Open again!

On October 30, 2020, restaurants, bars and cafes all over France had to close their doors to the public as part of another lockdown. At the time, nobody had any idea as to how long they would have to remain closed, but I don’t think that anyone expected the closure to last as long as it did! Finally, on May 19, 2021 – after six and a half months!! – restaurants, bars and cafes were allowed to serve customers once more. To begin with, diners are only allowed to be seated outside, with tables widely spaced, and the 9pm curfew still in place – but it’s a start!

When you think about how important a role food plays in French life and culture, you can imagine what a deprivation it has been not being able to go out for a meal. Even a glass of wine or a coffee on one of the terraces of the cafes was out of bounds!

I visited Cafe de la Paix in Saint-Chinian last Saturday evening to catch up with friends, and to enjoy a meal prepared by someone else!

The bar at Cafe de la Paix

Cafe de la Paix was taken over by David and Eve four years ago, and they’ve been working hard to improve the guest experience. The garden has had a complete makeover, the gravel being replaced with paving. There is new (comfortable) terrace furniture, and the place has had a general sprucing up inside and outside!!

The garden at Cafe de la Paix

The menu has also had a makeover – the focus is now on bistro cooking and appetising presentation!

Here now are photos of the dishes we enjoyed! ūüôā First off, a couple of delicious starters

Pissaladiere onion tart with smoked trout
Vegetable tart with shavings of Spanish ham

The main courses were equally delicious, and it was bliss to just sit there and have someone bring the food to the table!!

Filet of seabream on a bed of pasta with mussels
Rump steak with red wine sauce and potato gratin
Duck with olives

Our desserts arrived as it was slowly getting darker. The weather was perfect and I didn’t need to put on the jacket I had brought in case I got too cold! The desserts were a yummy ending to a lovely meal!!

Chocolate mousse, chocolate granola, and buckwheat ice cream
Strawberry eclair with strawberry sorbet
Cherry creme brulée

Because of the 9pm curfew, the restaurant had opened at 6.30pm to give diners ample time to enjoy a leisurely meal – it worked very well for us! If you have been to France in the past, you may remember that most restaurants don’t start to serve dinner before 7.30pm. I imagine that we’ll go back to this later starting time once the curfew gets abolished altogether later this summer.

As we head into summer, things are looking a lot more upbeat and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll continue that way.

Have you visited your favourite restaurant in France yet?

Close to you

This past week has been somewhat mixed – our confinement will be ending soon, since Saint-Chinian is in one of France’s green zones where there have been few cases of the virus. ¬†However, this does not mean that our lives will go back to normal – far from it! ¬†Many restrictions will remain in place, and we’re a long way from being out of the woods!

So, since I cannot be close to any of you I went for another walk with my camera, to be close to nature instead!  Below is a map of my walk Рit started by the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian. I wore my sturdy shoes since a part of it was on slightly uneven terrain!  Only a short length of it was somewhat challenging, where the path went uphill, but for the rest it was pretty easy and very enjoyable!

I started the walk by going along the Chemin des Gazels, passing the cemetery and then took a right turn, just past the former distillery, to join up with the Chemin de Sorteilho.  After about 750m on the Chemin de Sorteilho, I turned right onto a somewhat overgrown track.  This track is not marked on any of the maps, but the hut it goes past is marked with a little black speck on the map!  At the top of the track I turned right once again and followed the path back towards the cooperative winery.  The walk was about 2.5 km in length Рeasy!!

We’ve had wonderful weather over the past weeks, plenty of sunshine, but enough rain to keep nature happy! The wildflowers I saw along my walk were beautiful and here are a few of the pictures I took:

The hut I walked past during the uphill part of my walk had been abandoned some years ago.  The door was missing, and the inside was strewn with all kinds of rubbish.  The roof was still intact and from one of the beams hung an enormous wasps nest!!  It was very well preserved, so might have been built only last year?  I would never have been able to go anywhere near it if it had still been occupied!!

Just before I reached the first of the ponds which are by the side of the path, I noticed the mushrooms in the pictures below. ¬†They were incredibly well camouflaged amongst the rocks! ¬†What a shame that they were not truffles!! ūüôā

I hope you enjoyed this walk – you’ll be able to follow it yourself on your next visit to Saint-Chinian!!

I leave you with a video of Karen Carpenter singing Close to you…

Full of flavour

From time to time I hear of a restaurant or a chef and make a mental note to go and eat there one day. ¬†I’ve been meaning to try the Bistrot Saveurs in Castres for some time now and I finally managed to eat there last week, when I went on a day out with friends!!

Castres is about one and a half hours by car from Saint-Chinian – ¬†a beautiful drive through lush countryside! ¬†It’s a town that once was very prosperous through its textile, paper and tannery industries. ¬†A walk around the town will have you enthralled by the beautiful buildings along the river Agout and the renaissance mansions of the rich and nobles of bygone days. ¬†All that is for another post – the prime purpose of my recent visit was food! ūüôā

The Bistrot Saveur is close to the centre of Castres.  Actually, most things are close to the town centre РCastres is eminently walkable!

The kitchen is presided over by Simon Scott, who has worked in prestigious London establishments such as the Ritz Hotel, where he was sous chef, and the Savoy Hotel, where he was head chef!  The dining room reflects the food which is contemporary and elegant.

Here’s a look at one of the menus:

And here is some of the food – the nibbles that accompanied our drinks:

The lollipops were made with parmesan and spices, the little dishes contained marinated fish with citrus fruit and pomegranate seeds, and the macarons were filled with a black curry cream.  All really yummy and a hint of what was to come.

All four of us ordered the¬†Menu Saveurs, which is the restaurant’s lunchtime menu. ¬†Since there were two choices for each course, we did manage to have all the dishes on the menu brought to our table ūüôā

Here’s one of the starters – Pollack prepared like gravadlax, served on a bed of spinach mousse and accompanied by crispy vegetables and leaves and raz-el-hanout sorbet. ¬†Raz-el-hanout is a North African spice blend and it gave a wonderful flavour to the sorbet.

The second starter was equally delicious – it was very much inspired by local ingredients. ¬†If the first starter was¬†mer (as in sea), the second starter was decidedly¬†terre (as in land)! ¬†Beautifully cooked puy lentils, topped with a samosa filled with black pudding, an egg cooked at 63 degrees Centigrade, and ice cream made with fresh goat’s cheese.

For my main course, I ordered the puff pastry topped chicken and mushroom, which was served with a puree of topinambour (Jerusalem artichokes), as well as a mixture of delicious winter vegetables (carrots, Brussel sprouts, Chinese artichoke, baby potatoes).  The portion size was absolutely perfect and the flavours were amazing!

The second main course on the menu was grilled sea bass filet on a sweet potato puree, served with chick peas, cooked ‘red meat’ radishes, and a shellfish reduction. ¬†I only had a little bite to taste but I would have been just as happy having this dish for my main course as the chicken – I can’t really say which I preferred, both were delicious!

I opted for cheese to finish my meal – a selection of Mr Marty’s sheep’s cheeses, accompanied by walnuts and quince pate. ¬†I don’t know who Mr Marty is, but his cheeses were very tasty!!

My dining companions all opted for the chef’s take on tarte tatin: beautifully caramelised apples atop a crispy¬†speculoos (gingerbread) crust, topped with raspberry sorbet.

We ended this great meal with coffee and some wonderful pistachio financier cakes (they were very small), which were still warm from the oven!

The menu, including a glass of wine and coffee was absolutely fantastic value at 25 Euros per person. ¬†I feel that I’ll be going to Castres again before too long and I’ll make sure to take more photographs of the town then, for another blog post!

If you want to eat at Bistrot Saveurs, be sure to book a table Рthe restaurant gets very busy.  You can find the website here.

Keepers

My own definition of a keeper is a place I’m going to keep in my address book, somewhere I’ll want to go back to again! ¬†The two restaurants in this article both fall into that category!!

On a recent visit to Montpellier, I had wanted to have lunch at L’Heure Bleue, an antiques store cum restaurant cum tearoom on Rue de la Carbonnerie. ¬†The last time I had been to L’Heure Bleue was a few years ago. ¬†I had fond memories of it’s cozy and kitsch decor and the delicious food! ¬†The concept was fun – everything in the restaurant was for sale: the tables, the chairs, the china, literally anything around you could be bought and taken home, if you so wished. ¬†When I pushed the door open on my most recent visit, there was none of the usual hum, and nobody was seated at the tables. ¬†Perhaps I was a little too early? ¬†Alas I was too late! ¬†When I asked about having lunch, the owner said that they had stopped serving food about a year ago. ūüė¶ ¬†He could see how disappointed I was (he probably was too), and suggested that I try another¬†Salon de The just around the corner – L’Appart’The. ¬†So off I went, down Rue de la Carbonnerie, turning right into Rue de l’Aiguillerie, and finally left into Rue Glaize. ¬†I was so pleased when I spotted L’Appart’The, that I almost went flying when I missed a step outside the restaurant! ¬† ūüė≤

There were tables outside the restaurant, and even though it was a nice and sunny day, it felt a little too cool for me to be sitting outside.  Inside, the dining room was small but bright, with a lovely warm feel to it.  There was space for only eight persons at four tables for two.  A counter at one end of the room separated the kitchen from the dining room, and allowed me to watch the chef preparing the dishes.  There were already some people seated and I felt a little too self-conscious to take photographs.

The menu was very simple: a choice of three starters, two main courses, and four desserts.  My dining companion and I both opted to have the fresh ravioli for our starters.  The ravioli were filled with mountain (raw cured) ham and curd cheese, and served with a creamy sauce.  The ravioli were very delicious!

For his main course, my dining companion chose the slowly braised pork chop:

I had the roast beef:

Both of the main courses were delicious!  What we really liked was that for once there was a good amount of vegetables on the plates Рthat happens so rarely in restaurants in France.  The vegetables were perfectly cooked and totally appropriate for the season: turnips, carrots, cabbage, sweet potato and regular potato.

From the five desserts on the menu I chose the apple tart:

and my companion chose the apricot dessert with a caramelized top:

Both desserts were very yummy!!  When I came to pay the bill at the counter (the menus were 25,50 Euros for three courses), I saw that there was a second room to the side, which was set up as a lounge with sofas, armchairs and coffee tables Рvery cozy and perfect for afternoon tea!


I came across another “find” recently on a visit to Capestang. ¬†Again, I wasn’t able to go to the restaurant I had hoped to go to, which was La Galiniere. ¬†I had timed my trip badly, it was the day off for the restaurant. ¬†I knew that there were several restaurants around the main square in Capestang, so I walked there and had a look. ¬†Le Caveau de la Place looked interesting and there were a couple of people outside, enjoying a drink in the sunshine, so I decided to give it a whirl.

The word caveau usually denotes a wine cellar where you can sample and buy wine. The interior of the restaurant made the wines a prominent feature:

The lunchtime menu was simple and straightforward Рthree courses, no choice of dishes, but what was on offer suited me fine.  The first course consisted of deep-fried squid nuggets with a little green salad.  The batter around the squid was very well seasoned, and the olive oil on the salad was wonderfully tasty.  The portion was very generous, almost a meal in itself!


For the main course there was blanquette de veau, veal in a creamy sauce with carrots and mushrooms, and accompanied by a creamy risotto.  The veal was lovely and tender, and oh-so-tasty!!

Dessert came in the form of a lemon meringue tart – not home-made I’m guessing, but good all the same!

To go with the food, I had a glass of white wine from Domaine Saint-Georges d’Ibry, a winery near Abeilhan. ¬†In the photo below, the white wine was the bottle in the centre.

The three-course lunch with a (very generous) glass of wine came to ‚ā¨17.80 – great value!

When I arrived back in Saint-Chinian there was a rainbow on the horizon – if you look carefully, you’ll be able make out the start of a second rainbow. ¬†Just perfect!! ūüôā

Restbite

Having been to see the old prison, the cellar beneath the cloisters, and the former archbishop’s palace on my visit to Beziers during the most recent European Heritage days, I had built up an appetite! My search for somewhere to eat took me to Les Halles,¬†the covered market near Place de la Madeleine. ¬†About half of the floor space inside the market hall is now given over to restaurants, with the other half still occupied by food stalls. ¬†I liked the look of¬†A la Maison, and that’s where I had lunch!

The restaurant claims that it serves old-fashioned home cooking prepared with the help of grandmother’s recipes. ¬†I liked the sound of that! ūüôā

The menu had a good selection of starters, main courses and desserts:

I chose the entrecote steak – it came accompanied by fried potatoes and some salad. ¬†The steak was tender, tasty and perfectly cooked! ¬†I cannot remember when I’ve had such a wonderful steak in France! ¬†And the potatoes and salad were excellent too!!

My companion ordered the tuna fish, which was served with rice and salad, and a sauce vierge, a kind of salsa made with chopped fresh tomatoes, onions, and olive oil.  The tuna too was perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious!

If I need to choose whether to have a starter or a dessert I will always go for a dessert!  So, from the dessert section of the menu I chose the panna cotta.  It was topped with mango puree and whipped cream.  It was very different from the panna cottas I have eaten and made myself!  The cream was very dense and firm, yet it did not have the rubbery texture that can be attributed to too much gelatine.  It was very yummy and satisfying!

My companion chose the tiramisu with red fruit coulis, as with the panna cotta, this was also a very tasty dessert!!

After this wonderful meal I was ready to continue my quest to discover more hidden historical gems in Beziers!  I did visit three more amazing places, and I will write about those in due course!!

A la Maison is open for lunch from Tuesday to Sunday. ¬†While looked for a website, I found their TripAdvisor listing here. ¬†It’s one of the few restaurant listings that I have come across on that site which has scored five out of five!! ¬†They also have a website here.

Lunch at a snail’s pace

Many years ago (in 2001!!), Susan Sisk visited Saint-Chinian for a two-week stay, organised by the dearly missed Nadine Holm of Nadine’s Tours and Travel. ¬†After her visit, Susan sent me her travel journals, along with photographs to illustrate them, and allowed me to add the lot to my website!

Blogging was almost non-existent at the time, but Susan’s travel journal was a kind of forerunner of this blog – you can find all her writings about that visit to Languedoc¬†on http://midihideaways.com/journal/index.html¬†. ¬†One of her articles is headed “2 hour lunches, 3 hour dinners“, and in the article she describes a meal at Restaurant Lo Cagarol in the village of Aigne, amongst other food related stories. Cagarol is the Occitan word for snail, and Aigne is a¬†circulade,¬†a village built in concentric circles, shaped like the circles of a snail shell – voila the reason for the name!!

Lo Cagarol had somehow dropped off my radar for a little while, so I made a conscious effort to re-visit the restaurant. ¬†Chef-proprietor Christophe Esperou still turns out delicious food, so my efforts were richly rewarded!! ¬†It was so good that I went twice in fairly quick succession, and I’ve booked to meet friends there for lunch later this month!

Christophe’s food has evolved over the years – he now concentrates on using seasonal ingredients and keeps his menus small, but changes the dishes on a regular basis. ¬†His lunchtime menu of three courses is priced at 16 Euros and includes a quarter litre of wine – what’s not to like?? ūüôā

Without further ado, here are the pictures of the food!! The dishes were all so delicious РI won’t even add and descriptions. I think you’ll be able to tell from the pictures.

Starters:

Gratinated oysters

Deep-fried camembert

Deep-fried camembert

Asparagus soup with poached quails egg

Asparagus soup with poached quail’s egg

Chicken liver salad

Chicken liver salad

Main courses:

Duck pie with potato topping

Duck pie with potato topping

Cod with aioli topping

Cod with aioli topping

Duck breast with mushroom sauce

Duck breast with mushroom sauce

Pan-friend salmon with risotto

Pan-friend salmon with risotto

Desserts:

Creme brulee

Creme brulee

Pannacotta with strawberries

Pannacotta with strawberries

The dining room at Lo Cagarol has a rustic feel to it, and the seats are very comfortable!  On one of my recent visits, there was a fire burning in the fireplace, which made for a lovely atmosphere.

Dining room of Lo Cagarol, Aigne

Dining room of Lo Cagarol

Outside the restaurant, there is a large terrace, which will be in use as soon as the weather is warm enough!

Lo Cagarol, Aigne

The terrace at Lo Cagarol (picture from the restaurant’s facebook page)

The restaurant is open six days a week from Fridays to Wednesdays for lunch and dinner; closed on Thursdays. ¬†They don’t have a website, but you can check on Facebook for news. ¬†Do call ahead to book your table! ¬†The phone number for the restaurant is +33 (0)4 68 27 84 22.