Sunday, 14 April 2013

Fine dining? Just the opposite!

I’ve had a lot of horrible meals out recently as this is week 7 (yes, 7) of having a new kitchen installed.  I’m not going to moan about the kitchen works here as it would take up a whole book – and I think there have probably been enough books written about people moving to France and struggling with renovation works....?

Anyway, back to the meals.  There is a huge difference between eating out because you want to and eating out because you have to.  Just before the kitchen was ripped out we had a wonderful dinner at a lovely restaurant just outside Perpignan (Le Mas des Acades in case anybody local is wondering) with some friends who were staying with us.  Tablecloths, lots of glasses, heavy cutlery and some imaginative and tasty cooking.  Lovely as a treat but not the sort of place to go just because you are hungry.  When it is a question of eating out because you are sick of eating salads and micro-waving ready meals, the choice is slightly different.  So here are some ‘alternative’ restaurant reviews for anybody who ever uses the same French kitchen suppliers as us.

Mcdonalds – ideal for real emergencies and in particular if builders have cut through your electricity cables thus cutting off your internet.  Most of the French McDonalds’ also seem to have a McCafe area with really nice coffee and macarons....  Don’t go on a Wednesday (full of students who have the afternoon off) or at the weekend (seems to be the place for ‘weekend’ dads to take their children).

Flunch – this is a self-service restaurant chain often found in large shopping malls and to start with it baffled me as one area was full of cold food, drinks and puddings and another area had hot food and the two areas were separated by cash desks.  Eventually I worked it out.  You start off by looking outside at the big advertisements showing you what hot food is on offer today, then you enter by the ‘cold’ area, pick up a tray and then choosing from the range of starters (salad bar, cold cuts, prawn cocktails etc) and at the same time you can select your cold pudding or cheese plate.  You then pick up a drink from the fridge (or pour yourself a ‘pichet’ of wine) and arrive at the cash desk.  You are then asked what you will he having as a main course (a ticket is given), and whether you will be wanting coffee afterwards (a token is given).  Once you have found a table you eat your starter and then take your ticket up to the ‘hot’ counter where your meal is given to you, you do a quick circuit of the hot vegetable buffet and then return to your table, hoping that the waitress hasn’t cleared everything away while you were gone.  Sadly this restaurant features highly on my ‘horrible meals’ list – the hot food bears no resemblance to the pictures featured outside.

Pizza Pai – another chain found in large shopping malls.  I’ve never tried the pasta but their pizzas are really good.  They do ‘formula’ meals i.e. for around 12 euros you get a main course with either a starter or a pudding (great sorbets).  For a speedy bargain we go for the Menu Express – for 8euros 90 you get a pizza and a drink and are guaranteed to be out within 30 minutes.  They also offer the pizzas as ‘Mezzo Mezzo’ i.e. half a pizza with salad.

In a recent article for FrenchEntree magazine I wrote about nice the special  ‘formula’ menus offered by independent restaurants can be -  the little restaurants who advertise set menus based on what is freshly cooked today.  Last week I was seduced by a menu offering Tomato & Mozarella salad, followed by Merlu a la plancha (sounds more exciting than grilled Hake) & frites.  What appeared was one tomato with slices of rubbery mozzarella inserted into it in a fan shape (it reminded me of those pineapple and cheese hedgehogs) (giving my age away here!), followed by a slice of really dry fish surrounded by limp chips.  I hadn’t checked the name of the restaurant before I sat down and cannot remember it now but now realise that any restaurant called something like ‘Crepe & Pate’ is not going to excel at anything else....

I do have a new oven now, also a hob and a dishwasher.  Unfortunately they are all still in boxes on the terrace.  Spare a thought for me next time you are slaving over a hot stove – Bon Appetit!