Last week I had the pleasure of hanging out at the recently opened Bar Boulud in London with a select band of London food and lifestyle bloggers at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. On our table were social-media supermum, Eva from Nixdminx, boutique hotel guru, Anthony from Mr & Mrs Smith and food bloggers Miss Gourmet-chick, Miss Londonelicious and Mr Laissezfare. Don’t think I’m being rude in not mentioning their names – food bloggers are a shy bunch and prefer to go unrecognised in the restaurants of London. Apparently all the top restaurants these days keep a rogue’s gallery of restaurant critics and now food bloggers are being added to the hall of fame – hence the need to remain incognito. Now, if I was recognised from my carefully edited blog photos, I’d be thrilled to bits that someone was actually reading my stuff.
The evening didn’t get off to the best start when a delayed train from Bristol to London made me annoyingly (or was it fashionably?) late. The taxi ride from the station, through Hyde park on a warm July evening, soothed my spirits a little and when I arrived the other bloggings were sipping their way through a wine tasting with plates of charcuterie. Soon I was sniffing and sipping with the best of them.
Those of you who reside on the far side of the pond will no doubt have heard all about big name chef, Daniel Boulud, with his flagship 3 Michelin star restaurant Daniel and his stable of other restaurants including Bar Boulud New York. But to us Brits he’s a bit of an unknown quantity – that’s to say he doesn’t yet have a TV show over here or appear on UK supermarket ads – although all the food bloggers had heard of him of course. The charmant Monsieur Boulud grew up near Lyon in France but he’s established his reputation on the New York food scene with his sophisticated interpretation of French regional cuisine. The opening of this first outpost of the Boulud empire in London at the Mandarin Oriental had by all accounts set the London food scene a twitter and there seemed to have been hardly a London food critic or food blogger that hadn’t paid a visit in the first month of opening. We were looking forward to seeing what all the fuss was about.
If you didn’t guess that Bar Boulud is serious about its wines, you’d get a big clue as you enter, from the glass wall of wine bottles and the sweep of zinc covered bar. They even ship in jeroboams of Bollinger special cuvee champagne and magnums of fine vintage Chablis, Sancerre and Chateuneuf du Pape for guests to buy by the glass, so make sure you check what’s open when you visit. The wine list focuses on wines from the Burgundy and Rhone region of France with a nod to their cousins made elsewhere in the world and some “decouvertes” of good value wines from smaller producers. They’ve certainly found the man for the job in the Head Sommelier David Vareille, who grew up the wine-growing Chablis region of Burgundy and has been running his own wine cellar since the age of 14. He’d put together a great selection of wines for us to try with our meal, from the house white Vermentino to the soft-cherry Irancy Burgundy – they were all slipping down very nicely. Now I can’t pretend to be a wine coinnesseur, being more from the ‘I know what I like’ school of wine tasting, but I was impressed with the knowledge and passion that had gone into selecting these wines.
Our group was seated in the main restaurant area adjoining the bar and around the corner you’ll find a second dining room with an open kitchen to provide entertainment, should the conversation flag. You can even get front seat view if you chose to eat at the counter and watch the charcuterie being prepared. The restaurant décor is by Adam Tihany who also designed the hotel’s Mandarin Bar and the soon to be opened Heston Blumenthal restaurant upstairs. His style might be described as sophisticated, metropolitan-luxe, and in the Bar Boulud design there’s a wine cellar theme going on, although it’s so understated that if I hadn’t told you might not have registered the chandeliers in the shape of a wine cask, the oak tables and floors and the leather seating just the shade of a fine red burgundy. On the walls are black and white photographs of Daniel Boulud’s favourite brasseries in Lyon but we agreed that the framed wine stains, looking a little like splashes of blood were more of a talking point than something you’d want to gaze at over lunch. The overall effect is an elegant and relaxed reinterpretation of the French bistro theme, with not a red checked table cloth or Gaulloise stub in sight, although I noticed some lacy curtains at one of the entrances.
We started with the a shared platter of charcuterie from Gilles Verot for which Bar Boulud is well known; there was pâté grand-mère with chicken-liver and cognac, grand-père with fois-gras and truffles and no doubt some of their grandchildren too, with pickled vegetables, and toasted sourdough bread. Then came a succession of sausages-around-the-world with Thai spices and green papaya salad, white truffled boudin blanc with mash and pork and beaujolais with pommes lyonnaise. As if to emphasise the point that this place glories in its meat dishes we moved on to the the burgers for which Bar Boulud is fast becoming renowned. You can choose from the Piggie, Yankee or Frenchie burger, all with slightly different trimmings, finely cut crispy fries and chopped steak burgers cooked to succulant perfection. They’re as far from fast food fare as a ripe Brie de Meaux is from a foil wrapped cheesy triangle – make no mistake these are gourmet burgers!
If all this meat is making you feel faint and you want to lighten up a little you might try the Chop Chop salad with eastern inspiration in a mixture of crisp romaine, chunks of water-melon, cashew nuts and a good soaking of ginger-soy dressing. If you’re feeling flush you can have some lobster on top for an extra £15, but without it’s £6.50 and makes as welcome change from the ubiquitous rocket. With my weakness for all things sweet, I couldn’t pass on the puds. Of the selection we tried my favourites werethe Pavlova with a light-as-a-cloud wedge of meringue sitting in a pool of custard and strawberries, and the Chocolat-Framboise gateau of dark chocolate layered with sacher biscuit and raspberry sorbet in a classic choco-berry combination. I’ve never been a great fan of mint (unless it’s garnishing a jug of Pimms on a hot summers day) and my least favourite was the Coupe Peppermint which was more Xtra strong mint than After Eight. With our desert we tried a delicious chilled sweet cider (although it was more like a wine) from Québec, made with 29 different types of apples – that the sommelier described as “Tarte Tatin in a glass”.
Eating out with bloggers so knowledgeable about food and wine was an education for me as the names of top chefs (Bruno and Heston), wine-makers (Michel and Robert) and restaurant critics (Jay and Marina) flew around the table – my dear, don’t say you’ve never heard of them! These bon viveurs are well-travelled folk too and we heard all about Miss Londonelicious haggling skills in the Syrian Souks (she’s a hard-nosed New Yorker), Miss Gourmetchick’s nights out in Beirut and Miss Nixdmix adults only weekend at Butlins where she was the only sad person with a lap-top – what glamourous lives we lead.
Surveying the packed dining room, it was difficult to pin down a specific kind of clientele at Bar Boulud. At the next table were a couple of stylish metro-chicks, groups of well heeled Knightsbridge locals, sleek suited businessmen at the bar and tucked in a corner was the Grande Dame of politics, Mrs Thatcher herself. Was she keeping company with a Yankee or a Frenchie you ask? I couldn’t possibly say, dear hearts – didn’t your mother tell you it’s rude to stare? Rumour had it that Jon Bon Jovi was also in the house but I can’t vouch for that. This is the kind of place that has a broad appeal, and there’s an element of comfort food reinvented in a pretty, stylish way as epitomised by the asperge et oeuf poché that looked like a grown-up boiled egg and soldiers your mum used to make you. This isn’t so much the place for a big ticket celebration meal, as a place where you can enjoy a glass of champagne at the bar, a lunchtime piggy burger or an evening meet-up with friends to share a plate of charcuterie. Bar Boulud is definitely a place to keep coming back to.
I should let you know that as I was a guest of Bar Boulud I wasn’t spending my own cash, but on surveying the menu I thought that the prices are moderate, considering the Knightsbridge location, the buzzy atmosphere, tip top service and quality of food. Charcuterie board £14 small £28 large, Sausage dishes £8-11, Burgers £13.50, Meat dishes £17-22, sides £3.50, Desserts £6-8. I hear there’s a well-priced lunchtime and early evening menu too. Check out the menus and wine list on the Bar Boulud London website and for more reservations contact the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park, London.
If you’ve been to either the New York or London Bar Boulud, do let me know what you thought.
What the other bloggers said
Miss Gourmet chick’s review of Bar Boulud
Londonelicious review of Bar Boulud
Laissez Fare review of Bar Boulud
Nixdminx review of Bar Boulud
Mr & Mrs Smith’s review of Bar Boulud
My review of Bar Boulud for Kiwi Collection
More Mandarin Oriental articles to enjoy
On our recent trip to the Greek island of Zakynthos or Zante we took a boat trip through Laganas bay, famed as a nesting area for the Loggerhead or Caretta Caretta turtles. Sadly we didn’t spot any turtles on this trip but we did have a great day out sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling around the little coves and sea caves along the coast.
We started at Porto Roma where there is a hotel and terrace overlooking the small harbour and beach. The catamaran was waiting for us moored off-shore and we were ferried from the jetty by a tiny rubber boat that you could just squeeze four people into. “Don’t worry – it’s very safe” quipped the skipper as I clung on to my rucksack with all my camera equipment inside – “we call it the Titanic!”. It didn’t bode well when the rung of the ladder on the side of the boat collapsed as my husband climbed aboard. With 20 people I wondered how we would all fit on to the catamaran, but soon everyone had arranged themselves around the front of the boat, on benches along the side and under cover at the back. I liked the fact that the boat had a cabin and a shady area where you could get out of the sun, unlike some of the completely open boats we saw going out into the bay with no room to move around or any shade.
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On the way out Yannis Vardakastanis, whose company Nature World Travel had organised the trip, talked to everyone about his work with the sea turtles and the Earth Sea and Sky volunteer and information programme he runs to conserve their habitat. Unfortunately the numbers are dropping every year due increasing tourism and development on the turtle nesting sites. Laganas bay has a wide sandy beach that was perfect for turtle nesting with warm, shallow water for turtles to soak up the sun and develop their eggs. Now the large beach is less used by the nesting turtles as half of it is built up with apartments and hotels and the other half has a busy airport runway behind it. The turtles have been forced to move their nesting sites to other smaller beaches like Dafni and Gerkas, but even these beaches are under threat from development due to tourism.
We powered along past the cliffs and rounded the Gerakas headland with the protected turtle nesting beach, where no development is allowed and into the wide sweep of Laganas bay. We crossed the mouth of the bay, past two islands that even looked like turtles – the second one called Pelouzo has a small beach that is a protected nesting site for the loggerhead turtles. We passed around the furthest end of the bay and round Keri point where there’s a lighthouse. I’d been here before to see the view from the cliff over the sea, but this time we were looking up at the tall limestone cliffs and into a semicircle of cave with a small beach inside. The water is intensely turquoise and we jumped off the boat and snorkelled around to see the small shoals of fish darting through the water. As we swam into the cave over large round white stones, another small boat, rented from Laganas or the harbour at Keri bobbed up and down, keeping us company.
After everyone had swum around the catamaran and jumped in as many times as they like, we moved back the way we had come past sea arches and small caves that are perfect for a small boat to explore. We stopped again by the sea caves on the Pelouzo island, but Yannis explained that we would not stop on the beach there as it was protected for turtle nests, even though we saw other boats ignoring the ban and landing. It seems that the Government funded National Marine Park is overstretched and does not have the resources to stop local businessmen pushing the boundaries to make a living.
Last year Yannis and his volunteers counted 800 turtle nests, a decline from the 1000 they counted the previous year and the 1300 of a few years before. As each female turtle may make 2 or 3 nests in different locations, Yannis estimates that there may only be 250-300 female turtles coming to nest in the area now. The statistics didn’t bode well for the turtles – only one in 1000 hatchlings will survive and then will take 25 years to reach maturity before returning to lay eggs on Zante. With estimated numbers dropping so low, it’s no wonder that Yannis feels that every turtles is precious and is angry when he finds turtles that have been injured or even killed in fishermen’s nets or by boat propellers.
I jumped off the boat with my family and enjoyed swimming into the sea caves, although the caves on Pelouzo island were wild and less inviting. Then once again we returned to the boat and the catamaran turned into the bay, moving slowly through the waters, hoping to spot some turtles. There were several other boats around and as on other safaris and whale watching trips I’ve been on, they are in radio contact with each other if they spot any turtles. Although we kept a sharp look-out, we didn’t see any, although on most trips they do spot one or two. Yannis doesn’t guarantee a turtle spotting on his trips, preferring to make the whole day an enjoyable experience with the emphasis on the scenery and the swimming. However, many boats offering shorter trips from Laganas do offer a money back guarantee to see a turtle, which encourages the boats to harass the turtles and pen them in so that people can get a good view.
I would have loved to see some turtles, but was a great day out regardless and I prefer to support the sustainable approach to tourism that Yannis advocates. We returned back to Porto Roma by 4pm feeling relaxed and sun soaked but thankfully not burned. Although these trips are an expensive treat for a family at €50 per adult and €25 for children, I think it’s worth doing something like this once on your holiday, especially if you can be sure that the organisers are taking a responsible approach to conservation. You can book the catamaran tour we took through Nature World Travel in advance – contact details on their website, but be prepared to be flexible on the day, as sometimes trips are postponed when the weather is windy and the seas rough. Shorter trips also run from Laganas, but you should try to book with a responsible operator that respects the rules of the National Marine Park, and doesn’t harass the turtles or venture into prohibited areas of the bay.
Disclosure: Yannis kindly gave me a free place on the boat trip although I paid for my family.
More articles from Zakynthos
Video – Saving the Caretta Caretta turtle on Zakynthos – Greece
Saving the Caretta Caretta turtles on Zakynthos – in GreeceSaving the Caretta Caretta turtles on Zakynthos – in Greece
My top three beaches on Zakynthos
When I was idly scanning through one of those ubiquitous ‘best beaches in the world’ articles, I came across Navagio on the Greek island of Zakynthos or Zante as one of the list. Huh! I thought – clearly written by some journalist who’s done a quick bit of Google research and has never been there.
But then as in all my years of visiting Zakynthos, I had never been there either, I thought that on this trip I might go and take a peek for myself. Only trouble is that Navagio or Smuggler’s Cove is only accessible by boat and is a stopping off point for every boat trip around the north of the island. The beach is notable for the rusty old wreck half buried in the sand of a ship that went aground in the 1980s, while supposedly smuggling cigarettes. There are probably many picturesque, remote beaches like this around the Greek coastline, but the presence of the wreck there seems to add to the photogenic appeal and make this one of the most photographed beaches in Greece.
As we weren’t planning an all day boat trip just to check it out, we took a drive up to the north end of the island where there’s a viewing point for the beach. You might imagine from this shot that I was standing on a windswept cliff among wildflowers and thyme, but the reality is that I was perched on a little fenced metal viewing platform that has been created just to help you get the postcard shot. We parked on the cliff top car park, walked down the road past the bar, past the ice cream van with the noisy generator and past the stalls selling local produce, oil and honey. Then we took our turn with the other visitors on the tiny platform to take this photo.
After I’d taken my postcard shot we spotted a path winding down the cliff side around the other side of the cove, that looked as though it might lead down to the beach. We decided to explore but after a few twists and turns the path got narrower and steeper until we gave up. Clearly someone had the idea of creating an alternative viewing point but we didn’t dare cllimb too far down the cliff and couldn’t see where the path ended. A number of people had also missed the tiny viewing point at the top and walked down thinking they would get a view of the Smuggler’s cove, and weren’t very pleased when they realised it led to nowhere. But I think that on that twisty path with the scent of pine resin, thyme and chamomile we were closer to what I love about Greece than the ice cream van and the viewing point. So - best beach in the world or just another pretty picture? I’ll let you decide.
This pretty picture is offered as part of Photo Friday hosted at Delicious Baby – head on over to find more Friday photos to inspire your weekend.
More articles from Zante
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