15 February 2012

Seven Meals or One ?

What would you rather have, seven meals in the local village brasserie or one fancy-dan meal at a Michelin starred restaurant?

Me? I'd always have the seven meals (for two) as I regard eating out as a social event rather than a stomach-filling one and following a visit to our nearest Michelin priced restaurant, I'm still happy with the choice I'd make.

I took J to Les Bacchenales (http://lesbacchanales.com/) for Valentines Day. Actually, I took her on the 13th as the restaurant on the night itself was fully booked. I'd been wanting to visit Bacchenales for a couple of years as Christophe, the owner/chef had had a small establishment of the same name in Tourrettes a few years ago and had moved to bigger, and pricier premises, had achieved his first star and apparently the food was very good.

The restaurant is based in a large villa just five minutes outside of Vence our nearest town and there were two things I was particularly keen to see; the decor which I was sure would be clean, modern and functional, and how Christophe presented his food. In Tourrettes, virtually every course was sprinkled with edible flower petals which gave the dishes a very colourful feel, possibly to give the impression that there was more on the plate than there actually was.

I had joked that we might have to go for a burger afterwards as my memory was that whilst his food was very good, there wasn't much of it on the plate - true nouvelle cuisine! I needn't have worried.

Christophe himself took my reservation (his wife used to be a friend of J's when they lived in the village, hence the use of his christian name) and suggested a timing of 7.30pm but when we arrived, the dining room was empty, obviously he was trying to stagger the amount of work his waiters, of whom there were many, had to do at any given time.

However, before we get to the meal itself, I had asked J to 'dress up' for dinner and true to form she appeared in her fox fur (the RSCPCA is not one of her chosen charities !). We drove into Vence and I entered our local Best Western, a small, indistinct little hotel on the edge of town.

'Oh, how nice', she said in a voice which betrayed her utter disappointment.
Christophe at work

After parking the car and really trying to convince her that we were indeed going out for Valentines Day in a Best Western, I relented and drove on to Les Bacchenales.

A nice log fire was burning and as soon as we were seated, a waiter presented a bottle of sparkling water, persuaded us to have the house cocktail (apple juice, champagne and candied rose petals) and pointed out the menu which was fixed and which I was reluctant to look at it as I was sure, fish would feature prominently. And it did.

Another waiter appeared and produced hot bread sticks with a dish of parsley pesto and parmesan which was a nice appetiser. Then another waiter provided us with two small bowls (like sake bowls) and announced that the three minute white specs were a special type of lard. He then proceeded to pour a thick beef soup into the bowls and pointed out that the accompanying spoons had a black truffle butter on them which should be stirred into the soup.

Then the confusion began. The spoons were almost flat and any attempt to try and 'spoon' the soup out of the bowls ended with dribbles going everywhere. Should we just drink out of the bowls? I did, and J followed my lead but it was clear later on when other diners started their meal that the spoons should indeed have been used!

Neither of these dishes (according to J) were on the menu which I still hadn't looked at - there was no point. What was going to be served, would be served. If fish arrived, I would do my best to eat it, after all it was costing me a small fortune.

Then the fish arrived. A melange (mixture) of monkfish, prawn meat and clams, surrounded by sweet red onion petals and a small amount of salad leaves. Now I have eaten monkfish and prawns before but generally I choose not to. I also adore clam chowder but have never eaten a clam out of its shell.

The monkfish and prawn seemed hardly cooked but I ate it and I even tried a clam before depositing the rest on J's plate. Thankfully I was able to wash down the clam taste with some nice white wine. As my cousin Sue would say, 'what are you like'.

I sat back enjoying the log fire and the quiet, reserved ambience thinking that I could now relax - the fish course was gone, but Christophe appeared at the table and proudly announced that the next course was Corsican Sea Bream. Aaaaaagh!

Actually, it wasn't at all bad. A meaty fish sprinkled with small cubed radish. I ate it. I wasn't too keen, I have to say, but I ate it. It's amazing what you'll do when you know it's costing the equivalent of a monthly wage of one of J's teachers in Kenya.

More white wine and then the main course was produced - a small piece of fillet steak poached in beetroot stock and resting on beetroot crisps and something else I didn't recognise the look or taste of. The meat looked distinctly uncooked but it was the colour of the beetroot which had made it look raw. Despite the fact that the knives were so blunt they were unable to cut the meat cleanly, it was so tender that the merest pressure caused it to fall apart - it was delicious, especially when washed down with a nice glass of claret.

A long wait then ensued before dessert arrived and I have to say, I have absolutely no idea what it was. J didn't know either - even after we'd eaten it. It tasted like a toffee base with cream and more flowery 'stuff' but whilst I quite liked the taste of it, my enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that I had no idea what I was eating.

Flower petals !!!
Finally, we refused coffee but petit fours were placed on the table - ah, something I could recognise - chocolate truffles and apple candy.

As we drove home, I reflected on the fact that I am quite obviously a total pleb. I love good food but given a choice of a homemade quiche and frites in the Midi or a meal at Les Bacchenales, I know which I would go for, every time. Seven times actually!


1 comment:

Nice Holidays said...

I would agree with you that 7 meals rather than one is my choice, as I too like to eat for social reasons. Great post.