In the UK, we are in awe of French chefs. We watch the Roux brothers and their offspring on TV, together with Raymond Blanc and all those guys who have been brought up in the Michelin tradition, and we believe that this is the style to which all great cooking aspires.
But is it? The French are not convinced. And neither am I.
In the Uzège, we are exposed to almost every style of cuisine as well as a culture which encourages eating out and outside. So we have some experience – good and bad - of what constitutes good cooking. We have been lucky enough to have eaten some exceptional meals which would earn high praise had they been served in The Waterside, or Gavroche, for example.
Notable was the menu degustation on Jill’s birthday at L’Artemise, a beautiful meal in beautiful surroundings, which featured as its highlights foie gras in a coating of dark bitter chocolate and a main course of the most exquisitely tender veal. In the same league, although a lower division, were L’Amphytrion in Castillon and Le Castellas in Collias: both using superbly fresh ingredients in a classical, traditional manner and hovering just below or just above a Michelin star standard.
These three epitomize what we understand to be French cuisine, and they charge for it. We do not resent this – we understand the costs of running such immaculate restaurants – but they are not for every day, every week or even every month.
For more quotidian eating out, we can recommend La Table 2 Julian in Montaren, which is not far short of the three mentioned above; L’Authentique in Saint Siffet, which offers no choices but executes each dish superbly; and – a great deal simpler but which also benefits from sticking to the knitting – 30 degrees Sud in our own village of Saint Quentin la Poterie.
After that, it is pretty much the same old, same old in Uzès: a plethora of touristique restaurants where you can get fed, drink a few pichets of the local wine and enjoy the company rather than the cuisine.
Which is why we so excited when Tom and Unity asked us, together with Archie, Tom’s brother Jim and Jill’s sister Carol, to join them last Saturday for a dinner at a guinguette on a camp site just the other side of Goudargues.
A guinguette is an outdoor drinking establishment which also offers traditional cooking, and this met the definition precisely. It is a bar and grill on the bank of the River Cèze. We ate very well indeed: steaks, barons d’agneau, and Toulouse sausages, all served with huge quantities of the best frites one has ever eaten and washed down with equally huge quantities of a very young (2012) and very quaffable Côtes de Rhône Villages.
It was packed – primarily with French families. And as darkness fell, and the lights came on and the kids ran between the tables and the adults had just a couple too many and laughed and joked, I realized that French cuisine is not about the exquisite subtleties and nuances of flavours of cuisine nouvelle.
It is about fun and family and friendship.
P.S. Our thanks to Tom and Unity for asking us, and to Jim Cantwell, Archie Robertson and Carol Stanhope for their company. And especially to Jill for driving.
P.P.S. To all those asking when the next baseball blog will appear, it will be during the All-Star break. Lots to write about after 100 games of the season.
Today from the every smith vault: Honeyboy Edwards. This is what the blues is about.