Saturday, January 20, 2007

Eating France

As the Vive La France show at Olympia is not just about food and wine (unfortunately) but about how to get to France and where to live when you get there, the bits that really interest us don’t take up too much time to explore. That’s okay as D, MC and I seem to be quiet happy to meander through the various stands, MC checking out any wine samples and filling in any competitions to win trips to or holidays in France as we ambled. When we we got a little peckish there were several options: the restaurant, the various stalls selling sausage sandwiches etcetera, Pret à Manger for their usual sandwiches or the four restaurants preparing little sample meals in the Taste Terrace. This set up was very similar to the Taste of London show I’d been to in the summer and some of the dishes were even the same. The variety seemed to clinch it so off to the Taste Terrace we trotted. We decided to make our own French tasting menu after we’d bagged ourselves a table. But that was going to be a problem! There were many people desperately circling clutching little paper plates of food and wondering how they would balance them safely and eat if no tables were forthcoming. One advantage with visiting these events alone is that you can perch on someone’s table to consume your booty but we wanted to eat together so it was going to be much more of a challenge. Eventually with skill and stealth we pounced on a table that was becoming free though we had to share with another couple. If they thought it was remotely odd that all food was photographed before consumption, they never let on.

Now we had a table we could concentrate on food, the first port of call was Club Gascon where we purchased all three of their dishes: duck foie gras, Gascony pie (duck mousse, cream mushrooms and leaves) and cassoulet of tarbais beans, duck machon and Toulouse sausage.

The foie gras was incredibly light and the Gascony pie such a fabulous taste and texture. It is actually a duck mousse and even though doesn’t look the most attractive dish but tastes really good and a great contrast to the slightly bitter leaves. And even though I’m not particularly a bean girl, the cassoulet is actually very fine indeed! The Toulouse sausage is just as it should be firm, meaty and just the right amount of garlic and herbs.

Next it was a trip to Brasserie Roux for gratin de macaroni à la Lyonniase and Le Gavroche for their fabulous daube de boeuf braisée and gratin Dauphinois. The macaroni was interesting as I wondered why Lyonnaise and guessed that it meant with sliced onions but it seemed devoid of onions but had some little pieces of mushrooms. Well maybe, because they denied it! It tasted really flavoursome though and also went remarkably well with the daube de boeuf. The daube itself was small but really good but did look rather a sorry state with the gratin Dauphinois but looks aren’t everything! The gratin may looked curdles but it certainly didn't taste it.

And For the final act we send MC to Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and asked him to choose some desserts for us all. We did suggest possible something chocolatey or lemony. He duly returned with raspberry and pistachio tart, a pear tart and some macaroons. D had spotted the macaroons earlier and expressed a desire to try some. And I must admit they looked very impressive in their pastel colours and pleasingly convex slightly shiny tops and all lined up neatly in their various colours. But in my head I suspected they would taste like those spaceships we used to occasionally get on the way home from school. Frankly they tasted of nothing, or maybe paper or even rice paper. But dull, anyway! And certainly not something I’d like to have when there may be more interesting lemon tart or some amazing chocolate confectionery on offer. But they were a revelation; I had the lemon one first and marvelled at the soft yet crisp coating which then pleasingly shattered as I bit into it. And then it just melted on my tongue! The two half shells are sandwiched with a tangy lemony paste and the whole effect is just so good. Why wasn’t I aware of the sheer fabulousness of macaroons before? We also enjoy the pear tart with the crispiest pastry and the raspberry with the surprise pistachio layer – all good, nothing bad!

Feeling sated after our exertions in the taste terrace we continue to explore the stalls and stands selling French goodies both edible and for the home. There’s also a few jewellery stalls and sparkly things are always interesting!

After a long day winding our way around the show we secure some front row seats in the food theatre for the final cooking demonstration at 4 pm. We have enjoyed Club Gascon’s food today so it seems very fitting we end watching their head chef Pascal Aussignac whip up a rabbit baked in clay treat. The presentation is accompanied by a deaf signer for the visitor who cannot hear Pascale’s dulcet French tones and what D and I are most intrigued about is the sign language for ‘rabbit’. It seems to be making bunny ears out of the index and middle finger of each hand almost like making those dreaded imaginary air quotations! Ughh! I’m not sure why D and I found this so enlightening but we did. The lovely Pascal (and he is rather lovely!) wrapped his rabbit in Swiss chard then a cabbage leaf and then the clay. The clay is shaped into a kind of large pasty before baking. The clay keeps the rabbit very moist. This is accompanied by sautéed mushrooms and polenta cooked with milk. I’ve been meaning to try polenta cooked in milk for ages; it looks creamier that normal polenta. I was keen to taste a little but they are terrified that you’ll try something, fall ill and then sue them so testing is strictly forbidden.

Pascal also waxed lyrical about his beloved ‘piment d’ Espelette’ which is a much prized AOC protected Basque pepper that he uses as a condiment instead of freshly ground black pepper. It tastes like paprika but maybe slightly softer in flavour. It is definitely something worth adding to the cupboard, possibly even one of the liquorice piglets!

We’ve had a great day, tasted a a whole host of things, made a few interesting purchases and entered a myriad of competitions. Now all I’ve got to do is decide to cook for everyone tonight. Something French perhaps?

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