of Turtle Soup. OK, I get your indignation… but these guys exist for a reason, right? But the Catfish Pecan, now, that’s a new taste altogether. The sweetness of the pecans perfectly complimented the savoury flavour of the Catfish.

Look out aquatic culture… I might need to reappraise my relationship to eating fish… which is something I’m sure Juno would have delighted in, except for the suspicious influence of cat-infused fish dishes.

Until we speak again, the Doobie Brothers song comes to mind… Catfish are jumping, that paddle wheel thumping… Black Water for those of you unacquainted. Check out the track, as it captures New Orleans, Louisiana, very succinctly.

Dining fine NOLA-style

Sometimes… things can just take the wrong direction. Take eating… New Orleans style, for example. As a native of Cardiff, I could think… wow, an eating sensation has just arrived from New Orleans right on my doorstep…

I could try to think that! But, then again, let’s see what happens if you have the good fortune to travel in the opposite direction. August might be more recognisable as a distinct month of the year… but on Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans, it just happens to be a place where real New Orleans fine dining takes place all year round.

No Southern Fried Chicken burgers to be seen here. After all, the wine selection alone demands that something a little more, let’s say, refined, should be adorning plates.

When the meal starts with a hollowed egg of chef’s special artfulness of the day, you just know you’re about to experience something that mere cooks couldn’t dream of.

This is where Black Truffles take the measure of Giant Lump Crab, with just a hint of Parmesan, in a dish entitled Gnocchi black & blue… designed to slow down your pace of life and focus your attention, and give thanks for the invention of taste buds!

This is where Escargot come to play delightfully with Wild Mushrooms… hermaphrodite cuisine at its most delicate.

As for the Duck… Huey, Dewey, and Louie, look away now. This is a dish that comes three ways, and is definitely not for the faint-hearted if youre put off by the idea of Foie Gras. But it does come with something called Bayou Cora Grits… ? me neither, but it was a delightful accompaniment all the same.

And the Grouper most definitely comes with a delicate, flaky meatiness that no fish in its rightful mind should dare to claim! Just to compliment this piece of aquatic genius, you might just find a hint of grapefruit backed up by a Persilade of parsley, garlic, and herbs… ? me neither, but I’d come back for more of the same whenever you invite me!

Until we speak again, much of the above required a very delicate German Reisling, but that duck also stood up and demanded a glass of an Oregon Pinot Noir before it gave up its deliciousness.

If your first thought is how small the portions of food are on such wide plates, your quality to quantity ratio is completely out of sync… don’t forget to take your shovel of choice to the nearest food buffet or the newly opened Popeye’s in Cardiff!

Honour the cheque

Once upon a time, Cardiff led the world… as the centre of coal trading in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. To mark such an auspicious position the Exchange Building, otherwise known as the Coal Exchange, was built in 1888 in Mount Stuart Squaredown the docks as us locals refer to it.

As in any ‘exchange’, frantic activity would take place with all kinds of guys (as it was always guys at the time) gesticulating and bargaining, as the global price of coal was set right here in the Grand Hall. Then, one day in 1904, the very first £1,000,000 transaction was made. Yes, financial history was made right there on the trading floor of the Coal Exchange in Cardiff!

So, it has been a shared ambition with my local drinking friend, to dine in the grand old building when the long awaited Culley’s restaurant had opened. Not being early adopters, we have let a year or more drift by before achieving said ambition. But, it’s a grand way in which to honour that cheque from back in 1904… assuming that the prices don’t honour the historic event!

Apart from a ubiquitous olives and red wine (Argentinian Malbec) introduction to the place, we were drawn to the Scotch Egg and the Black Pudding Bon Bon starters. Small plates they may be, but the delicate tastes complemented the majestic surroundings.

As for the main course, we both just had to respect the tradition of Welsh supremacy (even if it was just briefly experienced more than 100 years ago). After all, there is a culinary delight that Wales has long been one of the world’s leading providers… Welsh Lamb. With squash and dauphinaise potato adornments, this was a fine way with which to honour that moment back in 1904.

Until we speak again, in the absence of any randomly available £1m cheques drifting my way, I’m more than happy to indulge a Welsh tradition… eating not sh____ing sheep, that is! You may enjoy those visions of spring with lambs gamboling about sunny hillsides. Me… I prefer them decorating my plate any time of the year.

65 not out

Cricket is such a tedious game… which is why you can read on, as this post (like all the others) has nothing to do with the summer sounds of leather on willow… yawn, yawn. No, this is about achieving a so-called milestone. Though the effects of ageing can make it seem like a millstone on some days!

The first decision on approaching such a milestone is where to achieve it? Somewhere I’ve never been before might be a good idea. Having arrived at 40 in New York, 50 in Key West, 60 in New Orleans, my travelling companion made it very clear that America was off the agenda! OK, Europe it is, and having taken some expert advice, Mallorca it would be.

After all, it needed to be somewhere with well established bathing traditions…

And, a clear view of where your food is being prepared goes a long way to establishing culinary confidence…

With an abundance of interesting places the capital city of Palma provided a welcome introduction…

A wooden train set provides a unique way to get to from Palma to the place of choice for the actual milestone…

Port de Soller provided the perfect backdrop for ending the ‘When I’m 64’ Beatles year-long soundtrack…

An important celebration demands an experience of quality, and so I trusted online reviews of a restaurant 5 minutes walk away around the stunning bay…

And the choice of Agapanto certainly didn’t disappoint…

Until we speak again, Palma & Port de Soller are high on the list for must-do return visits. That milestone has taken 8 months to report! With OAP status fast approaching I must fly, in more ways than one…

Prosecco Cat

After a hard day sleeping… I’d have a nice cool glass of Prosecco… if I could be bothered!

You see, it’s this travelling thing that just takes it out of me. Take Venice, for example… “Do I really need a few days surrounded by water and crumbling old buildings?” I wondered. Not the right kind of thinking to share aloud with my travel companion, who just happens to think it’s the best place on the planet!

So, what’s so good about visiting Venezia? Whisper it quietly… I wouldn’t want a certain someone to think I’m fully agreeing with their personal recommendation! I guess, to begin with, messing about on the water has many attractions:

Then there are the expected architectural attractions that most people think of when the idea of Venice is raised:

Unassuming cats can’t resist investigating behind any open door… and stunning interiors await the discerning inquisitor:

But, perhaps it’s the bright and colourful side of the surrounding islands or those amazing stain-glassed windows:

Thinking of the culinary side of Italy pizza has to be the first idea that comes to mind. As good as some pizza’s definitely are, look further, as there are so many more culinary delights on offer! Octopus starters and seafood risotto offered delicious distractions for this unashamed carnivore… tuna, calamari, but exquisite meat-based dishes such as pork cutlets proved just as succulent and irresistible:

With so many wide-eyed big picture attractions at every turn… trust the locals to know that the devil is in the detail:

Then again, perhaps it’s best to leave it to Venice to describe just how fabulous it is… with a sharp intake of breath a one-word description may just accompany that continual feeling of incredulity:

As for me, perhaps in the end, the appeal of Venice starts and finishes with thoughts about liquid:

Until we speak again, the availability of fabulous wine was proving to be somewhat overwhelming… time to curl up and contemplate simply ignoring that earlier bottle of Prosecco?

Upgrading from French

Once there was a bistro… mediocre at best, but upmarket for the traditional surroundings associated with the infamous Chippy Alley of Caroline Street in the centre of Cardiff. Few tears were shed at Juno HQ as Pierre met his demise during the Covid lockdowns of 2020… but, what would replace it? Summer of 2021 gave rise to a hint of refurbishment, and in recent weeks the curtain can be raised on a new Thai restaurant. Busaba emerges to taunt those who only have time for a bag of chips… the eternal staple of the street food warriors of Caroline Street (myself included on occasions of haste).

It passes the first test… the menus are not overly complicated, and certainly don’t need to be made of wipe-down plastic (a surefire sign of *********** well, fill in the blanks with your own commentary). However, step two created a problem… even though the menu had ‘starters’ and ‘mains’ as categories, the whole lot arrived in one go!

Makes for an exciting looking table, but something’s going to get cold… not least the stare from my discerning culinary companion!

Some things were definitely going to need replacing with freshly cooked dishes (and the restaurant staff duly obliged without any fuss).

Matchstick Chicken provided crispy bites of flavour without the expected fiery burn back. Yam Pak Crispy Duck salad provided a substantial leg, covering a fabulously tasty crunchy assortment of loveliness with a hint of peanut sauce. The Chicken Green Curry provided that wonderful Thai combination of coconut and lemongrass. The Tamarind Duck Breast was accompanied by that slight fiery tang originally expected from the Matchstick starter.

But, pride of place goes to that smallest of bowls (top right of the photograph). Calamari… described on the menu as their signature wok-tossed dish in ginger and green peppercorn sauce. Or, described by me as WTF… that’s the best Calamari I’ve tasted… ever!!

Until we speak again, they describe their restaurant as “Eating in balance… at Busaba you’ll find fresh authentic flavours with an innovative twist.” I say: “Bon Voyage mediocre French joint… I want more of that Calamari… NOW!”

Return to Old Favourites

At least it was the 25th! A family Christmas shape shifts as the numbers change with time. My last family Christmas meal was four years ago, when five people sat around the table, but now it’s just two, as the tragic heartfelt losses mount up.

So, for my sister and I, that at least meant we could decide to check out an old favourite Cardiff restaurant, dispense with the usual Christmas Day paraphernalia, and even dispense with celebrating in December! Neither of us can trust many restaurants not to downgrade their great menu’s by replacing them with Christmas mediocrity throughout the month of December. So, whether that applies to the Bayside Brasserie or not we don’t know. What we do know, is that the same high quality experience is there for the savouring.

Whilst the menu prompted a majority of tempting memories, the power of asking for what you want was also easily accommodated by the staff. Previously, Pork Belly was a starter but now it only appears as a main. The old adage is… if you don’t ask you don’t get; so, asking for Pork Belly as a starter was not only agreed, but met with results to exceed expectations.

Perhaps it’s the sense of getting something that wasn’t there that makes it taste even better! But, though the Crispy Squid looked tempting, this Pork Belly was all mouth-watering meat with a crispy crackling covering… and that melt-in-the-mouth feeling just simply can’t be resisted.

Two or three plates of this starter alone would easily have sent me off with that satisfied feeling of a meal well-deserved… you really don’t have to be anointed as a saint to be deserving of such riches in life! But, there were other memories to be tested and satisfied, not least the vegetarians nightmare… Fillet Steak! A food that should only be allowed by law to be served with chips and peppercorn sauce. A little foliage and extra fungi provides fancy dressing for any pernickety critic.

Who needs dessert after such a meat feast? Yes, I know… the very question puts me top of the list of many of your for a cactus emema! But, for me, those glasses of a lovely Argentinian Malbec are dessert enough… but then again a properly prepared macchiato serves to bring a great early Christmas to a gentle close.

Until we speak again, have a great Christmas… whenever, wherever, and with whoever you choose to celebrate it. After all, for me and a longstanding reader of these lyrical meanderings, a great Christmas meal has even been enjoyed on a balmy night in June (for the record… Fillet Steak was also eaten there.. in Blackheath, south-east London). So, the gift of the cow is really a gift of great memories as well.

How do you make a Maltese Cross?

Buy up their favourite wine and bring it back to the UK!!

So, what has a week in Malta got to offer, to get you doing that Covid bureaucracy added to the new travelling experience? History? Well yes, plenty of that…

Interesting old architecture, including those distinctive wooden balconies everywhere…

A surplus of blue? Definitely, in many shades and varieties…

But, for all the enjoyable walking and water-based sight-seeing, it’s the evening that easily provides the enchantment of Malta. When the weather maybe cooking up a storm (literally on one evening), try some of the local delicacies, either under cloth in the street, or indoors. Merchant Street in Valletta offers a wide range of choices, but La Pira was the outstanding pick of the bunch…

I do like a small menu, it hints at expertise, and there is nothing so off-putting as having to read a book before you get to your starters! On this occasion, I feel drawn to the Maltese traditional options, so Maltese Special is my immediate choice. As for the discerning company, there is the challenge of serving up Calamari Fritti to a calamari aficionado! Both dishes provide the kind of satisfaction that distract you from the rain hammering down on the open tent structure we are sitting in.

And then there is the first taste of that local wine that just cries out to be taken home…

Malta does come up with the occasional surprise tradition… not the least being their favoured dish. “What’s up, doc?” Move over Bugs Bunny, this place IS your worst nightmare! For some reason, rabbit is the delicacy set out as their dish of choice. One previous tasting of the dish is located so far down in my food memory that it doesn’t particularly register… other than the ubiquitous ‘it tastes like chicken’, which is something that applies to so many ‘its not chicken’ foods. Local Rabbit seems like the only choice to me… I don’t like my rabbit to have been travelling too far in pursuit of my plate! As for the seafood fan, Pan Fried Octopus was the favoured selection, after a quick quizzing of the waiter about how it was prepared and cooked. Suffice to say, the rabbit tasted of a superior chicken, but beware these critters come with many bones in all shapes and sizes. As for the octopus, it was delicately flavoured without the feared chewy rubbery consistency occasionally attributed to the dish.

Until we speak again, the experience was so enjoyable, a second visit to La Pira only confirmed our initial appreciation… with a return for the tastiest of Calamari rounded off with mains of Summer Squash and Swordfish Ravioli, rounded off with a local Chardonnay