A busy break to Budapest – Part 2

fullsizerender-2

Only we could end up at a Michelin Star restaurant without knowing it. My boyfriend and I arrived in Budapest on Friday evening and, being accustomed to the Parisian dining out scene, we thought we could show up to restaurants without reservations and wait for a table, as is our usual weekend struggle. Turns out not all cities work this way. Being a Brit, I should have remembered my roots; actually when I arrived in Paris I was astounded and frustrated by the amount of restaurants that did not accept reservations. Somewhere along the 4 years of living in this city, I realised, I had accepted this as par for the course when eating out.

My usual routine of travelling abroad involves scouting the local restaurant scene, researching online and chatting to my friends who had previously visited to recommend some spots. True to form, we arrived with a shortlist of five or so restaurants renowned for goulash, strudel and other typically Hungarian dishes. After being turned down for a table in several places, we even asked if we could book ahead for the next night – fully booked. I began to despair, starting to believe that KFC was going to be our only option for the weekend.

And so when we arrived at Borkonyha Winekitchen, either the waiter could see our visible desperation or we simply had a stroke of luck. They had a table free – at 10pm. Two hours and a few drinks later, we returned for our booking.

After being seated the friendly waiter asked if we would be interested in their tasting menu accompanied by wine. Perhaps the drinks from earlier had gone to my head or I was hungrier than I realised, but I thought we were onto an absolute bargain with the 20,000 Ft. price tag! Turns out my conversion maths was not up-to-speed; my boyfriend told me the euro equivalent with a smile as the waiter walked away. Despite the higher-than-anticipated bill at the end for me it was worth every cent.

We started with leg of rabbit, served with asparagus tips and cauliflower puree. I’m not usually a fan of cauliflower, but the seasoning made this dish so delicious. This was swiftly followed by a tasty cabbage and bacon ragout topped with confit de canard. It was so delicious, we mopped up every last drop with some bread from our three-bread variety basket, including a very moreish black bread.

We washed down the rest of our Hungarian white wine – seriously, don’t knock it till you try it – with our fish dish; a grilled crumble-topped sea bream served with green beans and my first taste of caviar. Another first was soon to follow with our next plate; tenderloin of deer accompanied by a crumble, rosemary beetroot and jus. We finished off the remainder of our red wine with a sweet treat; a variety of chocolate truffles, paired with orange sorbet and a slice of bloody orange cake.

At this point I was texting my friend Lauren who had recommended the spot to me, when she mentioned that it was in fact a Michelin Étoile restaurant. While I was surprised that we had managed to even secure a spot at this place on a busy Friday evening, I was not shocked by her revelation; the food had been amazing and was quite possibly the fanciest and most indulgent meal I will ever eat. So if you’re in Budapest, I would highly recommend this restaurant – just don’t take the chances I did and be sure to book in advance!

 

Advertisements

A busy break to Budapest: part 1

fullsizerender-3

“You can’t do Budapest in a weekend,” many of my friends and family told me as I mentioned our planned mini-break “Five days is probably minimum to get everything done.” If I could afford to take a week out, of course we would have planned a longer break together! Yet, being restricted by my boyfriend’s available holiday days and me wanting to be available for any upcoming job interviews, we knew we had to plan carefully if we wanted to make the most out of our busy whistle-stop tour of Budapest.

After a spot of Saturday lunch at the First Strudel House of Pest, we started out on a walking tour I had drafted the day before, making sure we would check off all the main sights on our list within just a few hours of daylight. On our way down to the river, we stumbled across a war memorial in Szabadság Square that is proving to be very controversial amongst the citizens of Hungary. The monument depicts the Archangel Gabriel being attacked by a German imperial Eagle, which -so its critics say- is an attempt to absolve the Hungarian state and its citizens from their active participation in sending 450,000 Jewish people to their deaths under Nazi occupation.

In front of this memorial lies a scattering of flowers, personal objects and photographs amongst some barbed wire. This is the protest from the citizens of Hungary who claim that, by depicting Hungary as an innocent angel being corrupted by evil, the state is attempting to re-write history, choosing to forget the extent to which they willingly complied and collaborated with the Nazi regime. Post-war remembrance and guilt, has always been a fascinating subject to me and was even the subject of one of my university essays on the history of France, and so, this site of protest is a must for any secret history nerds like myself.

After admiring the architecture of the magnificent red-roofed Parliament Building we continued along our riverside stroll, stopping at the Shoes on the Danube Bank – a very different memorial than we had seen earlier in the day. The memorial commemorates the many people, mostly Jews, who were killed on these banks during World War II; after being ordered to remove their shoes on the bank of the river, these people were shot and left to fall to their deaths. The sculpture is a very real reminder of the people who died here through representing the shoes that were left behind on the bank, as the river washed their bodies away.

The next stop of our walking tour was to cross the river on the iconic, albeit very windy Széchenyi Chain Bridge. The Danube may be the longest river in Europe, but while battling the wind on the bridge, it felt like we were crossing the widest river not only in Europe, but in the world. Needless to say, we were relieved to step into the still, sunny surroundings of the Buda side of the river. By this point, my boyfriend had started to complain about his feet hurting, so I agreed to a slight compromise – we would take the funicular up to the top of Buda Castle, taking a slower-paced stroll back down. He agreed begrudgingly. Yet, once we arrived at the summit and took in the magnificent panoramic view of the city, there were smiles all round. Of course, this may have partly been because he knew the torture of my guided walking tour was soon to end – with a trip to one of the city’s famous thermal baths.

We had several popular baths to choose from, but finally opted for the Rudas Thermal Baths, as recommended by our Airbnb host. Upon arrival, there were several options to choose from, but we didn’t hesitate to opt for their “wellness” session including access to several thermal baths as well as the panoramic view from their rooftop pool. It is a very surreal feeling when you step outside to temperatures of 5°C in nothing but your bikini or your swimming trunks (thank God this was not one of the naturist baths). And yet, once your shoulders are safely dipped below the surface of the water, there is no more natural and blissful feeling in the world, soothing your muscles post-14km-hike, all the while with a smug grin on our faces; we had proved to our family and friends that you can do Budapest in a weekend, with just a little determination, some meticulous planning and a very patient companion.

A weekend of wine without the hangover

blog-post

When you think of Paris, images of fresh baguettes, cheese and red wine come to mind. And you’re not wrong. There is, however, a more cosmopolitan side to Paris. Every weekend brings the opportunity to discover a new restaurant, a new cuisine, a new concept. This weekend, by complete chance, we dined at not one, but two relatively unknown restaurants offering the promise of beautiful-tasting natural wine, without the added side effect of a hangover the next morning.

Our first stop on the wine tour was Brutos, a French-Brazilian fusion restaurant in the 11th. Brutos has only been open for a month, so we were pleasantly surprised to get a reservation for four on a Friday evening without any problems. We started by sharing some parmesan fritters with some delicious natural white wine to work up an appetite. This was swiftly followed by some tasty beignets de morue and cervelle de veau (sometimes it’s best not to translate before eating).

They serve rare cuts of meat that you won’t find in a traditional brasserie and sothey don’t ask how you would like your meat cooked. Every dish is cooked to perfection, in the best way according to each cut of meat, to bring you the most flavour. My boyfriend and I both went for a slow-cooked lamb shoulder, served with houmous and farofa – a Brazilian fried flour side dish. This was accompanied by a red wine so pale and light, you may be forgiven for thinking we were drinking rosé instead. We finished with a bottle of orange wine (yes, it really does exist!) along with cooked apples served with crumble and dulce de leche.

After spending the next day DIY-ing in my boyfriend’s new apartment, we headed to Merguez & Pastrami around the corner from his place in the 9th. We had spotted the place a few weeks ago, thanks to it’s New-York-esque decor and so we were grateful to grab a spot at the bar on a busy Saturday evening. We started with the restaurant’s namesake of merguez sausages, alongside some veal meatballs served with a spicy dipping sauce and a selection of sesame-seed bagels and challah brioche – a pleasant change from your traditional Parisian bread basket. We both chose a schnitzel-topped tagliatelle dish in a garlic and parsley sauce for our main, washed down with a glass of naturel red wine from the Loire valley.

Natural wine is becoming more and more à la mode in Parisian restaurants and so, despite a higher-than-usual price tag, your head will thank you for it come Sunday. Besides the natural wine selection both of these spots offered, it was something of a rarity to the Parisian eating-out scene that made me want to return to these spots again; the friendly, welcoming and attentive staff. The dining-out experience in Paris can often be spoilt by rude waiting staff that you have to chase just to take your drinks order, something that shocked me when I arrived in this city. Let’s hope that this new “concept” of friendly service is here to stay so we finally feel that we get what we paid for.

Dreaming of some Southern Sunshine

fullsizerender-4

OK, I admit it. I kind of cheated on this one. I’ve been dying to write another post, but with a week filled with job interviews and tasks, as well as catching a cold, I haven’t found time to do much stuff besides sleeping; you and me both know that’s not worth a ‘gram. So under a grey sky and snow looming in Paris, I decided to take full advantage of #flashbackfriday to reminisce on my break to southern Italy in November.

Our trip got off to a very stressful start. We made the mistake of taking an Uber Pool to the airport and so arrived just as check-in was closing for our flight. In the run-up to our break, my weather app had promised sunny days and unheard of temperatures for late November. However, as our luck would have it, when we landed in Naples, the rain was pouring down on the city. Trying not to let this dampen our spirits, we headed into the historic centre for some pizza. After believing we were in a disarrayed queue for a good 20 minutes, we realised we had to give the waiter our name for a table. My boyfriend and I were starting to believe we had been cursed with all the bad luck we were having.

This all changed when the food arrived. As we were in the home of the pizza, it would have been rude not to head to Sorbillo – one of the most famed pizzerias in the city. We both chose the speck, mushroom and mozzarella pizza and a glass of red wine. Now, I don’t know what the French had been serving me all these years with mozzarella di bufala as this was out of this world. I’d never tasted anything so good! Feeling much more relaxed than a few hours beforehand, we spent the rest of the day walking around the historic centre of Naples. We were slightly disappointed by Naples as each beautiful building was ruined by scrawls of graffiti. Despite this, we managed to eat ourselves into a food-induced coma with the variety of complimentary apéro snacks and copious amount of pasta on offer in their bars and restaurants.

The next day, as the sun came out, we decided to explore further afield. After grabbing an early lunch (we had learnt our lesson from the day before) with a pizza in one of the oldest pizzerias in Naples, Da Michele, we took a train to Pompeii to visit the ruins of the ancient city engulfed by volcanic ash in the 79 AD eruption of neighbouring Mount Vesuvius. Before visiting, I’d only seen a few photographs of the people who lived here buried in volcanic ash, so I was taken aback by the size of this city, the level of preservation that exists here and the sight of the volcano, looking deceivingly peaceful in the distance.

Earlier in Naples, we had taken a ride with a chatty taxi driver who advised us to visit Sorrento, as he said it was the most beautiful spot in southern Italy. And so, after grabbing some well-deserved gelato, we hopped on another train to see what all the fuss was about.

Our luck had definitely shifted as we arrived on the opening night of their famed Christmas illuminations. Sorrento was a different world – there was an authentic and picturesque feeling to the city, which was the polar opposite of the graffitied streets we’d strolled around in Naples. After we’d worked up an appetite admiring the colourful architecture, we decided on Da Gigino; a cute restaurant hidden in a side street. We started with some parma ham and mozzarella di bufala (of course) followed by the best carbonara I had ever tasted and a mushroom risotto, all finished off with lambrusco, an Italian sparkling red wine. I would return to this romantic spot in a heartbeat, so if you’re in Sorrento, be sure to check this place out.

We had an early afternoon flight back to Paris the following day, so after enjoying breakfast on the rooftop terrace and a cheeky final pizza, we headed to the airport, not wanting to risk a repeat of our taxi fiasco a few days earlier. The surreal view of the volcano in the distance as we were preparing for take-off on the runway was the perfect ending to our weekend exploring the delights of Southern Italy. With this on my mind, I plan to spend the remainder of my Friday planning out our next mini-adventure at the end of the month to Budapest. It’s a hard life I lead, am I right?!

The Fairytale of the Department Store

fullsizerender-3

Window shopping is my go-to rainy afternoon activity. The world of Parisian department stores is ideal in this respect – filled to the brim with designer items I covet but could never afford, it is the perfect escape from reality.

I remember when I visited New York at the tender age of 17; I was wowed by seeing designer shops with my own eyes, featuring names I’d only even seen in glossy magazines when researching my GCSE Textile coursework. It seemed so fantastic, so fabulous to see these luxurious products in real life, imagining the kind of lifestyle led by the people who had the chance to own such items. I still get this fluttering feeling when I step into one of the many iconic department stores in Paris. It may sound cheesy, but it feels like I’m stepping into a fairytale; glimpsing at another world and the people who inhabit it.

Le Bon Marché in Paris’ chic 7th arrondissement is no exception to this rule. It is considered to be the world’s first department store and so is the pride of Parisians. From the get-go you will be dazzled by bright lights, iconic architecture and some of the most famous names in the fashion business.

After an hour or so of dragging my boyfriend around the luxury departments, we headed across to the world-famous La Grande Epicerie. This spot is a foodie’s fantasy with its selection of gourmet groceries, chefs preparing dishes in front of your eyes and countless aisles of food and drink imported from around the globe. From the wall of (mineral) waters to the endless variety of spices stocked on their shelves, it is a treat for all of your senses. .

Being an Brit living abroad, many people will often ask you what do you miss about the UK? Amongst the Frenchies, the Brits have a renowned reputation for having the worst food, so it is to their surprise that my answer always revolves around something food-related..(and my family of course – sorry Mum!)

Therefore, after hunting down some truffle salt and popping corn to satisfy my craving for some DIY popcorn, I headed to the UK aisle to grab a few essentials. Despite filling my basket with some home-comfort delights, I had to draw the line at paying 3,60€ for a tin of Heinz baked beans. Although it is all too easy for me to get swept away in this dream-like world, nothing will bring you crashing back down to earth like an over-inflated tin of baked beans. Yes, it has been imported from the UK. Yes, you cannot beat a tin of their tomatoey goodness. But no, I just could not justify spending this much on my staple student meal that, had I been in the UK, would have cost me a mere 70p.

Sure, one day when I’m rich and famous I won’t bat an eyelid about popping into Le Bon Marché for my new Chanel clutch, some expensive foundation and a tin of the most expensive beaked beans to reminisce on my student days… For now this remains a pipe-dream, staying well and truly on the shelf.

The Parisian Puzzle: Where to brunch?

unnamed

The art of brunching is a Parisian weekend staple. In provence, it is sometimes a struggle to find a quaint café to nurse your hangover or catch up with friends over a cup of coffee and some form of eggs due to many places being closed on a Sunday. In Paris, however, the choices are unlimited – whether you’re plutôt œuf poché or œuf au plat, everyone has their go-to brunch spot.

My personal favourite is Hardware Société around the corner from Sacré-Cœur. Being lazy is what weekends are all about, so this Australian-French café, being a mere 10 minutes walk from my place in Montmartre, is fast becoming my weekend tradition. Each weekend their Instagram account tempts you with their savoury and sweet specials, along with a variety of amazing dishes served by the friendliest staff you will come across in Paris – a real gem in my eyes.

Despite this being my golden spot, it is necessary to leave your comfort zone from time to time. I enlisted the help of my friends Lauren and Beya to share their favourite brunch spots whatever the occasion:

Where to brunch in Paris...

  • With a group of friends:  Pas de Loup in the 11th is one of the only places I know that accepts reservations – I have loved every single dish I have ever tried here so go wild, the world is your oyster. (Side note: their truffle popcorn is truly the bomb)
  • With your significant other: Lauren’s go-to is Buvette Gastrothèque in the 9th. Their signature dish is their croque monsieur, but Lauren swears by their scrambled eggs dish served with ham
  • When you’re hungover: To soak up your hangover, Beya recommends Animal Kitchen in the 10th, famous for their burgers and Beya’s personal favourite – nachos
  • When you’re on a budget: For a classic but inexpensive brunch, head to one of the various addresses of Pain Quotidien across the city with a mix of tartines and pastries
  • When you have a special occasion: On the pricey side, but as their buffet brunch comes with a glass of champagne you can dine in style at Peninsula in the 16th; perhaps not week-in week-out, unless you win the lottery overnight

The best brunch spots in Paris will inevitably continue to grow and change; always have your ear to the ground to be in-the-know about the new must-try resto .. Or if you’re out-of-the-loop like myself, have the best girl friends (who would, if finding the new “it” spot was an olympic sport, take gold, no questions asked).

Pink to make the boys wink?

fullsizerender-2

Continuing in the theme of battling the January Blues, my friend Lauren decided to throw a January Pinks party this weekend. It was purely coincidence that the date of this soirée coincided with hundreds of marches happening worldwide to fight for women’s rights.

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix about the suffragettes who fought for our right to vote. It seemed crazy to me that a century ago, women didn’t have the right to have their say in how their country was run. In that moment, I realised that, all too often, I take for granted the relative freedom I have to live my life how I see fit.

The events of the past year, politically speaking, have been a whirlwind, as more people are turning towards political extremes. I hear or see remarks that shock me and I get the impression that we are going back in time. This is a scary thought, when you reflect on how much progress has been made in terms of equality regardless of gender, race, religion or sexuality. And actually we have so much left to do.

You can’t help but be inspired from seeing images of millions of men and women marching together in solidarity this weekend. This is the kind of inclusive and empowering society that I want to live in, something that I feel has been lacking in recent months. It is our duty to ensure that no person should ever have to experience discrimination because of who they are.

We must all stand together to make sure we are always marching forwards and not backwards. After seeing the images of these marches, it has made me hopeful that this is still possible, regardless of what is happening around us. I want to live in an inclusive, multicultural society, free from hate and injustice. I want to have the same work opportunities as someone else with similar qualifications. I want to wear pink because I want to, not because I have to (with the small exception of parties with a pink dress code).

Battling the January Blues

fullsizerender

The secret to beating the January Blues? I’m no scientist or doctor of course, but an afternoon of indulgence and pampering seems to be key in my book.

For this reason, I self-prescribed myself a trip to L’Atelier de Beauté Anne Sémonin for a well-deserved massage, body scrub and facial session. The spot was recommended to me by a friend, after I mentioned I was looking to spend the remainder of my Christmas money on a relaxing treatment.

Lady Luck was certainly on my side, as I stumbled across a flash sale on Balinea, a website and app that allows you to reserve and pay for your beauty treatments in advance (a God-send for phone-phobic expats like myself). The treatment was down from the usual 150€ to 85€. This paired with an introduce-a-friend promo code*, meant I enjoyed an afternoon of relaxation for only 75€. And given the treatment I received, this was an absolute bargain in my eyes.

After being greeted my two lovely ladies, I made my way through to the treatment room. I laid down on the heated massage table (complete bliss) and we began with the body scrub. This was followed my a hot oil massage that left me so relaxed I could have easily drifted off into the land of nod. I’d had massages before, but this was without a doubt the best I had ever experienced – the right amount of pressure was applied without leaving me sore in the aftermath.

The facial is adapted to your skin type and so after cleansing and toning, I was given a treatment to clean and remove impurities with an exfoliating mask, followed by hot water vapour applied to my face. Next up was a mineral mask to revitalise my skin. As I have a combined skin type this was ideal to cleanse yet hydrate my face. My treatment concluded with a protecting cream and brightening serum to give it a coup d’éclat – as I glanced in the mirror I just had to pause and admire the way my face glowed.

Stepping out of the salon, I felt fresh, cleansed and most importantly, utterly relaxed. The post-festivities comedown combined with my relentless search for work during the past few weeks had taken its toll. While a self-prescribed pampering session will not make the January Blues disappear completely, it helped me feel rejuvenated and ready to continue the battle with (excuse the pun) a fresh face.

* For a 10€ discount on your first Balinea treatment enter this code at sign up: 68CPQUZ

Secrets of a King (or a Queen)

galettesderoi

Fancy being royalty for the day? Me too. Despite the French abolishing the monarchy centuries ago, for one day in January, us fellow mere peasants have the opportunity to do just that with the annual tradition of Galettes de Roi.

January as I know is traditionally a time of detox – following being overindulgent for the last month or so, many will attempt to pursue Dry January, eat more healthily and overcome our fears of the treadmill. Well, if you’re living in France, maybe it’s best to hold that thought, as with the arrival of the Epiphany on January 6th, you won’t be able to resist these sweet treats.

This feast day traditionally celebrates the arrival of the Kings to visit the baby Jesus, and so it is only apt, in the spirit of French equality, to give everybody the chance of becoming a King too. Inside each galette a small object or fève is hidden inside. Whoever finds the fève buried inside their slice (or, let’s face it, slices) of galette, is coronated with a paper crown to become the King or Queen. While not everyone can be born a princess, chances are that every little girl’s dream will come true at least once in their lifetime with this lottery. The odds are with us.

This year, I was lucky enough to taste three delicious galettes at my friend Beya’s house, including for the first time a traditional galette from the South. My luck didn’t extend to finding the fève and be crowned queen for the afternoon, but here’s hoping for next year.

Here is Beya’s insider tips and recipe for her traditional galette:

1. Pâte feuilletée / Puff pastry

“Who has time to make pastry these days?” Beya insisted to me and I totally agree.

Instead, buy your puff pastry or pâte feuilletée from your local bakery – it’s better quality than buying from your supermarket and doesn’t cost the earth

2. Crème d’Amande Filling 

  • Mix together 100g of sugar, 100g of almond powder and 100g of butter
  • Separate two eggs and add the egg yolks to the mix
  • Finish the concoction with a spoonful of rum, followed by a spoonful of orange-blossom water and finally, Beya’s secret ingredient, fresh vanilla

3. Making the Magic Happen 

  • Taking the smallest sheet of pastry, evenly spread the crème d’amande mixture onto it – don’t forget to put the fève in there!
  • Lay the second sheet of pastry on top and pierce a hole in the centre of the galette to allow the inside to cook through
  • Use a circular baking dish to cut of any excess pastry and seal the sides of the galette, before scoring the rim with a knife
  • Finally, glaze with a beaten egg and decorate the exterior to your heart’s content
  • Cover with baking paper and bake for 10 minutes at 200°c, followed by 20 minutes at 170°c

Allow to cool before serving, place a paper crown on top, ask your friends to bring over some bubbles and you’re ready for your royal banquet.

“Why Paris?” : Diary of an Expat

parisisalwaysagoodidea

“Paris is always a good idea” the saying goes. It was and still remains to this day my best idea.

As a Brit living abroad, I’m always asked the same question by people I meet – Why did you choose Paris? This and many other remarks are par for the course – You have an accent, where are you from? Where in England? [followed swiftly by I only know London] and what do you do in Paris? You’re working, really? These questions seem reserved for the expat community and in time, you can shoot back your cookie-cut answers quicker than the baggage handlers calls their next strike.

I had lived in Angers, a small student town in the west of France for a year during my studies. Here I fell in love with the French culture – everyone seemed more laidback here than in London, it was important to take time for meals, drinks, apéro together with family and friends, enjoying the moment. In all I found it a more sociable place.

After a short stint back to the UK to finish my degree, determined it would only be a passing visit, I found myself an internship at a marketing agency in Paris after graduation. I knew only two people – a classmate from university and his girlfriend. This thought would have terrified me today, but funnily enough my 22 year old self was quite carefree in that respect.

It would have been easy enough for me to pack my things up and return to the mothership after my internship ended. Yet, I knew deep down that this was where I wanted to be. I landed on my feet with another job, moved into my own flat in the 18th arrondissement and met some amazing colleagues who I now count among my closest friends. Little did I know it at this time, I was taking my first steps towards calling this place home.

Life can get you down sometimes and one bad event leads to another and yet another. I know as last year was probably my toughest yet.

But then moments like this happen and remind me, why I love calling this city my home. The French like to “flâner” – which means to walk around aimlessly, observing the world around you. When I first moved here,I didn’t understand this notion, I just wanted to get from A to B. I was told by many a Frenchman, that I should slow down and enjoy walking at a comfortable pace (cue the standard You English are always in a rush which is kind of rich for any Parisian to say). Nowadays flâner has become my Sunday afternoon ritual. If I need a pick-me-up I love nothing more than strolling the streets around Montmartre, peering in shop windows without intending to buy anything and basking in the glorious January sunshine. I have been fully-Frenchified.

Of course, this elaborate response would all be too much for the Uber driver on my way home, so I’ll be sticking with my cookie-cut “Ah you know, the French have better working conditions than the UK, so many holidays in comparison…” around him. It’s sure to keep the conversation flowing for the 10 minutes back to my apartment at least.