Settling in, sorbet and the sea in Bordeaux

Two days ago marked my one month anniversary in Bordeaux. It was also the third night I slept in my apartment following a week of no electricity, a wonky fridge and malfunctioning toilet. The Year Abroad Student Handbook reads that finding accommodation may be the most stressful aspect for the year abroad. I think that sentence should be written in bold red and underlined twice. However, it makes having this place all the more amazing. We have a red checked table cloth and a poster of the Bordeaux wine region so it feels quite French and I love it.

I turned 21 on the 13th September (when I was, technically, homeless) but I was lucky enough to wake up to champagne and strawberries, an incredible brunch, a circus production and dinner. I also was able to speak to my little twinny in Melbourne who, for the first and possibly only time, became one year older before me. An unusual but memorable birthday!

All classes started this week, so life started to become a bit more structured. Saying this, I only have lessons on Tuesday and Wednesday which means I can enjoy a five day weekend, although a 9.30-8.00 Tuesday is going to be a bit of a shock to the system. I also tried out an athletics session just before my first seminar on Wednesday and spent the rest of the day with a red face and fatigued limbs. I’ve chosen a random mix of classes (Translation, Beginners’ Russian and Arabic/Muslim studies among others) but they are really interesting and I’m hoping to get a bit more to grips with them throughout the semester.

A perk of my timetable is my free Thursday afternoon which means I can join the weekly surfing excursion to Lacanau. Today there were blue skies, a bright sun and big waves. I stood up twice, shouted at my board a lot (it’s really therapeutic and bonds you to your board but the other surfers did not take it that well) and fell asleep on the way home. I can’t wait for round two! This trip taught me that my name is virtually unpronounceable. ‘Lazy’ in a French accent is generally how Lizzy is understood, or Leezy. As it sounds like cross between leery and sleazy this is not very encouraging. There was a small victory when one surfing instructor pronounced it with the right ‘i’ sound but I’m considering shortening it to Liz or maybe just telling everybody to call me Francoise.

As for food in Bordeaux, I have tried a cannelé despite being warned (by French people too) that it was not anything special. Even though mine had been heated and flambéed with rum, the gooey texture did not do it for me. Other than that, I have enjoyed eating a profiterole the size of my head (this is in no way an exaggeration – I have never seen a pudding that large in my life), steak, amazing sorbet and ice-cream from O Sorbet d’Amour in Place de Parlement. I had one of these with my Mum and Dad after cycling round Bordeaux with them. Mum’s cassis sorbet (blackcurrant) stole the show. Juicy, a bit tart and a gorgeous dark purple, I’m going to have that when I return.

A bientot :)

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My first few days in Bordeaux!

My Erasmus year in Bordeaux has officially started. Here I am sat on a hot Saturday evening with the beautiful blue sky still visible.

We arrived on Tuesday, excited but apprehensive about finding an apartment in Bordeaux. It feels like many more days than five have passed since I got off the plane and I’m not quite sure where to begin. It has been a roller coaster of finding dream apartments and then being told that they have been rented, moving on to the next one to be given the same response. Guarantors are sparse and are worth gold. But, I think, we are out of the woods and an apartment could be ours within the next week or so.

Our home at the moment is the only youth hostel in Bordeaux, down Cours de Barbey. We spend nights frantically flapping away mosquitoes and reconnecting to the internet every fifteen minutes during the day, but they also do a fantastic breakfast (bread, butter, coco pops, hot chocolate and orange juice everyday for me, thanks very much). We also realised how much we valued it when we were told on Thursday evening that Friday, Saturday and Sunday were fully booked and there was no room at the inn. A dark evening of no garantor and no place to stay is a memory I am sure I will laugh about in the future. Facing the prospect of moving to a hotel, I begged to be alerted when beds became free. Thankfully my wish came true. I truly appreciate having a roof over my head.

While this blog is also turning into a sort of diary of my year in Bordeaux, there is no question that food is going to make an insistent appearance. I have been here only a few days but I have seen so many gorgeous-looking individual restaurants and patisseries that not sharing would be to deprive you. So:

To celebrate our arrival we ate out at a restaurant called La Casuccia. I chose a seafood pizza. To have mussels, squid, small shrimp and king prawns swimming on a sea of delicious cheese was a warm welcome and relief from the pouring rain outside! The heads of the prawns were full of flavour and reminded me of my parents who introduced me to the magical world of prawn heads. Sucking them may not be the most attractive activity at a restaurant table but the rewards are so worth it – try it if you haven’t.

Today we wandered round an incredible market, before drifting around Saint Michel and marvelling at all the vintage furniture shops. We cooled down in a church with fascinating architecture and huge stained-glass windows. The few bits of kitchenware we picked up at Emmaus have made me super excited for our apartment!

We passed an innocuous shop window through which we could see a few cakes laid out in an otherwise almost empty room. Baklava, coconut bites and almond biscuits were available. I tried a coconut bite and was delighted by the lemony sweetness and the sticky coconut shreds. Coconut has been one of the things I have been trying to like. I tried The Collective Dairy lime and coconut a week or two ago and it was citrussy, refreshing, but the texture of the coconut yoghurt was great once I got used to it! This cake had that delicate combination of citrus and sugar down to a T.

It is strange to think that I feel quite like a tourist still when in fact I will be an inhabitant of Bordeaux for the whole year! I’m sure it will feel more like that when I stop checking in and out of hostel rooms and living out of a suitcase that every couple of days is dragged into the lift, taken down to the luggage storage before hauled into another room a few hours later.

A bientot :)

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Shakey Shack

In a couple of days my life is going to take a reasonably dramatic turn for two reasons. First, I am moving to Bordeaux to spend a year studying in France. Second, my twin is moving to Australia for her year in industry. It’s super exciting but I am envisaging a forlorn Lizzy sitting on the floor of a flat in France on her 21st birthday (with or without a glass of wine next to her) trying to celebrate without the person she has shared it with every single year previously. 

We had a day out in London to buy dresses for our cousin’s wedding earlier this summer and decided to treat ourselves to a lunch out in Covent Garden rather than hopping into the nearest MacDonald’s. The theme of food ended up similar as we found ourselves ordering from the Shake Shack menu. Since it was a twinny day we decided to share so we went for a Shack Burger and Shack-cago Dog. Becky was a bit hesitant about the latter due to her steadfast dislike for frankfurters but we went for it anyway. I also had a Concrete Jungle shake thing consisting of vanilla custard, marshmallow sauce, fresh banana and peanut butter sauce. 

Our buzzer buzzed and I collected the goods. There was the customary red plastic tray and tissue-papery containers that remind you of American diners, but we were sitting in the Covent Garden market hall. It felt a bit out of place. Becky then had the super idea of trying to cut a hot dog full of sauces and slippery things in half. A disaster was closely averted and we munched our half before swapping.I thought the hot dog was super – salty from the pickle, relish and German dog with a slight sweetness from the roll. The burger was good too but to be honest I can’t really remember why. I suppose what disappointed me about the two were their flimsiness. The burger had been slapped together so the burger was lopsided in the bun and their insubstantial infrastructure irritated me. If you’re going to put all sorts of extras in a hot dog, make sure the bun can take it.

My concrete shake was ok. If I went again I would have traded it for their golden curly chips. They were sunny, mouth-watering and super curly. 

Its location is cool and I really rated the hot dog but it felt a bit careless and nobody likes it when the filling falls out. It leaves you feeling a bit lost and frustrated. 

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My bro and I at Barrio Central

I have spent four weeks this summer at an internship with Palm PR, a luxury food PR Agency. It was fantastic fun and the time flew by! I did manage to visit some (well, a lot of) bars and visit restaurants that are not usually a stone’s throw from me.

I was lucky enough to be able to stay at my brother’s flat. This meant I had the pleasure of walking through Shoreditch (and via Urbys) to work. Also to my delight, I discovered that I could take a leisurely detour through Brick Lane on my way home. One memorable moment that springs to mind occurred on one such evening when, on the phone to my friend, I walked past a shop. An intoxicating aroma of rich chocolate physically spun me round back towards the shop and caused me to say to my friend something along the lines of “Omg sorry but I just walked past the most delicious shop wow” to the amusement of the couple just leaving the shop who laughed in my face.

When my brother returned from his work abroad he’d often have some plan that I would be whirled into (it was so exciting). One Thursday night we went for a drink in Barrio Central, a Spanish-inspired bar that was fairly innocuous on the outside. However, once I had walked through the doors I felt miles from London. It wasn’t only the boppin’ music or the suitcase stuck to the wall, but the atmosphere of the place itself was energetic, relaxed and the inverse of fun-spongey.

I really liked the menu setup for the cocktails, which enabled you to choose your cocktail based on the spirit you wanted in it. Wanting to steer clear of gin and unsure about Cachaca, I chose the ‘Tropic Plunder’ – Barrio House Rum Blend, PisangAmbon banana liqueur, mango, passion fruit, and fireworks’. The display of concocting the cocktails was impressive (I was enraptured by a dusky blue flame that crawled all over the glass) and it tasted unlike any other cocktail I’d had before, which was great! The banana really came through, but not in a cloying sticky-sweet way. The mango and passion fruit kept it refreshing.

The evening then turned into a surreal mix of Dom Perignon, the hugest champagne glasses ever to land into my hand and a McDonald’s at the end of it.

Loved the place. I don’t have a proper photo so you will have to settle for a selfie which includes the cocktail as well as the suitcase clambering up the wall.

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Dishoom and being daring

It has been a very long time since I wrote and I don’t really have an excuse but I am here again with a cool place that I want to write about.

I have started my internship at Palm PR which is exciting, busy and enlightening. The experience is also quite tasty. Although, in spite of what you could imagine a internship at a food PR Agency to entail, you are not wined and dined at every opportunity and given mountains of free food to take home with you, my exposure to food trends and luxury food goods has considerably increased.

At the very beginning of my internship the team went to lunch at a restaurant called Dishoom. It aims to pay homage to the food of Bombay, according to its website. The scene that greeted me when we walked in made quite an impression on me. In stark contrast to the shining hubbub of Shoreditch that I had had less than a day to accustom myself to, the interior of the restaurant was laid with dark wood and suffused with beautiful incense. It was pleasant to sit there in high chairs and a modern set-up which seemed quietly assertive of how it wished to be perceived. The team shared a feasting menu. Which is where my problem starts. While I have trawled through the menu I cannot find all the dishes that I thought we tried. So, I will tell you a couple of dishes that set off fireworks for me and this might tempt you to visit them.

We were served okra which had been fried in a mix of spices. They were amazing! Fairly spicy, crunchy but also vegetable-y. The dish was unobtrusive but skilfully and thoughtfully executed. Thumbs up. I was told that Black Daal is incredible. I’ve only had daal once (that one was yellow) but I have made it my aim to learn a daal recipe and make it successfully. This daal was buttery, rich and moreish. It makes me want to jump to the kitchen now and summon it up. Another dish that really blew me away was Bhel. Puffed rice, Bombay Mix and nylon sev tossed with fresh pomegranate, tomato, onion, lime, tamarind & mint. It burst with freshness and sweetness which was cleansing and refreshing alongside the spice and richness of the other dishes. The Sheekh Kabab, minced lamb marinated with lime, coriander and cumin then grilled was another stunner. So much flavour and satisfaction with every mouthful. For dessert we were offered julfi, a creamy, cold sweet ice-cream sort of thing or kala khatta gola ice, which is sweet and salty ice flakes. Our waitress said some people liked it, but a fair few did not.

In these few months during which I have been absent from this blog I have been thinking a lot about my year abroad and how I can make the most out of it. These last couple of days I have realised two important things. One, don’t over-think it. Two, just do it. Whatever ‘it’ may be, go for it. I’ve spent too much time agonising over what-ifs and imagined scenarios – but you can spend eons envisaging outcomes of decisions when in reality you do not know what will happen!

I went for the ice flakes. The blueberries were beautiful and cut against the extreme sweet-and-salt syrupy flakes. The dessert were intriguing. I might not necessarily try it again. But I’m glad I just went for it.

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A Place in the Sun

With the weather recently taking a sunny turn, dreams of basking in the sun with the sea glittering nearby have flitted through my head. The sense of peace that descends on me when the sun is setting in the sky, warm rays shining through the bus, transports me away from everything and I can indulge in escapism with the help of that gorgeous pink sky.

Leamington is fairly difficult to escape from. Think a long, straight parade, 3 places to dance the night away in, a LOT of Italian restaurants and the omnipresence of a red and blue bus that takes you to a bubble campus, enclosed by countryside. Well, on Saturday night, I went to Turtle Bay and swum in delicious cocktails, got hot from spicy flavours and enjoyed a wholly different eating out experience to what I normally expect from Leam.

We arrived there at 9 and it was full – I didn’t event think to book, but we were led to the bar and informed that Happy Hour would begin at 9.30 (so we might want to wait a bit before ordering). We didn’t have to wait long before being given a table. The bar is in the middle of the restaurant, a square shape which was great because you could see the shaking of cocktails etc. It was bright, lively and had jammin’ music.

I went rather overboard and had 3 cocktails-the mark of a successful Happy Hour, but they aren’t all on the online menu and I can’t remember all the names of them. They were all amaze!! My favourite IS on the menu, ‘Jammin': white rum, apricot liqueur, fresh mint, ginger, lime, apple juice & apricot jam. Real good.

We decided to go for 2 dishes and share them. So we chose the ‘Curry, Shrimp and Mango’ One Pot which consisted of shrimps, mango, sweet potatoes, Caribbean spices, sweet onion chutney, rice and flatbread with dumplings, and the ‘Dipped Pork Steak’, jerk-glazed pork, plaintain, Caribbean slaw, rice and peas, and sweet potato fries. My oh my oh MY.

I started with the jerk pork. The sauce was quite spicy (but this is for someone with a wimpy palette) and the pork was tender and juicy – it seemed like a good quality cut. The slaw had sultanas in it, and the sweet potatoes with the plantain meant there was an abundance of sweetness to balance out the salty spice of the pork. The whole plate was beautifully put together, everything present enhanced the dish in its own way – I wish there had been another slice of plantain though, I felt one mouthful of the soft sweetness left me really wanting more of it!! As is my custom, I asked for ketchup and mayonnaise to accompany the sweet potato fries, but found the jerk bbq sauce went much better. For the first time in a VERY long time, there was plenty of k and m left over at the end.

The ‘Pot’ is tres exciting-looking, arriving in a white pot whose lid was removed with a flourish and revealed a colourful saucy thing with pink prawns nestling next to yellow shapes, a far cry from my standard casseroles. The sauce was sweet, and thin enough not to overwhelm the delicate prawns but firm enough to stick to the rice and flatbread. The dumplings were dense but crispy (and went sooo well with the jerk bbw sauce).

I cannot WAIT to come here again. What would be really snazzy is when drinks stop being served (11pm) it could turn into a sort of place to dance in – that is my advice to the enthusiastic staff who served us.

The sun shines golden bright in Turtle Bay. I suggest you go and soak it up!

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An Eat Out Indian

Last week, my friends and I had a takeaway. As a rule, when ordering takeout, there are three options: Chinese, Indian, or Pizza. Within these three options, whilst I love trying new things, my range is pretty limited: Chinese – beef in black bean or sweet and sour chick, Indian – lamb saag, and Pizza – pepperoni or bbq. With the exception of pizza, takeaway is really the only way I taste these different cuisines. I’ve never been to China or India, and whilst I cook my own curry with paste, I definitely cannot tell between different spices and don’t really know the difference between curries except that Vindaloo is seriously tongue-under-tap hot.

Last week I went up to Birmingham to visit my sister and we went out for dinner to an Indian restaurant called Asha’s. The restaurant itself is lovely, with impressive, bright floral decorations that glow different colours and cast shadows on the red walls. There was a lively atmosphere when we arrived so waiting for a table was actually enjoyable, surrounded as we were by conversations between the barmen and customers as well as the occupied tables.

As I said before, I’m fairly clueless when it comes to Indian dishes. I suggested Lamb Bharta because one of the ingredients was ‘Ashaji’s own garam masala’ and the vegetarian option was often served in Indian homes so it promised to be authentic. We decided to ask the waiter’s opinion for the second one. He recommended Ghar Ki Dal, which is made with yellow moong lentils. Both these were from recipes of ‘Asha Bole’ so I was excited to try them with a Peshwari nan.

I have to go through the dishes one by one because when they appear in my mind they fill it with such warm intensity the other one is sidelined for a moment. So, Lamb Bharta: minced lamb, aubergine, garam masala, coriander. It was a dark, warm red thick curry, with a depth that added layer upon layer of flavour. That’s what distinguished it from my previous experience with curry – the taste continued to evolve. I have also never had mince in a curry before, but it worked really well because the lamb was tender and the sauce was one with it. The Ghar Ki Dal (tempered yellow moong lentils with coriander and cumin) had a beautiful soft thick texture, its yellow vibrant, and when scooped up by the sweet peshwari nan with the Bharta already sinking into the bread it was red yellow sweet salty spiced soft intense loveliness which is quite difficult to describe. Washed down intermittently with Cobra beer and accompanied by the sneezes of a helpless man (which was hilarious and we all had a good laugh about it).

One of the most warming, delicious dining experiences ever!

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