Nov 292013
 

I love France!

I’ve loved the French language since the first day we started learning it at school, rising from our seats when our French teacher entered the class room and settling back down on her crisp “asseyez-vous”. Born with a handy ability to mimic accents and blessed with a French teacher who was actually French, I found that speaking French came easily to me and I adored it. Indeed, I went on to study it at sixth form and university. My French is rustier these days, though still good enough for a rambling conversation with a rambunctious Frenchman and certainly sufficient to handle most situations that come up on holiday.

I quickly came to love both the food and the country too, following my first two visits as a child – a school trip to Boulogne and a family weekend in Paris (during which my dad couldn’t quite wrap his head around my lack of fluency after just a few months learning!)

At sixth form, I was so excited to take part in a language exchange programme but it nearly didn’t happen; my assigned partner dropped out less than a week ahead of the trip but to my enormous good fortune, another girl who’d originally not applied had just asked if she could participate; we were asked if we’d like to pair up, solemnly warned that we may have nothing in common as we’d not been matched on our interests. Serendipity stepped in and we bonded strongly, perhaps the best of all the pairs on the trip. Even today, over 25 years later, I still consider her entire family ma famille en France and feel sad that we’ve not caught up in person for a few years now. We have visited many times in the intervening years; she came to my wedding, I was proud to attend hers and I love receiving the news of her little ones every year.

Between sixth form and university my best friend and I both worked as jeunes filles au pairs in France. My family lived in a tiny rural village West of Paris and hers were out in the farthest Northern suburbs of Paris. We met in the city every weekend, where we delighted in trawling the sprawling Puces de Saint-Ouen (flea markets), finding cheap-as-frites prix fixe menus offering classic French cuisine, wandering around the tourist sights of Paris and popping in to the ever-present McDo for an affordable chocolat chaud to defrost winter-frozen fingers. Often, we unexpectedly found ourselves at the end of one or another metro line, having become so engrossed in our latest conversation that we missed our intended stop.

For a few years, I went back to Paris regularly, organising weekend trips with friends, my sister and with Pete; acting as tour guide to the main sights, finding cheap eats and being the mouth piece for all interactions.

But then Pete and I discovered the joys of taking our car across on the ferry, and later, through the tunnel. The freedom to drive where we fancied, staying overnight in modest little auberges or grand châteaux, was a joy and we developed a particular fondness for the Loire region, which we’ve visited many times. Whether it’s a gentle meander around a quaint traditional village, shopping for bread, cheese, fruit and cold meats in a bustling market and then enjoying them as a picnic lunch overlooking a serene bucolic landscape, visiting and buying direct from vineyards, admiring another impressive castle or lingering over so many magnificently tasty meals in all manner of restaurants across the country.

Always, before coming home, we fill the car boot with an enormous bounty of food and drink. Wine, of course, and sweet cidre for me and then cheese, pâté, salad dressings, chocolate, biscuits and so many other little treats and snacks we liked the look of.

These days, with so many exciting places to visit, we don’t get to France quite as often as we used to, though we still try to go at least once every couple of years. So we do miss our French treats.

Step in Bonjour French Food, who got in touch recently asking if I’d like to try their brand new service in which they send a selection of French treats directly to your UK address. The cost is £31 per box, including delivery and that drops to £29 per box if you subscribe for 3 or 6 months.

BonjourFrenchFood-october-box
I’ve used a website photo, as I accidentally deleted the ones I took at home. It is wholly representative.

The October box included

  • Marlette (organic) fondant au chocolat baking mix
  • Michel et Augustin petits sablés ronds et bons
  • Maison Papillon terrine de magret de canard with miel des Cévennes
  • Ducs de Gascogne tomato and sweet pepper spread with anchovy and garlic
  • Ducs de Gascogne wild boar terrine, hazelnut and tangerine
  • Tonton La Rondelle pepper-coated saucisson

Without a doubt, all the products are typically French and have clearly been chosen for their quality of taste and ingredients.

A little help from Google tells me that the selection above would retail for just over 27 Euros in France (without any postage included), which comes to a little under £23. Add on a little for packaging and postage across to the UK, not to mention the informative product information leaflet enclosed, and the £31/ £29 price point is actually quite reasonable; it’s a pretty heavy box.

On the downside, the selection of products seems a little random. There’s no theme to each box, nor can I envisage the products combining very well if served together. Instead, it’s a rather arbitrary collection. Whilst that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the various items – particularly the Marlette chocolate fondant baking mix – it does make me question the appeal of subscribing to this service in lieu of visiting an online shop which allows me to assemble my own choice from an attractive product list, according to my personal tastes. Customers could even be given a choice between basic cardboard boxes or more expensive wicker or wooden ones. Delivery fees could be based either on weight or order value.

Of course, the advantage of a pre-arranged box is when ordering either as a gift, especially if you’d struggle to choose individual products for the recipient yourself. It’s a lovely way to share a love of France with friends and family, or buy a treat for someone you know already feels the same way.

 

Kavey Eats received a review box from Bonjour French Food.

 

Somewhat galetted and creped out, Pete and I decided to treat ourselves to a resolutely foodie lunch on our last full day in France. Finding ourselves in Vannes late that morning, I checked both my (Eyewitness) guide book and the printed recommendations I’d garnered online and found they both converged in an enthusiastic recommendation of Table des Gourmets. Having phoned to check they were open for lunch, we duly enjoyed an amble through the beautiful streets of the old town, pausing in two chocolate shops and a covered food market, as you do!

Vannes

But when we finally made our way to the address (6 Rue Alexandre-le-Pontois), directly opposite the beautiful old ramparts of Vannes, we realised that a new restaurant had taken the place of Table des Gourmets. It hadn’t occured to me to verify the restaurant’s name when I’d called – I’d asked only whether they were open and if they had both a la carte and fixed price menus available.

But the menus posted outside Les Remparts looked appealing and the welcome was warm so we decided to let fate guide us. We were quickly seated inside by the window.

Lacey net curtains obscured the view out, which is a shame, given the location just across the road from the Château d l’Hermine and the beautiful formal gardens infront of it (laid out in the former moat). They also concealed the more mundane sight of constant traffic, so not entirely without merit!

The interior successfully balanced a traditional décor with a clean, modern finish. Dark panels on the lower walls and dark, bare wooden tables on a tiled floor were lifted by buttery yellow paint on the upper walls and lots of natural light. Walls were adorned with a few simple artworks and hanging blackboards listing specials, set menus and wine lists.

Menus

With our menu we were bought a pot of soft white fish meat with a basket of little toasts. Fresh, light, moist fish delicately flavoured with fresh green herbs, it was a lovely start.

M Bertrand – the owner of Les Remparts

As I more commonly go for seafood than fish, I was unfamiliar with many of the French names for fish but the waiter was happy to describe them to me (in French) along with their preparation. Pete had an easier choice, as he didn’t feel like fish (in which the restaurant specialises). As well as the a la carte menu we could also have chosen from a lunchtime menu, a daily suggestions board and a special set menu.

I went for the set Menu Gourmand at 36 € for starter, main, cheese and dessert. Pete ordered a starter and main from the standard menu; we decided to share the cheese and dessert from mine.

Bread and “the” butter!

Orders taken, we were served a basket of fresh white bread and a pat of butter, perched on a large pebble. And oh, that butter! The waiter (who by then, we’d discovered was also the owner, Bertrand Séjourné) saw our delighted expressions and nodded sagely as he explained it was a local butter and that Brittany excels in producing high quality dairy. On the evidence of this butter alone, I was willing to concede superiority on behalf of the rest of the dairy producing world!

Foie gras mi-cuit

We both started with the Foie gras de canard mi-cuit, chutney carottes & dattes. We adore foie gras mi-cuit and the slabs we were served did not disappoint; buttery-rich, velvety-smooth and utterly self-indulgent.

St Pierre (John Dory)

The main on my Menu Gourmand was St Pierre smackée, blettes & aperges, marmalade de champignons. The John Dory was simply and perfectly cooked. The vegetables were flavoursome though, as is the French style, cooked softer than would be common in London restaurants. (And it’s we Brits with a reputation for boiling our vegetables to death!) The mushroom marmalade, which I’d describe as duxelles, was packed with earthy funghi flavours. I enjoyed this all the more because of it’s rarity for me – I most commonly order meat or seafood over fish, when given the choice. No bad thing for me to be channelled into a bit of a change as I really enjoyed it.

Chicken

Pete chose Blanc de volaille laqué, légumes croquants, émulsion d’herbes which was so much punchier than it’s description suggests. The chicken meat was very moist and tender and most wonderfully flavoured with a red marinade on th meat and a green herb oil alongside. The vegetables were cut thinly, lightly cooked and balanced the dish well.

I’m afraid I neither took a photo nor notes on the cheese plate, though we did enjoy it. Only one of the cheeses was relatively local (from within the province but not the department). Given the high volumes of dairy production, I expressed surprise that Brittany doesn’t have the plethora of local cheeses common to most regions of France.

Gratin de fruits rouges

The Menu Gourmand allowed me to choose our dessert from either the specials board or the main menu. I opted for Gratin de fruits rouges which was a fantastic choice. Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and cherries were all the best of their class – fresh, ripe and oozing berry goodness. These were blanketed in a light, sweet sabayon with gratinated sugar. Though the fruits had a wonderful natural sweetness the fruit and sabayon combination was irresistable!

During and after our meal we chatted to M Bertrand about our visit, about our difficulty in finding small local artisan food and drink producers open to visits from tourists and about many things food!

The wine menu

He also told us very proudly about his wine list, virtually all organic and certainly all produced using natural methods. “Des vins d’auteur”, he called them, and then, in English, “wines with soul”. This, as well as the provenance of his ingredients (something I’d have liked to discuss with him in more detail) is clearly something he is passionate about.

Bill paid, we continued on our way (to the impressive standing stones of Carnac), having been able to give just the briefest of greetings to the female chef who ventured shyly out of the kitchen once the lunchtime service had ended.

Our chance find had been a serendipitous one – this self-styled Restaurant & Bistrot à vins had delivered good quality ingredients simply and deftly prepared – certainly our best meal of the week.

Jun 252009
 

I am a travel snob, I admit it.

I adore France but, in most of our many trips there over the years, I have avoided Brittany; put off by it’s reputation as the Chianti of France – Brittanyshire, as it were. Instead I’ve spent many, many happy trips exploring regions including Limousin, Poitou-Charentes, Champagne, Picardie, Burgundy (Bourgogne), Aquitaine, Auvergne and, my favourites, Centre & Pays de La Loire. And of course, Paris, but I that’s almost a separate country, isn’t it? ;) These regions are by no means undiscovered by us canny Brits but we haven’ t reached critical mass and I’ve encountered and interacted predominantly with French people. And that’s the crux of my snobbiness; I don’t just visit France for nice weather and good food (though the latter is, of course, rather important to a glutton like me) but for France itself – it’s people and their culture/ way of life.

So when a friend invited Pete and I to spend a week staying with her (and a few other friends) in her parents’ holiday home in a tiny hamlet near La Roche Bernard in Morbihan, on the southern coast of Brittany, I confess that I hesitated a few seconds before overcoming my prejudiced snobbiness and shouting out a loud “Yes, please!”

Macarons on sale in Guerande shop window


And, as you could no doubt have predicted, we had a marvellous time! I can’t say Brittany equalled my very favourite areas (thus far) but it did offer a charming holiday base and we enjoyed a wonderfully relaxing week. And it wasn’t overrun with “us lot” either!

As we took our own car and crossed via the Eurotunnel, I booked an overnight at the lovely Chateau de Monhoudou on our way down to Brittany. We were upgraded to a beautiful blue room with two bathrooms (one with jacuzzi bath and big window out over the grounds and the other a tiled wetroom shower in the corner turret). We ate dinner in the chateau that night – all very pleasant but the one dish that blew me away was the Vicomtesse’s h0me-made walnut tart with rum. She kindly shared her recipe and I’ll be blogging it here in due course!

Chateau de Monhoudou

Food wise we cooked several evenings meals in the house. We had a great BBQ on the patio on which we cooked fresh fish, meat and veg from local markets and supermarkets. Fresh sardines were fabulous, so too were the wonderful merguez sausages we couldn’t resist having more than once plus various burgers and chops. Courgettes and peppers were lovely on the BBQ too. We also did meals such as a French chicken, mushroom, shallots, creme fraiche and beer casserole type thing and a roast beef dinner too. Oh and lots of baking – one of the guys is also into his baking so between us we made cookies, cakes and macaroons not to mention vast quantities of banoffee (and a little appoffee variation). I also gorged on beautifully ripe pêches plates (flat peaches). Oh and we bought lots of cheese which we enjoyed during each meal in the house, though I was surprised at how little cheese is produced locally given their fantastic dairy herds. One cheese I’d not had before but really liked was Normanville, made in the Pays d’Auge area of Normandy.



Piriac market



Market in La Roche-Bernard


We also ate a few meals out during the week. Pete and I each had a savoury galette at Hotel Crêperie Roc Maria in Guerande before heading to Le Croisic for a dessert crêpe at Crêperie Le Relais Du Duc De L’Aiguillon (who, according to their menu, use only organic flour for their crêpes/ galettes). Our dessert choices here were particularly good – mine filled with cooked banana and a rich dark chocolate sauce and Pete’s with a lemon cream. All 6 of us had savoury and sweet options at a creperie in La Roche Bernard though I won’t name that one – the two of us who picked the (tasty) galettes with boudin noir and pommes caramelise had severe stomach upsets that afternoon/ evening and one of the others had a milder upset too.

Crêperie goodness (in Geurande and Le Croisic)


All 6 of us enjoyed a pleasant meal at a restaurant I thought was called La Panoramique but which the receipt lists as Le Relais de La Roche. It’s situated by the tall bridge across from from La Roche Bernard and enjoys stunning views down over the harbour full of moored yachts, the cafes and restaurants on the harbourside, the rocks that give the town it’s name and the beautiful green countryside. Although we had a charming evening I’d rate the restaurant as good rather than excellent. My starter langoustines were overcooked resulting in overly mushy meat. The tagliatelle served with my scallop and prawn main was also very overcooked though the scallops themselves were superb. And my baked alaska (called a norwegian omelette) was so-so. Steaks enjoyed by some of the group were good but a chocolate mousse was too grainy in texture, though the taste was fine. Service was friendly and prices reasonable, at approximately 30 Euros per head.


Le Relais de La Roche


My friend’s parents had left a list of recommended restaurants, one of which was described as a pork specialist providing large portions of tasty food, popular with locals and white van drivers – and with a name like Chez Monsieur Cochon we couldn’t resist! We headed over to nearby Herbignac and, by the time we came back, we could hardly move! With most starters priced at 5 Euros and most mains at 10 Euros (with a small selection of dishes priced at roughly double) the enormous and tasty dishes here are certainly fantastic value. A number of us had the Salade Berger which consisted of chicken livers braised in red wine, lardons and salad. Others went for the leek and lardon tart – a generous slice served with salad. And the other starter ordered was a huge salad topped with goat’s cheese topped with honey and sitting on toasts. All three of these dishes were plenty large enough to be eaten on their own for lunch and were, frankly, way too big for starters! For mains we had grilled ham, an artisanal sausage with mash and marinaded belly pork. Again, portions were huge. The belly pork was delicious, cooked until the meat was beautifully soft and basted in a flavoursome marinade but two out of three of us who ordered it didn’t come close to clearing our plates. Not one of us had space for dessert though our waitress assured us that many customers do indeed manage a starter, main and dessert each! The main grill on which many of the meats are cooked opens into the restaurant so diners can watch the chef at work, if they wish. Our bill came to less than 20 Euros a head, though we didn’t have many drinks between us. One nice touch I noted was when one of our party ordered a bottle of red wine, a Cahors which was listed among 3 “house” reds priced at 10 Euros a bottle. Our waitress explained that they were out of this wine but instead of referring back to the other two house reds, offered another more expensive Cahors from the main wine menu for the same price as the house version. In the end, this place impressed me for a number of reasons: great food at great prices, genuinely friendly and helpful service with great customer service and an interesting range of pork dishes (plus a few non-pork dishes as well). It serves as a nice balance to the more refined side of French cuisine that can sometimes garner most the attention.

Pete and I ventured out exploring a little more than the rest of the gang and hence we found ourselves in Vannes for lunch one day. One particular restaurant, La Table des Gourmets, listed in the my guide book was backed up with a strong recommendation from a fellow member of an online travel board who’d shared a review of a fine meal she and her husband had enjoyed there. Unfortunately, when we got to the address provided we found a new restaurant in it’s place, Restaurant Les Remparts. The menu looked good so we decided to give it a try anyway. As well as enjoying a delicious, beautifully presented meal, we also chatted to the owner who was performing a front of house role. I’ll be posting a review of the restaurant in a separate blog post, soon.

One aspect of our visit that I did find disappointing was the lack of small, local food and drink producers open for visits, tastings and direct purchase. I was met with puzzled surprise at the three tourist offices where I asked for help on this, though one kind lady did invest some considerable time in searching (pretty unsuccessfully) for possibilities. What’s more, it was clear that this was not a request they encountered regularly, if at all. Although I quickly became aware that there are few local cheese producers, I had expected to be able to find and visit makers of Breton cider, chouchenn (a mead-like drink, based on cider), salted caramel and salted caramel sweets, local speciality cakes and biscuits… But unlike other regions in France, such producers neither open their doors on an individual basis, nor have they organised together to offer food and drink tourist routes or lists. Infact, the only such producers we came across were those selling their wares in Rochefort-sur-Terre, which was home to an impressive range of artisans selling hand-made woven baskets and bags, decorative wooden bellows, Breton cakes and biscuits, candles and paintings. We also enjoyed the opportunity to taste and buy local honeys at La Maison de l’Abeilles (the house of bees) in La Roche Bernard.

Rochefort-sur-Terre


Luckily, I still get a kick from shopping in French supermarkets and brought home such diverse goodies as basil-flavoured oil, salted caramel sweets, brioche and madeleines, flour, blackberry cream liqueur, chouchenn, sweet Breton cider, dry bubbly for my sister and some Port for my cooking ingredients cupboard, biscuits like jaffa cakes but filled with raspberry instead of orange jelly, orange tic-tacs (why do we only sell orange mixed with lime in the UK?) and a box of Mon Cheri chocolates for naughty me! With all of that and a few boxes of wine not to mention four peoples’ luggage, our poor car was very heavily laden for the voyage home indeed!

I’ll be running a competition to win a jar of Breton salted caramel sweets in a few weeks so do subscribe to my blog feed to make sure you don’t miss your chance to win!

© 2006 - 2014 Kavita Favelle Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha