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! 🙂

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.

Flaming hot

Summertime is BBQ time for me – there’s nothing I enjoy more than grilling food over hot coals!!  At the butcher’s shop I usually go to in Saint-Chinian, Boucherie Peyras, I saw some beautiful rump steak.  I thought it would be perfect for a meal with friends, and even more tasty if cooked on the BBQ.  Right now, the garden is yielding a great many tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines, so they were all added to my basket of ingredients, and also some freshly dug potatoes.  Along with the steak, I also got some chicken breasts for one of my invitees.

Here are all my ingredients ready to go on the grill!  I seasoned the steak and chicken breasts with my uncle’s secret spice mixture.  It’s a blend of various herbs and spices, such as caraway, curry, paprika, powdered garlic, oregano, and more, all mixed up with salt.


The BBQ I use is the type which has a domed cover on it – you’ve probably heard of the German-sounding US brand which seems to have cornered the BBQ market? 🙂  I find it really easy to use and it works very well for me.  Here it is, all set up and ready to light:


The chimney is a great tool to get the coals heated up without much effort.  Once it was filled with coal (I used charcoal briquettes), I lit a firelighter, which was put on the lower rack, and placed the chimney over it.


About 20 – 30 minutes later the coals were glowing nicely, and were ready to be turned out onto the grill.

Once the coals had been distributed and the top grill was in place, I put on the potatoes, since they take the longest.


After about 15 minutes I started the other vegetables.  First were the courgettes, which had been tossed with olive oil and seasoning.


Next came the aubergine slices, which had been lightly brushed with olive oil on both sides.


While all this cooking was going on, I was enjoying an aperitif with my friends.  Once we had finished our drinks and nibbles, we moved on to our starter of ice-cold gazpacho, made with tomatoes from the garden, and some cucumbers from the market.

With the vegetables cooked, it was time to put the meat on the grill!


There was the most wonderful smell coming from the grill as the steak was cooking!  I waited with the chicken until the steak was done on one side.


The potatoes turned out perfectly, and the flavour was great!


Here’s what the finished steak looked like – it had had a busy day, so it was resting! 🙂


The chicken strips were perfectly tender!


And the courgettes and aubergines were delicious too!

Here’s a picture of a heaped plate – I hope you’re not feeling too hungry!!


No French meal would be complete without cheese and dessert – we had a selection of local cheeses, bought at the market.  For our dessert I had prepared a flan, or creme caramel, as it’s called in France.

All very yummy and perfect for a summer’s evening!  Do you have any favourite BBQ recipes?


A walk through the woods (and the market halls of Narbonne)

My father has always been an avid mushroom gatherer, and I’ve inherited his love for wild mushrooms, despite the fact that he’s able to spot a cep a mile off and I usually see one when I almost tread on it…  This hasn’t stopped me going out mushrooming with my parents while they were staying these past two weeks, though.  The weather had been wonderful, sunny/warm days interspersed with some rain, just perfect for growing mushrooms.  The last time we set off for a walk we found plenty of mushrooms, but none of them the kind that we would want to eat.  There are many comestible mushrooms, but a lot of them don’t taste fantastic, so in the main we’ve been sticking to ceps.

A few years ago I organized a guided mushroom walk for a group of us, which turned out to be a fantastic experience.  Benoit, our guide met us in Ferrals-les-Montagnes, and from there we drove a little way into the forest, where he gave us our orders:  pick every mushroom you find, regardless of what it is!  After an hour and a half of searching we pooled our loot and our guide explained the different types of mushroom and how to recognize them. He also sorted the safe ones from the poisonous ones, and we ended up with a nice pile of ceps, which were then turned into an omelette.

Whilst we’d been searching the forest, Benoit had been busy preparing for lunch:  He’d brought along pate and ham for starters, eggs already beaten in bottles for the omelette, and he had thought of everything, to the point where he had brought real glasses for our wine!

Soon we were munching away, thoroughly enjoying the fruits of our labour!!  Here are some pictures of the mushrooms we DID NOT eat, magnificent thought they were :

Back to now:  since we did not find any ceps ourselves on our last outing we made do with the mushrooms for sale in the market in St Chinian – and that was no great hardship!

Once cleaned my mother cooked the ceps with a cream sauce, and we had them with home-made bread dumplings, a Bavarian speciality – yummy!

Later in the week we all went to Narbonne – I’d heard about a great place for lunch in Les Halles of Narbonne, and decided we’d give it a go.  We arrived at the halls around 11.30, in plenty of time to have a good look around and do some shopping.  First though, we stopped off Chez Bebelle and asked to reserve for lunch.

The olives looked every bit as good as they tasted, and there was lots more – I just couldn’t keep up with pictures.   After a good look at everything we headed back for lunch.

The main attraction at Chez Bebelle is the fact that you all sit around the bar and watch as your food is prepared – well almost, there are some tables next door, but I think it’s much more fun to sit up close to the action.  Giles, the proprietor is a well known rugby player from Narbonne, and he has built up a great place to have lunch at.  His sister did the cooking when we were there, and she was a model of calm.  Giles had written our name on the place mats to reserve our seats, and when he came to take the order that name went on the docket.  Then he got his megaphone and called our order across the aisle to the butcher stall.

The meat came neatly wrapped sailing across the aisle (yes, I kid you not – that man knows how to catch!), and then our name got written on it, and it queued up with the rest of the orders.

Right in front of us was the plate with tomato bread – did that look tempting!!  By now there were people waiting for seats all over the place and the atmosphere was buzzing!

Soon enough our order was ready – yummy entrecote steaks and hamburgers (one topped with a fried egg) with home made fries!  And the tomato bread tasted fantastic!

There was a good choice of desserts, and even though I should not have I did all the same!

There was quite a choice but we plumped for apple and pear crumble and moelleux aux chocolat.  And the coffee was one of the best in a long time!  I don’t think we’ve ever had this much fun at lunch anywhere.  And I know I risk Chez Bebelle getting ever more busy by writing about it, but I think it’s a piece of “real” France that is too good not to share.

After all this food a walk around Narbonne was called for, and I’ll leave you with a few impressions of centre ville.

Wisteria hysteria, flowers and restaurants

Last week I showed you a tantalizing picture of the wisteria buds, and felt a little bad that I included only the one photograph at the end of the post, so here are a few more, for all of you who enjoy the generous blooms of wisteria flowers.

Last sunday the weather was perfect for a wild flower walk, so off we set down Rue de la Digue (past La Digue) and the potagers along the road, and into the vineyards.  It’s a gentle walk, crossing the river over the ford, and past a grove of olive trees.  After a little while we decided to veer off the path and walk along the river, perhaps we’d find some wild asparagus?  No luck with the wild asparagus, but there was a discovery albeit not of the edible kind:  wild tulips!!  In all the years I’d never come across them perhaps I’d not been out at the right time, or maybe the weather had not been damp enough when it needed to be.  First there was just one lone tulip, the some still in bud, and finally there was a patch of them!  Utterly delightful!

There were other flowers too, and the Euphorbia in particular were looking very good.  The wild arum is the first one I’ve come across here too.  At the end of the walk there were a few interesting picture opportunities:

On Monday came the highlight of the week (so far): dinner at Restaurant Lo Cagarol in Aigne (we’re you can find Maison du Beaupre).  Stephanie and Christophe have been running the restaurant for the past eleven years (how time flies!) and Christophe’s touch with the food is very sure!  The four of us tried to have as many different dishes as possible, but there were firm favourites.  For starters there was Foie gras a l’ancienne, served with a jelly made from Muscat de St Jean de Minervois, Escalope de foie gras served with a creamy asparagus soup, and Gambas sauvage au curry rouge.  Both the foie gras dishes were perfectly cooked and seasoned, and the wild prawn was very tasty too!

Before the main dishes arrived, we had a Trou Occitan, a small glass of vodka with a scoop of sorbet made from Muscat de St Jean de Minervois – very much a palate cleanser and delicious!  For  main course we had Montgolfiere de St Jacques, a dish of scallops and prawns in a creamy sauce, topped with a puff pastry lid which sealed in all the flavours; Entrecote steak which was beautifully tender and cooked to perfection and Thon Albacore, which was the best tuna I’ve ever tasted, tender and succulent and in no way dry (!), the two served with mashed potatoes with olive oil and vegetable spaghetti.

Then came the cheese course, and with it something I’d not come across before:  A sorbet made with sheep’s milk (from a local farm), served with honey and crunchy nuts.  There was very little sweetness in it except for the honey, and just a hint of cheese.  Great idea!  The other   we tried was gorgonzola, served on a crouton over a puree of sun-dried tomatoes.

Dessert was obligatory, and when it’s as nice as at  Lo Cagarol one can always find room :-)!  I can’t quite remember the French names of the desserts, so here’s a description:  the first was a cigarre filled lime and cactus sorbet and fresh gariguette strawberries, topped with cream.  The second was a ganache made with Valrhona chocolate, served with fresh raspberries, and lastly there was Baba au rhum, which was served with the most divine banana ice cream – to my mind bananas and rum go really well together!
So there you have it – a fantastic meal!! If you want to try Lo Cagarol yourself be sure to book! You can find the restaurant on facebook here!  And here’s the picture gallery of all the photographs in this post.