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.