Category Archives: Cooking, Entertaining, Food and Drink

The Good Moules Frites Guide!

Hotel Restaurant "Aux Trois Jean" at Le Crotoy

This year seems to be a good one for moules (mussels).  Moules Frites is, of course one of the favourite dishes of Northern France, but, like wine, the shellfish ingredient  can vary from year to year.  2012 seems to be a vintage year for plump, moist, tender and tasty moules.

Currently our favourite place to eat this traditional dish is Le Crotoy, a fishing port on the Baie de la Somme, the estuary of the River Somme.  You will find Moules served here in pretty much every eating place from the humblest cafe to the poshest white-linen restaurant.

Frogsiders can recommend, in particular, two places in Le Crotoy where we are confident you will enjoy your dish of mussels served, bien sûr, with chips.

Le Cafe des Canotiers

14 Quai Courbet – 80550 Le Crotoy – Tél : +33 3 22 27 80 56

Our verdict:  Excellent moules.  Good thick chips.  Pleasant service.  Not the most picturesque situation unless you eat outdoors with a view of the quay and harbour.

Recommendation:  Try the house speciality, Moules “Les Canotiers” in which cream and home-made fish soup are added to the cooking liqour.

Hotel Restaurant “Aux Trois Jean”

Digue Jules Noiret – 80550 Le Crotoy – Tél : +33 3 22 27 16 17

View from the "Trois Jean" terrasse

Our verdict:  Top A1 quality moules.  Fabulous, really brilliant chips!  A big restaurant that can get very crowded, so best avoid the busiest times.  Eat before the rush, is our tip.  Service is friendly but can be a bit brusque at busy times.  Inside, the chairs and tables are packed close together, so eat out on the terrace if it’s a nice day.  The view over the beach and the bay, with its big tides, boats and changing scenery, is attractive and interesting.

Recommendation:  Try the chef’s own “Moules 3 Jean” which has cream, mushrooms and lardons added to coat the lovely shellfish.  Messy to eat, but worth it!  You can follow up with the “Coupe 3 Jean” dessert which sounded great to us, but just a bit too big for what was left of our appetites!

Wine Aerator : My New and Very Useful Gadget

by Ian Blackshaw

I have just got back from South Africa where I have been lecturing at the Universities of Johannesburg and Pretoria – not on wine, but on law. My South African hosts, who are also wine buffs and enjoy good wine, especially from South Africa, which produces a wide range of styles and of excellent quality, gave me a Wine Aerator.

I must confess that I had never heard of such a gadget, which are apparently all the rage in South Africa, amongst, of course, the discerning wine connoisseurs. On returning, I could not wait to try it out and see whether the claims of its manufacturer that it quickly allows the wine, especially reds, to breathe and the result is a “perfect glass of wine” were true.

I must say that, being used to pouring wine into a glass and giving the wine a good swirl in the glass to oxygenate it, I was somewhat sceptical about the claims made of this product. In particular, would it add too much oxygen to the wine and distort it. But, I was not disappointed and pleased with the result. In fact, pouring the wine through the wine aerator and into the glass, in a matter of seconds, the wine was beautifully aerated, giving forth its bouquet and fine aromas and creating a smoother finish to the wine.

The manufacturers – ‘vinturator’ – state – quite poetically – that “as the sun is to the earth, the rain is to the valley, the soil is to the vine, our wine aerator will be to your next glass of wine”.

I would add that the wine aerator also works well with white wines, which also – but, perhaps to a lesser extent than red wines – need to breathe to release their aromas and flavours.

Apparently, the wine aerator incorporates the Seventeenth Century Swiss Physicist Daniel Bernoulli’s formula of motion – not being into fluid dynamics, I take this as read! The product, incidentally, comes with a useful drip stand.

Of course, one thing the wine aerator does not do, which decanting does, is to filter and remove the sediment in older wines, especially fine clarets, which, as regular readers of my wine articles will know, I adore.

However, I am very pleased with my gift, which is made in China and the brain child of Master Zen Lhu, and I will certainly make good use of it!

Perhaps Frogsiders readers may also like to add a wine aerator to their collection of household gadgets and enjoy the excellent results!

Champagne: For Good Times And Bad

by Ian Blackshaw

We have just got back from two glorious and sunny days in Champagne country.

We stayed at a rustic and comfortable chambres d’hôtes in the heart of the Champagne vineyards of the mountains of Reims, about 10 miles from Epernay, where we sampled Madame’s delicious jams for breakfast made from the white and red Champagne grapes.

Pierre Paillard ChampagneWe visited our favourite Champagne house – Pierre Paillard – in the appropriately named Champagne wine village of Bouzy to sample and buy his latest offerings. The problem with the Champagne region is that there are hundreds of producers to choose from, ranging from the well-known grand houses of Moet et Chandon and Mercier – a visit to their caves in Epernay, which are 30 metres underground and extend to over 100 kilometres of tunnels, in a laser guided train is a must! – to medium-sized and smaller lesser-known houses. Apart from trial and error, one needs to rely on recommendations from fellow aficionados of Champagne.

At Pierre Paillard, who have been producing Champagne since 1768, we met Antoine Paillard, the eighth generation of the family. He had recently been in Hong Kong for six months to check out the Asian market, which he told us was very different from the European and American markets. It seems that the Chinese, despite their high disposable income, have not yet acquired a taste for Champagne – they prefer French reds, especially well-known clarets from the Bordelais wine region. Apparently, the Chinese palate is not yet used to the acidity of good Champagne.

Caves Champagne Pierre Paillard

We tasted his latest Rose Champagne – a blend of 2006 and 2007 pinot noir (23%) and chardonnay (70%) grapes, to which has been added a small quantity of the famous Bouzy Rouge (7%). The Rose was excellent, with tangy raspberry notes, and we invested in a number of bottles. We also bought some of his 2005 Bouzy Rouge, for which the village is also famous and which has just been released, and which he described as ‘not a bad year’! We also came away with several bottles of his brut-grand cru Champagne, made from a blend of pinot noir (60%) and chardonnay (40%) grapes, again from 2006 and 2007, which is very zesty. Nicely chilled, it is just the sort of tipple to be enjoyed on a warm summer’s evening. We have actually toasted the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee during this past long weekend with this rather special and excellent sparkler!

We asked Antoine about this year’s vintage and he told us that things were going well so far, but that August and September are the critical months weather wise, which could make all the difference between a good and a bad vendange.

Champagne house Pierre PaillardWe also asked him how the Champagne business was going in the current recession and with a Gallic shrug of his shoulders and perhaps typical of his understatement style replied: ‘not bad’. Adding that he was selling more to hotels and restaurants, despite the news that many of the French are having to tighten their belts and, amongst other things, are foregoing holidays this year. But, when it comes to food and wine, the French, generally speaking, are still in the front line and do not hold back!

I, for one, will raise my glass of Champagne to that!

More on “Welsh” ~ and a recipe

Following up on our recent post about the “Welsh Festival” in Boulogne,  The Pas De Calais Tourist Board has published a recipe for the local version of this famous dish, together with a very helpful explanation of the history of its name.

Here is the recipe:

And here is our translation of their explanation of the name’s derivation:

The dish was originally named Welsh Rabbit in order to signify its nature as a low quality substiute for rabbit meat.

In fact, during the 17th and 18th centuries, “Welsh” was the term commonly used for any counterfeit or substitute goods of a lower quality then the real thing.

In Wales the dish is called, “Caws-Wedi-Pobi” (meaning cooked cheese).  it is known in many countries on the European continent, where it is usually called “Ramequin”, or “Käseschnitte“.

The Little Book of Cheese Tips, £2.99

According to the experts of the Pas De Calais Tourist Board, this Welsh dish was originally made with “Chester” cheese (what we Brits call Cheshire), but is now made with Cheddar, since, they say, Cheshire is not so easily obtainable.

Burgundy Wine: an expensive taste

by Ian Blackshaw

Those of you who are avid and attentive readers of my wine articles will have noticed that I have not written very much about the wines of the Burgundy region. That is not because I do not like or appreciate these wines, which are some of the finest in France, but because I prefer the more robust Bordelais wines.

Wines of Burgundy ~ IGN Wine Region Map (Carte Touristique)


There is also another reason and that is cost of them. The finest Burgundies do not come cheap, but, from time to time, I treat myself to some of them.
Of the reds, I particularly like Gevrey-Chambertin, which, incidentally, was my late mother-in-law’s favourite tipple, who was a regular visitor to France in her nineties. When she died, it was pleasing to find some good examples of this fine wine, which she had not got round to drinking!

Gevrey-Chambertin is in the northern part of the Cote d’Or wine region of Burgundy, whose south-facing vineyards stretch from Macon in the south to Dijon in the north, the birthplace of the very popular Kir, a cocktail of a lesser white Burgundy wine and a measure of crème de cassis (a locally produced blackcurrant liqueur), and named after Felix Kir, a former Mayor of Dijon who lived from1876-1968. Obviously wine was good for him!

Michelin Green Guide Burgundy Jura, 6th Edition (Michelin Green Guides)


And, talking of Macon, between 20 and 22 April (this coming weekend in fact), the famous Macon International Wine Fair is due to take place, during which you can sample a whole range of Burgundy wines, for an entrance fee of €5. The organisers, however, warn you not to drink too much, purely on health grounds, but, of course, to buy as much as you want!

Gevrey-Chambertin is made from the Pinot Noir grape, which gives the wine its distinctive raspberry after taste. As I mentioned, the wine does not come cheap and the 2009 is drinking well at the moment, although earlier vintages, such as 2006, are very good wines, but more expensive. For example, the 13.5% 2006 Premier Crus Lavaux St Jacques from Domaine Maume, with its kirsch-scented fruit. This is a wine that needs to be decanted to enjoy it fully, especially as it retails at €54 a bottle! A pleasure to drink by itself, the wine also goes down particularly well with guinea-fowl.

Further south on the Cote d’Or you will find some fine white burgundies, such as Mersault and Montrachet. In fact, the Puligny-Montrachet is my favourite, described by Hugh Johnson, dubbed ‘the world’s most popular wine writer’, as “potentially the greatest white Burgundy!” This is an elegant minerally and luscious wine and may be drunk as an aperitif or with food, especially with roast veal and chicken. It also goes down well with wild salmon. According to the Wine Society, the 12.5% 2007 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Crus Folatieres, produced by the Chateau de Puligny, is ‘scintillating’ and so also, it may be added, is the price at €70 a bottle!

So, as I said, the Burgundy region is not to be overlooked when choosing and enjoying French wine as it produces some very fine wines indeed; and I only wish that I could afford to drink more of them!

“Welsh” Festival continues in Boulogne over weekend

The restaurants around the Place Dalton in Boulogne are putting on a Festival of “Welsh”.  It’s a mystery how this dish has become a local speciality in this part of France, but it’s true that if you’re stuck for choice in a brasserie or cafe, you can always go for a Welsh and you’ll rarely be disappointed.

Investing in Fine Wine: A Good Idea?

by Ian Blackshaw

In these economically-challenged times in which we are living, it is difficult to know where to invest any savings or surplus funds you may have in order to get the best return on them. Gold springs to mind as possibly a safe investment – often referred to as a storage of wealth – if you have that sort of money to spend – or, indeed, to risk. Investments, of course, go up and down.

Fine wines – especially vintage clarets – have also proved over the years to be a good investment. Andrew Lloyd-Webber is reputed to have a collection of fine clarets now worth millions of pounds.

But beware of wine investment companies offering fabulous returns on money invested with them, using such persuasive selling techniques as ‘get there before the Chinese do!’ It has just been reported that some 50 such companies based in the UK have gone bust in the last four years and that investors, as a result, have lost around £100m!

For example, one woman invested an inheritance of £180,000 in one such company, only to be told recently that the company had gone into administration and the liquidator estimated that she would only receive 15-20 pence in every pound that she had invested in the company concerned. That is one way of losing a fortune!

You invest your way - and I'll invest in mine! We could both end up on this bench

However, there are some reputable and financially sound companies that deal in wine and can offer good returns to their investors. Of course, it is a case of finding them. Here, your stockbroker or financial consultant may be able to help and advise you. Also, Berry Bros, the Mayfair fine wine company, established in 1698 and still in the same family, may be able to point you in the right direction, if you wish to invest in wine. In fact, in 2010, Berry Bros introduced their on-line broking exchange (BBX), which enables customers to sell and buy privately stored wines in their UK Bonded Warehouse (website: www.bbr.com/fine-wine/bbx).

Investing in wine is like any other kind of investment: you need to know what you are doing or, at the very least, seek professional advice on how to go about it.

But, perhaps, on reflection, rather than investing in fine wines, it may be better to build up your own collection of them and actually drink and enjoy them, instead of treating them as purely assets!

You have been warned!

Loupiac: a versatile sweet wine

by Ian Blackshaw

My eldest son and his fiancée and her parents have been staying with us for the Easter weekend and all of us enjoy a dessert wine to go with our pudding. So, I introduced them to a Loupiac, produced by Chateau Loustalot, which my brother-in-law recommended. It was a 2003 vintage and was a great hit all round!

Loupiac has its own appellation controlee (AOC) and is produced in an area located on the northern bank of the Garonne river, about 18 miles south east of the City of Bordeaux itself. In fact, it is bang in the middle of the Bordeaux sweet wine region, between Cadillac and Sainte-Croix-du-Monte, which produces some excellent dessert wines. Loupiac is made from a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, the most popular ones for the Loupiac wines, so, due to the Sauvignon Blanc component, it is not a sweet cloying kind of wine, which actually puts a lot of people off dessert wines generally. (photo Loupiac, Chateau Loustalot 2009 – Auchan)

It goes well, therefore, not only with puddings, but also with French cheeses, especially blue cheese, such as Bleu d’Auverne and St Agur. In fact, as Hugh Johnson always says, save some white wine for the cheese course!

As a matter of fact, as the wine is grown on soil comprising clay and limestone, the wine has a flinty character which comes through on drinking. It also makes, therefore, a very good aperitif wine and, of course, goes particularly well with foie gras, which our eldest son can eat until the cows come home! He has always had very expensive tastes!

The Loupiac wine region has been producing wine since Roman times and so much tradition there, as elsewhere in France, goes into its production. The wine is fermented and aged in barrels, which adds a certain complexity or interest to the wine, and its alcohol by volume is 13.5%, so it is not too heady.

Chateau Loustalot Loupiac wine is a versatile wine and the 2003, which we sampled, is now drinking very well indeed, with its rich warming amber colour and its fragrant nose. A good end to a meal!

Champagne: The Wine of Kings and the King Of Wines

by Ian Blackshaw

We have just received our Spring Newsletter from the Champagne House of Goutorbe-Bouillot, which is a timely reminder that Easter is approaching, and that means it is time for one of our visits to the Champagne region.

There are hundreds of Champagne growers and producers, ranging from the leading Houses, such as Moet et Chandon, to the smaller ones, spread over many villages in the region. So, one is spoilt for choice. Indeed, which Champagne House do you choose? Fortunately, in our case, we had a very useful and, as it turns out, very good introduction to Goutorbe-Bouillot, from our eldest son, whose accountant, when he ran his own business selling shellfish to France, was the niece of the proprietor of this Champagne House. We had sampled and liked their products, and so we visited them a number of years ago and have been visiting and buying from them ever since!

Last year (2011), Goutorbe-Bouillot, who are located in Damery, north of Epernay and on the banks of the Marne, near to Hautvillers, the birthplace of Champagne, where Dom Perignon first elaborated this fine sparkling wine and which is well worth a visit, including the Abbey Church, where the renowned Benedictine monk served as cellar master, celebrated their centenary.

However, it may be noted that, before these two Champagne growing families came together through marriage in 1911, they had already individually been producing Champagne for six previous generations.

Such is the tradition in the Champagne region. And, indeed, the future of this particular House is assured, since the son of the present owners, who had been working in Harrods’ wine department in London for a number of years, recently came back to France to join the family business. Also, as he will be marrying at the end of this month, hopefully, a further generation will be born and will secure the future of the House.

Goutorbe-Bouillot produce a range of Champagnes to suit all tastes, including rose, which is very good and quite fruity. But their best-selling cuvee (blend) is their ‘Carte D’Or’, which they offer as a brut or demi-sec. Retailing at €13,90 a bottle, this Champagne is of a high and consistent quality, made from the classic blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes. In my opinion, this Champagne, which is exhibits a fine balance between acidity and fruitiness and is very smooth, represents very good value for money.

Furthermore, if you are not able to visit them yourselves, then they will deliver their Champagnes to you within France, and have kept their transportation costs at the same level as last year (2011). However, if you are able to visit them, you will not be disappointed, as they have a very fine and interesting sampling salon, which includes prints, photos, maps, documents and other artefacts showing how Champagne is made and also illustrating the history of their Champagne House. All very informative.

And, incidentally, they are very generous with their samples and you will also receive a very warm welcome from them, as they are particularly anxious to show off and for you to enjoy their versions of what they call ‘The Wine of Kings and the King of Wines!’

Bargains at Spring Wine Fair 2012

by Ian Blackshaw

It is that time of the year again. Spring is in the air, and Spring officially begins next Wednesday, 21 March. To take advantage of this new beginning in the year’s cycle, when the garden suddenly awakes from its Winter slumbers and we shake off the blues of Winter, the Supermarket Auchan is holding its Spring Wine Fair (Foire aux Vins de Printemps) from 20 – 31 March.

Looking through their 35 page information-packed catalogue makes very interesting reading indeed for all French wine lovers of all tastes and budgets. All styles from all the major wine growing regions of France are represented and feted: white, rose, red, champagne and sparkling wines. In fact, one is really spoilt for choice!

‘Orgueill de France’: ‘the Pride of France’

However, the Champagnes – my favourite French wine – that are featured in the catalogue particularly took my eye. For example, on offer is a ‘bipack’ of two bottles of 75cl Nicolas Feuillatte Brut at €29,90, with a saving of €3,50. This particular Champagne House I have found to be consistently good. Again, part of Auchan’s ‘Le Bon Plan’ (borrowed from British Supermarkets) are two 75cl bottles of Champagne Lafitte Brut (claiming to be the ‘Orgueill de France’: ‘the Pride of France’) which are on offer for the price of one – €35 instead of €70, which sounds like a good bargain to me for a good quality product! Another good ‘marque’ Castellane, which is my Brother-in-Law’s favourite Champagne, is on offer at a price reduction of €2 a bottle. On the other hand, a very gluggable Rose Brut Champagne is Champagne Jeanmaire, which is also on offer: 3 bottles for the price of two, making the cost of each bottle a bargain at €11,33.

Incidentally, there is also a good range of Cremants on offer, of which I would mention a Cremant de Loire of Pierre Chanau, Auchan’s own label wine, selling at €3,47 a bottle when you buy six. Far superior, I must say, to Saumur sparkling wine – so beloved of the British ex-patriate community in Northern France!

Chateau Arnauld - silver medal in the 2009 Bordeaux Wine Competition

Of the many Bordelais reds – again, my favourite red wine – that also caught my eye, particular mention should be made of an Haut-Medoc 2006 (an exceptional year!) Cru Bourgeois from Chateau Arnauld, which was awarded a silver medal in the 2009 Bordeaux Wine Competition, and which is on sale at the remarkable price of €8,95 a bottle! In the Bordeaux wine hierarchy, a Cru Bourgeois is just below a Premier Crus and the status is only enjoyed by certain number of Chateaux in the Medoc wine region of Bordeaux. So, the quality is assured. I cannot wait to get my hands on it and try it!

So, why not go to your nearest Auchan and treat yourselves to some of these Spring wine bargains? But hurry, do not tarry, for, in my experience, the best buys sell out quickly!

  • A Tourist Day Out and Restaurant Review

    We are pleased to re-publish a piece including a restaurant review which appeared recently in “Sand-Blog”, an occasional journal written by Frogsiders publisher and local gite owner, Patrick Hay.

    “Yesterday was my birthday, and in keeping with a family tradition that now

    View from the fish quay at Etaples

    stretches back 12 months, we took part of the day off to put ourselves in the place of our Sandboys holiday clients, and go and do something “touristy” in the region. This time we drove a few miles along the coast to have a look at Etaples and, in particular, the Museum of the Fishing Industry, « Maréis », which we had heard was well-presented and very interesting.

    Etaples used to be one of France’s biggest fishing ports in terms of the tonnage of fish landed, but over the last 50 years, the estuary of the River Canche has silted up to the point where today’s larger fishing vessels are unable to use the harbour. The fishermen of Etaples, however, unwilling to lose the town’s major industry, have simply moved their boats a few miles up the coast to the port of Boulogne.

    The fishermens’ cooperative of Etaples numbers some 50 boats in its fleet. Most of them sail at the beginning of each week and remain at sea until Thursday or Friday when they return with their catch, a proportion of which is retained by the cooperative for sale in their own fresh fish shops and restaurants in Boulogne and Etaples. Some of the boats keep back a little of the catch to be sold direct to the public from the stalls on the fishmarket quay at Etaples.  Each stall is decorated with paintings and the colours of the boat to which it belongs. Altogether, in supplying, manning, and maintaining the fleet, marketing, processing, transporting, selling, cooking and serving the fish, the cooperative provides work for thousands of people in Etaples and Boulogne.

    MAREIS in the old "corderie" at Etaples

    At Maréis you can see how the different types of fishing nets work and the variety of fish that are caught in the Channel waters between France and the south coast of England. There are aquaria where you can see the fish up very close, and rock pools where crabs crawl among mussels, starfish, oysters, scallops, shrimps and other seashore creatures. You can stand on the bridge of a modern fishing boat with its radar screens and depth sounders demonstrating the complicated world of the fishing boat skipper. There are guided tours and demonstrations, and films showing life on the boats are screened.  Finally there’s a tank where you can gently stroke rays, as they swim playfully around from one hand to the next.

    We enjoyed our visit, and left via the shop where we found some nice books, games and souvenirs including a soft toy in the shape of a ray.

    As a special birthday treat in the evening we had dinner at a restaurant in Montreuil which has been getting exceptionally good reviews recently. As

    Magret de Canard with lovely sauce, crisp potato cake and vegetables

    a result of one of the best meals we’ve eaten in France for many years, we can thoroughly recommend L’Atelier 26, in rue d’Hérambaut.  It looks like an ordinary bar or cafe from the outside. Inside it is furnished sparsely and simply, but it is warm and there is a friendly welcome, and above all, the food is top quality at reasonable prices. After a delightful complimentary appetiser and excellent seafood starters, our main courses were Haddock with a Smoked Herring sauce, and Roast Breast of Duck with a Cocoa Bean and Hot Pepper sauce. Both were superbly cooked, beautifully balanced for flavour, and nicely presented. The “moelleux au chocolat chaud coeur coulant caramel”, Chocolate “Moelleux” dessert with a fondant centre, was superior to anything we’ve had in top London and Paris restaurants. Normally a 3 course meal of this quality would cost almost double the 65 euros we paid for two, including wine and aperitifs.

    Photos of L'Atelier 26, Montreuil-sur-Mer

    L'Atelier 26 at Montreuil sur Mer

    We’ll certainly go again to L’Atelier 26 soon and report more details. It seems it is open at lunchtime Monday to Saturday, and evenings on Friday and Saturday only. They will serve a simple omelette and chips, or a full three course meal. On the evidence of our one visit, value-for-money is outstanding.”

    This photo of L’Atelier 26 is courtesy of TripAdvisor

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