Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Restaurant tips in France

Article as printed in Accents Southwest

I love my food and I love going out to restaurants and am rarely disappointed by what my little adopted corner of France has to offer.
One of France's many draws for the tourist is her renowned culinary delights, but there are a few things the unsuspecting tourist should know about restaurants in France in general and about restaurants in the PO, in particular:

1) Opening hours.
Unlike Spain, it’s laid back, relaxed and laissez faire neighbour, France is strict on timekeeping. Lunch is served between 12h00 and 14h00 and dinner between 19h00 and 22h00. Pile poil. I have often arrived at empty restaurants with a gang of friends at 13h55 to be greeted with “ah, mais la cuisine est fermée madame”and no amount of cajoling or bribery will make them change their minds. It’s frustrating and refreshingly uncapitalistic in some ways … and you get used to it very quickly! Many restaurants are also closed on Mondays.

2) Vegetarians beware
France is not a country that warms to the vegetarian. In fact , in many restaurants , you will be treated as if you have a contagious disease as the waiter scurries into the kitchen to tell the chef that there is one of “those that do not like meat” on the premises. Be prepared to be presented with a plate of boiled veg and a Gallic shrug of the shoulders!

3) Children should be seen and not heard
As a mother with two small children, I am flabbergasted at the obedience and docility of French children. One can be in a restaurant surrounded by hordes of French children dining with their parents and not be aware that they are even there! From a very early age, table manners and etiquette are literally drummed into French children and they are expected to behave properly and will demurely sit through a 4 course meal without budging. Your dog will be more welcome than unruly “normal “ children.

4) Les toilettes!
Since I moved here over 8 years ago, I’ve seen a huge improvement in the quality of the WC department of restaurants. However, you can still expect dirty holes in the ground, particularly in the city centre of Perpignan. Unisex toilets are popular.

5) Russian roulette
Most menus in French restaurants will be, surprisingly enough, in French and there may not be someone to translate or explain. Bring your dictionary or ordering may be like a game of Russian roulette!

Restaurants that buck the trend in the Perpignan area:

1) Best Flexible hours
Le France
A long awaited welcome addition to the Perpignan eating scene, Le France is open all day long serving tapas, pizzas, sandwiches and more. The venue is impressive, built as it is in renovated historical buildings, dating back to the 14th century where it housed the “consulat de mer”
Opening Monday to Saturday 10h00 to 22h00 and Sundays at midday, 12h00 to 14h30
Le France Café, Place de la Loge, 66000 Perpignan, tel : 04 68 51 61 71

Le Napoli
You arrive in Perpignan on a late flight or train and you’re ravenous. Nothing in Perpignan is open, so it looks like heading back to the gaff to rustle up something inane from the cupboard. Think again , because Pizza Napoli is open until 1am every evening. Serving typical pizzeria fare , with good steaks and always a livelu crowd, if the mood takes your fancy, you can always head downstairs to the nightclub! Yeah baby!
Open Monday to Sunday for lunch and from 19h00 to 01h00
Le Napoli, 3, Place de Catalogne, 66000 Perpignan, Telephone: 04 68 35 35 88

2) Best vegetarian restaurant
Peace and Love, Perpignan
As far as I know ( and I stand to be corrected) this is the only dedicated 100% veggie restaurant in the PO. With a laid back feel and 70s décor, the atmosphere is relaxed and student like. The generous and tasty mains start at €6,50 with some interesting lunch specials as well. It’s open for lunch every day except Sunday and for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Peace and Love, 40, rue de la Fusterie 66000 Perpignan, Tél : 06 08 33 67 84

3) Best Kiddies Restaurant
Le Rocher des Pirates
Situated in an ugly industrial zone, this restaurant with pirate theme ticks all the boxes for your children. Waiters dressed as pirates, exploding dinners, volcanic eruptions and a spectacle on Sundays, your child will be engrossed. The menu is attractive for adults as well, with barbequed meat, fish , pizzas and some nice salads.
Le Rocher des Pirates, Rue Georges Melies, 66600 Rivesaltes,Tél : 04 68 57 15 84

Beach Clubs
In the summer months, these clubs situated on the main beaches are ideal for dining with your kids. When your kids get restless, they can play in the sand while you can watch them and the sea view from your vantage point in the dining area. Everybody’s happy.
My pick of the bunch would be Naudo Beach Club, Canet Sud– it’s an upmarket beach club. Their cocktails are excellent and the food is above average. Service can be a bit slow though
Open June to September
Naudo Beach Club, Voie des Flamants Roses, Tel : 0468734744 6oses 4

4) Best Toilets
La Villa du Flot, Perpignan
A superbe restaurant which uses local fresh produce inventively and changes it’s menu weekly, this is a special occasion restaurant situated in a 4star hotel on the outskirts of Perpignan. A open dining room leading on to a leafy terrasse and a sparkling pool, the service is unrushed and the ambience relaxed. The hotel permanently hosts art exhibitions of local artists and the foyer is always decorated with interesting artwork. Their impressive wine vault boasts up to 5000 bottles of wine, with 150 local wines to choose from.
The toilets are very nice too!!!
LA VILLA DUFLOT - Rond-Point Albert Donnezan, Perpignan 66000, Tél 33 (0) 4 68 56 67 67

5) Best restaurant in the world
El Bulli, Roses, Costa Brava, Spain
We are privileged to be living on the very doorstep of the alleged best restaurant in the world. Albeit not in France, but just over the border in Spain, El Bulli is the highly acclaimed eatery standing proudly on the winning podium. It’s not easy to get a seat there, with over a million eager enthusiasts on the waiting list , this restaurant is only open for 6 months of the year – for the other 6 months , they experiment and play with food, trying new techniques and approaches to cooking food that puts this restaurant at the cutting edge of culinary experimentation.
El Bulli, Cala Montjoi . Ap. 30 17480 . Roses, Girona (Spain), tel (34) 972 150 457
Bon Apps tout le monde !

Friday, April 02, 2010

April Fools and other traditions

My kids came home from school yesterday with fish. Not real fish , I hasten to add, but cardboard painted cut out non smelly ones which they stick on to your back when you're not looking. The "poisson d'avril" , on Aprils fools is traditionally when a paper cut out fish will be stuck on to your back and everyone will fall around hysterically. Ok, I've been here eight years and I don't get it either...

Down here in the deep South , Good Friday is celebrated quite oddly as well with the Procession of the Sanch taking place in Perpignan and Collioure. This slow and macabre march through the streets of Perpignan every Good Friday is a step back into medieval history.
The procession, which is a symbol of the passion of Christ, dates back to the mid 15th century , when the penitents would make their way to the gallows, accompanied by their robed executioners. All parties are robed in klu klux klan type outfits in red and black and march to a hypnotic drum beat while some religious chanting is blasted through loud speakers throughout the city. It certainly is a sight to behold but a barrel of laughs it aint ....
And speaking of funny traditions, the caganer must be the funniest religious figurine ever , the original depicts a peasant type man with his pants around his ankles having a good poo poo. There's a religious shop in the centre of Perpignan sellig relics, holy water and bibles .. In the front window , there is a selection of caganers which my two children delight in imitating every time we wander past. Needless to say, it's their favourite shop in town, along with their favourite street, Rue Dr Poo ( they're very civilised really!). This little mooning fella is to be found in all nativity holy scenes - the reason for this cheeky chappy's inclusion is a little unclear but some people argue that he represents equality of all races, creeds and people - when you gotta go , you gotta go, whether you are president or prisoner.. In any case, the little caganer has gained almost cult status in Catalonia with a very loyal following with caricatures made with Sarko, Obama and other famous figure heads.
In 2005, there was public uproar in Barcelona when the authorities unveiled a fab new nativity scene without the popular defecator. Under public pressure , they had to reinstate him the following year.
All jokes aside , the pride the Catalans have in their local tradition , folklore, music and dance is something I really admire - you ask a Catalan person if they are French and they will reply, pounding their chest " Beh non, nous sommes fier d'etre catalan" . You can't knock it.

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