The French care about their restaurants and understand the importance of the restaurant business. Even with the austerity-driven increase in TVA (VAT to us), restaurant meals are taxed only at the intermediate rate – 10% rather than 19.6%. Fast food chains such as MacDonald’s places are usually exiled to the outskirts - as happens in Uzès, where this unpalatable franchise sits uneasily in a space between the M. Bricolage DIY outlet and a builders’ merchants called Gedimat a few kilometres out of town. The Stradas and Prezzos and Carluccio’s are nowhere to be seen here, nor in Italy come to that.
This new law is concerned primarily with the quality of the food, distinguishing restaurants according to whether they re-heat, assemble, or cook the meals on offer. It is designed to recognise those restaurants which actually cook the food they serve, rather than buying pre-cooked meals and warming them up.
It will allow only those restaurants which cook home-made dishes to display the state-sponsored Fait Maison logo alongside their menus. And three-star Michelin chef Alain Ducasse (he currently holds 21 Michelin stars!) believes that only about 25% will qualify, although nearly 60% of French hotels, restaurants and cafés will claim they are entitled to it, despite the fact that they are buying in pre-prepared meals for a couple of euros and selling them for ten times that.
Although the gastronomic heritage of France makes this fact particularly heinous, the situation is actually worse across the channel in the UK, where the ubiquity of Brakes and 3663 delivery vehicles outside our restaurants and gastro-pubs is distressing to those who care about food and those that cook it for us. What is particularly distressing is that a similar level of subterfuge is present in the UK market. It is not uncommon, for example, for Brakes drivers to be asked to park ‘round the corner’ when making deliveries.
So how, if you care, can you tell exactly what you are getting?
There is one way which is applicable both in the UK and in France. It is the Les Routiers sign, granted only to those operations in both countries which offer un bon rapport qualité-prix, la cuisine fait maison and la bonne humeur.
Of course, not every restaurant which offers these qualities is a member of this famous and old-established organisation. But Wilde’s is.
And if Wilde’s was to open a branch in France, as has been suggested by Nathalie Schyler of Chateau Kirwan, I believe it would be one of the first to receive the Fait Maison state logo. After all, as those who have eaten in Wilde’s or merely read the Declaration of Independence will know, Wilde’s serves inconvenience food.
Which is what should be on the menu wherever people meet for good food, good wine and good company.
Today from the everysmith vault: I’ve been listening to some real blues – precious recordings of people like Bukka White, Mose Allison, and Mance Lipscomb as well as the Mississippis Fred McDowell and John Hurt. Sometimes the blues is better in its raw state rather than – well, warmed through.