Monday, August 04, 2014

THE ROSE GARDEN ~ *FOR A...









I promised to take some photos of roses for my Venetian friend, who was lamenting that Venice is so *scorchio in summer, that the roses get scorched before they have a chance. London's roses have been outstanding this year; since May they've been tumbling over walls everywhere or reaching for the sky. To get a good hit of every type of rose, the best place I know is the rose garden at Greenwich Park. (They also have hydrangeas, my other fave.) It's also a pretty wonderful place to go and reflect, ponder, sit on a bench inhaling the heady perfume and that type of thing.

However, this year we've had such *scorchio temperatures ourselves that the roses are almost over there. Apparently they should be just coming into bloom now, but were out at the beginning of June and now think it's nearly winter, which apparently is a very bad sign.  For the roses, for the world, I don't know - the gardener who told me this didn't specify.

{SCORCHIO! Never gets old.}

Saturday, July 26, 2014

CHASSIGNOLLES...











One night at the Auberge de Chassignolles  in a tiny, beautiful village in Auvergne, on the way to Ardeche. The weather en route from Paris was inclement to say the least, and we were starving by the time we unfolded ourselves from the car after a 7? 8? hour drive, complete with a running out of petrol in the middle of nowhere in driving rain/fog as it started to get dark nightmare scenario.

We were greeted with smiles, a proffered umbrella, a simple, perfect room. A reviving meal quite swiftly appeared: radishes, butter/salt and sardines to start - a bottle of Catherine and Pierre Breton's Nuits d'Ivresse (translation: drunken nights!) finally chosen after a lot of indecision. Beets with soft cheese, half a chicken with vegetables from the garden followed - and a break in the rain was our chance to do a quick tour of Chassignolles at dusk - actually maybe that was after the salad course and before the cheese (St. Nectaire, Bleu d'Auvergne and Cantal I think - we were in their 'hood) or between the cheese and dessert of raspberry tart.

The breakfast was as inviting as any I've seen. Homemade yoghurt, fruit, freshly squeezed juice, eggs, bread, homemade jams, coffee, tiny pots of flowers on the table.

Very reviving in between all the driving.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

FED AND WATERED...


It is a well known fact among those close to me that I have an insatiable appetite... for restaurants in Paris. The rolling list keeps rolling and though I feed and water the demand, it is never satisfied.

How convenient then, that a very local, low key restaurant I go to all the time recently changed chefs and happened to employ two of the most happening ones in Paris: Shaun Kelly - former chef at Au Passage and Elenie Sapera, formerly of Bones.

At first, I was horrified at the thought of my little secret becoming not so and of the cobbled rue de Mont-Louis thronging with, I don't know, people who don't live in the furthest reaches of the 11th arrondissement, forming a bawdy, excitable congregation outside; making it impossible for me to slip in for a quiet dinner on a Wednesday night without being in the background of several people's Instagrams. I thought it would change, and I liked it just how it was. I felt almost Parisian feeling this.

But luckily, although the food has changed, it's much for the better and the charming and friendly servers remain, along with the calm and happy atmosphere. They also had the good sense to keep the famous Kate Mousse on the dessert menu - adding Eton Mess as a new option, which I'm told is a direct transplant from Au Passage. The opening hours are still maddeningly confusing/non existent at the weekend - maybe I hallucinated that one time we ate there on a Sunday evening. But the food, ah the food - somewhere I already liked very much raised its food game at least several notches? It couldn't really be a better result. Below, some photos from a recent dinner, where we sat at an outside table during l'heure bleue, which did not turn to night until at least 10.45pm.

The menu was printed on white paper - it was the hour that was blue
Octopus and black radish, bone marrow and fresh petit pois
Rilettes of rabbit and pork sandwich - basically a pulled pork burger.  
So then it was onto a special meal on a special day, at the almost impossible to reserve Septime. I did not make this reservation, but I'm told it involved stalking the online booking system to determine when the advance booking thingy clicked round. (FYI - 0.01 AM.) Septime is, of course, somewhere I had wanted to dine since it opened - named one of the top 50 restaurants in the world and one of the few on that list that has the exact vibe I'm looking for in a restaurant, which I can only describe as natural and luminous. Everything in the place glowed with a kind of healthy, radiant light. Bertrand Gr├ębault looked way too young to be directing the kitchen staff, but direct it he did. We ordered so as to try everything on the menu and everything was sublime. The juicy octopus tail with rhubarb will remain in my memory for many years. (The hot trend in Paris is currently meat or fish paired with fruit apparently.)

Details like the tiny white flowers - maybe they were from some kind of bean? and a single nasturtium leaf were considered, but didn't feel pretentious. The candlelight, flowers, rough wooden tables and the enchanted garden behind the restaurant all added to the feeling of goodness and wellbeing. Can you tell I was very happy to be there? I surreptitiously 'stazzed our meal as it seemed rude not to just concentrate on the flavours:

I had cheese obviously
Sea bream, fromage frais, cucumber, those little white flowers; pink veal with bonito cream and capers
(Amazing) octopus with pepper, rhubarb and green beans
The courtyard garden behind Septime
But my brain, the never ending list... is now saying - we have to go to Clamato next.

Monday, June 16, 2014

SWIM...




This film was potentially so drowning in cliches that it should have totally annoyed me but it didn't! I don't think it has a UK release, but it was shown at the Birds Eye View Film Festival in April. Did anyone see it? Am I crazy to find it very well done, enjoyable and balanced and actually not annoying at all? (Some reviewers didn't agree.) Swim Little Fish Swim is showing now in Paris.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

A ROOM...


I think I'm turning into a senior citizen, as all I like doing is visiting gardens, taking pictures of flowers, then going for a cream tea. We went to Monk's House, the country getaway of Virginia and Leonard Woolf in East Sussex, on a typically rainy May bank holiday weekend. As we arrived in the tiny village of Rodmell, the skies cleared and a Manx cat bounded up to greet us.

Because it was so wet, there were hardly any other visitors to the house and garden. I had a good poke around the garden - so many sections, with roses tumbling and spilling around the house, lupins and tons of flowers in bloom near to it, a rectangular pond with a bench, then an orchard, a lawn for playing bowls overlooking the fields, the writing hut, a large vegetable garden next to the church. I love when gardens are sectioned like that, which takes real imagination and vision. Anyway I'll stop being a granny for a minute, going on about gardens. Still got some life in me yet.

What really, really got me at Monk's House was Virginia's bedroom. Separated from the rest of the house with its own external door onto the garden it was the most tranquil, calming space I could ever think of. Pink climbing roses covered the wall outside and most of the windows, the inside of the room had that perfectly calming arrangement, where someone with a strong eye has books and possessions and things that don't 'match' but everything is harmonious, everything flows. The importance of a room of one's own - had to say it. The privacy, the refuge. There was a man whose job it was to sit in there, probably to stop people having a nap on Virginia's bed, which was hard not to do. The photos below are of the exterior and interior of VW's bedroom.






Sunday, May 18, 2014

GIVERNY...


When I was in Paris last weekend we took a day trip to somewhere I've long wanted to see: Giverny. My grandmother (yes the teapot one) had a beautiful, large framed print of Monet's Japanese Bridge, that I remember not quite understanding wasn't the original painting until I was old enough to realise that this was unlikely. So to see the actual bridge that I grew up looking at in the painting print was a dream.

I seriously didn't know quite what a major tourist destination the home and gardens that belonged to Monet and inspired his paintings were. We thought that by arriving late in the day we'd beat the crowds, but wow, we were wrong. Apparently Giverny ranks up there with Versailles as a day trip for Paris visitors (and it's a fraction of the size) - I had no idea...

The planting of the gardens was beautiful - peonies, tulips, irises and roses out in full force. It was a bit hard to move around - you just had to follow the herd and shuffle forward when you could. When we got to the waterlily pond it was difficult to imagine Monet painting the scene in the serene, calm environment that inspired him for so long - and difficult to take a photo that didn't include two hundred other people also madly taking photos from every angle in the frame. At one point a lady took a photo up my nose. Such was the frenzy. I mention this not to complain, but to give the full experience. I don't think there's a time of day you can go that would not be so busy though. Maybe during winter, but then you'd miss the flowers in bloom and the wisteria which absolutely covers the Japanese Bridge. I somehow managed to take a photo of it that doesn't betray quite how many people were standing on it also taking pictures. I started to wish that brightly coloured gore-tex anoraks and DSLRs were banned and that everyone had been issued with faded linen artists' smocks and panama hats on entry and made to take photos only with vintage or very small cameras; they'd blend in a bit more... In this setting, hell was definitely other people. But if you can't beat them, style them.

Anyway! It was lovely really! I was very inspired by the planting in the gardens near the house. Long beds full of colour and so many different flowers.











Monet's breakfast room