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Yes, I'm on the subject of food again.
I just couldn't resist putting pen to paper (or, I should say, finger to keyboard!) after a delightful meal that Brian, Ellis, and myself enjoyed recently at a local restaurant in the Roannais region of France.
We had dined at this restaurant many times before. Sometimes with groups of friends, languishing in the beautifully terraced gardens on a warm, moonlit evening.
On this particular occasion, however, we were not persuaded by our 7 year old son to eat outside – simply not the same on a freezing April night!
We were accompanied by two close French friends – one a local headmaster, the other a social worker (both French fonctionnaires), and both connoisseurs of food and wine ( but then isn't everyone that is French!)
The conversation, as it most often does, turned to the subject of 'Food'. From the quality of local restaurants, freshness of ingredients, finesse of various Chefs de Cuisine, and to which dining experience had been better than others.
We, ourselves, were arguing the case for local restaurants where we had enjoyed different types of meals, only to be shot down each time by our French companions about 'the way this was cooked or presented, or the price charged for that…'
What baffled me slightly was the fact that many of these small, local eateries were places introduced to us by these same two friends, and where, in fact, we had enjoyed many evenings together.
In our, still not perfect, French we were trying to explain that while we were not holding up each restaurant to be the ultimate in dining experience, each held its own merit, qualified by price, proximity, convenience, service, and general atmosphere.
Our friends, however, seemed to be making judgement solely on the seeming quality of ingredients and the ability of the Chef de Cuisine.
Whilst I can certainly agree that these two elements are of utmost importance, for me the atmosphere, decoration, and the demeanor of staff also adds to or diminishes from the overall experience. Even more so if your know the restaurant owner and the chef well, and have always had a pleasant evening, despite the odd dish being sometimes less than 'perfect'.
My blood did nearly come to boiling point when one of our friends "jokingly" commented that to the "English" McDonalds was a dining experience!!! (coming from someone who along with his own two children had introduced our son Ellis (then 5 or 6 years old) to a McDonalds in France after a trip to the cinema – Ellis had never ever been to a McDonalds, even in England, until then!).
Joking apart, perhaps this puts into perspective why we have often been taken to restaurants with our friends that, in all honesty, I would not have entertained had we been on our own.
Yes, the food was great, but as sometimes happens in rural France, scant regard is paid much to interiors, subtlety of lighting and general ambience, and even actual service sometimes.
These are often places that I would not normally wish to return to.
The French are so obsessed with food that that they have difficulty seeing past it or around it.
And whilst I can appreciate our friends' comments, I do have to beg to differ on their conclusion as to what makes a good meal and an enjoyable experience.
We have so many great restaurants (in my opinion, of course!) in the Roannais that you would never be short on choice, whether you are wanting a leisurely Sunday lunch, evening meal with the kids, or top quality, world renowned 5-star eating at our famous local restaurant 'La Maison Troisgros' (See our recent blog: " La Maison Troisgros in the Roannais".)
There are many to choose from – all different, and, in our experience all well worth a visit!
On the subject of 'Food' (and probably on 'Drink',too!), however, I'm not sure there will ever be an "entente cordiale".
I'm absolutely sure there will be more to come on this subject in the future.
Watch this space!