Europe + Food = Awesome
There is only one down side to traveling, as far as I am concerned. Returning!
Re-entry from vacation is never easy. I always find it difficult to adjust back to real life. The physical symptoms of jet lag aside, I am never emotionally ready to let go of the trip. PTD, Post Trip Depression. I’m sure you know it well. I am hoping that blogging about some of the aspects of a recent trip to Europe will help me hang onto the highlights, while I resume my normal activities of daily living!
Let me start with food!
In the past, our family trips have been lacking in attention to food detail. We tend to focus more on the sightseeing and less on the local cuisine. I know this is foreign to many of you foodie travelers, but it just wasn’t our thing. When the kids were younger, it didn’t seem a priority, and we never slowed down enough to notice that they really could have benefitted from more food breaks and fewer museums! We often ended up very cranky and eating in tourist mills rather than quaint and authentic spots.
We learned the hard way, however and in recent trips have tried to cater to the hunger cues and stop at cafes more frequently. We have begun to do more research in advance, find gluten free options before we venture, and target some of the specialties offered without as much focus on saving money on the food expenses. Pleasure travel is costly, and eating is part of both the cost and the pleasure!
Our most recent excursion to Paris, Vienna, and London was a huge food success. We made reservations in some places prior to the trip, and then sought out preferred menus once landing in each city. With very simple planning, we were able to organize our daily activities around where we were starting the day with breakfast, where we were stopping for lunch, and where we had reservations for dinner. It really worked out well and didn’t curb our touring plans at all, but rather enhanced them!
Here are some favorites in each city. These are all on the HIGHLY RECOMMEND list. Obviously, we found many great choices and some mediocre along then way, but these are all on the definitely-go-to-if-you-get-the-chance list. Special, affordable, and all with gluten free and dairy free choices!
As you enjoy the photos, please notice the amount of Pommes Frit, Chips, French Fries, whatever you want to call them!!!!! We ate a lot of potatoes and are proud of it! It became an afternoon staple with a glass of wine or beer! I also just love the way food is displayed in every outdoor market, window, and restaurant. Vibrant and beautiful and oh so photogenic! Check out my Instagram story for fun photos of decaf all over Europe!
Judy Cantine Qualitarienne
18 Rue de Fleurus
Best for breakfast or lunch. Judy’s is a vegan, gluten free restaurant focused on being “qualitarian.” Judy’s concept is to create food that is good for both body and mind, while respecting the planet. And if you aren’t into that sort of eating, it doesn’t matter because all the food is delicious! Our daughter had been several times before and was able to advise us on some choices, but the menu is translated in English and all the wait staff spoke English as well. If you are shy about your French, no problème here! The atmosphere is cute and delightful, and it was on the way to our day’s excursions. We enjoyed Avocado Toast, Pear and Banana French Toast, Veggie Burger, Acai Bowl, fruit smoothies, and some other yummy stuff that I can’t remember!
Le Petit Boullion Pharamond
24 Rue de la Grande Truanderie
In 1879, Alexander Pharamound founded this restaurant, then A La Petit Normande in the Les Halles neighborhood. At the time of the Paris Exhibition, the Pharamound family renovated and the restaurant continues to look the same as it did then. Filled with beautiful woodwork, painted mirrors. Apparently famous characters such as Hemmingway and Clèmanceau spent time in the traditional Paris spot. We went with a reservation after a long day of touring. We had just been at an amazing museum in a Parisian mansion and took an uber straight to the restaurant. Bustling and festive! It is really delightful and special inside. In a silly Zinn moment, we all ordered the same thing! We REALLY enjoyed the grilled chicken breast with a mushroom cream sauce and mashed potatoes. A traditional French, cozy, cold evening dinner. And it was so inexpensive, we were kind of shocked! We shared some desserts, of course. Crème Brûléé, a must in Paris! Délicieux!!! Afterwards we roamed the neighborhood for a bit and I even tap danced for a split second with a street entertainer!
Restaurant Le Coupe-Chou
9&11 Rue de Lanneau
This restaurant was opened by three partners in 1962 and was decorated in the 17th century style with round tables, a stone chimney and stone floors, specific to the neighborhood it is in. On the slopes of Montagne Saint-Geneviéve, the owners began buying neighboring buildings so the restaurant has rooms upstairs connected by passage ways and staircases. Those are decorated with green velvet and wing chairs and antiques. During renovations, the owners discovered a Gallo-Roman city from the time of Marcus Aurelius. They found 12th century pottery and statuettes! More fun facts about the restaurant; The Beatles ate there!!! And Paul McCartney continues to! The Rolling Stones, the queen of Denmark, and many more have dined where we dined! This meal was planned for a while because it was my birthday dinner! (it was the big Six OH! so it had to be a good one, and I knew it would be difficult to get a table in Paris or any city that evening!) Most restaurants only offered a Prix Fix menu at 500 euro per person on Christmas Eve! So glad we discovered the “Cabbage Cutter” because I couldn’t have been happier with this choice! Since the reservation was not until 9:30, we had time to rest at our Airbnb and change our clothes before the dinner. (As an aside, I recommend the occasional early evening down time at your hotel or apartment before venturing out again for the dinner adventure. It can go a long way in revitalizing the group!) Not only is the atmosphere of this restaurant perfectly Parisian, but being Christmas time, made it even more memorable. We were placed in a cozy spot by the fireplace with only three or four other tables in the room. We started the evening off with delicious wine. I had the duck breast with morel mushrooms in a port wine sauce with mashed potatoes. Unbelievable! Daniel had the beef filet with potatoes and the girls had ratatouille with herbs of Provence, burata and pesto with nut oil. I can’t do it justice. Please know that every bite had the three S’s; savory, sublime, and satisfying! I was given some special treatment for dessert, complete with a candle and singing atop a Chocolate Leigois! Yes, we again ordered Crème Brûlée, and a Pear Poached in Red Wine and Honey! What a way to turn 60!
30 Rue Debelleyme
The Big Mama Group is an Italian restaurant chain dedicated to the most amazing Italian food in Paris. This particular location in the Marais is known for roasting their own coffee beans and serving remarkable raspberry and marscapone French Toast and ricotta Pancakes! Sadly, we did not dine there for breakfast because we wanted their famous gluten free pizza. So uncanny is this gluten free crust, that no one can tell the difference between the GF or traditional crust. We had to wait for our table, and in fact, we stood outside anxiously pining for a hopeful sign each time the host opened the door. Luckily, the neighborhood is delightful and the restaurant front itself is trés chuette and picturesque! Suffice it to say, the experience was well worth the wait! I LOVE the atmosphere! Some private tables, some shared. Walls piled high with shelves of jars and bottles and hanging cheeses and sausages. Our daughter had been previously and knew we would love it! She was right! We shared a big farm table with another gentleman at the end. He either pretended to ignore us, or really did ignore us. There are a few items in English such as a Kale Middleton, Let it Beef, and Hot Drunk Love. We shared salads and enjoyed a Mammargherita pizza, a Truffle Trouble pizza with portobello mushrooms, and a Lady Di Napoli pizza with capers and olives. The menu changes each month, so you could keep going back and not worry about repetition!
First morning in Vienna and we want breakfast in the center of the city, near the Albertina museum. We need a place that can seat six because my sister in law and niece were meeting us. By some weird fluke, there were no lines at the Café Mozart, directly across the street from the Albertina Museum! This famous coffee house sits behind the Vienna State Opera House and was established in 1794. It is a traditional must if you are ever in Vienna. Charming and simple inside, but wonderfully hospitable and a well-rounded menu that the whole family can be comfortable with. We were able to have eggs and sausage, bacon and potatoes, and coffee (yes they had delicious decaf!)! We went a second time, again avoiding the lines, for a late snack after the opera! Soup and wine and deserts!
Café Centrale is THE institution in Vienna. People mentioned it before the trip, and while we were there, as the only place to eat Sacher Torte, (the famous Viennese chocolate cake). Café Centrale was established in 1876 and was the venue frequented by Freud and Trotsky, along with writers and poets of the era. The building is stunning and is considered to be a slice of Italy in the middle of Wien. It was the concept of Henrich von Ferstel who designed it after a journey to Italy. He was hailed for the Venetian-Florentine-Trecento style he captured. (Yes, I had to google “Trecento.” It refers to the 14th century period of Italian art and architecture.) Originally meant to house a bank and stock exchange, the Palais Ferstal later became the home of the café. It is oozing both elegance and warmth.
We decided to have dinner there one night and brave the cold air while waiting in an eternal line. The menu displayed in the front was not complete, but it gave the impression that more than just desserts could be acquired. There was a vampire posing as the host at the door. He obviously time travelled from the 1800’s and had a very white face, wore a black cape, and a tall black hat. Hmmm, very suspicious… and not at all encouraging regarding how long we might be in line. We became increasingly freezing and hungry. Two of us went on a mission to find another restaurant. Running through crowds in the busy downtown, desperately seeking gluten free choices. Finally, an Italian place, a table for four, warm, and risotto on the menu. We ran back to check on the line and our other half had only moved a short distance, so we aborted the café plan and enjoyed a decent meal at the Italian spot.
When we left, we thought we would try the café line again for dessert. It was shorter than earlier and feeling fortified and warm, we thought we could stick it out for a little while. Lo and behold, we were there for less than a minute, when suddenly the vampire beckoned us! He pulled us out of the long line, not because he wanted to suck our blood, but just because we were a party of four! What a relief! We were whisked inside like royalty to a perfect table in the Palais! Yes, we had Sacher Torte, and for my GF daughter number one, a hazelnut bar. We had decaf and hot chocolate. Drank wine and sat for a long time, relaxing and people watching. What a treat! Too bad we weren’t more hungry! The pastries all looked exquisite. The café is clearly known for its sweets and highly talented pastry chefs. But, most of all, we loved the atmosphere and the vampire who rescued us from the winter air.
How great is it to find a perfect café that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner down the street from our Airbnb? Right in the 1. district is a hip and inviting restaurant with plenty of seating downstairs and up. Window spots, pub tables, booths, farm tables, lots of charm to choose from. A full bar and menu, our favorite go-to in Vienna served traditional Austrian fare, Wiener Schnitzel, beer, soups, salads, everything we needed, at any time of the day! Nothing fancy, everything brilliant, like Einstein, and a highly recommend for a no frills, get a seat when you are hungry, and feel great about the experience spot!
How is it that London used to have a reputation for not having very good food? Ridiculous! We LOVED the food in London! Honestly, it should be a priority next time. More pubs in different neighborhoods. Sadly, we did not eat Indian, (not my husband’s favorite) although the city is known for many great Indian restaurants. We did try Japanese on New Year’s Eve, Italian down the street from our Airbnb, and lots of local, pub cuisine. Here are a few of our favorites from different parts of town. Lots more to recommend, but don’t want to make you too hungry! Here are spots in Putney, Chelsea, Westminster, and St. John’s Wood.
30 Brewhouse Lane, Putney Wharf
I doubt we would have discovered this lovely area and delicious restaurant if it weren’t for our dear friends who live nearby, and treated us to this very special meal! Actually, just a short walk across the Putney Bridge from their home is a charming wharf with lots to see, do, and eat. The cuisine is French and Middle Eastern. They call it “French Spice.” We were a large crowd, so the family style dishes were perfect to share across the very giant farm table! So many gluten free options, so little time! We had a prawn and cucumber salad, chickpea dumplings, fig and goat cheese, grilled trout and leeks, braised lamb, squash, eggplant, and more! Check out their menu. I would love to return and visit the neighborhood during the day when it isn’t raining!
St. Stephen’s Tavern
10 Bridge St. Westminster
We just happened upon this very iconic London institution while pounding the pavement near the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. We had no idea that it is the spot where Prime Ministers (yes, Churchill and others) grab a bite and a drink in between voting! Opened in 1875, the pub continues to serve tourists and politicians. You order your food and drink at the bar and the servers deliver it to your table. Of course, try the beer battered fish and chips. Honestly, eat fish and chips as often as you can in London! The meal is so far superior to what we consider fish and chips in the states, it is embarrassing! The tavern had gluten free options, vegan options, and in spite of the crowded atmosphere, we were comfortable at a cozy table downstairs with great service!
29-31 St Johns Wood High St.
I couldn’t visit London this time without a trip across Abbey Road! After our Fab Four photo shoot, it was time for lunch! We wandered the area looking for a pub. Our google maps took us to a cute street with plenty of shops and restaurants and red phone booths! We abandoned our original destination for the Jewish Deli spotted across the street! Yes, Harry Morgan (Harry’s) is the New York style Jewish delicatessen in London since 1948. If you know my husband, he cannot pass up a pastrami on rye. In spite of the fact that something went array with our order and we had to wait a long time for our food, we were super happy at Harry’s! And the falafel was GF! Fries, tuna melt, and mac and cheese. How does that sound? Seriously, it was a great find and only because we wandered in neighborhood with only one goal; to eat!
The Ivy Chelsea
195-197 King’s Rd. London
The Ivy Restaurants is a chain of over 30 establishments in London and beyond. They boast a sophisticated, yet approachable, casual, yet polished atmosphere at each. The Ivy Chelsea Garden was recommended by friends, online bloggers, and in travel books. You would imagine that it must be so exclusive and expensive, you couldn’t possibly get a table or even afford to dine there. Au contraire ma cherie!!! Not only is it affordable, but we were able to get a reservation the day before, during a holiday week! If I lived in London, I would become a regular. For sure! Firstly, the venue is filled with elegant garden furniture upholstered with velvet cushions. Plants and trees decorate the terrace and garden seating areas. Honestly, we felt transplanted (pun intended) from the cold winter air on the busy street into a delightful garden party. The menu is very affordable and includes a specific vegan and vegetarian menu. We had beautiful cocktails, and roast pumpkin soup poured over a scoop of truffle ricotta and pine nuts to start. Then a salmon and smoked haddock fish cake with the traditional crushed peas, a sirloin steak, wild mushroom risotto with Vicenza cheese and sage. Please can we just go back for dinner tonight?? Please???? The dessert, well, are you ready? Chocolate Bombe. Melting chocolate with a vanilla ice cream and honeycomb centre with hot salted caramel. You have to see it and taste it to believe it. It arrives looking like a chocolate covered scoop of ice cream, but when the waiter pours the caramel on top, the chocolate melts away as if in a slow-motion dream and reveals a pool of caramel, chocolate, and ice cream begging you to use your spoon!
OK you decaf lovers, go out and travel and eat!