Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Eating Like a Provençal Made Easy

When the sun shines over our beautiful city of London, it’s time to eat light, delicious and healthy recipes from Provence, South East of France. A Provençal recipe naturally involves a lot of locally pressed olive oil. After all, it is the predominant ingredient of our wholesome diet and it should be consumed everyday.

Today, we are suggesting that you prepare a three-course meal, or four if you have some cheese, that evokes a Summer day in this beautiful part of France!

Tapenade for Starter:

In France we often start a meal with an apéro: some nibbles with a glass of crisp white wine, a rosé, a Ricard, a glass of squash or any refreshing drinks. It marks the start of fun moment where friends and family are sharing a fantastic time together around the table. To offer your guest something else than just olives, saucisson and sun dried tomatoes, open their appetite with some Tapenade. 

-       250g of black olives (pits removed)
-       6 anchovies fillet in oil
-       3 teaspoon of caper in vinegar
-       1 garlic clove
-       10 cl of olive oil

Mix everything very finely with a blender before adding the olive oil to obtain a smooth paste.  Serve it with toasts or raw veggie sticks, close your eyes and enjoy the sun!

Ratatouille as a Main:

If you are from south of France, you most certainly can’t envisage a Summer without a ratatouille. Made with seasonal veggies this dish is colorful, succulent and extremely healthy.

-       4 big onions
-       5 garlic cloves
-       2 aubergine
-       5 courgettes
-       6 big tomatoes
-       ½ red or yellow pepper
-       1 bay leaf
-       1 thyme branch
-       Olive oil
-       salt and pepper

Melt the onions and garlic cloves in a big pan with some olive oil. Cut the veggies in big cube of 2cm. Add the aubergine and cook for 10 minutes. As the aubergine will soak a lot of olive oil be generous and add some more as needed. Add the courgettes and pepper and cook for another 5 minutes before adding the tomatoes, the thyme and the bay leaf. 30 minutes later you are ready to serve 8 guests. If like us, you are a wine lover, our tip is to add a glass of white wine like a Picpoul de Pinet with the courgettes.

A ratatouille can be eaten with any kind of meat, fish and BBQs; you can make a tart with the leftovers and it can even be savoured cold.

Strawberries for Dessert:

The French like to finish every meal with some tasty cheese and many of us must conclude with a sweet taste. As strawberries are in season, we suggest you to have them for dessert. With very little effort you can turn this summer fruit into a simple and yet transporting salad.

-       250g of strawberry
-       4 mint leaves
-       ½ lemon juice
-       15g of sugar

Cut the strawberries; add the lemon juice and the sugar. Make sure you make it before the apéro starts to obtain a succulent juice. Add the mint leaves before serving.

Voila, in about an hour you prepared a typical Provençal meal that is perfect for any Summer days. Perhaps you are thinking that a three or four-course meal is a bit excessive when it’s hot outside but, in reality, taking the time to relaxed while eating fresh seasonal products is extremely good for you!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

London Opera in August

You have the food, you have the wine, now all you need to complete the Bel Canto experience is the music. Sadly, August is a quiet time for London opera, with no big productions on at the Royal Opera House or the English National Opera. However, there is always music to be found, if you know where to look! Thankfully, this week, we have spared you the trouble and done the looking for you.

The Proms.
One of the biggest and best classical music festivals in the world takes place in London every summer and this year we have selected five of our top vocal proms between now and the beginning of September.
  1. Prom 44 – Shakespeare: Stage and Screen – RAH – 7:30 –Thursday 18th August
  2. Prom 45 – Janacek: The Markropulos Affair – RAH – 7:30 –Friday 19th August
  3. Prom 46 – Mahler’s Ruckert-Lieder and Mozart’s Mass in CMinor – RAH – 7:30, Saturday 20th August
  4. Prom 54 – Collegium Vocale Gent and the Budapest FestivalOrchestra – RAH – 7:30, Friday 26th August
  5. Prom 57 – Thomas Larcher, Wagner and Richard Strauss – RAH –7:30, Sunday 28th August


The alternative Glyndebourne, this boundary-pushing festival is back, and celebrating its tenth anniversary. Featuring new pieces by up-and-coming composers, as well as your old favourites repackaged, the only thing that could make Grimeborn better is if all the tickets were under £15… oh wait! They already are.
  1. Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro – Arcola Theatre – 16th-20thAugust
  2. The Mozart Double - Bastien and Bastienne and the Impressario, Mozart – ArcolaTheatre – 23-25th August
  3. The Perfect Picnic (opera theatre made using Mozart’s music)– Arcola Theatre – 11th-18th August
  4. The Dowager’s Oyster (Gilbert and Sullivan meets AgathaChristie in this new murder mystery farce, set in the roaring 20s) – 26-27thAugust
  5. Gianni Schicchi/Pagliacci – Puccini, Leoncavallo – 30thAugust – 3rd September

Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s famous “play with songs” is back at the National Theatre. Telling the tale of the scoundrel Captain “Mack the Knife” Mackheath, the various women in his life, and the various other characters of Victorian London’s sordid underbelly, a fabulous cast is headed up by Rory Kinnear, who you might recognise from James Bond…

Opera Della Luna – whose previous productions have received 4-star, rave reviews – take to the stage of Wilton’s Music Hall for the first time, putting on two one-act comedies by France’s answer to Gilbert and Sullivan, Jacques Offenbach. Singing new English translations of Croquefer and L’ile de Tulipaton, Opera Della Luna’s performances will take place today and tomorrow – there are still tickets available, but you better hurry! 

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Where to Buy Great French Wine in London

France’s long-standing tradition of winemaking is world-famous. A bottle of fine wine made at Chateau Rayas or at Chateau Lagrange contains a savoir-faire that was passed down through generations, the flavours of a delicious cépage and the unique expressions of a Terroir. Going to a cellar to find a French Grand Cru is discovering France’s prestigious history and landscape, and listening to a great sommelier is like poetry.

Brilliant wines are made all over the world but opening a glorious bottle of French wine means the certainty of being greeted with excitement, and the opportunity to appear as a fine connoisseur.

It is said that France keeps the best wine for itself but, luckily, London successfully managed to import some of its most exceptional wine. Whatever your budget may be, here is where to buy great French wine in London:

Find exquisite bottles at Hedonism wine. Entering this outstanding wine cellar located at the heart of London’s Mayfair is a unique dive into the world’s finest wines. With a collection of over 2,700 French wines, you will be advised by former sommeliers from Michelin-starred restaurants. Whether you are privileged enough to afford a priceless piece of history like a Vin Jaune from 1774 or an 1811 Chateau d’Yquem, perfectly aged, or if you are looking for an amazing cru under £30, Hedonism will offer you the crème de la crème.

Discover amazing Burgundy at Haynes Hanson & Clark. Britons are big fans of Burgundy wines and, if that’s your case too, you will be pleased to hear that their extensive Burgundy range includes many of the region’s finest Domaines. Here you can buy young wines and vintages ready to be drunk, as well as Grand Crus that need aging. Their staff are friendly and knowledgeable and even though they are located in Chelsea, their wines are affordable to all pockets.

Shop online at The owners source and handpick a huge collection of French wines directly from the producers and make them available online for our greatest pleasure and convenience. To help you make the right decision, they provide detailed descriptions, critics’ marks and customers’ ratings and reviews for each Domaine and bottle. If you are already wondering if they deliver to the UK and if their site is translated in English, the answer is YES!

We have mentioned but a few, but London offers a wide selection of boutiques where you can find excellent French wine.

Our last piece of advice would be to shop like the French. Many of us have our own personal reserve because once we find a wine we adore, we tend to buy more and more, and we don’t mind waiting a few years to allow our precious wine to age. Building your own personal cellar is within your reach. So, next time you find a succulent wine, go the extra mile and keep a few bottles. We are sure your friends and family will love you for it!

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Finding France in London

Bel Canto’s annual closure is a sad time for us all but – to tide you over until 1st September – this month’s blogs will help you find bits of the Bel Canto experience in our absence. Starting with where to buy great French food.

When you are a French expat in London and go grocery shopping for the very first time, the experience can be quite dramatic. The freshly-baked baguettes whose crust should be a song to your ears are soggy; the cheese aisles in supermarkets are tiny and filled with cheddar cheese; the charcuterie section have salami and prosciutto but no sign of saucisson or Viande des Grisons and, you find burger patties and sausages instead of steak haché and chipolatas.

Of course, the UK has farmed cheddar but that just doesn’t do it for us. We crave an aged Beaufort, Compté or Gruyère. And, now that summer is here, we dream of a good runny goat’s cheese on our salads and merguez, chipolata and brochettes for our BBQs.

The list of French food we miss goes on and on but there is no need to get desperate. Here are the best places to go to when you need a slice of France in London:

Like in France, the best produce is found in markets and in London, the best place to find regional French produce is Borough Market. French cheeses, charcuterie, wines, breads, pastries and condiments can all be found in this iconic London market. Plus, there is nothing better in the world than buying cheeses from someone that will cut a huge slab in front of you before wrapping it in paper and, this is what you get at Borough Market!

If you can’t make it to Borough Market don’t worry, Une Normande à Londres - one of the markets’ best stalls - trades at over 10 markets across the city. The stall owner imports an impressive selection of seasonal cheeses, charcuterie and preserves that are traditionally manufactured in France. If you find her near you, the likelihood of you becoming a regular is very high!

Now, if you have delicious French cheese and charcuterie, you will naturally need traditional French bread to go with them. In London, Aux Pains de Pappy is the go-to destination! This independent boutique bakes, right in front of you, the capital’s best French bread and croissants using the finest ingredients from Provence (South of France). One can’t fake the smell of a true Boulangerie and the taste of a rustic bread freshly baked and Aux Pains de Pappy is unquestionably doing it right.

In France we love our Boulangeries, Patisseries, Boucheries and Fromageries but we also adore our Épiceries Fines. In London, when we talk about exquisite independent delis, Leila’s shop is inescapable and, if you are an expat, her shop should be on your bucket list. Not everything they sell is French but the feel definitely is. They always have incredible French cheeses, charcuterie, fruits and veggies. And, if you are from Brittany, you will be pleased to hear that they have real butter and salted caramel too!

Finally, if you are looking for a traditional home-cooked experience and want to discover classic French recipes, La Grande Bouffe is the supper club you are looking for. Like in France’s chambres d’hôtes, guests share the dishes that are directly placed on the tables in front of them. Last but not least, they use the same cast-iron casserole you can find in all French grandmothers’ kitchens.

Where are YOUR favourite places to buy French food? Get in touch and let us know!

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Learn to Pair Wine like the French

Wine should be taken as an accompaniment to food therefore they should never overtake the delicious flavour of a classic recipe. Luckily, the French have a huge selection of delicious local wines to choose from to pair with their countless historical dishes.

Red and White wine

A sommelier’s job is to create the perfect harmony between the melody of a dish and the tones of a wine. Like in music, the harmony between food and wine is the result of the right balance of their respective intensities. A light dish is paired with a wine low in intensity and a dish high in flavour with a full-bodied wine. That’s why the French would drink an Arbois Blanc from Jura with their Blanquette de Veau and a Mouton-Cadet from Bordeaux with a Steak aux Poivres. And, if you cook a dish with wine, like a traditional Poulet de Bresse aux Morilles from Franche-Comté with a Vin Jaune made of the unique Savagnin grape, you should always serve the same wine to your guests.

Steak au Poivre

The ultimate rule that all French people follow and one that will never let you down is pairing a regional dish with a wine from the same region to combine the beautiful expression of the same terroir. For example, a Bouillabaisse will go perfectly well with a crisp white wine from Cassis and, a Crotin de Chavignol, which is a goat’s cheese, is excellent with Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc.

French cheeses

On that note, despite what many French will tell you, cheeses should almost always be paired with white wines because red wines will overpower the delicious flavour of France’s beloved delicacies. There are exceptions like pairing a Brie or a Camembert with a Saint Emilion. But, if you start a meal with a baked Camembert try savouring it with glass of Champagne. It is absolutely divine and to be tried at least once in a lifetime.
White Wine and Cheese

Unless, you are an expert, creating the perfect symphony can be challenging, so here is a final simple tip: pair seafood and entrées with a dry wine, Prosecco or champagne; entrées and fish with a full-bodied white wine; white meats with a full-bodied white wine or sometimes a light red; red meat with a full-bodied red wine and desserts with a sweet wine. Furthermore, during a meal, wines should always go up in intensity because a full bodied wine will mask the flavour of a lighter wine.

Bel Canto Food and Wine Pairing

Finally, listen to a sommelier’s advice and always go to a cellar knowing what you plan to eat. After some time experimenting, things will get easier and following your intuition will be like creating an opera for your taste-buds. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Tournedos Rossini: The Love of Music and Haute Cuisine

We owe the Tournedos Rossini’s recipe to Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. Famous for his opera Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) he, more than anyone else, represents the perfect symbiosis of music and fine dining. If his musical talent were not as prolific, Rossini would have most likely dedicated his life to Haute Cuisine. Many, if not all, of his famous opera were inspired by his love for food and at the end of his life, he composed piano pieces that he named after ingredients he liked: radish, anchovies, pickles, butter, dried figs, almonds, grapes and hazelnut.

At 30 years old he prided himself for knowing the most important chefs in Europe. One of his best friend was Antoine-Marie Carême and every time this all-time great chef would send him some food, he would write him a short song, or an aria. Rossini said that Carême was the only man who ever understood him and Carême was the first in 1833 to honour his friend’s talents with a dish, Le Potage de purée de Gibier à la Rossini, in his book L'art de la cuisine Française (19th century). 

The appellation tournedos was first mentioned much later in the comedy La Cagnotte of Eugène Labiche in 1864 and we had to wait until 1892 to find the first recipe of the Tournedos à la Rossini in the Dictionnaire universel de Cuisine of Joseph Favre, in La Cuisine de tous les mois de Philéas Gilbert (2nd édition of 1895-99) and in Escoffier's Guide culinaire 1901. 

For some people it is Casimir Moisson from La Maison dorée who created the Tournedos Rossini; for others it is Marie-Antoine Carême or Escoffier, whose recipe for the Tournedos in his Culinary Guide is:
  • Fry the Tournedos; dress them on a crouton coated with a melted meat glazing
  • Place on all tournedos an escalope of Foie Gras fried in butter and a few beautiful truffle slices on the escalope 
  • Madiera deglazing with a half-glazed truffle essence sauce

This recipe is a beautiful example of the Haute Cuisine we explained in our previous post. This dish is made by grand chefs mastering the technique of cooking and it combines beef’s the most tender part, the tenderloin, with one of France's most renowned delicacies, foie gras and slices of black and golden truffles. 

There is enough à la Rossini’s recipe to create book and enough food stories about him to create legends. It is said that Rossini only cried three times in his life: a first time after the flop of his first opera, a second time when he listened to Niccolo Paganini play violin and the third time, when he witnessed a boating accident that culminated in a turkey stuffed with truffles falling overboard into the water.

Perhaps legends aren’t true but what’s certain is that Rossini was one of the world’s greatest composers and foodies, a combination that we at Bel Canto value greatly!