Bitton Café & Grocer, Alexandria

We had actually planned to go to The Grounds of Alexandria, voted best new café in the recently published Sydney Morning Herald Good Café Guide 2012 (also available as an app). However, it’s closed, being a public holiday – I had failed to check that in advance. So we walk back towards Erskineville through quiet, picturesque residential streets to try our luck at Bitton Café & Grocer on Copeland Street, opposite Erskineville Oval. Café, bistro, grocery shop and product line with a book, a blog and cooking classes, this mini empire is headed up by Parisian managing director David Bitton.

Bitton Cafe & Grocer

Bitton Café & Grocer

I’m surprised that we manage to get a table quite so easily considering Bitton is always packed to the gunnels whenever we go past. We’re catching up with friends with a toddler so we park ourselves in the covered outdoor area at the back, right next to a great little playroom complete with ride-on vehicles and chalkboard. A side order of fried mushrooms for the hungry little chap arrives promptly and a highchair is manoeuvred into position.

The breakfast menu is available until 5pm, something of which I heartily approve, and as you’d expect it has a hint of French flavour, including crêpes, Croque Monsieur, croissants and brioche. A bit of clever cross-promotion highlights which of the dishes are included in The Bitton Book, and which sauces, pestos, preserves and so on are available to buy from the laden shelves inside the café or online.

Bitton Cafe & Grocer

Bitton Café & Grocer

Coffees come quickly, which is quite a relief this morning, followed by food. The service is friendly, efficient, attentive and entirely unphased by all the strollers blocking up the passage-ways. Mr T and I both opt for the Croque Monsieur, two slices of white sourdough, sandwiched with ham and Gruyère cheese sauce and fried to a satisfying golden crunch. A side dish of zingy Bitton spicy tomato sauce and a garnish of bitter salad leaves with salty-lemony dressing both help cut through the richness.

Croque Monsiuer

Croque Monsieur, Bitton Café & Grocer

Al has the one pan bacon and eggs with wood-fired bread which also comes with the spicy tomato sauce. He says it’s good without being particularly remarkable.

One pan bacon and eggs with woodfired bread and spicy tomato sauce

One pan bacon and eggs with wood-fired bread and spicy tomato sauce, Bitton Café & Grocer

And Nicole goes for sour cherry toast with poached rhubarb, ricotta and Bitton orange jelly. The caramel coloured orange jelly gives a nice bitter-sweet flavour contrast to the creamy ricotta and the rhubarb has held its shape and has a bit of bite to it. (I admire the whole chunks of fruit since I don’t seem to be able to cook rhubarb without it quickly turning into a purple purée!)

Sour cherry toast with poached rhubarb, ricotta and orange jelly

Sour cherry toast with poached rhubarb, ricotta and orange jelly, Bitton Café & Grocer

After eating I take a few snaps inside the café, trying to capture something of the bustling atmosphere and the shelves filled with freshly baked bread, fruit and veggies, as well as the Bitton range. David, the MD, asks me – in his fabulous French accent – why I’m taking photos and we have a brief chat. He gives me his business card and asks me to send him a link to my blog post – if the write-up is good. Well, David, if you’re reading this – c’est très bien, n’est pas?

Bitton Café & Grocer
36 – 37a Copeland Street, Alexandria
Visited 1 October 2012

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A weekend in Melbourne

With a wedding in Melbourne last weekend, and friends and family to catch up with while there, it was inevitable that we were going to end up eating a lot (what a shame). For some reason I didn’t foresee quite how much, and I definitely hadn’t anticipated the quantity of pig fat…

A beautiful sunny Saturday sees us at Edinburgh Gardens in North Fitzroy to meet up with whoever is able to make it along. But getting there early and unbreakfasted leads us to seek out a suitable café. Marmalade and Soul hoves into view on a corner site at the end of quiet Queens Parade, but with a gaggle of people standing outside we fear the worst – a wait for tables. Fortunately said gaggle have presumably eaten their fill and are on their way out for we get a table straight away. Inside is a large two-roomed space with exposed red brick and quirky little displays of old, hardback books and retro storage jars on wooden shelves.

Marmalade and Soul

Marmalade and Soul

Waitresses are becomingly attired in pale blue striped shirts and sandy-coloured (I’m assuming some sort of raw natural fibre) aprons. I’m giving Marmalade and Soul an award right now for the most adventurous breakfast menu I have ever seen with dishes like ‘potted breakfast trifle’ and ‘spiced five rice porridge with curry and broken eggs’.

Marmalade and Soul

Marmalade and Soul

I go for hearty, sweet-spicy, richly tomatoey house-made baked beans with chorizo and chipolatas served in a small paella pan with crunchy croutons of garlic bread, all sprinkled with Parmesan.

Housemade baked beans with chorizo, chipolatas and garlic bread

House-made baked beans with chorizo, chipolatas and garlic bread, Marmalade and Soul

The portion size is huge and Mr T eats about half of it. That’s on top of his own breakfast, a titillating taste combination of caramelised orange and olive cake with maple bacon, burnt orange custard and raspberry coulis. Mr T especially loves the citrus bitterness of the custard, and the sweet-tartness of the raspberry, but finds the sticky bacon a bit on the tough side (“like trying to chew a Minty”).

Caramelised orange and olive cake with maple bacon and burnt orange custard

Caramelised orange and olive cake with maple bacon and burnt orange custard, Marmalade and Soul

We spend the rest of the day basking in the Melbourne Spring sunshine with friends and picnicking at a VFL match (Fitzroy vs. Hampton at Brunswick Oval, for those, unlike me, who understand these things), followed by a wonderful wedding with very good champagne and fabulous finger and buffet food – oysters and macarons, anyone?

Le Flaneur

Le Flaneur

Next day is Father’s Day, or Godfather’s Day as we rename it, since we are staying with Mr T’s godfather and his wife. We all meet up with their daughter, son-in-law and two gorgeous granddaughters for brunch at Le Flâneur in Hawthorn, a lovely laid back café with a French bent. Really good coffees all round to start, babyccinos for the girls, and a Valrhona hot chocolate for Mr T which promises greatness but sadly doesn’t deliver to his exacting (“I want it the colour of espresso coffee”) standards of strength.

Flat white, Le Flaneur

Flat white, Le Flâneur

To eat I go for the Croque Madame (a Croque Monsieur with a fried egg on top) which has creamy, stringy cheese sauce and good ham, but I’m not sure I’m a big fan of the sweetness of the brioche used here in place of bread.

Croque Madame

Croque Madame, Le Flâneur

Mr T has French toast (again made with brioche) with bacon and honey, topped with sliced strawberry and pear. The bacon is good quality and plentiful, the fruit fresh and beautifully presented, but the honey is not a very present flavour.

French toast, bacon, honey and fresh fruit

French toast, bacon, honey and fresh fruit, Le Flâneur

Everyone else around the table has beautifully made omelettes with various delicious fillings. We could happily, and do, spend quite some time here.

Le Flaneur

Le Flaneur

We decide to spend the afternoon, before our flight back to Sydney, hanging out in the trendy Gertrude/Smith/Brunswick Street area of Fitzroy/Collingwood where we’ve enjoyed much mooching time in the past. What actually happens is that we park on Smith Street and walk straight into Josie Bones, a bar/restaurant we’d both been keen to go to for a while.

Josie Bones

Josie Bones

Run by Chris Badenoch and Julia Jenkins who were contestants on the first series of Masterchef, Josie Bones is a fabulous place seriously dedicated to beer and nose-to-tail eating. A long chunky wooden bar runs the full length of the large room (below an enormous and confrontingly visceral mural of a skinned rabbit), purveying some 250 local and international craft beers, plus eight rotating beers on tap. We sit up at the bar and leaf through the exceedingly thick beer list, grouped according to type and origin. The friendly barman’s knowledge and description of beer knows no bounds and he helps me to choose a Croucher Pilsner from Rotorua in New Zealand which is deliciously fruity and hoppy.

Croucher Pilsner - Rotorua, New Zealand

Croucher Pilsner – Rotorua, New Zealand, Josie Bones

Despite having eaten only a couple of hours prior, we can’t possibly not sample some of their meaty offerings. We decide we’ll risk scurvy and skip the vegetable matter, cutting straight to the chase with pork crackling, lambs tongue sliders, pigs trotter and rolled pigs head. Enough pig, do you think? The crackling is fabulously crunchy and the lambs tongue sliders soft, sweet and slightly smokey with toasted brioche buns, tomato relish and creamy mayo.

Lambs tongue sliders

Lambs tongue sliders, Josie Bones

The pigs trotter is stuffed with black pudding on a bed of earthy braised Puy lentils. I’m used to black pudding being much richer and bloodier than this paler, lighter version which has a touch of fruitiness from the calvados-flambéd apple that they include. The salty, crumbed crispy pigs ears on top are a wonderful textural marriage of crunch and chew.

Trotter stuffed with black pudding with braised lentils and crispy pigs ear

Trotter stuffed with black pudding with braised lentils and crispy pigs ear, Josie Bones

The dish of the day is the pigs head which they braise in beer before pulling the meat off, rolling it up with the tongue down the middle along with herbs and lemon zest, and steaming it before it’s sliced and pan-fried golden brown to order. Decadence in a dish, it’s full of large chunks of unctuous, melting fat and falling-apart meat, topped with another shard of the fabulous crackling. It rests on a bed of jewel-green sauce gribiche; performing the same role as a salsa verde or a chimichurri, it’s the perfect foil to the fattiness of the meat with its inclusion of zingy, acidic capers and cornichons as well as fresh herbs.

Rolled pigs head with sauce gribiche and crackling

Rolled pigs head with sauce gribiche and crackling, Josie Bones

We waddle off to the airport sated and very happy but swearing off pig products for… well, as it happens, only two days! On Tuesday we have lovely thick pork chops with a syrupy balsamic glaze; can’t get enough of that pork on ya fork.

Marmelade and Soul
162 Queens Parade, Fitzroy North, Melbourne
Visited 1 September 2012

Le Flâneur
5 Church Street, Hawthorn, Melbourne

Josie Bones
98 Smith Street, Collingwood

Both visited 2 September 2012

Guillaume at Bennelong

With Mr T’s 40th birthday and our second wedding anniversary in the last week, something special was called for. We studied the menus of a few of Sydney’s top restaurants and chose Guillaume at Bennelong, Mr T’s reasoning being that the degustation features two desserts. Not only that, they involve both dark chocolate and raspberries!

In summary, the whole experience is exquisite: a masterclass in simplicity, refinement and balance, from the service to every morsel set before us. The only thing not understated is the magnificent setting inside the ribcage of the smallest Opera House shell with views of the city skyline and Harbour Bridge, which we are lucky enough to enjoy from the best table in the house at the ‘prow of the ship’. It pays to let them know beforehand if you’re celebrating a big occasion.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin! First the ‘amuse bouche’ which is a chilled, creamy oyster served in its shell, set in a soft, green jelly tasting of cucumber and briny oyster juices. The first course is a piece of raw sashimi -grade yellowfin tuna, wrapped in basil leaves and very subtly dressed with soy and mustard seed vinaigrette. It’s all about showcasing the clean, mildly rich flavour of the tuna.

Basil infused Yellowfin tuna, soy and mustard seed vinaigrette

Basil infused yellowfin tuna, soy and mustard seed vinaigrette, Guillaume at Bennelong

Next is a royale of globe artichoke, a light-as-air artichoke mousse which hovers above your tongue, beautifully complemented in its creaminess by a small pile of mud crab, both of which are cut through by the acidity of a barigoule vinaigrette floating on top with the crunchy texture of very finely diced carrots, celery and chives.

Royale of globe artichoke, mud crab, barigoule vinaigrette

Royale of globe artichoke, mud crab, barigoule vinaigrette, Guillaume at Bennelong

After that comes scallops, pan-fried with a golden crust, sitting on a watercress sauce and lemon foam (in which the flavours of watercress and lemon are strangely illusive). Perched above is the finest potato crisp with the texture of wafer, topped with little bubbles of salty caviar that pop in the mouth, and for a little drama there are dark purple edible petals.

Scallops, lemon emulsion, watercress veloute, Sterling caviar

Scallops, lemon emulsion, watercress velouté, Sterling caviar, Guillaume at Bennelong

This is followed by a fillet of John Dory, again beautifully crispy on the outside, surrounded by a puddle of carrot and ginger purée with coriander, accompanied by a delightful tumbleweed of crispy, angel-hair potato allumettes (matchsticks). Talk about fancy fish and chips! The flavour of the purée is fantastic and instantly makes me feel like making soup, and there are beautiful sweet, buttered heirloom carrots too.

John Dory, carrot and ginger puree, coriander, pommes allumettes

John Dory, carrot and ginger purée, coriander, pomme allumettes, Guillaume at Bennelong

Next up is a cube of Grimaud duck, rich, fatty and dark pink, served with little mounds of divine sweet potato and foie gras purée and a wedge of fresh fig, rounded out by the bitter, slightly burnt flavour of char-grilled radicchio and fine swirls of balsamic jus.

Grimaud duck, sweet potato and foie gras puree, figs, radicchio, radish, balsamic jus

Grimaud duck, sweet potato and foie gras purée, figs, radicchio, radish, balsamic jus, Guillaume at Bennelong

The final savoury course is deboned rib of Tajima Wagyu, tender, very rare and streaked with fat, accompanied by tiny, herby mushrooms and a generous couple of spoonfuls of Paris Mash which is velvety and sticky and melt-in-the-mouth buttery. Seeping out from underneath the beef is a pool of thick Merlot reduction (20 bottles of wine to one or two litres of sauce!), a viscous, blackcurranty syrup of heady deliciousness.

Debonded rib eye of Tajima Wagyu beef, shimeji mushrooms, baby spinach, shallot, merlot sauce

Debonded rib eye of Tajima Wagyu beef, shimeji mushrooms, baby spinach, shallot, Merlot sauce, Guillaume at Bennelong

It’s Mr T’s lucky night because instead of two desserts we actually get three, on account, I think, of his birthday. The first is fresh, plump raspberries on a smear of vanilla cream with a little almondy pistachio cake, a perfect miniature crème brûlee and a quinelle of raspberry sorbet which tastes exactly of fresh raspberries.

Fresh rapberries, pistachio gateaux, vanilla cream creme brulee, raspberry sorbet

Fresh raspberries, pistachio gateaux, vanilla cream crème brûlée, raspberry sorbet, Guillaume at Bennelong

Next is a Valrhona dark chocolate soufflé served in a tiny copper saucepan with a scoop of vanilla bean and cherry ripple ice cream inserted, at the table, into the top. Mr T’s verdict is that it’s not chocolatey enough but I thoroughly enjoy its feather-light consistency with slightly chewy bits round the edges, although I don’t detect any cherry flavour in the ice cream.

Valrhona chocolate souffle, vanilla bean and cherry ripple ice cream

Valrhona chocolate soufflé, vanilla bean and cherry ripple ice cream, Guillaume at Bennelong

Our bonus dessert is the Valrhona ‘Guanaja’ globe: dark chocolate ice cream rolled in caramelised chopped hazelnuts and topped with gold leaf, sitting inside a hollow chocolate globe with Swiss-cheese holes, on an expanse of vanilla bean crème anglaise that spells out the words ‘Happy Birthday’. Mr T finds this dish “intensely chocolatey” which in his world is a very good thing!

Valrhona chocolate globe, vanilla creme anglaise

Valrhona ‘Guanaja’ globe, caramelised hazelnuts, vanilla bean crème anglaise, Guillaume at Bennelong

I go for the matching wines as it’s such a fabulous opportunity to try some drops that I’d never normally have the imagination (or the budget!) to sample, given my propensity to stick to what I know and love. They’re all delicious and I’ll certainly be looking out for some of them at the local bottlo.

Although we have a truly wonderful night, we’re not sure if it’s worth the $500 plus that it costs. But then you don’t go to a place like this for value for money; you go for the experience which, as I said at the beginning, is exquisite. And if you can’t do it to mark a 40th birthday, then when the bloody hell can you?!

Guillaume at Bennelong
Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point
Visited 3 August 2012

The great British gastropub and Pizza Express

I have always loved going to stay with Claire, the perfect hostess and my bestest buddy from our Durham University days. On the basis of a questionnaire about interests and habits they put us together in a shared room in college for our first year. The hilarious thing was that we’d both put that we didn’t smoke in fear of ending up with someone who would chain and stink the place out. Within five minutes of meeting we’d admitted that we did in fact smoke, if only socially, and were sitting on the wooden steps outside our room sharing the first of many fags. And so began a treasured friendship that endures to this day, almost 20 years on.

Well, neither of us smokes any more but we do love good food and a glass (or should that say bottle?) of wine or two. A delicious lunch last Tuesday of toast and paté, salami, marinated artichoke hearts and olives leads into school pick-up, play time, dinner and bath for her two gorgeous, golden-haired littlies. This in turn takes us nicely up to 6pm and wine and nibbles time – a crisp Pinot Grigio with salt and vinegar crisps and smoked salmon taramasalata. Once the children are settled in bed Claire takes me out for dinner in their impossibly pretty Oxfordshire village at a lovely country pub cum restaurant called The Sweet Olive. There’s rustic bread and olives on the table to eat while we’re looking at the menu and listening, several times, to the list of specials from one of the French owners.

Olives and bread

Olives and bread, The Sweet Olive

We both go for one of the specials – I for the panache of fish and Claire for the scallops with a sun-dried tomato and saffron risotto. My fish – a piece each of sea-bass, pollock and hake – is pan-fried so it’s crispy on the outside and perfectly cooked through. It comes in a beautiful creamy champagne and saffron sauce with fragrant lemon rice.

Panache of fish with champagne saffron sauce and lemon rice

Panache of fish with champagne saffron sauce and lemon rice, The Sweet Olive

Claire’s scallops are the winner of the day, sweet and melt-in-the-mouth, and the accompanying risotto is rich and flavoursome.

Scallops with sun dried tomato and saffron risotto

Scallops with sun-dried tomato and saffron risotto, The Sweet Olive

My photography antics get lots of curious attention from our fellow diners (not to mention the owners) and one man Claire knows comes over and invites me to take a picture of his lobster. After struggling somewhat with the focus I explain that I can’t possibly include it in my blog unless I can have a taste. He’s willing to let me but I’m not that mean and I leave him and his friends in peace to enjoy their meal.

The next day while the children are at school and pre-school we go to a nearby town for lunch. The suggestions are a café or Pizza Express and having loved Pizza Express in my London days I fancy that option. We have some dough balls with garlic butter to start (yum!) and Claire chooses a salad (garlic mushrooms, baby mozzarella, avocado, roasted tomatoes, spinach, rocket, balsamic syrup, honey and mustard dressing) and I, for old time’s sake, go for what I always used to have – a Fiorentina pizza (spinach, egg, black olives, parmesan) with a runny egg. It doesn’t disappoint after all these years. The base is thin but with a pleasantly chewy consistency, the egg is indeed nice and runny and I spread its yolk all over the surface of the pizza, the spinach is plentiful in its well dispersed little mounds as is the finely grated parmesan, and the olives add a bit of bite.

Fiorentina

Fiorentina, Pizza Express

After lunch it’s time to collect the children and take me to the station to catch a train back to London and on to the next visit on my whirlwind UK tour of friends and family. It’s a hard life but somebody’s got to do it!

The Sweet Olive
Baker Street, Aston Tirrold, Oxfordshire
Visited 26 June 2012

Pizza Express
12 Saint Mary’s Street, Wallingford, Oxfordshire
Visited 27 June 2012

Lunch by the river and some nice French nosh

Henni took the day off work yesterday so we could spend it together and lucky for us the sun came out and it was lovely and warm. After a lazy morning eating bagels with lemon curd and pottering around her flat we head off in Bertie, her gorgeous black convertible mini, to Richmond for lunch. Once Bertie is safely parked we meander along the high street having a little shufti in some shops along the way, and then turn down a lane towards the river. It’s lovely by the water – there are people out in boats and barges, cycling along the towpath or sitting eating al fresco at the pubs and restaurants that line the river.

River Thames

River Thames, Richmond

While I snap photos Henni grabs us an outside table at a pretty, old pub with hanging baskets called The White Cross. We both order a burger and chips and a glass of rosé, fast becoming the drink of the holidays. The burger is fat and juicy with good tomato relish and the rustic skin-on chips are the perfect combo of crunchy outsides and fluffy insides. The only disappointment is the shiny plastic square of processed cheese inside the bun.

Cheese burger and chips

Cheese burger and chips, The White Cross

After lunch Henni puts me on the tube to Kings Cross to catch a train to Cambridge to spend the night with my old flatmate and great friend Jules. Coming out of the station at Cambridge I’m immediately struck by the sea of parked bicycles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place at one time!

Bicycles

Bicycles, Cambridge railway station

We walk to Jules’s lovely house and then in to town to meet her cousin for dinner. Cambridge is so ridiculously picturesque with all its beautiful, old college buildings, people playing cricket in whites on the green and bicycles everywhere – proper civilized bicycles with an upright riding position and a wicker basket on the front. Needless to say we are about 15 minutes late because I can’t stop taking photos!

We eat at one of a chain of French restaurants called Côte. Jules’s cousin Debbie has a bottle of champagne on ice in celebration of Jules’s birthday last week. I’m still stuffed from lunch so I choose a salade Niçoise, but I can’t resist the chicken liver paté so I have that to start as well! (Please excuse the out-of-focus photograph.)

Chicken liver pate with toasted brioche and spiced apple chutney

Chicken liver paté with toasted brioche and spiced apple chutney, Côte

The paté is beautifully presented in its little glass jar and really delicious – makes me want to make it again soon which is surprisingly easy. The brioche is delicate and perfectly crisp-soft and the apple chutney is a lovely sweet, slightly tart accompaniment to the paté. Having asked for my tuna in the salade Niçoise to be rare I’m pleased that they’ve taken me at my word. The salad is lovely and fresh with nicely al dente green beans and a little thinly sliced red onion which I always think I don’t want but which adds an essential base-note to the flavours. The boiled egg quarters are a delight to an egg-lover like me with their yokes still soft but not enough to run away. The only thing it all needs is a good grind of salt and pepper.

Salade Nicoise

Salade Niçoise, Côte

After dinner we take a well-needed perambulation along The Backs (behind the colleges), over a bridge and back through town. Final exams over, all the colleges are having their May balls (even though it’s June) and from the bridge we can see two such events in full flight. Music blares out, search-lights fan through the night sky illuminating the majestic spires of Kings College, and gigantic white helium balloons bob from the perimeter of the enormous lawns heaving with carousing black-tied students. It takes me back more years than I care to admit to my own university days in Durham and our fabulous end-of-year balls. Mostly it makes me feel like going home for a cup of tea and a nice lie down – and that’s exactly what we do.

The White Cross
Riverside, Richmond, Surrey

Côte
21 – 24 Bridge Street, Cambridge

Both visited 20 June 2012

French onion soup

On Sunday I made French onion soup, which I’ve been hankering after for a few weeks now, and I must say it was rather delicious. In the past I’ve used a Delia Smith recipe but this time I wanted to try out a fabulous book of Mr T’s called The Prawn Cocktail Years by Simon Hopkins and Lindsey Bareham. Leafing through this book, complete with evocative pictures, I float nostalgically through my childhood fed on spag bol and cauliflower cheese, when going out for dinner meant prawn cocktail, steak and chips, and black forest gateaux! Ahhh, them were the days. The main difference between the two recipes, apart from slight variances in quantities, is that Delia adds half a teaspoon of sugar to the onions to help them caramalise, something that the prawn cocktail duo regard as the action of ‘cowboys’. Well, Delia, that’s you told!

I very thinly slice 2kg of brown onions in front of the telly in the sitting room, because that’s where the heater is, and then start to gently cook them in my favourite Le Creuset casserole in 75g of butter. Once they’ve sweated for 15 minutes on a very low heat with the lid on, the instruction is to take the lid off, turn the heat up slightly and continue to cook them for 45 minutes, stirring regularly, until they are golden brown and sweetly caramelised. Perhaps ambitiously, I Skype my brother and two-year-old nephew while all this is going on, so have to excuse myself every five minutes to ‘go and stir my onions’. Fortunately they are very understanding, especially little Fraser who is already a keen cook with his plastic kitchen set and wooden groceries.

I’ve just started the roux to thicken the soup (Delia doesn’t do that in her recipe – maybe she thinks that’s just for cowboys!) when I get a call from Mr T who has a puncture in one of his bicycle tyres and needs rescuing from Pyrmont. Far be it from me to deny a husband in distress so I turn off all the burners and go… Half an hour later I’m back to my soup. Whisking two ladles-full of hot beef stock (I use shop-bought from a carton) into my roux (25g butter, one tablespoon flour) it quickly forms a lovely silky, thick consistency and I whisk it back into the remainder of the litre and a half of stock. 150ml of dry white wine goes into the onions and is left to reduce and evaporate, perfuming the kitchen with delicious smells. I get the urge to pour a glass for myself which surprises me after a couple too many the night before! The thickened hot stock then goes into the onions, is brought to the boil and simmers for 15 minutes. Checking the seasoning I add a few ground of black pepper but no salt, and omit the suggested three tablespoons of cognac in case it’s a bit too much for Mr T’s alcohol-averse palate.

Now, the recipe demands that the croûtes are made by baking or grilling 16 slices of day-old baguette drizzled in melted butter and sprinkled liberally with grated Gruyère cheese, then allowing them to cool before being paved atop the soup in its pot, covered in yet more cheese, and once again melted and blistered under the grill. I decide this is more work than is truly necessary, and I intend to freeze most of the soup (or so I think), so I lightly toast two slices of white sourdough, rub both surfaces with raw garlic, grate on Gruyère and pop them under the grill for a couple of minutes – voilà, croûtes pour deux! I ladle the soup into hot bowls, float the croûtes on top and we tuck in in front of the box. It’s so good, so hearty and rich and sweet, that we can’t resist another spoonful with another hastily assembled croûte on top. So much for filling up the freezer!

(Sadly, in my food-induced bliss I completely forget to take a photo.)

Update 11 June 2012

I have just eaten the last of the onion soup from the freezer and this time I remembered to take a photo before I tucked in!

French onion soup

French onion soup, chez Mr & Mrs T