Writing this up, another year later, having just discovered Michel Cluizel chocolate.
France I now forgive you.
Voulez-vous Parisienne pomp? J'ai eu les Miserables. (Wan't Parisienne pomp? I got Les Miserables.)
Paris. Wow, it’s a beautiful city! So chic, full of history and its proud people.
It’s vibrant, but also conservative. It's edgy, confident and so very very French.
To update you, my dinner dating has progressed somewhat these days. A little further afield over to the continent, all the way from Pret-a-Manger via a high-speed train. Yes France, the country is only an hour or so away.
Begone, memories of dull school trips as a sullen teenager to the prestigious ports of Dieppe and Calais! This time I was going to 'regardé les magazines', shop the 3rd Arrondissement and show off my shit GSCE French flexing my Francophone, but MOSTLY I was there for the food.
In the heart of haute cuisine, I had high hopes but got Haute disappointment. Quelle dommage? You say?
Picture this: sitting outside at a cast iron round table for two, under the elegant blocks on the 15eme Arrondissement; I’m being served, proper Pouilly, watching beautiful business women in Chanel boucle jackets trotting past in Laboutins, walking their Bichons Frises, smoking Gauloises in tortoiseshell cigarette holders, they cast glances at their slender reflections in oversized Morel Lunettes; my waiter is a jolly pencil moustachioed one in a full-length crisp pressed white piny and he has a waistcoat, bow tie, side parting neckerchief and a pocket square.
Everything I want from Paris right now is here, including the shade from the top of the Eiffel to shield me from the glorious sun.
With palpable excitement I ordered. In French. Imagining a drizzle of this, a glaze of that, a sprig of some tiny greens. Oh, the plated finesse I was dreaming of the perfect Parisienne setting.
Mademoiselle... the waiter gestured with my plate in his hand, crisp linen folded over his forearm. He lifted a silver domed lid. Just like in Lady and The Tramp. As the plate was set, my head cocked in surprise.
I expected something quite fine to match my surroundings, but my dreams were dashed with what turned out to be a greasily fried bit of quack and chips. The salad, on the side, was uninspired and unseasoned. Not as beautifully dressed as the passers-by.
My heart (for the 5th time that trip) Cinq, once again.
I’d previously been underwhelmed with the overpriced, casual get-up at the ubiquitously Parisienne's 'Cafe St Germain'. And again, dull experience, peppered about with stylish locals, but their not-eating made for boring people watching. The Caesar Salad, however, I feared should be faultless?
On ‘Oliday I like to think that I can push the 'petite bateux' out for finer dining, however, I'm not quite Charlie grande pommes des terres yet, so I couldn’t do Michelin for my mini break.
I, by no means, scrimped on eating and consulted my dear digital travelling peers at the likes of Yelp and Trip Advisor in Paris, but yet there was nothing that really set my world alight. Mon non
feu d’lumiere! I couldn’t understand, I researched and was reassured with 5-star reviews. But non. Non merci. Nous nes sommes pas plus!
I came close many times to foodie failure in France and it took a weeks worth of various veritable experiences in Paris, involving an alarming amount of Aligoté and a frightful amount of les frites to find a decent place and I found, one and only one place to dare dabble with culinary fusion in this mixed metropolis.
The Frenchest evening experience I had, was stumbling in on the cutest wine shop, L’Etiquette, it would have been rude not to taste a lot of good french wine on Île Saint-Louis, I later met a bunch of Gaulier clowns at a brasserie and Quelle Surprise! Finally found a hip spot where I got a not-so traditional steak Tartine. I was about to turn my back on French cuisine and it was fateful to find Derrière and my bad food experiences were behind me. The Tartine not Tartaré was sweetened with Moroccan spices, it not only did it lift the hope in my heart for French food but livened up that heavy raw cold minced meat.
Delicious and for the first time a reasonable portion, not a girl-sized 'Nouveau cuisine' small slab, that you need a kebab after and not defeating enough to be bigger than your handbag.
It came with a pretty baby leaf salad and toasted pan flute crostini on the side, a delicate touch, whereas the ubiquitous frites usually finish me off.
Fast forward 6 months and on a chilly new of year night, I had to think of a place to entertain 3 Adelaideans- a tough ask. Anyone from Adelaide is a foodie. Whereas London has merely just caught on to food being the new FACE. I needed good wine, food and entertainment.
The usual suspects, they'd been to. The hot spots were booked weeks in advance, then the silly idea of French floated and between both of our locations in Battersea, I'd heard of a cute quirky place- "Le Quecumbar”.
It had highly rated entertainment! Live Gipsy jazz- Yes. Great French wines on the list, tick. Rich, spicy puddingy Claret- Oh yes, please! I have never found fault with French booze. (Oh except: don’t order Kir (what a way to ruin Ruinard) or Eau de Vie, a hellish plum, clear moonshine that’ll take the skin off your teeth.
However, my experience with French food hasn’t been consistent. I was burned by boring French food in Paris, big time, in a fiery, Joan-of-Arc way and now my neck was socially on the line to find a suitable spot. Even my earliest experiences with French food weren’t great When I was 9, on a Red Top Tabloid Tenner Trip with my parents. It was ghastly as you’d expect, we went to a place called L’hotel Libertie, (we left early). It had a flashing neon blue Statue of Liberty sign with bulbs missing, that beckoned us in and lots of lorries in the car park.
I’ll never forget that night in my best leggings and Mark Owen holiday sweatshirt, my mothers' aghast horrific screams across the table as she carved into under-cooked poulet. Mum's is from the land where barbecue dreas are made: The Philippines and being Filipino, likes meat well cooked, burnt even and despite her Catholicism; cremated almost.
I hadn’t tried a rare steak until I had well-left home, I was 20 or so. I took my dad out for what he’d call a 'slap up' Gastro pub lunch. Dad ordered Steak Dianne, me; a filet mignon.
At the time the only filet I was familiar with was Phille-delphia and how versatile with pasta it was, during recent student years.
My dad ordered his steak and like a naughty school boy almost whispered, “mooing" please. With chagrin and a knowing in on it look he ordered mine for me "the same". With lashings of Colman's mustard. At this time I had an epiphany and have never looked back. Steak has to be rare. Mustard has to be English.
Stay with me, forward 10 years and I’m here back from Paris, my Adelaidean accomplices are ordering accoutrements. An interesting specials board was explained by the pretty abrupt blonde waitress. Tartiflette, I learned was dirty, and what turned out not to be a cat food, on a nearby table was, in fact, a pork Rillette.
With my qualified quaffers, I began to nervously assess my surroundings. Were they enjoying the Gypsy jazz? Yes, ok the wine seemed to be working a treat, yes good.
On receiving the Tartiflette, however, my Aussie combo chimed in waxing lyrical about a recent trip they'd made to the idyllic French countryside and the saliva screamingly pongy, made by monks, frommage they had in their traditional Tartiflettes in Toulouse, way back and what we were served was not pretty. It was pretty gross, undercooked potatoes swimming in oil.
I haven't even started. The salmon on the specials board piqued interest, it was specifically ordered rare. One even requested, please, for the love of Lourdes don’t overcook it.
The waitress began to explain with trepidation, dare she request of the new chef any other particular way of cooking anything other than he knew how.
The ghost, the insipid memory of something I can only suppose was fish arrived like a message of hate on a plate. The poisson; powdered almost, this soggy salmon was grossly overcooked and an oh so disappointing piece de non
resistance despite my dinner dates specifications on its preparation.
Had you the need of taking your teeth out you’d have appreciated the pink mush, but my perfect dinner dates' line of pearly white gnashers, which are well designed to chew firm fish kissed by flames, made by the firm hands of a chef who knows what to with a le Cruesset. Dinner was
Again my antipodean dining companion to the left had high expectations of his lamb dinner, but what came was what appeared to be more of a sad sliced microwaved dinner for one. Very strange, merely morsels of chopped meat, (my cat's sachet foil wrapped food looked more substantial than what he got) was not as advertised, ’Sliced roast lamb leg'.
Perhaps the angry chef was munching away at morsels of meat whilst the salmon was boiling to a mush. My counterpart dining companion opposite with the Tartiflette, the one who told the story about the fantastic fromage she’d had in France, I could tell was disappointed as I.
Throughout dinner, I requested an extra napkin and got an angry silk show. A display of paper tissues was briskly wafted under our noses, the waitress might have well told us to fuck right off, I wish she had as this display of disparaging behaviour was then after our first waitress talking down the culinary skills of the cook. We should have left immediately. Cool as quecumbers.
We ended up at the pub next door for pudding. And although sick to the back teeth of the cheesy hell I’d been through I almost wanted another dinner to help me forget.
France good job you're good at cheese, wine and chocolates.