BORDEAUX TO ROQUÉPINE
Toulouse-Lautrec was all I could think about as the captain announced our descent. We were descending into Bordeaux, not Toulouse, so Monsieur Lautrec didn’t have much relevance but nevertheless I thought of him…perhaps it was because Elldrew were about to embark on a weekend of gastronomy in Gascony and our route would take us south towards Toulouse.
Yes, Elldrew were off, again, and this time we were heading into the French countryside to celebrate the special birthday of a special friend. The birthday girl had planned the itinerary and Elldrew had little idea of what to expect. We knew it would involve good food, good wine and good company, and that we had 3 events to attend but were restricted to cabin baggage only (a challenge which made packing for the Orient-Express trip seem positively easy).
The birthday girl lives about 1.5hrs drive from Bordeaux in a tiny hamlet called Roquépine, just outside of Condom (no sniggering please). After a good 15 minutes in the hire car parking bay trying to figure out how to program the built-in French Sat Nav system, we resigned to the portable TomTom we had brought with us.
Safely on the road, cruise control set, we headed off. It wasn’t until the last part of our trip were we able to exit the motorway and take in the stunning countryside, often the only car on the road, a country road engulfed by rolling fields, only slowing to pass through quaint villages that surely had only a handful of residents. Elldrew had only ever read positive reviews about leisurely driving through the French vineyard countryside and we were finally doing it. Très bon!
Arriving en masse, we dropped off our bags in our assigned rooms, in the newly renovated farmhouse (well we also had a snoop around the house, lots of Oohh’s & Aahh’s as we passed from room to room) before we settled in for a long awaited catch-up over a glass or two, or three, of the local rosé.
Before long we were quickly freshening up and changing for our first rural French meal in the gorgeously quaint village of Saint-Puy, about 5 mins drive away. As the hosts shuttled the group, in batches, to the village in the reliable family Land Rover, here, in a tiny Hamlet reminiscent of the village from the movie ‘Chocolat‘, one finds a square, canopied in twinkling fairy lights, and nestled between an ancient pharmacy and an even older antiques shop was “Chez Vous”.
Chez Vous would be described as a rustic local bistro, Elldrew surmise, but of course here in France nowhere is just a bistro. The menu of fresh local dishes presented on a blackboard suggests they change as frequently as the chef goes to market, and we are sure they do. But if Elldrew are completely honest, the meal itself was a little bit hazy; the local wine had by now been flowing well before we’d even begun to eat anything. In fact, we were relieved that the other two tables in the restaurant were equally large and as noisy, we would otherwise have felt somewhat rude for perhaps disturbing their evening with our joviality!
Wine aside, we started our meal with a delicious baked cheese – this was possibly Camembert and it was probably served on a bed of fresh leaves. We do remember it was delicious and melted in the mouth, not burning one’s palate like the molten cheese usually served in the UK. Elldrew also noted the somewhat sobering benefits of the cheese, as the steak frites for mains were a whole lot clearer in one’s memory.
The steak was probably what one would call an Onglet, served with ‘Chez Vous’ sauce – a deliciously buttery, herby, garlicky sauce, very French and very mouth watering – accompanied by thin, delicate frites…perfect.
Last but not least was dessert. By now our table of 12 had somewhat decomposed with some folk imbibing Armagnac at the bar, others outside having a sneaky cigarette, and a few twirling to a replay of the 1960’s “Soul Train” on a makeshift dance floor by the entrance. For those of us still at the table a selection of desserts were ordered; a ‘pastis gascon’ (deliciously golden flaky pastry with apple), a divine little chocolate fondant, but, the clear winner, a salted caramel ice cream – or maybe that’s just because that was the dessert that ended up closest to your bloggers!
The food wasn’t fussy, it didn’t need to be; it was good, fresh ingredients cooked and served just right! Alas, what wasn’t quite so right were the sore heads the following morning. Fortunately one of the guest had undertaken the short drive to the local bakery (cleverly directed by our hosts 5 year old), and in no time we were silently enjoying a mix of pain au chocolat and plain croissants, washed down with a welcoming pot of fresh coffee, contemplating our next gastronomic experience (when in France and all that)!
NB: lack of hand and eye co-ordination (and memory for that matter) resulted in no food or restaurant pictures from Chez Vous unfortunately.