Sunday, 7 February 2016

Nelson, New Zealand

Queens Garden, Nelson 
Quickly following our wedding celebration in Christchurch, we hopped up to Nelson for a night.

Becks' late grandmother was from Nelson and this was her first visit since Peggy had passed away last year. It is a great sadness to me that Becks didn't meet my late grandmother and I feel a similar, if lesser, sadness at never having been able to meet 'nanna'.

Therefore it wasn't much surprise that (almost) the first the thing we did after arriving in Nelson was to go and pay our respects at the Marsden Valley Cemetery.

We decided to walk from Nelson airport to Stoke which was quite a pleasant stroll once we'd managed to cross the highway. Being one of the hottest days of our trip, and already past lunchtime, we decided to have some lunch at the Stoke Bakery before going to the cemetery. It was the type of bakery you don't really see any more in the UK, independent, unmodernised and with a good range of no nonsense sandwiches, pies and cakes by the slice.

After lunch we bought some flowers and continued our walk up to the cemetery. The large cemetery was well tended (much more so than cemeteries in the UK) and with the roses in full bloom it was looking lovely. They had a handy little touchscreen display you could use to locate the relevant plot number, and armed with directions, we went to find Peggy's grave.
One of the proposed new flags flying at our B&B
Back in Stoke we caught the bus across to Nelson and checked into our B&B. The website for the Baywick Inn is a bit oldy worldy and I thought we could be staying somewhere past its prime, but it was actually very lovely. The owners seem to have a deep passion for trinkets and memorabilia of the British Royal family and festoon the dining room with them. Staunch republicans might want to stay somewhere else.

For dinner that evening we caught up with Becks' cousin Helen and her family. They had been at our wedding celebration a couple of days before, but it was nice to be able to spend some time catching up with them properly as we'd barely had the opportunity to speak at the wedding. Helen's daughters Piata and Mahina were incredibly sweet, especially seeing as they'd never met me before.
Dinner with the cousins
The next morning after breakfast we climbed up in the drizzle to the "centre of New Zealand" which sits above Nelson. Only when we'd reached the top and I read the plaque did I realised it was a fraud. It isn't the centre of New Zealand at all, but the centre point of the Malborough region which is deemed the 'central state'. The people from Ordnance Survey wouldn't put up with such nonsense.
The "centre" of NZ
Walking back down into the centre of Nelson we took a quick detour via Peggie's old house before going for a wander round town.

If you'd asked me before we visited Nelson, I would have told you that I hadn't visited before, but seeing the cathedral tower it did look incredibly familiar and checking later with Ruth we had in fact spent a night in Nelson back in 2001. Apart from the cathedral tower I don't remember anything else about the town from my previous visit.
Nelson Cathedral
After looking round the cathedral we stopped for a light lunch in the Sweet As café. Although we only tried a couple of things it was another - to my mind - classic Kiwi café. Small, independent, friendly, tasty and reasonably priced. I sent mum and dad there when they visited Nelson around a week later who also enjoyed it.

The only downside for me is the name, "sweet as". It is a bit of a bogan saying in Australia, although Becks tells me there are no such connotations in NZ.
Lunch in Sweet As café
We had a further slow drift round town after lunch before collecting our bags from the B&B and catching the bus across to the beach for a quick paddle and walk along the sand.
Nelson beach
Feet dry and shoes back on we hiked back to the airport. I don't think there can be too many passengers who arrive and depart from the airport on foot like us.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

New Zealand wedding celebration

Becks and I in the Christchurch Botanic gardens
The main reason for our visit to New Zealand was to hold a wedding celebration with all of our southern hemisphere friends who weren't able to make it to London when we got married back in May.

As anyone who has got married will know there is a lot of expectation and pressure that comes with a wedding. Even if you are as laid back and not particularly beholden to convention as we were, there is still a lot of pressure. The final three weeks before our wedding in May were, frankly, pretty horrendous.

Luckily I've found the answer, have a second celebration. With the same person of course!
The Ilex centre
Becks had scoped out the Ilex centre on her previous trip to New Zealand last March, a post earthquake construction, near to the centre of the Botanic Gardens. It's a beautifully designed building and on a sunny day, with the nearby rose garden in full bloom, it was a near perfect setting.

Having already had one big day we were able to glide into our second wedding care free and, for me at least, it was a delight to be able to enjoy it so much.
Speech giving
We kept the lunch time event pretty informal. Having not met many of the guests before I decided to stand by the door to welcome everyone on their arrival and to make sure that I met everyone. I was pleased that I did, as the rest of the afternoon didn't give me opportunity to speak to everyone.

As people were finishing up dessert it was into the speeches. Rather than repeating my speech from London, I decided that I'd recap the day we had in May as I thought everyone would like to see pictures of the church and our English reception venue.

The speech went down well, but in hindsight I realised that it I could have pitched it differently. As Becks and I hadn't travelled to NZ together before, most people hadn't met me and there was quite a lot of curiosity about the English guy who was marrying a Christchurch girl. Who is he and is he good enough for her? I hadn't even countenanced speech about myself thinking it far too vain. However, a tongue in cheek This is your life style speech would have gone down well.
With the Unwins
After lunch we spent some time mingling with our guests. Once the event had finished we headed out into the rose garden to take a few photos. We'd visited the rose garden the previous weekend when around half the roses were out, but a week had made a huge difference and now nearly all the roses were in bloom. It made a beautiful setting.
With the Elliots

Later in the afternoon Becks' mum received a text from one of the guests saying she thought I was "mischievous". A proud moment, but I couldn't work out how her they'd realised so quickly!

With many thanks to both sets of parents for generously hosting everyone.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Paranhodu, Korean Restaurant, Lewisham Way, New Cross

Vegetarian dumplings
Just before Christmas I was alerted to the opening of a new Korean restaurant on Lewisham Way. The restaurant has been looking quite busy as I've cycled past on my way home from work this week and the online reviews are all really positive talking of authentic Korean food and generous portions.

We decided to brave the cold weather on Saturday night to go and check it out.

It's hard to say this about a small independent business who are obviously trying hard, but neither of us were that wowed by Paranhodu. It didn't have the big servings to make it an excellent value proposition, in fact I thought the amount of squid in our spicy stir fry was a little meagre. And although I'm not that familiar with Korean food (hopefully that will change later in the year when we visit) but the flavours didn't amaze us either.

However, it might just be us that are out of kilter with the restaurant. The small restaurant had more or less filled up by the time we left and a couple of people had popped into collect takeaway orders, so they are clearly doing something right.
Spicy stir fried squid and beef bulgogi
125 Lewisham Way
SE14 6QJ

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Christchurch Part 2: the family influx

Port Hills looking down towards Lyttelton Harbour 
After our couple of days down in Frankton we flew back up to Christchurch, on what was thankfully a lot smoother flight.

We had a pretty lazy day on the Thursday hanging out in the suburb of Ilam where Becks' parents live. During the day we popped next door to see their longtime neighbours. Last time Becks was at home she received a thermomix demonstration when she visited and was keen for me to have the same evangelical experience so we can buy one! The ice cream that was knocked up in seconds was very good, although the price tag is a little eye watering.
Views out to see
On the Friday Robin had most of the day off work so we drove out to the Port Hills which have sweeping views over Christchurch and Lyttelton Harbour. We did a short walk after parking the car to take in the views of the harbour.

On the Friday afternoon my family all arrived in Christchurch, in time for the wedding lunch we had planned on the Sunday. Mum and dad arrived first, flying in from Napier in the North Island and then Ruth and arrived arrived on the train from Kaikoura in the early evening. It was must first time at Christchurch train station and it is quite a smart little station considering it is only a single track line. The two trains we saw looked like they were catered squarely at the tourists.

On the Friday night we all had dinner at Dux Dine in the away leg of the family meal we had in London on the night before our wedding back in May.
Family dinner in Dux Dine
On Saturday lunchtime we met up with the Unwins who had all flown in from Australia to come to our celebration lunch the next day. Becks and I had had dinner with Bruce and Di a couple of years ago in London, but I hadn't seen Brad, Chel and Elizabeth since leaving Australia and had never met their son Mark before. It was lovely to have a proper catch up with everyone over lunch. It was also nice for mum and dad to meet the Aussies that had looked after me while I was in Oz.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

A real café gem: Odelay, Frankton

Free range chicken salad
Back in 2001, well before this blog existed, I spent five weeks travelling round New Zealand with my sister, Ruth. I still have many fond from that trip. From the awesome natural beauty of visiting Fox Glacier and Doubtful Sound, to the lasting bond I built with my sister, how cheap everything was and the great food.

Food in the UK back in the 1990s frankly wasn't that great. Against this backdrop the food in New Zealand felt like a revelation. We visited dozens of small independent cafés and without exception we ate lovely fresh food served by friendly staff. Many of the flavour combinations were new and some of the ingredients too.
Steak sandwich
In the intervening years I'd put New Zealand cafés up on a bit of a pedestal. The UK has done quite a lot of catching up since then and my time in Australia spoilt me too. Would I have ruined the Kiwi café experience for myself by building up my expectations too much?

I visited New Zealand for a second time in 2012 and was sadly underwhelmed as nowhere we ate at was standout. On this trip we were four days in and hadn't eaten anywhere particularly special either (my mother in law's cooking excepted of course!). I was beginning to get worried.
Louise slice
Then we visited Odelay in Frankton and faith was restored.

Odelay is an unassuming café in the Remarkables retail park in Frankton. The staff were friendly, helpful and recognised us when we came back for breakfast the next day.

The food was fresh, well flavoured and most importantly delicious. Becks' buttermilk pancakes were given a 'best ever' pancake call. From a lady who loves her pancakes that is a big accolade.
Buttermilk Pancakes 
If there was an oddity about the place it was that all the magazines lying on the tables were from the mid-2000s. (I suspect someone had bought in their back catalogue.) And if there was a missed note it was the bircher muesli I ordered when returned for breakfast. It was a little wet for my tastes and flavours weren't quite in harmony, again for my palate.
Bircher Muesli
Thank you Odelay, I wasn't wrong, Kiwi cafés really are some of the best in the world. Faith restored.

5 Hawthorne Drive
Unit 10 The landing
Remarkable Park,
New Zealand

Odelay Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Le Sud Restaurant, Lyon

Bread and olive at Le Sud
One of my early thoughts when we decided to go to Lyon, the culinary capital of France, was to do a spot of Michelin star collecting. The only problem was that everywhere we looked at were very expensive. My usual trick of looking out for the cheaper lunchtime set menus didn't yield any results so we started to look for alternatives and decided upon Le Sud a brasserie owned by Paul Becouse, who also runs the city's only three star restaurant.

Even though it was 'only' a brasserie Le Sud still felt like it offered the full silver service. My linen napkin had a button hole with which you could use to attach it to your shirt, which of course I did.
A pot of Côte du Rhone - we had two
Having discovered that a 'pot' of wine was the Lyon equivalent of a carafe we decided to order a pot (or two) of Côte du Rhone. They were exceptional value at 12.60 EUR. The quality of the wine was easily on a par with anything else we'd drunk on the holiday was considerably cheaper than the rest of the wine list.

Ed loved the concept of the pot so much he bought one to take home with him.
Pumpkin and chestnut soup
I started with the pumpkin and chestnut soup. It was a lovely autumnal soup although I didn't get huge amounts of chestnut.

My main was a pan fried fish with light curry sauce, a choice inspired by a similar dish Mike had ordered the day before. The fish was delicately cooked and paired well with the curry sauce.
Fish with a curry sauce
For dessert I had the poire belle Hélène. A poached pair, fanned out to cover a ball of vanilla ice cream and surrounded by a pool of dark chocolate sauce. I loved the poached pair and vanilla ice cream but found the thick dark chocolate sauce a little too intense for my taste.

The service was discreet, efficient and friendly when required. The only oddity, in what was a very pleasant evening, was my trip to the gents. While the femmes and hommes cubicles were complete separate, le urinoirs were only a small partition away from the unisex hand basins. I couldn't help thinking everyone's modesty needed a little more protection.
Poire Belle Hélène
On the way home we stopped in at the Mama Shelter hotel for a final bottle of Côte du Rhone of the holiday. The hotel has a great bar with good music. It was pretty busy, but we were able to secure some seats at the bar in which to enjoy our bottle of wine.
Another bottle of Côte du Rhone in Mama Shelter

Le Sud
11 Place Antonin Poncet
+33 4 72 77 80 00

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Lyon weekend: Les Confluences and lunch Les Sept Péchés du Plateau in Croix-Rousse

With the lion of lyon
On the final day of our trip to Lyon we decided to head over to the Les Confluences area of the city, an island in the middle of the river where the Rhône and Saône meet. I'll admit to not having looked into the history of the area, but I suspect it is very similar to London's Docklands. An area which has suffered industrial decline and has recently undergone huge regeneration (although probably not finance led).
Orange building - Les Confluences 
The area felt quite subdued on a sleepy Sunday morning, like an area which hasn't yet become fully self sustaining. (A bit like Canary Wharf on weekends 10yrs ago). Initially it felt like just us an a few joggers enjoying the riverside paths and autumn colours. There were a few families out promenading too.

There were some wonderfully modernist buildings like these orange and green ones I photographed. They somehow seemed very French.
Green twin - Les Confluences 
At the tip of the island is the Musée des Confluences, another modernist building. We decided not to go into the museum as we didn't have a lot of time left.
Musée des Confluences
After walking round the outside of the museum we hopped on a tram and then changed onto the metro to whip up to the Croix-Rousse part of the city in search of a late breakfast / lunch.

There was a fun fare taking place which had brought out the crowds. Being France on a Sunday the majority of places were also closed. I was beginning to become a little despondent in our search for a final meal of the trip and then we spied Les Sept Péchés du Plateau which was just opening up in the Place des Tapis. We took a seat on the terrace. This would do nicely.
Goats cheese quiche
We opted for one of the mid-range set menus (I can't remember the price, but I think it was around the 27 EUR mark).

The food was all good, but it didn't quite hit the heights set by Comptoir Chabert where we'd eaten on the Friday night. It felt like the kitchen was suffering from being too busy and in an attempt to keep up things were slightly fraying round the edges. My duck was served well done rather than the pink order and the accompanying gratin dauphinoise had been singed round the edges.
Duck with red berries
However, I'm probably being unnecessarily harsh. The service was very friendly, the food was definitely still good, it was highly pleasant sitting out on the terrace in the autumn sunshine and lunch was immeasurably better than the soggy sandwich I thought we might have to settle for just an hour before.
Tarte au citron
Les Sept Péchés du Plateau
3 Place des Tapis