A weekend in Torino

We arrived into Turin around 8.30pm, checked into our apartment in Piazza Castello and headed straight out. After a quick aperitivo of Aperol Spritz and a web search for some good local pasta, we ended up in Defilippis.

We started with their sharing plate of Asparagus Flan and Cheese Fondue, Russian Salad and Vitello Tonnato. If I’m honest it was a weird combination, with the asparagus flan doing nothing for me. At least we got to try one of the local classics, the Vitello (sliced veal with tuna mayonnaise on top) which I’m pretty sure I won’t try again.

It was all about the pasta though and between us we shared the Agnolotti (mini ravioli) in a meat gravy sauce and Tajarin (in between spaghetti and linguine) with bacon and smoked buratta. Both pastas were cooked perfectly but both sauces lacked seasoning unfortunately. All washed down with a bottle of local red, a Borolo 2013 Damilano at €35. Overall an underwhelming first Turin food experience.

Defilippis KATER Score 6/10 – €80 for two inc. service

The next morning, after a wander around the various piazzas and cobbled streets taking in the local Torino life, we took the lift to the top of Mole Antonelliana for panoramic views of the city.

We also made a pit stop at the famous Al Bicerin Cafe, which serves Turin’s most famous drink of coffee and chocolate topped with cold pouring cream. The trick is not to mix it, but just drink it and let the cold cream complement the hot chocolatey drink. Delicious but so rich and we definitely did not need the side order of biscuits!

We stopped for lunch at GV2 and I’m so glad we did. Faith was restored and we enjoyed some delicious bowls of pasta. I had the Tajarin with rabbit ragu and Sam the agnolotti with meat sauce. Washed down with a Moretti and glass of local white wine, it was just the perfect lunch.

GV2 KATER Score 8/10 – €40 for two inc. service

The afternoon was spent sight-seeing and enjoying a few aperitivos before dinner. We stumbled upon a very cool cocktail bar called DDR with a quite off the wall cocktail menu. So cool I managed to nab myself a copy to bring back…for work purposes.

I had made reservations at BarBaBuc, a relatively new and upcoming restaurant run by a couple of young friends located in the heart of San Salvario. We started with a glass of prosecco, whilst pondering over their special porcini menu or black truffle tasting menu or their regular degustion menu. I was excited. I chose the porcini menu after the waiter told me they had just arrived today and Sam the black truffle menu – both at €35 for three courses.

We both started with a really fresh tasting veal tartare, mine topped with fresh porcini and Sam’s with black truffle. Unfortunately the black truffle was tasteless, the porcni was a lovely addition though. It would have been nice to have a few other garnishes to add such as shallots and egg yolk, but these weren’t available.

Again we both had the same main but with the different garnish. The tajarin pasta was fresh and cooked perfectly but sorry to say it lacked seasoning and was a bit disappointing. When it arrived our waiter made a point of saying the chef felt it didn’t need cheese, however it was available if we wanted. Well we had one mouthful and then asked for the cheese which totally bought the dish to life. Sorry chef.

My third course was a dish of very slow cooked beef with porcini, delicious and incredibly rich but perhaps lacked something like a potato. I get the simplicity and the need for the porcini to be the main attraction but you’ve got to get everything absolutely spot on for this to work. Sam’s third course was a bowl of cheese custard, topped with an egg yolk and shavings of truffle. It looked lovely but when mixed together it was unappetising with raw egg floating on top. Disappointing.

We chose to drink wine by the glass and picked a Brunello Monticello 2013 (memories from a previous Italy trip) and a Barolo. The wine was poured from some weird gas tap; something I’ve never seen before. Unfortunately when we ordered a second glass of the Brunello they had to open a new bottle half way through the pour and gave us no opportunity to taste or check the wine which when you’re paying upwards of €15 a glass and what was essentially a short pour was poor service in my book.

Overall the service was just ok however they did forget our water and didn’t apologise.

BarBaBuc KATER Score 6/10 – €110 for two inc. service

Feeling a bit let down on the food front, the next day we consulted trusty TripAdvisor and found El puig d’Estelles around the corner from our apartment. With no reservation, we were warmly welcomed and shown a table inside, we instantly felt we were somewhere homely and local. We started with a caprese salad and then I chose the salami carbonara and Sam had the Tajarin ragu Bolognese. Both were just perfect and I would highly recommend. A glass of house white wine for me and a draft beer for Sam. Simple, local and delicious.

El Puig D’Estelles KATER Score 8/10 – €40 for two inc. service

Lunch was followed by an afternoon stroll taking in some more of the city, enjoying the sun and of course sampling some gelato before heading back for an afternoon siesta.

That evening we enjoyed aperitivos with a varying selection of snacks which included sausage rolls, ham sandwiches and mini pots of rice salad. No dinner required that night. Between 1730-1930 (usually) most bars offer a small buffet or selection of snacks with your drink at what seems to be at no extra cost! Its brilliant but also very carb heavy. We wondered around the cool end of town, watched the end of the Champions League final (shame Liverpool) and stopped to watch some locals dancing the night away in the street. A very lovely evening indeed.

On our last day we were a bit carbed out and fancied something a bit healthier. We headed for top rated Kensho, a sushi restaurant and were not disappointed. We enjoyed some stunning sashimi, nigiri, rolls and dumplings. We were even treated to an amuse of endamame sponge, fois gras and tuna tartare. It was a welcome change to pasta and probably one of the most modern restaurants we ate in during our stay.

Kensho KATER Score 8/10 – €80 for two inc. service

As I write this I am enjoying a very lovely bottle of Rosso di Montalcino, debating whether it will be pasta or pizza this evening. What a terrible choice to have to make.

Overall Turin has been great for a weekend break, just 1.5 hours from London its been the perfect escape. I’ve loved the culture, the people and of course the food has been pretty awesome too.

Wine-ding our way around Saint-Émilion

This trip was all about food and wine for us. I had done my research before arriving and booked a couple of places which I would recommend you do as the restaurants in Saint-Émilion get very busy. We were there for five days and literally ate and drank our way around Saint-Émilion  It is a very pretty town, easy to walk around (not so easy to park) and plenty of wine houses, restaurants and quaint shops to choose from.

We stumbled uponLa Bistro des Vignobles one rainy lunchtime and were greeted by very friendly owners and blackboard menus which sounded too delicious so decided to stay and eat. I started with some local oysters and Sam had foie gras with a beetroot raspberry jam. Both delicious and washed down with a superb glass of local white. We followed with steak and chips and for Sam and roast chicken, garlic potatoes and a spicy ratatouille for me. Quite classic and simple but really tasty. The recommended bottle of Saint-Émilion red was nice too.

La Bistro des Vignobles KATER Score 8/10 – €70 for two inc. service

La Tertre is a traditional restaurant in the heart of Saint-Émilion offering classically cooked dishes along with a very nice (expensive) wine list. It’s a restaurant for a special occasion or a fine dining treat and I would recommend you book ahead. We enjoyed dishes of beef fillet with fondant and onion truffle sauce, lobster and chocolate fondant. Naturally our meal ended with a cheese plate. All deliciously rich and satisfying.

La Tertre KATER Score 8/10 – €150 for two inc. service

Whilst sampling some of Saint-Émilion finest we were recommended La Table de Catasseau which is outside Saint-Émilion  near Pomerol. Not one to ignore a local recommendation, I booked a table for lunch the next day. It was a very local restaurant and on our arrival everyone stopped and stared. No-one spoke much English. But with my pigeon French we persevered and ordered the ‘managers menu’, not knowing what was about to arrive – for me this is the best way to eat.

The wine list was something else, so I took a punt at what looked like a reasonably priced bottle and ordered a Château Clos Saint Emilion Philippe 112, 2012. The waiter looked suitable impressed which made me feel better and wow, were we in for a treat. An amuse of truffle croquet came first, followed by lobster rolls, monk fish truffle risotto, the best beef wellington I have ever eaten, finished with the prettiest mixed berry and cream combination. And the wine was stunning. I would definitely recommend coming here if you’re ever in the area – don’t let the locals put you off!

La Table de Catasseau KATER Score 9/10 – €160 for two inc. service

We tried another restaurant near Pomerol called La Terrasse Rouge which I found online after a bit of research. It’s set on top of a working vineyard, offering stunning views across the region. It is modern in style with an open kitchen. We started with a local pork platter which we shared along with their homemade bread and assorted butters which was were divine. We followed with seabass and parmesan risotto for me and spit roast chicken, fries and salad for Sam. We had an early table at 12.30 and by 1pm it was jam packed with what looked like local business men mainly.

La Terrasse Rouge KATER Score 8.5/10 – €90 for two inc. service

On another recommendation, we booked a table at Cafe Cuisine  this was a risk as it was 20 minutes away in Branne and a taxi cost 40 Euros one way! It was a true local restaurant, quite romantic and cosy. I really wanted to like it and the 30 Euro menu sounded delicious with mackerel to start, then veal for main and apple cake for pudding. Unfortunately both starter and main were served with purees and didn’t offer any texture or variety. I know that the French eat their meat rare but this veal was on the edge for me, despite asking for it medium to well. The apple cake was just ok.

Cafe Cuisine KATER Score 6/10 – €85 for two inc. service

When it was time to go, we asked for a taxi to be told that there weren’t any, they had finished for the night. Oh! Fortunately, a lovely English couple sat next to us offered to drive us back to our hotel, which was very kind. Our hotel got an earful when we returned. Not impressed. Perhaps we were just unlucky.

We ended our trip with a day in Bordeaux checking out the sights (which there weren’t many of) and trying to find something semi healthy to eat after our over indulgent week. We found a fab little Japanese place called Un soir a shibuya with incredibly welcoming and friendly service. We each choose a mixed bento box of seaweed salad, maki, nigiri, gyoza’s and tempura. It was delicious and a welcome break from truffle, wine and cream. I would recommend this place if you’re in Bordeaux.

Un soir a shibuya KATER Score 9/10 – €65 for two inc. service no wine

California – Octavia saves the day

I can’t tell you how excited I was about our trip to San Francisco, a real foodie capital so I’d heard. We had planned two weekends in San Francisco and the week in between exploring nearby Carmel, Monterey and wine favourite Sonoma getting around in our hired convertible mustang. I’ve never been so disappointed in my life. Don’t get me wrong it was a great trip and we did have some real food highlights but in the main, the food just didn’t live up to expectations and was generally very expensive.

Let’s be honest, Sonoma was never really going to be about the food – it was all about the wine! We did however have a great foodie experience in the Pangloss Cellars (KATER Score 8/10 – £80  for two inc. service) where we had one of our first wine tastings and were offered small treats of seasonal cheese and canapes designed to accompany the wines – it was the perfect start to our wine tasting. It was unfortunate then to realise that Pangloss were unique in their offer as none of the other wine houses offered so much as a cracker.

Carmel and Monterey were probably the most disappointing in terms of food. So many restaurants on offer yet sadly none that we tried were any good. The scenery around here though was absolutely breath-taking, so it’s well worth a visit regardless. Monterey did give as Poke Lab (KATER Score 8/10 – £22  for two) which was about as exciting as the food got here. Unfortunately I spent too many hours searching TripAdvisor; getting a little obsessed with trying to find the right restaurant (we’ve all been there).  I was left wondering who was leaving these restaurants good feedback and scores of 5 out of 5.

I soon realised that Carmel and Monterey are full of travellers and tourists of a certain age. Not wanting to sound ageist but it made sense, the food was generally very bland and boring. Not to mention large in portion size and incredibly overpriced.

San Francisco was a mixed bag – we had some amazing burgers and fast food experiences namely at Pearl’s (KATER Score 8/10 – £30  for two inc. serviceburger joint and the Ferry building marketplace – I particularly fell in love with their ‘wedge salad’ – such a simple dish of iceberg lettuce drowned in a blue cheese dressing, I’m literally salivating as I think about it! Not the best example below as I kept forgetting to take a snap – too busy eating!

We wanted more than fast food, so we checked out China town and came across Z&Y (KATER Score 10/10 – $65  for two inc. service) restaurant specialising in Sichuan cuisine. From our travels in China we became big fans of Sichuan food, particularly the dumplings and the hot and sour soups. Z&Y did not disappoint. After a 20-minute wait (you can’t book) we ordered all our favourites plus a whole seabass drowned in chilli oil. An absolute must visit if you’re ever in San Francisco.

We did a 10-mile walk from our hotel, across Golden Gate Bridge and onto to Sausalito which was fantastic. We had been recommended a restaurant in Sausalito and as we got there ahead of time, we went for a quick beer in the Barrel House Tavern which had a great vibe and views across the water. Our restaurant called the Spinnaker (KATER Score 5/10 – $95  for two inc. servicewas perfectly positioned on the waters edge giving a panoramic view of the bridge and the city. The food unfortunately was not as good. It was a bit old fashioned for our liking, carpet floor, linen on table and a trolley service for clearing the tables (you must know the type). The oysters and white wine were good but other than that it was sadly a deep fried fish affair. We should have stayed in the Barrel House Tavern.

We ended our 10-day trip at Octavia (KATER Score 10/10 – $130  for two inc. serviceMelissa Perello’s newest restaurant. We enjoyed a series of small plates which we shared and included oysters, pork loin and halibut. You can even take your own wine for a reasonable corkage fee. A great end to a fabulous trip.