Les Jardins d’Eole, Fougueyrolles

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The 8th of August is a day of the year I like.  Per the Blood Orange Brûlée post, birthdays are days to be celebrated be that with family, friends, pets, your duvet or a bottle of gin.  This particular birthday day has always been an easy one for me to remember because two people share it – my dad and an old girlfriend, Karen.  Bizarrely, I’ve not seen Karen in person since some point in the mid-90’s after we finished university, but we have exchanged birthday cards every year since then.  We’re not even friends on Facebook…  What’s really lovely about these cards is that they allow us to share a little bit about our lives once a year and keeps the contact alive via old school snail mail.  Quite lovely.  If it ever stops, I can only assume one of us has died… 🙂

Now, given my dad lives in France, and today was his birthday, we went out for lunch to a restaurant situated on a small grass strip airfield.  This picture shows you were the place is located in relation to the runway; what it doesn’t show is that it has the word RESTAURANT written in huge white letter across it’s roof.  I guess this is handy if you are passing pilot looking for somewhere to land for lunch…

Les Jardins d'Eole - Fougueyrolles

When he suggested we try this place, I was somewhat surprised, thinking that if it’s anything like British airfield cafés, the best we could hope for was something fried in a bread roll.  Oh, how wrong I was…!  Head Chef Noël Raffin is clearly an artist.  And a good one at that.  Just look at the presentation of the dessert sharing plate – simply beautiful and certainly one to slow down the passage of spoon to plate whilst you admire the artistry before tucking in.  This particular dessert plate included a apricot panna cotta, chocolate mousse, coffee ice-cream and, of course, a petite raspberry crème brûlée.

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The photograph is a little deceptive in that this ramekin was around 7cm in diameter, however the warm raspberry pink custard was peculiarly pleasant reminding me of the fun to be had picking and eating in-season raspberries straight off the bush.  The caramelisation was relatively thick but easily breakable, and no sugar grains were visible on the surface demonstrating that Noël had been paying attention with his blow torch!  Overall, in amongst all the other flavours and textures on this plate, this was a good effort, especially considering the interesting raspberry influence.  We also learned that Noël also prepared his brûlées with liquorice, coffee and pistachio custards… Amazing!!  Sadly, none of these were on offer otherwise this lunch might have taken somewhat longer…!  8/10.

Restaurant le Bournat, Le Bugue

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So, once on holiday, you have to engage in a spot of doing stuff.  Our family rules involve engaging in water sports, exploring some kind of building or historical site, visiting beaches with waves or doing something that has something for the kids and the grown ups.

This particular post involves the latter – stuff for kids and grown ups. Le Bournat is a historic tourism attraction which mixes 19th century fairground rides with ancient faming machinery and artisan crafts people.  The artisans demonstrate a variety of skills including milling, glass blowing, bread making, jam making and basket weaving amongst other things.  Handily, the kids only had to endure the historic stuff for 5 minutes before being able to get stuck into the 19th century fairground rides which included horse racing, swinging chairs, carousels and the like.  They even had a boating lake which demanded the wearing of life jackets!  All very un-French…

However, knowing that lunch is very much a part of French everyday life meant the village Restaurant filled up very quickly.  What we were not expecting was the surreal experience of  two actors playing the part of maître d’ and his drunk waiter throughout an hours lunch…  My French is passable, but I could not follow a single word the waiter spoke.  With a half smoked cigarette hanging out of his mouth, surfer-tousled hair and a penchant for throwing bread rolls around, they provided much entertainment which the locals clearly enjoyed proving that not all humour translates between languages…

Following the rule of this blog to the letter, brûlée was on the menu, so it had to be ordered.  It was another simply presented marvel in a similar sized ramekin to the Brittany Bretagne post. Again, the lightly sugared caramelisation was easy to break through with a spoon to a cool, but not cold, and ever so slightly sweet custard.  Whilst nothing exceptional it was very tasty and proved that on a count of two brûlées out of two, most French kitchens appear to be able to deliver their national dessert well.  That said, this was a fine but everyday high volume production in a busy tourist restaurant, valiantly supported by the ‘entertainment’ throughout.  7/10.

Brittany Ferries Bretagne, English Channel

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Holidays.  I love them.  There’s nothing better that knowing work is over for a couple of weeks and you are going somewhere new to explore either with family or friends.  You could even be going somewhere you’ve been a few times before safe in the knowledge that everything you want is there and you know where it is so you can put your brain away and give it a rest.

I’m lucky in that part of my family lives in France so I get to spend some time relaxing in the sunshine with them knowing that the flow of wine and sunshine is unlikely to stop.  I can visit familiar places and create those lasting memories with my kids that I hope they will look back on fondly when they are older.  South West France truly is beautiful, so if you find yourself thinking where to explore or your next holiday, then I can heartily recommend the Dordogne area as a place to spending some time holidaying…

To get to France from the UK, you either have to fly, use the tunnel or take a ferry.  Taking the ferry offers the ability to bring the ‘odd’ bottle of wine back, hence I take the car.  Brittany Ferries run various services from Portsmouth, including the overnight run to Saint Malo.  This works just fine with a young family AND it has a great selection of restaurants to choose from… And so to the brûlée.

At risk of rushing ahead, tonights offering was simply superb.  I had my doubts that a passenger ferry could serve up something worth writing about, but how wrong I was.  Perhaps it’s because it was run by the French, therefore the lack of ‘focus’ that one might expect from a mass production environment was overcome by a piece of French culture that should never be ignored.  They love to eat.

The brûlée was delivered in a standard sized ramekin at room temperature, with the custard lightly flecked with vanilla pod.  The sugaring was light but firm, giving only after a second tap with the spoon.  The custard was very light and smooth with no curdling in sight hence was very pleasurable indeed!  The secret was in it’s simplicity and I found it odd that this ‘close to perfect’ brûlée was discovered in a cross channel ferry self service restaurant some where in the middle of the English Channel on a Monday evening.   I’m hoping it wasn’t a dream…  An outstanding effort worthy of a solid 9/10.

The Horse & Groom, Guildford

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Birthdays should always be celebrated, even if you do it some time after the actual event.  It’s the one day of the year which really is just for you.  In particular, Thursday nights are always a good night for a celebratory pint or two because if you over do it, you only have to drag yourself through one more day of work before the weekend starts…  Tonight’s celebration was for ‘Gordon of the Blood Orange‘ post who’s birthday passed a couple of weeks ago.  More importantly, we were not only celebrating the passing of another year but also his success following an unplanned request to deliver an important presentation to a large group of work colleagues with only two days to prepare.  Anyone who has been asked to do this will remember the moment in only one of two ways; cheery ‘here-we-go-again’ abandon or ‘unmitigated dread’…

Thankfully, Gordon is a hardy Scottish chap and was not to be fazed by this request even when the prepared presentation arrived without a single written word on it.  Clearly his skills as an accomplished public speaker were to be tested to the full…!  Six rehearsals later and the promise of sharing the stage with a certain Sir Clive Woodward resulted in plaudits from many angles and a day to remember.  Nice one Gordo…

Now to the custardly comments.  Tonight’s dessert menu served up another opportunity to see what the chef was made of and he made a reasonable attempt.  Presentation is always important as first impressions last, so imagine my surprise when it arrived in a coffee cup.  You could argue that by providing a handle to hold, the likelihood of burning a finger on a recently grilled piece of chinaware would be diminished.  Possibly a good thing, and one way to keep the ‘no win, no fee’ claimants where they belong.  However, I see the presentation of a brûlée in part an art form and therefore the selection of a random piece of coffee cup crockery probably the product of a chef under time pressure or perhaps a full dishwasher…

Firstly, it came with one of the home-baked butter biscuits dusted with icing sugar upside down on the plate.  Secondly, the sugar topping was under caramelised with some of the grains undissolved. The custard was however light and a little on the sweet side but it was certainly not heavy or curdled.   My final comment concerns the basic temperature of the custard before the caramelisation occurs.  In my view, it should be room temperature although I’m sure there will be some food health guidance which would recommend against this… This one was fridge cold.  6/10. 

The Chequers Inn, Froggatt

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It’s quite odd growing up in one part of the country to then live in another part for much longer.  For me, it asks the question of where you really call ‘home’.  Coming back to your place of birth catapults the mind back to friends, experiences, loves lost and won and in my case, many a late night in Sheffield’s Leadmill before heading to Chubbys kebab shop for a high quality protein and carbohydrate based recovery meal.  Those from Sheffield will know what I’m talking about.

Equally, having spent much of those years mountain biking around the Peak District hills, to come back with a road bike and a couple of good friends more than 20 years later in the three days before the Grand Depart Yorkshire for the 2014 Tour de France, was simply thrilling.  Chief route planner Steve plotted some testing routes including the now infamous Holme Moss climb which featured in Stage 2.  Ben from VeloViewer wrote a nice piece about the climb.  The video included is a classic insight into ‘them from Yorkshire’…


Getting the top of Holme Moss that day was a major achievement given the headwinds and driving rain we endured to get there…

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The third day out was a fairly lengthy 70 mile affair taking in the near vertical Winnats Pass (thankfully down not up it), the scenic Hope Valley, Monsal Head and a quick lap of the Chatsworth Estate before heading back to base in Buxton.  Of course, lunch was a mandated stop, so we took advantage of the well-known Chequers Inn at Froggatt and their dessert menu.

Sadly,  the brûlée did not reflect the expectations set by the main course.   The custard was too thick and heavy, perhaps caused by one too many egg yolks; the sugar was grainy not fully caramelised and way too thick; the small ramekin was much too small in relation to the large plate it was served on and was fridge cold rather than room temperature.  That said, the raspberry sorbet was an excellent foil for the rich custard and crushed amaretto biscuits were a nice touch. 4/10.

Zinburger, Durham, North Carolina

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Strictly speaking this shouldn’t make it on to the blog as it wasn’t on the dessert menu and it’s not a crème brûlée, but I’m all for drawing attention to things that made me laugh out loud and prompt swift orders with the waitress…  No need for a long review, simply a photo will cover this rather curious, but tantalising beverage!  I give you the Crème Brûlée shake. 

Front Street Grill at Stillwater, Beaufort, North Carolina

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Like many things in life, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.  Sunshine, fine wines, extended family members, sleep…  In my case, two nights in Atlantic Beach means two nights out and the potential risk that two brûlées may need to be consumed. So you can guess what happened next…  

The good news is that Beaufort is a pretty North Carolinian coastal town with plenty of old colonial architecture on Front Street and enough expensive yatchs moored in the harbour to suggest the dining opportunities would be varied and exciting.  You have to remember that this is the USA, so wind powered yatchs were somewhat in short supply which had me worried that we might be subjected to a ‘meat with meat’ menu!  Thankfully not…  

The Front Street Grill in set right on the water front with views out across the harbour, and at sunset it’s a lovely spot to eat.  


Tonight was the night to ‘go proper southern’ with Shrimp and Grits, a first time outing for me, and outstanding it was too…  When the time came for dessert, the ‘rule’ was required to be enforced again, so a Butterscotch Brûlée was requested.  Our waiter proudly told us as an ex-employee of the Crabs Claw, this offering was ‘way better’, and he wasn’t far wrong.  A shallow oval ramekin provided the carriage with a light sugaring to cover.  No surprises here, but the custard proved to be a delight!  It was almost runny in consistency, but the very gentle butterscotch overtones really made it something special, like a Werther’s Original had been slowly melted into the custard.  Unique and quite lovely.   So, the waiter wasn’t wrong, it was better than the Crab’s Claw, and almost one the best simply because of that very light butterscotch undertone.  8/10.

Crabs Claw, Atlantic Beach, North Carolina

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On a recent two week trip to the USA, I found myself being at a loose end over a weekend.  So I took a trip out to the North Carolina coast to Atlantic Beach.  Hurricane Irene caused significant damage when it passed directly through here in 2011 destroying everything in it’s path as only a Category 1 hurricane can do.  This was starkly evident given the state of the pier connected to the hotel which we were told used to be three times as long as it is today.

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As with any road trip, part of the fun is finding good places to eat! And AB was no let down… The sun was shining and after a week of trying to avoid burgers and steaks, I was looking forward to some good seafood. The ever helpful Tripadvisor made some suggestions and reservations were made. Crabs Claw is right on the beach and a ‘steam pot’ with various bits of seafood including a Alaskan crab claw was ordered.

However, you all know the rule about this blog, ‘If it’s on the menu, you have to order it…’.  And tonight’s offering was a coconut crème brûlée no less…!  Now, for me, this was a first: the brûlée arrived unprepared and our waiter ‘torched’ it at the table!  The result meant a little wait as the sugar cooled, but also gave time to check a few things out.  The custard was direct from the fridge, so quite cold, and in fact made it somewhat heavy under the spoon.  It was however smooth with no signs of curdling and the influence of what I assumed was coconut milk was a pleasant Caribbean twist on this classic. The caramelisation was pretty heavy and hadn’t fully formed under the blow torch flame.  That said, it was a simple effort prepared with a little flourish that suited the beach front location and the relaxed service that evening…  5/10.

Gordon’s House, Guildford

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Gordon is a nice Scottish chap.  He’s got a PhD in something I know nothing about.  He’s got two lovely kids roughly the same age as my own.  I first met Gordon and his wife Fiona during National Childbirth Trust antenatal classes shortly before our first children were to enter the world over 10 years ago.  Very sadly, Fiona died following a battle with cancer last year and my only regret is that I didn’t get to know her better during that short period of time, proving that life is precious and you simply can’t waste it…

Gordon is doing an amazing job being a single parent and learning to cope with everything that goes with that.  The NCT boys are doing their level best to be supportive, which usually involves going out for the occasional beer and lending a helping hand when Gordon’s man skills require some additional ‘support’…!

Whilst this post has started on a sombre note, we should talk about the dessert course from our dinner this evening…  I have to note that this is the first ever crème brûlée I’ve eaten from a packet.  A Sainsburys packet at that!  Fair play to Gordon for admitting that he’d ‘messed’ with the original by sprinkling the sugar over the custard long before putting them under the grill for caramelisation… Brûlée herecy no less!  One of the challenges of a good brûlée is in the preparation of the caramelised sugar.  How thick should the sugar be?  What is the best temperature for the custard before you burn the sugar?  What method should be used to caramelise the custard?  Honestly, the list of variables is almost endless… Nonetheless, the infusion of blood orange in the basic custard was refreshing, surprising and proved that sticking to the original recipe of a simple vanilla custard and caramelised sugar is not the path to brûlée enlightenment!  However, next time Gordon, don’t mess with the product!!  6/10.

Grillmarkaðurinn (The Grill Market), Reykjavik

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Iceland is cool.  You know, not just temperature wise.  It has volcanoes.  Wild horses.  Geysers.  Lava fields. Ice.  A lot of daylight, at least in summer.  People.  Buildings.  Etc.  I give you an example; The Perlan.

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And another; The Harpa.

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What was really bizarre and a first for me, was taking an evening flight from London where it was fully dark on departure, to then fly into twilight on arrival at Keflavik Airport at 1am in the morning.  Even when I arrived at my hotel in Reykjavik an hour or so later, it still wasn’t dark.  Living on Iceland with these extremes of daylight and darkness throughout the year must but be pretty tough for the locals…

However, given this was a first time visit to Reykjavik for me, some gastronomic exploring had to be done…  My work mate, Danish Usman, found a fantastic dinner location in central Reykjavik close to the Harpa convention centre. The architecture of The Grill Market was superb with light fittings cut from lava stone and a bathroom washbasin shared with the ladies!  Lets just say it was quite a shock to see a pair of ladies hands appear through the wall as you go to wash your own…

The menu had some outstanding local specialities on it including minke whale and reindeer burgers!  Tonight’s effort was a pretty but small affair with the brûlée presented in a medium depth dish with support from a blackcurrant sorbet, plain chocolate chips, a single blackberry and raspberry and some biscuit crumbles under the sorbet.  Sugaring was light and crisp and the custard was smooth yet quite caramelly, which became a little heavy after a few mouthfuls.  Thankfully, the combination of the sharpness of the sorbet and the sweetness of the custard turned out to be a pleasant combination, and stopped the custard becoming the dominate force in this particular brûlée!  6/10.

The quest to find the greatest ever Crème Brûlée. There's only one rule: If it's on the menu, you have to order it…