Category Archives: Bordeaux Blonde

Learning Mauritian Cuisine.

Mauritian cuisine is a wonderful melting pot of the all the culinary traditions brought here by the people that make Mauritius the ‘rainbow island’. This culinary traditions of the island have become much better known in the UK since Shelina Permalloo won MasterChef in 2012. Check out her excellent recipe book where she has distilled her love of the local cuisine into ‘Shelina, Sunshine on a plate’. It gives you the recipes but also beautiful photos of the dishes, the local ingredients, markets and scenery – so if you can’t make it over for a cooking class, this is the next best thing.

Shelina's Sunshine on a plate

Shelina’s Sunshine on a plate

In the hope of improving her cooking skills, Bordeaux Blonde went to Mauritian cooking school with Chef Govinden at the Awali Hotel in Bel Ombre. Starting with a very classic local dish of chicken and prawn curry (almost every restaurant on the island has a version of this dish), we used local products including garlic, ginger, onions, tomatoes, aniseed, fenugreek, turmeric root, curry leaves, coriander and coconut, to create an aromatic rather than spicy curry. I prefer my curry aromatic and it makes the wine choice easier (wine and heat don’t always mix), but locals do like their spice, so there is a side of ‘puree de piments’ on every table here!

Chef Govinden teaches at the Awali Hotel

Chef Govinden teaches at the Awali Hotel

Unsurprisingly, Mauritius is also a favoured destination for international chefs to come and showcase their talents. This week it was the turn of Patrick Dang to visit The Telfair Hotel. Trained in his home town of Sydney, Australia, Patrick has worked all over the world from Asia through to North & Latin America and Europe and is about to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong. He prefers the term ‘globally inspired’ rather than fusion for his style of cuisine – perfect for Mauritius! He tried to impart some of his skills to the locals with a beach cooking class. His take on a Asian BBQ was a rib eye steak in a garlic/soy/ginger sauce accompanied by Asian Coleslaw.

Chef Patrick shows how to BBQ on the beach

Chef Patrick shows how to BBQ on the beach

The coleslaw was not a million miles from the Mauritian coleslaw in Shelina’s book (one of my favourites) and a key ingredient in the rib eye sauce was the lovely dark raw sugar they produce on the island. I can recommend learning to cook Mauritian style with the waves of the Indian ocean  lapping your ankles – quite an experience!

 

An old Salt

The hot Mauritian sunshine may ripen the sugar cane but it also helps produce another local product: salt. The Salines de Yemen salt-pans of Mauritius are at Tamarin on the west coast, one of the hottest parts of the island. Surprisingly enough, I found salt making shares a few techniques with wine making.

When the weather stays dry and with a light breeze, (it’s always hot) it takes 5 days for the sea water pumped from the Indian Ocean to run through the 1600 basins covering 20ha before the salt crystallises through evaporation and can be harvested.

The majority of these basins are filled with clay acting as a filter for the water as it runs from pan to pan via gravity (does this ring any bells with betonite filtration for white wine?). This clay has to be changed at least twice a year, more frequently if it rains as when the concentration of salt is diluted algae can form. A low rain fall, up to 5cm turns the salt brown, which can then be used for animal feed, more rain than that and they have a start again.

A clay lined basin

A clay lined basin

Being a tropical island it does rain, so the production period is concentrated in the drier months from September to December.

Salt water trickles down from one basin to another.

Salt water trickles down from one basin to another.

After filtration through the clay, the concentrated salt water trickles into the lower levels where the final 185 basins are constructed out of the island’s volcanic basalt rock. Heating quickly in the sun, this dark black stone perfectly optimises evaporation. The slower the evaporation, the whiter and purer the salt will be. The salt concentration is measured in ‘degrees Baumé’ with a mustimetre, the same tool used in wine making for measuring the evolutions of sugar concentration during alcoholic fermentation. Salt concentration starts off at about 30g per litre and reaches about 300g per litre in the final basins.

Measuring the salt concentration

Measuring the salt concentration

In the afternoon they harvest the fragile ‘Fleur de sel’, very fine crystals that are skimmed off the top of the water with a wooden skimmer. This is the most expensive and least ‘salty’ salt, often combined with herbs, spices and even local vanilla to make speciality condiments.  The next morning the ‘Gros Sel’ will be ready for harvesting.

Skimmer

At the end of the process there will be 6-7 cm of salt that has to be broken up, shovelled into pyramids and collected in 20 kg baskets. Each of the final basins will produce about 25 of these baskets, which are carried on the heads of the women to the 9 salt stores.

 

A salt store waiting for the harvest.

A salt store waiting for the harvest.

The saltpans employ 20 people and they produce about 2 000 tonnes of salt a year. The salt is destined for food seasoning industrial and domestic as well as the chlorination process of swimming pools.

‘Les Salines de Yemen’ ‘date back to the 18th century when the island was under French rule and salt was a valuable commodity especially important for conserving food on the long journey by ship between Asia and Europe. Mauritius was a vital stop off point on these trade routes.

The current pans were built by Rene Maingard in 1940’s and are still owned by the family today.

The dark basalt stone used in the basins is omnipresent on the island. It’s used in the construction of most of the historical buildings including the 90 remaining sugar mill chimneys scattered across the island, waterfront fortifications and official buildings, some dating back to the 18th century.

A final basalt basin

A final basalt basin

The islanders say they ‘grow’ these stones. Every 7 years the sugar canes fields have to be cleared of rocks when the cane replanted. The rocks are said to rise to the surface thanks to the active magma way below the surface. Local photographer Jano Couacaud has created a beautiful book of the influence of these rocks on the Island including pictures of these historic but still functioning saltpans.

 

 

 

 

 

Patrick Mavros in Mauritius

The workshop and show room of Patrick Mavros in Mauritius is a haven of peace and elegance in the chaos and noise of the outskirts of the capital, Port Louis.

The courtyard entrance to the Workshop and Studio

The courtyard entrance to the Workshop and Studio

The wrought iron door decorated with monkeys, dodos, turtles and other sea creatures, takes you into another world. The monkey welcome theme continues with the wonderful door handles to the showroom.

The gateway to the Patrick Mavros Showroom and Workshop

The gateway to the Patrick Mavros Showroom and Workshop

Silver Sculptor Patrick Mavros established a workshop in Mauritius 6 years ago but despite his international reach his heart remains in Zimbabwe where his workshops, the family homestead, the wildlife sanctuary, the offices and reception and his sales studio, are built to form a small village on his estate in the wild hills outside Harare in Zimbabwe.

Welcoming monkeys

He started carving in ivory to make a gift for his new wife and now with his 4 sons the family runs workshops in Harare, London, Mauritius and recently the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

The Mauritian Showroom

The Mauritian Showroom

 His silver sculptures reflect African wild-life in all its diversity, from hippo and elephant sculptures to crocodile belt buckles and monkey swizzle sticks for your cocktails. His Mauritian collection created for his opening here reflects the sea theme with seahorses and starfish complimented with shells, pearls and topaz.

Every silver sculpture is made using lost wax casting using ivory as the original sculpture Molten silver is poured into the plaster mould and once the silver has cooled the plaster mould is broken open to reveal the silver casting. The casting is then cleaned and checked to see that every detail of the original has been faithfully reproduced. Finally, the piece is hallmarked and polished in one of his workshops.

The lost wax casting in the Mauritian workshop

The lost wax casting in the Mauritian workshop

Silver is a by-product of gold refining in Zimbabwe. In the 60 tonnes of gold produced each year the ore contains traces of copper, silver and lead and it is during the gold refining stage that the silver is extracted.

There is an artistic theme running through his family. His sister-in-law Fée Halsted created the south African ceramics company Ardmore. Examples of their work can also be found at the Mauritian show room including the most spectacular chandelier in the form of a giant banana flower decorated with monkeys birds and other African insects.

 

The fabulous Ardmore Chadelier

The fabulous Ardmore Chandelier

Don’t worry if you can’t get to Mauritius or Africa, call in to the spectacular London Flagship Store on the Fulham road for your Christmas shopping.

 

 

 

 

 

Life in the Slow Lane

If you want to capture an idea of what life is like in the depths of South-Western France you should take a look at the art of Perry Taylor.

Perry’s cartoons capture the pleasures of life in the French slow lane with a typically English sense of humour. Originally from Oxford, after 25 years in advertising and design he now enjoys life out of the office environment in the Hautes-Pyrénées, to the South East of Bordeaux. Having always designed and art directed creative work for other people, he has now found time to be creative for himself. He captures the spirit of the place perfectly and yes food and wine is  part of his favourite subject matter.

I meet him last week in Saint Emilion, you can discover his artwork on his web site. His original ink drawings and signed prints make perfect gifts or souvenirs of life here in the slow lane.

 

 

 

A serene morning break from wine.

If you don’t fancy visiting the vineyards of France in the depths of winter help is at hand. Always interested to find ideas for our wine tour clients when visiting the vineyards of France is not an option, Mary Dardenne of Decanter Tours and I sacrificed ourselves to test drive the new Day Spa offer by The Shanti Maurice.

I have mentioned this fabulous Mauritian resort on previous posts, so some of you will recognise the name. Normally reserved for residents the Nira Spa is now opening it’s doors to non residents for a special offer. So should you find yourself near the south of the island here’s your chance.

Yoga at the Shanti

We arrived in time for the 8.15 Hatha yoga class given by one of the highly trained resident yogis, followed by a cleansing Jalneti session to clear the sinuses. This all worked up an appetite for the fabulous spa breakfast. Served in a private tea pavilion surrounded by the waterfalls of the spa garden we were offered a choice of hot dishes accompanied by fresh fruit, grilled vegetables, Muslei, yoghurt and freshly baked breads (including gluten free) all accompanied by their famous ginger and lemon tea.

Breakfast is served

After a break for digestion lying by the pool the morning ended with the wonderful 4 handed Abhyanga Ayurvedic massage, steam and scrub. We both highly recommend this as a wonderful way to while away those wine tour free months and your liver will be in pristine condition for the start of the next season!

And to finish a swim in the spa pool.

To book the Serenity Morning call the Nira Spa +230 603 72 00 or by e mail NiraSpa@shantimaurice.com

 

History on the beach

Mauritian tourism isn’t just about the beach, visitors are being encouraged to venture forth into the centre of the island to enjoy the natural wilderness, quadding and horse riding through the luxurious greenery inland and there is also an interesting architectural heritage to discover that dates back to the 1800s. Sadly, between cyclones and urban development many historical buildings on the island have disappeared over the years but those that remain are worth searching out. The island has it’s ‘chateaux’ too – the name given to the old colonial houses built and lived in mainly by the sugar planation owners. Some of those that remain are open to the public either as show cases for rum or ther local production or restaurants. Chateau Labourdonnais in the north of the island, dates from 1859 and has been beautifully restored. The original sugar production is now replaced with rums, jams and preserves made from the tropical fruit grown in the estate orchards, but the house remains and all the produce can be tasted at the excellent modern restaurant, bar and boutique built in the grounds.

The picturesque Chateau Bel Ombre, at the heart of the Valriche redevelopment of the surrounding sugar estate is another excellent example of a renovation. Here you can dine in the chateau, looking over the formal gardens, as did the original planters.

Chateau Bel Ombre

Their is a more intimate way to experience a historical Mauritian home. The Colonial House is the very last authentic Mauritian home on the Northern coast of the island. Still in the ownership of the same family that built it as a beach front holiday home in 1888, it is hidden in a manicured tropical garden not too far from the beaten track. Opened earlier this year after 2 years of passionate renovation, every room is unique, filled with historical furniture, each piece of which has a tale to tell.

The beautifly thatched Colonial House

Surrounded with hundred-year-old flame trees the house has a wooden deck, perfect for early morning yoga classes, and a slate pool with direct access to a discreet white sandy beach.

The view from the terrace.

Sleeping 8 in 4 double ensuite bedrooms, more details and enquiries about private rentals can be made with Joanne Kirk at jo@dodoworks.com.

Lunch at Latour

It seemed an obvious choice to go to Hotel La Tour for lunch with my friend and fellow Bordeaux wine specialist for several reasons – proximity to the station, it’s new so needed investigating and the name bears a striking resemblance to First Growth Château Latour which we thought we could have some twitter fun with!

Being wine professionals the wine list, rather than the menu, grabbed our attention first. ‘Anything but Bordeaux’, says Wendy and this was easy to oblige as there was not a single wine from here, one of the oldest, most famous and highly regarded wine regions in the world. Quite a surprise as one of Bordeaux’s great strengths is its compatibility with food.

We began with a glass of Champagne, Veuve Clicquot Brut, as anyone would (or should) out for a girl’s lunch, putting the world to rights and not driving, and then actually continued with it through our starters. The olives we ordered never arrived.

The wine list is certainly more than adequate and the selection of whites by the glass is varied but for some reason nothing particularly excited us that day. Two glasses of Champagne is always better than one, however, so our lack of adventure was rewarded by tasty fizz which, people often forget, works really well with food. Wendy was impressed with her roasted fig tart with English goat’s cheese, hazelnuts and roquette and I thoroughly enjoyed my Heirloom tomato salad despite it being not an ideal course to match with any wine really but it was healthy and made me feel virtuous. And it was colourful, tasty and very, well, tomatoey.

Our mains of Yorkshire Venison Sausages, grilled spring onions and celeriac mash for Wendy and Pig’s Cheek for me cried out for a Bordeaux red (which of course we wouldn’t have ordered anyway, we could do with a change from time to time) but we couldn’t breakaway entirely from the style and needed our Cabernet Sauvignon fix. As I had recently returned from a wine trip to South Africa we ordered a glass of Journey’s End Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 from Stellenbosch, which we were told we would love as it was just like a Burgundy, where they grow not a single Cabernet Sauvignon vine!

The wine was fine, with a ripe black fruit juiciness and oaky edge but I was unable to finish my glass. There were two reasons for this; firstly, it lacked a little bit of acidity or lift and after a while it felt a tad overtly fruity and struggled with the food. Secondly, we had been given 250ml glasses which we didn’t ask for. To be fair, we didn’t request the small size either but weren’t asked which we wanted so they erred on the wrong side of caution.

The food was delicious. My slow braised pork cheek with apricots, lentils, sage and mash was so good it prompted me to attempt to cook something similar at home. Wendy, too, was pleased with her dish, particularly to have proper English sausages which she can’t get in France. The salad we ordered never arrived.

The Aalto restaurant at Hotel La Tour

We lingered so long over our coffees that top ups were forthcoming not to mention an extra plate of deliciously salty truffles, neither of which, very generously, were included on the bill.

Hotel La Tour has much to recommend it; the décor is contemporary and appealing, the food is definitely worth a return visit, the service was friendly and helpful and the issues of things being ordered but not being served or our coats hanging on the back of our chairs throughout our meal didn’t bother us that day. The wine list is modern, manageable and acceptably priced and we forgave it its lack of claret.

 

 

Wishing you a Bubbly Christmas

It’s that time of year again so I thought I would add a few sparkling suggestions for presents for your loved ones. Champagne is always a winner and the champagne houses really have the knack of creating great ways of making the lovely liquid even more desirable as a gift – so much so there is something for everyone.

Taittinger have created an award winning ‘Bubbles’ hologram-effect gift packaging for their Prestige Rosé and a similar design for Taittinger Brut Réserve NV and Vintage 2005. The 3D sparkling bubbles are so realistic that you don’t realise until you touch the side that the bubbles are not in 3D but completely flat. In fact it’s so special I wouldn’t buy this as a present but drink it whilst decorating the tree and hang the empty box(es) from the boughs !

The beautiful new decorative boxes for Taittinger

For couples both Krug and Taittinger have had the great gift idea of a bottle accompanied by two flutes. At Krug their Grand Cuvée box has a secret drawer containing two flutes, especially designed by Reidel to show the wonderful bouquet of the wine to its best advantage.

Taittinger à deux

Talking of sharing why not gift an event rather than a product, which is a sure way of participating yourself. There are a couple of interesting champagne events in the run up to the festive season. Consider it a vinous advent calendar.

Krug has joined the trend for pop-ups, (no pun intended). From this December 5 to 8, a driver from Krug’s Institute of Happiness will take you to 85 Swaines Lane – one of the most beautiful private houses in London for a dinner created by Michelin starred chef Nuno Mendes to complement Krug’s champagnes. .

Or in the same spirit of the warm up to the festive season you could always offer a couple of tickets (one for yourself of course) to the Berry Brothers and Rudd Very Special Vintage champagne tasting on 10th December.

If you prefer your Champagne tasting experience in the comfort of your own home Laura Clay winner of the prestigious UK Champagne Ambassador award in 2010 will come to your home to give a Champagne Masterclass with a selection of champagnes from hidden treasures to top cuvées to introduce you to the subtle complexities of this wine region. The budget and number of champagnes can be designed around a dinner or the number and tastes of your guests. Perfect for starting off the season in style.

For the ladies what better Champagne than a magnum of aptly named Femme De Champagne from Duval-Leroy presented in its elegant gift box.  It is the perfect wine for a lady, its name underlines the fact it is made by a woman : Sandrine Logette-Jardin, Chef de Cave at Duval-Leroy is the only woman of this rank in Champagne (see previous post by Laura Clay) and the company is also run by a woman, Carol Duval-Leroy.

Femme de Champagne

For something more original it’s worth remembering that Champagne is not the only wine that sparkles and recent years have seen the rise in the profile, quality and ensuing success of English Sparkling wines. West Sussex Nyetimber was the very first producer of English sparkling wine to craft wines made exclusively from the three celebrated varieties found in Champagne: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Their Classic Cuvee 2008 is now available in a Festive Celebrations Gift Box, perfect  for the more patriotic on your gift list.

The Festive Celebrations Gift Box for Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2008

Finally celebrate the 50th anniversary of James Bond films, and 40 years of Bollinger being his favourite tipple, with their  limited edition presentation box in the shape of a Walther PPK silencer. Perfect for the man in your life, it opens by aligning the three figures to 007 (of course) and by clicking on the gun logo button to reveal a bottle of the delicious Bollinger La Grande Année 2002. It ticks all the boxes Chic, fun and inventive, just like Mr. Bond – now all we need is to get Daniel to deliver……..

The name is Bollinger

 

 

Brilliant Brillat

Brillat Savarin, French philosopher, famous for his ‘Physiologie du goût’ written in 1825 was the first food and wine matcher, advising Graves wine with Poulard de Bresse and old Sauternes with oysters, insisting on changing wines with every course. What a wise man.

He also has a delicious cheese named after him. Brillat Savarin is a fresh, creamy cows milk cheese from Normandy and Burgundy. Our local ‘fromager’ Pierre Rollet Gerard, in the covered market in Libourne, prepares this cheese by slicing it in the middle and stuffing it with truffles. It is so delicious that just this one cheese suffices on the cheese board – no need for a selection. It is also perfect match with an older Pomerol – well known for the development of truffle aromas as they age.

Brillat Savarin with truffles

I was not that surprised then to find the match of Brillat Savarin and truffles on a menu recently – what did surprise me however was that is was suggested as a dessert. A Brillat Savarin cheesecake served with a truffle ice-cream. This was at the excellent ‘Restaurant 23’ in Leamington Spa. Chef Peter Knibb, came back to his home town in 2006 after working with various Michelin star chefs all over Europe and in February this year moved to a grade II listed Victorian building in a leafy avenue in the centre of town. It was delicious, may I suggest an old Sauternes as a match?

Brillat Savarin cheesecake with Truffle ice cream at Restaurant 23

 

Burgers and Bordeaux.

It may surprise you to know how much the French love Burgers. There are currently more than  1220 ‘Mcdos’ (as the French affectionately call McDonalds) serving 1.7 million meals a day ! However as befits bordeaux’s growing gastronomic reputation two local chefs are showing the french there is more to burgers than Mcdo.

Bruno Oliver left a bereaved fan club when he sold Le Café Gourmand a few years back. The gastronomic scene in Bordeaux was just not the same without his take on using fresh local produce in a fun atmosphere. We missed him despite his recipe books , TV programmes and blog. Despair no longer, Bruno is back in a new form. Never one to be behind a trend he has put a French accent on the street food which is so successful in the anglo saxon world adapting it to French cuisine. He says it is a return to his roots.

Bruno Oliver makes fresh Limousin burgers to order in his ‘camion’.

You will find his cute van bearing his franglaise logo ‘Camion by Oliver’ parked in various locations throughout the city – you can follow the itinerary on www.facebook.com/camion.byoliver. Excellent burgers from Limousin beef, traditional ‘jambon beurre’ sandwiches, great desserts and wine, of course. Hardly surprising considering his pedigree, Bruno’s grandfather, Raymond Olivier was from Langon (in the heart of Sauternes country) the chef-owner of 3 star Michelin Le Grand Véfour in Paris. He was also an innovator, creating the first ever French TV programme dedicated to cooking in the 50s. I’m sure he’d be proud of his grandson carrying on a family tradition.

If you prefer your street food off the street in more confirmable surroundings british Ben Lethbridge has just opened West Coast Burgers in the centre of Old Bordeaux. After Paris and a restaurant on the Bordeaux waterfront Ben decided to create a restaurant dedicated to quality but affordable burgers.

The West Coast burger with avocado, bacon and caramelized onions.

Also using Limousin beef  with a different speciality burger on the menu each day as well as a range including veggie and chicken burgers but also onion rings, coleslaw, a couple of salads and great desserts. He also offers clients the possibility to bring their own wines for a nominal corkage fee of 7 euros. Bordeaux and Burgers – a winner.

Try all the desserts at once with the ‘café gourmand’