Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Never Judge a Restaurant in France by its Façade

None of these restaurants have the most inspiring façades. They do not encourage one to think that the inside will be a source of delicious and good value meals, served in an hygienic and welcoming environment. Don't be fooled, or worse, don't let the external appearance of these restaurants and those like them put you off entirely. Step inside and prepare to be won over.

This is la Cuisine du Marché, which is at the end of a row of discount shops, and next to a large supermarket in the town of Yzeures-sur-Creuse. It is housed in an industrial shed, but the chef is popular and takes his job seriously. He comes out mid-service to greet all the diners, and josh and backslap the regulars. The place is busy every lunchtime with shoppers, road workers, foresters, farmers, teenagers in love, elderly couples, and expats who are renovating houses in the area. Unusually for a small rural restaurant, this place is not just a family affair, and has at least half a dozen employees, and the menu has a quite a wide choice. Note the blackboard menu, clearly on display out the front. By law in France, all restaurants must display their menu and prices on the street, so you can make an informed choice about whether you enter or not.

La Gargantua, in the main street of the village of Charnizay, is a fantastic little restaurant. Another one that is packed at lunchtime with local blue collar workers and farmers, it is run by a husband and wife team on their own (and run is the operative word – he cooks and she literally runs around the tables serving when they are full). The lunch menu does not give you a choice, but the evening meal does – see the yellow menu in its display case on the wall.

Le café des sports on the market place in Bonneuil Matours has not had a refurb for quite some time, and the clientele can look a bit rough and ready, but the food is traditional, very cheap and tasty. Again this is family affair, with him running the associated bar, her serving and a cook out the back. If lunch of an andouillette, duchesse potatoes and a pitcher of house red with îles flottantes to follow has not completely filled you up, there is a superb boulangerie / pâtisserie on one of the other corners of the market square.



Ken Broadhurst said...

Nice post, Susan. These sound like good restaurants to me. Reading your post makes me regret that we don't go out for meals more often. I don't know how England compares, but I know that these "mom and pop" restaurants serving home-made food are more numerous in small-town France than in small-town America. And the food is always better too, to my tastes.

Autolycus said...

I'm no great connoisseur, but I tend to work on the principle that a menu which is handwritten, offers a limited range of choices and changes from time to time is more likely to indicate someone who cares about what they're doing than (at one end of the spectrum) somewhere with fading photos of dishes outside or (at the other) a fancy decor with a huge menu. So these all have a good few plus points to start off with.

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Hi Susan, I have been reading your blog for a while, sometimes comment...We don;t have places like that in the UK..well not anywhere I have lived...very popular in France and Italy!

I don't know about you, but my husband had andouillette and couldn't eat it. It is an acquired taste, he even cannot talk about it, and he is not a fussy eater at all...I shudder each time I see the word.

Simon said...

Ken. We like the fact that the chefs in these places always play to their strengths; they cook what they know they can cook, so while it may not be adventurous, it's always done properly.

Autolycus - My first rule of chosing a restaurant in Europe - never eat in a restaurant where this is pictures of the meals. There is one one restaurant in London (just around the corner from you) called the New Tayyab where this rule does not apply.

Anne - Andouillette is just one of those things... The most farmyardy one I have ever eaten was at an Aire de Service on the A28 - Haras du Pin - and it was strong enough to almost give me second thoughts. Otherwise, I am a fan. It's real men's food :¬))

Anonymous said...

Just going in to a restaurant like these always seems like an adventure ! We have had many a good lunch in scruffy-looking establishments. Also we've occasionally paid a small fortune in smarter surroundings with pompous staff where the food does not meet expectations. We love to try them all and go back if it's good. No matter how much or how little it costs, it's worth it if it's good.

wcs said...

Now you've gone and done it. Made me hungry.

Actually, that's not very hard to do.

Simon said...

Walt - Just have another bowl of choucroute. That'll fix you.

Jean - I love the luncheon voucher places. We always manage to learn something

wcs said...

That's precisely what's on for lunch today.

Barbara said...

Hi Susan,
Very nice suggestions !
It might come in handy one of these days when my hubby & I are on the road in Touraine.

Which may be very soon ;)

Anonymous said...

The last time we felt like treating ourselves to a "posh" meal, we went to Chinon on market day (Thursday) and had lunch at a newish restaurant called L'Ardoise in rue Rabelais, one street back from the main road. (2 years ago it was a furniture shop.) For a reasonable price we could sample something a bit special - dinner in the evening is a bit pricey now, especially with the current exchange rate. I'm always nervous about giving recommendations but last October it was lovely.

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