Orrery (a clockwork model of the solar system)

This week saw us dining in The Orrery, at the top end of Marylebone High Street, London, with an old friend who was in town for a few days. Himself and said friend had eaten there previously, albeit for lunch and being rather lazy we could walk there.

Our friend had already been seated, when we arrived, but I declined to join him on what appeared to be an over stuffed, bouncy sofa, but chose a chair opposite instead ( much more comfortable). He was already not happy with the menu, not so much as to what was on the menu, but, it stated, A la Carte, which it was not. It was either two course £54 or three for £59! And on top of that, the Dorset Crab was a £10 supplement, Steak another £10; Vegetables a £4.50 and Cheese another £10!

Having perused the Menu, Friend, asked me ” what is Soulard Duck”? Not a clue was my reply, a quick Google found it to be a tho of duck from the Vendée in France, either fatty or not fatty, I assume a bit like Gressingham Duck Of UK origins. The menu stated only Soulard Duck, no mention if it was breast or leg or confit ( it turned out to be breast). However, when the Maitre D was asked about Soulard Duck , he looked down from great height ( he was even taller than himself) rather snootily and told us. So we ordered , me the green asparagus, Himself the caramelised onion tart and Friend carpaccio of fish, followed by the Duck, Himself, Lamb Wellington and myself the Cod, ( with more asparagus but this time white.

Actually the food was very nice, well cooked and well presented. Himself found that the caramelised onion tart a bit tough to cut ( too much caramel perhaps ) but I had no such problems, not with my starter nor my main, the Cod was just lovely. Himself declared that the Lamb Wellington was really good ( must include that in my repertoire) but I thought the pea accompaniment looked rather odd, a bit spotty as was the beetroot with the duck. Friend announced that the duck was perfect, but no comment on the beetroot. Himself commented that the peas were on a bed of lettuce and subsequently fairly difficult to eat.

Marks out of ten,

Food 9

Value for money 5 ( too expensive especially for a Monday night) we did not have, dessert or wine or crab or cheese or steak!

Service 3 , the Maitre D was snooty and the waiter not that good either, so sorry Orrery !

Return again , well no not really !

Oh and the meaning of Orrey? something to do with a clockwork model of the Solar System? Beats Me !

A Flashback to St. Valentine’s Day

Abandoning all thing Far Eastern and street food for a short while, I am going back to another Michelin Starred restaurant. In London where I live, these abound, some come and some go, but never are we far from great restaurants, and if in walking distance , even better.

Flowers or Chocolates are forbidden on Valentine’s day ( they can be given at any other time, even Diamonds are acceptable !!) and so it was we walked more or less down the road to ROGANIC.  A play on words as the Owner/Chef or should that be Chef/Patron is Simon Rogan. He has another restaurant in the Lake District called Enclume ( French for Anvil, apparently there is one in the restaurant, somewhere.) The Daily Telegraph was not over impressed with the location ( somewhere north of Oxford Street,) of Roganic, nor its Interior. I would say it is in the heart of Marylebone and the interior simple and the place itself is small. If it were to be full , then maybe it would be noisy. Restaurants these days, like the spartan look, but of course that means that there is nothing to deaden the noise. I liked the simplicity and immediately recognised their choice of lampshades as number one daughter has them, good choice, I would say.

So, we went for lunch, they have three choices, a set menu at £45, three courses, no choice, a short tasting menu at £80 and the long tasting menu at £115. We opted for the short tasting menu.

The menu actually tells you absolutely NOTHING!, But that is ok by us, as we will eat or at least try EVERYTHING.IMG_1545

But thanks to the Notes section on my phone, I have everything recorded, well more or less as it is interesting what is noted when spoken to the phone!

The menu translates as

  1. Blackberry tart, which was very pretty and a beautiful colour along with a green drink which was made from Apples and Aniseed
  2. Fermented mushrooms with yeast oil and cream cheese
  3. Artichoke with quail egg and rosemary
  4. Salt baked celeriac and a celeriac crisp
  5. Monkfish with Prosecco and a brown butter and seaweed sauce
  6. Filet of beef with sweet onion, green onion and garlic sauce and a mini shepherds pie
  7. Tunworth cheese ice-cream with hazelnut crumbs and cranberries
  8. Yorkshire rhubarb with early grey and buttermilk ice-cream

For both of us it was a great dining experience, the place was not overcrowded ( it was lunch time) and the food and service excellent.  Sometimes wait staff ( and they are only doing their job) interrupt just once too often, but as the menu gives nothing away, it is prehaps an evil necessity for them to interrupt. Just don’t go there thinking you might be able to have a serious Tête à Tête !!

For me the Pièce de Résistance was the cheese ice-cream. Actually a revelation. It is made with an English cheese called Tunworth. It is a brie/camembert equivalent and in fact won Supreme Champion at the British Cheese awards in 2013. And I found it in Waitrose! and a superb cheese it is and so I produced my own version of this wonderful ice-cream . To make the ice cream, I used my basic recipe which is

  1. 600 ml Double cream
  2. 4 oz fine sugar
  3. 3 eggs beaten
  4. 1/2 a Tunworth cheese

Pour the cream into a food processor , and  then with the engine running add the sugar and the eggs, along with the cheese which has been cut into chunks. Process for a couple of minutes until smooth.  If you have an ice cream machine follow the instructions or pour into a plastic container and place into the fast freeze section of the Freezer, stir eery half hour until it is pretty much set. Puree some frozen raspberries and put a spoonful into the bottom of ramekins dishes ( try to find small dishes as this is rather rich). Smooth on top the ice cream mixture and some grated or crumbled nuts , fine almonds, ( finely chopped ginger nuts would also work). Keep frozen until 15 minutes before serving, decorate. and eat.


Floating down the Mekong with food created for Colonel Bland!

On leaving Ho Chi Minh City ( still Saigon to the locals) we joined a river cruise, which was lovely. Just 28 cabins which were just what Agatha Christy would have expected. Slatted wooden doors sliding open onto the teak deck passage way, with deck chairs awaiting. All very much of ” Death on the Nile” ilk, but less formal than in days of old. No dressing for dinner, though maybe some of the guests had thought it might be required. Himself and I shared one large case,( shared being the operative word, Him 5/8ths and me 3/8ths) whereas I overheard another couple telling the cabin boy, that they had 4! Where would they store them, I asked myself! Another did dress for dinner, in her floaty pretty dresses with kitten heels, not good for going up the steep gangways to the top deck for G&T’s, let alone on the teak decking! Ah well I guess we all learn!

Breakfast Lunch and Dinner which were served in the dining room by smiling Vietnamese staff and announced by Jimmy ( the purser) banging a gong! All were a leisurely affair, especially Dinner, as we were going nowhere. But after breakfast and lunch there were trips, either on shore, on water or in a local limos , namely a horse and cart! We had our own Sampans attached to the boat but we also transferred to smaller ones, to navigate the shallow waterways.

We were fortunate to have as our guide the main man, who was extremely knowledgeable. I’m not one normally for guided tours, but sometimes, one just has to succumb and on this trip at least, without it, we would not have seen anything near, of Vietnamese rural and local life.

We visited Ben Tre for look at a coconut workshop, bees and honey and fruit orchards, tasting the fruit and all things coconut., off after lunch to see traditional pot making and a cooking class, on how to make Vietnamese Pancakes. ( According to Rick Stein, these are difficult to make but I will give it a go). Also on our list were visits to a bird Sanctuary, Magrove swamps ,Eucalyptus forests, Con Phuoc Island where the local industry is basket making ( made by a lady who was well into her 90’s and squatting), Local villages, farms ,nurseries, cabinet makers, fish farms, temples, brick works and paddy fields We also went to a primary school. Education is not free and most children go to school morning or afternoon , but not all day. Most of the villages we visited with cottage industries, were family affairs, note the 7-year-old girl, doing intricate inlay work on the furniture that her parents are making.

All of our side trips were extremely interesting and gave us a feel for local life. We did not see anything of local life however once we hit Cambodia, ( river life that is) and the difference between the two was incredible. It was as if someone had placed an invisible fence across the river, one side was hustle bustle, boats, working boats full of sand, or Rice, small fishing boats, Sampans and the like, but once the Cambodian officials came on board, and we were allowed to pass, quiet another story, almost no-one! Weird.


So onto food, you might have noticed that I have not mentioned food, ( apart from the Vietnamese Pancakes), well actually although the trip itself was amazing, in what we saw and what we did ( and I have not even got to Cambodia yet ) the food on the boat was disappointing. There was nothing WRONG with it, perfectly edible, but just not very exciting, BLAND is the word that springs to mind. Which brings me to my title, floating down the Mekong with food for Colonel Bland. Breakfast was pretty nondescript,  I think on most days there was a noodle station, which was by far the best option. At breakfast we were given a menu for lunch and there was always a choice, but even when choosing the  in principle Local option, it was just not exciting, and knowing what we had eaten on our Street food tour, it was disappointing .

Just one last thought, Cock fighting is Huge in rural Vietnam, so subsequently in each village that we visited, fighting cock in wooden cages were to be seen. And of course there is big money to be made or lost!

Nex Stop: Cambodia !

Street Food in Saigon

I’m pretty sure that there are excellent eateries in Saigon, the problem is that on a flying visit, where to find them. We threw caution to the wind and went on a Night Street Food Tour, just Himself and me. We have done street food tours before with great success, and in fact have never been disappointed, and so it was when we met Lem. Lem worked as a street food tour guide to help pay for her children’s education and to help her parents, who after the communists took over Vietnam, lost their farm.

Lem travelled nearly two hours on her scooter, to take us on the tour, which I have to say was excellent. We ate in places that normally we would have walked on past, but with someone who has local knowledge it makes a world of difference.

We started off at Hu Tíu Nam Bung where we ate Phò, this she told us is really from the north of the country and as with all regions of any country there are variations. We sat at metal tables and were served the basic broth with noodles flavoured with lemon grass. In it were a couple of quails eggs and spring onions. To this we added prawns and some vegetables. Absolutely delicious, but as this was our first stop of many, we did not eat it all.

Traditional PHÓ

Second stop was a real eye opener, a Pop Up Street Restaurant and there was a queue, and it wasn’t even open at that point. Keeping it all in the family, they’d borrowed the forecourt of a car dealership and set up shop. There were BBQ’s, stacks of plastic stools, food being cooked and customers waiting, and even a menu, and Cheap! This we were told was Vietnamese Pizza. To make it they took Rice Wrappers ( srping roll wrappers) Brushed it with beaten egg and popped it on the BBQ. Then when it was cooked sufficiently they added some green chilli sauce, some chopped spring onions, some peppers, and if desired some cooked chicken or beef and finally some grated cheese. Cheese is something that is not normal in the Vietnamese diet, but as it was ruled by the French until 1954, this is a left over legacy. We tried both the chicken and beef Pizza and liked both. They ranged in price from 25 p to 1£! No wonder they were busy! And all the family were involved!

Moving on down a crowded alley way we stopped to eat , along with the rest of Saigon, or so it seemed some sautéed seafood mixed with morning-glory beans! Morning Glory is a typical Asian vegetable and is water grown, so not a bean at all, looks a bit like thin broccoli stems or maybe resembles watercress, it is probably available in Asian supermarkets, but certainly not in Waitrose or Carrefour or HBG!

And very simply, the cook took a handful of seafood, in this case some shrimp and some squid, threw them into her wok, long with some oil, chilli paste, some garlic, a little sugar and some oyster sauce, stirred it all around, added the morning-glory, another quick stir and Hey Pesto! Dinner was ready !

Next stop, was to eat Vietnamese Pancakes, it would seem that these are very much a staple of Vietnamese diet and are available everywhere. They are made very simply with rice flour coconut milk, ground yellow mung beans and turmeric, which give the pancakes their tradition yellow colour. Watching the locals make these, they certainly make it look easy, must give it a try. They are served crisp, with a filling of cooked pork, or prawns, bean sprouts, chopped spring onions, lettuce, chopped coriander and mint.

Our final stop for the evening, after checking out the original flats in Saigon that were built to house the American Military was for the traditional Vietnamese coffee, rich espresso poured over ice onto condensed milk. I have to say that it is quite addictive. The worse one we had and also the most expensive was in Starbucks !! A place I normally avoid, but when needs must . !

Original Flats built for the American GI’s

Everything (except food )in Saigon!

Saigon, or as it is officially called, is Ho Chi Minh City, but the airline code is SGN and the locals still call it Saigon. The word Saigon conjures up different images than the words Ho Chi Minh City. For me it conjures up awful images from the Vietnam war, that were shown around the world, images from the show, Miss Saigon and images of a beautiful land and beautiful people.

Arriving in Saigon, those images are thrown out of the window. It starts at the airport, enormous queues and people everywhere. Once outside your senses are attacked by the people, the noise and the traffic! Traffic in the form of SCOOTERS! Not the kind that kids ( and some adults) push along with one foot, but the petrol powered type. Apparently there are about 9 million people in Saigon and about 6 million scooters! Scooters, scooters everywhere, jostling for position on the roads, on the pavements and at the traffic lights ( that is if they care to stop)!

And that is it, If they care to stop. Priority seems to work a) on size, b) on speed and finally on dare do! No one stops at junctions, unless everyone else has stopped, then it is who can get to the front fastest ready for the take off! Whole families ride on one scooter, 3, 4, 5 or even 6, Mom, Dad, and little ones. Some even ride side saddle! And everything is transported around the city, piled sky high on the back of these machines! They even have the equivalent of Uber. It is called Grab Bike, they wear green jackets and carry spare ( green ) helmets, I hasten to add we did not summon up the courage to give this hailing service a try! And how does one cross the road, you ask? Very simply, look for a vague gap in the traffic, put out one hand and WALK at a steady pace, and they will STOP or slow down or go around you ! Easy? Yes!

We visited the central market in Saigon, which has to be the home of everything that a modern Vietnamese family could ever want. Although they were in principle wholesalers, ( goods were stacked onto the backs of scooters to be distributed to small shops elsewhere in the city) there were it seems small time buyers as well. ( we didn’t buy anything)We also visited the towers large market in Saigon, where ” Everything is Fake”. We were accosted on all sides by vendors, selling every from designer clothes, to shoes, to handbags, to watches! There were some real things as well, namely the crabs and the fruit. Again we did not buy!Coming up will be a tour of the nighttime street food markets! Fascinating to try all of the different foodstuff along with a local guide. Some of the eating places we would have never have tried if it had not been our guide.

Traveling and eating!

We have been traveling in the Far East, which never fails to excite me. The noise, the smells, the people, all exciting. For me very much part of this, is the food.

This has been met, this time around, so far a mix of highs and lows.

An alternative to green beans, steamed greens which came with some scallops
Salt and pepper fishes, looked good but no sign of salt or pepper and Well. COLD!
Roast duck, crispy skin, tasted not bad, but as above could have been hotter!
This waitress did an amazing job of expertly carving off the skin of this Peking Duck, for a table of young Vietnamese!
Iced coffee served with condensed milk
It has been a long time since having coffee served in this manner, but delicious Iced coffee!Himself now declares this that is how it should be sev ed Chez Nous in the summer !

The above photos, take in Ho Chi Minh, a vibrant city full of hustle and bustle. Did you know that Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee producer after Brazil? I did not! Making coffee and serving it in these individual filters, takes me back to the 1970’s in Bruxelles, where coffee was always served like this, albeit in plastic filters, rather than these gold coloured metal ones!

A Peking Roast Duck shop in Hong Kong.
A very yummy looking cake in Hong Kong
I LOVE shrimp and these giant ones did not disappoint, in Mission Hills, Dongguan, China
These are also Shrimp. Coated in cornmeal, absolutely Yummy!
This one I DID not Eat! Himself the master of eating all things a bit Weird! PIGS INTESTINES!

The Ultimate Cook Your Own Dinner, a kind of Hot Pot, where you choose what you wish to cook and which sauces to have as well.

Himself is now in love with this Chinese Breakfast.

It is actually very tasty and Hot, whereas most of the

Buffet breakfasts were rather on the cold side!

The Problem with this is, The Slurping your clothes could end up being a bit messy!

Fish dinner
Grilled Shrimp Dinner
Two of my favourites, crab meat and avocado!
Shrimp in Aspic

More wonderful foods to come, including Vietnamese Pizza!