Wednesday, December 17, 2008


The World Wide Web is bursting at the seams with other food blogs. These range from the professional to the absolutely bloody useless.

Here are some travel and food favourites from my bookmarks this year:

Dos Hermanos - two brothers based in London who eat and write very well indeed. A pretty influential blog on the London restaurant scene, with a healthy amount of travel thrown in.

Chocolate and Zucchini - you probably already know about this one from the Sunday supplements. Super recipes and great photography.

The London Review of Breakfasts - it's the most important meal of the day apparently.

Well Done Fillet - A waiter's eye view of restaurant life.

Noodlepie - a professional looking site, enjoy the regular postings or dig around in the archives for dispatches from Asia.

Cheese and Biscuits - another primarily london based blog, Cheese and Biscuits also offers a monthly cheese review alongside the frequent restaurant reviews.

Rambling Spoon - Travel and food with creative photography.

Word of Mouth. The Guardian Newspaper's own series of food blogs cover food related issues, and occasional mindless trivia. - trust me, it's safe for work

Chez Pim - another famous blogger, with fabulous photography.

Eating Asia - just looking at these photographs from Vietnam makes me want to book a ticket

Finally a friend and expert breadmaker from Dakar who writes about the beat of West Africa life at How di bohdi?

I'll pop the links into the side bar thingy when I next have a mo. That's all for now. I return to Europe tomorrow for a couple of weeks of home cooking, crumpets, and proper beer. Will post photos and maybe the odd review soon.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Le Lodge, Dakar

Dinerfinophobia - Fear of fine dining in Dakar.

I get the fear before eating out at some of Dakar's fine dining establishments. Too many times I've stuffed my wallet and put on one of my best shirts only to end up a bit disappointed. La Fourchette can be inconsistent. Cozy is like a more pretentious, pisspoor facsimile of La Fourchette. Lagon I's prices don't justify the average cooking, not to mention the kind of tawdry decor that would be laughed at in Blackpool, while the chef at Sokhoman thinks that combining incongruous ingredients is the way forward, when really it's just odd. Rabbit with earwax anyone?

So while I got suited up for Mrs Jiffler's birthday treat at Le Lodge in Almadies, I was suitably nervous. I'm pleased to say though that I think Le Lodge might be a genuinely decent upmarket restaurant. Halle-bloody-orchestra.

We were late for our table, which meant we didn't get the best table for two in the house. Our fault, but they didn't make a fuss. Service was efficent to start off with, not necessarily friendly, but I'd sooner have sharp than shoddy. Aperitifs were reasonably priced - beers for 1500 CFA and cocktails 3500-4000CFA, and we certainly didn't feel rushed as we perused the menu. Amuse-bouche were a little boring, mediterranean veg on a spoon, but at least they weren't the ubiquitous stale mini-bruschetta.

It was pleasing to see that Le Lodge play to their strengths. The menu wasn't padded out with the usual half-arsed sushi and Mexican street food, it sticks mainly to traditional French cooking, with the occasional polite nod to neighbouring Belgium and Italy. The menu has three 3-course set suggestions, at a bargainous 8500, 12500, and 18000 CFA respectively, as well as a pick and mix a la carte selection. While I was impressed with the unpretentious pricing structure, and the quality of what was on offer on the cheaper menus, I made a beeline for the top end. It was a special occasion after all.

Wine list was equally good value, again heavy on French wine, but with a few new world and Italian classics thrown in. An agreeable 'all rounder' bottle of 2006 Brouilly Beaujolais was brought without fuss and uninvited topping up was kept to a minimum.

Mrs Jiffler roamed the a la carte menu and chose filo envelopes of fried goats cheese to start with, which benefitted from a sweet salad dressing. The cheese was smooth and soft and thankfully didn't burst from the envelopes like molten lava. This was a good starter but was somewhat overshadowed by my mighty foie gras ravioli (a slight deviation from France there, at a 2000CFA supplement to the set menu). While the Ravioli had that slight sense of dryness to it that my own homemade attempts have suffered from, the foie gras was generous, and the accompanying veal reduction was bold. Mushrooms are always a problem in Dakar, but the reconstituted mushrooms accompanying this dish were of the better kind, and their strong flavour held its own against the foie gras.

Mains came quickly, and Mrs Jiffler's filet was very young, almost veal, and a touch overdone for medium, but was a tasty piece of meat nonetheless. Three cheese sauce was a strong and unusual departure for Mrs Jiffler, but was met with much approval. My Magret de Canard came cooked medium as requested with a sweet jus and a short tower of parsnips. I refused to believe they were parsnips at first, since I have never seen parsnips on sale in West Africa. Parsnips they were though, and although just a minute away from being overdone, they were a remarkably good foil for the succulent duck.

Something that most up-market places in Dakar do get right are the puddings. In this case Le Lodge let us down slightly. While our puddings were generally good, they didn't quite live up to La Fourchette's benchmark. Mrs Jiffler's fondant chocolat was great, but came without the high quality vanilla ice cream and slicks of marmalade which make La Fourchette's version so sublime. My Tiramisu was surprisingly light, but came in a Muslim friendly version which lacked the desired boozy kick.

The final bill came to about 25000CFA less than we have paid at similar places, which is a big enough saving to pay for a decent lunch the day after, or another bottle of decent wine. We'll certainly go back to Le Lodge - I'd like to see if the cheaper menus are as satisfying. So far this is my favourite of Dakar's upmarket restaurants; service is efficent and unpretentious, the menu is consistent yet still creative, and the wine list is great value.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Hanoi Market Action

The markets in Hanoi were an absolute delight, bursting with vibrant colours and and fantastic smells. Much of what we saw seemed fantastically exotic - I could only recognise about half of the fruits, vegetables and roots on sale. We took some surreptitious photos at a covered market off Pho Ly Thuong Kiet:

A typical transaction (note use of motorbike helmet as shopping basket - very eco-friendly):

Or you might prefer just to drive your motorbike straight into the market:

We'll be back to kit out the kitchen:

Rotisserie dog anyone? Possibly the only thing I could never bring myself to eat:

My favourite Longans - about 10 cents a kilo:

Thats all from Vietnam, at least until I've found an excuse to go back. Watch out for a fresh spring roll recipe on Jifflings in the new year.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

My dragon eyes are hungry for the prize

This is home cooking in Vietnam:

A massive whole fish (I reckon a Bream of some sort, but a translation wasn't available) with zinging lemongrass flavours, rice noodle salad with fresh and fragrant mint and basil, and a bowl of plump green water spinach called rau muong, that American readers might know as 'morning glory' (cue sniggering from British readers). It looks like a fatter version of watercress and tastes deep and savoury, similar to asparagus but also a bit earthy, like spinach.

Dragon eyes

Longan fruit. Known to Vietnamese folk as 'dragon eyes' because they look a bit like eyeballs when you peel them. Despite coming from Wales I've never seen a real dragon, or a dragon's eyeball for that matter.
Anyhow, once you get the knack of split-peeling them and popping them whole into your mouth (one handed in one very graceful flick of the wrist I'll have you know) you're in for a more-ish treat. They taste very similar to lychees and come with a hard black seed which is the perfect size and density for drunken spitting competitions.

With apologies to The Loft for the title of this post. I don't know what came over me.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Crunchy Songbird

I felt as though I should at least eat something vaguely ridiculous in Vietnam, so, having been told that the swan was off, opted for a sparrow salad. It came de-plumed and deep fried with a salad of herbs and chilli and was a crunchy delight. Mrs Jiffler couldn't stomach eating the head so passed that over to me. It made a strange popping sensation under my molars and I'm sure I would have been disgusted by the sensation of its brain matter squirting out onto my tongue had it not been for the satisfyingly savoury hit that accompanied.

Our friends had taken us to a fantastic place, a kind of canteen surrounded by stalls selling different dishes. You choose a selection of dishes from whichever stalls take your fancy, and waiting staff bring them to you plated up at a table for a modest mark-up.

Aside from the sparrow salad, we munched our way through pigs trotter soups, pho, fresh spring rolls (yes again), cooked spring rolls, chicken, squid, more squid... Best of all, lunch for four, with beers and more than we could eat came in at under £12.