For the Love of France


Within my first 6 months living back in London I have ventured over to France 4 times…it really must be love!

From the City of Lights in Paris to craft beer drinking Lille, to the castles of Loire and finally to the capital of gastronomy Lyon, I’m making a serious dent in becoming a Francophile. Who would have thought it?

My recent trip to the Loire Valley was special. My mom made her way over from New Jersey for our first mother/daughter European adventure. What better way to spend the time then to hop on the Eurostar then travel through bright yellow canola fields into the city of Tours at the heart of the Loire Valley.

JoAnn Rose in St. Pancreas International

JoAnn Rose in St. Pancreas International

We trailed the internet in search of the perfect wine tour but it just didn’t appear to exist. In the end we booked with Loire Valley Tours, where we visited some of the famed castles in the valley and tried a few wines. We were joined by two 19-year-old American’s who were studying abroad, and I couldn’t help but smirk at their naivety, something that I swore I didn’t have when I was in their shoes back in my university days abroad in 2003. Even funnier was that the girls were studying French in Toulouse. Our driver Simon kindly pointed out that learning French in the south would be like learning english in Liverpool, the accent is just simply that bad.

Simon of Loire Valley Tours

Simon of Loire Valley Tours

Simon rudely wouldn’t assist us in making a dinner reservation, something that I would have thought is going above and beyond. He wanted to prove a point though, so as I hung up after nervously calling one of the best local restaurants in Tours to book us into dinner, he said, “See, do you now have a reservation?” And after I bashfully responded “Yes”, he said, “I told you so, this is 2016 after all and everyone in France speaks english.”

My favourite castle was Chenonceau, set over River Cher with immaculate gardens and a fascinating story as it was built by different women over the centuries.  I also enjoyed the day in the picturesque town of Amboise, visiting Leonardo de Vinci’s grave and home where he died, and the interesting lunch of pork belly at what one would assume was a tourist trap yet was strangely filled with locals at cave restaurant La Cave aux Fouées.

Our wine tasting at Caves Duhard was like nothing I had ever experienced before. No wine was made there, it simply was storage, but then again that’s what caves in France are perfect for. In fact, one of the oldest bottles they still had was from 1874. As we carefully walked along the dirt floor into the darkness of the depth of the cave, we passed thick green bottles stacked upon bottles, labelless, casually divided by a concrete wall with the name and year scribbled on a piece of wood. As I wiped dust off of a 1983 Vouvray, the year I was born, I contemplated buying it. Prices were very reasonable after all but following the brief tasting we had paired with some amazing local cheese I thought better of it and bought a cheap and cheerful Moutlouis to drink on a warm summers day. Note: I’ve already drank it and it was more delicious the second time around.

It appeared our answer to everything that weekend was “Bonjour”. More wine? Bonjour. Have a good evening. Bonjour. Where are you from? Bonjour. So as we made our way from Michelin-starred restaurants to boutique wine bars and said our bonjours, we took our last stop in Paris before travelling back to London for one more wine, escargot and beef tartare. Oh how French.

The following weekend I was on a flight with my friend Jake back over to France again, but this time to where it is oddly referred to as the stomach of France, Lyon! Oh, how I loved Lyon!

Shamefully I hadn’t done my research well enough in advance, and we arrived late Saturday afternoon on a bank holiday weekend to fly back again on Monday. I had planned it perfectly in my head, only to learn that there are no wine tours on Sunday and we wouldn’t arrive early enough on Saturday! So here I was, traveling to the famed northern Rhone Valley and there wasn’t an opportunity to taste the wine at a vineyard?! So not cool. But then again, if you don’t ask you don’t get and luckily I came across Vincent of Lyon Wine Tours, a young wine tour operator who kindly picked us up at Lyon airport Saturday afternoon and took us through elegant Cote-Rotie to try some perfect Syrah and Viognier. Oh and unlike Simon, he offered to make our dinner reservation. My only regret now was flying with carry on only as we couldn’t bring anything back!

Cot Rotie Condrieu

Cote Rotie Condrieu

But being in France’s foodie capital meant that the rest of the trip was all about eating, of course. From traditional blood sausage, the new superfood apparently, and the best potatoes dauphinoise I’ve ever had at traditional Lyonnaise eatery Chez Mounier. The real star of town however is Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, a famed gastronomic institution where locals come to gather not only to shop from each little storefront of over 48 merchants for cheese, foie gras, pralines, charcuterie and others but also to make their way from each small restaurant to the next, trying a new dish as each had its own speciality.

We desperately wanted oysters but found ourselves sat at the counter of Les Garcons Bouchers (The Butcher), ordered some of the finest steak and potatoes for breakfast, and had a friendly chat with our French neighbours who poured us bounty of their own wine as we must try it they demanded. Oysters would come next for lunch at L’epicerie before dining at Lyon’s famed chef Paul Bocuse’s brassiere, Le Sud.

Oysters at L’epicerie, Lyon

Oysters at L’epicerie, Lyon

The city itself is picturesque, with an Old Town, cobblestone streets and all, and a huge cathedral, Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière,  at the top of the hill which makes for a great afternoon hike in between all the wine and food tasting. There’s also plenty of shopping and nightlife, but who needs that in a culinary haven such as Lyon.

Bordeaux, My Gastronomic Adventure


But why Bordeaux? This was the response I received when going over my itinerary for #Eurotrip2015. London was a no brainer and Croatia has been on my bucket list for years. But as more and more people questioned my French destination of choice I was starting to get nervous that I had overlooked something obvious. Was Bordeaux no good? I mean sure, I much prefer Burgundy wines but then again I’m sure Bordeaux won’t be that hard for me to swallow.

Katrina Miranda in Bordeaux

Katrina Miranda in Bordeaux

Is it an oxymoron to say the city is both medieval and young at the same time? It’s active, vibrant and lively contrasted against dark ancient stoned walls, gothic churches and quiet narrow alleyways. Katrina described it as monotone: brown river, cream buildings, grey cobblestones. But it’s 9 pm in the summer and there is no sign of dusk. University students quickly scoot by on skateboards and sit outside smoking cigarettes while drinking espresso at cafes next to tattoo parlours, vintage shops and guitar stores.

Rue Sainte-Catherine, one of the largest pedestrian-only shopping streets in all of Europe is its main artery running through its centre. Cheap city bikes can be rented from all corners of the architectural haven and are used by both locals and tourists to navigate the shadowy historic maze. It’s a very liveable place for sure.

Both a city and a region, Bordeaux provides fresh, delectable food and well-produced wine to every doorstep. On the Garonne River’s left bank sits Medoc, it’s gravel and clay producing deep, full bodied cabernet sauvignons while on it’s right the clay and limestone in St. Emilion produce juicy, fruit-forward merlot. My glass is never empty and then I understand. Bordeaux is my gastronomic adventure.

Garonne River Bordeaux

Garonne River Bordeaux

The oysters are so fresh you order them by size – medium, large or extra-large. There is only one option: raw. The seabass comes with its head intact but with the right movement the flesh softly falls from the bone while the salmon carpaccio melts on my tongue. The cheese is aged and my monsieur croquet strong and heavy, the traditional way. The pate is thick and rich and the generous sliced baguettes are endless. There is no Maille mustard to accompany it. That’s only for Paris and we’re in Bordeaux after all. My favourite meals were the chevre salad with honey and walnuts while dining al fresco at Karl and beef tartare with watermelon and roasted tomatoes at the modern French bistro Le Chien De Pavlov.

The only way to truly experience it was to aimlessly wonder and get lost amongst the streets, stopping every few hours to try a new delicacy and to sip a new wine while watching the locals carry on with their lives. The second day we rented bikes, which gave us the same freedom to explore but allowed us to delve deeper into the city streets, to the botanical gardens, and over the bridge to the city outskirts.

Isabel from Bordeaux Tourism was friendly and helpful and booked us on a wine river cruise later that evening. It was like a disorganized frat party for old people – chaos to consume as much wine as possible while Jerome the wine maker from Chateau Madran rambled on in French and we sat observing with our crusty bread and orange cheese just taking it all in, not understanding a word.

Jerome from Chateau Madran

Jerome from Chateau Madran

And then there was the highlight, Rustic Vines and the Famous Monk Tour the following day. Run by two Kiwi’s, Scottie the hottie educated us on the 60 appellations of Bordeaux, the rigid rules on how to blend the wine and the 10,000 plus chateaus in the region. We visited the picturesque medieval town of St. Emilion, mingled with Hugo in the cellar of Chateau La Gaffeliere to learn about French oak and sampled Grand Cru Classe from Aussie Gregg at Bordeaux Classique wine store. Richard, the only Australian chateau owner in Bordeaux confirmed that the French don’t believe in ghosts so he wasn’t concerned for his 15th century property Chateau Melliac. In his garden we picnicked on melon, jamon, cheese and macaroons. Richard told us he used think that Australian wine was everything until the French showed him their art and he had never looked back. I now feel way more confident knowing what to look for when choosing French wine.

I almost could have had one more day. Eating my croissant while waiting for my flight to London I realised then that Bordeaux was it, the grown up Europe I had been envisioning. Bordeaux left me with a smile. It’s safe, I felt confident, people were friendly, there was no crime or begging plus it is a foodie paradise. I would recommend to anyone to have a visit.

Lisa Vecchio, St. Emilion

Lisa Vecchio, St. Emilion; Courtesy of Katrina Miranda

Game On Adelaide: A Weekend of Food and Wine


Adelaide’s pretty rad – and there’s more to it than the mocking nickname of ‘Rad-elaide’. Ever since I first visited in 2011 I’ve stood behind its defense, but even more so now that I’ve learnt on my most recent visit that is has made a conscious effort to play cultural hard ball.

This trip no doubt contained another visit to the Barossa Valley disguised behind a work-related conference held at the Adelaide Convention Center. With the Intercontinental, albeit a bit dated, in a prime location overlooking the Adelaide Oval and the beautiful running tracks along the River Torrens, I was already set up to achieve great sights.

IMG_2540

River Torrens

Upon arriving I gave my friend a tour of the small city.  We started along North Terrace beside University of Adelaide’s beautiful 19th century sandstone buildings, a contrast against the neighboring modern architecture of its newer lecture halls.

Looping around at Rundle Park took us onto Rundle Street, home to boutiques, cafes, pubs and assortment of restaurants. For a sunny Friday afternoon we stopped off in the Belgian Beer Café and historic pub the Austral for a few pints to start the holiday off.

Lisa Rundle Street

Rundle Street

Rundle Street turns into Rundle Mall where you can find most of your common name brand stores like Meyer, Sports Girl, JB Hi-Fi and the likes. Most famously on the corner of Rundle Mall and Hindley Street sits Australia’s oldest family owned chocolate maker, Haigh’s Chocolates.

My perception of Adelaide was turned upside down when I discovered Peel Street later that evening. Here sits the latest note-worthy restaurant in the city with the same name, Peel Street, and it’s a must stop off (restaurant bookings required). The closest thing Adelaide has in comparison to big sister Melbourne, this small laneway has a splattering of hip bars and underground cocktail lounges to make any local feel privileged thanks to the new small venue license recently instated to help entrepreneurs bring a new vibe to the CBD.

Highlights include Clever Little Tailor, a tiny bar offering a variety of top notch spirits and hand crafted beers set against the original exposed brick and structure. Next door, dine at Bread and Bone Wood Grill for a quick and fancy burger or dog. They really are all the rage but we went a bit rogue by ordering the fish and pork belly, both also to be admired. The waiter kindly offered us entry into the cocktail lounge downstairs, Maybe Mae, where I felt as if I entered some secret world found only in the 1920s, green leather booths, plush carpet and drinks served in crystal. One more stop across the street at Mexican inspired Chihuahua Bar for a wine and a lovely chat with the want to be rock star spun bartender before calling it a night as we had a full day of wine touring ahead of us.

Since I’ve made my rounds in the world-renowned Barossa Valley previously, this time the goal was to visit boutique wineries in a small group to uncover the greatest Shiraz presented to me. Cellar Door Wine Tours asked in advance where we wanted to visit and hand crafted the itinerary amongst all the guests’ top picks.

  1. Murray Street Vineyards was the perfect first stop, as we tasted while sitting around a square table so that all 10 guests had the opportunity to get to know each other. It was refreshing to be greeted by a young host, as Ryan was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, specifically as he demonstrated double aeration. I wanted to walk away with the Gomersal Estate 2010 Shiraz but was nervous to purchase any wine too early in the day– my greatest regret for sure.
  2. Maggie Beer is a gourmet food brand well known by dinner party hosts and the like. The beautiful shop sits on top of an aqua green lake making it a fantastic picnic spot. The best part about the small shop is there is something to taste in nearly every nook and cranny – from fig paste to pate to cider and caramel topping. I spent my time devouring enough homemade bread dipped in olive oil and damper to hold me over until lunch. I also took note of the cooking school that could be a good excuse to come back.
  3. Penfolds was my biggest disappointment of the day. While this isn’t boutique in anyone’s mind, it was a special request from another guest. Honestly, what they offer on tasting is the same as what you can buy in the liquor store and it was only the Tawny I was tempted to buy until I found out that too is distributed in my local bottle shop.
  4. Chateau Yaldara and Café Y is where we stopped for both a tasting and lunch. I wasn’t too impressed with their wines except their sparkling Shiraz and while you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I definitely would recommend they undergo a branding exercise for their labeling. Luckily the family-owned cafe made up for it with lunch that was described to us by the son in the most intimate detail and while I’m not much of a pasta lover I couldn’t resist the duck ravioli.
  5. Rockford Wines interestingly do their tastings in an old horse stable making it a unique atmosphere for the much anticipated tasting. This winery was our tradeoff for Grant Burge (the one we asked to visit) being too busy. I found the pourer entertaining as he reminded us of Murray from Flight of the Concords so I walked away with a bottle of their Tawny as a Christmas present for my hosts.
  6. Turkey Flat is one of the oldest boutique vineyards in the region. I was sold on a bottle of the now-sold-out 2012 Cabernet as the wine maker was both very chatty and informative, reminding us that 2010 and 2012 were the good years for grapes after the drought. I also couldn’t resist buying the cheeky fortified NV Pedro Ximenez too.

The biggest surprise from the day was the amount of cabernet sauvignon coming out of the Barossa Valley. I truly didn’t expect it and while I didn’t find a long lasting lover in Shiraz to take home, it did make me have a deep think about how much my taste buds have changed as of late.

Back in Adelaide central, one more spot not to miss is the Gouger Street restaurants and the Adelaide Central Market. My absolute, hands down, no questions asked top notch visit was to Cork Wine Café who specialize in organic and biodynamic wines from all over the world. I melted over the La Distesa 2013 ‘Terra Silvate’ Verdicchio and Architects of Wine 2013 Chardonnay. As they do tasting flights, with quite generous pours mind you, it was easy to fall into place here for a few hours.

With so many restaurants to choose from on Gouger Street, primarily deriving from Asian influence, it was hard to choose. Thankfully the staff from Cork Wine recommended the two best places (and most sought after as we couldn’t get a table until 9 pm so book ahead) on the strip including Little NNQ and Concubine.

For a quick weekend of social activities before putting on my work hat we sure managed to cover a lot of ground, including Jamie Oliver’s latest wave to hit Adelaide Jamie’s Italian. But Adelaide, you’re still missing one key element before you can truly reach your cultural trophy and that is – what’s open for breakfast?