Le Petit Bistrot, Montpellier

After seeing this eatery raved about on TripAdvisor (at time of writing it’s the number 2 restaurant in Montpellier), I knew I just had to try and get a table at this little gem, which is run entirely by the owner, whose name I’ve since found out is Nicolas.

When I arrived at Le Petit Bistrot, I was delighted to see a few free tables outside, but when I asked the owner informed me that he was fully booked for the whole night – sacré bleu! He then mentioned that there was one, very small table right next to the kitchen inside but warned me it would get really warm and stuffy as he was cooking. But I would not be deterred and was dead-set on eating here – especially if it meant I got to see all the dishes going out.

So I was seated at my little table and the first thing that struck me was how absolutely tiny the whole place was. Le Petit Bistrot seats, at full capacity, about 12 people at a time and the kitchen is equally petit. Behind the mirror in the picture below I think there are a few hobs and a microwave, so we’re talking about a cooking space smaller than most domestic kitchens. And when I said the owner ran everything, I meant it. It was amazing to see him juggling pouring drinks, cooking, washing up, serving food and dealing with bill payments in such an unfazed manner – it’s understandable that he shuts the bistro at the weekend because he must be knackered!

MAIN COURSE

Nicolas really took the time to explain to me (and every other customer) exactly how he made each dish on offer. There are three main courses to choose from and, if you like the sound of all of them, you can have a Gormound Bistro – which is a platter comprised of smaller portions of the three options. It won’t surprise you at all that this is what I opted for. My main course briefly consisted of:

  • Duck, fried with duck fat and slowly cooked, sandwiched between two layers of fluffy, creamy mashed potato.
  • Pan-fried chicken, served with a little glass of ratatouille topped with goat’s cream cheese – which can be served hot or  cold (he recommended cold, so that’s what I did).
  • Lentils, which are fried in duck fat, shallots and lardons – topped with two scallops.

All of this was served with a basket of bread, and a medium bodied red wine (he wanted to find out exactly what sort of red wine I liked and based what he served me on that). Where do I begin? The duck and mashed potato was like the best Shepard’s Pie you’ve ever had, creamy and rich with the flavour of the duck enhanced by the fat used in the cooking process. The chicken breast was moist and delicious, especially with a sprinkle of the stuff pictured below, which is a mild chilli powder mixed with other spices (another recommendation from the owner). The cold ratatouille was absolutely divine on bread and the richness of the goat’s cream cheese was cut through by the acidity of the tomatoes and veg. My favourite element of the whole plate was the lentils and scallops – firstly, because the scallops were cooked perfectly and secondly was because I have never tasted more delicious lentils in my life. Combined they went perfectly together and on bread the lentils were fantastic on their own.

Chili seasoning

DESSERT

After tasting how good all three dishes of the main course were, I knew I had to have dessert. And at just 6 euros for the Gourmond Dessert I figured it was good value for money too. On my dessert platter were three French classics: Chocolate Fondue, Creme Brûlée and a white peach crumble.

petit desserts

All were executed to perfection, especially the oozing chocolate fondue. Was also lovely seeing my Creme Brûlée torched in front of my own eyes, which formed a hard top that nicely cracked when attacked with a spoon. The creamy goodness underneath was heavenly and strong with vanilla. Also served with this was an espresso – my first one ever (if you exclude the odd – well, quite frequent – espresso martini). I’ve always assumed I wouldn’t like it but, in fact, with a teaspoon of sugar it’s a very nice way to round off a meal!

All in all I had a fantastic night at the Le Petit Bistrot – with the added benefit of being able to chat to the chef all evening. He gave me loads of tips about cooking and made time to chat to me despite the fact he was clearly run off his feet! If I ever find myself in Montpellier again, I’ll be sure to ring ahead and book a table at this lovely little eatery. – especially as in the 2 hours I was there the owner turned away about 6 groups of people.

Le Petit Bistrot offers amazing value for money and an intimate setting to enjoy tasty, home-cooked food – elevated to a higher level by classy presentation and amazing ingredients. If you’re visiting Montpellier, you simply must spend an evening in this delightful little eatery.

Le Petit Bistrot

My Montpellier adventure didn’t stop there – I also had a wonderful meal in a slightly larger restaurant in the Old Town, a wine bar in the north of the Old Town and enjoyed loads of the historic sights! For more stuff like this follow me on Facebook!

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Le Grillardin, Montpellier

Recently I was sent to Montpellier for work and got to spend a few days in this beautiful and culturally rich town. My first night there mostly consisted of wandering the old town’s narrow streets – taking in the beautiful architecture and relaxed way of life.

I was looking for somewhere to eat after trying to go to Le Petit Bistrot only to find it was closed in Tuesday evenings (don’t worry, I still got to eat there the next night). I did a bit of exploring and came across a small, leafy square containing several restaurants – the busiest of these being Le Grillardin. I always think this is a good indication of a decent eatery, particularly as many of those eating outside seemed to be locals.

The staff were very attentive and, after witnessing my poor efforts at French, gave me an English menu to browse. I ordered a glass of red and had a look at what they had to offer. The first thing worth mentioning is that the setting of this eatery is just perfect – you get to really take in the atmosphere and the surroundings are authentically that of the true Montpellier Old Town. Plus a full view of the square made for great people watching!

Le grillardin view

Before I’d settled on what to have to eat, a waitress bought out a complementary amuse-bouche – which she told me was a gazpacho of carrot, tomato and peppers. It had a chunky texture and was served chilled in a little shot glass. It was a really refreshing start to the meal and I always think providing a little freebie like that is a classy touch for any restaurant.

gazpacho

STARTER

For starters I ordered trotter meat, fried with shallots and accompanied by a salad. When it arrived I also found it had a lovely little puff pastry slice garnishing the top too, as well as the obligatory basket of bread (which, being France, was extremely good). Having the trotter meat in a salad was the perfect way to offset the richness of the pork, and the slither of pastry provided a nice contracting texture. What a perfect introduction to the food here!

MAIN COURSE

For main course I decided on fish of the day served with artichoke puree, crystalised lemon and sour cream. The waiter did kindly tell me what the fish of the day was but unfortunately I’ve forgotten the name of it – it’s a fish caught in the Atlantic ocean in the north of France. The dish that arrived was simply but very elegantly presented and I almost forgot to take a picture before I started stuffing my face (fortunately I didn’t though – that would’ve been a shame). The fish I would say was quite similar to cod but with a firmer, meatier texture (most comparable with something like monkfish). The artichoke purée was silky smooth and strong in flavour but didn’t overpower the fish and, when combined with the sauce (which I assumed was the sour cream with lemon), the three elements came together beautifully.

There were a couple of other elements to bring a bit of variety in texture and flavour dotted around the plate – a lone raspberry, some sort of crumbly stuff (this might be the crystilised lemon) and some skinny courgetti. All in all, I was really pleased with my first eating experience in Montpellier – I would say the prices at le Grilladin are reasonable, as their dishes are quite elevated in terms of ingredients and presentation. Service was great and they also advised me of a little bar to go and enjoy a glass of wine at afterwards – which was called L’Amuse Vin and only about a 1 minute walk away.

CREPES

The walk from the Old Town back to my hotel was around 30 minutes and, as I approached the popular Place de la Comédie I found myself hankering after something sweet. Fortunately there was a place doing crepes outside on the bustling Rue de la Loge – I ordered a nutella one and it was cooked perfectly in front of me. The crepes man even let me take a cheeky snap of him. There was no scrimping on the Nutella, which was very pleasing, and two nights later I even went back to try one with nutella and chantilly – which was basically like the poshest, best whippy cream I’ve ever had (and was worth walking home unaware of the copius amounts of cream on my face for).

My Montpellier adventure didn’t stop there – I also ate at a tiny bistro entirely run by one brave man, a wine bar in the north of the Old Town and enjoyed loads of the historic sights! For more stuff like this follow me on Facebook!

Barrica, Soho

Barrica is a tapas bar located in Soho, London, offering both traditional and innovative Spanish food.

I originally ended up at Barrica as the result of an excellent lunchtime deal via Groupon, offering 3 courses plus a glass of cava for just £19. The restaurant has excellent reviews online and has recently been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand.

The decor is very traditional for a tapas bar of this sort, with a large bar to your left as you enter and tables beyond this. The cava we received on arrival was cold, crispy and actually complemented everything I ate very well, as I mostly went for seafood.

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The Food

The set menu offered a wide variety of choices, with about 5 or 6 different options for your starter and main course, and 4 for dessert. I was feeling adventurous and, as I have never tried black squid ink before, ordered squid ink rice with alioli to start. It was a really interesting tasting experience – the essence of seafood permeated the rice without any actually being in the dish. The alioli was the perfect accompaniment and packed a powerful garlicy punch. My dining companion opted for the chicken croquettes which, on arrival, I was quite jealous of as they looked so appetising and well-presented! I managed to haggle for a piece of one and the taste lived up to the appearance – an extremely crisp, breaded outside and succulent, tender pieces of chicken within, plus a lovely satisfying ooze of chicken fat/oil when you bit into it.

Main course next and I continued my seafood binge by ordering octopus leg, which had obviously been cooked very slowly for a long time, served on a bed of chickpeas and pickled beetroot. The octopus was gorgeous and had a magnificent, buttery texture that your knife just slid through – as well as some lovely little crispy bits on the outside. The beetroot and chickpeas – served cold – cut through the octopus perfectly and prevented the whole dish from seeming too rich. My companion, after much deliberation, decided on the Hake a la plancha, served with carrots and onions. This was again a really aesthetically pleasing dish, with the hake and criss-cross lashings of sauce being the star of the show. The fish (which I also blagged a taste of – doing well, aren’t I?) was perfectly cooked and kept it’s steaky texture whilst also being melt-in-the-mouth soft. The sauce did a good job of enhancing the delicate flavour of the fish, rather than overpowering it.

It’s worth saying here that it was incredibly challenging to settle on one main or starter to eat. Offerings also included Ibericon pork shoulder and prawns a la plancha. My octopus had a £3 supplement – understandable, I think, given it’s not a cheap ingredient (and I’ll never resent paying for something that tastes delicious).

I’m not really a dessert person if I’m honest, which is why when I saw goats cheese ice cream, thyme shortbread and fruit coole on the menu I was intrigued. I have never eaten goat’s cheese ice cream before but, having sampled some goats cheese churros I know that this usually savoury ingredient can absolutely shine in a sweet context.

I was not disappointed – in fact that’s a real understatement, because what arrived in front of me was quite possibly the best dessert I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant. When judges on Great British Menu, Masterchef and the like talk about the balance of flavours I always fob it off as general food critic semantics, but this dessert demonstrated the power of being bold but balanced. The ice cream was sweet, but the undeniable tang of the goat cheese came through a treat. The smooth creamy texture of this was contrasted with the very crumbly, salty thyme shortbread – which was thin and had more of a dark brown colour than I expected (almost tweel-like). The coole was sharp and not too thick, so it nicely coated everything else in the dish and, when you combined all three of these elements, the result was a journey of flavours and textures in the mouth. It was just absolutely perfectly executed, unfussy but elegant and one day, when I’m feeling adventurous, I will definitely try to recreate it at home.

Was the service good? Yes. Was the food? Absolutely. And was it all-in-all good value for money? Definitely. When I am in London next, I will find an excuse to go back to this unpresuming tapas bar and taste more of what they have on offer. Barrica know what they do best, and I think there’ll be plenty more accolades and awards to follow their well-deserved Bib Gourmand.

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The Regency, Brighton

The Regency boosts a range of amazing reviews from actual experts like Rick Stein and Jay Rayner, so you really don’t need a mere serial gobbler like me to tell you to pay this Brighton establishment a visit. 

Location & History

Located on the seafront corner of Regency Square, The Regency is one of the oldest restaurants in Brighton. From what I understand it’s been run by the same family for years, who are Greek and experts at delivering simply cooked, delicious seafood.

I only went there for the first time a few months ago, but since I’ve returned multiple times and it’s become one of my favourites. The decor is simple but perfectly welcoming and, despite the large size of the restaurant, it runs like a well-oiled machine with attentive staff and reasonable service.

The Food

Food-wise, my first visit was the perfect introduction – we started with a plate of battered whitebait. The thin layer of batter coating each fish was light and let the flavour of the whitebait shine through.

Then came the main event – their Extravaganza Shellfish Platter – which is served hot. Firstly, I’d just like to point out that at just £44.95 this is absolutely stonking value for money. The platter easily serves 2 – although allegedly some have tackled it solo (I salute you) – and with a side like their fish n’ chip shop style chips even two starving, greedy people will be satisfied.

In brief their platter consists of: a whole lobster thermador, muscles in garlic, three scallops in their shells with some sort of magical garlic buttery liquid, clams, two oysters parmiggiano and garlic prawns. With everything cooked to perfection and served hot, it was quite literally a spiritual experience. We didn’t have room for dessert, so simply finished off our bottle of Chillian Merlot (from their, also very reasonable, wine list) and went home to fall into an extremely decadent crustacean-induced coma.

My next visit I wanted to try something different so, to start, I ordered the calamari. I have extremely high standards for calamari, having been disappointed by quite a few soggy, bland varieties in days gone by. The crispy yet succulent squid that arrived in front of me looked good and tasted even better. As per the whitebait the batter was light and didn’t override the star of the dish – the tender squid. My dining companion decided to go Greek and have the Tzatziki with pitta bread. As you’d expect, it was excellent.

Next I decided to give the grilled king prawns with garlic a go. And when they say ‘with garlic’ – they really mean it. Unlike other restaurants, who might err slightly on the side of caution, The Regency deliver a ballsy punch of garlic without overpowering the fresh and succulent prawns. I’m an avid ketchup fan, but mopping up the sauces the prawns came in with chips was just heavenly! My dining companion decided on the deep fried seafood platter , which at £9.50 reflects once again the outstanding value for money here. The platter comprises of Cod, Scampi, Calamari, Whitebait and King Prawn – I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that it was extremely good.

You certainly won’t ever leave the Regency hungry, portion sizes are decent – and I can really put it away when it comes to food. The restaurant is always busy, so I’d suggest booking a table in advance, especially on Friday and Saturday nights (I’ve gone on a whim once to find it was fully booked all night – tragic!).

And it’s not just local Brighton folk flocking to this seafood Mecca, personalities who have passed through The Regency’s doors include Carl Weathers (as in ACTUAL Apollo Creed), Chris Eubank (well it is Brighton) and my favourite most obscure visitor Hideo Kojima, of Metal Gear Solid fame. In the restaurant there is a whole wall of famous faces pictured on their visit – you can also see these on The Regency’s Facebook page.

What I love most about this place really is it’s unfussy nature. They know what they’re good at and their fairly large menu means you’ll keep coming back. In Jay Rayner’s words (and there’s a hard man to please): “If you want fish, simply but expertly cooked at a price that won’t make you feel like you bought the fishing boat that landed the ingredients, there’s not much to beat The Regency.”

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Dinnertime: Curried Goat, Roti, Rice & Beans with Coriander Yogurt

Goat is an underused but fabulous meat. It’s good value for money and has a delicious, rich flavour. There are a variety of curried goat recipes out there, this one is adapted from Patrick Willams’ recipe for Jamaican Curried Goat. I serve it with rice and beans, roti and coriander yogurt.

I like spice, but unfortunately spice doesn’t really like me – so this has a nice kick but isn’t too hot, as you remove the whole scotch bonnets at the end of cooking. It’s worth saying that mine is in no way a traditional curried goat, I’ve bastardised it to buggery. I find its best to cook the curry the day before you want it.

Cost

The most expensive thing was the goat at £6.15 for 700g (on the bone). Next would probably be all the spices, which cost one or two quid a pop but were already in my spice cupboard. Approximate cost: £12

Serves 6

Ingredients

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For the curried goat:

  • 700g shoulder of Goat (bone in), diced
  • 3 heaped Tbsp West Indian curry powder
  • 1 tbsp fresh or dried thyme
  • 2 tsp ground pimento seeds
  • 2 and a half tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
  • 140ml/5fl oz vegetable oil
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 onions, finely diced
  • 2 scotch bonnets, whole
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • Water or stock
  • One bag of spinach

For the roti:

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra for brushing and frying

For the rice, peas and beans:

  • 2 cups of rice
  • 1 tin of Caribbean peas & beans

For the coriander yogurt:

  • 500ml natural yogurt
  • Massive bunch of coriander

Method

Curried Goat

  •  The night before you want to cook the curry, mix the curry powder, thyme, pimento, black pepper and coriander seeds together and then pour into a plastic bag containing the goat. Make sure you rub them into the goat meat and then leave overnight in the fridge.
  • The next day, preheat the oven to 140°C.
  • Heat the oil in a pan and fry the goat pieces until golden brown. Do this in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan – or the goat will start to stew instead of fry. Set your browned meat aside in a casserole dish.

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  • In the same frying pan you did the goat in, soften your tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic in some olive oil. Be gentle with the peppers, if they split the curry will be very hot! Then pour this over the goat in the casserole dish.
  • Submerge the ingredients in double their quantity of stock (what stock depends on how rich you’d like the curry to be – lamb stock will make it even richer, or alternatively use chicken or vegetable stock). Bring to the boil.
  • Pop the lid on and place in the oven for at least 2 – 2 and a half hours – the rule is generally the longer you cook it, the better it is but I would say cap this at 3 and a half hours so the goat meat doesn’t get so tender it completely disintegrates.
  • When it’s ready remove the goat and the scotch bonnets from the pan. Discard the scotch bonnets. Curried goat is traditionally served on the bone however if you are catering for someone who’s not a fan you can cool the goat meat slightly on a plate and then pick the bones out. The meat should be so tender it slides off the bones and keeps it’s shape.
  • Back to the casserole dish. You will be left with a sauce, which needs to be thickened depending on how long you’ve cooked it for. Simply simmer the sauce until it is reduced to a thick, lush sauce.
  • Pop your goat back in, then add the spinach and fold it in so it wilts.

Roti

  • I would start these after you put your goat in the oven, as some resting time is required.
  • Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Sprinkle over the oil, and add enough water to make a soft, but not sticky, dough (about 140ml/4½fl oz) – add a little more flour or water if needed. Knead gently until smooth. Cover and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.
  • Divide the dough into six equal pieces and roll each one into a thin circle about the thickness of a 20 pence coin (2mm/1/16 in), using a rolling pin.
  • Brush the bottom third of one of the roti with oil using a pastry brush, and fold the oiled third towards the middle. Repeat with the top third, fold inwards, then turn the roti a quarter turn clockwise and repeat this process with the top and bottom third. Repeat with the remaining five rotis. Leave to rest again.
  • Heat a little oil in a heavy-based pan. Roll one of the roti thinly into a round with a rolling pin, and fry on one side until it puffs up and is speckled brown on the underside. Turn it over and fry on the other side for a few minutes, until it too is puffed and speckled brown. Remove from the pan.
  • Cook the remaining roti in the same way and serve warm.

Rice & Beans

  • You can start this around 15 minutes before serving.
  • Place the rice in a saucepan and cover with 4 cups of cold water and a little oil. Bring to the boil.
  • Turn the heat right down and cover the pan with a lid, simmer gently for 12 minutes.
  • Drain the rice to get rid of any excess water, then put back in the saucepan with a hearty knob of butter. Drain the tin of beans & peas and stir into the rice.
  • Heat gently so everything’s nice and hot.

Coriander Yogurt

  • Tear some coriander leaves and mix with yogurt.
  • Top with a few whole coriander sprigs.

 

Serve the goat, rice and yogurt dressing on top of a roti for a deliciously rich, if slightly adapted, taste of the Caribbean. Decorate with more coriander leaves. For the full Caribbean experience pair with my take on a rum punch.

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