Chez Régis, Montpellier

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I couldn’t leave France without going out for classic moules-frites – the grand finale to my time here in Montpellier! Chez Régis is a restaurant that specialises in mussel and basically sells nothing else. As you can see from the menu bellow, they have every topping you could possibly imagine.

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1 kilo of mussels are served in a large black pot – in England, I am sure we would have been advised to share, however, in France having a pot to yourself is the norm! Well, when in Rome (…or Montpellier)! We were extremely full by the end – definitely no room for dessert, but well worth the protruding round tummies that resulted in me polishing off my pot.

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I went to the restaurant with my mum and we decided to go half-and-half on 2 different sauces. Our first choice was moules à la provençale (tomato, basil, parsley, garlic and olive sauce). This was bound to be a great choice as provençal is the sauce of the south. This tomato sauce was rich and thick, bountiful with robust black olives and enlivened from the brilliantly green fresh parsley. A wonderfully balanced sauce which did not overpower the mussels despite its strong flavours.

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Second, we chose moules à la roquefort (roquefort cheese sauce), both my mum and I being lovers of strong blue cheeses. This sauce is perfect for dipping your chips in at the end! An extremely creamy and indulgent topping, freshened up with parsley (although rather salty from the cheese).

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Precariously balanced tower of shells – a sign of a very happy customer.

Chez Régis, 3 Place Jean Jaurès, 34000 Montpellier, France

T: +33 4 67 60 53 95

(Monday-Saturday: 11:30-14:30, 19:00-00:00)

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Cloche à Fromage, Montpellier

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I have been looking in all the wrong places for the perfect sandwich, not that I have had a bad one here; when there is good bread, there can never be a bad sandwich. However, anyone can get their hands on a delicious artisan baguette in France, but it’s the filling that makes a sandwich great.

I stumbled upon an incredible crèmerie (or cheese shop to you and me) and they happened to make sandwiches.

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 Pick your perfect cheese from their boundless selection and they make your sandwich to order with lashings of Isigny butter (I later understood why this was written out as a main ingredient!), fresh salad, ripe tomatoes and, for mine, succulent slices of artisanal salami. It doesn’t get better than this!

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La Cloche à Fromage, 23 Rue Saint Guilhem, 34000, Montpellier

(Monday: 10:00-13:00, 16:00-19:00, Tuesday-Thursday: 8:30-13:00, 16:00-19:00, Friday & Saturday: 8:30-19:00, Sunday: closed)

T: 04 67 66 17 32

http://www.fromagerie-tourrette.com/boutique/montpellier

Petits Patés de Pézenas

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A little while back, I took a trip to the gorgeous town of Pézenas, just 1 hour outside of Montpellier. Host to playwright Moglière and his theatre group l’Illustre Théâtre in the 17th century, the town has a rich culture in the arts. It is also famous for its many period mansions (known as hôtels particuluers, its stone sculptures, ornate doorways – it even has a museum entirely dedicates to doors! Strolling through the town’s narrow cobbled streets, I truly felt as if I was walking in the footsteps of Moglière all those years ago. I was pulled back in time.

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Being a foodie, before going anywhere, I always read up on the best places to eat and find out if there are any local specialities to try. Pézenas boasts a wonderful culinary inventions: le petit pâté.

Known as the Pézenas mince pie to us anglophones, this little cotton-reel shaped pastry pie was introduced in the mid-18th century by the indian cooks of English nobleman, Lord Clive, Govenor of India whilst he was staying in Pézenas. Apparently, Lord Clive didn’t trust french cuisine! They were served warm as an amuse-bouche before a meal, with a glass of white wine.

These little pies are filled with sweet minced mutton, spiced with cinnamon, cumin and nutmeg, encased in a savoury pastry and are now sold all over the town.

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I tried a petit pâtés from 2 different patisseries to see if there were and differences in their production. Patisserie #1 (above) was definitely my favourite – the filling was much more generous and slightly less sweet than the second, which seemed to have hardly no meat in at all and a very runny, syrup-like filling.

With only 1 week to go until christmas, take a step back in time and try making your own petit pâté! – Our own much loved festive treat; the mince pie, once contained actual meat, along with suet, currants, raisins, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, mace, orange, salt and sugar, much like the petit pâté of Pézenas.

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Patisserie Percheron, 41 Cours Jean Jaurès, 34120, Pézenas

(Monday: closed, Tuesday-Friday 8:00-12:30, 15:00-19:00, Saturday 7:30-13:00, 15:00-19:00, Sunday: 7:30-12:20)

T: 04 67 98 13 32

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Maison Alary, 5, rue Saint Jean, 34120, Pézenas

T: 04 67 98 13 12

http://www.petitpatepezenas.com/

Mademoiselle et Chocolat, Montpellier

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Mademoiselle et Chocolat has received a lot of attention lately, and deservedly so. With christmas just around the corner and the cold winter season in full swing, this is the perfect time to indulge in some exceptional chocolates. From indulgent crêpes and chocolate fondue to rich brownies and biscuits, this bar au chocolat has it all! Specialising in hot chocolates, they propose 3 classics (dark, milk and white), along side their choice of 7 hot chocolates “of origin”; decadent potions made with the specially selected chocolates from around the world. I have been awakened to how extremely diverse the realm of chocolate is! M’selle et Chocolat propose a tasting of 3 chocolats d’orgine and I was astonished at how very different each chocolates tasted.

The café itself is a cosy, rustic haven, with spiralling stairs, comfy sofas and tiled floors. The kind of place in which you can sit for hours and browse through one of their books or magazines from the bookcase, or simply sit back and enjoy the softly playing music. All that was missing was a fire burning in a hearth!

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Noir Congo (58% cocoa solids) : “a dark chocolate with a unique taste of mocha, balanced with a touche of fruity raisin and the sweetness of honey.” My first chocolate choice was brilliantly rich in colour. The highest in cocoa solids out of the three, the chocolate had a bitter, smokey note with an undertone of the fruity raisin hitting the top of my tongue. The honey flavour was mellow and sweet against the bitter cacao.

Lait Vanuatu (44%): “a milk chocolate with a hint of caramel and a smokey note – a festival of flavours! Lifted by a touche of coffee and spices. This is a chocolate with character!” This was without a doubt my favourite of the three that I selected. The caramel note shone through making the drink mouthwateringly, lip-smakingly luscious. It is extraordinary that such an intense caramel flavour is a natural component of this chocolate – it could easily have been an addition to the drink. The described background note of coffee was also present and balanced beautifully with the caramel flavour.

Lait Costa Rica (38%): “a milk chocolate for those who love creamy chocolate, with a subtle hint of olive oil.” I found this hot chocolate to be very intriguing – I am still not quite sure what to make of it. As detailed on the menu, this chocolate was indeed extremely creamy and smooth, and definitely had that olive oil undertone. However, another flavour that I couldn’t quite put my finger on resinated on my taste buds – an earthy flavour.

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For all chocolate lovers out there, I highly recommend a visit to Mademoiselle et Chocolat to delve into the world of chocolate. Why not go all out and try their weekend brunch: chocolate spreads and homemade jams on bread, eggs, sausages, bacon and potatoes, then finish it all off with a chocolate fondue of your choice!

Chocolate tasting €13, Brunch €9.50

Mademoiselle et Chocolat, 10 Rue Roucher, 34000 Montpellier

(Monday-Saturday 11:30-19:00, Sunday 11:30-18:00)

T: 04 99 63 18 45

http://www.mademoiselle-et-chocolat.fr

Jacob’s Coffee House, Bath

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Bath is my favourite place to go shopping. I absolutely love the city for its uniform buildings of flawless Georgian architecture and the beautiful surrounding landscape.
Unlike in most areas of the UK where large coffee house chains have taken over, Bath is still holding firmly to the culture of privately owned cafés and tea houses. They are substantially more popular than the big brands and quite rightly so, for they produce far better cakes and pastries and offer a wide range of coffees and teas to accompany your chosen sweet treat.

When mum and I go on a shopping trip in beautiful Bath, Jacob’s Coffee House is always our pit-stop of choice for tea and cake, or occasionally one of their freshly made foccacia sandwiches. The cakes are all presented on rustic wooden boards set against large sash windows. It is a feast for the eyes and when walking past, you can’t help but stop to admire the tempting selection on offer.

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The café itself had a very cosy, homely atmosphere with 3 different rooms with both tables and sofa areas upstairs. Grab a plate and help yourself to their delicious cakes, then order your drink and pay downstairs, settle in and they will bring everything up to you. The tea comes on a sweet wooden tray, along with a timer so that you can brew each variety for the optimum amount of time.

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My favourite of Jacob’s’ cakes is their Passion cake: ripe banana, zingy pineapple, carrot, flakes of coconut, chunks of pecan and spiced with cinnamon and ginger – an eclectic and mouthwatering fusion. The sponge is topped with lashings of slightly tangy cream cheese frosting, a generous garnish of whole pecan nuts and dusted with more spices and icing sugar. It is like a traditional carrot cake taken to the tropics and tastes just as good as it looks, if not better. Moist, nutty, fruity, light and well-balanced: each ingredient is present in every bite.

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Slice of cake £3.50 (prices vary)

Jacob’s Coffee House, 6 Abbey Street, Bath, Avon, BA1 1LY

(Monday-Sunday: 8:00-19:00)

T: 01225 758132

http://jacobscoffeehouse.com/

Sugar Junction, Manchester

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After 5 months living in France, I have returned to the green pastured of the UK to visit family and friends. Yesterday, I went up to Manchester for a night to pop in on my university friends. I can never to the this great northern city without paying a visit to Sugar Junction to indulge in their delightful cakes.

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Set in Manchester’s young and trendy Northern Quarter, Sugar Junction (SJ) is a warm and welcoming haven against the blistering winter cold outside. I first heard about this tearoom by way of chinese whispers of sorts. When visiting me at university, my mum met up with a friend of hers who also lived there and who took her to SJ for tea and cake, after which mum then took me (knowing that I cannot resist an afternoon tea treat!) Needless to say, I was hooked from day one and have been a regular customer ever since.

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Today (feeling a little worse for wear after one too many tequila shots last night) I went in for a heavy-head-curing breaky before my train back home – and what a wonderful way to start the day it was. Christmas is in full swing at SJ – a tree sits twinkling in the corner, scented candles burn on every table, christmas songs play softly through the speakers and a new christmas menu for December is now available, boasting roast turkey and onion stuffing sandwiches, festive macaroons and boozy mince pies.

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This morning, I opted for a hearty English breakfast SJ style – their Northern Quarter bacon and potato scones, served with Bury black pudding, a poached egg and a grilled tomato. I had imagined that a potato scone would be a pan-pried potato cake, but in fact it turned out to be a beautiful homemade hash brown. Buttery and fluffy on the inside with a crisp and golden crumbed outside: it was absolute perfection.

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The locally sourced bacon was full of flavour and crispy on the edges and the egg was poached just right so that it oozed out when cut open.

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I had never eaten black pudding before, always having been scared off from the idea of what goes into its making. However, being a Bury speciality (a town a short distance from Manchester)  and a cherished delicacy amongst Northerners, I resolved to give it a go and I was pleasantly surprised. It was extremely tasty and well seasoned with pepper. It didn’t reflect my idea of what it would taste like from thinking about the ingredients used in the slightest. With a squeeze of brown sauce, the meal was complete. A hearty, well balanced and very tasty way to start the day.

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Of course, I wasn’t going to leave without getting my hands on a slice of cake. I took a piece of their christmas brandy and mince pie cake to go, which I ate on the train to pass the time. The cake looked beautiful, I almost didn’t want the waitress to cut into it! Two thick layers of cinnamon sponge sandwiched together with a thick spreading of brandy-flavoured buttercream and decorated with spiced raisins and peel, edible glitter and pretty little stars: very festive! And SJ are not stingy on their slices!

Sugar Junction is a great place to go for afternoon tea – whether you go with a group of friends of venture there alone I highly recommend it. From baby shower and bridal parties, a fancy brunch, work dos, birthday treats, or simply a relaxing afternoon cuppa, SJ can meet your needs.

Still not convinced? Take a look at some more of their cakes from some of my many trips there..

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Extremely moist chocolate and Guinness cake with cream cheese frosting – the dark stout gave a malty undertone that balanced out the richness of the chocolate, giving a deep and bold chocolate flavour, rather than sweet and sickly. The Guinness also gave a gorgeous glossy black colour to the sponge. SJ’s liquorice tea is recommended as the perfect accompaniment to this cake.

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Victoria sandwich with fruity strawberry jam, vanilla buttercream and decorated with a french strawberry – a true classic.

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Fluffy pancakes with beautifully pink stewed rhubarb and sweet vanilla custard. A great choice for both breakfast or an afternoon snack.

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Indulgent and creamy caramel cheesecake with a dense, buttery biscuit base. Decadent and extremely more-ish – you won’t want to let anyone else have a bite!

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Coffee and walnut cake, full of chunky walnut pieces and strong with coffee. Need a pick me up? This is the cake for you.

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Apple and blackberry cake. A great bake for the autumn and bursting with fruity berries and soft apple pieces.

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Carrot cake with juicy raisins and a cherry Bakewell slice, full of almond-y goodness.

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SJ’s mugs are so delicate and beautifully painted, that I am sure it makes the tea taste better.

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NQ bacon and potato cakes breakfast £6.95; slice of cake £3.50; cake platter £6.50; cream tea £6.75; traditional afternoon tea £15.50 per person; pot of tea for one £3.10; pot of tea for two £4.90 (choice of 25 different teas) (see menu on website for full pricing)

Sugar Junction, 60 Tib Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M4 1LG

(Monday: 9:00-18:00, Tuesday-Saturday: 9:00-23:45, Sunday: 9:00-17:00)

T: 0161 839 1444

http://www.sugarjunction.co.uk/

La Flambé Restaurant, Chippenham

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There are many beautiful pubs around Wiltshire, however, sometimes they boast an elaborate menu that in reality does not live up to expectation. La Flambé in the rustic village of Sutton Benger in Chippenham. I must admit that when my gran suggested going to this pub for a sunday roast, I was a little skeptical – the restaurant describes their cuisine as have a focus on French food with Spanish and Italian influences; not exactly the kind of place that jumps to mind for a traditional English lunch. Nevertheless, with the exception of my beloved grandmother’s own home roast, which of course no restaurant could ever top, La Flambé dished up the best pub roast I have eaten (and I have gobbled up a fair few!)

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The restaurant itself had maintained a warm and inviting pub-feel, while creating an elegant dining atmosphere with silver hot-plate stands and intricately folded crisp white napkins. The staff were attentive and extremely polite; our coats were hung upon arrival and our order taken promptly.

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Many pubs offer a choice between 2 or 3 traditional roasts with a slightly less inspired vegetarian option. Here, every meat had a place on the menu, each served with its classic accompaniment: pork with apple; lamb with mint; beef with horseradish and a giant Yorkshire pud. The two vegetarian options were equally as tempting: creamy hake and a fresh paella. A good selection of starters were also on offer, from mussels in white wine sauce to pâté, baked goats’ cheese to bruschetta (the french and italian influences are evident here). I chose to forgo a starter however, as for me, a roast is a hearty meal that needs no warm up. Instead I grazed on the crispy thin toasts and butter.

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My brothers went for the pull-apart pork with perfect crispy crackling and sweet apple sauce. My mum and I shared the lamb (which was a rack for two). It was roasted impeccably to order; medium rare. Blushing pink and juicy with a glossy and richly flavoured red wine gravy.

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All the roasts came with both roasted and dauphinoise potatoes, dished up at the table to each individuals requirements – my mum is a potato enthusiast and took full advantage of being able to have as many potatoes as she could fit on her plate! The roasted potatoes with fluffy inside with a crisp and golden jacket. The dauphinoise were creamy, well-seasoned and with a crisp top layer (my favourite part!) A generous platter of veg, including turnip, broccoli, carrots, leeks and caramelised red cabbage was left at the table. The red cabbage was gorgeously soft and  glazed in a sweet sauce.

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For dessert I chose the Banoffee pie – not such a traditional English choice, but after glancing at it on the table of a neighbouring diner, I couldn’t resist. The base was light and crumbly, topped with soft caramel, ripe banana and a generous cloud of cream, then topped off with caramelised nuts and a chocolate wafer cigar. The dish was well-balanced. Each layer offered a different texture,he intense banana flavour was nicely balanced with the drizzle of punchy raspberry coulis and the light and not-to-sweet cream offered freshness against the viscous caramel.

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Wether it be for a catch-up amongst friends, a family gathering or a romantic meal for two, I highly recommend La Flambé’s Sunday lunch. Their christmas menu is also now on offer, including roast turkey breast with cranberry sauce and pigs in blankets, whole roast pheasant in a rich game gravy and pan-fried veal steak with caramelised shallot.

Sunday lunch rack of lamb for two £24.50; Sunday lunch slow roasted belly of pork £11.9; choice of any one dessert £6.25 (+ 20% service charge)

La Flambé Restaurant, 5 Seagry Road, Sutton Benger, Chippenham, Wiltshire SN154RY

(Monday: closed, Tuesday 19:00-22:00, Wednesday-Saturday: 12:00-14:00, 19:00-22:00, Sunday: 12:00-15:00)

T: 01249 720 247

http://www.laflamberestaurant.co.uk/