Monday, 31 December 2012

Monsieur Crunch: A serious cheese toastie

Le Croque Monsieur (direct translation 'Mr. Crunch') served up at the fine galette restaurant by the beach at L'Amour Plage in Brittany.
If you miss the lunch menu at the restaurants (ends 2pm), you can't go wrong with one of these.

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Saturday, 29 December 2012

Best Albums of 2012

I always love the gap between Christmas and New Years. But how to fill it...? Personally, for the last few years it's been an opportunity to catch up on all that music that I used to have my finger on the pulse of but lately seem not to have the time, tools or ability to stay on top of.

Guided by the great Pitchfork music site (, I'm refreshing my music and seeing what sticks.

I'm elated to see Grimes: Visions in there at #6: a poppy, glittering, mechanical soundtrack to my Summer. Spotify: Grimes – Visions

Enjoy Grimes - Genesis: 2012's strangest music video here too:

Breton Moules Marinière and the 'Atlantikwall'

A day at the Brittany seaside wouldn't be complete without a bowl of moules marinière washed down with a boule de cidre Breton.

A cool innovation I saw in a restaurant in Carnac. Chips cut as half cylinders so you can soak up as much salty, garlicky wine, mariniere sauce.
Frites Innovation
The Brittany coastline really is amazing. It has such a variety of water sport spots for surfing and kite surfing as well as so many historical buildings like World War 2 German defenses.  The Quiberon peninsula is stunning: a roughly one kilometer strip of land that hangs down on the south coast of Brittany with one side aptly called the 'cote savauge' battered by surf and wind, the other side shielding the pretty town of Carnac from the elements. Mussels are farmed in certain spots.

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Here are some of the fortifications on the Quiberon peninsula. The drive along the cote sauvage is a classic coast hugging surf and history tour. Well worth it if you're in town.

Anti-tank girders

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Anti-infantry barbed wire

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Anti-car blocks defending the surf beaches...

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German fortress on Quiberon:

Pillboxes overlook many of the beaches.

These artefacts provide a stark, lasting memorial to the sacrifices made by many for the freedom we enjoy.

These fortifications were installed from March 1942 onward when Hitler ordered the creation of the Atlantic Wall (Atlantikwall).

These fortifications were ordered to be stepped up in April 1942 following the heroic and successful St Nazaire Raid (Operation Chariot) by British commandos to destroy the dry dock at St Nazaire (just below Brittany). The dry dock would have provided safe harbour and a repair station to the Tirpitz German battleship. Without this dry dock the German navy could not risk taking the battleship into the Atlantic as it had no other port that could repair her. Without St Naziare, should she get into any trouble in the Atlantic, she would have to limp back past Britain to Norway for repairs risking aerial assault and destruction.

The raid became known as the greatest raid of all time. I thoroughly recommend the documentary below - it's from Jeremy Clarkson, but trust me, it's brilliant.

To put this raid into perspective, it was essentially a suicide mission by the commandos. 228 men of the force of 622 returned to Britain; 169 were killed and 215 became prisoners of war. 89 decorations were awarded for bravery and five Victoria Crosses. The men achieved their mission sailing a bomb up the estuary disguised as a German warship and destroying the dry dock by ramming the dock door with the boat. It is so outrageous it is barely believable. All this was achieved at a time when Britain was weeks from starvation due to u-boats sinking shipping vessels and gaining control of much of the Atlantic. With the super destroyer, the Tirpitz, also in the Atlantic, it might well have meant Britain's surrender. The commandos selfless heroics were a lifeline to a Britain starved of food and hope.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Flame on!

Christmas pudding is a highlight of my Xmas. Freddy tends to feed a little brandy or rum to the wrapped up pud every few months for a few years to ferment and mature the pudding further. The resulting rich Christmas Bomb is usually primed for lighting three years later.

Here are the action shots. Stand back...



Assembling the feast

Assembling the feast
While trying not to drink too much

The Breton Seafood Feast

The Breton Seafood Feast
The finest French fruit de mer, traditional Christmas Eve Brittany feast.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas in Brittany... Lobster Pot

People often ask me what Christmas in Brittany is like. Well, I'll start with the food.

I arrived at my mum's house last night and did the usual... opened the fridge (a comforting scene much repeated across the UK no doubt).

However this is France... so in my case I was unexpectedly greeted by the stirrings of two live lobsters eyeballing me from the back of the fridge roused from their frosty, cryogenic slumbers by the waft of heat from the wood fire. These sluggish, local delicacies were promptly tuck back up in bed for the night, just emerging now to enter the boiling pot for the traditional Breton Seafood Soiree (Christmas Eve) feast.

It's been a great day of Delia Smith-inspired orange and port cranberry sauce making, chili con carne stewing and lobster potting.

A nice mix of French and British (and maybe American) cooking. Now on to shuck some oysters. You have to love Brittany with its abundance of shellfish goods. That's what you get when you have a coast line bigger than the rest of France put together.

Raise a Muscadet to that!

The wonderful white wine from the Muscadet region in the western end of the Loire Valley used to be part of Brittany. Brittany however no longer has a wine region. Fortunately though it has countless exceptional dry Breton cidre makers.

So raise a boule de cidre if you prefer!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Gin in teacups and... Wham bars

Balls to scotch eggs! Actually I love a scotch egg and pint as much as the next man but wanted to share the latest cocktail accompaniment I saw last night in SimmonS bar (32 Caledonian Road, Kings Cross, London, N1 9DT, map). Anyone for a double dip with their cocktail?

Something sweet?
SimmonS is an intimate, late night bar - more granny's living room than New York den of debauchery. Though I'm sure when the Sega Mega Drive is packed up (yes, I played Micro Machines) the roof comes off. It's delightfully kitsch with a massive Damien Hirst-style skull disco ball hanging from the ceiling, cocktails in quirky tea cups and beer cans from around the world lining the walls (adding a slightly student vibe to the whole affair).

Wham! bars, Double Dips, Fizz Wizz... seems a great fit for a bar steeped in nostalgia. Definitely a refreshing addition to the area!