You're invited to lunch...

I'm a young 20-something from Australia, who has just started a new life living in Paris. If there were but one thing that I did not forget to pack, that would be my appetite for fine food.

A full-fledged 'foodie' through and through, I can think of no better way to document my gastronomical experiences.

The menu? Since the purpose of this blog is food, each entry is based upon a meal, which is usually lunch. Of course, every meal is accompanied with an experience. So I guess you could say that with my food blog comes a range of 'side dishes', which include dating, love, friendship, fun, travel, work, and whatever else I come across along the way!

So if you want to read about...

Cheap bistros, fine restaurants, baguettes, wine, picnics, seafood, champagne, chacuterie, museums, friends, parks, wine (worth mentioning twice), fromage, useful tourist info, cocktail parties, dating, supermarkets, coffee, week-end trips, work, bars, foie gras, home-cooking, chocolate, monuments, glaces (ice-cream), live music, macaroons... and everything else in-between

...then come to lunch with me!

Nicola xx

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Coffee & Clogs

As the title suggests, this post is not located in France, but rather, in Holland.

You are probably asking yourself; "How could she have possibly exhausted all of her Parisian dining options in one week?" The answer? I hadn't.

The truth is that after a week in Paris I was still technically homeless. There I was, shacked up in a short-term rental apartment at the heart of Gare de l'Est, an area which can be best likened to the Redfern of Sydney or the Bronx of New York. I was paying an exorbitant sum of money to live in a dodgy apartment, with an even dodgier flatmate. Grim, right?

On the up side, I had found a beautiful apartment, with a really nice flatmate, in a very chic area. The lease was set to commence in one week. 7 days. 168 hours. 10080 minutes. 604800 seconds. The only problem being that the prospect of spending another 604800 seconds with my creepy flatmate was just too much to handle.

A phone call from Grace (an Australian friend currently living in the Hague), a spur of the moment decision and a 4 hour train ride, led me to the land of clogs, bicycles and windmills. After having spent nearly a week in Holland, I can now say that it is actually the land of clogs, bicycles, windmills AND coffee!

For all of their gastronomical bravado (most of which is justified), coffee is definitely not one of France's strong points. Indeed, in terms of coffee, their skill is somewhat lacking. Generally a latté or a cappuccino comes out in two very distinct parts - the bottom layer is a flat, milky portion of coffee, very watery in consistency. The top layer is a mound of airy and bubbly froth, which towers high above the rim of the actual cup. And if that's not reason enough to avoid ordering one, any coffee with milk generally costs between 5 to 7 euros. Of course there is always the option of an espresso or a macchiato (noisette in French), which is significantly cheaper and less tarnished by poorly frothed milk. But even then, the actual coffee beans don't seem to possess that rich, full-bodied flavour to which I am accustomed (not to sound arrogant, but Australia is, in my opinion, home to some of the world's best barristas).

Enter Holland - the land of delicious, inexpensive coffee.

Holland puts on quite a show at springtime since every patch of grass is covered in colourful tulips. Or at least that's what I'm told... Unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity to explore the fields of tulips. I was too busy drinking coffee, in the name of research, OF COURSE!

During the week I spent there, I averaged about 5 coffees a day. Grace was working, and I so buried myself in a good book, and a variety of different coffee shops. From that selection of coffee shops, I have narrowed down a very modest 'top 3' list. To be honest, I could have easily created a 'top 10' list... but less is often more, or so they say.

O.k, so here they are...

1. La Mano Maestra (Noordeinde 138b, Centrum, Den Haag.)

Imagine this: A 10 page, leather-bound menu. 1 page dedicated to food, and the remaining 9 pages, dedicated to coffee. In fact, the word 'menu' doesn't really do this piece of literature any justice. It's more of a Bible, a coffee Bible. Since I am a devout follower, I promptly took my place at one of the tables and started studying this coffee Bible.

The reason the coffee menu is so extensive is because La Mano Maestra sells coffee beans from all four corners of the earth. Ethiopia, Colombia, Brazil, Vietnam, Puerto Rico, Kenya, Yemen, Mexico... You name it, and they are most likely to sell it. What's more, the menu goes to great lengths to explain the origins of the beans, which beans are best suited to the various types of coffee, and what aromas or flavours you can expect to taste.

I ordered a latté made with the Ethiopian bean.

There is only one barrista, and since he was outside having a cigarette, I did have to wait a little while. Yet, in the Hague, time seems to almost stand still. Or at the very least, time doesn't really seem to matter. Everything and everyone moves at a slower pace such that after a few days, you too, start to slow down. Because of this, a lengthy wait for a cup of coffee didn't bother me in the slightest.

At last the waiter appeared bearing a shiny silver platter. On the platter there was the latté, a creamer filled with extra creamy frothed milk, and a ramequin of Belgian chocolate-covered coffee beans. The coffee was delicious, rich, and left a coco aftertaste in the mouth. The chocolate-coated beans were a yummy accompaniment (so yummy, in fact, that I bought a bag to take home.)

As for the price? 2.40 euro!

To top everything off, La Mano Maestra plays the Gipsy Kings in the background, and provides an abundant amount of newspapers and magazines (both in Dutch and English) for patrons. All in all, this is really just a wonderful coffee shop, a 'must-do' when in the Hague.

2. Restaurant Caprese (Spuistraat 261, Amsterdam)

I found this place the day that I visited Amsterdam. It was sunny, but extraordinarily windy and cold. Not really equipped for the weather (wearing some Australian designer's idea of a winter coat), I desperately sought out a warm place to have a coffee.

Caprese is located on the corner of Spuistraat and Raamsteeg. It has a yellow and white striped awning, and seems to catch all of the afternoon sunlight (which I'm sure would make one of the tables on the sidewalk an enticing place to sit in the warmer months).

It's not necessarily what you expect of a coffee shop in Amsterdam. The interior is quite bright, the furniture quite modern, and I'd say there's a slim-to-none chance that you'll be served a plate of hash cookies with your coffee!

But I never told you this was going to be a list of the top 3 'typically Dutch' coffee shops. And clearly, with a name like Caprese, this place was never going to feel very Dutch. However what is most important is the quality of their coffee, which was excellent.

Another creamy latté. The milk, not too hot. The beans, aromatic and rich. And this time, in lieu of chocolate-covered beans, a ramequin filled with thick shards of dark chocolate and roasted hazelnuts.

The price? 2.50 euro.

3. Hotel Corona (Buitenhof 39-42, Centrum, Den Haag)

This one is not a 'hole in the wall' cafe. It is, as it's name suggests, a hotel. It's located in a busy square, which has a constant stream of people, bikes and trams. Within this square lies the Hotel Corona. There are several large wooden dining tables, most of which are sheltered from the sun by 4 or 5 very grand, bright red, outdoor umbrellas. In front of these tables there is a line of wooden sun-lounges, all of which face outwards towards the square.

I took a seat on one of the sun-lounges. Each one has it's own cushion, two very generous arm rests and a foot stool. They are bathed in sunlight for most of the day, and when you lay back and close your eyes you could be anywhere from the French Riviera to the Amalfi Coast.

Again... the coffee was exceptional. This time there were no chocolate-coated coffee beans, nor were there chocolate pieces with hazelnuts. Instead, the latté came with two sweet, buttery cookies which crumbled into a thousand yummy pieces as soon as they hit my mouth.

It would be easy to spend hours here. You can watch the passing parade of life, soak up some sunlight, and at 2.30 euro a coffee, you can definitely afford to spend hours here too.

So there you have it... Perhaps a little unexpected from a blog entitled 'Lunch in Paris,' but hopefully it was interesting nonetheless.

Until next time...

Nicola xx

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