Garden fresh

During my recent blogging holiday, I had many delicious meals: at home, with friends, in restaurants, and at festivals …

On a day out with friends in Perpignan, I went to Restaurant La Galinette, following the recommendation of one of my guests (thank you, Tove!!).  Christophe Comes, the chef proprietor of the restaurant, has a potager of 3 hectares which he cultivates with the help of his father.  The produce from this vegetable garden plays a starring role on the menu!

La Galinette has a star in the Guide Michelin – my friends and I decided to order the tasting menu!  Without further ado, here are the food pictures – :

Salmonejo de tomates “Green Zebra”, basilic pourpre, feta.

For the Salmonejo, a cold tomato soup was poured into the plate – it was so tempting to eat that I totally forgot to take another picture!! 🙂

Collection de nos tomates anciennes; huile de l’hort et condiments

The collection of heritage tomatoes included Black Krim and Ananas, and the plate was as pretty as a picture!  It also tasted divine.

It still looked like a (modern art) picture when there was nothing left!!

Saumon sauvage a peine cuit, oseille de Belleville, concombre epineux et pain noir.

Wild salmon served on a sorrel puree, spiny cucumber and black bread.

Vive sauvage de Mediterranee, fine brandade de morue, jus de piperade au chorizo.

Wild sting fish (greater weever), served with salt cod puree and piperade sauce (made with sweet bell peppers and chorizo).

Epaule d’agneau catalan confite, pulpe d’aubergines “di Fierenze”

Slow-cooked shoulder of Catalan lamb, surrounded by various preparations made with aubergines: roasted, deep-fried in panko crust, braised, and puréed.

Pasteque rafraichie d’agastache anisee, sorbet melon “piel de sapo”

A generous slice of watermelon topped with candied melon and melon sorbet – very refreshing!

Peches “duras” d’Ille sur Tet, idee d’une melba

A take on peach melba, made with “duras” peaches from Ile sur Tet, with raspberry sauce and peach and vanilla sorbets.  The berries at the front of the picture are sugar frosted redcurrants.

This was a very memorable meal, every course as delicious as the previous/next!  If you are in Perpignan you should definitely try this restaurant!  If you are not already there, perhaps you want to plan a visit – it’s a wonderful town to explore!  The lunch menu is priced at €25 for three courses, the tasting menus are €48 for six courses and €54 for eight courses, served for lunch or dinner.  La Galinette is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday.  Reservations are recommended!

I leave you with a few random pictures taken in Perpignan:

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Life begins at 50…

… or does it?  Some of you may know that I recently started my 51st year, but I’ve not noticed much difference. 🙂  Having said that, any round birthday is a good reason to celebrate.  I was very lucky to have good friends with me to mark the occasion in a rather spectacular manner:  a trip to El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain.  Girona is only a  two hour drive from Saint-Chinian, and the restaurant has been voted Best Restaurant in the World, and has been given three stars by the Guide Michelin.

I’m not really in the habit of going to three star restaurants – the trip to Girona came about by chance rather than design.  I was sitting with my friends one evening, and we were talking about how difficult it was to get reservations for El Celler de Can Roca – bookings have to be made 11 months in advance, and the tables are usually booked very very quickly!  Flippantly I said, “Why don’t I e-mail the restaurant to see if they have a cancellation over the next few days?”.  I received a fast reply to my e-mail, and the next morning we had a reservation for the following week – never in my wildest dreams had I thought that it would happen!!

The restaurant is in a very unprepossessing neighbourhood of Girona.  Its interior is very modern and pure, and the dining room is arranged around a triangular lightwell, which is planted with trees.  The tables were spacious and beautifully set with white tablecloths, starched linen napkins, Riedel glasses and silverware.  I felt far too self-conscious to take pictures of anything but the food, although the atmosphere was in no way ‘starchy’.  The staff were all very friendly and incredibly professional, and the service was smooth and unobtrusive – the restaurant was running like clockwork!!

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After we had sat down, we were served a glass of cava, with compliments of the house, while we perused the menu and the wine lists.  The choice of menu was easy – there were only two, and since this was probably a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience, we opted for the tasting menu.  Half our table ordered the wine pairing – a different wine with each course – fourteen glasses!!  Luckily the glasses were not very full!

I leave you now, with the photographs of the meal – it was a fantastic dining experience, and a brilliant start to my 51st year!

Appetizer The World

Appetizer The World

Thailand: Thai chicken, coriander, coconut, curry and lime
Japan: miso cream with nyinyonyaki
China: pickled vegetables with plum cream
Peru: “Causa limena”
Korea: panco fried bread, bacon with soya sauce, kimchi and sesame oil

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Memories of a bar in the suburbs of Girona: Breaded squid, Kidneys with sherry, Pigeon bonbon, Salt cod with spinach and pine nuts, Campari bonbon

Green olive ice cream

Green olive ice cream

Starfish

Starfish

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Coral: ying-yang oyster, seabream ceviche

Summer truffle brioche

Summer truffle brioche

Here is where the main courses start:

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White asparagus with elderflower, mullet roe, dried apricot, ginger and acacia honey hollandaise sauce

Cherries marinated on a bed of cashew, smoked eel and "beurre noisette"

Cherries marinated on a bed of cashew, smoked eel and “beurre noisette”

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Tartar of tomato and watermelon

Langoustine with cocoa bean sauce Black mole with chocolate and mantis shrimp cream with coconut and boletus edulis

Langoustine with cocoa bean sauce
Black mole with chocolate and mantis shrimp cream with coconut and boletus edulis

Baby squid with tempeh of "ganxet" beans

Baby squid with tempeh of “ganxet” beans

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Prawn marinated with rice vinegar Prawn’s head sauce, crispy prawn legs, seaweed veloute and phytoplankton

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Red skate confit with juice of charcoal-grilled pepper and rhubarb

Blackspot seabream with "samfaina"

Blackspot seabream with “samfaina”

Iberian suckling pick with salad of green papaya, thai grapefruit, apple, coriander, chilli pepper, lime and cashew

Iberian suckling pig with salad of green papaya, thai grapefruit, apple, coriander, chilli pepper, lime and cashew

Lamb with eggplant and chickpea puree, lamb's trotters and spicy tomato

Lamb with eggplant and chickpea puree, lamb’s trotters and spicy tomato

Veal oyster blade and marrow, tendons and avocado

Veal oyster blade and marrow, tendons and avocado

We are now starting with desserts!!

Turkish perfume: Rose, peach, saffron, cumin, cinnamon and pistachio

Turkish perfume: Rose, peach, saffron, cumin, cinnamon and pistachio

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Orange colourology

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Orange colourology – cracked open!

Cuban cigar box: chocolate with mil, vanilla, dried plum, tobacco leaf and cocoa

Cuban cigar box: chocolate with milk, vanilla, dried plum, tobacco leaf and cocoa

Just when we thought there was no more to come….

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A starry mollusc

Did you know that the octopus is part of the mollusc family??  I didn’t, but I am glad that I learn something each time I write a post!  Octopus is the name of  a restaurant in Beziers, and it’s located in the centre of town, on rue Boieldieu; as you can imagine it took me a little while to learn to pronounce the name of the street!

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L’Octopus took its present form in January 2005, with Fabien Lefebvre in charge of the kitchen, Rachel Lefebvre looking after the wine cellar, and Laurent Montillard the maitre d’hotel.  The three had all previously worked at the Hotel Bristol in Paris, and you can tell that they make a great team from the moment you walk into the restaurant.  I’d been to L’Octopus previously, but only ever for lunch, so dinner was a new experience.  The whole restaurant had been given a makeover in September, and it was a joy to see the stylish result.  There are three dining rooms, two at the back overlooking the large courtyard patio, and one at the front, next to the cozy bar/lounge. We were the first guests to be seated in the dining room at the front, and to begin with it felt a little awkward, but soon the tables around us started to fill up, and as the noise level rose the ambiance warmed up.

Dinner had been a present from friends and so the heavy task of choosing what to have did not have to be accomplished!  A glass of champagne arrived, followed shortly afterwards by a “mise en bouche”, a little something to get the gastric juices flowing.  I can feel myself salivating as I am writing this, and you may possibly be salivating too as you are reading.  Three delicious morsels to get us in the mood:  a marinated anchovy fillet seasoned with sansho pepper, a Japanese spice; acras made with salt cod and served with a delicately light sweet-and-sour sauce; and kromeskies (small croquettes) made from pigs head, crispy on the outside and juicy inside, served with a mustard and yoghurt dip.

After a brief pause the starter arrived – a beautiful picture to behold, with the most divine smell!  I’m sorry that this is not “scratch and sniff”!  Everything had been beautifully placed, down to the last delicate leaf.

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At the centre of the dish is a piece of lobster, and in the two corners are slices of tuna.  The slices had been cut from a slab which had only just been seared on the outside. Behind the yellow carrot slice is a maki roll, raw tuna wrapped in a sheet of nori (algue) with a stick of raw cucumber at its centre.  The sauces were made with miso and the whole seasoned with gomasio, a mixture of sesame seeds and salt.  So by now you might be able to imagine the smell, and I can assure you that it tasted every bit as good as it looked.  To accompany there was a generous glass of white wine, Domaine Les Hautes Terres from Limoux, a 100% chardonnay which was a perfect match!!

The first of the main courses was fish, a fillet of red mullet.  The fillet was perched on a ring of puree made from potatoes and coco beans (a white haricot bean, Coco de Paimpol), and the ring contained a most delicious stock made from red mullet bones and saffron.  Also perched on the ring were pieces of grilled squid, and the decoration was made from squid ink.

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The “pearls” on the ring were made from potato and the tiny sprigs of fennel were wonderfully refreshing.  Outside the ring, and just under the fillet was a little bit of pureed red mullet liver, which provided a good kick of iodine.

By now I was wondering how this could be followed.  Our waiter laid the table with a fork, a spoon and a sharp knife, and replenished the bread (excellent bread rolls, nice and crispy with very good flavour).  The whole menu was decided by the chef, so when the second main course came to the table it was a very nice surprise!

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The most beautifully pink lamb chop arrived in a deep plate, surrounded by lamb stock and vegetables, and tucked under the leaf on the left was a delicate ravioli filled with goat’s cheese.  The rose shaped item was a bit of lamb kidney, and the pale yellow strip in the top right corner is a piece of candied citrus peel, from a fruit called Buddah’s hand (see the fourth picture of “oranges-and-lemons” for what that looks like), by way of a condiment.  I can’t ever remember eating lamb this tender or tasty – my guess is that the meat was cooked by the low temperature method, and it was 100% successful in this case.  The knife just slipped through the meat like butter, but not cold butter out the fridge!  The chop was nice and thick, the vegetables just perfect and the stock a delight.  I’m no fan of kidneys, so I gave that a miss – and perhaps I missed something, but I was worried about spoiling the rest of the dish by trying it.  With the lamb came a glass of Corbieres red wine from Domaine Ledogar, another great match.

By this time we had struck up a conversation with the couple at the next table, who were staying overnight in Beziers on their way to Spain. They had been to the restaurant in its previous incarnation 20 years earlier and were very pleasantly surprised by the wonderful food.  Their meal continued with cheese, and a magnificent cheese trolley was brought round, carrying a beautiful selection of cheeses.

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For us it was time for dessert – another gorgeous creation on a plate!

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The black figs had somehow been cooked without getting mushy, and sprinkled with pieces of home-made speculoos, a spiced shortbread biscuit.  In between the figs sat a scoop of yoghurt ice cream, on a bed of blackberry compote, and right at the end sat a wisp of meringue.  Cooked figs can be cloying and uninteresting, but this dessert was perfection in every sense, with contrasting flavours and textures and just enough sugar.

A meal like that is a little like climbing a mountain and coming back down again, the art is to come back gently and slowly.  You reach the peak and on your way down you want to keep the feeling of exhilaration for as long as possible.  Continuing with coffee, or in my case a lavender infusion, is a good way to go.  Eau de vie or a brandy would be good if home can be reached on foot.

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The petit fours which accompanied the coffee and herbal tea were lovely too, and part of the gentle winding down.  The beautiful lacquer box held a marshmallow knot, a tiny cake made with red berries, and a lemon tart with a hint of mango for each of us.

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Service throughout the meal was absolutely impeccable – attentive without being intrusive and friendly without being familiar.  All the staff were happy to try their English for the benefit of our fellow diners on the table next to ours, and had a sense of humour when they got stuck with their translations.  If you are in Beziers and are looking for somewhere to have lunch, don’t think twice.  And if you’re looking for a somewhere for a special night out, L’Octopus is the place to go!!

Thank you P&S for a fantastic evening!