Early this summer, Joanne and I will embark on a culinary hunt in the south of France and Barcelona as well.

But as much as we explore relevant culinary regions around the globe in pursuit of new ideas, plating innovations, recipes and products for our PARASOLE family of restaurants, we often find ourselves returning to Paris and London. Both cities are target-rich with restaurants, markets, chefs, innovation and culinary vitality.

I’d say that we are equally fond of both cities…but for different reasons. London has more variety and over the past fifteen years or so has experienced a stunning restaurant awakening. New and wonderful, creative and witty new spots…innovative and inventive chefs, and an immense diversity of ethnic venues…just damn fun.

Paris, on the other hand, tends to be more serious and slavish to French tradition…especially the offerings in the bistros and brasseries. Plus, I find that the restaurants in France are more democratic and approachable, probably because demanding good food is a way of life and not the sort of middle-class hobby that it is here or in London.

As a posting by the blog, Cake and Fine Wine, puts it:

In France…“If you go to the market on Saturday morning, it is because that is where the cheapest and freshest produce is to be found, not as some kind of validating leisure activity…If you go to the bakery every day, which you most certainly do, it’s because you wouldn’t want anything but the freshest bread with your evening meal.”

Now let me tell you, do not assume that everyone in France eats fresh, locally-sourced, unprocessed, meticulously prepared food all the time. Joanne and I can tell you from experience that there are a lot of “not too good” restaurants in Paris, just as there are brilliant ones.

What do the two cities have in common? Fine and fancy chef-driven restaurants are hellishly expensive (Joanne and I don’t go there because they are not relevant to anything we do here at PARASOLE), but good restaurants in both cities are expensive as well – owing to rent factors, unfavorable exchange rates etc.

Which brings us to today’s topic…


Zedel is a grand Parisian-style brasserie, and I do mean grand. It’s big, it’s stunning, opulent, lavish…and subterranean – out of site, so hidden that not many tourists even know it’s there, even though it’s just steps from the congested nightmare of Piccadilly Circus.

On each of the three occasions Joanne and I have dined there, our meals have been delicious and perfectly prepared. Service was professional, knowledgeable and discreet, and as A.A. Gill stated in the London Times, “Servers are slightly brusque and crisscross Zedel’s floor like a swarm of worker ants.” That there is exceptional food and service should come as no surprise…as the restaurant is owned by Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, who also own the Wolseley nearby…one of our favorite London restaurants.

What is a surprise is this: Despite the beautiful, over-the-top Belle Epoch, marble-clad dining room, Zedel is cheap. Not inexpensive – CHEAP! On our last trip to London, Joanne and I ordered the three-course prix fixe lunch and paid just 13.75 pounds each. Had we done the two-course version, it would have been 10.75 pounds. And wine begins at just 16 pounds per bottle.

Lunch can cost less than a sandwich at other places.

I think what the owners have done here is pure genius…

They’ve taken a third-tier location – actually, a fourth-tier basement space (CHEAP rent) – right in the heart of the city, dressed up to the nines, staffed it up with proven talent, and consequently are able to put out great food and great service at roughly half the price of similar restaurants in their segment.

If you’re planning a trip to London, this is valuable information. Here’s a sampling of the dishes Joanne and I have enjoyed over the past few visits (all prices in pounds).

Appetizers: Raw oysters…pristinely fresh, fat and briny at 2.75 each…Shrimp Cocktail with Remoulade Sauce (7.50)…Smoked Salmon with Brioche Toast and Chicken Liver Mousse and Pork Paté en Croute (both 7.25).

Chilled English Pea Soup with Crème Fraiche (2.75).

See what I mean? And keep in mind, this is LONDON.

Their best sellers? Steak Haché au Poivre will run you just 9.75 – and that includes fries or salad. Fancy the Sunday Roast of Beef Brisket in Red Wine? That’s just 15.75! There’s also Lamb Rump Steak (17.75) and Pork or Smoked Seafood Choucroute (both 16.25). The Smoked Seafood Choucroute was my favorite, but it has been removed from the menu since my last visit. Must not have sold).

There are fresh seafood choices as well, including Dorade and Trout Amandine – both delicious, both 16.75. And a generous bowl of fish stew with serious chunks of shellfish costs 19.75.

Saturday night special: Lapin a la Moutarde (yeah, that’s Thumper) with mustard sauce is 15.75.

Table-sized side dishes run about 3.75 and desserts clock in between 4.50 and 6.75. But do not miss the Cheese Trolley, wheeled up tableside. Full-flavored offerings include unpasteurized selections, not all of them French. Definitely get the Stilton.

Remember, these are LONDON PRICES. You can dine in a beautiful space, feel good about yourself and enjoy a two-hour leisurely dinner, all at an unbelievable value.

What you’ve got here is a SAFE HARBOR in London – for lunch, for a meal before the theater, or after the theater – or, hell, instead of the theater.





And that reminds me…

As a 10-year-old growing up in the winter, in Kewanee, Illinois, I can recall when television was coming on the scene and SWANSON TV DINNERS were being introduced at the A&P grocery store a couple blocks away. Despite my mom, Aunt Rose and my grandmother all being great cooks (and all of us living under the same roof), TV dinners seemed to me like a step-up – an All-American Dinner…the iconic Swanson Chicken Pot Pie (BTW, all white meat, even then).

Fast forward to today. Pot pies are still a popular American choice, and in fact pot pies (or sorta pot pies) exist – more than that, they thrive – in one form or another all over the world. Timbales in Italy…certain red curry constructions in Thailand…the occasional Indian Biryani topped with a naan bread crust…tamale pie in Mexico….lamb fatayer in the Middle East….German brats, beer and cheddar crowned with a pretzel crust…and some preparations of Moussaka in Greece.

While the stuff under the lid is usually beef, lamb, poultry or seafood with vegetables, there are also game pot pies, packed with grouse, venison, pheasant and even wild boar. These are especially popular in the fall, and particularly in Europe.

However, it’s a sad state of culinary affairs that England has adopted those too often dreary pot pies made out of scraps and leftovers as a national dish…in the same league as the ubiquitous BANGERS & MASH or FISH & CHIPS.

And so it was that a couple weeks ago, in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, that I came upon an article titled, “London’s Least Humble Pie,” featuring stunning and creative pot pie departures, far from the gloomy, sometimes factory-made iterations that have become “pub grub.”

Now, Joanne and I have eaten our share of pot pies on visits to London. Our favorite steakhouse, the GUINEA GRILL in Mayfair, served me (not Joanne…OMG, not Joanne, EVER) a delicious gut bomb Steak & Kidney Pie on a recent visit. Yeah, I eat kidneys…with hot English mustard.

BTW, remember…don’t forget to request Table #22 there.

GEALE’S in Notting Hill is well worth a visit. Of course, you’ll get the Fish & Chips (best in London), but also treat yourselves to their mashed potato-topped Fish Pie. It’s loaded.

On more than one occasion, at the doorstep of Covent Garden on a cold and rainy night, Joanne and I have settled into table #14 at J. SHEEKEY for their Dublin Prawn Pot Pie. That and a bottle of white Burgundy or two does take the chill off.

The article in the Wall Street Journal led off with one of my favorite chefs, Fergus Henderson of snout-to-tail dining fame. He utilizes the whole hog – and I mean the WHOLE hog – in his preparations. I’ve never had his Pork Pie, but if you look at the image below, you’ll understand, once and for all, the origin of the Pork Pie Hat.

Here are the restaurants in London that are taking the humble, savory pastry to new heights with ambitious recipes, the very best ingredients, and more than a little imagination and chutzpah. You can check out their websites.


MARKSMAN – protegés of Fergus Henderson

THE WIGMOR – in the posh Langham hotel, overseen by Michel Roux of the two Michelin-starred LE GAVROCHE in Mayfair. in the Spring? LAMB. In the Fall? VENISON.

ROCHELLE CANTEEN – Chef Margot, wife of Fergus Henderson. In the fall, for sharing, a pie with a wintry filling of venison and pickled walnuts is a signature dish. It’s in Shoreditch.

THE HOLBORN DINING ROOM – Chef Calum Franklin (a favorite of ours) serves New Zealand Curried Lamb (pictured). It’s housed in the Rosewood Hotel.

And now, looking for something strange to eat? Wondering about the horrors you might be eating? Dig into the MOTHER OF ALL SAVORY POT PIES…….

Direct from SWEENEY TODD, “the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” who slits the throats of customers, strips the meat off their bones, and makes it into pies sold by his accomplice and baker, Mrs. Lovett, in her bakery.

And as her motto reads,





About a year ago I posted a blog titled “Start Your Day Right”, about some of Joanne’s and my favorite breakfast spots.

But on a recent trip to London, it occurred to me that nobody – and I mean NOBODY – does breakfast better than the English.

The tradition of hearty morning meals dates back a couple hundred years to the country houses of the English gentry and their notion of what constituted a proper Anglo-Saxon breakfast. It’s said that they liked to display their wealth to their peers by outdoing one another with robust pre-noon repasts. Another notion is that during World War II, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, even on campaigns, began his day with a huge breakfast platter that came to be known as “THE FULL MONTY.” Other terms for it include The Fry-Up, The Whole 9 Yards, The Whole Hog, and simply The English Breakfast.

Check out the image. Digging in to a piping Fry-Up is an experience that “can get you right…no matter what you did the night before.”

But there are rules……

Always SAUSAGE (bangers) and bacon – either “streaky” like you typically find in America, or “back bacon,” a favorite of the Canadians. Lower-calorie back bacon comes from the cured loin of the pig and is served to counter the fatty sausage. Sliced black pudding (oatmeal, pork fat and pig blood…YUM!), along with sautéed mushrooms and grilled tomatoes, is a must – as is Heinz Baked Beans (yes, right out of the can). Two eggs, fried or poached, will anchor the plate, and a grilled lamb chop or pork chop might also be included.

Now on to my London favorites, and some British adventure beyond bacon and eggs.

We love THE WOLSELEY on Piccadilly. The place is grand – black, gold and cream colored. It’s ALWAYS jam-packed, always surprising, and always good. Yes, they have the Full Monty, but also a perfect Eggs Benedict as well various other iterations of the dish. The fluffy Ricotta Hot Cakes, crowned with sweet cherries and crème fraiche? Well, you know. And for the adventurous, how about Spicy Indian Curried Kedgeree (Madras curry, basmati rice, onions, lentils and a poached egg)?

Or if you have a hankering for Haggis (and who can resist Scotland’s signature dish of heart, liver, onions, oatmeal, suet, spices and sheep’s lungs, all steamed in an animal’s stomach?), then this is for you – complete with two poached eggs (BTW, the USDA has banned haggis in the United States. It has something to do with sheep’s lungs. No kidding).

Next on our stop is the CONNAUGHT HOTEL in Mayfair, where celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten oversees the main dining room. I strongly suggest that you try the Connaught’s more precise version of the Full Monty. They don’t call it that. They simply call it the English Breakfast. Note how refined this version is (yet still, the beans come from a can).

Remember that you are in London…and that it’s time to step out of your “safe zone” from time to time. SMOKED HADDOCK and POACHED EGG for breakfast? Sure, why not? How about Kippers? Ever had ‘em? Oatmeal, yogurt, fresh figs and fresh fruit, with a shot of bee pollen? Trust me, it’s delicious. And beautiful.

The Connaught certainly inspired me to add TARTINES to SALUT’s lunch menu. Mushy peas and burrata on whole grain toast are a good start. Even better was the Avocado Toast Tartine with smoked salmon and poached eggs.

Although the Connaught serves it at breakfast, I think the Smoked Salmon with Blini (baby pancakes) and crème fraiche would also be a nice dinner appetizer.

The tiny jars of jam and jelly are cute – exactly the thing that my mother liked to slip into her purse. And will someone please tell me: Why is toast served cold in England?

For lighter fare, stop by PRUFROCK COFFEE in Clerkenwell for exotic and out-of-this world brewed beverages. While there, do NOT miss their House Porridge with nutmeg and fresh figs.

A little more exotic and unusual breakfast spot is the Asian-Indian restaurant DISHOOM (not to be confused with “dish room”) on St. Martin’s Lane in Shoreditch. I’d never had an Indian breakfast before then, and I’m not certain that one would find this nominally Indian offering anywhere on the sub-continent ….. but their Bacon-Naan house breakfast sandwich was a delight.

The best bacon in London? Head to the GINGER PIG in Marylebone and try their dry-cured version.

Housed 40 stories up in the Heron Tower is THE DUCK AND WAFFLE, a riff on the America southern classic Chicken & Waffles. It’s probably not for everybody, but several members of our Parasole culinary team gave it a shot when we were in London a couple of years ago. And of course their “go-to” breakfast dish is…Duck & Waffles, consisting of duck leg confit, a crispy waffle, and a big fat duck egg, smothered with mustard/maple syrup. And it all comes with a postcard-perfect panorama of London.

Clerkenwell makes another appearance here. This time it’s THE GRANGER & COMPANY. (I think they may have another location in King’s Cross.). I love their Pan-Fried Back Bacon and Fried Egg Sandwich on a toasted sesame bun. I know it’s not gourmet dining, but DAMN, IT’S GOOD! If you want something less heavy, this restaurant is also known for its light and fluffy Ricotta Pancakes with bananas, all covered with honey butter.

Also in the neighborhood: THE MODERN PANTRY, which has a charming patio in front, along with enticing breakfast offerings. I know, I know…but I love bacon, and was immediately drawn to their Bacon & Waffles. And don’t be bashful – give the poached eggs and fried haloumi cheese a go. If you’ve never been to Greece or Cyprus, fried haloumi might be unknown to you, so here’s your chance to try it.

Modern Pantry also serves an American-inspired dish that combines cornbread, fried egg, chorizo and green chili salsa to delicious effect. And don’t miss the croissants, which are baked on the premises. Two standouts are the melt-in-your-mouth Toasted Almond Croissant and the Pumpkin Croissants with Salty Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, a fall feature.

Finally, the snout-to-tail, “mother of ‘em all” breakfast served at Fergus Henderson’s St. John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields, where every part of the pig is served, even the squeal. Start with the best and biggest, homemade, thick-sliced sourdough bread stuffed with what must be a full pound of pan-fried back bacon. BTW, the toast is slathered with butter. Do not share. Keep it all for yourself.

Further up the piggy ladder you’ll find a plump fried duck egg sitting upon a thick slice of pig’s blood pudding. Getting excited now?

But hold on, folks. The hits just keep ‘a comin’.

DEVILED LAMB KIDNEYS ON SOURDOUGH TOAST, combined with English mustard dipping sauce. My adventurous 12-year-old grandson actually ate a full order of it, But you know what the French say: “With the right sauce, you can eat your father.”

And you thought Sheep’s lungs were a challenge.

And finally, I am so blessed: My whole family surprised me by showing up in London to celebrate my birthday.




In the late 1800’s, Edouard and André Michelin ran a rubber factory in the small town of Clermont-Ferrand, France. Among their first products were bicycle tires, later supplanted by automobile tires. At a certain point they adopted the American system of assembly line production – with one new characteristic: they felt that American tire manufacturers used inferior rubber and other lesser materials. They embarked on a journey to become the premium tire producer in the world. (Based on their later dominance of the tire industry, it seems they succeeded.)

The brothers, in 1894, while attending a trade fair in Lyon are said to have spotted a stack of tires that resembled the form of a man.

Thus their humanoid official mascot was created. And they named him BIBENDUM (Latin for “Now is the time to drink”). How he got that name, I’m not entirely sure. At any rate, the world came to know their masic simply as “The Michelin Man.”

The Bibendum character was refined over the years from a cigar-smoking bicycle rider to a jovial paunchy Michelin cheerleader. In the meantime, around 1911 in London, the Michelin Building was built, with offices upstairs and a one-stop Michelin shop for all your automotive needs on the ground floor.

The iconic building remains intact, sporting a unique blended aesthetic style of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, redolent with stained glass and decorative tile work. It’s located in the heart of Kensington about a dozen walking blocks west of Harrod’s, where Fulham Road and Pelham meet.

However, in late 1980, as the tire and automotive business evolved, the building became obsolete for the retail tire business.

So it was that in 1987, designer and restaurateur Terrance Conran stepped up and converted the building, part of which included his new BIBENDUM RESTAURANT. This smart, two-level restaurant featured British-influenced French cuisine on the upper level and an oyster bar on the ground floor. While receiving lots of press from the London newspapers, the restaurant was viciously expensive, and by 2015 it had faded and was no longer relevant.

Enter Claude Bosi, the cheerful French bruiser of a chef fresh from the world-acclaimed, two Michelin-starred HIBISCUS restaurant in London’s Mayfair neighborhood.

Although Bosi was never one to hew to tradition, he chose to retain some Bibendum classics, including garlicky, butter loaded escargot, langoustines with mayo, gnocchi with wild mushrooms, and smoked salmon roll-ups, alongside palate-stretching dishes such as rabbit with langoustines.

Bosi has also brought the prices back to the real world. Joanne and I noted recently that a Prix Fixe lunch was featured at about $46.

Joanne and I have dined at Bibendum on several occasions, although never in the expensive upstairs dining room. Our preference was – and still is – the more affordable ground floor OYSTER BAR. Maybe it’s because we are continually searching for ideas on behalf of the oyster bars at both SALUT restaurants.

On our visit last June, we noticed that the Oyster Bar had been refitted with a sleek and modern flavor, all in a “very Chelsea way – i.e. laid-back luxury, with Michelin tire-like chairs designed by Eileen Gray and upholstered in supple saddle tan leather.

Maybe it’s age, but I preferred the previous look. It felt more workman-like…less decorated. But no matter. The food is still superb.

On our dining occasions (always for lunch), Joanne typically opts for the spinach salad with fresh figs, goat cheese and toasted slivered almonds, or she’ll choose the Tuna Nicoise salad with the canned Italian tuna (yes, that’s the right way: using high-quality tuna canned in olive oil. We could never get away with that in Minnesota, where the expectation is seared fresh Ahi tuna). We shared Oysters Rockefeller, too, and some just-shucked, pristine and briny oysters.

On both lunches we finished with a wonderful cheese plate of British Cheeses including a pungent and spreadable slab of Stilton – a worthy rival to French Roquefort.

So here’s the irony.

The most prestigious, well-respected, famous restaurant guide book on the face of the Earth is THE MICHELIN GUIDE.

And yet….and yet…..

Despite being named for the brand’s mascot, Bibendum has NEVER, EVER been awarded a Michelin Star.

The best they have done is three knives and forks (in red), which means a delightful and comfortable restaurant. Perhaps Claude Bosi will fix that.

After all, in a recent review in the London Guardian, Jay Rayner said, “The sunlight [in the upper level dining room] feels like a room where only good things happen.” And he ended his commentary with, “Welcome back, BIBENDUM. I’ve missed you.”




Although Indian and Pakastani immigration to England had flourished under British Colonial Rule, it was after World War II and the breakup of the British Empire that the numbers dramatically increased…mainly from the Punjab region.

Today, some 300,000 Indians reside in London alone.

Lucky us. Joanne and I love the variety of cuisines that India has to offer. And while no major markets in the United States – except perhaps New York – have embraced any form of Indian polished dining, London is thriving.

Due to our ongoing research, particularly for CHINO LATINO, Joanne and I have been fortunate over the years to sample and screen the best of the best for you. So if anyone out there is contemplating a trip to London, stay tuned.

These are all good. They’re all different, yet all about the same price. Some have Michelin stars.

Our first experience in London was THE BOMBAY BRASSERIE in Kensington – still going strong since 1982. TAMARIND, near Green Park is as noisy as it is buzzy, so try to get a table on the perimeter. CHUTNEY MARY, also near Green Park, remains excellent – although in this newer space the restaurant seems to have lost some of the ambience from its previous spot in Chelsea. A sensational newcomer is JAMAVAR, on Mount Street, right in the heart of Mayfair. Get table #16….a corner table for two.

ZAIKA on Kensington High Street focuses on the cuisine of Northern India, so you can expect rich and fragrantly spiced fare. THE CINNAMON CLUB offers a vast selection of sharing plates, so dining is a little different here.

But now I’m going to compare two different experiences – not better or worse, simply different. Both are Michelin starred. You decide what’s best for you…… GYMKHANA or AMAYA.

The first stop is GYMKHANA on Albemarle Street, near the Ritz. It’s a tough, tough reservation to snag, so be sure to enlist the help of your hotel concierge well in advance of your trip. Request one of the downstairs leather-upholstered booths with the hammered brass table tops (pictured). Expect powerful, punchy flavors served up in a space that evokes the Old Colonial glamour of India’s Gymkhana, or sports, clubs. Dishes not to be missed include Methi Keema, or kid goat, served in the form of spicy Sloppy Joe-style DIY sliders, meant for sharing (about $16.50 in U.S. currency). We also loved the Tandoori Wild Tiger Prawns with red pepper chutney and the Guinea Fowl Tikka with fig and onion chutney (about $28).

It was October and game played a role in many of the dishes offered at Gymkhana. A favorite, presented table side, was the Wild Muntjac (venison) Biryani baked in a pastry-sealed pot with a cooling counterpoint of pomegranate raita ($36). For a show-stopping fall vegetarian offering, get the Wild Morel Mushroom and Truffle Pilau (rice pilaf) at $28.

I ordered and did not share the Sofiyani Murgh Tikka and Sweet Tomato Chutney…oh hell, why don’t they just say “Tandoori Chicken with Black Cumin and Tomato Chutney”???

And that’s one of the things that troubled me about Gymkhana: their slavery to authenticity in ways that frustrate rather than intrigue or delight. I’m all for un-dumbed-down flavors that remain true to their origins – and as far as I know, each dish fit that bill. Everything we tried was very, very good.

But in a restaurant that caters to a primarily non-Hindi-speaking clientele (based on the mix of our fellow diners), the lengthy menu written almost entirely in Hindi, without translation, has to be as irritating for the servers as it is for the diner. It required several trips on our waiter’s part to come to our table and translate. Why couldn’t we simply choose and order without subjecting him to a never-ending series of questions and translations? The frenzied nature of the dining room didn’t help either.

Don’t’ get me wrong: The food at Gymkhana is really, really good. It deserves a Michelin star. And if you don’t mind noise and frenzy (in the business, we call that “energy”), then book a table at Gymkhana. You’ll love it – especially if you speak Hindi.

Now, on to another Michelin-starred Indian restaurant: AMAYA.

My first experience with Amaya, in the pre-iPhone era, did not end well. While using a regular camera to photograph my food, I was approached by a manager who rather rudely and forcefully told me to stop, and to stop NOW. I questioned him as to who this food actually belonged to now that I was eating it. “Does it belong to you? Or does it now belong to me?”

I answered for him: “I think this plate of food now belongs to me. So as far as I’m concerned, you can go to hell!”

So we left.

Did that make me an ugly American? (Joanne would answer in the affirmative.)

But not being ones to hold a grudge (and being culinary whores for whom food trumps any sense of embarrassment), we’ve returned several times over the past few years. Plus, they appear to have thrown in the towel on food photography.

And the food here is superb – perhaps more refined than Gymkhana, possibly not as purely authentic, maybe with a flavor profile geared more to a western plate. The space, with its sultry lighting, sophistication and open kitchen theater (with plenty of shooting flames) is sleek, chic and current. Request table numbers 17 or 19. They are both “anchored” and are just far enough away from the radiant heat of the grill and the ovens.

The restaurant describes itself as “An Indian Bar & Grill” – and that it is. Yes, they have curries and biryanis, but the grill and tandoor ovens occupy center stage. Grilled Punjab Chicken Lollipops ($18) and the Tandoori Chicken Chops in a Green Curry Marinade proved to be worthy of their cooking methods. You must also try the obligatory Naan Bread from the tandoori ovens. It’s served with a four-compartment spice tray housing Rose Petal Coriander, Peanut Dust, Tomato Chutney and Plum Chutney. The Minced Tandoori Chicken Lettuce Wraps were constructed two ways – one open-faced, the other rolled up. Coconut and Lime Sauce brought them vividly to life ($11.50).

I couldn’t finish without mentioning the Tandoor Lobster. I forget the price. I’m sure it’s expensive as hell. But on what other occasion will you have lobster prepared this way? Share it as an appetizer. DO!!!

Don’t pass up dessert, either. Get the Green Tea Kulfi (ice cream) or the Liquid Chocolate (in a previous post, I quoted Calvin Trillin stating that “all Indian desserts have the texture of face cream.” Has anything changed? HMMMM??)

So there you have it: GYMKHANA and AMAYA. Remember…they both sport a MICHELIN STAR.

You cannot go wrong with either. Maybe even try ‘em both.


A Hél of a Meal in London and Paris

Some years back, I was in Paris and had picked up Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code for some travel reading. Part of the book is set there, and in the course of following some of the story’s clues around the Left Bank, Joanne and were led to the SAINT-SULPICE CATHEDRAL, home of the Rose Line, a central element in the story.

It was lunchtime and since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to try HELENE DARROZE, the famed second floor restaurant on Rue d’Assas that opened in 2001 and promptly won two Michelin stars. More about that later.

Hélène Darroze is an Alain Ducasse alum from Gascony in southwest France, home of the fat LANDES CHICKENS that actually rival the world renowned BRESSE CHICKENS from Burgundy.

In 2008 she opened her second restaurant at the prestigious CONNAUGHT HOTEL in London’s Mayfair neighborhood. Her menus in Paris and in London, while not identical, are very similar in tone and attitude, with several signature dishes featured at both restaurants. But the décor is quite different at each location. Both dining rooms are warm and comfortable, but the Paris location has a decidedly more contemporary flavor, whereas the London outpost exudes a sporting and “old-money” British vibe.

If you have kids and remember Pixar’s animated studio film, Ratatouille, the character Colette was modeled after Hélène Darroze.

One thing that I like about Darroze is that while exercising serious cooking skill, she brings wit and whimsy to the table. For example, the “menu” arrives in the convoluted form of a Chinese Checkers board, with 16 bright white balls, all labeled with food possibilities – scallops…lamb…caviar…

You pick a ball or two or three that interest you and place them in the indented ring that surrounds the board. Your server records them, then proceeds to explain and romance your selections. It’s a unique give-and-take that sets the stage for a playful rapport between staff and guest.

Is it necessary? Hell, no. Is it fun? Damn right.

Cheesy gougeres appear on your table, followed by a dark, dense and chewy bread with two butters, one a flaky, salted, incredibly rich golden slab; the second a 4-inch-high cone of swirled chili butter. Both are nice counterpoints to the slight sweetness of the molasses in the bread.

Let the show begin…

Seemingly out of nowhere a trolley shows up tableside, bearing a classic Berkel slicer (not the Williams Sonoma iteration, but the “real deal” $25,000 version), invented in 1898 by Wilhelm van Berkel in Rotterdam (The London location sports a red Berkel; in Paris it’s cream colored). Without a word, your server spins the handle and pink, paper-thin slices of cured Gascon ham settle into an airy pile served alongside a miniature loaf of buttery pull-aparts.

It was a hot summer day in Paris when we first dined at Hélène Darroze and Joanne had Gaspacho as a starter. Even though it was refreshingly chilled, the flavor was absolutely intense. Adding to the theater, the soup was poured from a glass teapot right at the table.

Considering Darroze’s Gascony heritage, it came as no surprise that of the fifteen starters, five involved foie gras – some duck, some goose. I don’t know if the goose is any better than the duck, or if the price is higher because they just don’t know what to do with the rest of the goose (I’ve heard it’s often donated to prisons), but in the world of foie gras, goose liver ranks higher on the fanciness scale – so expect to pay a premium for it.

At any rate, I certainly was not able to try ‘em all, and Joanne will not even taste foie gras, so I was forced to consume an ethereally creamy slab of it all by myself. I still remember: The preparation included cocoa beans and smoked eel. In a tribute to spring (and to the snout-to-tail movement), another standout appetizer of sweetbreads comes with morel mushrooms.

Mains have included Beef Wellington (perfect in London on a damp and dreary November evening). Milk-Fed Lamb Chops from the Pyrenees were fork-tender. And surprisingly I also liked the Pigeon in Mole Sauce. (The lesson here: In the hands of a master, anything can be made delicious.)

But here’s the deal……

Darroze cites that she fondly remembers her Sunday dinners while growing up in Gascony. It was always ROAST CHICKEN and always chicken from Landes.

Consequently, we are blessed that she has added Saturday and Sunday ROAST CHICKEN FOR TWO to her menus in both Paris and London. This is no casual Sunday supper, though. Each menu consists of five courses and will set you back about $140 for two. Not cheap, but a bargain compared to a meal assembled à la carte.

Perhaps Daniel Humm of NYC’s ELEVEN MADISON PARK took inspiration from Hélène Darroze when he introduced what food writer Dan Meyers has called “the best roast chicken in America” – an Amish variety, stuffed with truffles, foie gras and brioche.

Darroze stuffs foie gras under the skin in the winter, and in the summer the chicken gets morel mushrooms and truffles.

The parade begins with a gilded eggshell filled with egg yolk confit, chicken liver mousse, bacon, crispy skin and parmesan foam – decadence on a spoon. That’s followed by a second course of “gin-clear” chicken consommé with tiny ravioli and a splash of Armagnac. A generous glossy and juicy nut-brown breast comes next with a side of perfectly prepared, butter-loaded seasonal vegetables.

But now comes a real surprise and delight: a taco of boldly seasoned chicken leg and thigh meat on a corn tortilla with a squeeze of fresh lime.

Dessert arrives in three separate steps. Staying true to the chicken theme, there is ALWAYS Ile Flottante (whipped egg whites with crème anglaise, caramel and sliced toasted almonds), and sometimes strawberry ice cream (unlike any you have ever seen or tasted).

Not included, but definitely a worthwhile extra indulgence is a sampling from the Cheese Trolley, which features huge wedges of unpasteurized varieties (which aren’t imported to the U.S.) from both England and France, displayed under enormous glass bell jars. Selections come with an assortment of fruits, nuts and chutneys.

And finally a complimentary “tree” of chocolate truffles arrives to enjoy with your coffee. But….we ain’t done yet, folks. As you leave, you are given a box of cookies, pastries, macarons and sweets to take home. NICE!

The PRIX FIXE menu at lunch is a relative bargain in Paris. The London location serves dinner only.

My advice? Book a table for two on Saturday or Sunday night. Have the ROAST CHICKEN FOR TWO…..DO IT!

W.T. F.



Jokes about GERMAN FOOD are the WURST.

Indeed, as Karen Krizanovich writes in The Civilian publication, “What do you think of when you think of German/Austrian food? Terrific strudels…heaps of whipped cream (schlag)…heart attacks…and a FAT ASS.”

It also doesn’t help the region’s image that, as Amol Rajan of The Independent put it, “Austria produced Hitler, a son that no civilized people would ever want to claim.”

So, starting out in the hole with two strikes against this part of the world, you can imagine what a delight it was for me and Joanne to discover great German/Austrian food at FISCHER’S, a wonderful little neighborhood restaurant and cafe tucked away at the top of Marylebone High Street in the heart of London.

The folks behind this place are not amateurs. Owners Jeremy King and Chris Corbin also created the wildly successful London restaurant, The Wolseley.

Fischer’s represents the recreation of a chic yet casual pre-war grand Viennese café with marble tile flooring…shiny dark wood-paneled walls…antique light fixtures…brass fittings…and large oil paintings of burghers (some in silly hats). I found it very convincing and unashamedly untrendy. The staff is alert and charming. Do not expect waiters in lederhosen slap dancing.

I had read about Fischer’s somewhere, and Joanne and I decided to check it out during the day. I was impressed with the understated class and coherence of the place and we selected our table for the evening (#36, a leather banquette corner table; tables 11 and 17 also have nice vistas of the action in the dining room).

The offerings are extensive: cured fish…fat smoky sausages….schnitzels….herring and strudels. The affordable wine list is “Mittel European” – Austrian, German, Hungarian and Alsatian.

The evening crowd from the Marylebone neighborhood appeared to be mainly professionals. A fair number of them were smartly dressed family folks, but kids were few in number (maybe because buggies and strollers are banned). It also appears to be a safe haven for celebs, as they’re routinely spotted here (see below). Nigella Lawson, the famed London food writer (who got choked by her husband at SCOTTS, as I wrote about in a previous WTF blog post) is well known at Fischer’s. Salman Rushdie dines here, too. So does supermodel Kate Moss.

As Grace Dent of The Evening Standard says, “Fischer’s evokes less of a planned destination….and more of an impromptu amble.” That probably fits well with the $50 average price per person…unless, of course, one gets deeply into the wine.

I love the bread service here. The offerings are chewy, heavy, and molasses-y beyond expectations, and come with a ramekin of incredibly rich paprika butter.

For starters, I opted for Chopped Chicken Liver with pickled cucumbers. Joanne said “Yuck” and ordered the Trio of Smoked Salmon – maple-cured, oak-smoked and beetroot-cured ($15).

Now we were on a roll and decided to order a third starter (Was that the wine talking?). It was terrific: three little open-face sandwiches on rye bread called “brotchen”…one with smoked salmon and goat curd, another topped with beetroot and pickled herring, and lastly an artichoke and caper rendition.

After a tiny (but crispy, spicy and tasty) Arugula Salad, Joanne selected Butter Poached Haddock with Asian-Indian spices ($26) for her main, and was very pleased with her choice.

I was on the horns of a dilemma. What really gets Germans going is their Teutonic dedication to cabbage, potatoes, pork, beer and schnapps. And in this regard, Fischer’s does not disappoint. And boy, was I up for it! They feature “Trenchermen’s Sausage Platters” where one can pick any two varieties – including knockwurst, frankfurters, veal bratwurst, wild boar and Kasekrainer (pork and garlic sausage stuffed with Emmenthal cheese) – along with German Potato Salad and “melted onions” (i.e. caramelized), plus sauerkraut and grainy mustard. All for about $20.

At the same time, the Schnitzel section was calling my name with Brunhildan passion. There was Chicken Schnitzel with “jus Parisienne.” There was the classic veal Weiner Schnitzel with lemon…and finally their house specialty: Schnitzel ala Holstein – veal pounded thin, breaded and fried, and crowned with anchovies, capers and a fried egg (with a half-lemon “bra” for squeezing).

I’m a sucker for wretched excess, so of course I caved and ordered the specialty – defying Mies van der Rohe, who famously stated that “less is more” – except when it comes to food, where “less is just less.”

I’m here to tell you: Fischer’s does PROPER SCHNITZELS.

Somehow I had room for dessert. All along, I had assumed that Fischer’s would offer a Sacher Torte (made famous by the Sacher Hotel in Vienna) – a dense, deeply rich chocolate cake laced with apricot jam and served with a massive dollop of schlag on the side. But it wasn’t to be.

Any disappointment we felt quickly vanished, however, when the server brought our strudels – Joanne’s with sour cherry, mine with apple, and both MIT SCHLAG.

They were the BEST we’ve ever had. As Andy Warhol once said, “A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better coke.” I cannot imagine a better strudel at any price.

And so, the Fat Assed Lady joyfully sings!


Rules Still Rules

RULES claims to be London’s oldest surviving restaurant – open for business near Covent Garden since 1798.

As Marina O’Laughlin states in the Guardian, “We all know Rules, don’t we?”

Yes, we do. They have fed Charles Dickens…”Bertie”, King Edward VII of England…two James Bonds, Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore…as well as Paul Newman and Harrison Ford. They’ve soldiered through two world wars and countless domestic conflicts, all the while serving up classic English fare with a huge emphasis on wild-caught game.

On a previous visit, I asked how old the restaurant was. Our server instantly said, “About 20 years younger than your country.”

Rules actually has a kind of fixation on America, as they routinely claim that the reason they’re routinely dismissed by London’s “elite foodie intelligentsia” owes to the fact that they’re always jam-packed with American tourists.

So it’s with this understanding that Joanne and I periodically return to Rules – most recently just a few weeks ago.

Here’s my dilemma: I really love the food, but they piss me off!

Upon arrival, we were greeted at the podium by a pompous, condescending manager who treated us like we were trying to sneak past his velvet rope – even though we had a reservation.

First, he told us that they had no booth for us, as we had requested, and wouldn’t have one for an hour-and-a-half. He said this as I looked over his shoulder at a half-empty dining room.

Ultimately they did find us a corner table (#15) that was just fine, and as we were led there, the host told us that we had to be out in two hours as our table was booked again at 8:00 o’clock.

Our server was pleasant enough as she explained that they were out of prawns….out of hare….and out of pheasant. Again, this was at 6:00 PM. Somebody screwed up on the daily ordering.

I wasn’t particularly annoyed, as we had our eye on other offerings. (By the way: Parasole restaurants occasionally run out of evening specials. We’ll prep 15 of something, and typically they’re gone by 8:30, not 6 PM! Rarely, however, do we run out of a menu item). Clearly, Rules was not at the top of its game.

Having been warned that we’d better vacate by 8 PM, and denied the option of ordering a good chunk of the menu, I began to think that they weren’t going to be happy until we weren’t happy.

My suspicions proved correct. When our server took our appetizer order, she reminded us – for the third time – that we had to be out of the restaurant by 8 o’clock!

Now I was “RED-ASSED.” And I said to Joanne, “They don’t give a shit about us and our evening. They just want to churn tables.”

I summoned the manager and said, “You know, I could have chosen from any number of good London restaurants tonight – The Guinea Grill, the Ivy, St. John, Hawksmoor…but you know what? I CHOSE YOU! And here’s what your attitude is communicating to us: Get ‘em in, seat ‘em anyplace, and get ‘em out. We need this table, NOW!” And yet I CHOSE YOU? … WHY?”

Sometimes it’s hard to be a foodie: I wanted to protect my dignity. I wanted to give them the finger and storm off, but…


So what was I to do? Was the eating experience worth putting up with the abuse? Well, I keep going back, so I guess I have my answer. Apparently I’m not just a slave to food, but a glutton for punishment (“It tastes so good AND hurts so good!”).

Okay, let’s go ……

Jay Rayner of The Guardian writes, “Rules is a theme park iteration of old London.” Here you sink into a “plushy” crimson velvet booth amid swirly red-patterned carpets. The tablecloths are starched white linen. You marvel at the wood-paneled walls, cluttered with hundreds of oil paintings, old portraits, humorous prints and antlers, antlers, antlers everywhere, reinforcing their game story. The interior is utterly overwrought, but I have to say it….”Rules is COZY.”

Joanne and I always go in the fall – me for the WILD GAME; for Joanne, anything but.

Rabbit and hare are served up in different ways – the rabbit is braised and accompanied by butter-loaded gratin dauphinois. The hare is a little more adventuresome – accompanied by earthy pheasant sausage stuffed with the innards of the bird (watch out Fergus Henderson; they’re meddling on your turf).

Rules is well known for their Pot Pies, particularly Steak & Kidney Pie, which I’ve tried and loved, with its thick, rich gravy and suet crust. I’ve yet to try the Wild Boar Pot Pie, but how could it not be excellent?

Shepherd’s Pie is a signature dish, and in a nice twist it comes with lamb, not beef, and a topping of butter-loaded mashed potatoes toasted under the broiler.

Seared Scallops and Pork Cheeks are an unusual pairing, but good (I always say, the best way to prepare seafood is by adding meat to it).

In addition to Guinness Beef Stew, which sounds great, they feature a Rib of Beef for Two, again with dauphinois potatoes, savoy cabbage, winter vegetables, greens and Yorkshire pudding. It’s a big, impressive statement and will run you about $42 per person. Check out the photo.

On our recent visit, we had appetizers of Rabbit Rilettes with pickled onions (I loved it; Joanne hated it). Since it was hunting season, I tried the Venison Carpaccio with pickled red cabbage, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and watercress. The red cabbage was a perfect counterpoint to the gaminess of the venison. Although I was tempted (Joanne, less so), the Beef, Kidney and Oyster Pudding sounded like an adventure. Next time.

For mains, Joanne had the Seared Scottish Salmon with Mussels (but, alas, no prawns).

During our previous visits, I’ve had several versions of partridge. This time I had Red Leg Partridge with creamed savoy cabbage and bacon. The meat was flavorful and tender – and tiny flecks of buckshot provided additional texture.

Amongst the other feathered and furred offerings was Young Grouse with red currant jelly, crispy bacon, gaufrette potatoes and bread sauce. I didn’t go for it. Grouse can be very strong, and the last time I had it in London was at St. John (where our waiter described it as having a “rather metallic taste”). Nicely plated and presented, but too gamey even for me.

We ended our meal with an order of syrupy Sticky Toffee Pudding with walnuts and crème fraiche, as well as a Flintstonian wedge of English Stilton Cheese from the trolley, cut and served with ceremony. Neither offering is to be missed.

So here’s my bottom line: If it’s fall and you’re up for a generous taste of game or comfort food, Rules occupies a rare position among restaurants: It doubles as a tourist magnet as well as a superb restaurant. But DO NOT GO in a bad or combative mood, because if you’re on the cusp of getting pissed, I guarantee they will MAKE you pissed.

Even KATE MIDDLETON, who has a “pinky vodka” drink named after her, goes to RULES. I’m certain that she is awarded one of the coveted velvet booths.

And she owns a gun!