The other weekend I was lost in France, when I forgot to take my camera. Okay, I wasn’t actually ‘lost’, it’s just that I’m so used to having a camera with me when I travel, I felt curiously lost in Paris without it. Good job I took plenty of photos on my previous trip, which I’ve just found - so at least I can write this post, about how curious it is that we identify France with love – and love with France…
France has always rated highly in terms of style, and not just for couture and cuisine. As well as being world renowned for its fashion, France is known for its lovers – perhaps even for its love of love. And France isn’t just famous for its culinary artists either, but also for all manner of talented artists and creative types – and, if you've any other additions to this list, just let me know.
However, I’ve noticed that, in recent years, that Paris has rather lost its edge in the culinary stakes. You’d think that Paris, the French capital of love and romance would be producing the most imaginative and desirable dishes in the world, but in most places, you’ll find the menu consists of three main ingredients: jambon et fromage (ham and cheese) – plus that curiously un-optional extra: du pain.
What I find amusing when I go to Paris is that the hotels invariably offer rather strange and soggy croissants, sometimes dusted in sugar or even, (sacre bleu!) icing sugar, for breakfast - along with a selection of sub-standard, pre-packaged cheeses, hams and the obligatory crusty (crunch your fillings variety) bread rolls. Or am I simply staying in the wrong places? Oh, and lunch is usually a super-sized and over-filled baguette - your choice of jambon, ou fromage... or jambon et fromage.
How refreshing, then, to stumble upon a small local restaurant - close to where I was staying, near the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre - serving les produits de la region (no, not the Paris region, but the South West of France). A lovely couple called Sebastien (a sort of Gallic Gordon Ramsay) and Emeline (the gaminely flirty French waitress), set up the restaurant a few years ago.
I’ve now visited a few times and, what always surprises me, is that I find myself sitting amongst familiar, returning customers on every occasion, the majority of whom are actually French. This has to be the tell tale sign of a good restaurant, or at least a welcome culinary oasis in the midst of a foodie desert.
By the way, Sebastien and Emeline come from the Isle d’Oleron, so are very proud of their Marennes oysters and fresh seafood dishes, which is right up my street.
I’ve noticed another odd thing about French cooking is the curious lack of greenery. If you’re used to Italian-style cuisine, with large dollops of spinach and Mediterranean vegetables, you’ll always feel a little less than satisfied in Paris, where there’s simply no respite from the platefuls of creamy coloured food and sauces, with only the occasional token sprig of parsley… or the odd tomato garnish here and there.
Anyway, if you’re unfortunate enough to be staying in the area, I can highly recommend Saveur et Plaisir as one of the few decent restaurants around – and, in addition to daily specials, they usefully offer two menus: the ‘saveur’ being more basic, and the ‘plaisir’, purely for pleasure (though possibly a little less pleasing on the wallet).
And now on to the plaisir d’amour, sadly, unsampled during my brief visit to the so-called 'city of love', but hopefully more varied and imaginative than the cuisine.
If you’re searching for unusual gifts for your loved one for Valentine’s Day, you might be interested in some amusing 1950s and ‘60s books for lovers by French author/cartoonist, Raymond Peynet. These beautifully illustrated, vintage collectors’ editions, available at ShopCurious, make highly original, quirky Valentine gifts.
In fact, rather than rushing off for a romantic weekend of jambon et fromage in Paris, I’d suggest you stay at home and enjoy a good giggle over Peynet’s charming, witty … and curiously French… approach to love.
Curiculum Vitae Jeffry Zebua
7 months ago