Have a healthy start to the day with these breakfast waffles inspired by Brazilian cheese puffs!
The other day I couldn’t resist a visit to the Impressionists in Normandy exhibition at the Jacquemart André Museum in Paris. If you’re like me and adore art, you’ll especially appreciate this museum as a do-able size, plus Monet, Degas, Renoir and Caillebotte paintings are so close that it’s pinch-your-arm worthy. But the cherry on the Stohrer cakes is the museum’s Café. As I mention it in Teatime in Paris as one of my favourites, this time Monsieur Antoine couldn’t resist joining me in an afternoon teatime.
Antoine never takes tea but he saw the menu listing Rooibos. It was enough to see his eyes as he sipped; conversation uncharacteristically changed to tea, as he recognised the familiar Rooibos from the Cape and we made a note of the label: Cape and Cape. Before we knew it, we were reminiscing and dreaming of another trip to South Africa.
We first discovered Rooibos about ten years ago on my first trip to South Africa with Monsieur. Each guesthouse on our route had a tea tray with a kettle, and particular attention was drawn to the little jug of fresh milk in the room’s fridge. It all felt rather charming and colonial – until the conventional hotel sachets of regular black tea and herbal infusions were surprisingly replaced with this curious-looking Rooibos. When I asked the locals what they did with it, I was just to add a touch of milk. As a milk-in-my-tea Brit, this totally suited me. It tasted a bit like tea but it wasn’t with its woody undertones.
Over our holidays we both became infatuated with this drink – especially as its reputed health benefits (if not psychologically) helped outweigh the Cape wines we were drinking, which was the main purpose of our tour. With frequent returns to the wine regions of Stellenbosch, Paarl, Hermanus (Hemel-en-Aarde Valley), Franschhoek, and north of Cape Town to Swartland we’re spell-bound by the dramatic scenery which changes around every corner.
While we were tasting Chenins to Pinotages, another couple, Matthias and Gervanne Leridon had fallen so much in love with Rooibos, the South African tea of the land. They had done the full monty, heading another 100km inland north to Clanwilliam, the centre of Rooibos land and eventually set up the Cape and Cape company in 2013, exporting the natural teas to Paris.
WHAT IS ROOIBOS?
It’s a small bush that grows in the wild in South Africa – about 200km north of Cape Town. Its name, Rooibos (meaning redbush), is a red tea that’s rich in antioxidants, naturally low in tannins and completely caffeine-free.
NOT THE SAME
Returning to Paris, gradually Rooibos has been easier to find in the supermarkets (UK too) but nothing can approach that specific taste of Rooibos we had in South Africa – until the other day in Paris.
I had heard of this new Cape and Cape in Paris before but hadn’t stumbled on the boutique. It’s a rather hidden secret behind Trocadero on rue Vineuse, with rows of brightly coloured triangular tins uncovering tastes that will “broaden our horizons”. They have a point. Maria gave me a most welcome tasting of their pure and “simple” Rooibos, Safari au Cap from the Terroir of Nieuwoudtville. I closed my eyes and, like Antoine, was instantly transported to the Cape, something that the rooibos teas to date from supermarkets (including organic in health food stores etc.) just hadn’t achieved.
MORE THAN JUST ONE PURE ROOIBOS
I thought there was just one Rooibos – but there’s a wide variety of pure Rooibos to taste, since with each unique area – like wine – the varieties depend on the terroir or soil where the fynbos (South-African maquis or scrub) develops specifically to environmental conditions: in the south, green rooibos is lightly citrus; in the centre, it’s more down-to-earth and more of a substitute to black tea; while in the high-altitude north of the Cederberg Mountains, there’s more of a taste of red fruits and cacao.
According to Mikaël Grou, Second Sommelier at the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris and taster for the House, the Rooibos-growing area is the equivalent to both Burgundy and Beaujolais regions put together.
I’m particularly fascinated with their Green Rooibos as it’s a real detox and haven’t seen it before. Green Mountain is so delicate and both flavours come through: the green tea first then a delicate, almost smoky rooibos aftertaste. I loved the slightly “stronger” version, Stormy Joburg, with a hint of citrus too.
HOW TO INFUSE
As with red Rooibos, Sommelier Mikaël Grou explains that it’s important to infuse for at least 5 minutes, if not to 10 minutes using an extra-fine filter. The reason isn’t for the colour (which appears straight away) but for the total flavour to shine through. As with “normal” tea, it’s best to brew it using water just under boiling (90°C). He recommends pouring 4/5 boiling water from the kettle and topping up with cold water before adding the Rooibos or tea.
If you’re into flavoured teas, there are plenty to tempt the tastebuds. Flirt with sweet and spicy flavoured Rooibos with evocative names such as Citrus Kiss, Oh My Ginger, Miss Grey, Shap Shap! Bon Bon (Strawberry-Vanilla. Shap Shap is slang for good good – how you doing?) and Flirt with Scarlet (Rose-Mango).
AFRICA THE UNKNOWN TEA CONTINENT
The teas at Cape and Cape don’t just stop at Rooibos. Calling themselves the “African House of Tea”, their third variety of teas are Natural African Teas.
As they say, AFRICA IS THE UNKNOWN TEA CONTINENT. I was astonished to learn that Kenya is the THIRD largest global producer of tea after China and India (the fourth is Sri Lanka).
There’s still a lot to learn about African teas. Perhaps the best teacup forward is simply to try their unearthed range of delicate white teas to the strong black teas from the Congo with hints of chocolate; floral and tangy black teas from Kenya; medium-strength fruity black teas from Rwanda; and woody and floral green or black teas from Malawi. I hear that there will be a new Tanzanian tea end of May too.
COOKING WITH TEA
One of the Africaan ladies also explained on holiday that when her family gets sick, the first thing she makes is a rooibos infusion with rosemary. Needless to say, as soon as I returned home, I experimented with a macaron using a rooibos and rosemary-infused chocolate ganache (the family thought I was mad but it worked!) Try a blind tasting: it certainly has people astonished over such mysterious flavours!
Many chefs are infusing tea in their dishes these days. Have you tried this smoky beurre blanc with fish (using Lapsang-Souchong tea), or Theodor’s fragrant rice pudding? I’ve created a new Pinterest board, Cooking & Baking with Tea, and I’ll gradually add more recipes to this. I’m looking forward to trying Christmas Fireworks, a Rooibos filled with festive spices – a perfect infusion for desserts and macarons!
You’ll find Cape and Cape African teas not just in their hidden boutique at Trocadero, but gradually in more familiar locations in Paris, just like we saw at Jacquemart André. Gontran Cherrier, one of my favourite Parisian boulangeries also has realised its potential, as has Galeries Lafayette.
So next time you’re pushing the tourists aside to take a pic of the Eiffel Tower, head to the much quieter Avenue Camoens, take a different angle like above and walk just around the corner for a taste of African tea in Paris.
Cape and Cape
African House of Tea
19 rue Vineuse
Tel: 01-45 24 77 70
Part of this article is published on Bonjour Paris! Do pop over and say bonjour …
If you’re planning to visit Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, you may also want to head out of the City for a few days. That’s just what we did this summer (albeit their winter) with two very different attractions: Paraty, a 4 hour drive in lush scenery known as the Green Coast (Costa Verde) south of Rio; and Buzios, a beach and nightlife Brazilian favourite, about 2 hours drive north if the roads are clear.
Paraty is a beautifully preserved Portuguese Colonial town dating from 1667 which served as a thriving port to export gold, coffee and sugarcane in the form of the local spirit, Cachaça. As the railway was built in the 19th century for cheaper transport to Rio and the gold ran out, the town was almost abandoned, hence such a wonderful conservation of the old town for about 250 years. Since the 1970s the fishing town of Paraty has been rediscovered as a thriving tourist destination.
Paraty is also known for its uneven cobblestone-paved streets in the historical pedestrian centre.It hadn’t rained when we arrived: instead the water collecting in the stones was a sign of the tide gradually pouring in to this part of town as full moon approached. By the time we had left, these streets would have been flooded – something the locals are used to each month but it’s nothing much and doesn’t last long.
One of the first things that struck us were the number of brigadeiro stalls, where the locals were enjoying their sweet fix at teatime – and in the mornings and evenings too!
It’s the first time I’ve seen poinsettias growing as bushes. Somehow my miserable poinsettias that I try to look after at Christmas time look miserable in comparison!
We had some fun on Facebook, guessing what was this side dish below. They’re palm hearts, something that we often serve in French salads but they’re conserved in tins, long and thin. These enormous disks were fresh from the top heart of the palm tree, baked in the oven and served with a dribbling of olive oil. There are plenty of wonderful restaurants to choose from – mainly serving excellent fish. Our favourites were Banana da Terra and that of the Pousada Literaria where we were staying (I must post one of their famous recipes for breakfast for you soon!).
To appreciate the inviting islands dotted all around Paraty, you must take a boat ride. We were in the expert hands of Davi Trinidade, our Captain for the day with his speedboat Palombeta. I had previously booked our 5-hour day trip online on his site, which is very clear and efficient – and was so impressed that we booked a second day with him!
It was wonderful to see Paraty from a different angle…
And discover paradisiac strips of beach with either smooth sand or finely crushed shell, go swimming and snorkelling. Don’t ask me why, but I still can’t get that mask on my face – so my excuse was to take the photos!
The highlight for the girls was watching the turtles then feeding the monkeys on Monkey Island. These cuties would gently hold your finger as they politely took some banana. Well raised little monkeys indeed! Their miniature faces were captivating.
Davi’s English was perfect and took his time with us ensuring we enjoyed every moment, including a stop off for lunch.
A typical dish served here is a traditional prawn or fish stew, Moqueca, served in a hot clay pot. I tasted a few to try and each one was quite liquid. It’s served with a typical side dish of Farofa – a combination of manioc flour with some sort of fat or oil to give it a sandy texture – gravy from the stew and chilli oil to taste. This vanilla ice cream dessert looks like it’s served with cherries, right? Instead it was candied bananas, absolutely delicious.
Davi anchored in front of this thatched roof villa with its private beach. Antoine and I were totally out the cut but the girls were enthralled to hear that this was the famous house filmed in Twilight. The island of Esme, where the couple honeymoon in the saga Breaking Dawn, doesn’t exist. It’s here in Casa em Paraty, which can be rented – perfect for vampire honeymoons, I hear.
Back on Paraty land, another popular form of transport is by horse-drawn carriage.
No visit to Paraty is complete without a taste of the local speciality made famous here since the 19th century. Cachaça is a sugarcane-based spirit which is the main ingredient for the Brazilian cocktail, Caipirinha. The classic cocktail was with plenty of limes but we also adored the fresh passion fruit version too at apéritif time – a great excuse to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary, which we just about totally missed if we hadn’t seen a message from Mum and Dad!
A century ago, Cachaça was called Parati, hence such a famous location for the best in Brazil. After a tasting, my best Cachaça friend was definitely Gabriela, discovered at the main store in Rua do Comercio. She’s a spicy number with cinnamon and cloves. Add this to a Caipirinha and the evening is sure to start off the festivities!
One of my personal highlights in Paraty was a visit to the natural food store, Via Natural on Rua da Floresta. André was so enthusiastic about his products and I left just as excited as he was with my selection of cloves (cravo), cinnamon, dried guava and pineapple, brazil nuts, and – wait for it – pure roasted cocoa beans rolled in demerara sugar! I wish I could make everyone taste one who joins me on my chocolate tours in Paris! For that I’d need a regular supply, André …
André couldn’t let us leave without trying Açai (ah-sah-ee). This super-healthy but bitter berry is found around the Amazon river basin and is hugely popular in Brazil. As a drink, it’s sweetened normally with banana but André had a wonderfully vibrant Açai powder which I look forward to using – particularly as it’s list of health benefits is well worth the try. I’ll experiment with it for some pastries at teatime but in the meantime, I’ve already made a Brazilian version of breakfast granola using the above ingredients. Fabulous!
I’ll finally leave you with a sunset from Brigitte Bardot’s beach in Buzios, the “Saint Tropez of Brazil”. Cheers to you, readers!
Now I’m finally back in Paris, you may have noticed I’ve been travelling again since Brazil. Next stop on le blog? The Loire Valley.
(Note: this was not at all a sponsored trip but our private family holiday I wanted to share with you, in preparation for the Olympic Games in Brazil, 2016)
It’s just how I imagined it. Rio’s Copacabana Beach showed off this scene on our first night, directly in front of the hotel with the blue moon looking on. Although it’s winter, the weather is perfect at this time of year, with temperatures hovering around 25°C. As one new Brazilian friend teased, “Winter in Rio was last Wednesday”.
Although we weren’t there at the time of the famous Carnival, we quickly realised how much more there is to Rio than Copacabana. For a start, there’s also Ipanema Beach.
Arriving off our night flight and feeling a bit new in this exciting City we were thankful to have booked an ideal 2-hour “Welcome to Rio” walk with Context Travel. Our lovely and lively guide, Amber, came to meet us and was itching to explain Rio’s different neighbourhoods and help us prepare our visit. Knowing we also love good food, she pointed us around the corner from the Copacabana Palace to show us some typical snacks. It didn’t take us long to taste our way around the bacon popcorn and carts of freshly baked brigadeiros, sweet chocolate fudge truffles made with condensed milk.
Pao de Queijo – warmed cheese bread balls, were my favourite and became rather addictive during our trip. They’re not unlike Gougères – French style cheese puffs typical of Burgundy, made with choux pastry – but the Brazilian version is more dense and heavier in weight. This is because instead of making them using normal all-purpose flour (as in Gougères), these cheese balls use cassava flour or tapioca flour.
Surprisingly, we saw Pao de Queijo on each hotels’ breakfast buffets during the trip along with the most succulent local mango, guava and papaya served with lime wedges. Limes are more popular than lemons and so a must try is the national Brazilian cocktail, the Caipirinha at one of the many kiosks along the beach (more on that in the next post) or by the pool as a special treat at the famous Copacabana Palace, which opened its Art Deco doors in 1923.
Another Context Tour really helped us get an idea of the City Centre (Centro), Founding Rio, the Marvellous City. Beth walked us through Rio’s fascinating history, starting with the Portuguese sailing into Guanabara Bay in January 1502. Thinking it was a mouth of a river, they called it Rio de Janeiro, or January River.
By 1822 Emperor Pedro I declared Brazil’s independence with Portugal and the evidence of old Colonial with new is evident throughout the City, who’s ports served as the Capital for the gold, coffee and diamond trade. It wasn’t until 1960 that the Capital was moved to Brasilia, a more central location. The tour ended here at the Cathedral of Saint Sebastian. Finished in 1979, it looks rather like a Mayan pyramid amongst the mix of Colonial and more modern structures.
A note on security: it wasn’t as bad as we’d heard. Like any big city, you do need to be streetwise: don’t wear a watch or jewellery or walk around with cameras on show, and stay clear of the dodgy areas at night. In preparation for the 2016 Olympics, the police have tightened security and gone through a major project to pacify the favelas (shanty towns) and with police presence around the city, we felt safe. Just be practical and in areas in the North East, know where you’re going otherwise take a taxi.
Antoine had to talk sweetly to get me up Sugar Loaf Mountain. With vertigo, you can imagine why I’d be scared just looking at this picture. I still can’t believe I did it! There are two cable cars. The first takes you to the flatter, Urca Mountain, and from there you are whisked up by second cable car (some mountaineers decided to brave it up the only other way) up 400m. My secret was to stay in the middle and not look out of the window. There is a lot more room up there than you think to walk around, believe me!
Don’t forget your kids’ IDs in order to qualify for price concessions. We didn’t cart around our passports (naturally in a big city!) and found ourselves paying full over-21 adult prices for our 12 and 15 year olds. Lucie turned 13 a couple of days later; I know she’s tall but 21? Really.
The promised sweet talk started with one of the best ice creams in Rio at Felice in Ipanema. I opted for the passion fruit and chilli dark chocolate. The pistachio was also delicious – and just the right colour (you know how fussy I am about pistachio colour!).
However, for the best Teatime in Rio head to the famous institution reminiscent of the Belle Epoque, the Confeitaria Colombo in the heart of the City.
It was busy. Apologies for the terrible shot above here but I get excited in places like this, surrounded by Art Nouveau decor and wondering who exactly walked these floors since 1894. Queen Elizabeth did, apparently.
Needless to say, my choice was for the Pastels de Nata. I even had a savoury one, with cod fish followed by a most exquisite Pastel de Caipirinha (could you guess?). They also had French-inspired éclairs, Napoleon millefeuilles, lemon meringue tarts and chocolate tartlets (recipes in Teatime in Paris!).
Talking of food, we tried out a number of places for dinner in our 5 days in Rio but here are our best restaurants for a 3 day stay:
- Ten Kai Japanese restaurant in Ipanema;
- Zaza Bistro in Ipanema (we ate upstairs, where you take off your shoes and eat at low tables);
- Aprazivel, Santa Teresa. Some people told us to avoid this at night. For lunch you have spectacular views from the top but at night it’s just as good. (Just ensure that you take a taxi directly there and not walk the hill as you pass a favela). Order the palm hearts for starter. One between 2 is enough but it’s served cooked from the palm tree. Absolutely delicious!
- From Aprizivel we went on to Rio Scenarium in Lapa, a live music club on 4 floors. Take ID with you for the entrance (also a small fee). We were unlucky since we booked in advance but there were no tables left and the 2 bands out of 4 stopped playing after 10 minutes for a break – so it was just recorded music. Hopefully you’ll be more lucky since it’s a must-do here for some Samba dancing!
Another essential must-see in Rio is up the Corcovado (Portuguese for “hunchback”) mountain to see the monument of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Rendentor). The most popular transport to get there is by train. Normally we would have done it early in the morning to avoid the crowds but since this was Winter and the sun was shining with a great view potential, we took a taxi up to Paineiras Road then bought our tickets for the park vans to take us to the top.
Again, like Sugar Loaf Mountain, there is a lot more room at the top than you think for the weaker amongst us. And the view of Rio de Janeiro is incredible. If it’s misty, however, don’t even bother going there. The whole point is for the view and to see the statue perched on this granite rock of 710m. On a misty day you won’t see either of them. We also saw some monkeys on the way down in the Tijuca Forest, which just made Lucie’s 13th birthday!
On our last day we enjoyed our final walking tour with Amber from Context: Bohemian Rio, Santa Teresa and Lapa. Even although we had already seen a bit of Santa Teresa, we would never have seen all the secret parts of it without a guide.
Amber showed us the original trolley car, famous in Santa Teresa but which was stopped in 2012 for security reasons following an accident. The area is full of renovation work in anticipation of the Olympics next year but it looks like the trolley will be back in action again soon.
We loved visiting this traditional bookstore with a difference, where this passionate writer keeps the tradition alive of writing booklets on academic subjects – some of which were in English. There are many flamboyant artists in the area too, finding ingenious ways to recycle abandoned objects, including a Beetle car shell!
As we walked on the typical mosaic tiled pavements in Rio – originally brought from Portugal and replaced by gold on the way back – our tour with Amber finished with a hidden viewpoint in the heart of the city to watch the most magnificent sunset.
Stay tuned for the next post where we stop off at two destinations north and south of Rio, Buzios and Paraty, for a taste of the lazy beach life and islands plus the local Cachaça.
(Note: this was not at all a sponsored trip but our private family holiday I wanted to share with you, in preparation for the Olympic Games in Brazil, August 2016)
Before I get to the recipe for Pistachio Strawberry Panna Cotta, let me tell you how I got there first.
Continuing to follow the sun this summer, we stopped for breath in the French Alps. Walking in the clean, mountain air was the best answer to liberate us from any of the year’s accumulating cobwebs. Next time I’ll take a bike (although I need to practice on flat ground first) but in the meantime we did plenty of cyclist watching, hypnotically driving behind previous marks on the road left by red-spotted or yellow-tunic supporters during past Tour de France mountain races.
As we were perched in Montgenèvre, Italy was just next door. Italian temptation rang like the tinkling of neighbouring church bells at noon and so we popped over for a sweet few hours. We headed East on the stunning Turin road for the Roman town of Susa in Piedmont, a peaceful sleepy town definitely worth visiting.
This ‘pasticceria‘ pastry shop was our first sweet welcome, although it was closed for a long lunch (and obviously siesta) when we arrived. You could tell from the window that their macarons were selling as much as their traditional baci di dama (lit: ladies’ kisses) biscuits.
Susa’s streets gravitate towards the Porta Savoia gate, where the town centre’s piazza is marked by the 11th Century San Giusto Cathedral. The gate is also considered by the locals as quite modern, as it was rebuilt during the Middle Ages!
It’s hard to believe that these monuments are still standing since their Roman predecessors. Below left is the Augustan Arch, dating back to 8 BC. On the right, the remains of the Roman aqueduct, slightly younger, clocking in at 375 AD.
It’s mind-blowing just thinking of the number of gladiators who would have been behind these bars, awaiting their turn to run out into the Roman Ampitheatre to a roar of excited spectators, hungry for action.
After testing the perfect acoustics of the Ampitheatre pretending to be an opera singer, it was time to make a sharp exit since I was embarrassing hubby and the girls (Valérie, a good friend in Provence, has a sign in her WC saying “If you’re not embarrassing your kids you’re not living life to the full”.) Running after them, it didn’t take long to discover they were already choosing ice cream flavours from the piazza’s La Bottega del Gelate.
Somehow, however, I feel I can live life to the full without selfies. The girls were trying to explain how to take them properly but I was more interested in ice cream. Julie didn’t give up: “Well at least make a silly face, Mum.” I tried.
I also tried to go posh, Pierre Hermé style, and pick a chocolate and passion fruit combination. The passion fruit was rather synthetic but the chocolate was good (although I wanted Baci – chocolate ice cream with hazelnut like Perigina’s ‘kiss’ chocolates). Our overall winner was voted as pistachio as there must have been real Italian pistachios in there.
As we checked out the local grocery stores for pistachios, we found the best deal and quality at the local Carrefour supermarket, full of interesting Italian produce. Quickly cleaning out their stock of Sicilian pistachios, I couldn’t wait to try them back home: liberally added to weekend brioche, dark chocolate cake, or pistachio and chocolate-pistachio macarons. It’s not just the flavour but the pistachio colour (see this post about it) has to look realistic, don’t you think?
It didn’t take long before I made a few panna cottas for a Sunday afternoon lunch last weekend. Rose and griotte cherry panna cottas were on the menu but above all, these simple pistachio strawberry panna cotta desserts.
Needless to add that panna cottas go deliciously well with macarons! I completely forgot about this packaging bought in a baking supply shop in Rouen. It’s handy to transport your macarons since the little tower centrepiece has a cover that you can easily clip around them. Rouen – there’s another place I should tell you about later.
Perhaps I could call the chocolate-hazelnut macarons (one of the 38 macaron recipes in the book BTW) Baci macaron? Bite into one and it’s a chocolate kiss. Oh-la-la. Enough of that nutty talk. Time to get on with the recipe!
Pistachio Strawberry Panna Cotta
Makes enough for 8 mini verrines / shot-glasses
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Chilling Time: 2.5 hours minimum
3 sheets gelatine (@2g each)
400ml crème fleurette or whipping cream (30% butterfat)
100ml whole/full fat milk
4 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp pistachio paste *
3-4 drops pistachio extract (or almond extract)
1 gelatine leaf (@ 2g)
300g fresh strawberries
50g caster sugar
* If you don’t have pistachio paste, make up your own: whizz 100g unsalted pistachios in a grinder. Mix together with 25g ground almonds, 50g sugar, 2 drops of pistachio extract and a tablespoon of water.
1. Soak the 3 gelatine leaves in cold water for 10 minutes.
2. Heat the cream, milk, sugar and pistachio paste in a saucepan. Once heated through, squeeze the gelatine of excess water and stir it into the warm cream until melted. Add the pistachio extract then pour into serving glasses.
3. Cool for 15 minutes then chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
4. Just before the creams are set, prepare the coulis. Soak the gelatine in cold water for 10 minutes. Whizz together the strawberries and sugar in a blender or food processor. Microwave 3 tbsp on high for 30 seconds, and melt in the gelatine (squeezed of excess water). Set aside to cool and when the creams are set, pour on the coulis and continue to chill in the fridge for at least another 30 minutes.
Funny. As I’m writing, I can sniff the waft of pizza floating upstairs. Lucie has discovered how to make pizza all by herself. It has been so good that she’s starting to make it quite often – and she’s even excited at cleaning up – well, nearly.
This is the first time the kids came with us to New York City. Our last time was two years ago, when I spent a large part of my time checking out baking shops and macaron stores. This time, I spared the girls from my usual mad pastry tendencies and asked, “What’s the best programme in the Big Apple for a 12 and 14 year old?” Let me share our tourist and casual restaurant tips with you for A WEEK in NYC!
No sooner had we arrived, midnight ringing in our heads, we thought of FOOD. Checking into the contemporary Conrad Hotel, Downtown, our lucky surprise was that Blue Smoke had a table for us just around the corner (255 Vesey St, near Battery Park). They serve legendary smoky BBQ beefburgers, full of flavour.
So, how would we spend the weekend as a family? The Statue of Liberty was beckoning: the best way to see it is by taking the Staten Island ferry. What’s more, it’s FREE! They run every half hour from Pier 1 (Battery Park).
Admittedly, we did the ultra touristy thing and hopped on an open-topped bus with the Grey Line, just outside the terminal. The hop-on, hop-off tickets last for 2 days, so you have plenty time to discover New York’s bearings if it’s your first time. We hopped off at East Houston Street (Ludlow and Orchard) for Katz’s Delicatessen which has quite a bit of history, possibly best known for Meg Ryan’s famous fake ‘groaning’ scene in When Harry Met Sally. With the film’s 25th anniversary, the tourists were piling in by the bus-load. Instead we headed next door to the Lobster Joint, where Monsieur Antoine was given a tasting of lagers, including Lobster beer. Their New England lobster roll certainly had me groaning for real…
Back on the red bus, the showerproof hoodies were passed around as quick as the change of Manhattan skies, but we were lucky the rest of the week weather-wise. NYC is hot and humid but air-conditioning in hotels is particularly fresh, so think about bringing a light cardigan – or, French-style, my girls preferred to fling scarves around the shoulders.
We were brave on Sunday morning: we headed well into Harlem for a Gospel Church Service. I say we were brave, as we were not welcomed and actually turned away! They turned all visitors away, in fact. Don’t even consider going to the New Mount Zion Baptist Church on West 140th St. as they obviously see their God as different from the rest of us. Upset and stunned, luckily our faith was restored as we happened on the most wonderful, welcoming church of Greater Zion Hill BC (2365 Frederick Douglass Blvd). Visitors – please don’t forget to take dollars with you for a donation. This was the most uplifting, moving service I have ever been to and one that Julie and Lucie shall never forget. We found ourselves singing ‘Jesus is Real’ all the way back to the bus!
With great thanks to my sweet and macaron-ivore friend, Mardi Michels (of EatLiveTravelWrite) who tweeted her New York foodie friends in the know of ice creams, we had to head for Brooklyn. Our lovely tour guide, Susan, seemed genuinely concerned for us when we leapt off the bus way before the famous ice cream store in Prospect Heights. Instead, we headed to Ample Hills Creamery‘s new parlour, on day 13 of opening at Gowanus. The sweltering heat had the queue snaking indoors, Disney-style. It was #worththewait.
Ample Hills Creamery only opened in 2011 and it’s no wonder their ice cream is a huge success: their secret? Good, natural ingredients. They churn out wonderful flavours such as Ooey Gooey Butter Cake, Pistachio Squared, Peppermint Pattie, Mexican Hot Chocolate (with chili flakes – I LOVED this!), even Stout ‘n’ Pretzels. Their designer cones (none of the usual dry, tongue-clinging tasteless wafers!) are incredibly tasty and tops it all off beautifully.
Antoine wants me to make the pistachio squared ice cream recipe so will have to check out their Ample Hills Ice Cream Cookbook!
Wrong order, perhaps, but after ice cream we later craved good pizza. On my last couple of trips, I did Lombardi’s in Little Italy – this time it was John’s Pizzeria, just off Times’ Square. This place certainly rivals Lombardi’s for the best pizza in NYC. With four coal-fired brick ovens and two enormous floors, queuing for a seat doesn’t take that long – although it reminds me of watching out for your winning number, waiting in any French public administration! The pizza business is HOT!
Are you scared of heights? Since the Empire State Building had me trembling just thinking of going up that lift, instead, I booked tickets to the Top-of-the-Rock at the Rockefeller Centre. Let’s face it, it’s not as high and you have great views OF the Empire State Building! Lucie thought the lift was fun, with a video playing on the ceiling for a few seconds until you realise the 70th floor observation deck is already awaiting you. Incidentally, this is a popular tourist attraction so the queues are impressive – I found the best way is to prepay tickets online (I used Smart Destinations). In the 5 minutes we waited, who should turn up but Lady Gaga in a white limousine. The girls were riveted to the sidewalk.
Our kids love museums. I already covered the museums in this post but suggest while at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), have lunch upstairs on 2nd floor Italian café. The girls particularly loved the Egyptian section at the Metropolitain Museum (the MET), the Museum of Natural History (perhaps best for boys who love dinosaurs!) but our all time favourite museum is The Frick Collection. If you’re an artlover, you HAVE to come here! I’m still dreaming of two Rembrandt paintings, including his first ever portrait of a fur trader. You could almost touch the fur.
Another highlight was meeting up with Ann Mah, author of Mastering the Art of French Eating. She suggested we meet up in Chinatown at Jing Fong‘s legendary Dim Sum restaurant (20 Elizabeth Street). The girls and I could not anticipate what awaited us at the top of a giant escalator: the equivalent of a wedding banqueting hall, buzzing with chatter, clattering dishes and efficient staff rolling trolleys back and forth with curious hidden stacks of various steaming dumplings. Thank you, Ann, for our first dim sum experience!
The market stalls in Chinatown are particularly intriguing. If any of you know what these curious Chinese dried mushrooms are, please let me know. Julie and Lucie were jumping at the live crabs, pincers stretched out and some scattering on to the pavement as we scuttled by.
Sticking to the Far East, we loved the suggestions from Leah at the Royalton Hotel. A wonderful find included Korean cuisine at Danji (just up from another fabulous ramen noodle bar), where small dishes added up to a fabulous tasting menu banquet – and great value for money, too!
Other best restaurant highlights in NYC included Saxon and Parole (316 Bowery) for great beef burgers, and our personal Italian favourite: Il Buco Alimentari (53 Great Jones St.) where we even asked for second bowls all around of their homemade gnocchi…
And if you’re wondering what the final highlight of the girls’ trip was, it wasn’t food oriented: for Lucie, it was the Frick Collection; for Julie, it was meeting up with her make-up Youtuber idol, That’s Heart (we’ve just discovered ourselves on her video TV vlog at 3:12 and 3:14! I needed a prize for being the oldest participant….) Myself? It was being together with my girls. Girlie quality time and Shopping – but that’s enough for another article!