Friday

Blanchette - Soho

It was way back on Bank holiday Monday evening when I finally managed to catch up with two of my lovelies whom were proving hard to pin down. Exhausted of all my ideas I asked F to book and Blanchette in Soho was her (excellent) choice, a place on my hit list to tick off!

We arrived at the cutesy French bistro just after 6:30pm to find it already pretty full and dimly lit by candle light, hence my photos being rather terrible! Immediately ordering some ginger ales after our boozy weekends and settled into choosing our sharing plates and nibbles. 

We practically wanted everything and 2-3 plates per person, as suggested, is just right. 

Order the Cheese beignets the minute you sit down! Served with onion confit these little morsels are like savoury doughnuts. Incredibly light, irresistibly tasty I could have had bowls of them.



Once ordered, food started to arrive sharpish and the waitress staggered our order with the lighter of the plates coming out first... 
A refreshing green bean salad with Comte cheese, shallots and walnut dressing - one I would eat over and over again. It had crunch, sourness and a good amount of sweetness, one to recreate at home. Savour some of this to have with the meatier dishes to come... 
Rare grilled tuna, avocado, orange and endive salad. Not a huge fan of the accompanying 'bits' it was all too many sweet flavours for me. Still, the tuna was cooked to a perfect pink. 
Grilled duck breast with peach and beetroot remoularde was served very rare and sadly I found it just 'ok'. The duck sadly, seemed tough and stringy. 
Grilled pork belly with Palourde clams, Brittany sea blades and vermouth was perfectly cooked with a crisp crackling, decent charring and incredibly juicy meat.
Braised lamb shoulder with anchovy, rosemary and soubise (onion) sauce was my favourite of the evening. Tender succulent lamb sat atop generous amount of plate lickable soubise - what's not to love?
Sea bass with crab bisque, peas and samphire. Was another exceptionally good dish. That crab bisque was packed with shellfish yumminess so much so, we found ourselves mopping it up with everything else on our table. The fish cooked with a brilliantly crisp skin and flaky flesh. 
Courgette and aubergine tart with goats cheese and basil. Not the prettiest to picture - in fact half this meal looks dismal but,this was utterly more-ish and they managed to keep the pastry crunch-crisp even with such an array of vegetables piled on top- bravo!
Puddings were a little of a mixed bag we shared two between the three of us. Passion fruit vacherin was full of that irresistible sourness you can't get enough of. Whilst the hot chocolate fondant, sadly, was a little dry. 
If you want a little bit of French romance without the heavy French food then Blanchette is your ideal place to cosy up and have some grub... a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Square Meal

Bistro Blanchette Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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Tuesday

My Venice...part two

Brace yourself for a long one... Venice is one of those places you get lost in days are long and you find yourself incredibly busy...day two saw us (me) up at the crack of dawn through sheer excitement of my actual birthday finally coming round (I'm still a child at heart). Grumbles and a 'go back to bed' eventually were pushed aside and we were up and out into the gorgeous Venetian sun at the beautiful Piazza San Marco. Huge queues were already forming to head into the Basilica so we decided to go up the Campanile where you will have the most stunning view over Venice's terracotta roofs and the busy canal.
Afterwards we meandered along the canal past the Ponte dei Sospiri (the bridge of sighs) which is where prisoners were taken from the dungeons, across the bridge, to the courtroom to be sentenced to death. It is therefore said that they let out big sighs as they took their last look at beautiful Venice... Make sure the moment you see a break in the crowds to nestle through otherwise you'll miss the opportunity for a decent snap.

We then made our way towards the hub of Venice, the Rialto market where restaurateurs and locals gather to buy what they wish to serve that day to their guests. In 2011 there was a threat from the Venetian city officals to close it to make way for more cruise ships this was overthrown by locals, thankfully, and now the gold winged Lion of St Mark holding a tablet guards the area Stating 'Rialto No Se Toca' (don't mess with the Rialto). The fish here is some of the freshest I have ever seen and the market kept exceptionally clean - i.e. not in the slightest bit smelly!


More meandering towards lunch and more exploring down tiny back alleys and within what felt like our own personal city... no tourists, completely tranquil and utterly peaceful - heavenly... 
We ended up doing a full 360 and came to what is known as a bit of a Venetian legendary pit stop 'Cantina do Mori' 5 minutes from the Rialto and is thought to be the oldest Bacari in Venice. It is packed at peak times with a lively atmosphere, lowly lit, has huge copper polenta pans hanging from the ceiling and a bar full of wonderful wines, sandwiches and snacks... what's not to love? 6 Cicchetti and a glass each was astonishingly around the €9! This quickly became a twice daily pit stop over the next few days...


Here we tasted delicious artichoke hearts soaked in olive oil, veal arancini, prawn and courgette cicchetti, salt cod cicchetti and a simple aubergine and sun dried tomato 'on a stick'...all absolutely divine, especially washed down with a 'prosecco extra' and all under €3 each. 
Meandering round and past a highly recommended restaurant 'Osteria Enoteca ai Artisti' which was sadly fully booked and came across a charming rustic restaurant that seated probably no more than 14 at a push called Al Vecio Marangon which served up a daily changing menu full of fresh seafood and pastas, Mr D's sea food pasta and my octopus salad went down exceptionally well. 

Round the corner from here is the Gallerie dell'Academia which is well worth a visit to lose yourself for a couple of hours, see some stunning Venetian paintings, some familiar household names and walk off the previous lunch as the place is VAST. 
Home, snooze and out early doors to head to the infamous Harry's Bar 'the home of (eye-wateringly expensive) delicious Bellini's' which were created in 1948...the likes of Hemmingway, Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles have signed the guest book, some several times. The old school charm is quite unexpected for me, it is a Venice must (even if an expensive must).  



After Harry's called for a couple of birthday Spritz's (naturally) before heading towards supper at Alle Testiere which is now firmly within my top ten best meals ever. Set in a gorgeous (tiny) room with an open kitchen and tables so close we were sat almost on top of the people next to us (apologies if you're reading this Georgia). It's wonderful, unassuming and served up incredible wines, mind blowing simple seafood dishes, faultless service and endless amount of limoncello 'for the birthday girl'... bliss... 


The wine cellar stocks some impressive names and we asked our charming waiter to suggest something local which he loved...He brought over a sulphite free wine which was around the €40 mark slightly salty in tasting but completely delicious...
We then feasted and shared starters of simple garlic and parsley razor clams (a must when here) one which I was reluctant to share...cooked to perfection, sweet, garlicy and covered in a really gorgeous olive oil - save your bread and mop the sauce up, you'll regret it if you don't!
A huge plates of mussels...

We decided on a secondi middle course and had to have a plate of the raved about home made pasta dishes. We (of course) chose the vongole with chilli and garlic...divine, full of these tiny sweet Caparosoli clams which are local to Venice...

And finally the most incredible plate of mixed grilled fish (for two, my portion below) prawns, baby octopus, bream, monkfish... it goes on. The menu changes here daily as they get whatever is freshest that morning from the market. I loved this dish, the simplicity of it was well and truly delicious!
(Another) glass of wine was ordered followed by a 'sod it let's have the whole bottle' due to it being incredibly drinkable and slipping down rather too well (whilst we finished an incredibly light hazelnut semifreddo pudding). An evening to put on my 'incredible memories' list and one to highly recommend to you all... 



Restaurants visited:

Alle Testiere - MUST book!

Address: Calle del Mondo Novo, 5801, 30122 Venezia, Italy
Cantina Do Mori - no bookings - no tables!
  1. Address: Sestiere San Polo, 429, 30125 Venezia, Italy

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My Venice...part 1

29 was a good year for me, one of unforgettable memories and a lot of fun...I was creeping up to my 30th with slight dread. A bucket list trip was booked to lighten the blow and Venice has been a place high up on Mr D and I's 'must do' for a good few years.

We landed early Thursday morning to gorgeous sunny skies and that lovely September heat us Londoners seem to have forgotten we usually have. Zooming from the water taxi station up the Grand Canal we were greeted by our Air B and B host and taken to our rather plush NYC loft style apartment with an unrivalled view of the canal and Gondolas literally passing by our kitchen window...

If you're a fan of tapas style food or love the Polpo chain then do as the locals do eating little and often throughout the day for very little money...I did A LOT of research beforehand...
Day one saw us getting our bearings. Our flat was conveniently located off a very quiet street near the hideously heaving Piazza San Marco which meant we were incredibly central but, there's next to nothing of decent eateries nearby.
Up at the crack of dawn meant our tummies were rumbling by 11am walking over the Rialto Bridge (hellishly busy) we stopped off at Al Merca (above pics and below) where locals grab a quick bite of a small sandwich stuffed with delicious meat, fish or cheese for around €1-3 and my first Aperol Spritz of the day. Two bites and a glass for two came to just under €10...

All' Arco (which is infamous for Cicchetti) is about a 3 min walk from the above. A mixed plate of their delicious goodies, the baccala which is a creamed salt cod, a Venetian delicacy, here is a must. Hams and cheeses are served on top of thinly sliced crisp bread. A beer, more Spritz and a plate of six cicchetti and some octopus came in at €12. Be warned however, it is popular and therefore expect to queue for lunch and stand to eat (there are no tables which you'll find is very common).


Next stop was some much needed sweetener after all the savoury and Gelateria Nico serves up some of the best Italian gelato on the island and this was indeed an incredible example of delicious pistachio ice cream (€2) with a view to match...
After a good wander and finding ourselves at Galleria Accademia it was time for home and a power nap before supper. Post-work and pre-prandial Venetians head out for Spritz, good wine and cicchetti (naturally, we did just this). Osteria alla ciurma which again is close to the most of the above was a favourite of ours the place has a wonderful atmosphere and Marco the owner is incredibly accommodating and his calamari and the rest of his snacks or, 'my babies' as he calls them are a must! 

Supper was booked through our host as we wanted somewhere close by on the first evening and she picked a pretty local restaurant right by us, in a quiet back street where was ate stuffed courgette flowers, vongole, cuttle fish on polenta (common in Venice) and a delicious rare tuna dish... all so simple yet incredibly tasty and indeed very, very fresh.  It seemingly catered well for overseas visitors but at the same time was packed with Italians which, without recommendation I probably wouldn't have visited but, it was just what we needed - easy, close and welcoming! 
End of a wonderful and looonnnggg day 1... Venice you've captured my heart in 12 hours but, there's more to follow... 

Websites/links for the above:

Al Merca - HERE
All Arco - HERE
Gelateria Nico - HERE
Osteria Alla Cuirma - HERE
Da Mario Alla Fava - HERE and WEBSITE

Lastly... A few do's and dont's that I wish I had known or, were good advice given to me pre-trip...

Venice do's:

- pack REALLY comfortable shoes...girls leave the heels at home,you won't wear them - we were averaging 10-14k a day!
- bring cash (a lot of places don't take cards)
- buy mosquito repellent (I learnt the hard way!)
- have patience...you will get lost! But, embrace it. Put the map down and enjoy wandering off the beaten track, you'll find some hidden gems.
- speak to friends for recommendations. We ate in some incredible places that you wouldn't necessarily get to experience otherwise.
- cicchetti and prosecco 'extra' is a must and acceptable from 10/11am - perfect!!
- guide book - Time Out was by far the one we found to be the most helpful and most 'us' as far as places recommended. 

Venice dont's:

- eat breakfast!! As Russell Norman says, 'in Venice, breakfast is for whimps...' Instead, work up an appetite walking around and pop into enotecas and Osterias for nibbles en route to places. 
- head to top attractions early in the morning (they don't open usually before 10).
- eat early - there's not a lot going on past 10/11pm apart from restaurants.
- expect good pizza (it's Venetian food here and Pizza is only here for tourists!) a good point well made by many when researching and one to abide by...
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