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Everything posted by grahamtigg

  1. I think the easy bit in planning such trips is to home in on the multi-starred establishments that (one hopes) form the foundations of a trip. Much harder is filling in the bits in between - the everyday places and the one star, or even better aspiring one star, restaurants. If you opt for the Languedoc (which one could accurately describe as central south) or the extreem southwest then I can certainly help with those bits in between. If you are looking to rent somewhere then do look at www.francevoila.com Graham
  2. On the books front there's Qu'est-ce qu'on mange ce soir ? by Yves Camdeborde, Thierry Faucher (L'Os à Moelle), Thierry Breton, Rodolphe Paquin (Le repaire de Cartouche). It's 100 or so plan ahead meals for the busy Parisian cook, but some of the recipes are from their restaurants. It's in French of course. See http://www.amazon.fr/exec/obidos/ASIN/2830...8574971-6050644
  3. Given the range of items mentioned in this thread I'm surprised that dried ceps, morells, girolles etc. don't appear, especially as they are light and hence ideal for air travel (at least within Europe).
  4. It's interesting that Cabrales went for lunch and enjoyed a positive experience. Of our two visits the first was for lunch and was a similar fine occasion. On our dinner visit one or two of the dishes came across as having been thrown together with just a little less care. For the lunch we also had the squid with ink risotto, although I recall the dish being more a version of arros negra that we've had in Catalunya where the rice is baked (with miscellaneous bits of seafood) rather than the labour intensive risotto method.
  5. I'm going to suggest Le Mimosa at St. Guiraud for 19th June because that's exactly what we'd do with a night between Provence and Bras. You're at the foothills of the Cevennes and the Larzac plateau there so take in some fine scenery before dinner. You can stay in the restaurant's hotel (in the next village) and it's less than 3 1/2 hours drive time from Laguiole but allow longer to take in some back roads. I've no idea what your appetite is like, but I would say three consecutive meals in Bras, Vieux Pont and Pymerol would be too much plus Belcastel to Puymerol is a fair way and I would urge you to take a leisurely scenic route through the hills and valleys. There's another recent thread on Avignon of course. Hopefully we're off to France Thursday morning so enjoy your trip.
  6. I refer to the feel of the restaurant and the public facing staff. There seem to be new faces serving each year and, as a generalisation, they come across as bored aspiring professionals with limited pride and commitment to the place. This is not a new problem. Catering is regarded as a serious career in France of course, but the downside is that too many young people seem to drift into it who are apparently unsuited and they are seemingly taught to take it all too seriously. My perception is that, the further up the prestige tree a restaurant gets the more of this type they seem to have to employ. Of course occasionally one gets lucky, and such remote locations can't help.
  7. grahamtigg

    The Room

    10 years ago I would have said all that mattered was the dishes I was served. I've changed and would now put the attitude of the staff on at least a par. Note that by attitude I don't mean the experience of the staff nor the mechanics of the service. When a restaurant is busy the decor is not a problem. If the personalities behond the establishment aren't right and it's quiet then it won't feel right whatever the state of the decor. It's tragic that decor is seemingly so all important to Michelin in France. Since M Bras is a theme here then from having dined there most years since he moved from the town to his "space station", what seems to have clinched his third star was a new glass covered stream running through the dining room. It must have been, the food and wine hasn't changed since the mid-90s and nor, I presume, have Michelin.
  8. Since you say around Avignon my suggestions would be Alexandra at Garons (by Nimes Airport but it has a super garden) and my tip for higher things plus it's great value for Povence. Also La Table de l'Horloge at Saint-Quentin-la-Poterie near Uzès - do pop into Uzès before hand for a wander round. I would second Steve's suggestion of La Beaugraviere at Mondragon for wine buffs. They also have a couple of simple rooms (Logis ** standard and priced accordingly). Haven't been for 3 years and see it's dropped out of the guides - anyone been more recently?
  9. That chef is Didier Ouddil who in the '80s did most of the cooking at Guerard's Eugene Les Bains. He opened his own hotel/restaurant Pain, Adour et Fantaisie in nearby Grenade-s-l'Adour. We enjoyed an outstanding meal there in November 1992, memorable in that we were dining alone with Didier cooking for us personally - no surprise that he moved on. Today it's a one star restaurant with Philippe Garret at the stoves. He was a second to Didier at one time. Small world.
  10. Fascinating notes as usual Bux. It's extraordinary how many times we've had fario trout over the past 12 months in the Languedoc - an ingredient that's come from nowhere. Until a couple of years ago we lunched chez Bras pretty much every year. We're going less frequently now because it's gradually become more impersonal over the years, or we've simply become more sensitive to that aspect of dining. Thanks to 3*s prices have risen and frankly the gap between Bras and the likes of Vieux Pont and Le Mimosa (places with similar ingredient led approaches) has narrowed. I think the "gentle" aspect comes from seeking perfection in the overall balance of a dish. Like music you don't always get it first time, but you unravel layers in your mind as you contemplate it afterwards, or better still return for more.
  11. I don't think you can tar this thread and all it's contributors with this comment. Perhaps you can re-read my input to this thread. If you have problems with some respondents, including myself, then you need to be a bit more specific. One problem we have here is there was initially little to go in terms of preferences, eating stamina, budget, other points of interest (cultural, geographic) etc. on the itinerary. Generic requests can only really be met with personal experiences backed up with whatever observations that may help the reader make a decision if it's for them or not.
  12. I'm surprised that Bux hasn't suggested Le Vieux Pont at Belcastel, so I will. France has much more to offer than just cuisine and at Belcastel you have a beautifully preserved and restored village in an idyllic river valley. By staying and dining at Le Vieux Pont you will be able to experience a family run atmosphere with cooking that is true to the area's (Aveyron) produce and yet bang up to date. It is also nearer two Michelin stars than the one that they've held for some time. You'll also find Belcastle an easy drive to/from Michel Bras and a good location to strike out for Puymerol (Trauma) if you're going to take that in. If interesting towns are for you then Albi is a fine first choice for the region. As you say that you have a limited experience of French cuisine then on a broader note I would urge you to include establishments that do traditional dishes on your itinerary. The best example I can think of is Le Cep in Fleurie (Beaujolais). Bras/Astrance/Trauma/Veyrat et al will all offer innovative "modern" cooking, but you need to try some old masters as well.
  13. Bux, we dined at Les Feuillants for two sucessive nights in April. The dishes were not quite as sharp and well defined as Belcastle but competent and made interesting by the careful use of spicing. An exceptionally enthusiastic wine waiter made for a hugely enjoyable experience. In Beziers we're going to return to L'Ambassade in early June. La Table St-Crescent in Narbonne can be relied on for the food; some interesting ideas that liven up budget preparations. I see that David Merino in the Abbeye de Fontfroide has lost his star this year so that's going to be very much pot luck - I'd be interested to hear a report. As for Vieux Puits we haven't been back, nor have I seen any reports. Yes it now has two stars and Michelin surely don't give these out lightly, even to those who play the game. Having re-read my notes then perhaps choosing from the carte may have served our tastes better.
  14. Interesting. Looking back on the '80s our holidays in France were usually based around stringing together fine places to dine and took in several regions. These days we prefer to plonk down in one place (a gite) and make a few big day trips to worthy restaurants. The frustration of all those local markets - see but not eat produce - goes away by being able to cook a simple evening meal. Answering the original question, one of the reasons we are attracted to the Languedoc restaurant wise is that there is more diversity in cuisine styles. There's the meat and dairy dominated Auvergne just to the north, the Mediterranean coast, Provence to the east and Catalonia to the west. I suspect this is why Bux is so attracted to French Catalonia - the proximity of variety. 10 days is too long for many people to take in 2 and 3 star shrines. You need to fill in the mortar and in many areas, especially inland and away from big car unfriendly towns, that's tough because all you may be able to get is more of the same done (in theory) less well. That said, then being based in or around Lyon puts a great deal within 2 hours. The best relatively rural micro-area must be Alsace.
  15. Haven't been to Alsace for over 10 years. Racall an excellent lunch at Au Fer Rouge in Colmar. Also a rising star at the time was the Cerf at Marlenheim just west of Strasbourg - I notice that GM still gives it 18/20. At the opposite end of the cooking spectrum, a Strasbourg speciality in the suburban "villages" to the west of the city are tartes flambées au feu de bois (or Flammekueches if you prefer German). These are wood burning oven cooked "Pizzas" as thin as creps topped with cheese, onion and perhaps a sprinkling of smoked bacon. One is a good snack, two is a full meal. You wash this down with a racy local white such as Riesling. The authentic places in the suburbs are basic with wooden benches and not not a tourist in sight. The wisdom of the EEC outlawed this name several years ago. It's now the formal name of the grape Pinot Gris.
  16. What restaurant trends today do you find most enouraging, and which ones give you the greatest concern?
  17. It was on my site but I usually remove ageing detailed reviews. We did have fairly high expectations of El Bulli because the 1995 Gault Millau gave it a heady 19/20, but the nature of the experience was totally unexpected. The other thing to note is that the clientele seemed to be "locals".
  18. I found some notes in the depths of my archived files from our only visit to El Bulli. While these are 6.5 years old (October 1995), those who have been recently may get some insight into how the place has evolved (or not). One thing to bear in mind was that we only really ate here because looked an obvious choice in the guide books if one was visiting the Figueras museum. We knew nothing about what to expect. Drinks on this relaxing terrace came with hand made crisps that were powdered with some sort of elusive nutmeg like spice, hazelnuts in a light batter and a fascinating but unusual crisp peanut tortilla. We then moved to our table that also viewed the sea and embarked on what was, by quite a margin, the most dishes we have ever eaten in one meal. All of these dishes were recalled after the meal so one or two details will have been lost or transformed. 1. Banana wrapped in bacon, poached quails eggs topped with vanilla seeds, tomato sorbet and a white sauce (fromage frais or similar). Bizarre and somewhat of a surprise. The combinations didn’t clash, which is not to say a new combination has been discovered. 2. Curried chicken stock ice cream on some green apple sauce, onion rings and some coconut. 3. Mussels with sorbet made from their cooking water, guava fruit and a saffron jelly. Instructions were to eat the sorbet in separate mouthfuls to the mussels. 4. Octopus marinated with ginger, mango, avocado dice and soya sauce. The soya was a bit salty, otherwise this was a good dish. 5. Potatoes cut into scallop shapes layered with bacon and caramel sheets. There were several of these and instructions were to eat them whole. 6. Anchovies with mango spaghetti and basil with a red peppercorn sauce. This was better than it must sound. 7. A cappuccino of young broad beans and minute bits of ham that was hot on the bottom but cold on the very frothy top. Excellent as it was simple with the added dimension of hot and cold contrast. 8. Snail wrapped in bacon ringed by a pumpkin puree. Not bad but not a patch on Richard Neat’s snail dish. 9. Well cooked Quail in a reduced sauce with bits of leek tied in knots and well seasoned. Good and tasty but again a little salty for us. 10. A bowl featuring almond ice cream, peach sorbet, beetroot, cauliflower puree, tomato puree, corn puree, basil jelly and avocado puree. You could criticise it for being a pile of baby food, but although some were good, some just didn’t have any discernible flavour. 11. Cold clams on a bed of mushrooms, baby courgette and sweet corn. 12. Langoustine with a parmesan and Xerès (sherry) sauce with rice and mushrooms wrapped in bacon. An excellent tasty dish. 13. Sole on top of thin slices of artichoke hearts topped with brilliantly engineered small thin packets filled with a rosemary sauce. Another fine dish. 14. A piece of bone marrow topped with caviar and cauliflower puree. Very rich. I think the texture was the main point of the dish. It was certainly strange and alien. 15. A creation of fresh raspberries and light vanilla cream with a sweet pepper sauce. Excellent and a relief to have a change of scene. 16. Fennel and pineapple soup on a bed of poached fennel with other fruit purees. I though this was terrific. Light, refreshing, interesting texture and delicate yet firm flavour. There was also an array of top notch and original friandises - lollipops of caramel, peel and spices, chocolate tuiles, mango sorbet and liquor in tiny cornets, a coffee cup of chocolate milk with orange, a Chinese soup spoon containing banana, avocado and caramel ice sheets, rosemary and fresh mint leaf chocolates, hazelnuts in chocolate. What to make of all this? There are undoubtedly some top drawer cooking skills at work with amazing richness emanating from some very small pieces of food. There is lightness, although this is overdone at the expense of losing flavour with the numerous vegetable purees for example. There is also some clever use of hot and cold to give contrast to dishes. Also to be admired was the use, in the main, of humble ingredients and the sometimes bold attempts at some pretty weird combination. Beyond the cooking El Bulli is at least poles away from being a luxury dining palace. It is pleasantly spacious, but the decor is more or less every day and for the customers jeans with a T-shirt is almost the common attire. The staff are also pretty OK and deliver good service. Most of the wine and all the other drinks are also very reasonably priced. We selected a local Clos de l’Obac 1991 red that thanks to skill on both sides lasted until the dessert where a large glass of refreshing cava was very welcome. All of this then should add up to something pretty special, but at the end of the day only a very few of the dishes we had really stood out (16 for me, 12, then perhaps 13 and 9 followed by 15, 6 and 4). It’s a bit like visiting a theme park. There is plenty of excitement and thrills along the way with some flat periods as well, but the whole thing is neither particularly profound nor memorable. If you’re into theme parks then this must be up there with best. At least for me it generated plenty of contemplation - this has been the hardest review to write since I started making personal notes in early 1994.
  19. The Clermont market is on Wednesday. Mas de Daumas Gassac has been seriously variable in quality over the past decade (both red and white). If you like the white then Mas Julien Blanc is superior most years these days, more reliable, and nearly half the price. I've tasted both side by side several times. On Le Jardin de Sens I agree with cabrales that there can be too many ingredients in the Pourcels' dishes and the service is often patchy. That said the weekday lunch menu looks tempting and a good way to put your toe in the water as it were. We haven't been for a while simply because the excitement and energy of the place had gone on our last couple of visits compared to the heady ascention days in the mid-90s. Children in French restaurants are never a problem, but if you use a carry cot you obviously may want to ask for a table that isn't in the middle of the room (and many are at Le Jardin de Sens).
  20. I'm one of those extremes and very rarely leave a tip when dining in France. It's all included and not expected. For some reason I do leave a few cents (Euro cents that is) in cafes and bars unless I've been upset by the staff.
  21. Sounds as if the 35 hour week has passed by Baumaniere, or is it that non-French workers have to make up the hours for the natives..... Thank you for a facinating read Simon.
  22. grahamtigg


    There's menus here on Bras' web site although they could well be out of date. The gargouillou is on of the finest dishes I've ever eaten.
  23. Thnkart - if you can manage lunch (and in many ways lunch is a better time for appreciating food since for most people the senses are sharper) then a reservation at l'Astrance should be easier to secure. Nevertheless, I would second Bux that 'Astrance is somewhat of a one-off in Paris and if you're only having one meal there you'll have a very pleasant but stilted experience. Do you have other eating out plans in Paris/France?
  24. grahamtigg


    We did as well. Spring 1983 was when we discovered "serious" food from a background of near total ignorance. Trauma made the biggest inpact at the time (we also went to Guerard and Bras) because of the sheer energy that exuded from all the dishes and the young staff. We had many great lunches in the '80s, all midweek, and there were always several other tables occupied. Our last visit was in 1993 when we stayed (rooms had been built by then) for a November weekend. While the food was still OK and the rooms exceptionally tasteful, we were the only residents and the staff were simply too distant/bored. I blame some of it on a quest for three *'s, which isn't of course fair because it's not my career. Sometimes it is better to remember places as they were. As an aside, Bras' cooking has evolved enormously since the early '80s. Bux's report is eagerly awaited.
  25. In a casserole/stew I find any grit sinks and stays on the bottom of the dish. What seems to have happened is that underneath all the olive oil the ceps poached gently in a little "liquid" that would have seeped from the duck legs, onion and garlic.
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