The third and final French summer holiday instalment! While I previously mentioned in my last post that we didn’t eat out much in the second week of our holiday, preferring to laze around our longere barbeucing anything and everything and stuffing our faces with French cheese and wine, we did go out for one ‘special’ evening meal. We had a mooch around nearby town La Chatre and clocked quite a few interesting looking eateries. In the end we plumped for one just tucked away down a cobbled side street from the main square, called Auberge A l’Escargot and were really glad we did so!
This was a proper French restaurant with starched linen tablecoth and napkins and a m’aitre d’!
First up we were treated to a dégustation of some sort of chilled fish mousse (I’m afraid my French wasn’t quite good enough to figure out exactly which fishy as the waiter rattled it off in quick fire French with a flourish!) with a little bite size parcel of goats cheese wrapped in filo pastry. The mousse was incredibly light and delicious and contrasted with the little crunch and then melt from the filo pastry and oozing goats cheese, yum!
Next up came our starters. I chose something called ‘Rouget Barbet’ which I think translates as red mullet. This was served cold with a mixed leaf and tomato salad, an intriguing olive oil cake, and two very cute little pots; one containing a lovely tangy and refreshing gazpacho, the other a selection of pickled vegetables. I really enjoyed all the different flavours and textures together, the whole thing felt really fresh and nourishing to eat.
Rob meanwhile got stuck into his pate a la maision which was served with both the usual toasts, and the less usual ginger cake (delicious!) as well red berry chutney and green salad.
Following a short break to enjoy our lovely local wine from a vineyard only a few miles down the road, we were presented with our mains. I plumped for the duck, one of my all time favourites. And it’s one of those meats which I find just never seems to be cooked as well in this country. So I had to take my opportunity! This lovely pink juicy magret de canard was crusted with sesame seeds and served with a perfectly sweet and moreish honey sauce, buttery herby new potatoes and some sort of puréed orange vegetable mousse (again, my French let me down here!), after much serious deliberation (slightly more tricky after half a bottle of wine) we decided it was most likely to be carrots, the fantastically sweet variety, rather than butternut squash or any other vegetable with the same hue. However we were also both convinced it had some sort of nutty almost cheesy taste lurking at the back of the mouth…hhmm…. a touch of parmesan?! Or would that be too random?! Clearly we would fail the palate taste test on Masterchef! Still, my palate was more than capable of enjoying every little mouthful of this totally scrumptious dish. I didn’t want it to end. Some of the tastiest duck I’ve ever eaten (and I’ve eaten a fair bit!) I really enjoyed the honey sauce as something a little different from the more usual fruity pairing. Mmmm, more please?!
Rob’s steak was equally perfectly cooked and delicious, It was served with a polenta cake, chimichurri sauce and lots of glistening earthy mushrooms.
By the time it got around to dessert-ordering, I was preeeetttty stuffed, not having wanted to let any of the glorious food go to waste, I made sure I cleaned my plate each course! This meant I chose a dessert which I would normally have overlooked purely on the basis that I thought it would be the least filling (and of course I didn’t want to miss out!)
This was a millefeuille of chocolate wafers, strawberries and cream, served with a strawberry sorbet and strawberry sauce. While this was undeniably tasty, I have to say it didn’t quite live up to the standard set by the rest of the food up to this point. Perhaps my own fault for going ‘off-piste’ on my dessert choice!
Rob enjoyed a banana tarte tatin with caramel ice cream and a caramel sauce (I can’t get past classic apple tarte tatin, but this did make an interesting change!)
We rounded off the meal with a few little complimentary petit fours with our espresso. Itsy bitsy meringues with chocolate and some sort of cream and strawberry cups. I was beyond full, but managed to force down a taste of the little morsels (unfortunately before a picture was taken!) – they were only bite size, afterall!
All in all, a super French meal, which I would like to eat again! (especially the duck!!) I would highly recommed to anyone who was in the area!
We have spent the weekend extending the patio in our garden. There is dust and cement everywhere, all over my poor flowers. I am escaping from the chaos for half an hour to write another blog post!
After our amazing but very tiring week on the side of Alp d’Huez watching the giant cycling spectacle that is Le Tour de France and all that goes with it pass through (see previous post https://lickingtheplateagain.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/im-back-french-holiday-part-i/) we headed to a gite in the Indre region of central France for a week of relaxation! (cue lots of eating, reading, eating, sunbathing and a bit more eating).
The gite, in a 200 year old longere in a rural hamlet surrounded by rolling fields, was the perfect spot to wind down following the madness of the alp. I was also rather glad to get out of the campervan, despite all my initial excitement about hiring one. We were both sporting numerous impressive bruises after a week in it! We didn’t venture out to eat too much during this week as we were mainly just too happy pottering around our lovely little gite and garden pleasing ourselves. We did have one special meal in a local restaurant (which I will tell you all about in my next post!) but mainly we enjoyed lots of barbecues, big hearty rustic salads and picnics!
Warm potato salad with chives and piles of lettuce with liberal lashings of mustard salad dressing
Delicious saucisson with a bit of a kick, juicy tomatoey marinaded chicken, charred courgette slivers
Juicy barbecued prawn and cod skewers with a buttery basil sauce
Tasty breakfasts (some healthier than others!)
Is there much in this life better than a wodge of gooey brie and couple of tomatoes shoved into a chunk of baguette? Biting into it and letting the juices from the tomatoes run down your chin? I think not.
Peppy espresso served with little sweets
Treats from the local boulangerie
Lakeside picnics following a refreshing swim
What do you do when you have a stale baguette to use up and a heap of very ripe tomatoes? Make a tomato sauce, slather it all over the bread, top with ham and generous amounts of camembert (perhaps I was a little too generous, this was pretty filthy! Sooooo good though!) and grill! Et voila! A French bread pizza!
Moreishly plump pungent olives from the local market
Late afternoon sunlounger snacks
Barbecued burgers on toasted buns with grilled tomatoes and yes, more camembert (spotting a pattern here?)
Rich and luxurious chocolate to accompany evening card games. This year’s favourite was Cote D’or’s dark chocolate with caramelised pistachios. Seriously good.
Field upon field of sunny sunflowers. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to look at a field of sunflowers and not smile.
Eeeeep! It’s been rather a while since I’ve written a post on here! In my defence, I’ve been rather busy finishing up at one job, spending two weeks in France watching boys on bikes and eating oodles of cheese and bread (more on that shortly), and then starting a new job! So the last month or so has been a bit of a whirlwind to say the least! But I’m back now! And ready to talk about France!
France has long held a special place in my heart, ever since our annual camping trips as kids to grown up holidays in rural gites and city breaks in Paris. The food, of course, plays a significant part in this, but so too do many other things. One of the other many things I love about France is Le Tour, La Grande Boucle, the greatest and most difficult sporting endurance event known to man. Boys on bikes. Brilliant scenery. And a whole country gripped with velo fever for three whole weeks, every year. What’s not to like?! (Some of said boys on bikes are rather pleasant on the eye too, it must be said 😉 ). This year, for the first time, the OH and I were going to be watching a stage of the tour in France at the side of the road as opposed to on the TV in our living room! We had been planning this for a whole year and were beyond excited by the time the trip came around.
We had hired a campervan in Lyon and a after a few days in an Alpine campsite, we headed further into the mountains in order to stake our place on the side of the infamous Alp d’Huez with its 21 hairpin bends and vast backstory of cycling history. And this year, to mark the 100th edition of Le Tour, the riders were to climb the mountain twice. In one day. This was definitely the stage to watch! As the stage was expected to draw several thousand fans, we ensured that we arrived a few days before to guarantee a spot – and we only just managed, bagging one of the very last spaces!
The drive to the mountains!
We were parked up between hairpin four and three (number one being nearest the top), around 4km from the summit. Each morning, before it got too hot, we would walk up to the top, to the little town. Here we were greeted with ever increasing spectacular views as well as some tasty patisserie and espresso for our efforts.
On the morning of the actual stage, the owner of said boulangerie loaded up the boot of her car and drove slowly down the mountain selling freshly baked – still warm – pain and croissants to the (rather damp – the day started off rather wet!) campers. For next to nothing. At home here in the UK, vendors would take advantage of that situation no end and hike prices sky high. Another reason to love France. Freshly baked warm bread in the morning is a basic need not to be messed with! 🙂
After our morning walk in the days leading up to the stage, we would spend most of the rest of the day sitting outside our campervan watching the world go by. And there was so much to see! As well as the hordes of serious lycra-clad cyclists taking their own go at the legendary ascent, there were plenty of novelty acts to watch pass by, not to mention the increasing numbers of team cars and busses in the day before the stage – very exciting!
The atmosphere was brilliant and incredibly international, it was like being at one giant party all week. I even grew to embrace the Europop being blasted out of neighbouring campervans. It was great to see people from all over the world united by their love for cycling. On the day of the stage itself, everyone cheered on every single person that cycled past them, regardless of nationality or team. These guys are all heroes and it felt like an honour to watch them pass so close by!
One of my favourite moments was when the little girl who had been camped opposite us with her grandparents went running inside to grab her dolly so that she could watch it too!
I will refrain from posting too many cycling photos, but here’s just a handful!
Tejay van Garderen leading the way!
Thomas Voeckler (one of my all-times faves!) and Pierre Rolland
Richie Porte, Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana
Jens Voigt (possibly the tour’s most popular cyclist?!)
All in all, it was a spectacular and incredibly memorable experience – I really hope we can do it again!
It was my lovely other half’s birthday recently and to celebrate we decided to try out a restaurant which had recently opened in Manchester. To be honest, there are so man great places to eat at on our doorstep in Chorlton, it’s difficult to find the motivation to go into the city centre much these days, but this restaurant held a certain allure.
Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte is based on its Parisian original and serves just one thing – steak frites! Great I hear you say, I love steak frites! Well, we certainly do. Even better however is you get it twice! Well, technically you get half your steak and half your portion of frites, then as you finish that, the clever waitresses brings you the other half so that it doesn’t get cold and remains at optimum temperature the whole time you’re eating – this sounded genius to us so we thought we’d better schelp ourselves along to the tram for a wee trip into town to test it out for ourselves.
I liked the fact that there was no big menu to peruse over, for a Friday night after a very long and busy week, coupled with my usual menu indecisiveness (I must admit I usually need the pressure of the waiter/waitress standing over me to make a decision – it all just sounds so good! ) this was very welcome. We started with some very nice red wine
The set menu included a walnut salad with mustard vinaigrette served with crusty baguette for starters. Simple yet delicious.
The steak came with the restaurant’s own special ‘secret recipe’ sauce. To be honest, the sauce was nice enough but I didn’t find it massively flavoursome… maybe I’m just too much of a stickler for a full-strength peppercorn sauce! Here comes the first portion… pretty generous size huh? Remember this is only the first half!
The frites were just as good frites should be – perfectly crispy, golden and crunchy on the outside, soft and warm on the inside. The steak was good. But, I’m sorry to say, not amazing. And I can’t help but think that if all you’re going to serve is steak frites, your steak should kinda be amazing… (it wasn’t a patch on Gaucho’s for example, but that’s another story…) Still, it was steak frites, and how could that not make you happy?
There was a small selection of deserts to choose from, true to form I spent some time deliberating between the tartelettes au citron and the creme brulee. (This just gives extra time for the steak to go down and leave more ample space for desert!) Creme brulee is probably my all-time favourite desert in the world. Ever. But I find it’s dangerous to order outside of France – too often disappointing. Therefore I swung toward the tart with the proviso that the birthday boy would order the creme brulee and that we would have tastes. In the end I was glad I had chosen the tartelettes au citron – the lemon was really tart and zingy and the pastry was absolutely perfect – no soggy bottoms here! The creme brulee on the other hand was tasty but a little anaemic in my opinion… not a thick enough layer of caramelised sugar on top for my liking – it failed the spoon tap test – nor was the rest of it set enough.
All in all, this was a nice meal and I’d say Le Relais de Venise is a good place to go if you fancy something a little different. Seeing as we were in town, we decided it would be rude not to finish the evening with some birthday cocktails!