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Snails, snails, and more snails in the Roannais by Brian Franklin

Now, I have to say, that being a bit of a Francophile I do have a penchant for French gastronomy. I have for well-over 40 years! In fact, as long as our local, world famous restaurant, Maison Trois Gros in Roanne, has had its 3 Michelin stars!!

So,  as with many ‘foodies’ I love French wine, cheese, chocolate, patisserie, and the variety and brilliance of  quality French cuisine, generally.

Renowned and always stereotyped, as the French are, for the more bizarre and often extravagant tastes of Frogs (grenouille), foie gras, tête de veau (head of calf), choucroute, casse croûte, cassolet, fruits de mer, etc, etc., (the list goes on, and on!), the noble snail is very much one of the purist symbols of quintessential French food.

And, of course, probably the most visually reviled by the English, let alone regarded as inedible creatures slithering around in the garden eating the lettuce!

In the past, I often enjoyed having six or a dozen snails whilst watching the humorous grimaces of my friends (and my wife!) around the table, as I always tucked in with greedy enthusiasm.

The French are, however, the ultimate experts at preparing, cooking, and serving these little delicacies. They have also developed a variety of ways and recipes to maximise their appeal.

The traditional grouping of snails, shrivelled  from cooking in olive oil, herbs and garlic are classic meaty morsels, and served piping hot with some good ‘dipping’ French bread can certainly be a fulfilling meal in themselves.

I had the good fortune this month to be invited by a group of French friends to a small, unassuming restaurant in Roanne with the inviting name of “L’escargot”. My first thought was, ‘ I like the sound of that!’

So, as I had never dined at this restaurant before it was with a mixture of slight trepidation, and the excitement of having some snails, that I arrived hungry, and ready to be impressed. I wasn’t disappointed.

Now, this little restaurant was not a gastronomic paradise. It was just a very friendly, easy-going place, totally unassuming, with a ‘real’ traditional French atmosphere. Often a sign of good basic fayre!

As I stated to all my French friends, you cannot come to a restaurant with the name of  ‘L’escargot’ without eating the same.

They all agreed, and we all ordered them as a starter dish. I don’t know why, but it may, of course, have been ‘perdu en translation’ (lost in translation), as my French is often ‘wanting’, that I was served with something none of the others had.

It may, of course, have been the fact that I was English, and the proprietor and chef de cuisine wanted to impress, or that I had earlier pointed to ‘escargot à la crème d’ail’ which was a special dish off the à la carte menu.

However, what arrived at the table for just myself alone was most definitely a surprise and a delight. I had never seen snails served in such a ‘collective’ on the same plate.

There was the  classic  of 6 snails served in a traditional round ‘snail’ dish with olive oil, herbs and plenty of garlic.

Then next to this there was a porcelain cup with sliced  snails in a warm cream, garlic sauce. And also a large pot with more sliced snails mixed in a creamy, yellow, turmeric-flavoured garlic sauce with a slice of bacon.

The whole combination was unusual, and tasted amazing, particularly with good bread. I left nothing.

The only slight ‘fall-out’ was that my wife complained of my garlic and turmeric smell for the next two days after!!

My main dish was ‘filet mignon de sanglier’ (wild boar) with a rich red wine sauce. I certainly felt ‘replete’ afterwards, and not a little enebriated, because, as usual, we had chosen some rather pleasant red wines to complement the menu.

A sturdy, rich and herby Crozes Hermitage – Le Launes, Delas 2010.

A slightly lighter, more subtle Côte Rotie – Brune et Blonde, De Guigal 2006.

A strong, full-bodied Châteauneuf-du-Pape – Clos de L’Oratoire des Papes 2007.

I was a very happy man!