A touch of spring in autumnal Daglan

We are just back from a vacation in Milan (you know, the big city in northern Italy), about which I’ll be blogging in due course. But first, a note on the weather here in Daglan, and a colourful surprise.

Apparently the weather has been pretty miserable here since we were away. Gray, rainy and cool sum up most of our friends’ comments on the weather.

But today was simply lovely — bright and sunny and warm — and so I decided to take a stroll with my shiny new Nordic walking poles.

Not very far from my starting point, I was surprised to find some bursts of colour in the front lawn of another house. And here’s what I saw:

Are these what I think they are?

Now I’m no expert on flowers, but these sure looked like crocuses to me. And I thought crocuses popped up only in the spring. Does anyone have a better idea?

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Posted in Exercise and fitness, Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A fitting lunch for a birthday girl

What do you get for a birthday girl who has almost everything — things like beauty, charm, humour and intelligence?

Well, the birthday of my wife Jan was a couple of days ago {Thursday), and we realized that one of the few things she was lacking was a lunch at the Michelin-starred Le Grand Bleu in Sarlat. So off we went.

For extra birthday fun, we were joined by long-time Contrada friends from Toronto, Rob and Darlene, who are staying with us, and Daglan friends Richard and Rosemary.

In a rare show of unanimity, we all began lunch with a kir, and then ordered the special “bistro” lunch menu, at just 25 euros. This is an incredibly low price for a restaurant of such quality, and the goodies included a nice selection of amuse-bouches to begin.

Then came the entrée, which was a generous slice of terrine with a variety of accompaniments, plus freshly baked rolls. Here’s my plate:

Finely minced cornichons among the accompaniments.

The main course was merlu (hake), which was not only perfectly cooked but served with a variety of interesting extra touches, from a glazed strip of beet to baby carrots to several sauces and foams. Here’s my plate, before I attacked:

The fish was delish.

Dessert was this serving of frozen banana soufflé, topped with chocolate and a sliced strawberry. Very nice:

A lovely way to end a lovely lunch.

Along the way, we enjoyed an unusual wine recommended by our hostess, Céline, who had given a subtle shake of the head to my suggestion of a Sancerre.

Instead, she thought that the Vertigo blanc by Mas Amiel in the Languedoc-Roussillon region would be perfect. The wine is predominantly Grenache Blanc, with Maccabeu, Roussanne and Marsanne grapes too. And yes, it went well with all our dishes, from entrée to plat to dessert, and finally to the mignardises that were served with our coffees.

As has become fairly typical, we were the last diners to leave the restaurant. But that gave us a chance to shake hands with the chef, Maxime Lebrun, who was outside the restaurant with a few members of his crew, and to thank him for another wonderful meal.

And by the way, we did celebrate further in the evening, at the home of good friends Elisabeth and Gerhard, who were kind enough to host a bunch of us, and to provide a variety of drinks and goodies, concluding with a giant sparkling candle set on a plate of macarons. So, once again, it was Happy Birthday, Jan!

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Bergerac: A few good reasons (to visit)

The town of Bergerac (remember Cyrano de Bergerac?) lies west of Daglan, and I’ve learned that you can pretty much count on one and a quarter hours for the drive.

So it’s not a place we go on a whim (as we might, say, to Sarlat or Gourdon), but we do get to Bergerac fairly often. If you haven’t been, here are a few good reasons to go, including a new one (for me, anyway).

It’s a transport hub. The Bergerac airport is pretty much the centre of air traffic between the Greater Daglan Area and the U.K. My wife Jan and I flew from there on a recent trip to Southampton, en route to the Isle of Wight. This past Saturday, we drove our friends Joanne and Chris, and their daughter Eleanor, to a hotel in Bergerac where they would spend the night, before flying home on Sunday.

A restaurant we love. Since we knew we’d be in Vieux Bergerac on the Saturday, we made a reservation for lunch at a favourite restaurant, La Table du Marché. (See Helpful Note to Readers at the end of this posting.) There are other fine restaurants in the area, but we particularly like this one. Here’s how I described it in an earlier posting:

La Table du Marché is a relatively small restaurant, just across the street from the covered market (hence the marché) in the centre of vieux Bergerac. The style is contemporary, but comfortable. The chef and owner is a Parisian, Stéphane Cuzin, who learned his craft at starred restaurants in France and Belgium — and learned it very well. His food is clever, creative, fresh, and delicious.

It’s so good that on August 29 of last year, I posted “A chef who keeps upping his game,” to highlight just how inventive the chef is. This past Saturday, a lunch highlight for me was the main course of Cochon Ibérico, which I chose from the à la carte menu for 28 euros, and thought it was worth every centime. It was perfectly cooked, tender, and flavourful, with a sprinkling of crunchy salt and some nice accompaniments. Here it is:

Perfectly cooked pork, topped with a salty crunch.

A great place to shop. On the outskirts of Bergerac there’s a small plaza which contains, among other things, a specialized supermarket called Grand Frais. This is a food-only place — no laundry detergent, toilet paper, soaps and so on — and its focus is on high quality and a good selection. Here we find things we can’t seem to locate in supermarkets anywhere near us — fresh herbs, lemongrass, crayfish from Louisiana, and so on.

My latest discovery. This past Saturday, after dropping off our friends at their hotel, Jan and I went to the plaza with the Grand Frais store. While Jan was doing a light food shopping, I wandered into this wine shop (perhaps just 75 metres or so from the food store) and was, well, delighted. Here’s a look at the place:

At last — a wide choice of wines!

So, why was I so happy? Because, at last, I’ve found a wine store in the Greater Daglan Area that doesn’t focus on local wines. There were shelves with wines from all parts of France (clearly marked and well organized) and — get this — wines from other countries. Yes, countries that most French wine merchants have never heard of, like Italy and Australia. As you can imagine, Jan and I are planning a major dual-purpose shopping trip, to Grand Frais and the comptoir des vignes.

Helpful Note to Readers. If you haven’t already tried it, consider using the Search box at the right-hand top of this blog. It works very well. For instance, if you enter the words La Table du Marché (with the accent), you will be directed to all the blog postings I’ve written that include reviews, or even brief mentions, of the restaurant. The same goes for any other topic that interests you.

Posted in Food, French food, Holidays in France, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Wine | 4 Comments

The Pizza, the Mayor, and Me

I can’t say that I felt as if I had been transported to Naples, but I did have a pretty good pizza today, along with a handshake and warm welcome from Daglan’s Mayor, Pascal Dussol. Who also happens to be the guy who made the pizza. And is the guy who owns the restaurant.

Often, M. Dussol may be found at his desk in Daglan’s Mairie, or at official functions, like this one:

At this year’s May 8th ceremony.

But in non-official life, he owns a restaurant/pizzeria called L’Eole, which sits just outside the northern boundary of St. Cybranet, the first village north of Daglan. Here’s a look at the front of the restaurant:

At the front of the restaurant.

Today I arrived at about 12:30, and found that I was the only customer to that point. The hostess did look after me quickly and well, and I was soon relaxing with a kir, gazing out at the roadside vegetation. Here’s the view from my table on the large terrace:

Hello? Anybody home?

After my kir, I had a glass of rosé wine along with my choice of pizza, a Valenciana. It was covered with tomato sauce, cheese, slices of chorizo sausage, plus peppers and mushrooms. (I said “no thanks” to the egg that normally would be on top.) The pizza costs just 10 euros, and was fairly large. Here’s my plate:

Meet my egg-less Valenciana.

Eventually a couple arrived to eat on the terrace, and they were obviously good friends of M. Dussol, because he came out of the kitchen, wearing his chef’s apron, to chat with them.

Then he spotted me as I was finishing my lunch, and walked over to shake hands, welcome me, and wonder where my wife Jan was. (I explained that she was in Monpazier, lunching and shopping with friend Joanne.)

All in all, it was a pleasant break, and with the pizza, kir, glass of rosé and a coffee, it came to just 16.50 euros. So I left in a good mood, as I ventured out for some shopping of my own.

Posted in Cafés in France, Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The new British cooking (watch out, France)

You’ve probably moved beyond the stereotypes of British cooking. You realize that not all British food means over-cooked vegetables and grey meat, or fatty sausages topped with brown sauce.

On TV, you’ve probably come across Heston Blumenthal, Jamie Oliver, Tom Aikens, Rick Stein, Tom Kitchin and more. But have you experienced the new British cooking?

My wife Jan and I certainly did, on our recent long-weekend trip to the Isle of Wight. There we had a wonderful Saturday lunch with friends Elisabeth and Gerhard. We were at Thompson’s in the town of Newport, where the chef (and owner) is the youngest chef in the U.K. to have been awarded a Michelin star. (He earned his stars at other restaurants, before opening his own.)

Before we plunge in, let’s see how the U.K. stacks up in the Michelin universe. In the autumn of 2016, France led the way, of course, having 600 restaurants with at least one star (out of a maximum of three stars). Then came Japan with 419, Italy with 333, Germany with 290, and Spain with 174. But the U.K. had a very respectable 163.

So now to get up close and personal with the new British cooking at that restaurant in Newport. Here’s how it looks from the sidewalk:

Modest, but welcoming.

Thompson’s is a comfortable, relaxed kind of place, with an open kitchen. The four of us sat directly in front of Chef and his brigade as they worked:

The four of us sat right in front of the action.

Once we got settled with our apéritifs and reviewed our menus, we decided on the three-course lunch at 29 pounds. The tasting menu, at 49 pounds for the food alone and 79 pounds with wine pairings, looked tempting, but simply seemed like too much food.

Even so, we were given several amuse-bouches before the first entrée arrived. They included several light gougères au fromage, and then this bowl of minced ox tongue and potatoes. It was so good that Elisabeth said she would have been happy with just a larger bowl of the mixture for lunch, with no other dishes. Here’s my bowl:

Our tasty starter. (One of them.)

For my entrée, I ordered a “crispy poached duck egg” (a poached egg, lightly breaded, then deep-fried) over walnut mayonnaise with a scattering of green beans and a walnut vinaigrette. Here’s my dish:

A crispy poached egg? Yep.

Jan loves sardines, and so it was no surprise that she ordered this dish of grilled Cornish sardines:

Cornish sardines? Delish!

Sticking with seafood, for her main course Jan ordered the “day boat plaice cooked on the bone,” and seemed delighted with it. No wonder:

Jan’s cooked-on-the-bone plaice.

Gerhard, Elisabeth and I all ordered the “slow-cooked short rib of beef in treacle and beer,” served with a grilled shallot filled with a braised oxtail mixture, and topped with several crunchy onion rings. The beef was amazingly tender, and completely delicious. Here’s my plate:

For me, the beef was the star of the show.

For dessert, I chose this cherry and almond tart, which had a lovely taste and was topped with a scoop of ice cream (although I found the crust a bit hard and over-baked):

Delicious, but with a too-tough crust.

Jan’s choice, a peach and raspberry sundae, looked like an explosion of summer treats:

An explosion of summery tastes.

So after coffees, we left the restaurant feeling well fed and well cared for.

Now, how would I describe this particular version of modern British cooking? Well, it’s not really fine dining in the three-Michelin-star sense, but certainly it was fine and comforting food, carefully prepared and plated, delicious all around, and using fresh local ingredients wherever possible. Several dishes were clever, without being overly tricky. And the value was quite good, for such quality.

I had just two niggles. I found the shallot that came with the beef a bit dried out and tough; I think I’d substitute something like a wedge of acorn squash to hold the oxtail mixture. And the crust on my tart, as I wrote above, was a tad over-baked and therefore tough.

But this is a fine restaurant led by a very good chef, and I’d love to go back. I’d also recommend that a few chefs in the Greater Daglan Area have a visit, and see what their English counterparts are cooking up these days. They could learn a thing or two.

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Two classics and a contender

If you’ll remember yesterday’s posting (hey, it was only yesterday), you’ll know that my wife Jan and I had left Daglan last Friday. We were spending a three-day weekend with friends Elisabeth and Gerhard, and not incidentally, missing our village’s annual fête, which I call the Festival of Heat and Noise.

Where were we, you may have wondered, and what did we do?

Well, we went by plane to Southampton and then by ferry to the Isle of Wight, had a lot of fun, and consumed some great food and drink. Including a lunch where I enjoyed two British classics and a dessert that could become a classic.

The venue was an informal place on the waterfront of Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, called Three Buoys Restaurant (in TripAdvisor reviews, 74% of the ratings so far say Excellent, and another 18% say Very Good). We sat outside on the deck, overlooking the Solent (that’s the strait that separates the island from mainland England).

My entrée, so to speak, was that classic drink, the gin and tonic. This one was perhaps the best I’ve ever had, featuring the right amount of ice (1.2 metric tonnes), a slice of lemon, some juniper berries, and two great ingredients.

The real key was Monkey 47, a German gin described thusly on the menu: “47 botanicals make for an unrivalled complexity. Crisp with a sweet floral aroma.” To complement it, the restaurant’s knowledgeable and likeable manager recommended Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic, which turned out to be a perfect choice. Here is the first classic:

About as perfect as a G & T can get.

And what is more classic in Britain than fish and chips? I couldn’t think of anything, and so I simply had to have the Three Buoys’ gin-battered fish with lemon-salted chips and a few swirls of pea purée (the modern substitute for mushy peas, I suppose). It looked crisp and fresh and large and delicious, and it was. Here’s my plate:

Gin-battered? I’ll take it!

As for the contender to become a classic, it was the dessert. On one side of the plate, which was scattered with bits of honeycomb, there was a small terrine of chocolate and caramel mousse with fresh raspberries; on the other, a quenelle of rose ice cream. It was all delicious, but the surprising taste treat was the rose ice cream. Nice!

The ice cream was the surprise element.

So that’s it for classic British fare, for now anyway. In my next posting, I’ll review a place on the Isle of Wight where it’s all about being modern.

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Our parade on parade (time-delayed)

Last weekend, my wife Jan and I happened to be away during Daglan’s annual Fête de la Saint-Louis.

Ha! Okay, we didn’t “happen” to be away. We had carefully planned to miss what I call The Festival of Heat and Noise. In fact, we were actually out of the country, at the home of friends Elisabeth and Gerhard. (A good time was had by all, thank you.)

Our trip meant that we weren’t around for the one part of the festival we actually enjoy, which is the Sunday parade.

However, thanks to the miracle of our friend Chris Scott being in the village with not only his family but also a camera, I am able to bring you some highlights from the parade — whose theme was Le Cinema.

We begin with an overview, as the parade starts to enter Daglan, having crossed the Pont Neuf over the River Céou:

Rolling and marching into the village.

Since the theme of the parade was the cinema, it was natural that our village festival would honour that great festival of film which takes place every year on the Riviera:

All dressed up to honour film.

Yes, it was the 69th edition of the Festival de Daglacannes (possibly not the cleverest name, but nice try):

The hosts of the film festival, at work.

French films were honoured in the parade, of course, like the 1962 comedy classic The War of the Buttons (a classic I had never heard of, I confess):

A French favourite.

You don’t have to have an elaborate float to take part in the village parade, of course. Just ask these guys:

Yes, the Blues Brothers.

I’m not sure what film these soldiers represented — Saving Private Ryan? — but they were two handsome guys and they were handing out sausage to the crowd, so what the heck:

Soldiers on parade.

Then there was everyone’s friend Batman, flanked by two of his own friends:

Yep — the Caped Crusader.

Of course the film colossus known as the Star Wars franchise had to play a big part in Daglan’s parade, and it did. Here’s the tractor that was pulling the main Star Wars entry, proclaiming that “On the planet Daglan, the Rebellion is fighting against the Empire and the Siths.” (Who knew?)

La planete Daglan?

And here’s a look at the main float itself, which appears to show how the movie was filmed:

Everyone loves Star Wars!

Everyone has their favourite character or characters in Star Wars, but I suppose Luke Skywalker is an obvious choice:

Smiling as if the Force was indeed with him.

Every movie needs at least one villain, and Darth Vader is probably one of filmdom’s all-time meanest:

What’s that sound of heavy breathing?

Now you’ve certainly heard of the Pirates of the Caribbean series of films, but did you know that our parade featured the Pirates of the Céou? Yes indeed, and featured at the very top was none other than Daglan’s Mayor. Here’s the ship, with its crew:

Yo ho ho!

I confess I have no idea what film this next float was meant to represent, but it’s obvious that the generation of foam was an important element, at least for the sake of the parade. (After this was published, our good friend Dave in Toronto suggested that this float probably referenced the French comedies, Camping 1, Camping 2, and Camping 3, in which Patrick was a main character. I didn’t know the films, but after some digging, I believe that Chief Trader, Dave’s Contrada name, is right on.) Anyway, here it is:

Out comes a river of foam.

Evidently, the river of foam kept right on coming, until the main street was covered with it:

Behold our foam-filled village.

Having your main street covered in foam is, for many, a chance to celebrate. And that’s how I’ll close this posting, with final thanks again to Chris for the photos, and to our spunky little village for throwing itself so enthusiastically into this annual event:

Jumping for joy in all the foam.

Posted in Festivals in France, Life in southwest France, Tourist attractions | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments