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The French Catalan Coast


MiguelCardoso
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Hey, Silly - don't feed the animals! ...

I blame Silly Disciple myself.  ;)

And I say thanks to Silly for encouraging Miguel's deliciously amusing, deceptively perceptive and always on-the-mark ramblings. Miguel, you've surpassed yourself once again with your facility both to amuse and to inform at the same time. Muito obrigado, now you've kindly and precisely instructed us all how to read between the lines when you offer your recommendations... :hmmm:

You've certainly made an important and significant point and knocked that old chestnut for six (if I may be permitted to mix my metaphors): that the locals always know what's best. Hah! The times I've been directed to places that are total crap by locals is nobody's business. And by the most *local* looking locals of them all - for example in Southwest France, it's easy to spot them, I always go by the biggest beret (remember, SIZE MATTERS)...

There is a myth (in France more so than anywhere else) that everyone single French man, woman, and child knows about food, loves food, worships the best, is knowledgeable and eager to share, indeed has a divine birthright to pronounce authoritatively on these most important subjects in the world. But dammit, it's just not true! These days you have no more chance of getting a good random recommendation in France than you do getting one in London or anywhere else in England. Probably less! Just look at how the local, the artisan is losing out to the hypermarché (but that's another story).

So I definitely agree with Miguel, reading between the lines when asking for advice is essential. For what it's worth, in this particular lifetime of sniffing out the local, the authentic, the genuine, the non-tourist-ripoff (and as you know by now, I'm not really a natural 3-star-dining-out sort of guy - hell, it's easy to find 3-star restaurants, you just look in the guides or read eG), I've depended on local recommendations to find my way through the morass and darkness more than I've had 'ot dinners (as the saying goes). And what I've found is this: you must first choose your locals very carefully, certainly not randomly. You must be constantly alert to the possibility of encountering someone who truly knows and loves intimately their locality, their region, their country. Miguel gives very precise instructions (in Portuguese for the subtleties, the nuances of language is everything) on how to spot them. Sometimes it's just a chance comment overheard in a local pastry shop; sometimes you have one of those impromptu and serendiptous conversations with someone you chance to meet on the street, and immediately feel a common bond with. You gain, with experience and constant vigilance, a sort of sixth sense of those whom you can trust and those you immediately know are likely to be unreliable. And it's not always the nice ones - the sympa, the simpatico - either. Nice people, I've learned from bitter experience, often know next to nothing about food! So sometimes your best bet is that nasty old irascible bugger in the corner with a hacking cough that comes from a lifetime of smoking Gauloises and drinking marc or grappa or bagaçeira... You never know, you just never know, and you most certainly can't judge a book by its cover.

Which in fact brings me back to the point of this post: Miguel, your comments don't just warrant a separate eG thread in itself, they should be the subject of a self-help book (which as you know are all the rage in publishing these days). I'm certain it will be a bestseller! So the reason I'm writing is to ask if you need an agent. My fee is very reasonable (15%, which is, I assure you, the going rate these days, plus extended alcoholic lunches of course, in London, New York or Lisboa - your choice - you see I'm very accommodating).

MP

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You've certainly made an important and significant point and knocked that old chestnut for six (if I may be permitted to mix my metaphors): that the locals always know what's best. Hah! The times I've been directed to places that are total crap by locals is nobody's business. And by the most *local* looking locals of them all - for example in Southwest France, it's easy to spot them, I always go by the biggest beret (remember, SIZE MATTERS)...

There is a myth (in France more so than anywhere else) that everyone single French man, woman, and child knows about food, loves food, worships the best, is knowledgeable and eager to share, indeed has a divine birthright to pronounce authoritatively on these most important subjects in the world. But dammit, it's just not true! These days you have no more chance of getting a good random recommendation in France than you do getting one in London or anywhere else in England. Probably less! Just look at how the local, the artisan is losing out to the hypermarché (but that's another story).

Reading this, I am not really surprised that you've had bad experiences with "locals" when asking about restaurants. You may have been getting the exact reflection of whatever you have sent out. You pick your "locals" according to criteria of your own, but you should keep in mind that you're being picked too, or not picked, whatever the size of the beret :rolleyes: . They're not machines, and they think. They may be giving you the part of their knowledge that they feel appropriate to give, and I can't blame them for that. I am a bit surprised to find ethnic typology (width of beret, intensity of Gauloise cough) being used as a means to find the best "local" for food information. I use other means, not always based on locals (careful reading of the menu, using sense of smell and sight, "sixth-sense" deduction) but sometimes I do ask people. I get good results most of the time. Frankly, I suppose this has to do with the way I ask them.

As for hypermarchés, it is true that our technical world has changed but people in rural areas have less changed than you seem to think, even if they lack the pittoresque aspects of times past. And "locals" and "artisans" have remained country people, i.e. smarter than you think. And they know that hypermarchés all over France do carry local and artisanal produce of great quality, in a much fresher state and for a cheaper price than the quaint local shop aiming at tourists — apart from the fact that they do need bottled water, packs of beer, tinned tomatoes and toilet paper like everyone else.

Ptipois (a local)

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  • 4 years later...

Has anybody got any recent updates on this area. We'll be staying in Collioure for a week but are happy to drive out for lunch. Has anyone tried Le Relais des Trois Mas which recently one a Michelin star?

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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Being based in the middle of the Herault these days means that there have been few ventures down to the Pyrenees Oriental in recent years. If you're around Beziers then Octopus is a fine favourite and very consistent. At Gignac (north of Pezanas) De Lauzun is up and coming and was awarded a Michelin star this year just 14 months after opening his first restaurant.

In a different mould, we still love the nearby Mimosa that continues to refine simple preparations and shun fashions.

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Has anybody got any recent updates on this area. We'll be staying in Collioure for a week but are happy to drive out for lunch. Has anyone tried Le Relais des Trois Mas which recently one a Michelin star?

Matthew, I seem to be following your lead. Last year San Sebastian this year we are heading to the same area for a week or two prior to an assignation in Roses. I will be very interested to see what you turn up, you SS recommendations were spot on.

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Has anybody got any recent updates on this area. We'll be staying in Collioure for a week but are happy to drive out for lunch. Has anyone tried Le Relais des Trois Mas which recently one a Michelin star?

Matthew, I seem to be following your lead. Last year San Sebastian this year we are heading to the same area for a week or two prior to an assignation in Roses. I will be very interested to see what you turn up, you SS recommendations were spot on.

If you were really following my lead you'd only be heading to Roses for a quick dinner at Rafa and giving the other place (I forget its name) a miss :laugh:

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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Has anybody got any recent updates on this area. We'll be staying in Collioure for a week but are happy to drive out for lunch. Has anyone tried Le Relais des Trois Mas which recently one a Michelin star?

Matthew, I seem to be following your lead. Last year San Sebastian this year we are heading to the same area for a week or two prior to an assignation in Roses. I will be very interested to see what you turn up, you SS recommendations were spot on.

If you were really following my lead you'd only be heading to Roses for a quick dinner at Rafa and giving the other place (I forget its name) a miss :laugh:

Good advice - to be honest we haven't got round to any planning yet so all suggestions welcome.

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  • 2 weeks later...

In Collioure I can recommend La Balette whcih was recently awarded a Michelin star (and is slap bang next door to the Neptune which lost theirs). Crappy room though but it might be nice if the weather is warm enough to sit on the terrace. No major fireworks but solid cooking. Service seems nervous and unorganised. I've made the place sound really awful but it really isn't that bad and the cooking is pretty solid including a good "anchovy sushi" dish.

For something a little more casual you could try Casa Leon (rue Riere) which served a very nicely cooked Turbot and grilled prawns. For something a little different (though not too much) Le 5eme Peche has a Japanese chef with seemingly decent pedigree including stints at Michel Bras and Le Grand Vefour amongst others that I can't remember. I hesitate to use the word fusion but as thats what they called it we'll let it go. Again lovely fish with a few hints of Asia thrown in.

Otherwise most places are the same old menus in a different typeface but they are on the whole busy enough that the fish is likely to be fresh.

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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One-starred La Galinette in Perpignan is really good (and generous).

Just in case, on the way down to the Catalan coast, you should be aware that La Compagnie des Comptoirs (Montpellier, across the road from Le Jardin des Sens on avenue Saint-Lazare) has an excellent Aussie chef at the moment, and serves delicious food.

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  • 3 months later...

Two recommendations came from a good friend, a French chef, when we said we were stopping overnight in Collioure a few days ago. Choice was between 5eme Peche in the town and La Cote Vermeille nearby in Port Vendres.

5eme Peche is mentioned elsewhere on this thread - Japanese chef, Masashi Iijima, mixes a classic French formation with notions from home. In the event we did not eat there but checked out the menu before deciding - it reads much more French than Japanese but this small attractive restaurant with an open kitchen was difficult to pass and must wait another day.

La Cote Vermeille is on the quay in Port Vendres, about as close to the boats as it gets. Again not large, so best to reserve at busy times of the year. Atmosphere is refined and the staff is warm, professional and knowledgeable. The "Grand Large" menu (€35) entree was thon mi-cuit and two small pieces of crab maki. Our main course was filet de racasse, very simply prepared with a tomato based dressing. Grilled figs with mascarpone completed a meal that was perfectly equilibrated, fresh and deliciously simple.

The carte is more wide ranging and hints at the chef's ambition. The wine list is strong on local growths - the Coume del Mas white had a fine aromatic/mineral balance.

Both Collioure and Port Vendres have more than their share of fairly routine fish restaurants which probably make a reasonable living from the summer throngs but a little checking around can give you something much better.

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