Tag Archives: France

Our daily bread…

Well it has been a summer of mixed emotions for us… we have loved watching the Olympics and the herculean efforts of all our athletes who have given it their all. The nail biting gold medal fight with Andy Murray to the dying second loss of a gold medal for the Taekwondo guy!

We have also after 16 years just sold our French home in the village of Rivesaltes. It was with some sadness we spent our last summer holiday in the “maison” but we will return to the area as we love it so much.

One thing I managed to do this time was something of a long term desire and ambition to work in a genuine French bakery and make the bread!

Well I have to thank Patrick Aiguaviva for the patience and opportunity to do this as he and his family took over the old bakery called La Muscaline on the Place General de Gaulle in the village and following a redecoration re opened it as “Pain de Place” The already own and run the bar opposite so they are slowly dominating the commercial enterprises of square.

Patrick was a little surprised I wanted to get up at an ungodly hour whilst on holiday to make bread with him but he patiently agreed and I duly turned up on a warm sticky Saturday morning at 5:30m

Patrick has a culinary background of working on cruise ships so is use to production on a large scale but running a bakery is a challenge. He makes the dough up the day before using his assorted flours but what intrigued me was the recipe he uses also used some sour dough from the previous day’s dough as a starter in the dough and allows it to prove very slowly. This creates to a good tasting bread.

He does very little hand formation of the dough as he is lucky to have an ancient large rolling machine that rolled the dough into the assorted sized breads. From the traditional baguette, to a thinner smaller ficelle or the “ancienne style” baguette with their pointed ends.

Each batch was placed onto ready prepared cloth covered trays that were then wheeled into the proving cupboard where the dough was held at about 12 degrees centigrade overnight before being got out ready to be placed into the large bakery oven the next morning.

Even loading up the oven was semi-automated with a belt tray that pushed the baguettes into the oven direct onto the oven floor.
Patrick was so well organised with certain functions all geared to make his life easier so that he could bake the required number of baguettes to service the shop and a few of his local contracts. Small bread rolls for the school canteen to some Pizza dough ready for a regular client.

Within no more than 3 hours we had baked the lot as one lot went into the oven and about 12 minutes later came out. It was fascinating to learn the slashes on the top of the baguette or the Boules (round loaf) and the Epis baguettes are all traditional processes and very much the signature of each bakery and their bakers.
I had a go and found it a lot of harder than he made it look and was painfully slower. Practice will make it easier and quicker.

Viennoiserie or “morning goods” of Croissants. Pain au Chocolat and Pains aux Raisin are all bought in frozen and baked off in another oven upstairs (it was cavernous behind the scenes) This is not uncommon in French bakeries these days as it is a time consuming and highly skilled job and not really cost effective for a single man operation!

Patrick also makes large Palmiers Biscuits which he explained were traditionally made from the left over puff pastry dough that were then dredged in sugar and rolled to make the ear shaped crisp sugary pastry much loved with a grand café crème

I shot off with some warm baguettes for breakfast and then popped back a couple of hours later to roll out the next days required bread from a large batch of dough he had already made up.

It was fascinating to see and struck me the amount of effort that goes into that ninety cent baguette is certainly something to cherish and respect. The passion bakers have along with their skills is worthy of our support and our custom!

The locals of Rivesaltes are spoilt for choice and seem to appreciate the differences of each bakery. We had five bakeries all within a five minute walk and now having seen behind the scenes of our nearest I am in awe of what they all achieve but will remain loyal to Patrick’s prowess. It was a very fitting end to our holiday and a memory I shall cherish… a bit like our daily bread!

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Summer is here…Phew

summer holsWell it has been a very hectic month for us with some charity gigs and then a plethora of private functions… We are just about to complete our last one before heading off to France for our annual break. It will be twinned with sadness as we have now sold our French home so it will be the last time we will be staying there!

We have lots already planned for the Autumn season and we will soon be taking bookings for our September & October dates… So do watch this space where we will be publishing full details in the next couple of weeks.

I hope you all have a great summer holiday and come back rested and refreshed! We will!

Cheers

Hari Covert

 

All about the service…

Well during the past few months I have had quite a few eating out experiences of both a good and bad nature.  Having made a living out of restaurant reviewing in the past as both an “Egon Ronay Guides” inspector and also an “AA Guides” patch inspector my tastes have developed to appreciate firstly much simpler food where the ingredients provenance takes centre stage.

I have however begun to appreciate far more the service proffered by an establishment as also being an integral part of the whole experience.

I recently found myself for a few days in the West Country and we had a rather posh afternoon tea at a newly opened 5 star hotel – the Afternoon Tea served was £30 a head and whilst generous in proportion was not so memorable for the quality of the offer. Firstly sandwiches when delivered did not match the menu description and the chefs predilection for tomato in them was rather overzealous.

Scones whilst home-made were stodgy and stale, jam and cream was however generous. Cakes and pastries were pretty unimaginative and amateurish – a tartlette case filled with meringue needed the citric base to compensate for the sweetness. A chocolate cake and a caramel mille feuille were also nothing special and the only saving grace was the fresh fruit tartlette.

An apfel strudel with vanilla sauce was also out of place as a tea time treat – more in keeping as a restaurant dessert was also soggy and not in the least bit dainty!

The only saving was friendly and concerned service from a young but professional team of staff who held it all together and helped redeem the food quality misgivings.

A couple of days later we then had a meal in the depths of Cornwall at an establishment in a very busy and bustling coastal town that is dominated by a certain celebrity chef.

We went to his “Bistro” operation for a dinner. It was a return visit since we had had a memorable lunch some nine years earlier. Whilst the food was spot on and highlighted well the great produce on offer from fresh local scallops served with a truffle butter to an amazing combination of John Dory, Grilled Baby Leeks, Soft Boiled Egg and shaved Parmesan  cheese that was an enlightening combination. It was however the service we had that was more memorable. Young staff were engaging, sociable and efficient throughout so much so it was refreshing to watch and made the evening all the more memorable!

The day afterwards at a seaside Cafe we visited for a traditional Cornish clotted cream tea there was a slightly annoying pre-order system at a bar counter and then your order was delivered to your chosen table. Not ideal, but acceptable except what annoys me more is waiting staff who walk past a laden table of a previous occupants detritus that is not cleared by them… somewhat all to apparent at this canal side eatery that whilst popular lacked the slickness of the previous nights dinner.

My other pet hate is the “Nandos” concept of sitting at a table and then being made to go to a till to order and pre pay – My disabled wife has been discriminated before with this concept  and forced to send our young daughter to order and pay. A visit to chain of burger restaurants using such a format was underwhelming and confirmed my favourite style of this eatery is the “poetically named group” found all over London who has continually delivered great service and a very consistent product in each of their places. My daughter is now hooked on them as are all of her school friends.

Whilst eating with friends at one of Mr Raymond White’s bustling restaurants a mistake to our dessert order was handled with great aplomb and apologetic efficiency that left us impressed with the establishment and happy to return at a future date as opposed to a negative and disgruntled attitude!

Our visit to a wonderful restaurant with rooms in deepest north Devon owned and operated by friends admittedly was made more special by the service proffered that was concerned, measured and efficient throughout our visit. From the welcome cup of tea on arrival to a coffee served in the lounge whilst writing up a report to a sumptuous dinner and well cooked breakfast reminded us how committed you need to be to be hospitable and successful. This couple have now done some 15 plus years in their own business and just one look at the positive and glowing feed back on their trip advisor rating speaks volumes for their dedicated professionalism. I am not surprised they are trying to now sell up and take things a little bit easier as they work long hours and very hard to maintain their loyal and appreciative guests! I wish I had the energy and money to invest in their truly lovely place. I thoroughly recommend a visit to see how it should be done.

Whilst the food is important the service can make or break the experience and the rise in popularity of TripAdvisor hated by many a chef in my mind when you read between the lines is a useful tool to ensure you do not waste your money!

I can thoroughly recommend the following as they provided some truly memorable meals and service over the past few months… I will not bore you with the not so good!

St Petrocs Bistro

Blagdon Manor

Byron Burgers

Restaurant Aquar’aile

Cultural differences…

Well I have been watching the BBC 2 series about Chinese School “Are our are kids tough enough” – despite it’s infuriating editing making it seem a disastrous experience it does illustrate very well the differences between ours and their cultures.

This was also brought home to me following a recent visit of a young 15 year old Singaporean lad who spent two weeks staying with my family for some culinary mentoring.

His very polite and respectful nature for such tender years was refreshing – his eagerness to learn was also commendable – unlike some of the 15 year olds on the TV programme.

It was however the visit we made together to France for an eating and shopping fest that also illustrated to me how different our cultures are with just twenty plus mile of water between us!

We paid visits to some French hypermarkets… he was in awe of the 50 plus checkouts/tills and the range of produce on sale. We then paid a visit to a weekly market in the village of Etaples where the range of fresh seasonal produce was breathtaking. Fresh peaches apricots and nectarines were cheap and great quality alongside an amazing array of fresh tomatoes.

Stalls selling just cheese, fresh fish or one selling a freshly made Paella or another a spit roasted chicken all seemed quite exotic. We had also visited earlier in the week the farmers market in Tonbridge and whilst the produce on show was good the price differentials were eye watering. It seems that twenty plus miles of water has a great deal to answer for.

John Dory with a ginger beurre blanc sauce
John Dory with a ginger beurre blanc sauce

We also paid a visit to the local fish market after having had a wonderful fish based lunch at Perard in nearby Le Touquet – a hugely popular  and busy restaurant that seemed ever popular (it had been many years since my last visit) their infamous fish soup still as good as ever! The range of fish on offer at the Etaples fish market was stunning and so fresh looking – we succumbed to a purchase of three large John Dory at an eye watering forty plus euros. Worth every penny when we the next day filleted them and cooked them for supper.

It all illustrated very well how different our cultures are and respecting this is key to ensuring we appreciate what is on offer. It never ceases to amaze me how we expect to be able to eat an out of season strawberry at Christmas or an asparagus spear imported from thousands of miles away instead of only consuming when in season and more locally sourced.

We should all embrace cultural differences and what they can contribute to our daily lives and not treat them with suspicion or fear…

Rant over…

Lost in translation…

I like a Facebook profile of a favourite cafe in the centre of Perpignan… they post their daily “Plat du Jour” menu once a week and today’s amused me when I requested a bing translation… just for the record I can read French and somehow the English translation does not excite the old palette quite as much!

Voici les plats proposés dans les prochains jours dans notre Espace gourmand de Perpignan :
Lundi : légumes farcis façon Espi
Mardi : brochette de dinde sauce curry accompagnée de spaghetti
Mercredi : joue de porc confite, carottes au gingembre et pommes de terre
Jeudi: pour la journée du printemps, filet de caille, émulsion fruits de la passion
Vendredi : seiches en persillade, escalivade
Samedi : le faux filet et ses pommes de terre
The translation  (via bing)
Here are the dishes offered in the next few days in our greedy space of
Perpignan:  (the greedy space makes them French sound a shade  suspect… well then again)
Monday: Stuffed vegetables how Espi (should be stuffed in the house style)
Tuesday: Skewer of Turkey, curry sauce with spaghetti
Wednesday: Plays candied pork, carrots with ginger and potatoes (should be Braised Pork Cheeks)
Thursday: The spring day, net of quail, emulsion passion fruit (should be for a Spring day, fillets of quail with a passion fruit sauce)
Friday: Cuttlefish in persillade, alioli
Saturday: the false NET and potatoes (Faux fillet is a rib eye beef steak)
Oh well it made me smile… now better get back to my prep for this weekends dinners!