Chasing Pineapples

an English girl tasting her way around the world


November 2012

I Left my Heart in Lyon… Part 2, Mothers Market Meetings

‘Bernachon, the best chocolatier in France.’ This is an astonishing claim. However when researching foodie ‘must dos’, various sources (including Raymond Blanc) all seemed to agree. So, off we trotted to see what all the fuss was about. The beauty of this institution is that the chocolate is all made exclusively on the premises, from bean to box. They even individually wrap every single chocolate, a process that we saw being carried out by the ladies behind the counter whenever they had a spare minute and a free hand from serving customers. Fascinating for the consumer, but I expect rather tedious for the ladies involved! This triumph was founded by the grandson of the city’s celebrity chef Paul Bocuse. A master of his art, even the likes of Raymond Blanc are humbled by the pure skill of the greatest chef in France. His skill and dedication have gained him three Michelin stars every year since 1965. Our next venture took us to a gastronomic institution in his name, the Paul Bocuse Market. This wonderful place is also the haunt of some other stars of the city’s culinary scene, Les Mères de Lyon.

Gala Eyeing up the Chocolate Artwork
Attention to Detail at Bernachon

These ‘Mothers of Lyon’ are a community of female chefs who are pioneers of the city’s gastronomic reputation. The town had a heavily industrial history with a male dominated demographic and no aristocracy. Therefore the local mountain girls would bundle down to the big lights to even out the demographics a bit and provide food glorious food. Some of these women moved on to become Michelin star chefs, not least the first female chef to gain three Michelin stars, Eugenie Brazier. Their haunt, other than sharing their gourmet finds each other’s houses, is the Paul Bocuse Market. As you can imagine, I was keen to hunt down these ladies…

This upmarket market (and I emphasise the ‘up’) is like the food halls of Harrods and Fortnum & Masons, offering the best of quality which is on great demand in the local area. First stop was chez Mère Richard where we bought some Saint Marcellin cheese, a creamy and buttery variety with no chalk that was traditionally saved for special occasions. Then onwards to another ‘mother’, Colette Siblia, adopted by us as ‘the sausage lady’… another of our extremely original names! As we approached the stall, we caught sight of an eccentric lady (huge earrings and lipstick, hair done and all) running shop, peering over the shoulders of the staff serving customers and showing everyone who was boss! She was such a character and perfectly encaptured the market matron mould! We chose some delicately sliced Rosette sausage that is cured in the surrounding hills. The young man who served us even brought our purchases around to our side of the counter and personally handed them to us. This tiny gesture did wonders for our experience, making it that more personal.

Sausage Diva Colette Siblia
Our Friend the Sausage Man

For our finalpisode we bought a café crème that we carefully carried around the busy market, weaving our way in and out of the morning shoppers with great skill so as to preserve the treasured liquid to enjoy with our chocolate brioche from Bernachon. Flakey chocolate breakfast heaven, enough said. Once our breakfast was all done and dusted (fingers and plates licked clean), the key was slipped back into the ignition and off we went to Burgundy… Can this trip possibly get any better…

Café Creme to Go!

I Left my Heart in Lyon… Part 1, A Gastronomic Light!

Lyon, Lyon, Lyon where do I begin? Gourmet restaurants galore, traditional factory-worker eateries bursting with character, and a market brimming with vibrant produce. The gastronomic capital of one of the most foodie countries in the world certainly withholds its prestigious reputation in my eyes!

Our first impression of the city was not exactly positive to say the least. We arrived in the dark and spent an hour looking for parking with nowhere to stay. To top it off, the restaurant we had researched was fully booked all evening. Feeling very sorry for ourselves, we walked around rapidly trying to find a solution. At this moment, someone, somewhere decided to strike us with a bit of luck in the form of a welcoming restaurant that we had heard of in a tale before…

…When in Cadiz we were very fortunate to meet Chris (see post: ), a young man with a passion for wine. His story is so inspiring and it all began in this tiny restaurant, one of his frequent haunts. One evening he was enjoying a dinner and a bottle of wine when someone spilled a glass of wine from the balcony above, apparently the moment when all became clear! From here, he swotted up with the wine merchant below his apartment and went on to work for the most prestigious sherry producers in the world…

… So we entered this cosy shelter from the cold and decided that we deserved to treat ourselves. We settled in on the famous balcony with a warning to ‘not spill any wine… orrrr to topple a little over the side and convert someone else…’ (The consensus was to go with the former so as to avoid facing angry French ladies and being thrown back out on to the cold street.)

Our tummies were warmed up (literally and metaphorically) with an amuse-bouche consisting of a tiny cup of sweet and creamy vegetable soup. With the sheer impossibility of choosing between the temptations written before us, we decided to do our favourite… two plats between two… (avoiding any opportunity for food envy and allowing us to try a greater variety!). The chosen dishes were pigeon breast in a rich jus with parsnips and winter vegetables; and a contrasting, lighter yet equally as tasty, white fish with perfectly golden crisp skin accompanied with sweet potato purée and buttery girolles mushrooms. To add that extra ‘mmmmm’ factor, we were served a side dish of creamy potato purée, whipped into such a heavenly light and feathery dream that it was hard to come back down to our surroundings.

Gala Amusing her Bouche
Pigeon Providing Serious Comfort

Another drop of heaven was provided in the dessert… poached pear with violet syrup and white chocolate mousse. The picture looks bland, the dish was not. It was perfection and a divine textural balance between creamy sweet and light and fruity.

Heavenly Pud

When we left, we walked passed the tiny open kitchen and gave our compliments to the friendly and talented chefs.

Our Shelter from the Cold

This restaurant is such a find, tucked away from the casual passer-by. Its charm is its intimacy, its delicacy and its simplicity. Worthy of its inspiring story and definitely worth a visit, not to be missed!

(11 Rue des Augustins)

Sur Le Pont d’Avignon Tasting Wines, Dips and Olive Oil!

On arriving in Avignon our first activity was the essential dancing on the bridge singing the children’s French lesson song ‘Sur Le Pont d’Avignon.’ Once we got this out of our system, we carried on in search of food and wine which we found in the form of a wine shop (Le Vin Devant Soi) with a very practical tasting system. We retrieved our card which we then topped up with some euros and ambled along the line of wine and tasted our chosen labels. We were lucky that the shop was otherwise empty, so that we could take full advantage of the owner, Laurent Mersier’s, expertise.

Over the last few months on this food and wine tour, we have learnt plenty about the production and composition of wine, so we were looking for a bit of advice on tasting, so that we could discover our preferred Côte du Rhone. We were informed about the difference between the Southern and Northern Crus, the latter being more spicy due to the pure Syrah grape content. After tasting a Chateau Neuf du Pape, a Cote Rotie and a Crozes Hermitage, we decided that the spiciness of the latter was more our cup of tea. The tasting was very successful as after all the most important wine to discover and learn about is not the most expensive neither that which has the greater reputation, however the one that you would most prefer to drink!

Eyeing up the Cotes du Rhone

For lunch we delighted in dips, all Provençal and delicious. After browsing the local speciality shop for a good half hour sampling dips, picking on olives and sniffing and drinking various infused olive oils; we chose our favourites and headed to a local square. I happened to be wearing a beret that day and we were in need of a baguette. Safe to say that upon leaving the boulangerie, I was a complete walking cliché: beret, baguette and all! We were even stopped by a lady who asked us for a picture. Of course, we said, thinking that she wanted us to take one of here and her husband. But no, it was us whom she wanted her picture with… she thought we were French… Oh I can only wish!

Olive Oil Tasting…
Happy to Have Found our Favourite, Merci Laurent!

Fishermen, Biscuits and Madeleine’s… A Strange Mixture in Sète!

A sunny Saturday morning took us to the fishing village of Sète. This town may be small, but boy it brings in a lot… around 800 lots per hour at the wholesale fish market. The local population is therefore very specific and we bathed in this ambiance over a cup of coffee and a Madeleine. This French ritual took me back to French cultural studies at university when Marcel Proust describes the event of involuntary memory taking him back to his childhood. Funnily enough, this was the anecdote I described in my very first blog post. Looking back on what I have done, where I have been and everything that I have tasted in the last six months is rather overwhelming!

Reminiscing over Madeleine’s

Anyway, back to the present in a little bar called ‘Au Bout de la Rue‘ (at the end of the street) in the South of France, sharing our morning coffee with local fishermen… some very quirky characters with berets, waders and long moustaches in abundance! We soaked up the sun and the atmosphere before moving on to a specialist biscuit shop with sweet and savoury varieties. We chose a selection of lemon, caramel, cinnamon, provençal herbs, cumin, olive, piment d’espelette, Roquefort and sesame. Delighted with our purchases, we headed onwards again to try some local cuisine specialities in a restaurant on the harbour.

Overwhelming Variety of Biscuits!
Filling our Baskets with Biscuits!
Soaking up the Sun with the Fishermen

The starter was a Tielle, a thick pastry encasing a tuna, octopus and sweet tomato filling. This was followed by a Bourride which is a local take on fish pie with monkfish and aioli apparently good enough for Greek Gods according to local legend! It was rather delicious! Tummies filled, we left the town to head North feeling extremely satisfied!

As The Purse is Emptied, the Heart (and Tummy!) is Filled!

Toulouse, nicknamed La Ville Rose (the Pink City) due to it’s centre of red brick buildings, took us to a rather upmarket restaurant. Even though it had been frequented by personalities such as Johnny Hallyday, it’s name of ‘Les Copains d’Abord‘ (Friends First) was certainly taken on as an ethos, giving the place a very cosy and friendly ambiance. We took advantage of the season and indulged in some winter warmers. First up was baked Camembert, a wooden box encasing a mass of gooey goodness topped with crispy bacon. The richness was balanced with a light salad and juicy cranberries. Taking the heavy dish to the next level, our main course was the regional speciality Cassoulet. This classic French meal comes in many varieties, all are rich, but the Toulouse take is the heaviest including duck confit, fresh lard and the infamous Toulouse sausage slow cooked with haricot beans and vegetables. Safe to say that we were so full that we couldn’t move for a while afterwards, even though we shared the cassoulet!

Hearty Cassoulet

The following day we did a bit of market hopping to buy ingredients for a salad lunch (something a bit lighter after the previous evening’s dinner!). The first was the indoor prestigious Marché Victor Hugo, taking its name from the great man who wrote ‘as the purse is emptied the heart is filled.’ This quote is perfectly fitting for the market experience and for our tour in general, spending meaningless metal in exchange for experiences that fill our hearts (and our bellies)! In this case our communal purse gradually became lighter and lighter as we created our salad platter… Dried magret de canard, Saucisse Sèche, and small medallions of creamy Rocamadour goats cheese.

Duck specialities and much more…

After scaling the indoor market from top to bottom, we moved onwards to the more local outdoor market that was packed with bags of character… and salad. We really were surrounded by lettuce leaves of all kinds, the Toulouse shoppers manically filling and passing over plastic cartons full of their chosen goodness . We joined in the activities and bought some couer de chene to add to our lunch followed by a piece of fouace from Aveyron. This brioche variety was topped with sugar and scented with orange blossom. We nibbled on our sweet treat whilst walking back to our friend’s apartment to whip up our lunchtime spread… and it was delicious! It doesn’t get much fresher than that!

Local Market full of Vibrant Goods

So we left Toulouse, purses ever so slightly emptied, but hearts and tummies most definitely filled!

Basquing in Local Delicacies in Bayonne, Biarritz and the like!

In addition to our privileged restaurant experience (see previous post), the Basque Country provided us with many other tasting opportunities. From Bayonne we drove deeper and deeper into the wild countryside, the mountains providing a dramatic background. We arrived in Saint Pée sur Nivelle, a tiny town made up of a few stereotypically Basque houses (their Red and Green nationalist colours on display from all angles) which was an official AOC town of the Basque Piment d’Espelette… A local speciality perfectly fitting for the region due to its deep red colour. This Basque delicacy has gradually replaced black pepper on tables of the region and it has certainly cropped up in many of the dishes we have tasted on our trip, especially in the North of Spain! We bought a jar each to take home to add an extra kick to our recipes back in England.

The following day took us back up to the bourgeois seaside town of Biarritz with a simultaneous upmarket and surfer vibe, a balance hard to come across! After strolling along the peaceful promenade in the setting sun, playing out ‘Stand by Me’ and subtly singing along; we stopped in Patisserie Parie where we purchased a Gateau Basque. I must admit that we only bought this because friends had recommended it and because it was a regional speciality, yet we were rather sceptic as to whether we would enjoy it. To say we were ‘scared’ of trying a cake is complètement fou (crazy) yet we did not know what texture or consistency to expect. After leaving it for a couple of hours we decided to brave it with a cup of tea (adding an English touch!) and we were very pleasantly surprised. We came to the conclusion that it was similar to a scone with cherry jam and we enjoyed it so much that we bought another one on the next stop!

Basquing in Cakes

Back to Bayonne for our final Basque stop where we stumbled upon a Bayonne Ham talk and tasting. The little workshop attached to the Charcutier was full of old French folk in berets, highlighting the rareness of two girls of our age travelling in this nature. We subtly slipped in and listened to the very interesting talk which unfortunately ended promptly. However, upon discovering that we were English, the owner decided that we couldn’t come all that way without receiving a private tour of the salting and drying rooms. Wonderful! Hard to beat the Spanish Jamon Iberico that we were accustomed to in Spain (expensive tastes!) but this French equivalent was a good attempt.

Learning about Hamwith Local Frenchies

Before heading back to the car we went in search of a hot chocolate: Bayonne is the acclaimed French capital of chocolate after all! We entered Atelier du Chocolat, a boutique chocolatier with stores all over France, but with its source in Bayonne, and asked for two chocolats chauds. The lady whipped them up (I say this yet it was a rather lengthy and delicate process) and asked us to choose a type of chocolate to melt in. We chose piment d’Espelette as we were in the Basque Country and it added a perfect kick to the silky smooth chocolate drink.

Chocolate straight from the Coca Bean…

A region packed full of goodness, on to Toulouse!


A Slice of Chocolate Heaven in Bayonne

Originally the Basque Country was not on our France itinerary as we visited Bilbao and San Sebastian during our Spain tour. However French Basque cuisine has a lot to offer and as we were only an hour away we thought that it would be rude not to have an explore!

…And thank the Lord we did as we were treated to one of the most gourmand experiences of our tour… an after-hours restaurant visit! Our friend Pablo is a chef at a restaurant called Entrepotes in Bayonne and after a night time visit of the city’s secret corners he let us in to the restaurant to try his famous chocolate fondant. The recipe for the fondant has been pleaded for even by his Michelin star friend, yet Pablo has only given the recipe to a young budding chef in whom he believes. Six months of trial and error, hundreds of not-quite-right variations on the fondant and a lot of frustration has produced absolute perfection.

Having heard about his creation all night this dessert had a lot to live up to… yet it beat all possible expectations and is without a doubt the best of its kind I have ever tasted. Extremely pure chocolate taste yet with a light and fluffy texture making it not too rich made a chocolate lovers absolute heaven. To astonish us even more, he revealed that it contained no butter, no flour and no sugar! He also whipped up a delicious carpaccio, allowed us to try some marinating gizzards and showed us every corner of the kitchen and his duties as Head Chef… An exhausting yet undoubtedly rewarding calling!

A True Artist at Work

The following day we ate in the restaurant along with the everyday clientele. Pablo has created a menu for 11 euros including starter, main course, dessert and coffee so that the local workers and businessmen alike can eat like kings. An extremely down to earth and caring man, yet we couldn’t quite believe how he could possibly afford to make such wonderful food for so little money. We had another taste of the chocolate fondant for our dessert and it was possibly even better! This confirmed its status as the crème de la crème as it hadn’t just been our usual experience of getting carried away in the moment and exaggerating.

Bayonne is an enchanting town, and its nationalist marks give it that extra charm. This hidden away restaurant definitely deserves much more status than it currently has and I recommend it as a must to anyone for a true Basque experience.

The Basque Colours Displayed Everywhere and Anywhere Possible

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