Champagne Lunch at Le Procope

I went to Paris for a brief reunion with my God parents who had come over from the US. After a lovely walk along the Seine and a visit to Notre Dame, we decided to go for lunch at France and the World’s oldest restaurants, Le Procope.

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Opened in 1686, started as a café where gentlemen of fashion might drink the exotic beverage coffee, or eat a sorbet, served up in porcelain cups by waiters in exotic “Armenian” garb. In 1689 the Comédie française was established across the street and the Procope became known as the “theatrical” café, and remained so. The world’s first literary café was born and, for over two centuries, everyone with a name, or who hoped to have one, in the world of letters, arts and politics was a regular to the Café Le Procope. From La Fontaine to Voltaire, Rousseau, Beaumarchais, Balzac, Hugo, Verlaine to mention but a few, the list of Procope’s « regulars » varies little from that of the great names of French literature. In the 18th century, it was a seedbed for liberal ideas and the history of the Encyclopædia is intimately linked to that of Procope where Diderot, d’Alembert, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin could be seen. During the Revolution, Robespierre, Danton and Marat met here and Lieutenant Bonaparte left his hat here as a pledge.

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As soon as you walk in you get knocked for six by the history of this place and the close ties that it had with the leaders of the revolution, which changed the course of French Society. The walls are yellow with wall paper inscribed with the french revolution moto “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternity. Citoyens, Citoyennes (The male and female translation of Citizen) adorn the men and women’s toilet doors. Indeed during the Revolution, the Phrygian cap, soon to be the symbol of Liberty, was first displayed here. Crystal chandeliers and oval paintings of the Cafes most famous patrons adorn the walls, and walk passed open books written by some of France’s most famous writers who ate in the same place as you are now eating.

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 The service was great and it wasn’t only the setting in the heart of Paris that was great. The culinary feast which we ate was marvelous. We started off the meal with a glass of champagne with cassis. My godfather ordered house foie gras with toasted Panettone for starters and my Godmother and I had the traditional onion soup with gratinee cheese. It was probably the best soup I had ever eaten, with a massive tick layer of melted cheese which made up almost a third of the plate. Just fabulous. For the main course I chose the duck and had to order thin chips separately as no sides are included with the meat. My Godmother chose the steak tartar, which I must say isn’t for the faint hearted. Essentially raw mince with herbs and mustard, this is a very famous dish and it tasted surprisingly good. It was however quite rich. My Godfather had the Calf’s Head stew casserole 1686 style, which sounds disgusting but actually looked amazing. The whole experience was wonderful and a great thing to do if only in Paris for a short time.

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We went to a Musee de Cluny, an incredible museum dedicated to medieval art which is set in a 15th-century abbot’s mansion with ruins of ancient Roman baths.  I particularly liked the Lady and the Union, the modern title given to a series of six tapestries woven in Flanders of wool and silk, from designs drawn in Paris around 1500. They were so rich in color, incredibly large and beautiful in detail. It is no wonder it is considered the best piece of art from the Middle Ages.

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Shanghai Blues

Shanghai Blues, is a sumptuous central London Restaurant, which is not only elegant and does great food, but also has incredible live jazz. Here are the pics from our recent trip! I absolutely love this place and it is a great chance to dress up! A great reminder of my trip to China and the best luxury which I experienced in Shanghai.

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We had Champagne Berlinis for starters. We tried peach and raspberry. They were so good, we ended up buying a whole bottle of Champers to ourselves!

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Here come the 7 courses.

Dim Sum and spicy cucumber for starters. I am not normally a massive Dim Sum fan, but these were truly scrumptious. Particularly loved the squid ones

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The next courses included baby squid with garlic and peppers, followed by prawns in batter with lemon sauce.

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Peking duck pancakes, my true favorite. I didn’t get the chance to try some whilst I was in Beijing, but I am sure it wouldn’t have been as nice as the duck which is brought to the table, cut up and served here at Shanghai Blues.

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Make sure you save some space. Unfortunately the best is saved till last. Meaty lobster and fried rice. Really well cooked and very fresh. This was the first time I had lobster coated in a light batter and it was delicious.

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 The music was pitch perfect and it was nice to sing along to some great tracks, some by the Killers, Alicia Keys, Maroon Five. It wasn’t over powering though, so it was just a perfect setting for a romantic dinner.

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Finished off with some rose tea – magical

The service was good, but as it was a lot of food we didn’t hesitate to ask the waiters to bring the courses slower . At first we felt a bit rushed, but after our request the speed of the course delivery was perfect. After all it does takes time to eat 7 courses, sorbet and a bottle of Champagne!

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As the period from the end of the First World War until the start of the Depression in 1929 is known as the “Jazz Age”, I opted to wear a 1920s style sequin backless dress, similar to those worn in the Great Gatsby film, based on the 1925 novel written by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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Rice, Oranges and Whale Bones

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Old bones lie, it would seem, washed ashore by the sea. A graveyard, carcasses picked clean and now bleached by the sun. Smooth and sharp they criss-cross into infinity. A whale struggles and breaks free jumping into the air from the little water  which remains, crystal clear, dangerously blue. Perhaps the fish found themselves stuck here that time when the river overflowed. Many died, so channels were diverted. Trees now grow, people run and children play on a giant man, where water once gushed and cooled the city’s banks. Yes, this is how these creatures came to be here, I am sure.

The sea is close, sometimes I think they can smell it. But the plains between the graveyard and the water are dry. There is no return for these poor creatures now. Passed the port and out of the city, we travel along the sea front.

Behind us is the earth, where the farmers toil and the trees grow ripe with fruit.

All I see now is water, on both sides. The lake to the right and the sea to the left. Little boats and reeds. A girl wears a traditional costume. Further on we go. Here there are fields, but they are not dry, not these ones. These ones are are flooded. Must we walk on water? Little white triangles appear on the horizon. It feels like I have traveled to the end of Valencia, to the end of the world. Passed the Cathedral and the ancient fish, the fields and even over the sea itself.

We have found it, and what humble beginnings for such a source of fame. When the men cooked in the open air of their orchards near lake Albufera, could they of known? That it would be you, la Paella, you, who would end up conquering the world?

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La Paella – an Unchained Melody

We found a splendid little oasis of calm called La Paella located at the Hostal Valencia, between Clles Lamparilla and Obrapia in Old Havana. We had walked quite some time from the crafts market down to the Cathedral Plaza and this was a great place to relax, cool off and recharge.

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The restaurant’s design is typically Andalusian. The interior is dark and sombre.But at the heart, a beautiful courtyard flourishes with vines and plants and color.

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An architectural Heathcliff.

The food was very good, really quite authentic but slightly meager in the chicken/ vegetable to rice ratio. However, the rice was very well cooked, sticky and not hard. In all the meal tasted great.

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The Cuban trio came round and serenaded us.  I must say that these were best ones that we encountered in Cuba and boy we met a few. The lead singer had an incredibly delicate voice and we loved it so much that we had to request a CD.The whole atmosphere was great and we smiled when we heard a large group sing along to a wonderful rendition of Unchained Melody.

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Dinning in the Colonial Era -Sol Ananda

Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, conqueror of Cuba, founded Trinidad exactly 500 years ago, in 1514. The city is a living museum piece. Not only is it older than almost every building in Paris but this World Heritage Site is one of the world’s best preserved colonial cities.

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Sol Ananda is one of Trinidad’s many good restaurants. It is set in a house which looks onto the Plaza Mayor that was bought by an architect, re-done and transformed back into what it would have looked like a hundred years ago, when Trinidad was a very affluent area thanks to its blossoming sugar industry.

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All the furniture is antique. Tables are set amongst bedrooms, with ornately decorated beds, wardrobes and rocking chairs. A real old Cello is propped up and is used by locals who play at the restaurant museum in the evening.The concept is clever, dinning tables are interspersed amongst these old heirlooms, so there is ample opportunity to really feast upon the items. I felt that it was a much more enjoyable way to contemplate and admire these great pieces of craftsmanship than by glancing quickly at them whilst walking through a museum gallery.

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We ate off antique plates with antique silver cutlery from an old colonial ship

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The food is pricy for Cuba, like normal London prices, but the menu offers a variety of India, Caribbean, Mexican and Spanish food. This is what we had for lunch, but I would highly recommend the lobster which I had on our last dinner in Trinidad.

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For our final dinner in Trinidad we up to the restaurant’s roof terrace. The sky was alight with color as the sun set. Stone angels became shadows against the fiery sky. DSC_0425

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Sumptuous Lunch at El Floridita

The interior of the restaurant was exquisite. Murals adorn the walls, velvet curtains hang heavily, separating the dinners from the noisy hustle and bustle of the El Floridita bar where musicians play and frozen Daiquiris are served. A great way to relax and sample the best of Cuba.Magnum Champagne bottles are lined up, the walls are adorned with murals. The decor is very 1950s, very seductive, very luxurious. The whole experience was wonderful and I would definitely recommend it.

The service was incredible. I am going to be like a child and talk about my favorite part of the meal, the dessert, first. Order the frozen Alaska and you will get a flambe display that you will never forget. At least I never will. The waiter wheels in a table with paraphernalia, liquors, a frying pan and stove. The signal is given and someone dims the lights. Your pudding is turned into a show for all the dinners to enjoy, but remember the most important thing, that only you will get to eat it! The show last around 5-10 minutes and the pudding is only $6. The fruit platter can also be flambeed if you are going for a lighter end to the very filling meal.

We ordered some of the lighter, smaller meals that were on offer. That evening we were preparing for the New Year’s Eve 7 course dinner banquet held in the Cathedral plaza. The presentation was lovely, the seafood was plentiful, although could have been a bit fresher. The bar was full but the restaurant was fairly empty so we had ample time and space to enjoy the surroundings and the atmosphere.

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See also Frozen Daiquiris at El Floridita for more pictures and information on the front bar

5* Paradisus Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

An oasis of tropical escapism embraces the fine white sands and crystalline waters of legendary Playa Bavaro.

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Our suite was on the beach front, and was very large and spacious. Each room has a living area, individually controlled air conditioning and ceiling fan, coffee maker, safe deposit box, luxurious bathrooms, private terrace or balcony with jacuzzi, 24 hour room service and daily stocked minibar. Room service includes Champagne, breakfast and full three course meals.

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Paradisus Punta Cana Resort, coexists in harmony with nature which results in an exquisite balance of natural and man-made wonders. Open-air architecture featuring indigenous materials gracefully rises from artfully designed tropical gardens, native mangrove forests, soaring palms and magnificent views of the stunningly clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.

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At every turn there is a new species of exotic vegetation, native birds and delicate garden scents. The Caribbean playground offers tennis, championship golf, an array of gorgeous pools, every non-motorized water sport imaginable, a casino, an exquisite full-service spa and health club and a thrilling collection of unique island activities.

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The staff are incredibly professional and attentive to hotel guests. As we walked round the grounds, a man cut up a coconut that had fallen off the trees and gave it to use. Its taste was incredible.

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All the hotel buildings are exotic, clean and very spacious.

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The resort offers 9 international restaurants, 8 bars with premium drinks and 24 hours room service

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The food was range was incredible, with each restaurant designed differently. Our favorite was the Argentinian Grill. Make sure you book well in advance because they fill up quickly! After dinner, if you can stay awake, after the early rise, day at the beach, excellent food and wine, don’t forget to go to the beach bar, disco or even to the circus.

The only bad comment I feel that should be highlighted were the vouchers amounting to $1,500 that we were given to spend at the resort. We didn’t spend any, as most had conditions of high minimum spends attached to them.

The hotel was beautiful, the beach idyllic and the service top rate. Choose Paradisus as your Punta Cana destination, you won’t be disappointed!

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