la isla bonita …

The summer hols are upon us once again, and moving at a surpisingly slow pace. After my father’s very successful 70th birthday party at the E&O in Penang, we are now installed in Pulau Redang – a beautiful tropical paradise off the east coast of Malaysia, where the warm waters are teeming with pretty fishes, exquisite coral … and of course, the ubiquitous assortment of annoying tourists.

Another 2 nights of total chilling from our seaview bungalow (gratuitous photo included), then a long 7 hour drive back to Penang. Why is it that the most beautiful places on this planet are invariably the most difficult to get to? Perhaps Steve Levitt (author of my rather entertaining holiday reading, Freakonomics) could apply himself to solving this conundrum in his sequel.

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vacance de lutece …

Forget April in Paris – August in my opinion is the best time to visit this city … for a number of reasons:

1) There are fewer Parisians about – the city slickers decamp en famille to the country/sea-side resorts … in France, naturally. And having visited a number of these salubrious summer destinations, I fully understand their xenophobia and reluctance to holiday abroad.

2) There are fewer cars about (see above) – which means you can easily take your gas-guzzler into town and return home with bumpers intact and unscathed. Plus, not having to face the usual rigmarole of parking (an experience not unlike trying to shoe-horn an elephant’s testicle into a matchbox) increases the the chill-o-meter reading … right at the start of the week-end, which is always a good thing when you’re on holiday.

3) There are more tourists about – which means if you have even the smallest amout of French, you will gain the respect of waiters and perhaps even earn a Parisian smile as they pick on other linguistically challenged Brits and Americans.

The only downer is that many good eateries in town are also closed during the month of August.

However, fortunately for us, the wine cellar at David’s modest apartment was most definitely open and over the week-end, we were treated to a number of rare bottles from his extensive collection. We started as we meant to continue with Champagne Moutard, made from 6 different grapes but still falls within French appelation laws and tasted … well, unusual … but not disagreeable. I was sure we had reached the apex of David’s generosity when the Corton Charlemagne ’96 from Louis Latour was brought out for inspection (and just for ‘fun’, we tasted this against a 1e Cru Chassagne Montrachet ’99 ‘Morgeot ‘), but for Sunday lunch, he produced yet another rare bottle of liquid nectar – this time, a Domaine du Rousset-Peyraguey, not just the usual Sauternes, but a Tête de cru ’96 made from even later botrytis-ridden grapes. Add foie gras bought from the market at Nation on Saturday, fig bread from Eric Kayser (said to be equivalent of Ducasse in bread making terms in Paris) and you have before you all the ingredients to make this a truly decadent week-end.

Our ongoing quest for bonnes addresses took us to Les Bouchons on Saturday evening – a Francois Clerc resto that serves rather inventive dishes without selling out to fusion, and has the added bonus of a simple but adequate wine list from which the diner can order at just above cost. Tarte tatin aux tomates and slushed cucumber gazpacho in poached plum tomatoes are just a few examples of how easy it is to be creative without going overboard a la Heston Blumenthal.

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At the Paris Plage by the Seine, the weather was just good enough to pretend you were lying on a sundeck somewhere in Deauville (pic above of J2, hung out to dry). But I recommend that you leave the Musée de Cluny for the winter months – a Roman bath without water (or air conditioning for that matter) is better experienced through a travel guide book, rather than sweating it out as we did, especially when we had forgotten to bring our cattle prods. However, I’m glad we played around the 5th arrondissement – the Left Bank is also home to the only Gallo-Roman arena , the Arènes de Lutèce, which provided the groan-ups with an opportunity to catch up with some Zzzzzzzzzzzz’s and sober up for the drive back to Calais.