We all have our own idea what the more rural parts of a foreign country look like, but rarely do they turn out to be exactly what we imagined. If you’re not South African, I would have a hard time describing to you what my home town looks like, but then again many of us have no idea what the lesser occupied parts of say, Brazil or Denmark (I had to pick random ones!) look like.
Where no one’s imagination has to work very hard is the south-west of France. The Gironde, Aquitaine, Perigord region. Due to being such a prolific giver of beautiful foodstuffs to the world, the exposure this area has received has ensured that everyone knows that rural France is as authentic (VERY specific boulangerie hours), quaint (centuries of differing architecture defines town from town) and as much a foodlovers paradise (different foodmarkets on alternate days in surrounding towns) as advertised.
On our first night in Bergerac (yes, of Cyrano de Bergerac fame) we ate at Dutch owned Le Saint Jacques, where a highlight of the meal was a beautifully cooked beef fillet with a a simple pepper sauce. A simple dish cooked with care, hitting all the right spots and leaving a lasting impression. I’d definitely go back here. ( http://www.lesaintjacques.info/index.html)
Truffles and foie gras from Perigord, caviar from the Gironde, oysters from the Arcachon basin, and exceptional fruit and vegetables from whoever has the means to grow any. Suffice to say that I was ready to not to leave any time soon. On top of it all I found a patisserie delicacy typical to the region, and especially the town of St. Emilion, that I have always liked, but had no idea where it hailed from.
Caneles. Little flutes of rich custardy pastry, flavoured with rum and vanilla, which are baked at such a high temperature that the outside caramelises to a crust and the inside remains soft and squishy. Notoriously difficult to make, I had to leave with a mold to try and replicate these at some stage, or else, I’d simply just have to go back and try them on their home soil again.
A final meal before the flight home to cold and snowy London was had at La Tour des Vents, and again, light, seasonal (although here fairly formal – La Tour has a Bib Gourmande) cooking impressed. This restaurant also has a view to die for and it must surely be very hard to get a table here on a beautiful summers day. (http://www.tourdesvents.com/)
I came away with a wistful feeling that I again hadn’t given myself enough time to fully explore a region – if that’s really possible! – and resolved to be back – possibly in the summer, and a whole lot of time to spare for all that food and wine…