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 bun in the oven?

Little did we know 10 months ago, that when we bought our house we also bought this:

 

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Although it doesn’t look much, this unprepossessing structure is actually a four à pain, or bread oven.

It stands on the end of the boundary between our neighbour’s sister’s land, on the left in the picture, and our other piece of land, with our barn, on the right.

We’d always assumed that it belonged to someone else and the estate agent we dealt with seemed to think it did, too. However, whilst we were clearing the area yesterday our neighbour passed by and we learned the truth about it.

Yes, we now have our very own four à pain.

It stands about 6 feet high and is circular with a diameter of about 10 feet.

Originally, we suspect that it looked something more like this:

 

four-a-pain-bannalec

However, the domed roof has collapsed and the front stonework forming the doorway has gone, assuming it was there, although there’s an outside chance that it may all have fallen inside.

We spent a while clearing the back of it this morning and revealed a wall made of thin stones, which makes sense as there are vast deposits of slate and other sedimentary rocks locally.

 

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Apart from the obvious differences in the building materials, it looks remarkably like the example shown above, with the remnants of a dome clearly visible, and the overall shape seeming to be a good match.

Date wise I’m assuming that it’s contemporary with our house, which predates 1840 at least – if the Napoleonic cadastral plans are any guide. Our neighbours informed us that a M. Boulaye who lived in our house used to bake bread for the local people and as our house was the main dwelling in our lieu-dit then I’m making a guess that the bread oven has been here for a long time. The shape of it certainly looks like other 19th century examples I’ve found online.

We plan to strip off all the brambles – evil, evil fuckers that’ll rip your arms to shreds – and the ivy and weeds and then have a dig about inside it. There may be some collapsed stones and who knows what else.

At the very least, it should make a nice feature along the communal road here and possibly get planted up with something colourful – Ipomoea is the current favourite, although I fancy growing strawberries in it.

Song of the day – Kevin Gilbert’s Toy Matinee with ‘Last Plane Out’. Great playing, vocals, composition, production…what’s not to like?

I’m now cooking dinner – baked smoked gammon, Noirmoutier potatoes and haricots verts from our neighbours’ garden; all washed down with cheap rose.

 

Frites, fireworks and the French

Yesterday was the village bash:

  • A randonnee – a walk – at 9am
  • Concours de Peche – a fishing contest – at 3pm
  • A soiree with steak and chips, a bal (dance) and fireworks at 8pm

We passed on the walk as we had some work to do and also the fishing as my pole didn’t have a hook or line to attach to it, but we went to the evening do.

Out of about 200 people, we were the only English there but we vaguely knew a few people from the pique-nique in May, including a guy who was born in the house we bought here and his wife.

Robert and Jeanette are a delightful couple, in their 70s but as lively as they come and they made us feel very welcome – as did everyone else we met.

The meal was very good – a glass of kir, tuna salad, entrecote and chips, cheese and fruit tarte.

Excellent beef it was too – cooked to perfection and almost able to still go ‘moo’…

An ambulance arriving to treat someone for what was described to us as a ‘crise de tension’ broke the evening up a bit, but although they were taken off to hospital they weren’t desperately ill we were told.

Then it was firework time, with them being set off over the fishing lake which caught their reflections.

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I don’t think I’ve ever met a more friendly and hospitable crowd in my life. They were really, really welcoming and made us feel part of the event.

Off we went to walk home – about 10 minutes away – and just as we turned out of the road leading to the village hall, we were asked if we wanted a lift by two total strangers also leaving the soiree. They explained that walking might be dangerous.

The French stand offish?

I think not.

Lovely, lovely people!

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…

Time is an illusion…

…lunchtime doubly so.

 

Seafood_lunch

 

Perhaps Douglas Adams had France in mind when he wrote these words, because the 2 hour lunch break is something we’re still trying to get to grips with after over a year here.

Basically, if you want to buy something here from midday to 2PM, apart from lunch that is, then basically you can forget it.

Sure, many supermarkets now have all day opening, but that’s about it.

Even in the large out of town shopping districts – the zones commerciales – finding something like a brico (think B&Q, and of which more in a later blog post) that’s open is a task akin to seeking the Holy Grail and marginally less fruitful.

Want a tin of peas or a lump of cheese?

No problem.

Want a tin of paint or some wall plugs.

Fat fucking chance.

Organising a comprehensive shopping trip has to be done with some care if you don’t want to hit lunchtime and a potential 2 hour wait until the shop you want is open. So, it’s either leave home early so you get there with plenty of time before noon, or set off during lunchtime so you get there for 2.

Then there’s the traffic…

When we were looking for houses early last year, we were told that houses situated some distance from main centres of work weren’t popular as a long lunchtime commute cut into the lunch break too much.

Consequently, properties lying over 20 minutes or so from employment areas are less desirable – although potentially slightly cheaper and less sought after, which may offer a small advantage to potential buyers.

However, those people living close to their work then behave like lunatics on the road as they drive as if their heads were on fire to get home as quickly as possible – and the same disregard is shown going back to work, of course.

But why a 2 hour lunch break in the first place?

Well, it may be due to the working week in France being very short – a statutory 35 hours – but this has been modified since it was introduced and is really just a reference point for calculating overtime. Besides, the 35 hour maximum doesn’t go right across the board:

The 35-hour rule applies to all employees except those with special working conditions, such as sales representatives, executives, limited liability company managers, caretakers in residential buildings and domestic staff. There are many other exceptions, so the main beneficiaries are blue-collar workers and those in large organisations.

I can understand a 2 hour siesta type break as in Spain, because of the heat, but France doesn’t enjoy such good weather – especially in the north.

I’d hate a 2 hour lunch break.

When I became self-employed in about 1990, I used to prefer to work without a lunch break. So, if I was doing a 6 hour day and paid per hour, I’d work straight through from 8.30 or 9 and then try and leave as soon as possible. My philosophy was that I wasn’t getting paid for lunch breaks so I’d rather have any down time at the end of my work. Sometimes having to take a lunch break was unavoidable, however, if the person I was supposed to be seeing was at lunch.

Anyway, there’s no point in resenting the two hour lunchtime here as it’s just something we have to adjust to, but when it gets to 11.45 in the morning and you’ve just run out of paint and you have over two hours to wait to get it, it can be irritating, to say the least!

Fussy eaters…

…always awkward buggers and especially when they’re your own bloody cats.

Since we had Django and Oscar as kittens, and up until we moved to France, they’ve both eaten the same food.

Django ate Felix Choice Cuts pouches – fish only – and some dried Royal Canin Maine Coon food:

 

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Oscar on the other hand ate nothing apart from the Royal Canin food. In fact, he still doesn’t eat anything else. Each bowl is attacked with equal relish and as if it was filet steak, foie gras or caviar…

 

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Fortunately, we’ve managed to wean Django onto Whiskas which is often on special offer here and he’ll now eat the pouched poultry varieties as well as the fish.

However, supplying Oscar with what he likes has become rather less easy. Last year, we ordered 30kg of the Royal Canin food from a company in the UK. It cost us about £140 with free delivery and arrived less than 48 hours after I placed the order – fabulous service and a great price.

Here, in France, it’s amazingly expensive, about 50% more, which is bad enough, but when you think that Royal Canin is a French company, it’s fucking ridiculous.

And that’s the main problem relocating to France – some things are stupidly expensive, although we reckon it just about evens out when you take into account the fact that some aspects of the household budget are cheaper.

However, after discovering that the company we ordered from last year no longer delivers here, we found another UK pet suppliers that will deliver to us and, although more expensive, 20kg delivered here will still work out about 33% cheaper than buying it in France.

The moral is, I suppose, to shop clever whenever possible. So, we keep our eyes peeled for special offers – although the BOGOF culture hasn’t really reached here yet – and then stock up:

  • Pork leg joints at €2.50 a kilo? Grab half a dozen and slap ‘em in the freezer!

  • Twin pack of Palmolive washing up liquid at just over the price of a single bottle? Get 3 packs for the store cupboard!
  • Cheap tomatoes? Make a vat of pasta sauce and freeze it!

Also, French value brands seem to be better than their UK counterparts, with Super U’s Bien Vu dark roast coffee offering amazing value, for example.

However, it’s clear that what was once a cheap country, compared to the UK at least, is no longer cheap.

So, it’s by no means all biere et boules here.

On the other hand, I haven’t seen a single chav since I was over in the UK last December and that counts for a lot…

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…