Our friends… the hospitality industry

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As it turns-out, many of the nicest people and best experiences we had (other than the amazing sites and tourist attractions that we saw) were with people who served us food. In most cases, we had a great chat (often struggling with the language differences) and received great service.

As boring as it may seem, here’s a run-down of our dining experiences whilst away.

When we first arrived in London, after dropping our bags off, having a shower and figuring-out what day and time it was (because our bodies sure hadn’t worked this out yet) we went for a wander around Putney (the suburb where we were staying) and then proceeded into the West End part of London.

As I enjoy the occasional drink, one of the great things about London is that there is almost a pub on every corner (and in some cases, two or three in between if it’s a long street) so every time we passed what looked like an alright place for a weary traveller to take a break, we stopped and had a beer. Replacing the feeling of jet lag with a hang-over is one of many ways of dealing with a change in time-zones.

With each place that we went to and each warm beer we drank, we gained a greater appreciation of what it would be like to be an alcoholic Londoner.

For lunch that day I enjoyed a steak and Guinness pie and it was great.

The next day we dined at a lovely little Italian restaurant on the waterfront near the London Eye and that too was really tasty. That evening we ordered take-out from the local curry place which was also quite nice and finished off the day with a bottle of wine and Guitar Hero on the Play Station – p.s. I Rock!

Our final night in the UK (at least for the first leg of our journey) we had a less traditional meal from the local pub / Thai restaurant. The food there was ok and on par with what you’d expected to get from a London pub that also served Thai food.

The next day we were off to Paris. We only stayed a night and whipped-up a self-catered meal after stopping in to a supermarket on our way back from booking the tickets to the Moulin Rouge. The next day (when we couldn’t find the Eiffel Tower), we ended-up having a burger at their equivalent of Burger King / Hungry Jacks and then grabbed some baguettes and a couple of bottles of wine which we consumed on the train down to Milan. (I love the fact that you can eat and drink on trains all over Europe).

From Milan we went to Venice and had some of the nicest Pizza we’ve ever had. It was served from a tiny little take-away style restaurant just around the corner from where we were staying. The slices of pizza were bigger than my head and we ended-up eating there a couple of times while we were away. It was here that I first tried the large Italian beer – Beer Moretti and the local delicacy of crepes with Nutella. Very rich and tasty if you like Nutella (which I do) but even with my mouth full of sweet teeth, I struggled to get through it.

We picked-up some local ingredients from the Venice markets and on the second night of our stay, Kristy whipped-up an incredible pasta dish.

It was then down to Florence and Pisa. In Pisa we dined at a little place down the road from the leaning tower. Please note, this was before I climbed half-way up it, as I doubt I would have been able to stomach food from the nerves and adrenalin flowing through my body after my feeble attempt at conquering everything large that got in my way.

It was then down to Rome. Here we had some very very tasty Gelati’s (they have mastered the art of getting the fruit flavours absolutely perfect and I’ve never thought an ice cream could be so refreshing). If ice cream isn’t you thing, you can order cups of fresh fruit salad. If our fruit tasted even half as good over here as it does there, I’d eat a hell of a lot more of it (oh, and don’t get me started on how orgasmic the strawberries are in the UK).

Even though we had some great food in Rome, we also had a few shoddy food experiences.

From the restaurant that was as classy as Brittan’s best selling newspaper – The Sun to our daily breakfasts of sweet rolls. Just to see if I could find a concise way of explaining exactly what a sweet roll is, I did a Google search and it came back with a site about “Mouthwatering Breads Sweet Rolls recipes from bed and breakfasts around the world”. Let me just tell you, there was nothing mouthwatering about the sweet rolls we had (unless you count the way your mouth starts to water right before you vomit 🙂 ).

I’m surprised how fortunate we were with food as a prime example of what happens when you put me in charge or ordering a meal in a foreign country was when we were grabbing a bite to eat at the international train station in Rome before returning to Paris. I perused the menu and liked the look of the gnocchi, went to the counter to order it and they didn’t have any. So I glanced at what they did have and ordered what I thought was chicken, which turned-out to be fish… and on top of that I managed to choose the one item in the whole place that came with a promotional large ceramic pasta dish. When lugging around a backpack that weighs about 15kg the last thing you want is a big pasta dish that you didn’t even know you were going to get. But on the plus side, the fish was really nice and I’m not a huge fan of sea food.

Also, on an interesting side-note (and this is only from our brief observations), but it doesn’t appear that the Italian people can successfully master any other foods that aren’t traditionally Italian. In Australia some of my favourite cuisines and restaurants are Indian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Lebanese, Mongolian and the list goes on. However in most of the Italian city’s we visited, we didn’t see a single international restaurant.

When trying a couple of the non-traditional Italian places we did find (such as a noodle place in a dodgy little food court) it left a lot to be desired. Now, a lot of the food found in food courts all around the world is certainly never 5 star, but the lack of proper restaurants offering other cuisines suggests (to me) that it isn’t one of their strengths.

Then it was back to Paris for a second take on the land of love. This time it was much better and we made friends with the local kebab shop owner (down the road from our hotel). I think the guy who owned the place was Lebanese or Turkish and from our experience, was the nicest man in the whole of Paris. You have to worry, when the nicest person you meet in a particular city isn’t traditionally from that city in the first place.

While waiting for our train to take us up to the ferry crossing to Dover, we decided to see if the French were any better at international cuisine than the Italian’s and popped across the road to a BBQ American Steakhouse and Grill. I ordered a steak which turned-out to be a mince patty and the service was terrible. If it weren’t for the kebab shop, I’d say the French suck when it comes to more worldly foods too.

The final leg of our trip was back in the UK. Over the 4 days there we had some fantastic meals. We made sure to try the very tasty (and incredibly unhealthy) traditional English breakfasts from a couple of pubs (as well as having a few other non-breakfast pub meals that were as delicious as they were cheap). Made friends with a guy at a local sandwich bar who provided much the same affordable yet delicious food we had come to enjoy from London food outlets, but was also super nice. After chatting with him for a bit and giving him a good tip because we liked the food and his service so much, he was so flattered that he gave us some home-cooked brownies to take with us (which were also superb).

I know I’ve been prattling on about food for a while now and I promise I’ll stop (soon… but not just yet as it’s currently 5am, my brain is functioning while the rest of me just wants to sleep, but because I’ve got so much stuff going through my head, sleep just isn’t happening… I think my head believes that it’s sometime yesterday afternoon and somehow has convinced the rest of my body that 5am is a reasonable time to be sitting blog posting). So as a byproduct of my sleepless agony, you have to endure posts such as this…

So what was the culinary highlight of our trip I hear you asking? (or perhaps that’s just the jetlag going to a whole new level with voices in my head). Well it would have to be an Italian restaurant at Putney (the have locations all over London, but we went to the one down the road from where we were staying) called Frankie’s.

Frankie’s is an Italian bar and grill that is styled like a 1930’s New York gangster club with dim lights, huge gold tinged mirrors that span from the black-and-white checkered floor (past the beautifully brown leather upholster dinning chairs and couches) up to the golden ceiling from which hang the largest mirror balls I’ve ever seen (seriously – these were about the size of those fitness balls that we’ve all bought thinking we’ll sit in front of the TV and lose weight but end-up sitting in the corner collecting dust). The trim on the mirrors, tables and anything that wasn’t made from glass or gold had a very classy black trim. This description doesn’t do the place justice, so to see for yourselves, click here to check out the Gallery on the Frankie’s website.

The restaurant was the brainchild of one of the worlds most famous jockeys – Italian-born Lanfranco “Frankie” Dettori who teamed-up with internationally renowned chef Marco Pierre White (who is not only dubbed the ‘Godfather of modern cooking’ but also trained Gordon Ramsay how to cook).

The atmosphere, the decor, the food, the pricing – absolutely everything at Frankie’s was perfect. From the moment we were greeted by the maitre d’ (who treated every person in the place like they were his long-lost best friend who he hadn’t seen in years) to the appetising Polish Martini before diving into my main course of gnocchi, washed down with a bottle of Italian red wine and topping it all off with a suffle and espresso… it was all fabulous. To share an experience like this with your closest friends cannot be justly put into words.

Just when we thought the night couldn’t get any better, the maitre d’ came out and presented Kristy and I with a copy of Frankie Dettori’s Italian Family Cookbook… signed by none other than Marco Pierre White himself. The gift was the icing on the cake and a very special memento of our last night in the UK.

I’m going back to sleep for a while and when I get up I’ll finally get around to doing that recap blog post I’ve mentioned previously and finally get around to uploading all our photos.

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