London Calling

I am delaying the continuation of all things Mexican. There is so much to tell, but meanwhile back in London, there has also been a lot going on. This week, has seen us eating at the iconic restaurant that is known as the IVY as well as Côte in Islington, Quantus in Chiswick and Memories of China in Kensington.

So for starters, we had a house guest who had never been to the IVY, so we went. It belongs to Caprice holdings, which owns/runs many London restaurants, including La Caprice, Daphne’s, J. Sheekey, Annabels, Harrys Bar,  as well as Côte, Grillshack and Balthazar, and until recently Wentworth. All I can say is that the service in all of these establishments is impeccable, but not at all stuffy, friendly and professional.

The Ivy is the ultimate people watching venue, and we were lucky enough to be facing into the room ( himself faced the window/wall, poor thing). As far as I could see, there were no rich and famous to focus on, but some American business men with their escorts ( Indonesian and female) and some English, boy next door types, with their English escorts ( Dusty Springfield look alikes, have not seen backcombed Beehives in years).ivy menu

I and house guest ate the fois gras, which was divine,whilst himself had the steak tartare( raw meat to you and me), his disappointment was that he could not mix it himself. for mains  they chose the calf’s liver and bacon whilst I had the dressed Dorset crab , with a side portion of chips. The crab salad was lovely but I have to say that I had to send the chips back, if I am going to have chips ( which I shouldn’t) then they have to be perfect, and the first ones were on the soggy side and only luke warm. I have to say that 2nd time around, they were perfect, crisp and hot.

Fois Gras
Fois Gras

 

Liver and bacon
Liver and bacon

 

For dessert,Herself, chose the sticky toffee pudding, which she declared half way through, “I should not have, I can not finish it”, and himself had the frozen berries with hot white chocolate sauce. this is such a splendid pud and sooo easy to make. The Food at the Ivy would not be called fine dining, BUT the menu is very eclectic, that it is very hard to decide what to have, so much to choose from and then every two weeks they change some of the dishes out, so even if you are dreaming of the fish cakes, or fish pie, or the best hamburger, it might not just be on the menu when you get there. That just means you have to go again, and why not!

Côte I have written about previously, a good place to go for lunch with girlfriends, or breakfast with hubby, pre theatre, post theatre, the standard is consistent, the quality good, the service excellent and the price is right.There are now 47 Côte locations with 24 of them being in the London area, so if there is one near you, do check it out.

Onto, last night, I went to a wine tasting event held by Naked Wines.

Naked Wines is an online wine retailer  which launched in the UK on 1 December 2008 and founded by Rowan Gormley.

They fund independent winemakers from around the world, in return for exclusive wines at wholesale prices – and they currently ship wine throughout the UK, the USA and Australia.To get the best price from this company, you have to become an Angel. This costs only £20 a month and it remains you money, as every time you buy, the £20 is deducted from your bill. Some of the discounts are up 40-50% so well worth the investment. Anyway, I went with friends, tasted some excellent wines and then had dinner in a great Chinese restaurant called “Memories of China” This is Ken Lo’s restaurant which opened 30 years ago,  and although the food was good, I think it is probably a little jaded. With so many other restaurants in London, it will have to up it’s appeal as on a Saturday night it was fairly empty. Our waitress who was from Nepal, was charming.naked 1 naked 2

So if you like fine wine, from small independent producers, check out NAKED WINES> you will not be disappointed! Back to Mexico, next time!

Eating our way through Mexico Part Two

On leaving the Yucatan we headed to San Miguel de Allende a city far eastern part of the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico.  It is 274 km from Mexico City  or a three-hour drive ( or if #1 daughter is driving make that just 2 hours)! Historically, the town is important as being the birthplace of Ignacio Allende, whose name was added 1826.  However, the prosperity of the town waned during and after the war of independence, and at the beginning of the 20th century was in danger of becoming a ghost town. However its colonial structures were “discovered” by foreign artists who moved in and began art and cultural institutes.

 

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View of San Miguel from the Terrace

This attracted foreign art students, and a very large number of foreign retirees,North Americans, especially those wishing to escape the freezing temperatures of the North America, artists, writers and tourists, which is shifting the area’s economy  commerce catering to outside visitors and residents.

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View of the Cathedral

The main attraction of the town is its well-preserved historic center, filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. The town was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 2008.

Another historic church
Another historic church

We rented a house overlooking the town and the main cathedral, with Bougainvillea all around. It was Semana Santa, or Holy Week, or Easter, and as such there were parades almost all day. Deeply religious and almost shocking in their intensity we witnessed enormous parades, with children dressed in white carrying various forms of crucifix or statues of bloodied martyrs.

breakfast pastries
Pastries at Cumpanio

The restaurant scene here is very much alive and kicking and I have to admit that we ate out every day. For breakfast, we ran down the hill ( we always took a cab back up, I hasten to add) and went to a restaurant by the name of Cumpanio. It is famous for the pastries as well as the wonderful breakfasts.

Huevos Poche En Cazuela
Huevos Poche En Cazuela

 

Crepas De Chicharron
Crepas De Chicharron

 

Huevos Poche, are poached eggs in a small casserole, with either a red sauce or green sauce, and cheese, but meanwhile the crepas de chicarron, is pork scratchings in a crepe with again a red sauce over it. Himself said, OK BUT!  Meanwhile, I tried the stuffed cactus, convinced that if I tried it enough times I would eventually say, “YEAH!” but so far I have not.

 

Breakfast cactus stuffed with string cheese
Breakfast cactus stuffed with string cheese

 

Moving swiftly on, #1 daughter and I enrolled in a cooking class. This class has been featured in several publications, including Texas Monthly, Austin Home & Living, Travel Lady Magazine, the Miami Herald and The Washington Post.

The school is called La Cocina, and the classes are conducted in English and Spanish with the chef, being Mexican. The school is in the centre of San Miguel in a beautiful old building, lovingly restored with a central courtyard. There were about 12 of us in the class, predominately Americans some of whom were expats making the most of cheaper living in San Miguel. Also in our group were some tourists like us, a honeymoon couple and a couple from Canada. We started out with a trip to the local market to buy our supplies, including a ready roasted chicken, interestingly the spit roasted chicken which we purchased had no skin on (not sure how they do it). So, a skinny bird!

 

Market in San Miguel de Allende
Market in San Miguel de Allende

 

In the class
Hard at work in the kitchen

 

Between us we cooked a number of different dishes, including a smoked salsa, stewed cactus, Guacamole (wonderful to get an abundance of ready to eat avocados) the best we can do here in the UK either a local ethnic market, where some of the produce can be a bit iffy, or a supermarket, where likewise it can be a hit and miss experience. Sometimes when it says “ready to eat”, it really  means “ready to eat next year, not today”!

 

some of the dishes that were cooked
Some of our work

 

We spent  a long morning at the cooking school and was a good experience, we learnt a lot and it was  mostly a “hands on experience”. This really depended on how pushy one could be, one American woman always seemed to be the first to put her hand up or grab the apron or smush the avocados. For me that was fine, but # 1 daughter only managed to chop the cactus! Maybe this did not appeal greatly to pushy woman.

 

Daughter allowed to chop Cactus
Daughter allowed to chop Cactus

 

Finally everything was ready and we ate lunch, ample quantities of everything including margaritas and strawberry daiquiris. Now that is what I call a cooking school!

 

Lunch time
Lunch time

 

We finally caught up with husbands and small ones, who it seemed had spent the day touring the toy museum and eating pastries and ice cream! More on that next time…

 

We have been eating our way through Mexico for the last five weeks, and my goodness, have we eaten. We started off in the Yucatan, for the uninitiated , it is the part of Mexico, that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico and the Bay of Campeche. The most well known town is Cancun, and this points across to Cuba and onto Miami. In the 70’s Cancun was  little known but now it is a bustling beachside resort, Mexico’s answer to Blackpool or Coney island (with better weather).

Cozumel, a great dive site, is around the corner, as is Tulum, one of the many Mayan sites which are to be seen in the Yucatan.There are no rivers in the Yucatan, but apparently many underground caves, for underground exploration and swimming (not for me, I hasten to add). The vegetation is rather scrubby and the 300+ Km drive across the peninsular, from a scenic standpoint leaves much to be desired.

A word of warning if you ever decide to follow in our tracks. Hit the Highway and the next gas station is 180 Km away, with no exit before then! One girlfriend got stuck when driving this route with her daughters, and flagged down a passing cop who was persuaded with some $$$$ to syphon off some for her!!

Merida
Merida

 

We gave the classic Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza a miss this time around, but went  instead to Uxmal,  which is only 80 Km south of Merida. BUT beware, it is easy to get  a little lost. We followed the signs but then the signs were no more, so we ended up driving cross-country. An experience in itself. Mexico LOVES speed bumps, even when there is not a hope of speeding because of POTHOLES. SO on the cross-country route, there are speed bumps, which are huge and potholes which are so huge that they spread right across the road. However, the end result was worth it as UXMAL is such a pleasant experience, compared to Chichen Itza, there were almost no people there and the restoration work was fabulous.

 

pretty girls in local dress
Two pretty girls in local dress

 

We stayed in an old Meridian house, beautifully restored in the centre of Merida, (loaned to us by a friend of #1 daughter’s). From the outside it was nothing special but inside, it was lovely, built around a courtyard, complete with plunge pool and surrounded by Bougainvillea.

So onto food. I have to say were a little disappointed with Yucatecan food. We tried La Chaya Maya, which came recommended but the speciality we chose was not the best. The women sitting in the window making the tortillas, were interesting though and most people we met were friendly and helpful

 

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Women at Chaya Maya
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Dinner at Chaya Maya

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There is a strong Mayan culture in the region ( maybe a resurgence?) and people do actually speak Mayan. The oldest Cathedral in North America, is to be found in Merida, built-in about 1543, by the Spanish after they destroyed the Mayan Temples, (much of the stone used in the building of the church, came from the destroyed temples.)

However for Breakfast we found a typical Mexican hangout ( just as well we do not eat like this everyday) and Himself had the Huevos Motulenos and I had the Chilaquilles. Mexicans buy fresh tortillas, everyday, just like the French buy baquettes. But of course they go stale overnight and so in the morning the stale ones are used to make Chilaquiles. Tortillas are cut into chips and fried, layered with cheese ( Oaxacan string cheese), topped with either shredded chicken or scrambled eggs, along with red or green salsa and maybe some sour cream.

 

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Chilaquiles   

Huevos motuleños comes from  the town of Motul (Yucatán).It is made with eggs on tortillas ( or bread) with black beans and cheese, often with  hampeasplantains, and salsa picante.

huevos motulenos
Huevos Motulenos

Moving right along, Frida Kahlo, the artist, wife of Diego Rivera and lover of Leon Trotski, had nothing, as far as I know,to do with Merida, Except there is a restaurant called La Casa de Frida. Small hole in the wall type place, dedicated to Frida, pictures of her everywhere and bright bold colours. We were the only diners, well it was rather early for Mexico, about 8.30pm, the time between lunch (which in some cases does not end until 5pm) and dinner.

I had ( well actually we shared) the Chile en Nogada. A wonderful dish consisting of a green chile,( stuffed with minced turkey) white walnut sauce and red pomegranate the colours of the Mexican flag. This dish is a  Mexican Independence day favourite.

Chile en  Nogado
Chile en Nogado

Himself ordered the duck breast  in Mole. Mole  IS Mexico, it takes hours to make, along with constant stirring and ooodles of ingredients, up to 15 of them just for this sauce. Basically it is stock, chilies and chocolate. Many restaurants have their own “secret” recipe, never to be divulged. But all streetmarkets have vendors of Mole, but I have yet to buy any, although in a class in Oaxaca we did actually make it.

MOle copy
Mole on sale at the market

 

As I have been told, these are too long, this is Mexico Part one, More to follow!   Happy eating everyone!

 

our chicken in mole sauce
Our chicken in mole saunce
making the mole
Making mole

 

Continue reading “Eating our way through Mexico ( part one)”