My (2-week) Life in France

La Belle France

After some substantial Eurostar hell, after the stress of finding an alternate route to the distant shores of France (along with +30k people), and after eventually arriving in Paris a few days later than planned, my winter life in France turned out to be wonderful, as usual. I just wish it could have been for longer than 2 weeks.

In the end, we had about 1.5 days in Paris before we headed up to see Mrs. LF’s family in Normandy. In those 36 hours or so, we managed to sample treats from Ladurée, Fauchon, Gérard Mulot, Pierre Hermé, have lunch at a traditional neighborhood bistrot (Chez Janou, on the edge of Le Marais), and dine in what is possibly one of the finest restaurants in the world right now (but that will be covered off in a later post).

Once in Normandy, we had our traditional Christmas dinner in a many centuries-old farmhouse in a remote village with a warm fireplace, followed by lunch there again the next day, and then a very enjoyable New Year’s Eve meal (and dancing) at a newly relaunched restaurant in Caen.

I hope you enjoy my little photo-diary post. It certainly was a delicious and fulsome trip. As always, you can click on any of the images for the full-resolution versions.

Le Menu de Paris

~ Petit-Déjeuner à Ladurée ~

Le Breakfast Room Upstairs at the Rue Royal Branch

Mrs. LF decided on Le Petit-Déjeuner Ladurée while I ordered a few pastries. It was all a bit expensive (as one would expect), but this was one of the better Chausson aux Pommes I've had, and the Kouign Amann - one of my favorite French pastries, and one that is hard to find here - was to die for!

Mrs. LF had an amazingly thick and luscious hot chocolate, while I opted for coffee - I thought the little silver pot of sweeteners was cute

Trading Paper for Pastries

We didn't have any (because it was breakfast time & we were already stuffed) but we spied some of their beautiful macarons on our way out down, heading down the stairs

The usual beautiful decorations within the Galeries Lafayette department store. We shopped the rest of the day & then had our special dinner (not covered in this post), so no more food photos from Day 1 - sorry 🙂

~ Pâtisseries de Gérard Mulot ~

I always try to stop by Gérard Mulot in Rue de Seine to sample some of their wonderful bread or pastries. So, the next morning we opted for some breakfast pastries from Mssr. Mulot & took them to a nearby café to have them with our morning caffeine injection - an inspired idea indeed

The amazingly tempting window of Gérard Mulot in Rue de Seine

Le Pain

L'étoffe petit-déjeuner

Les pâtisseries

I love this photo & it reminds me of my coffee and brilliant bready breakfast morsels from Mr. Mulot (we took them to a nearby café in the French way)

~ Déjeuner Chez Janou ~

My favorite barman in London, Alessandro Palazzi from Dukes Bar in Mayfair, had highly recommended this neighorhood bistrot (they have over 80 varieties of pastis, which is why he may have heard of them), and after Oliver Thring reported that he had a good meal there a few weeks prior to our trip, we figured we'd stop by to warm ourselves after looking through the shops of Le Marais and the art galleries of Place des Vosges

Yes, over 80 types of pastis, impressive...

They have posters from Marcel Pagnol's plays/movies on the walls and it really has a great atmosphere - I mean, if Gregg Wallace had been there, he might have said 'It doesn't get more Parisian than this' 🙂

Starter: Salade d'endives, Sauce au Bleu et Noix - a really nice simple salad to start things off

Main Course 1: Sauté de Lapin aux Olives & Pommes Fondantes - this was a classic bistrot dish that was well done, the sauce was very moreish and the rabbit delicious

Main Course 2: Filet d'elingue, Sauce Citronnel, Riz Pilaf - Mrs. LF's dish was also solid bistrot fare, a very good dish all in all

Dessert: Poêlú d'ananas et Mangue à la Vanille et Lait de Coco - a very refreshing end to the meal, and a great deal overall (they had a 3-course lunch deal for €12.80, not bad eh?). Included in the lunch were also some very delicious marinated olives before the starters arrived and a basket of dried fruits and nuts that were presented with the bill. Tres excellent!

On the way out we spied some of the many pastis (and other liquid treats) they had at the back side of their bar (which wrapped around and had two sides) - cool place & glad we paid a visit

~ Macarons de Chez Pierre Hermé ~

Alright, the moment had finally arrived. After having breakfast pastries from Mssr. Mulot, we went to pay a visit to the shrine of macarons that is Pierre Hermé. I have always been a loyal devotee of their rival, Ladurée, and was curious to try out what are meant to be the best macarons aorund. It looked more like a fancy shoe shop or something like that from outside. Me likey 🙂

Yes, here they were, finally, all arranged beautifully in the little chic boutique - but which ones to choose...?

And there were some beautiful cakes too - but too big for 2 people walking around Paris

They also had some interesting looking pastries, like this Isfahan Croissant, which I would *assume* gets its name from the famous Iranian region & maybe as it has rose flavoring or something like that (?). We finally tasted the macarons on the train ride up to Normandy and they were unbelievably good. I had previously been a proponent of Laduée, but Mr. Hermé's definitely have the edge: they have more filling, the texture in the middle is a tad bit goo-ier and they have some amazing & original flavor combinations, which appear to change with the seasons (somewhat). I am so glad this guy is finally coming to London in February 2010!

Le Menu de Normandie

~ Building up to the Big Day ~

So, we took the train up to Deauville in time to make it for dinner on Mrs. LF's mother's birthday...and were greeted with bright blue Norman skies - here is a typical house from old Deauville

Hotel Normandy Barrière, smack-bang in the center of beautiful Deauville - it has recently been upgraded to 5 stars, apparently

This little dog (yes - he is real) achieved a small measure of twitter fame when I posted pictures of him a few weeks ago. He was really the cutest thing I've ever seen, and was the mascot of a cute little shop in Trouville. Apparently, when the owners take him out for a walk, he decides where he will be taking them! Cheeky little thing 🙂

~ The Big Christmas (Eve) Dinner ~

We began the annual ritual of Christmas dinner late on Christmas Eve (as is the tradition in France) in a centuries-old farmhouse in a village of less than 100 people with a roaring fire and many presents under the tree. Equally as traditionally, we started with some foie gras, which was accompanied by a lovely jelly. It was very high quality & delectable

The accompanying Jurançon wine went beautifully with the foie gras, a much lighter and less cloyingly sweet wine than the traditional Sauternes, with a brightness and acidity that kept me coming back for more

After the foie gras, a turkey was presented in the middle of the table, after which a bit of chaos ensued

The turkey, which was courtesy of the farm next door, was served with a lovely stuffing and some of the best potatoes in the world - after all, they were from Mr. & Mrs. G's garden right outside

We had a nice little bordeaux to go with the poultry main course, it went down smoothly (quite a few times)

And of course, being in France, even though everyone was stuffed by this point, we had to have some cheese...luckily there were some amazing ones on offer from the region

Which of course necessitated some baguettes

But that wasn't all. You see, Mrs. G has a little Christmas tradition, it's called her secret cake. In fact, it seems to be used for most occasions, as her grandchildren request it for their birthdays and other celebrations. We all love it and look forward to it. And Mrs. LF has finally gotten the recipe after some crafty maneuvering . It is a very Norman cake, as it is essentially 5 tons of butter, layered together with a token bit of coffee flavor added. That is well scientific, innit. But seriously, it is veeeery good. And just look at that cute decoration...

A close-up of that buttery goodness

My 'petit' slice 🙂

The aftermath of the christmas cake - poor Frosty got caught in the fray...

Ah, did I mention we went through a good deal of Champagne both before and during the festivities? (Evidence above)

And so it was, our lovely Christmas Eve celebration...but wait, that's not all...

~ The Big Christmas (Day) Lunch ~

The next day we returned to do it all over again, and we were greeted by Mr. & Mrs. G's striking feline

We were warmly welcomed by the family and then plied with a fresh platter of smoked salmon...

...and meat...

...and the left-over wine...

Putting it all together

...but then realized that this wasn't even the main course...THIS was!

I had a visit from the cat, she was hungy for left-overs too 🙂

~ Indulgences Between Christmas & New Year’s ~

In the intervening period between Christmas and New Year's, Mrs. LF and I visited old friends and indulged some more...and some more...this was some champagne we had at a friend's house, which he said was his favorite (the only one he drinks). It was rather nice - anyone ever heard of it?

The same friends had prepared some homemade foie gras as well (it's all the rage right now in France), which was lovely with the champagne

As some of Mrs. LF's family lives in Caen, we spent a good deal of time there too...this was a nice shot of one of the many churches (it was soooo bright there during our trip)

I was quite proud of this shot taken from a back-alley in downtown Caen

After all that walking in the cold, we were hungry and decided to go to an Italian place which was packed (when most other places were empty) - it turned out to be a good decision & this was my HUGE turkey escalope w/ pasta (where did they think they were, America?), which was very good & satisfying

Mrs. LF's very satisfactory pizza from La Buona Tavola in Caen

I really liked the little bowl they served the parmesan in - it looked like the skin that usually encircles the rind

And my petit café to get me through the rest of the day

Another night, we went for a couscous with friends in Deauville - it's called Restaurant Berbère ( & they served some of the best couscous I've had - look at the beautiful snow-like couscous, it was feather-light & amazing!

The main courses were beautifully presented & really delicious

The meat fell off the bone and was to die for - yum!

~ Images from Another Year’s Passing at Villa Eugène ~

We had a very small New Year's celebration with Mrs. LF's brother and wife. We went to a new & very stylish restaurant in Caen called Villa Eugéne (, which had a great all-inclusive New Year's Eve menu for €82/person, including about 7 courses, canapés & une coupe de champagne

We started with an assortment of canapés, which came with a glass of champagne (I believe it was Moët and it was nice)

Ah yes, here's a shot of that Moët champagne - they had very pretty water glasses too

Oeufs de Caille au Foie Gras & Toc' l'oeuf aux Truffes - a very well presented and delicate start to the meal

Carpaccio de Homard Juste Tièd à l'huile d'Argan - a nice little lobster dish perfumed with Argan oil

Saint-Jacques Trufées en Habit d'algues, Services avec une Crème Truffe - the scallops were cooked well & cleverly concealed in green (algues), though the truffle didn't exactly come through for me

We were drinking a fairly nice bottle of Pouilly-Fumé alongside all of this fishy stuff…but back to the food

Mrs. LF's brother had decided to order some red wine to accompany the main course. It was a wine known by the short-hand name of 'Moulis' in France, and is apparently quite well known. It was a nice little wine, and all the components were there, I think it just needed a year or two more in bottle for it to really shine

Suprême de Chapon au Foie Gras et Morilles - the poultry main was served with two little fried numbers alongside (right), with a sauce of morille which was quite rich. Chapon is a castrated chicken, and this procedure is meant to increase tenderness, moistness and certainly was tender and tasted good but nothing out of this world. The stuffing within the chapon was a nice little surprise

Cromesquis de Camembert, Bouqet de Salade - these were some pretty ordinary cheese balls, but they were prettily presented as everything else had been

Chocolat Éphémère - this was a 'solid' chocolate dessert, whose shell melted when the hot chocolate was poured on top...I enjoyed it, but then again I enjoy most things with dark chocolate 🙂

Mousse Mangue Nougat aux Éclats de Macarons - this was actually better than the chocolate dessert and a very refreshing end to what had become a very long & enjoyable evening/morning

Well, the music was getting louder, people were dancing, I was a minor celebrity (being the only American, everyone wanted to tell me how much they had enjoyed their vacation there - whether 1 year or 20 years ago), it was now 2010 and I was going to need some coffee to get me through this night. It was served in those great cups that look like they're crinkled plastic...I saw them in the Conran Shop not long ago and have been tempted to buy them...I think they're really cool!

And so it was, a grand finale to 2009. Here’s looking at you 2010 – in the words of John Lenon, I hope it’s a good one…!

L’Espérance – A Star is Reborn Along the River

52, rue Abbé Alix
14 200 Hérouville-Saint-Clair
Reservations: +33 (0)2 31 44 97 10

Entrées around €10-15, Mains around €20, Set menu at €34 (3-courses + amuse bouche) or €40 (same menu + cheese, 1 glass of wine & 1 coffee)

A lovely location with a high standard of food at very affordable prices

A lovely location with a high standard of food at very affordable prices

A weekend in Normandy

After hosting my wife’s nephew for a week in London, it was time to return him to his parents in Normandy. We decided to take the ferry from Portsmouth to Caen as this is the most direct route to their home, and left on the mid-afternoon boat two Fridays ago.

On the Saturday night, Mrs. LF’s brother and his wife had invited us out to a meal nearby their home in the suburbs of Caen. We were very much looking forward to the meal as the chef, Pascal Angenard, is well known to my wife and her family. Mrs. LF used to look after his daughter when she was younger and has very fond memories of hanging out in Pascal’s former restaurant in Deauville, which was called Le Spinnaker and carried a Michelin star for many years, as she got to eat many of the leftovers from the kitchen.

Pascal has recently opened up a new restaurant called L’Esperance which is situated on the inlet that connects the port of Ouistreham (where the cross-channel ferries dock) to the interior of Caen.

A view of the restaurant from the riverside

A view of the restaurant from the riverside

The restaurant was formerly a hotel and Pascal and his partner Claudine have completely renovated the building inside and out to create a very pleasant and modern space. They live on the large top floor of the building and the restaurant is situated on the raised ground floor with great views of the water. There are also plans to build a terrace and create an outdoor dining area.

The newly decorated interior

The newly decorated interior

The restaurant is quite sizeable, bright and has an attractive bar to your right upon entering. A nice feature is that the upstairs kitchen is visible to diners through a large glass window. As we peered into the kitchen, Pascal saw us and came out to greet us. Apparently he rarely if ever does this as he is quite a reserved man and a perfectionist in the kitchen. Everyone was introduced and he explained that the part of the kitchen we could see was only where the dishes get ‘finished’ and that the main kitchen was on the lower floor.

Our table – ‘quietude’

Our table – ‘quietude’

Menus, menus – but just choose what you like

We were soon seated at our table and began looking through the menus. There is an à la carte menu which does not change much and also two set menus (‘Le Menu du Canal’ or ‘Le Plats Canaille’) both of which have three choices each for the starter, main and dessert but are priced slightly differently. In addition, Claudine told us about the daily specials, a few of which sounded particularly appetizing. My brother in-law said that we should just order what we wanted regardless of what menu it happened to be on and they would sort it out later. He also explained that in most restaurants in France (unless they are very high-end), you usually can’t do this because restaurateurs tend to want to stick strictly to their already prepared menus, but that since we knew them it would be okay. That sounded like a good plan :).

Puffy canapés

Puffy canapés

The canapés of salmon mousse and pepperoni were both nice and the little puff pastry well cooked and light. To me, they were like very good quality homemade canapés you would have at someone’s house in France before dinner to go with your mandatory glass(es) of champagne.

Amuse Bouche: cauliflower velouté

Amuse Bouche: cauliflower velouté

This was chilled, rather thick and infused with the flavor of cauliflower. I am not the biggest lover of cauliflower in the world (wouldn’t eat it up until 4-5 years ago), but it was well seasoned, flavorful and made a good first impression. 5/10.

Crab salad on a sable biscuit

Starter: Crab salad on a sable biscuit

I loved this starter, which I found to be quite original. The fresh crab meat was delightfully sweet, and had been mixed with ripe tomatoes. On its own it would have just been some good crab with a little dressing, but the foundation of the dish was a homemade sable biscuit, which gave it a solid structure and held everything together. The biscuit was slightly sweet and blended surprisingly well with the delicate flavors of the sea. This was a simple yet original dish that was well conceived and well executed. 7/10.

Starter 2: Four-spice duck foie gras with red onion chutney and toasted ficelle

Starter: Four-spice duck foie gras with red onion chutney and toasted ficelle

Mrs. LF explained to me that Pascal has always made his own foie gras, which is a nice thing to see, especially in this day and age. This particular version was the special of the day and came served with red onion chutney on the side, along with two thin, toasted slices of bread (the best type of toast for foie gras – oftentimes it is way too thick). It looked like it had been de-veined and was truly excellent. 8/10.

We had ordered a Chablis 1er Cru upon sitting down, which obviously went much better with my first course of crab then the foie gras. It was a nice example, being close to bone dry and with a nice mineral core. It had good fruit on the palate and quite a bit of length on the finish. Nothing out of the ordinary, but solid Chablis. 6.5/10.

Main: Sole Normande with chanterelle mushrooms & potato

Main: Sole Normande with chanterelle mushrooms & potato

The sole was another accomplished dish. Again, nothing fancy, just a perfectly cooked fish (look at how well browned it was on the outside), with a rich cream sauce – what else do you expect in Normandy?! – that had a bit of bite to it. 7.5/10.

Sea bass fillet, fresh salmon stuffing, with savory puff pastry, seasonal vegetables & a tangy sauce

Sea bass fillet, fresh salmon stuffing, with savory puff pastry, seasonal vegetables & a tangy sauce

My mother in-law had the bar (which I understand to translate as either sea bass or grouper – it looked like sea bass to me) and said it was excellent. I noticed it had what appeared to be another sable biscuit, although Mrs. LF informed me that it was a ‘feuillete’ (or savory ‘puff pastry’ in English), and wondered whether it was as successful in this dish as the pastry element had been in mine. As my mother in-law is even more, shall we say ‘direct’, than my wife is, we would have known very quickly if something had been amiss.

To go with the main courses (which were mainly fish dishes), we had ordered a bottle of Sancerre Rouge, which I had never had before. It was served slightly chilled, much like young Beaujolais, but tasted more like a Pinot Noir and was really nice. It had soft notes of red fruit and a refreshing acidity which performed a good balancing act. It was a great, light red wine to accompany the seafood flavors. 7.5/10.

Apricot tart with frangipane

Dessert: Apricot tart with frangipane

Most of the table opted for one of the special desserts of the day, which I believe was an apricot tart of some kind with frangipane. Pascal’s father was a pâtissier, and that helped to explain the high quality of the pastry in this dessert, as well as that present in some of the other dishes we’d had. It was well cooked with just the right texture and thickness. It wasn’t what Mrs. LF had been expecting (she had thought it was a dessert she had fond memories of from Le Spinnaker), but she liked it nonetheless. 6/10.

Dessert: Crispy biscuit, roast apple in a toffee cream, ginger bread ice cream

Dessert: Crispy biscuit, roast apple in a toffee cream, ginger bread ice cream

I was the rebel of the bunch and opted for the caramel apple dessert which was on the menu (how can that combination ever be bad?!). The apples certainly tasted much better than they looked on the plate. They had retained their shape but very were soft and full of toffee flavor. The gingerbread ice cream cut through this Halloween sweetness and the little crispy chip had a nice burnt, bittersweet caramel taste to it, with little accents of pistachio. A satisfying finish to the meal. 7/10.

Petit fours of soft chocolate mousse

Petit fours of soft chocolate mousse

A strong glass of calvados later

After the meal, we were one of the last tables left, and Pascal and Claudine came over to our table to say hello. They offered us a glass of whatever champagne or spirit we wanted on the house, so I figured I’d opt for the local speciality they had first offered, calvados. Now, I fully admit that I am a bit of an amateur and lightweight when it comes to full-on spirits, but I can confidently say this was one strong glass of calvados…I sipped it very slowly for a period of half an hour or so.

Although I couldn’t understand most of what was being said (can you believe I haven’t learned French even though I’m married to a French woman – shame on me!), I did pick up some of it, and got some translation here and there. Pascal seems like a shy but extremely sweet man, and we did manage to communicate regarding the world of restaurants and cooking, to some degree. I was fascinated to learn that his favourite chef is currently Jamie Oliver – he has seen all of his programs (even the school dinner ones) and is a real fan of his approach to food and of what he is trying to do through all of his various projects. I didn’t know they showed his programs with translations in France. He also said that, in his opinion, the UK (London particularly) was currently the center of world gastronomy. He feels there are so many talented chefs in the capital city right now that it is probably one of the most exciting dining cities to be in food-wise. In some ways I agreed, and said we’d be happy to host him and Claudine anytime they wanted to visit. So hopefully I can update you on that if such a visit ever transpires.

After this relaxing chat, we piled back into my brother in-laws car, and slowly zig-zagged our way back to their house down the deserted country back roads. A lovely evening, and I was ready for bed.

The nitty gritty

The food had been very good overall: simple but confidently and precisely cooked. Keeping in mind that it is located in a small town outside of Caen, and that its patrons are not the same as you would find in Paris or even Deauville, it is a high standard of food for the area which I think represents very good value for money (at €34 for the 3-course menu). Pascal had been a consistent 1 Star Michelin chef at his previous restaurant, and you definitely see flares of his skill and attention to detail in some of the dishes. The restaurant was full and had a nice but quiet buzz to it. The service was okay, although there were only a couple of waiters handling the whole restaurant, which meant we sometimes poured our own wine, but it was no big deal. If you ever happen to be in the area, it would definitely be a nice place to have a lazy lunch or a leisurely summer evening meal.


Ambience: 7/10

Service: 6/10

Food: 7/10

Wine List: 6/10 (not a long list, but well selected producers)

Wine Selected: 7/10 (the Sancerre Rouge was new for me and fit the bill)

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have only dined at L’Espérance once, though Mrs. LF has dined there twice and knows the chef.*