Saturday, 31 July 2010

A State of Undress in the South of France

So fresh, each morsel was eaten nude bar the merest spritz of lemon

The village of Neffies. An excited sun.

Villa. Pool. Five girls and fifteen bikinis.

This trip was strictly educational. We learnt much about our capacity to eat. Informed enough to tell you the merits of panaché versus shandy and to advise on only choosing figs that almost puncture at the touch, we can also prove that it is possible to consume €300 worth of cheese and wine. Over 3 days. By a pool. (See Must Drink below for sauce suggestions)

But we took a break from sun-ripening and pool-dipping to venture over to the town of Bouzigues in the Etang de Thau - the largest oyster-producing area in France. La Palourdière is the sort of restaurant one has to snaffle out rather than stumble across. With views overlooking the spectacular oysterbeds that cultivate the Bouzigue flat oyster, it is worth snaffling out.

Rumour has it that Rick Stein, on his French Odyssey, fell in love with this place. Though there’s no evidence to say it was here (he refused to divulge the name of the restaurant), we like to think it was.

The menu at La Palourdière was thus:

Bread and aïoli
I verily believe aïoli improves everything savoury.

Le Pêcheur - Fresh mussels, snails, prawns, clams, oysters (photo top of page)

Moules Gratinées
Plump and juicy with the delight and satisfaction of a cheese-flavoured crunch.

The waiters undressing the grilled bream and sea bass
I was disappointed by this undressing- I like the ritual of eating the whole fish.

The bream undressed

Gambas flambées à la Provençale
Prawns probably spritzed with brandy

Zarzuela (which means ‘Operetta’)
A Catalan dish - a mix of seafood cooked with tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers. We affectionately named this vuvuzela as it was victually just as noisy.

So, by the end of our trip, what had we learned? Not much, to be honest. But what we do know is that our cheese eating abilities can only be complimented by our amorous seafood tendencies.

Thank you Hannah for introducing us to a French life beyond panaché and piscine.

La Palourdière
Port Loupian
04 67 43 80 19

Must Drink
A better man than me - Hugh Johnson - said Picpoul de Pinet is "perfect with an oyster". Since we were eating oysters in the Bassin de Thau, just a few miles south of the demarcated area where Picpoul de Pinet wine is grown and made, it would have been silly to drink anything else. And Hugh Johnson is right. A mouthful of lemony fresh Picpoul, followed by a gobful of salty shucked oyster, followed by a mouthful of lemony fresh Picpoul, and so on, and you could easily lose an entire afternoon in these lipsmacking flavours. And so we did... At its best, Picpoul is mineral and mouthfilling, with flavours of citrus, dried herbs and white flowers, tasting of the smell of the Languedoc countryside. Even at less than best it is still light and crisp and wonderfully refreshing. A glass of this is like diving into a cool, green pool under the hot Languedoc sun.
Ruth Ford

Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux de Languedoc AC, Languedoc, France
White wine
Grape: Picpoul Blanc
Available: Majestic, Oddbins, and other independent retailers


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