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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Moules vs Mussels

I am back. Three weeks passed in no time, I blinked- and here I am - back home. Time flies when you're having fun. And what a great time we have had driving across Europe from Romania to France en route to Ireland, stopping off when a beautiful village or place would catch our eye, and then sailing for eighteen hours on calm waters to our destination destination. Oh, quelle émotion, to be on Irish soil for the first time in my life. In the meantime, we stopped at night in both Austria and France. When we arrived, night was falling over Reims, la cité des rois, which I first visited in 1994 as an exchange student in High School. Little did I know at the time that Reims is an amazing gastronomic hub for good food lovers. At the time we were not concerned with going out downtown and finding a cosy -so French- bistro to have moules, escargot, or bécasse au champagne (a game dish cooked in champagne). But life is full of surprises and even if people don't change that much, circumstances do, and so does our perception of the world. We appreciate today things we barely noticed in the past. 

Bistrot Le Gaulois

2 Place Drouet d'Erlon

51100 Reims, France

       03 26 47 35 76     

Who would have guessed that today I would be totally in love with this simple, yet zesty dish, when years ago  I wouldn't have been interested in seafood specialities nor in moules in particular. And the main thing that draw me closer to Le Gaulois was the sign below, glowing in the dark. I noticed that the place was packed with locals (which always gives me the reassurance that the food is good and that I will not get ripped off as a tourist). 

We sat at a tiny table which barely accommodated two people, two glasses, and a bottle of Perrier, but it was a warm April evening, and the pleasure of sitting outside watching people passing by outdid this minor inconvenience.

It was pretty exciting getting the menu. Although short and sweet, it embraced the beauty and the exquisite flavour of France (as cliched as this may sound...).

Moules Marinieres (vin blanc, oignons, sel, poivre) in white wine, onion, salt and pepper.

Moules sauce piquante (vin blanc, oignons, tomates pelees, poivrons, tabasco) in white wine, onion, peeled tomatoes, peperoni and tabasco sauce.

Moules Champenoises (champagne, champignons, 4 epices, creme, sel, poivre) cooked in champagne, mushrooms, 4 spices, creme fraiche, salt and pepper.

Moules Ardennaises (vin blanc, oignons, lardons, celeri, sel, poivre) in white wine, onion, bacon, celery, salt and pepper.

A tough choice, to be honest, but because we had recently cooked Moules Marinieres ourselves, I decided to stick to a timeless classic, in order to compare and take notes.

Twenty minutes later a huge potful of steaming mussels was placed in front of me and my heart quivered with excitement. What a great melange of flavours and scents, with the salty flagrance of the sea tightly stored in the delicate mussels cooked in local wine and generously sprinkled with fresh parsley on top!  In Romania, where mussels are imported, the salty flavour of the ocean disappears, so you can imagine my amazement when I discovered that these refined little clams were still naturally salted. I attribute it to the beautiful surroundings, the exquisite company *love* - un homme & une femme staying overnight in the Coronation City- because these were the tastiest moules I have ever had. more
Mike's escargots

The night went on with crème brûlée which for once I didn't share with my other half :) - I'm always requesting an extra spoon to take a bite of his dessert.

delicious crème brûlée

Taking into account that Mike had veal, a glass of white, red (maybe two) and a dessert wine each, coffee, fresh baguette on the house, and two bottles of Perrier, the bill came as a pleasant surprise: 53 euro, without the (well deserved) tip. We would have left more but we didn't have enough cash, but let's hope this positive review compensates in some way! The service was extremely prompt and friendly, and if I ever get the chance to return to Reims (for longer, I hope), Le Gaulois will be certainly on my to-visit list.

an impressive work of Gothic art
a statue that gave me chills down the spine!

Almost two weeks later, on the other side of the Channel, we were in Martine's in Galway with two wonderful friends.

Sorry to jump from one dish to another, from one country to another, and from one city to another, but there is method in my madness. Yes, it's the same delicious ingredient cooked Asian style.

Martine's Restaurant and Winebar

21 Quay Street

Galway, Co. Galway, Ireland

091 565 662

Beautiful would be one simple word to describe this cosy restaurant. Wonderful company, great food and my favourite dish with a twist: Thai Mussels. 

We arrived after 8 o'clock and, because we were late (mea culpa), we were asked to wait at the bar - sipping a pre-dinner drink gave us time to go through the menu. Again, a good sign - the menu was short and sweet, simple but packed with flavours, both traditional and modern at the same time, making the most of the local Irish ingredients and turning them into surprising dishes: 

Rack of Lamb: char-grilled with green beans, Dauphinois potato and lamb juice

Slow-cooked Lamb with winter vegetable ragout and gravy

Organic Fillet Steak Burger on a bed of creamed potatoes with sweet and sour onions

Crispy Silver Hill Half Duck with herb stuffing, creamed potato, red cabbage and Grand Marnier sauce.

Apple Tart Pie caramelized with home-made salted caramel ice cream.

Chocolate and Baileys Delice, rich chocolate dessert with praline base and pear sorbet.

However, my eyes fell on the Thai Mussels from the very beginning. Mike ordered it as a starter, while I had it as my main dish and nothing else. And believe me, it was a huge bowl of mussels bathing in a delicately flavoured soup of coconut, fresh lemongrass, chilli and a hint of Thai green curry.

Mike's starter, Thai mussels

Sheila's grilled organic salmon cakes
Crispy Half Duck with red cabbage and Grand Marnier sauce

So different from their French counterparts, the Asian style mussels were equally scrumptious, delicate and imbued with flavours from far away. 

For dessert I opted for vanilla crème brûlèe, described in the menu as "rich egg baked custard topped with a delicate layer of caramelised sugar". A faithful description of an addictive classic. 

vintage drinks menu
crème brûlée - equally delicious on Irish shores
Bread and Butter pudding 

In a nutshell, we had such a great time with Sheila and Tony, the food was mouth-watering, the restaurant was such a great choice and the company was so much craic. Will I be back to Martine's? Definitely!!! In the meantime, I have pinned their site/foodblog to my favourites folder. It's a personal outpouring of love for good food and sustainable, fresh ingredients, "I went into the kitchen about 2 years ago and found a passion for food that I would like to share with you." tips, and cooking techniques.

One final note about moules: since I was under the mistaken presumption that  Moules a la Mariniere must contain cream in the wine sauce, I feel obliged to share with you what I have recently discovered. In The Skinny French Kitchen ( a must-have if you love French cuisine, but worry about your waistline) by Harry Eastwood, I read the following:

"There is a myth about this dish in Britain, namely that marinieres is a cream-based sauce. There is a famous French (or Belgian, depending on who you ask!) mussel dish called 'Moules a la Creme', but there is no cream in the traditional Moules a la Mariniere. This means that a huge saucepan full of moules is actually really virtuous. This leaves plenty of extra calories to spend on a nice hunk of baguette or even a side of skinny fries (otherwise known as Pommes de Terre Sautees, see page 62)."


  1. You should be a food critic (that's if you're not already!)...I enjoyed reading about your trip!

  2. Thank you, that's so sweet. Never thought about it because this is my first review ever, apart from various assignments in high school and uni. Love xx

  3. What a wonderful blog you have. Next time your in Galway please pop into the kitchen and see me.


  4. Oh, Enda, thank you very much. I will definitely be back. What a wonderful country, lush and vibrant, a paradise for food lovers.

  5. I hope that you will share more of your travelling experiences. Loved reading about your culinary escapades! I thoroughly agree with you on re-discovering the food that we ignored in the past, due to our novice palates:)
    Great reviews! I make mussels often, and usually stick to white wine/lemon/garlic/chopped tomato route, but once I made Thai mussels, and they were fantastic.
    But eaten in great restaurants and good company can only make them taste better.

  6. Beautiful post. I came upon it because I was doing a search to re-create the wonderful moules frites that I had at...Le Gaulois in Reims! It was our last night in Reims, and we had pretty much the same meal, except I went for the Moules Champenoises. The broth was divine - salty and sweet, but complex because of the champagne, creme fraiche, and spices (the 4 epices was a revelation). And the creme brulee was magnificent. Thanks for taking me back!