“What time’s the restaurant booked for?” Elldrew enquiry.
“One o’clock, it’s about 15 mins drive away” comes a reply from a busy kitchen, kids hair frantically being brushed.
“But it’s 12.55pm now!” shrieks the ever prompt Ronnie.
“Don’t worry, no one ever arrives on time in France” informs our host.
Thankfully we were all washed, dressed and just about recovered from the night before…there are only so many cups of coffee one can consume before feeling even more ill from a night of heavy drinking. We were however ready for our next adventure so before we knew it, well past the hour, we found ourselves speeding through the French countryside to the scenic view of field after field of…dead sunflowers!!!
Finding this eerily disconcerting Ell raised the subject, to be officially informed that the seeds are harvested from the dead sunflowers; it being Autumn they’d had had a good life. We are not sure whether this was comforting or not but soon enough we were out of dead sunflower territory and entering the charming town of Condom (I know what you’re thinking, but its full name is Condom-en-Armagnac and hence explains the excess of Armagnac with last night’s dinner – for those of you who had indeed read the ‘first half‘).
Condom’s a lovely, if not small, medieval town and our hosts tell us that it remains a UNESCO heritage site, famous for being a shelter for Christian pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela, in north-west Spain. We also came across 4 life-sized bronze statues of The Three Musketeers (yes the controversial fourth Musketeer was present and to this day we are not sure why they just didn’t call themselves The Four Musketeers, it’s been confusing people of all ages for decades). We tried to find out what it was all about, were they born here? We could only find a reference to Mr Fourth himself, Gersois d’Artagnan, who seemed to have roots around Condom (there is no other way to really write that sentence without turning into a sniggering child, we apologise).
Although we found the time for a brief exploration of its winding cobbled streets, the real reason for the Condom visit was lunch at the Michelin starred “La Table des Cordeliers” (here is a link for English reviews). Once again our hosts pre-empted our mood (hungover!) and so rather than the full fine dining experience in ‘La Table’s’ chapel they’d booked us a table in the adjoining bistro. The bistro had a somewhat more relaxed atmosphere with a charming set course menu; limited to just 3 choices for each of the 3 courses. At an equally charming €19 per person, no one could complain this wasn’t value for money, especially compared to London prices!
Starters offered a choice between goat’s cheese ‘en croûte’, Foie Gras crème brûlée with a Foie Gras cappuccino shot, or mushroom and ricotta lasagne (all of which sounded far less exotic once translated into English). Being the home of Foie Gras Ell chose to enjoy that, whilst Drew went for the goats cheese (these were most certainly the two popular dishes around the table). The interesting part was the reaction to each. The goats cheese undoubtedly the winner; a local cheese from a local goat, it was light, flavoursome, accompanied by a perfectly balanced salad with a nutty Asian dressing (yummy). The Foie Gras divided our table the most; the crème brûlée was small and divine however the accompanying Foie Gras cappuccino shot got mixed reactions – some loved it, others hated it. Ell wasn’t a fan of what was essentially pureed Foie Gras whilst Drew (who usually is very cautious with Foie Gras) thoroughly enjoyed it – go figure!
The main course was either duck “andouillette” with hand cut fries, fish of the day, or a duck “parmentier”. If you were a vegetarian or had issues with duck you would have had a problem. Elldrew are neither but will gladly admit that we don’t love fish so with a 50:50 choice, not being entirely sure what an andouillette nor a parmentier was, we decided to order one of each. The andouillette arrived first and before the plate was even on the table Ell recognised it as a peculiar French speciality (a very strong, coarse, offal sausage) with an acquired taste. Elldrew don’t have that acquired taste and after one mouthful each a napkin subtly covered the rest of it. The chips, however, were gorgeous!
The Duck “parmentier” was, it turned out, a bit like a duck version of a shepherd’s pie. It was yum; at least it would have been yum if we weren’t being assaulted by the putrid aroma of the andouillette wafting across the table. But Elldrew shall critically confirm it was delicious, if only because that seems to be what most of the other diners thought of it as well. We also hear the fish was lovely but we can’t remember what type of fish it was ,or how it was served (we did however manage to grab a picture of it, see below).
Dessert couldn’t come quick enough – primarily because it meant the andouillette was cleared from the table and secondarily because you will recall that we were a tad hungover and therefore craving something sweet. The choices were a crème prise (butter custard), a sablé breton with chocolate (butter cookie), or a croustade Gascogne (apple pie).
Drew was disappointed that there wasn’t a local cheese selection and consensus thought there really ought to have been on such a gastronomic menu…it would have been a lovely treat to linger over with a final Armagnac. So, in the absence of cheese, and following a disappointing main, both Ell and Drew went with the chocolate. Now that was a truly divine dish and was most certainly deserving of the Michelin Star on its own. Dessert made up where the ‘eclectic’ mains had fallen down (note: this statement is based on Elldrew’s ‘conservative’ palate, so is somewhat biased). A chocolate dish of many layers, each more delicious than the other. Probably at this point, and given that we are currently dribbling over our keyboard, we should just point you to the picture.
Lunch over, we had just enough time to get back, help bejazzle birthday girl’s house for event #3 – the big party that evening – and change into outfit #3 (how on earth did this all fit in hand luggage?) before headind down to top up the previous evenings alcohol intake. As this was not an outside dining experience we shan’t linger over it too long but shall simply say that fun was had by all (some revellers shaking their disco hips into the wee hours of the French matin…the house rooster had possibly crowed well before heads had hit the pillows)!
We definitely encourage our readers to attend a private party in France where each [local] guest brings a dish. In a country where food is at the heart of everything and with an excess of fresh local produce, locals cooking in a local way can never be bad and, whilst we may not have partaken in the paella centrepiece, we thoroughly enjoyed the majority of the other contributions and for that Elldrew thank all the local cooks.
We also recommend that our readers do not get too carried away with the value for money offered by the fine local wine otherwise you may well find yourself adjusting the hire car’s SatNav, (which we had, by now, worked out how to change into English from its native French) to direct you to the airport via “Le McDonalds” (I’m not saying that we definitely did that, just that we might have done)!
A fantastique weekend and a region of France we look forward to exploring in more detail. Thanks to all involved, you know who you are!