So last week I went to France. And after a week back at work i’m feeling rather morose. So I decided to write about it.
Our trip began in Toulouse. It struck me as a grand city, which takes its vibrant food culture seriously. They care and celebrate the amazing produce they use, and really it’s an attitude we in the UK could take some inspiration from. The markets sprawl through main roads, sheltered market halls and ‘très European’ squares. The produce itself ranges from local cheese and wine, charcuterie and meat vendors (lots of fois gras), fruit and veg and endless amounts of fish. In fact, plenty of ‘firsts’ were tried here, from mountain cheese, honey straight from the honeycomb and snails.
You could spend days here planning out endless meals, nosing through stalls and people watching. The vibrancy and eccentricity is infectious. But there is a moral to the story. Not having our own kitchen here was frustrating. OK, I suppose moral is too grandiose. But it certainly is advise. And this frustration is exaggerated if you have any dietary requirements. The menus are meat orientated in the small bistros (often revolving around foie gras), and often selective. This is usually something I rate, and I do, but it’s no meat//fish//veg options. It’s a duck//foie gras//lamb type arrangement. So you might be just doing a bit more leg work. That’s all.
But onwards to Montpelier we went. Here the food tourism shifted from trawling through markets to inspecting the pocket-sized bars, tapas-eries (yeh that’s a word) and bistros that trickle through the vein-like back streets in the centre.The achingly cool places pepper each corner of the maze streets, which made making a decision that little bit harder. And the diet visibly changed to a more even balance between meat, fish and vegetarian. These were complimented by the large, clean, pedestrianised areas right in the centre.
We settled with Comptoir Saint Paul for our first meal, situated in the old town, behind St Roche church. The simple and seasonal 3/3/3 menu was initially a good sign. (That, and the beautiful rustic courtyard setting and quiet panic preparation for the busy service ahead.) Busy is good. Not only was each course here pretty tasty, but it was also very… unique. The tuna tartar was one of the nicest things I ate the whole holiday, it really was amazing, well balanced and tuna that just melted in your mouth. The presentation is where the confusion lay. I wouldn’t even know where to start to find a square clear soup bowl with equally dated plates, but it was the balsamic glaze – underneath– the bowl of asparagus soup that really made it. And the idea of just using the same giant purees for each main, and excessive garnish was almost homely. All very charming and forgivable. The wine was also local and delicious. Montpelier is definitely one to visit, and if you’re in the area, try out this place.
– The view from our table –
So finally Sète. We loved having a kitchen in here, but given the array of restaurants selling fish along the harbourside combined with the temperamental nature of the markets, it wouldn’t matter either way. But try to stay somewhere with a view. The sea is gorgeous and clear, and waking up to this oh-so-dreamy view really made the stay. That and the patisserie…
THE harbourside. Right next to our amazing apartment.
Dodgy photo, but great place. Air b n b at it’s best.
So how did we make the most of the local/seasonal food?
- Bread from next door, poached eggs and asparagus.
- Whole boiled globe artichoke, vinaigrette
- Tuna steak, roast potatoes & tomato salad
- Loup de mer stuffed with lemon & spring vegetables in white wine/butter sauce.
- Spaghetti vongole
- Lots of cheese wine and bread
- (+ one dinner out at the coolest little fish monger come restaurant, Chez Francois – complete with oyster shucker stall operating all evening) (Side note, cool little place, but the food was actually pretty average… #sorrynotsorry)
Loup de mer
Oyster shucking stand.
So cheers to me having a great holiday with a glass of Louis Roederer I guess.