Tag Archives: Summer

The Vanilla Pod

9th July 2013

At the end of June my little sister A turned 21.  These days we seem to be all over the place, so getting the whole family around a table for a meal can be a challenge.

Between university, jobs and trips abroad we found an evening when everyone could be at home to celebrate.  

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We smartened up, toasted A with champagne, and then headed out for dinner.

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The restaurant is called The Vanilla Pod, and it’s in Marlow, tucked up against the River Thames.  It’s located in a refurbished town house, which used to be the home of T. S. Eliot.  The Vanilla Pod has been listed in the top 100 independent restaurants by the Good Food Guide 2013 and by the Sunday Times.

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There were eleven of us, so we fitted snugly into the upstairs dining room.  Wine was ordered, and we started on the warm bread that was brought to the table.  We each chose from a set menu that my parents had selected earlier in the week.

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An amuse-bouche of sweet potato soup arrived, which was seasoned with nutmeg.

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And then the real fun began…

I had Seared Lobster with Tomato Chutney to start.

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Those who didn’t have the lobster went for Smoked Duck Breast Salad with Portobello Mushroom Vinaigrette (no takers for Risotto of Ceps). 

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Which was exquisitely presented and tasted incredible.

In fact, all the starters disappeared rather quickly… luckily there was lots more on the way.  In honour of the summer, I went surf and turf – for my main course I chose Fillet Mignon of Beef with Oyster Mushrooms and Coffee Infused Celeriac. 

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Writing this out now is making my mouth water!

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The birthday girl had Gilt Head Sea Bream with Broken New Potatoes, Olive Sauce and Chorizo Sausage (I think she was probably making room for lots of cake later).

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And the prize for  ‘the dish I would have ordered if I could have had two mains’ is awarded to: Fillet of Lamb with Brioche and Orange Crumbs & Madeira Jus.

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That lamb is seriously beautiful.

To round off such wonderful food, the obvious choice was – cheese.  5 cheeses, to be more specific.  I’m sorry to say I can’t remember what they all were, except that one was from Crete and it was delicious. (Or was it Croatia…?  Note to self: less wine, more cheese note taking).

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L went for the Caramelized Vanilla Cream with Blackberry.

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Dragging myself away from the cheese, I did manage to get a picture of the Chocolate Taste, but only after D had started to battle it (to be fair, he is 9, and it was too good to be true).  Grandad’s had already completely gone.

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If you happen to find yourself in Marlow, do visit The Vanilla Pod – prices are more special occasion than everyday, but the food really is fantastic.

The website is here.

Happy Birthday A – I miss you!  (Try not to get too tanned).

Vanilla Pod on Urbanspoon

A Weekend In Provence

19th June 2013

I had a perfect long weekend away in the south of France.  Food, weather, location – it was all idyllic.

E’s parents live in the beautiful Provençal countryside and so when H and I were invited to visit, we jumped at the chance.

Our arrival was met with a chilled bottle of rosé wine… and not just any rosé.  This was the much discussed Miraval – the vineyard born baby of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.  The wine is made on their estate in Provence, Chateau Miraval.

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As it should be, the Jolie-Pitt bottle is rather sexy – and the wine is delicious.  It’s that very pale pink which is somehow bright at the same time.

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We sipped our wine, admired the garden, and settled in to that holiday feeling.

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And before we knew it, it was time for lunch (I promise it was just about midday when we started on the rosé…)

E’s Maman spoilt us all weekend with delicious fresh food, as you’ll see.

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Simple and healthy – ideal when you’re going to be slipping into a bikini later on.

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Grabbing a couple of apricots and bottle of water, we headed for the pool…

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Later on in the evening, we wandered around the garden – which is stunning.

Lavender

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Roses

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Poppies

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Isn’t this the loveliest place to sit?

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Before cocktail hour by the pool – freshly made margaritas.

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We slept very soundly after a dinner of salmon and sweet potato (which I forgot to photograph because I’m naughty – although this post will be pretty long as it is!).

It’s amazing how quiet it feels in the country when you’re used to being in London.  And it’s the best feeling in the world when you wake up and can sense the heat outside – stepping outside in pyjamas and eating croissant before the sun gets too hot.

After catching some sun the previous afternoon, we set off for a drive through the local villages.  The scenery is gorgeous, and the villages are shady and full of little cafés and dappled light.

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We picked a square with a fountain, and E selected a restaurant because it had grey chairs (the secret indicator of a good restaurant).  It turned out to be an excellent choice.

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That platter of amazingness that you can see is made up of four exquisite little dishes…

Le gaspacho de melon au basilic – I have never had melon gazpacho before but it was so refreshing.  I am definitely going to have a go at making it myself.

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Les petites tomates provençales farcies

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Le maquereau en escabèche et ses copeaux de légumes – mackerel is so good for you and the dressing was really crisp.

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La salade fraîcheur au magret de canard des Landes et ses framboises – I think this was my favourite.  I adore duck!

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E had foie gras and we finished our lunch with lychee sorbet and macarons. 

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The restaurant we were at is called La Place, and it is the ‘little sister’ restaurant of Oustau de Baumaniere in Les Baux.  We stumbled upon it completely by accident (thanks grey chairs)!  You can find it in Maussane-les-Alpilles – read about it on their website.

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The rest of the weekend was spent relaxing, reading, swimming, and of course, eating.

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Muggy, cloudy London can’t really complete right now can it?

At least I’ve got Glastonbury to look forward to!  Fingers crossed for the weather…

A massive thank you to E’s parents for looking after us so well.

Bisous

The Great Outdoors

14th May 2013

Eating food outside is almost guaranteed to make it taste better.  If you live in London, sunshine cannot be taken for granted, but the Great Outdoors can feel a little far out of reach.

The obvious compromise? Head to Hyde Park.  Pack up a picnic along the way, spread your blanket (oversized scarf) on the grass, and settle in with music and trashy magazines.

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The picnic food Mecca is Whole Foods, on Kensington High Street.  Three reasons why:

  1. They have a cheese ROOM
  2. Fresh bread, pastries, salsa, salads, cakes… the list goes on
  3. It’s a five minute walk from the park

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I walk around Whole Foods with barely disguised glee – if you want fancy crisps, drinks, olives, anything really – do yourself a favour and drop in.  K and I tried to be restrained but still ended up with a generous selection of course.

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The olive bar…

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Selection of breads – caramelised onion and goats cheese is nearest the front.

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This was a little out of date but I love the picture so I’ve included it anyway!

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This is what we ate – Courgette and Broccoli Salad with Sesame Seeds, Tomato Salsa, Olives, Focaccia (with Tomato and Herbs), Dip Society ‘Arti-Thyme’ Dip, Guacamole, Korean Chilli Rice Crackers, and Manomasa Chipotle & Lime Tortilla Chips.

Washed down with Firefly Orange and Passionfruit drink.

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These tortilla chips are amazing – you have to try them.

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The most more-ish snack in the world – the chilli rice cracker.  They go perfectly with a G&T if you fancy it.

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K had these Jawbone Jambox speakers with her, which are very loud for their size, and in a snazzy shade of blue.  I want some!

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We listened to Flight Facilities, flicked through magazines, and soaked up as much Vitamin D as possible.  It was perfect.

Bring back the sun! (Please?)