Tag Archives: Cafés

Last Minute Lyon

Procrastination is the road to perdition. The original plan was to spend a long weekend in Lisbon, but when it finally came down to booking the trip a mere five days before it was meant to happen, air fares had shot up to stupid levels. Pushed for time, my friend and I plonked for Lyon instead, courtesy of some very reasonably priced EasyJet flights. Neither of us had been to Lyon before, and I was kinda keen (and terrified at the same time) to practice my abysmal French.

I came to regret this snap decision the very next morning. That’s when I heard about the escalation of the strike situation in France. I had been  vaguely aware of some ongoing disputes to do with employees’ rights or something, but I’d not really been on the ball about the ramifications of this national crisis: oil refineries blocked off by burning barricades, a third of petrol stations out of fuel, public transport up the spout, air traffic controllers about to join the fray,  etc.

And into the disaster zone we go!

And off into the disaster zone we go!

**Spoiler alert: I fretted over nothing!**

In the end, we weren’t impacted by the strikes in any way whatsoever. Our trip turned out to have been very fortuitously timed, slotting in between two big bouts of industrial action.

Our only two complaints were the shitty hotel – our floor was stickier than a marshmallow factory – and the copious rain, but it was still a great weekend with lots of laughs and good food (except for a lunch involving gristly dry sausages – probably the only type of French food that a German can authoritatively criticise*).

Lyon is stunningly beautiful – I was agog whenever the curtain of rain parted, and everyone was really friendly and helpful. Even the staff of Marshmallow Towers.

The city stands at the confluence of two rivers and so there’s an infinite number of photogenic bridges:

Lyon Bridge

A shot of me taking the above shot

A shot of me taking the above shot

Lyon Bridge


Lyon view

Lyon views

Lyon Town Hall




Lyon has tons of cute cafés…

Lyon Café

Lyon Café

Lyon Café 1


Here's one where you can play any conceivable type of board game

No, it’s not a café with slot machines, but one where you can play any conceivable type of board game

Lyon Café

Flashy and with great ambience for sure, but a tad expensive. €23 for sausage and lentils? Forget it! In Spain, you can have that for a fiver. And the sausage will be up to scratch.

Lyon Café


It also seems to have been moving day in Lyon:

Got a shelf to move but no car? Just pop in on a skateboard!

Got a shelf to move but no car? Just pop in on a skateboard!

Kill two birds with one stone: Use mattress as rain shield

Kill two birds with one stone: Use mattress as a rain shield

Can you guess what's coming?!

Can anyone guess what’s coming up next?!

Yup. Cakes!!! What else?!?

Lyonese praline tart - fancy stuff!

Lyonese praline tart – fancy stuff!

...unfortunately, the one I tried wasn't all that great. Way too sweet and the pastry seemed to be made of bulletproof cardboard

Unfortunately, the one I tried wasn’t all that great. Way too sweet, and the pastry seemed to be made of bulletproof cardboard

Poached pear anyone? Now this one was absolutely delicious :)

Poached pear with gooey chocolate sauce anyone? Now this one was absolutely delicious 🙂

...but sometimes all you need is a crepe and a nice cup of tea :)

…and sometimes all you need is an apple sauce crêpe and a nice cup of tea 🙂

And some nice poppies to finish off :)

And some happy poppies to finish off.

So, did I get to practice my French? Well, yes, a little… with mixed success. I understood virtually all the written information I came across, which would have passed me by a year ago. Also, the mere attempt of communicating in French with wait staff etc was received very well. Some chose to switch to English or Spanish, but they did it in good cheer, since, I guess, we had at least tried to make an effort. I hope to do better next time 🙂

*Find my German sausage post here: Nothing separates a German from their sausage

That’s Just So… North London!

I spent a decade of my life North London, and those who’ve read my previous few posts will know that I went back there last week for the first time in three years. Anyone who moves to London will suss out very quickly just how attached Londoners are to their neighbourhoods. Many will only socialise in two places: their part of town and the city centre.

There is a particularly curious divide between North and South – to convince a North Londoner to cross the river and set their Kate Kuba encased feet onto the southern Thames shore, you’ve got to come up with a pretty good reason. Taking their children hostage and threatening to force-feed them food additives should do it.

Anyway, here is a selection of pics that struck me as typically North London. Let’s start with a few shots of Hampstead front gardens and back streets…

Hampstead garden 1 Hampstead Garden 2Hampstead Garden 2

Hampstead Street

Hampstead pubHampstead street 2

Hampstead shop inside

Decor inside a Hampstead Shop

Hampstead street 3

I bet my bottom dollar that she’s got a quinoa burger on a bed of rocket and mango salsa in that paper bag…

The Bishop's Avenue

Take on Bishops Avenue, Hampstead Garden Suburb, dubbed “Billionaire’s Row”.

Highgate Tea Shop

One of my favourite Highgate Tea Shops. Oh, the cakes…!

Highgate message board

A message board in Highgate

Highgate house buyer

Now, a house in Highgate will cost you anything upwards of £3m… that’s a lot of cash propping up her pillow!

Highgate Pet Shop

What exactly happens at “Weekly Puppy Parties…?”

Highgate Car

Now, I just want to point out that I didn’t live in either Hampstead or Highgate, but in a more …erm… affordable patch wedged in between 🙂


Dachau Palace Gardens… and CAKE!

I’ve already prepared you in the last post that the objective of our family trip to Dachau a couple of weekends ago had less to do with enjoying the (unashamedly pretty) historic town, and everything to do with gluttony.

Dachau Palace, which overlooks the town, harbours a cracking café that attracts audiences from far and wide with the most delectable cakes imaginable.

First though, let’s take a quick stroll through the beautiful palace gardens, resplendent not only with magnificent flowers, but also laden with sumptuous fruit at this time of year.

View from the gardens
Palace and fountainPath with flowersPlant close-upOrchardRoseApple treesBunte BlumenPathPurple flowers

Wedding Cake

This wedding cake was being wheeled about when we arrived at the café. Afterwards, as we strolled through the town centre, we spotted a wedding party emerging from the local church. For all appearances, the groom was a local boy, and the bride Chinese. The cake, which is quite obviously theirs, seems to confirm this 🙂

Wedding Table

One of the ‘wedding tables’


Yellow Cake


Unfortunately, cakes never photograph well through the glass display counters, and these pics are the only ones that turned out (sort of) OK. There were so many more delicious creations… sigh.

My Friday Treat: Cheesecake!

And without further a do, here it is:

The actual cheese part was divine... not so keen on the base, which was a bit soggy, nor was I sold on the caramel sauce, although it looked pretty on the plate.

The actual cheese part was divine… I was less keen on the base, which was a bit soggy, nor was I sold on the rather strong-tasting caramel sauce, although it looked pretty swirled all over the plate.

While I was indulging in the above, something amusing happened at the table behind. A couple had ordered the apple pie, which I absolutely love. Some of you may remember my apple pie post (click here, if you’ve missed it), where I mentioned the fact that it always arrived on the plate looking like a total train wreck:

Apple pie

The apple pie casualty

Said customers behind me were so taken aback by its appearance, that they felt compelled to enquire whether the pie had been subject to some kind of an accident. The waitress duly rushed back into the kitchen, emerging, a few seconds later, with an entire specimen, in order to illustrate to the dismayed diners that the pie crust didn’t lend itself to being sliced up and retaining its integrity.

I took the opportunity to take a pic of the ‘virgin’ pie:

Entire Apple Pie

Aw, so beautiful… and so delicious!

The couple, by the way, greatly enjoyed eating their apple pie after they got over the shock 🙂

A Cake Rant: Strudelgate

Apple strudel. It’s a simple concept. You roll out some pastry as finely as you possibly can (it may be flaky pastry or non-flaky strudel pastry, we don’t want to be too fussy here), you spoon on the apple filling, and then you roll it up into a foot-long tube shape. In the oven it goes, and plated up, a decent slice should look something like this:


See the swirly whorl?

“Strudel” is a German word that can mean any of following things: whirl, swirl, whorl, whirlpool, vortex, eddy. If you look at the pattern of a strudel slice in cross-section, it’s quite obvious why this delectable dessert item bears this name.

There is a point to all of this pastry preamble, as you’ll see in just a tick. The actual story goes like this:

On Sunday, Maria and I were out and about in Madrid, desperately hunting down some exciting cake after a fabulous luncheon (more on this in a subsequent post). Now, Maria isn’t normally all that much into sweet stuff, but *somebody* has been a very bad influence on her…

Eventually, we located a promising café. It happened to have apple strudel on the menu. As you can probably imagine, I was as surprised as I was delighted, and promptly ordered it. But then, this arrived:


Exhibit A: Does this look like strudel to you???

You don’t need to have an advanced patisserie degree to know that this ain’t no strudel, this is streusel. Apple streusel cake (Apfelstreuselkuchen), to be exact. “Streusel” comes from the German verb “streuen”, which means, of course, to “strew” or “sprinkle”.

The evidence speaks for itself: This thing the waitress shoved under my disbelieving eyes and flaring nostrils was all streuselly and not even a bit strudelly.

Granted, streusel and strudel have a fair few letters in common, but so do duck and dick. Not at all the same thing.

I was getting myself ready to stomp into the kitchen and give the chef’s streusels a bloody good strudelling, but gluttony got the better of me. Before the forensics team had any chance of bagging the evidence, my fork had invaded the crime scene, and a great big chunk of the offending article was making its way down my gullet.

And… it turned out to be a really fine piece of streusel, dammit!!!

Maria ordered a brownie, which was also pretty good

Maria ordered a brownie, which not only looked like a brownie and tasted like a brownie, but which was, indeed, a brownie. And a pretty good one at that.

Got any pastry impostor stories you care to share…? Or other menu items that were sold as one thing, but turned out to be something else entirely?

[Here’s a pic of my favourite kind of streusel cake 🙂 ]

My Friday Treat: Dulce De Leche

Imagine my outrage: I walk into my habitual Friday afternoon café here in Toledo (i.e. the one with the best cakes) looking forward to delicious torrijas. And…no torrijas!

The last two have just been sold. I turn around and give those two cackling bitches customers, who are gobbling up MY PRECIOUS, seemingly without a care in the world(!), the most evilest glare I can summon from the acrid depths of my displeasure.

Scanning through the cake display, I settle for a dulce de leche cake, which I have had before and quite liked.

“Dulce de leche” (doce de leite in Portuguese) is what you get when you boil sweetened/condensed milk for long enough for it to caramelise. It’s a really popular component of all manner of sweets and desserts across Latin America.

Dulce de leche

Ironically, the actual dulce de leche part of this cake is the glossy top layer, which I don’t like, and I just peel it off. It’s not the flavour that I find disagreeable, but the fact that it’s like a rubbery film that instantly fuses with the roof of your mouth.
What lies beneath, though, is glorious – a caramel-infused mousse followed by a creamy vanilla custard layer and a slightly chocolatey biscuit base… heaven 🙂

As much as I enjoyed it this with my cup of Earl Grey, I do hope there’ll be torrijas again next week. The torrijas season is short, and I’ve not had my fill of them yet. Here they are again, if you missed that post.

My Friday Treat: The Return Of The Torrijas

Oooooh, torrijas… how I love thee! Let me count the ways…

OK, let’s settle for chewy round the edges, squishy (but not soggy!) in the middle and sugary & cinnamony all over.

Torrijas are a seasonal Spanish dessert, which makes its annual appearance during lent. They are simply slices of bread soaked in milk and honey, dipped in egg, fried in olive oil and sprinkled liberally with sugar and cinnamon. Recipes vary, some involve soaking the bread in wine.

Just imagine my delight when I discovered them glistening under glass on the counter of my usual Friday afternoon haunt! I ditched my habitual hankering after the infamously messy apple pie without even a second’s thought.

I declare the torrijas season officially open!

I declare the torrijas season officially open!

My Thursday Treat

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. That’s my philosophy, and I’m sticking to it.

On Thursdays, I meet up with my intercambio pal Noelia in a little Moroccan tea house, and café con leche just won’t do. I mean, why have bog-standard coffee when you can have a chocolate-sprinkled pagoda…? And it’s not just what’s on top that matters, but what lurks beneath. Yesterday it was a double shot of amaretto. Sometimes, I go for rum 🙂

Creamy coffee

Gives you a heart attack just looking at it, doesn’t it…?!

The Key Lime Pie Reviews: Key Lime Pie Factory

The Key Lime Pie Factory is the very place, according to the plaque next to the entrance, where the iconic dessert was first conceived in 1856. By American standards, this is positively prehistoric. If questioned, the proprietors would probably insist that it had been made with dinosaur milk by pilgrims donning starched aprons and white bonnets, outcast from the Olde Worlde for their…erm… pieous beliefs.

Birth Place

Shop insidePie pipingThe Pie

The verdict?

As you can see, this is one fine-looking Key lime pie. Akin to a catwalk model of the 90’s everything’s in perfect proportion – crust, filling, cream topping. Consistency and texture are just how they ought to be. Couldn’t fault it, try as I might. Hmmm…. if pushed at gun point, I’d whisper through clenched teeth that, perhaps, it was a teensy weensy itsy bitsy too tart for me…

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Key Lime Pie Factory

Missed the other reviews? Here they are:

And if you want to know how my cake obsession started, click here. [Warning – contains hideous photographs of 70’s and 80’s fashion].

Lisbon Is All About…CAKE!!! (Part II)

People have been asking about this already, and, as promised, here it is: the Lisbon Cake Post.

PastelDeNataBefore I launch into it, I’ll let you in on a dark and dirty secret: The famous Portuguese custard tarts (pastéis de nata) – I’ve never been a fan. Shocking, I know!

I tried them a few times while I lived in London, and found them a bit insipid – quite cartony on the outside, and the flavour of the filling was just too eggy for me.

But now I’m a convert. The authentic article, fresh from the oven, is nothing short of orgasmic.

For my first taste of the real McCoy, I stepped inside the premises of the legendary Pastéis de Belém in the west of Lisbon:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe queue might look formidable, but that’s for the take-away counter. The bakery’s café is surprisingly spacious, harbouring a warren of dining rooms, and finding a table did not prove to be a problem.

There’s even an observation window!

Custard tarts in the making

I’ll have six trays, please!

Custard Tarts 1

It’s not all about custard tarts, of course. This is the traditional Portuguese Christmas cake:

Christmas cake

It’s called “Bolo Rei”, which means king cake.

I don't remember its name, and it doesn't look like much, but it's delicious. It's the lightest, airiest sponge imaginable, with a very moist centre. I've no idea how this is even achieved, but it totally works.

I don’t remember its name, and it doesn’t look like much, but it’s delicious. It’s the lightest, airiest sponge cake imaginable, with a very moist, almost runny centre. I’ve no idea how this is even achieved, but it totally works.

As you can imagine, I scoffed all sorts of cakeage during my one week in Lisbon, including a gloriously fluffy creation called “bolo de deus” (cake of God), which came in the form of a bun. Now, if I were God and had to entrust my buns to anyone, it would definitely be the Portuguese!

[For Part I of what Lisbon is all about, click here.]