Quote of the day: ‘I haven't got a waist. I've just got a sort of place, a bit like an unmarked level crossing.’ - Victoria Wood
A weekend of contrasts.
Yesterday, was pouring with rain. A gloomy, slow day with much lounging about reclining. After spending four hours on Wednesday sitting on a hard chair singing, and the following day sitting having my hair cut and coloured for almost as long, it felt like I had been severely kicked in the back. Hence, yesterday I spent most of it lying down, doing absolutely bugger all.
It was my birthday yesterday as well. Earth Day too. But the amount of rain that pissed from the sky precluded any kind of earth involvement.
At 19h00, we made our way ‘out, out’. Collecting Lovely Friends en route, we ended up at a local restaurant I had wanted to try for a while.
‘La Table de l’Europe’ in Villereal was relatively recently taken over and refurbished from top to toe.
It’s been given a comprehensive makeover which in fairness it desperately needed. The last time I was in there, it was more than shabby and threadbare. Now it is decorated with chic, very dark navy and gold wallpaper, punctuated with burnt orange coloured, comfortable chairs.
The menus are substantial and thick - not a trace of grubby stickiness - and they offer an interesting and different selection of food to the usual fare that abounds.
All four of us opted for the seven course, tasting menu and we weren’t disappointed. Each tiny offering, beautifully presented and flavoursome, was presented with a gratifying amount of theatre.
Perhaps the close running second prize should go to the final one. A dessert in the form of a golden coated, chocolate skinned ball, about the size of a medium lemon, filled with a semifreddo of hazelnut mousse, containing a centre of molten chocolate and hazelnuts. Really good too.
The best course of the seven, the three carnivores all agreed, was the pan fried quail breasts with a mushroom sauce and buttery, thick asparagus. Fabulous.
Add to that some Champagne and a splendid Cahors ‘Malbec’. What could be better? Lucky it only happens infrequently financially though.
Back to Lovely Friends afterwards for yet more wine and suffice to say we had a very late night indeed.
Wonderful. I loved it.
Today however, is the first ‘Repas de Chasse’ (Hunt Meal) for over three years. With Covid, everything was put on hold, but today it is back to normal and another eight course meal is on offer.
There’s no doubt at all that Simon and I were a little delicate during the morning. We could have both cheerfully cancelled at the drop of a hat. The thought of having to speak social French, most likely with some strangers, was in itself perhaps enough of a significant challenge. Some things have to be done though, so out we venture, checking in at the local village hall, where two long lines of trestle tables have been set out for the occasion to seat the 100 or so meal goers. As is the usual French custom, everyone takes their own ‘covers’ of plates, bowls, glasses and cutlery so there is not the tedium of arduous washing up in great numbers to do afterwards.
For the princely total sum of 20 euros each, we start with ’une bicyclette’ (a bicycle: to get you on the road); an aperitif made from sparkling rosé wine, lemonade and a hearty splash of eau de vie, the local distilled tipple made from prunes which literally translates as ’water of life’. The recipe seems to change every year according to what is available, or who is making it.
Inevitably, paper plates of crisps and cured dried sausage are handed out to accompany the apéros.
All meat served throughout the meal is local of course, and washed down with what seems to be bottomless quantities of locally made rosé or red wine.
’Bicyclettes’ taste innocuous. Only when you are on you second or third glass of the moreish, sweet mixture do you begin to feel its effects. By that time, the fact I am on the end of our little English speaking group, sitting next to a very gallant Frenchman doesn’t seem to matter anymore. We lock into conversation and happily discuss Brexit, the English, the French, the inability of many French to speak English (indeed, why the very devil should they? It‘s France FFS), countryside, food, wine. You name it, we seem to cover it, with smiles and good humour.
It is events like this, that encompass the utter essence of rural France and where we live, that I truly love. I hadn’t realised quite how much I had missed these interactions since the start of that bloody virus. Indeed, far from groaning inwardly at the anticipation of having to speak French, I find that today I really enjoy it, scraping things from the depths in the inner recesses of my French language memory, relishing with relief the ability to be able to do so.
The menu is comprehensively paysan (peasant). Good honest, tasty food starting with a hearty white bean soup, bursting with lardons, potatoes and bread, all doused in the most delicious, evidently homemade, proper chicken stock.
Three times the soup tureens are brought round. Three times we all say ‘yes, please’.
My new French friend beside me tells me his friend Michel made the soup. Congratulations sir, on a splendid creation. We all succumb to the French way of sloshing red wine into our empty soup bowls, lifting the bowls to our mouths and supping the liquor without a spoon. There’s a name for it: faire chabrot or faire chabrol. I haven’t a clue what it translates as.
Everyone does it and no one bats an eyelid. They probably would if you didn’t do it.
Next up, a platter of charcuterie including venison terrine, with additional thin sliced dried wild boar ‘ham’, and dried wild boar sausages. My French neighbour for the meal, tells me he made the terrine. A full 30 kilogrammes of it. Very good it was too.
To cleanse the palate slightly, vast trays of rémoulade appear next - grated carrot and celeriac with a mustardy, mayonnaise-like dressing.
Onto a rich, meaty stew although I’m not sure whether it is a mixture of meats or simply something in the venison line. ‘Seconds’ offered of course.
Then the ‘grillade’ - grilled or roasted venison which is as tender and tasty as spring lamb - garnished with large quantities of cubed, sautéed, garlicky potatoes.
Anyone for ‘seconds’? Bien sur!
As it’s France, the cheese is served before the dessert: big slabs of creamy, ripe Brie with a perfectly dressed green salad.
On next to the dessert: more huge trays appear, this time containing apple tart.
And finally, two local prunes soaked in yet more eau de vie, with strong, bitter coffee to wash them down.
What‘s not to like?
Two wonderful meals with friends, yet two meals that could not be more contrasting. Both fantastic in their own albeit very different ways.
My poor waistline.