Lunch in Tahiti

A good morning’s digging has restored me to a far less jaded state than I’ve been in since yesterday.

The cause of this was yesterday’s visit to this area’s best-kept secret when it comes to restaurants – the ‘Tahiti’ at Renazé.

 

tahiti

 

It’s an unpreposessing place from the outside but it’s surprisingly pleasant and comfortable inside – which is what counts.

Diners can be directed to any of three dining areas, depending on how busy the Tahiti is or how many people are in your party. The big room is my favourite with its display of Mexican sombreros – supposedly fitting in with the South Sea Islands theme in some bizarre way (!) but I’ve never asked.

Yesterday, the five of us in our party were shown to a table in the front dining room near the bar so it was easy to see the customers arriving. Most were people taking their works lunch break and the mass of white vans outside attested to this. It filled up rapidly and – as you often read in guide books – the sign of a good restaurant is one that is very busy and full of locals. This is certainly the case all year round at the Tahiti.

The lunch time menu is a mere €10.70 per person, with 4 courses – buffet of hors d’oeuvres, main, cheese and dessert, with as much local cider, red or rosé wine as you like.

Fantastic value, bearing in mind the totally home-cooked and generous nature of the food and the drinks are included.

The service is excellent too – polite, prompt and friendly – which can make a good meal into a very good one, which the Tahiti does time after time.

The first buffet course meant that you could help yourself to terrine, various cooked meats, hard boiled eggs, diced beetroot, rice salad, pasta salad and green salad. If you’re not careful, you can spoil the rest of the meal if you go too mad…

The main course yesterday – it changes radically from day to day – offered several choices:

  • hake
  • roast pork
  • turkey milanese
  • black pudding
  • sausage
  • beef tongue
  • tête de veau (a sort of brawn using meat from the head of a veal calf)

This was the most ‘French’ menu I’d seen at the Tahiti, and as I usually avoid eating bits of animals that I’d normally see on an abbatoir floor, I opted for the pork – as did two more in our party, the remaining two having the hake. To accompany the meat or fish, you had a choice of creole rice, pasta, green beans or chips.

The chips at the Tahiti are one of the best things about the menu – hand-cut and then fried in some sort of fat as opposed to oil – they taste like real chips should and are a far cry from the anaemic frozen French fries that you often get.

The pork – two thick slices – was tender and subtly seasoned and, with my chips, made a simple but very satisfying main course.

I then followed with cheese – Camembert, Port Salut and Emmenthal – and some bread. I was too full to manage dessert, but I could have had ice cream, fresh fruit or a choice of whipped desserts; creamy or fruity.

Throughout the meal, I washed the food down with cider – a medium one made some 15 km north of where we were eating – and then rosé, a Loire one which was very smooth indeed.

I was very glad that Mrs Shark had agreed to drive us home…

I’m sure that some of the main courses I balked at were very good. It’s a slight problem I have, in that I was brought up in a home where my mother disliked the cheaper cuts of meat, even though I now realise that she didn’t have that much money to spend sometimes. Consequently, I dislike meat with bones in, and although I’ll quite happily eat liver and kidney, I avoid anything that might be brains, bollocks or other bits of an animal like that.

Anyway…the Tahiti.

Good surroundings, great service, unlimited cider or wine, copious amounts of good, fresh, home-style food and all for €10.70 a head. They don’t rush you, either, so the five of us spent a very pleasant couple of hours indeed.

I wholeheartedly recommend it – and don’t forget to leave a tip; the waitresses are worth it.

As for the digging, a couple of hours with the fork brought on a good sweat in the autumn sunshine and finally got yesterday’s lunch digested – as well as another vegetable patch ready for planting.

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A few pints and then a kebab…

I had a vaguely strange but thoroughly enjoyable experience last Friday evening.

A new bar has just opened in the largest town nearest to us here – ‘La Fontaine’ in Pouance.

English-owned, it was rumoured to sell draught bitter, so after the day’s work was over, the two English guys who are doing the various major renovation jobs on the house, their wives, Mrs Shark and myself whipped over to see if those rumours were true.

Sure enough, amongst the Carling, Fosters and Leffe pumps was something a bit like this:

 

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It was indeed a Boddingtons pump which dispensed foaming pints (yes, pints) of Boddingtons Bitter.

Now, I didn’t come to France to be a Marmite-craving, mix with the Brits only, don’t make an effort to integrate, ex-pat, but that evening, sitting in the square of a sleepy French town, with the sun beating down (it was about 28 degrees) drinking English bitter, was a great experience.

Indeed, a minute’s walk from the square, down a sidestreet, was a kebeb house…so that was tea sorted.

A few pints and then a kebab…

…heaven…

Sunny and Kir

There are some great summer time drinks, with my favourites amongst them being – in no particular order:

  • Ice-cold lager-type beer (biere blonde)
  • Chilled rose
  • Pimms and lemonade
  • Mojito
  • Amaretto and orange juice over crushed ice
  • Pastis

However, since moving to France, another drink has entered this pantheon – kir.

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Now, I’ve been aware of kir for quite a few years now, but I’ve only recently started to really get into it as a summer aperitif.

But – as I’ve recently discovered – there’s more to kir than white wine and a dash of cassis.

Yes, I’ve known about Kir Petillant (cassis and sparkling white) and Kir Royal (cassis and champagne) for a while, but what about Kir Breton?

That’s cassis and cider!

Here are a few more variations – courtesy of Wikipedia:

  • Communard/Cardinal – made with red wine instead of white
  • Kir Imperial – made with raspberry liqueur instead of cassis, and Champagne
  • Cidre Royal – made with cider instead of wine, with a measure of calvados added.
  • Hibiscus Royal – made with sparkling wine, peach liqueur, raspberry liqueur, and an edible hibiscus flower. Also found with sparkling wine and pear schnapps.
  • Kir Peche – made with peach liqueur.
  • Pamplemousse – made with red grapefruit liqueur and sparkling white wine, which gives a slightly tart alternative.
  • Tarantino – made with lager or light ale (“kir-beer”).
  • the Pink Russian – made with milk instead of wine.

It’s also a remarkably economical drink.

With cheap sparkling wine available at just over a euro a bottle and cassis about €5 a bottle, a Kir Petillant costs around 30 centimes to make a large glass, which makes it as cheap as buying a bottle of biere blonde – and that’s cheap enough.

OK, the cheap sparkling is pretty manky on its own, but a splash of fruit liqueur makes it perfectly drinkable and also ups the alcohol content from a measly 10.5%, in the case of Comte de Talmon vin mousseux.

You don’t even need much cassis – a mix of 6 parts wine to 1 part cassis is perfectly OK and it can even be a higher ratio without detriment to the taste.

Just make sure the wine is very well-chilled.

Then you will be too.

Cheers!

Dragonflies, swallows and kir petillant

And still France continues to share its wild life secrets…

A few hours ago, we were sitting outside – taking a smoke and drinks break before yet another stage of the fucking interminable process of putting together an Ikea Hemnes wardrobe – when Mrs Shark exclaimed that she’d just seen the biggest hornet ever.

Closer examination of the ‘hornet’ revealed that it was, in fact, this:

P1010791

It’s a Broad-bodied Chaser – or so Google has reliably informed me – a female.

Never seen one of those before.

Amazing wings – almost like Tiffany glass…

Whilst I was typing the first part of this blog entry – sitting in the dining room with a JPS 100 and another (sic) nice glass of kir petillant – there was a great commotion when a swallow flew in through the doors and Oscar caught it.

As far as we know, this is the first bird that he’s ever actually managed to get between his jaws.

I managed to get it off him and – fortunately – it seemed remarkably unphased and uninjured and flew off out of my hands when I took it outside.

My god, but it was beautiful…

I feel doubly blessed now – and, after my fourth glass of kir – very full of honhomie.

Just call me Mr Congeniality…

…better had, or I’ll twat you one…

Footnote: the photo was taken by me with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 compact camera.

Ginsters? Pah!

Food and drink wise there’s not much I miss having moved to France.

What I miss most are:

  • Mature Cheddar cheese
  • Samosas
  • Cornish pasties
  • Good bitter

Although you can buy Cheddar here – Wykes Farm and Seriously Strong mainly – it seems to be a tad less strong than back in the UK  and it comes at a price. I’ve found nothing produced in France so far that has the kick or bite of a good strong Cheddar, although Laguiole comes close, but is even pricier than imported Cheddar. However, we’ll be getting a few kilos of Cheddar when my brother-in-law comes over here in a few weeks’ time.

Samosas are a challenge. You can get them here, but they all seem to contain very fine glass noodles and they just don’t taste like samosas. Quite frankly they’re rubbish.

Finding a Cornish pasty here is a wild goose chase – and then some. It’s impossible. That includes your Ginsters crap – all well and good after a gig bought from the motorway services, but not a serious pasty.

Bitter? Well, you can buy bottled Spitfire, Speckled Hen and Bombardier, but it’s about £2.50 a bottle, so it’s an occasional treat. Most of the time I drink biere blonde – ’33’ and Kronenberg are often on offer and cheap too – which is a bit lagerish and sweet but chilled goes down remarkably well. Again, my brother-in-law can remedy the situation with a trip to Majestic Wine in the UK.

So, there’s not too much I can do with regard to Cheddar and bitter, but samosas and Cornish pasties are OK, because I can make them, and have.

Samosas are fine. I buy ‘brick’, a sort of filo pastry, and make my own chicken tikka filling. With brick they don’t need frying which cuts down on mess and although they’re not quite as authentic as I’d like, they taste very good and are a hundred times better than anything you can buy here. My comprehensive herb and spice supply is key.

Cornish pasties are a breeze. I buy ready made shortcrust pastry which is cheap and good and make a simple chunky filling of lean stewing steak, potato and onion seasoned with black pepper and sea salt. No swede – you can’t seem to get it here – and no carrot. I’ve modeled my pasties on some I had many years ago on holiday in Devon and my filling is as I remember it then.

I made a batch of pasties last night – four large ones – and here’s those very self-same bad boys as they looked straight after I whipped them out of the oven:

There you go – 4 very large pasties that cost about 5€ to make, which means the cost per pasty is about a quid – cheaper than a bought pasty and bigger and better too.

Having a better kitchen is going to make a big difference. For a year we had to use a stove that had seen better days with only three burners and an oven that tended to burn things very easily. Now we have a Stoves double oven with all the bells and whistles and cooking has just got a hell of a lot easier. We’ve also been able to unpack and store all our pots, pans and kitchen essentials so that we can have all the right things for various recipes.

This also means that Mrs Shark can get back to making goodies like muffins and other cakes.

Nom nom…

Where am I?

Well, here’s a map of France, with the Pays de la Loire region marked on it:

The region comprises 4 departements – rather similar to UK counties – and we live in #53 which is called La Mayenne. Geographically speaking, it’s south of Normandy and east of Brittany.

We live in the far south-western corner of La Mayenne near to where it says Renaze on this map of La Mayenne:

In fact, we live pretty close to an axis of departmental boundaries meaning that a few minutes’ drive will take us into 3 other departments – Ille-et-Vilaine, Maine-et-Loire and Loire-Atlantique.

Culturally La Mayenne is a cross between Normandy and Brittany and gastronomically speaking, it has to be said, lacking any distinctive style although cider, apples, pork and cream figure largely.

Maurice, our nearest neighbour, laughed when I asked him what the local culinary specialities were…

The departement is largely rural and sparsely populated – which are two of the reasons we decided to go for a move here:

Not one of France’s more mountainous areas – it’s rather flat in fact – the countryside is very unspoilt and verdant and with very few real tourist attractions there are few tourists, which is yet another reason we decided to relocate here:

The hamlet or ‘lieu dit’ in which we live lies just outside a small village which has a church, a mairie, a village hall and…well, that’s it. The nearest shops are about 4km away in Pouance which is where we go for fresh bread, cigarettes and other essentials. In brief, if it’s outside shopping hours and you want something – tough shit.

We’re not the only ex-pats in the area.

With low property prices – another very good reason we moved – the departement attracts quite a few Dutch and British either as second home buyers or retirees. It’s possible to meet up with your compatriots on a very regular basis should you so desire, but we prefer to mix with the French as much as possible. All our neighbours seem really friendly and we reckon that they’re really glad that we’re here renovating a house that was in danger of lapsing into decay and becoming a real eyesore.

Immediately, we’re a bit south of our evening meal which will be pave de rumsteack, potatoes au gratin – made with some 6 month aged Comte – and green beans, all washed down with some rose from a box – 5 litres for 9 euros and quite, quite quaffable.

I’m in a good place!

What a long strange trip…

…it’s been.

After being over here in France for 8 months, and with an initial completion date of 31st August, we’ve finally signed and the house at St Erblon is all ours – lock, stock and fucking barrel.

I wouldn’t say it’s been an easy process, although, from our side of things as cash purchasers with no chain, it should have been. One – if not both – of the vendors has quite frankly been a cunt, but as the story is a long one and I’m a tad pissed, the full account is something I’ll have to save for another day…

…but it will be told,

It’s been – as they say – a fucking emotional rollercoaster…

We signed with the notaire at about 4pm today, went over to the house and changed the locks and then sorted out changing the billing for electricity and water with the help of our estate agent.

We then came home and sank a bottle of Veuve Clicquot with our French neighbours.

Now we’re in for the night after pizza and a bottle of cheap Sauvignon Blanc feeling that we’ve finally reached the start of what we really came over here for.

Various tradesmen are booked for the next couple of weeks as we get estimates for work to get the house at St Erblon the way we want it.

The real French experience starts here…