Chou and The Marcel: two new cafes in Geneva

Both these cafes are on rue des Eaux-Vives, but there the resemblance stops.

The Marcel is a French chain which opened up its (first) Geneva branch on Friday. As you can see from their menu, the prices in Geneva are more expensive. Not a lot more, but given Paris’s reputation for expensiveness, I’m curious to know if this was necessary.

The Marcel is dark and very noisy. Even though, along with everybody else there today we shouted, I could scarcely hear my companions. Chou is light and quiet.

The Marcel seems to be making an attempt at an Anglo-Saxon cafe, both in style and menu. For us this didn’t work. The coffee doesn’t stand up to the better places in Geneva and we found the food disappointing. One of us had The Full English Breakfast at 19CHF. It was crowded onto a plate too small for the food, but at the same time we could see it was substantially smaller than such a dish would have been in Australia. Notably it came without toast, though toast was listed as an ingredient. I might add that the cafe latte was approximately half a glass of coffee, with about an equal amount of froth.

The biggest disappointment was the cinnamon roll, which had almost no cinnamon taste and was heavy going. One of my companions who declined to taste it said it looked industrial which made me wonder what its pedigree was. Certainly at 7CHF, I would much rather have had two of Paradiso’s light cinnamon rolls. A bagel with cream cheese and avocado was okay, not special, but safe. I am undecided on whether a few pomegranate seeds scattered through worked.

No doubt The Marcel will cope with these comments. It was packed and presumably is going to thrive.

Chou has all the grace and delicacy that The Marcel lacks. Everything on its (small) food menu is refined in looks and taste. Coffee from a barista whose pedigree includes Paradiso and Boreal is at the best end for Geneva. Tea is good quality with a better range than in most cafes which focus on coffee – and therefore think that they don’t have to cater to tea drinkers – and your pot is refilled, for which I am most appreciative. The decor is light and for anybody looking for a lovely place to read a book whilst taking some refreshment, this is the place for you.

No doubt there is room for both these places. I hope I was never young enough to think that having to shout through a meal is acceptable, but maybe I’ve just got a bad memory. For me, it’s Chou every time….I leave you with their exquisite apricot and matcha tea sweet temptation:

Apricot matcha tea chou

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What IS a ‘small’ garden?

 

The other day at Our Australian Gardens, I clicked on their subset ‘small gardens’, looking for inspiration, analysis, HELP! But the two gardens discussed are both huge by my standards. We live in a modern semi-detached with a small courtyard back and a slightly larger front garden. When we first bought the place the front was nothing more than succulents, unloved ones at that. We’ve taken them all out and put in flowers, trying to create something that looks pretty instead of sensible. At the same time, in our very small back, we have four citrus trees planted by the last owner and a magnolia, all along the fence, trying to create privacy screen which is pretty and useful between us and the people behind. We have a vine and flowers along the side and the vine is to do the same thing, provide privacy. It’s amazing what can fit in a small space.

We would love to see what people who are good at gardening do with such spaces – maybe it’s a contradiction in terms, maybe if you are a good gardener you just don’t get a place like ours. We’ve never gardened in our lives (we are not young either!) and so it’s all a mystery to us. We’d love enlightenment.

It seems to me that this kind of place we live in is very common in Australia and that there must be lots of people who would love to be more informed about what others do with their (truly) small gardens.

One issue that particularly pertains when  you have neighbours so close at hand as you do when you have places with shallow back yards abounding is the ways in which you can improve privacy – both visual and noise, without encroaching on sun where it may be wanted.

And finally, what should one be patient about and what should one seek for instant gratification such as advanced trees ready to plant. For people like us, we don’t have 40 years to watch trees become established. We need something quicker. But nor do we want something that looks like a quick fix….

 

Herbs and greens pasta sauce

Ingredients for two

  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • one shallot chopped
  • two cloves garlic chopped
  • a couple of good slugs of dry white wine
  • a good sized zucchini chopped
  • a couple of tablespoons pine nuts dry roasted to a light brown
  • flat leafed parsley, perhaps one cup of leaves
  • maybe half a cup or more of pouring cream
  • chopped green rounds from spring onions
  • chopped chives, maybe half a bunch
  • parmesan grated for the table

Method

While the pasta is cooking, in a medium saucepan fry the shallots and garlic in the butter until softened. Add the wine and boil until the alcohol is burned off. Add the zucchini and cook at a lively pace, saucepan covered, until the zucchini is soft. Add the cream, pine nuts and parsley. Puree. I continued to add parsley until there was a noticeable green fleck to the sauce.

Keep warm on a very low temperature, season with salt and pepper. When ready to serve, stir in the chives and spring onion rounds leaving a handful for decoration. Put drained spaghetti in bowls, add the sauce, mix thoroughly and then sprinkle the green rounds on top.

Parmesan and more pepper are required at the table.

I think when I try this again I will use at least double the zucchini and less cream. I would also like to try vodka rather than the wine, which I thought was a bit sweet. Not clear to me that the pine nuts added to this.

Gender (in)equality at Google

I love this statistic. When ordered by the Department of Labour in the US to produce wage figures…

In a final hearing last month, Google argued it was financially burdensome and logistically challenging to compile and hand over the salary records the DoL had requested, saying it would have to spend up to 500 hours and $100,000 to comply with the ongoing demands. The defense earned a strong rebuke from the DoL and others in the industry who noted Google has touted its $150m “diversity” efforts and has a nearly $28bn annual income as one of the world’s wealthiest companies, building some of the most advanced technology.

“Google would be able to absorb the cost as easy as a dry kitchen sponge could absorb a single drop of water,” DoL attorney Ian Eliasoph said in his closing arguments. Accused of underpaying women, Google says it’s too expensive to get wage data

I thought it was worth converting these figures into something more relatable to the average person. $100,000 to $28,000000000 is as 40 cents to $100000. So it was as if a person on a $100K income argued that it could not afford an expense of 40cents to comply with a request from the government.

I’ve been spending years telling people that they are creating a monster in their support of Google. There are many ways at the moment in which the monster is being revealed….

Dining in Stockholm 2017

You may not be able to use cash in Stockholm any more (well, here and there still) but not much else has changed over the last three years. Cream and mayo, sweet and salty still prevail. I find that challenging. Easier to take is the price. It’s the usual story, you live in Geneva and everything else seems cheap and good….

Bar Central is Hungarian without creamed spinach. The ultimate statement about how impossible it is, still, to get green vegetables in Stockholm. As long as you can cope with that, I recommend it. Menu ranges from trad Schnitzel to interesting risotto. I didn’t really notice how salty it was at the time, but came home to find myself drinking water, which is a rare thing for me. SALTY! I gather there are a few Hungarian cafes around town, I may search for one which does spinach.

Aubergine does a mixture of local, Italian and French cuisine. I found the tomato base of the fish soup coarse. Fish needs something more subtle. Like so many restaurants in Stockholm it provides an excellent value lunch, when I went back I tried an acceptable lasagne – on the side was a mysterious salty cream thickness, no idea what it was, didn’t like it, left it alone. It was better than I expected when it turned up decorated with small tomato halves.

Speceriet is the neighbouring cheap and casual sibling of Gastrologik. It’s a good ad for the latter. Based on my experience today I’d be willing to trust them to serve me up great fare for the not-cheap experience. And maybe you get to sit at tables with chairs. Speceriet is high chair territory and that’s usually enough to put me off. But I had an idea that I would find a lighter touch than I’d so far been eating and my stomach really need that. So, I balanced on a chair at a high table and looked at their lunch menu for this week:

THE PACKAGE

Choose one of the lunch dishes, something sweet and coffee 195

VEGETARIAN

Carrots, honey, egg and kale 135 (take out 105)

“ALMOST VEGETARIAN”

Cabbage, celeriac, parsley and smoked pork 135 (take out 105)

FISH

Rose fish, tomato, fennel and potatoe 135 (take out 105)

DESSERT

Berries, cream cheese and short bread 65

I had the fish. ‘We don’t have any rose left, so it is another white fish’. I conveyed my indifference. I don’t know one fish from another. Suffice to say it was flakey, soft, really very nice. The tomato was a concentration, but refined, more as I had wanted in my fish soup at Aubergine. The fennel was delicate. The bread at meals in Stockholm is always good quality, but I’d say this was best, ditto for the accompanying butter.

We went back for dinner, small dishes meant to be shared. It was a good deal more expensive than lunch and I found it hard to come away with a definitive opinion as to whether it had all worked. I need to give it another chance, which will be on another trip.

Bobonne is an excellent restaurant which had me thinking, as usual, that by getting out of French areas, one can find acceptable French fare. The usual fabulous lunchtime value. Dinner time is more expensive, a small menu strongly oriented to meat and seafood. Unlike Speceriet, which has the sort of music people willing to sit on highchairs might take to, Bobonne is low key and as the place fills, the music is not turned up, so the endless cycle one suffers in Australia of music louder, people louder, doesn’t happen. Why do Australian restaurants find that hard? Friendly expert service – the second time I went there I was immediately given the table we asked to be moved to on our first visit. How nice to feel like a regular instantly! And the staff had that feeling that they were a big family, the open kitchen was a pleasure to view, unlike most which are loud, tense and frenetic.

Ciao Ciao Grande is a pasta/pizza establishment rumoured to be the place favoured by the Royals when they fancy a ham and pineapple. The service was impersonal and atmosphere, much as it is described as candle lit at night, was totally lacking, not least because food delivery people were rushing in and out. I read of an Adelaide restaurant recently pointedly stating that it did not consider it was appropriate to subject its eating guests to this and I’m going to start a list! If I go out for a meal, I don’t expect it to feel like I’m in the middle of a takeaway. Having said that, we both thought our pasta dishes were better than we expected, but I’m not sure if that’s because we were feeling like we’d made a terrible mistake as we were waiting for them.

We went to NK and I somehow expected the lovely places to eat that one finds in London at places like Harrods and F&M. But instead all the settings were cafeterias, lining up to buy prepared food which was not even an attractive price. I was surprised.

Saluhall is in a temporary structure at the moment whilst the historic building is being renovated. I suspect it’s a fair bit smaller, but has ample of everything to please the diner in or taker out as I discovered once or twice, though nothing stands out as deserving special mention.

Finally, we went to The Grand, which is the only posh hotel in Stockholm. The Verandah Restaurant fills up quite early with people doing the buffet dinner. I talked Manny into going really early so we could be out by the time that was happening. We got window seats with the iconic water views while we ate:

Grilled fillet of char with deep-fried scallop, broccoli purée, Lavaret roe, edamame beans, green peas, white wine sauce and green asparagus SEK 305

Salt cured salmon with dill-creamed potatoes SEK 230

Manny tried this for dessert: Chocolate cake with whisky purée, milk chocolate cream and cherry sorbet SEK 120, passing up on a concoction that included pickled cucumber:

Yoghurt variation with dill and white chocolate crème and pickled cucumber  SEK 110

If you want to stuff your face on a good quality buffet in nice surrounds, this is definitely the place to be. But I’m glad we went for something more refined than that. Fish with green vegetables done posh was a welcome treat for me after a week of meat and cream.

Conclusion: I don’t really understand the Swedish fixation with sweet, fatty/creamy and salty. Maybe it’s historic from when it was the only way to stay warm, but in modern days of overheated indoors, it seems odd to me. I also don’t understand why good quality greens are so rare. Is it lack of demand?