Belgian breakfast

July 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

The latest in our series of international breakfasts making up the Breakfasts of the World Project.

Unlike most of the far-flung destinations whose breakfasts we’ve tried to recreate at home, hopping over to Belgium is relatively straighforward for us in the UK so we were able to do some serious research on a recent family trip based in Bruges. This combined a little education (First World War graves, Ypres, Flemish painting and architecture) with gastronomic sight-seeing.

I know that Venice has the edge when it comes to a romantic weekend away à deux, but if you’re travelling en famille, as we were, a city which combines gorgeous architecture with chips, chocolate and waffles takes the biscuit (or should that be the speculoos…?).

We stayed in the charming canalside Ter Duinen hotel which these days would probably be called a boutique hotel as this sounds more desirable than “small hotel”. They laid on an impressive breakfast spread and if you were prepared to leap out of bed early, you could grab one of the coveted window seats with gorgeous reflected light from the canal:

This is how we attempted to recreate the experience at home. Not quite as beautiful as the Ter Duinen breakfast I know. I don’t run to white damask in our kitchen but I made an effort with some Flemish inspired tulips.

As you might expect from a country which has been fought over between the France and the Netherlands for aeons, its breakfast is a hybrid between the French influenced café au lait with croissants and the more Northern European influenced hearty brown bread with ham and sliced cheese. You get both at breakfast together with Belgium’s particular contribution to the breakfast universe, a host of tasty packaged treats, the legacy of its industrial and colonial past perhaps?

Belgium may not be known as a cheese producer, but here’s some prepacked slices of Bruges’ finest:

There were little squares of chocolate too – one of the reasons Belgium is world famous. Oddly, I can’t find a decent definition of what Belgian chocolate is – Côte d’Or with its familiar Elephant logo is the indigenous mass-market producer. Côte d’Or or Gold Coast is of course the old name for Ghana which is a former British rather than Belgian colony so how does that work? Maybe Belgian chocolates just refer to the delicious filled pralines sold by Neuhaus, Godiva and Leonidas and many more small artisan producers. A clear and comprehensive definition of Belgian chocolate remains elusive for the time being.

Popping into the Bruges branch of Delhaize (one of the big Belgian supermarket chains) to stock up on Belgian breakfast products I was thrilled to find family sized jars of two types of breakfast spread which we’d sampled only in indiviual portion packs at Ter Duinen.

On the right is an Ovomaltine spread based on the popular continental malted chocolate drink – imagine Nutella with the goodness of hazelnuts removed and replaced with nuggets of crunchy malty sugary stuff.

But wait for it, on the left is a jar of Speculoos spread based on the national biscuit of Belgium – a thin crisp ginger-spiced biscuit. Speculoos have a sort of mediaeval feel about them and were no doubt originally hand-made in elaborately decorated wooden moulds. They are most often found now individually wrapped in cellophane, branded Rombouts or most often Lotus, and served as a complimentary sweet nibble with a cup of coffee.

The idea of turning this small spicy biscuit into a spread is as preposterous an idea as a spread made from our own indigenous McVities’ ginger nuts.

Both jars were packed with unsuitable ingredients with a high E number count but nevertheless both have made it onto my not-so-secret list of guilty pleasures. All the family were secretly taking spoonfuls from the jar. I was amused to read recently the similar reaction to Speculoos spread of Paris-based food writer David Lebovitz (http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/05/speculoos-a-tartiner-gingersnap-paste/)

Grab a jar if you dare!

Contact details

Ter Duinen Hotel
Langerei 52
8000 Brugge
BELGIUM

info@terduinenhotel.be
http://www.terduinenhotel.be/
Tel: 00 32 50 33 04 37
Fax: 00 32 50 34 42 16

Advertisements

The green asparagus and the white

May 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yes, you guessed it – curiosity piqued by the current BBC adaption of “The Crimson Petal and the White” I’ve finally got round to reading Michel Faber’s racy historical novel . It made a perfect holiday read over Easter in France, punctuating the main activities of exploring the Forêt de Fontainebleau and thinking about the next meal.

I was reminded of the febrile atmosphere of the novel whilst strolling past a curiously mounded asparagus bed on the outskirts of the village where we were staying:

The French prefer their asparagus white with the tips displaying just a tinge of purple. This is achieved by banking the soil up around each asparagus crown to blanch the growing shoots. Pausing beside the weird dusty anthills concealing the exclusively male crowns beneath, you can practically hear the shoots growing as they thrust upwards towards the source of warmth and light. I felt positively faint after a few minutes gazing at these shoots in the lazy afternoon sunshine.

The Germans too prefer the thicky juicy spears of white asparagus (Spargel in German). Despite their buttoned-up reputation, they go a little bit crazy during asparagus season (“Spargelzeit”) when asparagus festivals and special restaurant menus abound. The thick juicy white spears are simply served either on their own or with boiled potatoes and ham and always with generous pools of yellow buttery hollandaise sauce.

Whilst in Dusseldorf during Spargelzeit I was intrigued to find an asparagus ice cream sundae on the menu. This turned out to be a spectacular trompe l’oeil affair of piped vanilla and palest pistachio ice cream (to imitate the spears) topped with chilled vanilla sauce to mimic the hollandaise. Only in Germany…

We Brits prefer the arguably better flavoured and certainly more decorous green asparagus. No stonking purple-tipped white shoots the width of a baby’s arm here thank you! There is the added plus point for the lazy cook that tender shoots of green asparagus don’t require peeling unlike their continental cousins.

So what does a field of English green asparagus look like? I’d fondly imagined rows upon rows of waving green fronds but in fact the banked-up rows of dry soil I spotted in Suffolk don’t look radically different from their French counterparts:

I took this photo in the sandy fields near the coast around Wrentham. These spears were destined for the packing sheds of Sea Breeze Asparagus http://www.seabreezeasparagus.co.uk/ who supply by mail order all over the country and have come up with the delightful idea of sending an edible bouquet of perfect top grade asparagus spears to your loved one. It’s got to be better than a tired bunch of petrol station flowers hasn’t it?

So, what to do if you find yourself with a bunch of either the green asparagus or the white and feel inclined to do a little more with it than the usual steaming and serving with melted butter?

Having trawled through my collection of recipe books and notes, here are a couple of recipes that appeal to me, the first suitable for green asparagus and the second for white.

Recipe for grilled asparagus with blood oranges and tapenade toast

Serves 4

From Alice Waters’ inspirational and beautifully illustrated book “Chez Panisse Vegetables”. This is her typically relaxed Californian take on a classic combination of asparagus and oranges. Classical French cuisine does this by primly serving steamed asparagus presented in white napkin with the orange flavoured hollandaise known as Sauce Maltaise. All very well but a tad formal. In contrast, just reading Alice Waters’ recipe transports you to Californian wine country and the perfect al fresco supper…

Ingredients

For the tapenade

2 cups niçoise (black) olives, pitted
4 salt-packed anchovy fillets
1 clove garlic
salt
2 tablespoons capers
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the rest of the dish

1 shallot
3 blood oranges
1 and 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 and 1/2 pounds fat (green) asparagus – 25 to 30 spears
4 slices country-style bread

First make the tapenade. Peel and smash the garlic with a pinch of salt. Using a food processor, pulse together the olive. anchovies, garlic and capers to make a coarse paste. Add the lemon juice and then gradually the olive oil, pulsing until completely incorporated. Put into a small bowl and set aside.

Peel and chop the shallot finely and macerate for 30 minutes in the juice of half an orange and the balsamic and red wine vinegars. Whisk in the olive oil to make a vinaigrette, and season with salt and pepper.

Peel just the zest from one of the oranges, chop it very fine and add to the vinaigrette. Cut away all the rind and pith from 2 and a half oranges (one half was used earlier for juicing) and slice them crosswise thinly into rounds.

Parboil and drain the asparagus. Brush lightly with olive oil, salt lightly and grill the asparagus ideally over charcoal or a wood fire for about 6 minutes over medium heat, turning often. At the same time, grill the bread.

When the bread is toasted, cut the slices into thirds and spread with tapenade. Arrange the asparagus on a platter with the orange slices on top. Drizzle the vinaigrette over and garnish with the tapenade toast.

Recipe for white asparagus and new potato salad with mustard and walnut vinaigrette

Serves 8 as a side dish

An idea I came up with whilst in France this easter. A good way of stretching a single bunch of asparagus into a dish to feed more than one or two people. The combination of white on white looks good, the chives add both colour and delicate onion flavour. The walnut oil imparts a delicious flavour to the salad without overpowering either the asparagus or the new potatoes. Reading the list of ingredients, I’m transported away from my computer screen in grey and cloudy Manchester to a sunny lunch table in France once more.

Ingredients

1 bunch white asparagus (500g)
650g small new potatoes
small bunch chives

For the dressing

3 tablespoons light olive oil
3 tablespoons walnut or hazelnut oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar plus a teaspoon of sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
squeeze of lemon juice to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Wash, peel and trim the white asparagus. Steam for 10-15 minutes until soft but not mushy. Leave to cool, then slice each spear on the bias into 3 or 4 pieces. Set aside.

Prepare the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients. Taste and check for flavour and seasoning.

Scrub the new potatoes (no need to peel) and steam for 10 minutes or until cooked through (test with the point of a knife).

As soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice into chunks and tip into a bowl. Pour three quarters of the dressing over and stir. Leave for 5-10 minutes to allow the warm potatoes to absorb the dressing.

Add the reserved pieces of asparagus, the remaining dressing and a generous quantity of snipped chives to the bowl and stir carefully to distribute.

Transfer to a serving dish lined with little gem or baby cos lettuce leaves.

Contact details for Seabreeze Asparagus

Alison Cooper
Priory Road Site
Priory Road
Wrentham Beccles
NR34 7LR

Phone number 01502675330
E-mail address alison@wveg.co.uk
http://www.seabreezeasparagus.co.uk

In search of the real Pithiviers

April 29, 2011 § 2 Comments

You have to wonder what the point is of the tourist office in Pithiviers. After 10 minutes’ browsing the leaflets for various châteaux, parks and gardens I was none the wiser about the two things for which Pithiviers is most famous. The first is its eponymous cake, an indulgent confection of buttery puff pastry with an almond filling, and the second is its notorious second world war transit camp where French Jews were rounded up and detained before being sent on to Auschwitz.

20110423-064416.jpg

We were spending the easter holidays in France based in and around Paris and Fontainebleau. On a sunny Monday morning we decided over breakfast to head off to Pithiviers, a typical French market town some 50 miles South of Paris.

Q: Why?
A: a rather frivolous excursion to try and track down a genuine Pithiviers pastry.

The less frivolous outcome was that we learned a little about an unedifying episode in French history, one that the tourist office was keen to airbrush away. I’d read about the French internment camps before, specifically Drancy on the outskirts of Paris. This was not in a history book but in Sebastian Faulks’ moving wartime novel “Charlotte Gray”.

It was another novelist, Irène Némirovsky, the author of the sensational “Suite Française” who’s partly responsible for putting Pithiviers on the map, for all the wrong reasons. Némirovsky was interned here before being sent to Auschwitz where she died in 1942 leaving her epic novel unfinished, its manuscript undiscovered until some 60 years later.

Back to the original purpose of our visit. The Pithiviers has a special place in our family history as I ate a stunning chocolate Pithiviers at London’s Bibendum restaurant the night before our eldest son George was born. It features in chef proprietor Simon Hopkinson’s book “Roast Chicken and Other Stories” if you fancy making one at home.

Finding a Pithiviers proved surprisingly easy. Having found a parking space in a sunny square (the Mail Ouest) in the centre, we found ourselves just across the road from an inviting-looking pâtisserie, “À la Renommée” (the Renowned).

20110423-070033.jpg

Heading to the window, we realised we’d struck lucky with a picture perfect example of a Pithiviers feuilleté (puff pastry) with its distinctive scalloped border and sculpted lid not just once:

20110423-070429.jpg

but twice, with its more gaudy iced cousin, the Pithiviers fondant:

20110423-070829.jpg

Of course, we had to buy both, the fondant version to enjoy there and then with a cup of coffee and the feuilleté version later after our evening meal.

The fondant Pithiviers, with its virginal white icing and old school glacé cherry and crystallised angelica decoration, bore more than a passing resemblance to a Mr Kipling Cherry Bakewell, but without the pastry case. Beneath the icing was a dense and crumbly almond sponge, satisfying in its simplicity. Apparently this is the original version of the cake, an ancient Gaulish speciality, its origins lost in the mists of time. Maybe Asterix ate one of these…

The origins of puff pastry in France are generally dated back to the 17th century so the more familiar Pithiviers feuilleté is a relatively recent upstart. We followed the bakery instructions to warm it through gently for 15-20 minutes before serving. It needs no accompaniment (other than a strong cup of coffee). The puff pastry layers were featherlight, belying the huge quantities of butter that went into its manufacture, and the almond cream filling rich and sweet. It reminded me just a little of its more rustic cousin the English Bakewell pudding – the real dense almondy version you find in the Peak District town rather than the more usual tart I mentioned earlier. Maybe Pithiviers and Bakewell should be twinned?

You’ll find recipes for the regular puff pastry Pithiviers in any fat cook book with a pâtisserie chapter. Recipes for the fondant version are harder to come by so here’s one I hunted down:

Recipe for Pithiviers fondant – iced almond cake from Pithiviers

From the recipe section of the website http://www.loiret.logishotels.com with quantities halved to make a more manageable sized cake.

Ingredients

250g blanched almonds, very finely chopped
250g caster sugar
250g butter
1.5 cl rum
6 or 7 eggs (depending on size) beaten
White fondant icing
Halved glacé cherries and angelica to decorate

Mix the sugar with the finely chopped almonds and beat in the softened butter. Incorporate the eggs gradually and the rum. Spoon into a greased and floured Pain de Gênes mould (a deep fluted flan tin – use an ordinary round cale tin not a shallow flan tin as a substitute) and baked in a moderate oven (180 degrees C fan) for 30 to 35 minutes. When cool, ice with white fondant icing and decorate with glacé cherries and Angelica.

Where to shop in the Forest of Fontainebleau: Nemours, Larchant and La Chapelle

April 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

We’ve been coming to this area of France for the past 15 years now and I’ve managed to build up quite a little black book of food addresses. It’s time to write them down and share them which will be quite a magnum opus. If you happen to be staying in a gîte nearby, please don’t just rely on the supermarket but give these places a try.

I’m going to start not with Fontainebleau itself but with Nemours and its nearby villages of Larchant and La Chapelle. After all Larchant is the village we’ve been based in for the last few years thanks to our friends Alex and Elin who’ve bought a house in the village.

Nemours is a substantial market town on the Loing, a tributary of the Seine. Despite its castle and imposing church it’s a straightforward workaday sort of place not on the tourist trail and none the worse for that. The heart of the town is its marketplace. Perversely the twice-weekly market (Wednesdays and Saturday mornings – a good range of fresh food stalls) is no longer held here but in the Champ de Mars, an open area by the riverside.

The market may have moved on but the old marketplace is home to some great food shops. Let’s start with Chaffraix, the cheese and poultry shop:

This is the place to come if you want to try Brie which is the local cheese in this reqion. You will be spoilt for choice:

Next stop is Aujard Aufradet’s butcher’s shop also in the marketplace where you can have your meat prepared by a real craftsman. The guy is an absolute whizz with his boning knife and that fine string that French butchers like to use.

Keep walking just a little longer to complete your meal with a fruit tart from the best bakery in Nemours, La Fontaine Gourmande:

They have a handy little café at the back where, after your morning shopping, you can enjoy a cup of coffee and one of their incredible Bostock pastries. I haven’t found the intriguingly named Bostock anywhere else – I’m sure there’s a story behind this somewhere that I will have to look into sometime. It’s an absolutely deliciously buttery almondy affair:

And if you really do need a supermarket, your best bet is Carrefour Marché on the west side of town in the suburb of Nemours St Pierre.

Next stop is the picturesque village of Larchant a few miles outside Nemours. There’s a great local bakery here:

I like their brown Campagrain bread once I’ve had my fill of baguette à l’ancienne. The almond croissants they do are a breakfast treat but you need to get there early as they sell out fast.

And if you are into foraging for wild food the nearby forest is awash with wild violets at this time of year. They have a shy but distinct taste and make a pretty addition to a salad – just be sure to leave out garlic in your salad dressing which will otherwise overpower their delicate flavour. One year I will definitely try my hand at crystallising some for cakes and chocolate puddings.

Last port of call is the village of La Chapelle la Reine, a village in the midst of prairie-like fields on the plateau beyond Larchant. It’s home to an Atac supermarket, a convenience store and a couple of OK bakeries – useful when the Larchant bakery takes its weekly day off. There is a weekly market too but it’s sadly nothing to write home about.

Clearly signposted from the main road on a handwritten chalk board is a farm shop selling potatoes and all your onion family requirements (onions, shallots and garlic).

That’s it from the Forest of Fontainebleau for this year – I’ll continue with my shopping round-up after our next visit, Easter 2011.

If you know anything more about the mysterious Bostock pastry or if you have tips on crystallising your own violets I’d love to hear from you…

Pilgrimage to Chartres… and another twist on macaroons

April 22, 2010 § 2 Comments

We took a day out from our usual walking and climbing routine in the Forest of Fontainebleau to make the one hour drive west to Chartres. Chartres is dominated by its glorious gothic cathedral which soars out of the plains and can be seen from miles away. Here it is on a beautiful spring morning:

The grandeur of the building, the intricate carving throughout, the stained glass and the view from the belltower were all uplifting. Only the noise (I can’t bring myself to call it music) in the nave as we entered the cathedral marred our visit: a church service was in progress conducted by a guitar playing and singing group, loudly amplified and execrable. There was no-one attending the service but the performers themselves. More than a little self-indulgent.

After a visit to the cathedral, the modern-day pilgrim can take refreshment at the Bistrot de la Cathédrale. Despite its proximity to the cathedral (No 1, Cloisters Tel 00 33 (0)2 37 36 59 60) this is no mere tourist trap but an outpost of Chartres highly regarded “Le Georges” restaurant within the Grand Monarque hotel (22 Place des Epars Tel 00 33 (0)2 37 18 15 15).

Our visit was on Easter Monday so most shops were closed but we still had chance to wander through the streets. Chartres has a beautiful market hall:

And I spotted this wonderful old-fashioned butcher’s in the old town:

In terms of regional specialites, local pâtisseries sell sweets called Mentchikoffs. These are praline in a crispy meringue coating and were invented in 1893 to celebrate the Franco-Russian pact of that year. The white meringue poetically represents Russian snow. There’s also Pâté de Chartres made from mixed game birds served either en croûte or from a terrine. Another speciality as is the French classic Poule au Pot (pot roast chicken). King Henri IV who famously wanted to put a Poule au Pot on every table in France was the only king to be crowned at Chartres hence the connection.

I was mistaken in thinking that the green and yellow Chartreuse liqueurs are from Chartres – the liqueur is made by Carthusian monks in Voiron near Grenoble. The drink local to Chartres is the beer “L’Eurélienne”. Sadly there was no opportunity to drink some that day.

So that’s almost it for my quick gastro-tour of Chartres. I think it would be a fantastic place to be whisked away for a weekend – wonderful architecture, places to eat and drink and not overrun with tourists.

But before I finish I have to mention these macaroons spotted in the window of a pâtisserie:

Your eyes are not deceiving you. These are sweet/savoury macaroons and the flavours on offer really are salmon, foie gras, blue roquefort cheese, and, to cap it all, tomato ketchup! This isn’t witty, it isn’t clever, it’s just yucky.

Fontainebleau’s best pâtisserie… and more macaroons

April 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Fontainebleau, 35 miles south east of Paris, is dominated by the vast palace where the kings of France took their rest and relaxation. It is also home to Patricia Highsmith’s anti-hero, the charming but dangerous Tom Ripley. In the town’s centre, you will find a vast marketplace, the imposing Baroque St Louis church and a range of chic shops clustered in the cobbled streets of the old town.

But no visit to Fontainebleau would be complete without a visit to Frédéric Cassel’s exquisite boulangerie-pâtisserie on the Rue Grande. Cassel is no ordinary provincial cake-maker: he trained at Fauchon and Pierre Hermé in Paris before setting up shop in Fontainebleau. His marketing literature discreetly informs you that he was “pâtissier of the year” in both 1999 and 2007 – quite something in France.

The queues which form outside the shop at weekends are the first hint that this is something a little out of the ordinary:

There are five distinct areas in the shop: the first displays petit fours, individual cakes and, of course, the obligatory macaroons.

Cassel does all the standard macaroon flavours plus some more unusual ones as well. Pictured below are the Punch Creole and Pina Colada macaroons alongside the more usual chocolate and raspberry:

I picked up a selection which included the aforementioned Punch Creole (rum an pineapple?) and Pina Colada (looks like coconut?) varieties alongside chestnut and chocolate to savour at leisure over a cup of coffee:

And to serve after dinner later that evening, a box of pâtisserie to share between 9 of us so it’s not as greedy as it looks:

You come next to the counter displaying savoury canapés, beautifully arranged, miniature works of art. Planning a picnic in the forest we weren’t in the market for dainty cocktail snacks but the most beautiful “oeufs surprise” served in their own eggshells, trimmed and cleaned so neatly, caught my eye. The pastel blue Cotswold Legbar eggs we find at home in the UK would look stunning given this treatment.

Cassel also makes a range of breads, croissants and other viennoiserie. There are clearly some lucky folk who call in regularly for their breakfast pastries and daily baguette.

The final area of the shop is devoted to whole large pâtisserie items – stunning fruit tarts and layered gateaux, and also to Cassel’s range of hand-made chocolates.

Here are the Easter items on display on the right hand side of the shop:

You walk out of the shop with pride clutching your precious purchases displayed in Cassel’s chic orange and brown packaging – the French couture experience all for a few Euros.

And the verdict on the cakes we brought home? Stunning, pure flavours, crisp pastry, light as air fillings. Truthfully I think the whole macaroon search for new flavours has got a little out of hand – eyes closed I would have recognised the chocolate flavour from our selectionbut the other three (chestnut, Pina colada and Punch Creole) were pretty much indistinguishable. Maybe the tried and tested flavours are the best and there’s no need for variety for its own sake.

Contact details
Frédéric Cassel
71-73, rue Grande
77300 Fontainebleau
Tel +33(0)1 64 22 29 59

http://www.frederic-cassel.com

Dinner at Les Prémices, Bourron-Marlotte near Fontainebleau

April 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

We took a deep breath and decided to book a table for all four of us at this French restaurant which takes itself very seriously. Time to teach the boys some proper table manners.

We visit Fontainebleau pretty much every Easter mainly for the rock-climbing (in fact bouldering which is climbing with no more equipment than a chalk bag and crash mat). This is younger son Arthur doing his thing with the help of 2 “spotters”.

Just once during the week it’s good to have a change of milieu so we dress up as smartly as our holiday wardrobe permits and head off to this Michelin and Gault-Millau recognised establishment situated in the grounds of Bourron Marlotte’s château.

Based on previous visits, the place is clearly kept going by its proximity to INSEAD, the Fontainebleau based business school. We’ve quietly sniggered to ourselves as job interviews are conducted in loud American English at neighbouring tables or as professors hold court surrounded by a clique of adoring students hanging on their every word. A great place to play bullshit bingo as phrases such as “framing the argument”, “low hanging fruit” or worst of all “paradigm shift” bounce off the walls.

Tonight though we were alone until pudding arrived, albeit we were early having booked a table for 7.30. A sign of recessionary times perhaps? Given the behaviour of elder son George who was on top boisterous teenage form that evening this was perhaps a blessing…

The dining room has been completely refurbished since our last visit. Previously it had a bit of shabby suburban conservatory feel with cane furniture and green carpet. The new look is much more chic and sharp, discreetly elegant in shades of steel grey and aubergine. Tables are still opulently dressed with generous white napery, designer stainless steel cutlery and plain crystal glasses. As a passing nod to Easter, each table was decorated with a solitary enormous ostrich egg. George thought it would make a good rugby ball and started to demonstrate. Aagh!

Here is our miraculously intact egg pictured with canapés served on trendy roofing slates. The toffee and sesame cherry tomatoes were weird but strangely good.

The ratio of front-of-house staff to customers was almost one to one. We were looked after by 2 charming young waitresses who exuded French chic and were snappily dressed in perfectly tailored trouser suits. I received the distinct impression that they hadn’t encountered children before though.

Our request for Orangina as an apéritif was enough to turn renowned sommelier Laurent Piro’s face white with shock. It clearly upset him so much he forgot to bring my glass of champagne.

Amusingly, the restaurant’s idea of a children’s menu was foie gras with toasted brioche, poached chicken breast with noodles and a chocolate fondant pudding. To be fair, Arthur did enjoy the last 2 courses but not the foie gras which we shared between the three of us spilling crumbs across the table much to the consternation of the staff.

The various multi-course tasting menus seemed too much for the children to take so, having sorted Arthur out with the children’s menu, the rest of us opted for the basic (relatively speaking) four-course market menu instead.

Our first course was a modern take on a prawn cocktail – avocado mousse, crayfish and some pink tomato foam all served in a massive martini glass. It looked extremely tacky but this was meant to be so in a post-modern ironic sort of way I think. It tasted good – zingy, fresh and light.

Next came dorade (translated as gilthead bream? must check this later) with Mediterranean vegetables and a bouillabaisse sauce – a really successful dish and portions not too large and overfacing. The bream was firm fleshed and subtly flavoured and all the tomato, saffron, shellfish, wine and garlic flavours of a good bouillabaisse were concentrated into the spoonful of sauce served with it.

Next was the cheese course. The restaurant’s speciality is a baked camembert with caramelised apples and salad. This may seem like a novelty in France but back here in the UK we are used to all sorts of fruit and cheese combinations. What I would much have preferred is one of those old fashioned French cheese trolleys. Never mind.

Pudding was a rather lovely poached pear and gingerbread confection:

And afterwards with coffee came not one but two trays of dinky petit fours. Here’s arguably the prettier of the two served this time on a hunk of pink marble:

Frankly, I was then rather relieved to make our escape as the children were becoming restless and there was talk of initiating an armpit farting competition. We made our hasty excuses and left.

Les Prémices is a lovely restaurant and I think you would see the best of head chef Dominique Maës’ craft by sampling one of the multi course tasting or surprise menus.

It’s not the place to come for a quick or informal meal though – I wonder if current tastes have moved on and perhaps what people want is a little more informality without compromising on quality. The emptiness of the restaurant on what should have been a bustling Thursday night would suggest this might be so.

Contact details

12 bis Rue Blaise de Montesquiou, 77780 Bourron-Marlotte, France
00 33 (0)1 64 78 33 00

http://www.restaurant-les-premices.com/

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Rhubarb Fool on Tour – France beyond Paris and Belgium category at The Rhubarb Fool.