Sunday 4 August 2013

Le Blanc Nez, Sangatte, France

This is one of my favourite restaurants of all time; somewhere I have visited frequently, somewhere I like to introduce to friends. Le Blanc Nez is in a village called Sangatte, in northern France, about ten minutes’ drive from the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais. I have visited a few times as a nice break to the journey when returning from the south of France on holiday, but mostly as day trip. Last weekend I went over with some friends for a few hours on Saturday night, for a ‘booze cruise’ and for dinner at a favourite eatery.

First and foremost, this is a seafood restaurant, with some of the best fresh fish and shellfish you will find. But there is plenty to offer those who are not big seafood fans; I have had excellent beef bougignon and confit duck at this restaurant over the years.

This also a very English-friendly restaurant, the menu includes English translations if your French isn’t what it could be; I reckon that half the patrons are English people who have hopped across for the day for lunch and a bit of shopping.

 I nearly always have the pate to start with at Le Blanc Nez because it is SO good. La terrine maison is one of those dishes that can be relied upon 100% of the time. The pate is flavoursome and smooth, as good as any I have ever eaten. Served with a fantastic, fresh, red onion relish and accompanied by a fresh salad, some excellent beetroot and some spicy little cornichons. An amazing SUPER-DISH.

For main course I had l’assiette de fruits de mer, which is one of the most frequent dish-in-restaurant combinations I have every ordered, not least because it comes in its own little boat. Yes, a boat, served on a bed of seaweed! There are seven different elements to this dish… oysters, langoustines, prawns, shrimp, winkles, whelks and a whole crab. The offer is seasonal and changes throughout the year, often including smoked fish also. This dish costs €28, which is great value when you consider that an equivalent dish in the UK would cost anywhere between £30 and £40. All of the elements of this (second) SUPER-DISH are great, the oysters (my favourite thing in the world) are fresh and served with a red wine vinegar and shallot dressing, the langoustines are big and juicy and the crab is always a meaty little fellah.

So, well worth a day trip just to go to Le Blanc Nez, or why not combine with a visit to the nearby Cite Europe shopping centre and pick up some cheap alcohol from Carrefour? This restaurant never disappoints, especially if you are a seafood lover, the staff are friendly and attentive and the atmosphere is unpretentious and relaxed.

A Stokes family favourite that is very, very highly recommended.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Frankie & Benny’s, Harlow (and every other provincial town)

I honestly can’t remember the last time I visited a Frankie & Benny’s, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the current century. There’s a four letter word beginning with ‘s’ that seems to have been specifically invented to describe the food at Frankie & Benny’s, from what I can remember. Where we live there is a limited choice of restaurants within a short drive, and fewer still that are family-friendly. So, when Frankie & Benny’s opened in my home town a few months back I made a mental note to give it another go, through a fathers lens.

We had an early lunch one Saturday a few weeks ago. I had the chicken parmigiana…

A succulent chicken breast coated in garlic and herb breadcrumbs. Topped with ham, melted mozzarella and mamma’s Neapolitan sauce. Served on a bed of Neapolitan spaghetti with corn on the cob and your choice of house fries, salad or a jacket.

One of the most disappointing things I have eaten for a very long time. The chicken wasn’t succulent and it didn’t taste of garlic, the ham was straight out of a packet and the mozzarella was, I think, not mozzarella at all. But the worst thing about it was the Neapolitan sauce, which was entirely tasteless. An average Neapolitan sauce contains tomatoes, onions, basil, garlic and other herbs; I find it impossible to understand how these ingredients can be mixed together and be totally devoid of any real flavour. The food was bad and the service matched so I have to award this lunch both a TOTAL STINKER and SNAIL SERVICE.


Alex and Olivia both had the kids meal, chicken strips and spaghetti Bolognese respectively. The portions were generous and the quality of the food was above average, when compared to other kids options at other restaurants, and great value at £3.95 for a main course, drink and dessert. And the ‘fun pack’ was great too, well thought through and high in quality; it literally kept them entertained the whole time we were there.

So, it seems that four letter word is still appropriate when describing Frankie & Benny’s, which probably won’t be a surprise to you. But, if you have children, and you can tolerate tasteless food, take one for the team?


Resto Bistro, Epping

I’ve driven past this place, in Epping High Street, hundreds of times. I’ve pretty much ignored it, as often there are a gaggle of awful TOWIE people crowded outside. However, when searching for somewhere to eat recently, a friend said that she had eaten here and that it was nice; so we decided to give it a go.

Starter was from the specials board, a simple plate of Parma ham and avocado, with a sweet onion dressing. Simple, unpretentious, fresh. Not the best Parma ham I have eaten but the perfect starter for a very hot summer evening.

For main course I had what this restaurant is apparently renowned for… ribs. The ribs are available with a mind-blowing choice of sixteen different sauces! Chicken gravy, Jack Daniel’s, hot chilli, garlic butter, mesquite BBQ, sweet chilli, Thai green curry, Indonesian satay, tomato and herb, hot piri piri, mustard, horseradish, Texas sweet onion, reggae-reggae spiced tamarind, onion gravy or creamed green peppercorn. I chose the reggae-reggae spiced tamarind. Firstly, because I love tamarind, and secondly because Levi Roots is too-cool-for-school, not quite as cool in gastronomic terms as Colonel Sanders, but still cool. I had the regular portion for £21.95 and I’m glad I did, the large (£25.95) would have been far too much, even for me. On the side were some nice French fries and adequate coleslaw, but the ribs were every bit as delicious and melt-in-the-mouth as expected.

For dessert I had (what the menu described as ) ‘the best ever chocolate fudge cake’, served with whipped cream. It was certainly a great dessert, but not quite the greatest. Perhaps more accurately described as ‘one of the best and certainly the richest ever chocolate fudge cake’.

So, a lesson learned. Never judge a book by its cover, and never judge a restaurant by the ridiculous orange people standing around outside!