Monday, 9 May 2011

Le Nord, 18 Rue Neuve, Lyon

I love France, I love French food and I've eaten a reasonable amount of it, both in France and elsewhere.
I also worked for several years at Le Bouchon Breton, so finding out that I was to have a free evening in Lyon meant that there wasn't much dithering over what to do.
Having asked the lovely Sophie Senty for a recommendation we made our way to Le Nord, 18 Rue Neuve. My initial impressions were that this was exactly what I'd been looking for, crisp white table cloths, though with the white paper square the French are so keen on. Well so far, so French.
We arrived at about ten past six, and obviously they weren't open until seven, so far, so French.
Still a couple of demi pressions later (Meteor) we returned to dine.
Now up till this point we'd only spoken to the maitre d' in French, however a charming waitress who spoke perfect English was dispatched to our table with two English menus.
Now, there's a poetry to food names, terrine de foie gras sounds much better than duck liver pate, but this is a minor gripe, preferring escargots to snails? Pretentious? Moi?
@Grape_Escape suggested a couple of Kirs to whet the palette and a excellent suggestion it was indeed.
I plumped for seven escargots a la bourgogne followed by foie de veaux with pomme puree while @Grape_Escape took the terrine de foie gras then the poulet de bresse with sauce forestier.
The wine list frustratingly didn't list any vintages, so despite our previous decision to go for a Northern Rhone there was still a degree of to and froing as we tried to find something we wanted. Eventually we decided on Jann Chave's Crozes Hermitage 09 (it might have had a lieu dit name too) and I grabbed a glass of pleasantly non descript Macon Village to accompany the snails.

We'd already been given a small bowl of the hard green olives I'm seeing around a lot at the moment, but I had to ask for bread, which then arrived feeling suspiciously pre cut, odder still was that it arrived with no butter or oil. On prompting we were given a lovely little plate of Beurre Grand Cru, and excellent butter it was, with that slight sourness I like in French butter, and a pleasingly inconsistent texture that spoke of small scale or hand churning.

@Grape_Escape's terrine de foie gras was a touch on the cold side (fridge temperature) and arrived with an edge of diced muscat jelly and some strawberry confiture. However, he declared the texture excellent, and indeed when I had a small piece it had the palette coating lustre that I would expect. I found the strawberry confiture a bit laboured and though that it dominated the palette a little.

My snails came in dinkly little individual white porcelain pots in a melted butter filled flat bottomed bowl. The little pots were topped with mini circular crouton lids and the dish slunk to the table in a languid fug of garlic, butter and parsley. Checking under the little breaded lids found some gloriously plump and flavoursome snails, being a little bit picky I wasn't overwhelmed by the amount of bread crumbs that came in the pots, but this was a tiny little gripe.

@Grape_Escape's main was pronounced wonderful, the chicken having oodles of flavour and the creamy mushroom sauce being a treat of sweet dense flavour that cosseted the chicken and was enjoyed all the way to end of the meal with bread dunking and wiping to finish with.

My calves liver was less successful, on ordering I was asked how I wanted it cooked, medium-rare? I asked if they were happy to go rarer, at which the waitress cheerily assured me that they'd cook it 'rose' as that was far and away the best.

It wasn't, the liver ended up being really quite chewy, it was nicely charred at the thin edge and the mash and sauce were good, but this restaurant carries the name of Paul Bocuse, and really ought to be able to do better.
A couple of coffees rounded off the meal and we set off to try and find the airport, however that's another story.

I will come back to Lyon, in fact I'm tentatively planning a weekend jaunt to fully immerse myself in dead flesh and animal fat, however I don't think Le Nord will be on the itinerary, it felt like the out post of a chefs empire that was coasting on old regard.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Vine age in marginal climates and it’s relation to hydric stress, carbohydrate retention and overall quality:

Last autumn I found myself discussing the benefits of vine age in marginal climates with the esteemed Bill Pannell, founder of Moss Wood and Picardy. It was his contention that vine age made much more of a difference in more marginal climates.
His rationale for this was that in very marginal climates the grapes are left on the vine as long as is possible, this means that we are forcing the vine to carry on working all the way until the very end of the potential growing season. Where as in warmer climates the grapes are harvested earlier, leaving the vine to spend the rest of the growing season replenishing its stores of carbohydrates.
Older vines, with a greater stem surface area (the phloem only runs around the edge of the wood, so volume is less important) and crucially greater root volume are much better placed to ride out any difficulties that might arise early on in the next growing season.
I was reminded of this whilst reading John Atkinson MW’s marvelous study of the terroir of the Cote de Nuits and its effect on wine quality.
He references Franck Wittendal’s principal component analysis that highlighted the soil structure as being the only factor of difference between GC and 1ere etc vineyards that was statistically different.
He goes on to highlight that this provides a buffer for water retention, with the limestone sub soils providing large amounts of calcium carbonate (opens up the soil) and the stony flocculated clay soils allowing for both good drainage and good water retention.
This along with the facility for high root density that is provided by the soil structure and low water density (without reaching stressful levels) means that the vines in the GC vineyards are predisposed to having larger carbohydrate stores, which in  turn allows for better floraison (flower set), which commonly occurs during periods of inclement weather in Burgundy.
Mr Atkinson then goes on to point out that a lot of the GC vineyards have slight easterly exposures that succeed in shielding the vines from excess heat or sun during the final period of the grapes maturation. Essential for the retention of the very delicate floral aromatics that characterizes the best Burgundian wines.
Firstly I can’t recommend John Atkinson MW’s article enough, it was published in the Journal of Wine research,  though was offered to Purple Pages readers free for a while. Secondly it was great to see the Esteemed Bill Pannell’s idea get some extra weight added to it, as he’s one of the most interesting and outspoken wine makers that I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Is there a more repulsive phrase in the English vernacular than 'decaf spice chai latte'?

I was sitting in a coffee shop in Brighton when I over heard the order being called out. 'One decaf, spiced, chai latte'.
It upset me, I've had the pleasure of drinking quite a lot of chai over the years. From the Bangladeshi kitchen porters at Ashdown who used to brew up strong breakfast tea with black pepper, cardamon and milk in the afternoon, to the chai wallahs who stalk the streets and trains of Northern India doling out thick milky spiced shots of caffeinated goodness. Waxed paper cups scrunched up and dropped into the nearest bin (well gutter), hot days, hotter tea. Marsala chai. I'd go so far as to suggest that there's an entire society founded upon it.
And then we have 'decaf spiced chai lattes', I can think of no better example of the misappropriation of other cultures customs and then the whole sale raping them of any integrity and truthfulness.
Actually this touches on something a little deeper. The disrespect or otherwise of different cultures food traditions upon importation. Obviously there is a necessary degree of evolution that takes place when a recipe is exported. The basic ingredients may no longer be exactly the same, a little like Chinese whispers, but with food.
However, when a recipe is treated more as a signifier of the degree of cultural broadness of your marketing department, and thus is redesigned to fit into the schema of your mass reproduced coffee shop empire I stop accepting it.
It's not fucking masala chai, it's a shitty spiced and artificially sweetened tea concentrate that you add to foamed milk. Please in future refer to it as such.