Tasty Bites Restaurant and food stories, gossip & recipes

Marilyn Domenech

As a restaurateur, whenever my husband Francis and I returned from travelling, customers would ask for recommendations on where we stayed.... what restaurants we liked, and what were the highlights.

So I started putting out a newsletter which talked about all sorts of things that interested me.... food, travel notes, art, Slow Food and even what home espresso machine I liked. Then technology took over, snail mail/printing became too expensive and I discovered blogging.

This blog doesn’t fall comfortably into Food Blog territory and has ended up being a lot about travel.  Particularly travel to France.  The easiest way to access these stories is to enter ‘Paris” or ‘France’ into the search engine in the right hand column.  I’ve also written about Shanghai, Istanbul, Spain, Tasmania, Margaret River, New Zealand and New Guinea..  So, good eating ... and travelling!

The Amazing Raymond Blanc

July 15th, 2011

Blanc started out life in the hospitality business as a waiter.  He taught himself how to cook and his Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons (outside London in lovely Oxfordshire) has had 2 Michelin stars for 25 years.  He now heads up an empire that includes various bistros, TV series, books and a cooking school.   But Le Manoir is his focus and he has spent decades renovating the beautiful old buildings and gardens.  He is dedicated to producing as much organic produce for the restaurant as possible and in summer has 10 gardeners.  Le Manoir itself is set in acres of beautiful gardens and has 32 guestrooms.

Manoir Chef, Bruno, Francis, Me & Raymond Blanc

We had lunch there with Bruno and Catherine Loubet  (Raymond Blanc was his mentor) and then stayed overnight.  In Blanc’s own words he wants his guests to find perfection in food, comfort, service and welcome.  It ticked all those boxes for us and is an experience we will remember for a long time.  For more information about this amazing retreat:  www.manoir.com

Dinner at The Mandarin

July 15th, 2011

It’s hard not to be impressed with Heston Blumenthal’s new London restaurant Dinner … an $8million fitout will do that.  Housed in the venerable Mandarin Hotel this is definitely ‘Restaurant as Theatre’.  We were visiting Bruno Loubet and wife Catherine, and despite Dinner being booked out 3 months in advance, Catherine pulled some strings and suddenly there we were on a Saturday night.  It was very glam and we were made to feel quite special, with complimentary Champagne and extra dishes — Bruno’s name on the booking worked wonders — poor guy could not be with us as he was beavering away at his own restaurant, Bistrot Bruno Loubet .

The premis for Dinner is Blumenthal’s interest in modernising medieval English recipes, so the mandarin entree here is actually chicken liver parfait encased in mandarin jelly, and called Meat Fruit.

Hard to see where the 8 mill went as the decor is tasteful but not over the top. However, the giant clock “pasted” onto the glass kitchen walls,which drives an open-fired rotisserie … was pretty amazing.  The Loubet’s 13yr old daughter Chloe dined with us.  Heston asked if she would like to visit his Laboratory.  That’s a definite YES!  By the way we thought the prices at Mandarin were not over the top, and definitely value for money.

To see the full menu go to: www.dinnerbyheston.com

Fancy a culinary holiday in France?

July 6th, 2011


Chef Di Holuigue's cooking class at La Combe

Imagine a beautifully restored 18th century country house in South West France, with 7 of your best pals.  An 8 day program of hands-on cooking with a top chef.  Daily guided trips to places you would have difficulty finding — like Edouard Aynaud’s truffle farm, the last working water-powered walnut mill or lunch in the grounds of a 10th century abbey.  Add to this the marvellous markets in 16th century town of Sarlat, lunch at a 1-Michelin star restaurant, visit some artists’ studios, buy antique linens for really reasonable prices … and of course lots of eating.

Francis and I spent a wonderful week at La Combe en Perigord in probably France’s premier food region — the Dordogne (or if you use the old name, Perigord Noir) in South West France.  The 3200 euros cost per person includes absolutely everything — accommodation,cooking school, all meals and wines, restaurants and informative guided tours every day.  Simply one of our best holidays ever.

Market day in 16th century town of Salat

Expat Aussie Wendely Harvey and husband Robert Cave-Rogers give you a very personal glimpse of life in France.  An editor of cook books for many years, she translated her love of food,  decor and the dream of living in France … into a business operating during the French summer.

Other highlights were a visit to a world-renowned prehistoric cave painting site, 18th century formal French gardens, foie gras farm and a walk through Limeuil, one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France.  For more information:  www.lacombe-perigord.com

Our culinary class have lunch at Michelin-starred Le Vieux Logis in Tremolat

The Canal du Midi

June 27th, 2011

We have recently returned from a marvellous month’s holiday in France.  May is one of the best times to travel over there.  It is late Spring and this year (UK and France are in drought) we had perfect weather.  I can highly recommend the canal boat we booked for a week on the Canal du Midi, one of prettiest stretches of the vast canal system in France.  ‘Tango’ is a beautifully restored 1930s traditional canal boat — 30 metres long and with generous living and deck areas.  It accommodates 6-8 people in 4 ensuite cabins.  We had skipper and owner Daniel, chef Tony, guide Christophe and the gorgeous Angie to look after our every need — all speak perfect English. 

We spent a week gliding along the canal (at walking pace) enjoying wonderful meals aboard, and every day Christophe took us off for a few hours adventure to nearby villages, chateaux, a winery, fresh food markets and historic towns.  This is the best way to holiday … unpack only once for the week and your floating hotel follows you.  We ended up at Carcassonne, one of the most amazing restored medieval cities in the world.  And ate (in a little hidden restaurant up a back lane) the best Cassoulet ever — though I think our chef Graham Waddell’s version on our current Winter Menu is equal to it.

This type of holiday is quite intimate and you interact closely with the crew.  I don’t think it would suit teenagers or small children though.  It is quiet, contemplative, visually stunning and a total delight.  Everything is included in your holiday price:  all meals, drinks, wines, trips and restaurants off the boat.

One highlight was an unusual lunch in the markets at Narbonne. Chez Bebelle is owned by a popular retired rugby player whose cafe adjoins two butchers — one selling horse meat and the other beef.  When you put in your order, Bebelle uses a megaphone to shout the cut of meat required from one of these butchers.  The meat is wrapped and then hurled 10 metres over the heads of customers.   The atmosphere is a hoot … chaotic, loud and buzzing with happy customers munching on their steak et frittes.  Prices are very reasonable and the place is always full at lunchtime. 

We had just spent half an hour wandering the fresh food markets which was packed with the most wonderful fresh produce.  Acres of terrines & cheeses, rabbits and chicken with their heads still on, white asaparagus and amazing mushrooms.  Our guide Christophe bought a huge platter of the freshest prawns, sea snails and oysters to have whilst we waited for our steaks to be cooked.  Highly recommended!   More details about ‘Tango’ go to www.canalsoffrance.com

Sharing a secret?

April 15th, 2011

David Pugh (owner chef of one of Brisbane’s foremost restaurants Restaurant Two) and Francis Domenech (Baguette) deep in conversation at a recent Queensland Winter Produce Showcase at Restaurant Two.  David used to be Head Chef at Baguette many eons ago.

These produce Showcases are held regularly by DEEDI a government department that encourages development and innovation.  Small producers of all sorts of fascinating fruits, olives, wines, cider, seafood etc can display their wares for restaurateurs and the food media.

Is cider the new rosé

April 13th, 2011

Where did this sudden interest in cider come from?  Was it a spontaneous groundswell from the drinking public bored with the current “flavours of the month” — or a clever PR campaign?  Never mind, it’s happened.  Scott Durietz, our sommelier at Baguette Bistrot+Bar, has been having fun tasting the now numerous ciders available and researching why some are really worth trying … and some are, well, just lolly water.

Some ciders are made with fruit concentrate and what else?  Whilst the good stuff is made from fresh juice and naturally fermented to produce a slight fizz.  Anyway Scott has done all the hard work and you can now sample a: 

Flight of 4 Ciders in the bar at Baguette for $23

Anneville cidre comes from Normandy in France, is semi-dry and has enough acidity to finish cleanly.  It’s got full apple aroma and only 2% alcohol by volume. It’s made from a single apple variety, Binet Rouge.

Manoir du Kinkiz in another French cidre from Brittany and is 5.5% alcohol.  It is the most complex of the four offerings.  Although semi-sweet, the combination of bitter-sweet and sharps allows it to be matched with weighty food. Notable feature is the barnyard aspect of the nose and Roquefort like character of the finish.

* The other two are Australian ciders, both from Bress — a winery/cidery in Harcourt Valley which is an old apple growing area just north of Melbourne.  Adam Marks the cider-maker is a Francophile;  hence the French chicken on his label.   His sweet style (great with desserts)  he calls Bon Bon and it is made from pink lady apples and perry (pear cider).  His dry style is called Bress Harcourt Valley Cider Brut.  They are both 10% alcohol, similar to wine.

So come to Baguette and try these ciders.  Scotty would love to chat with you about them.  Also in June we will be having 2 weeks of a Suckling Pig and Cider Menu.  Cider can be great with food!

What sort of restaurant are you looking for?

March 13th, 2011

In Brisbane there is an incredible variety of restaurants, food  and decor styles. 

Over the years we have found that what we want to eat in a restaurant, and the style of that establishment has radically changed.  For many years we went to France on pilgrimages to Michelen starred restaurants, delighting in the precision of the food, the formality of the exquisite settings and the whole experience.  Now we prefer more casual settings (with personality) and tasty ‘real’  food that highlights the produce.  (I am a fan of Rick Stein for that reason.)

But what do you look for?  Do Degustation menus turn you on?  Are you interested in molecular cooking (a la Heston Blumenthal) where chefs experiment with changing the structure of the food?  Do you go for a particular nationality of cuisine?  Is wine an important part of the restaurant experience for you?  Does the service matter?

This information is really interesting for restaurateurs, some of whom are dedicated to serving their customers only what they like, and others who try to gauge what customers are into.  Of course there are always fads and fashions, but looking beyond that what style of restaurant will you go to next?

One of our favourite Sydney restaurants

March 5th, 2011

Porteno in Surry Hills (Sydney) was an instant success when it opened last year.  All the ingredients are there … robust/tasty food … busy/ buzzie (some would say noisy) atmosphere … efficient/friendly service, and it’s own distinct personality.  Partners Ben Milgate, Elvis Abrahanowicz and their wives already have the very successful Bodega.

This is not a small restaurant, yet it’s busy every night and they don’t take bookings.  We went at 6.15pm on a Tuesday night and were seated immediately, however it was already 3/4 full.  They turn the tables a couple of times a night, and service was brisk without you feeling you were being pushed out.

Porteno is an Argentinian grill restaurant and Elvis’s Dad is the pitmaster.  He mans the asador, where whole baby pigs (from Melander Park) and lambs (Suffolk) are splayed across crucifix-like pieces of steel.  The meat slow cooks over the smouldering campfire.  Blood sausages, roasted red peppers, veal sweetbreads and steaks are directly cooked over coals on 2 parrillas — adjustable grills.  The food here is a genuine labour of love and don’t miss the white polenta smeared onto a wooden board, or the chocolate pudding.  This restaurant is fun and you also get a good feed.

The latest restaurant affectation?

October 24th, 2010

30 years ago when we simply could not buy fresh herbs in Brisbane (for our restaurant), I grew what I could at home and Francis flew up the rest from Sydney.   I am an avid home gardener at our 1 acre holiday property in Mapleton on the Sunshine Coast (www.french-cottage.com.au).  I think Stephanie Alexander should have been nominated for Australia’s first saint, for her work in getting young people to grow vegies at school.  So why am I feeling so cynical about the latest “thing” with trendy restaurants i.e. growing their own herbs and vegetables on site? 

Food Detective, Michelle Rowe (Indulgence column in the weekend Australian) lists various uber restaurants around the world that are now ‘ doing it for themselves’.  The new Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo in New York which has a 12th floor rooftop urban vegie patch to provide fresh produce for the hotel kitchen, or Bell, Book & Candle restaurant which has set up hydroponic growing boxes on the roof of the Greenwich Village townhouse in which it sits.  And we have a growing number o restaurants in Australia proclaiming their green thumbs.   But is this just another publicity stunt? 

Well, I hope they have their own full time gardener with heaps of space because frankly I am skeptical as to how any restaurant could grow anything like their fresh veg requirements out the back, next to the garbage cans.  If you want an example of how to do it — the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV in 1678 commissioned 29 elaborate walled garden ‘rooms’ at Versailles, to feed the palace population of 3000 people.  It covered 20 acres.  Now, that’s a kitchen garden!

Flight of 4 Rosé Wines Matched with Tapas for $21

October 11th, 2010

For the next 3 months you can taste a flight of 4 true Provencal style rosé wines, matched with some great tapas — in the Bar at Baguette.  Scott and Benoit will chat to you about the different styles:

* De Bortoli La Boheme, Yarra Valley, Vic with

  ‘Popcorn’ prawns with garlic mayo

* Omrah Plantagenet 2009 Rosé with

   Duck wings with paprika

* Chapel Hill Sangiovese 2009 Rosé SA with

   Grilled sourdough with romesco

* De Bortoli Yarra Valley  2010 Pinot Noir Rosé, Yarra Valley Vic with

   Spanish style meatballs

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