Saturday, November 17, 2012

Toulouse & Le Bon Vivre

Toulouse. A brilliant city. Smaller than Paris, not as pretty but the people are just so friendly. The vibe is good. It’s a small city with a mostly pedestrian city centre full of quaint and pretty shops. Artisanal chocolate makers, bakers, pasty makers cheese-mongers and even cheese-agers are all to be found here. The city reminds us so much of Lyon and Bologna and touches of Bergamo.

No tea served here.

Geographically Toulouse is at the border of Spain, very close to Barcelona. It is built on the ruins of an ancient Roman settlement and a lot of the red brick buildings in Toulouse give it the nickname La Vile Rose The pink City) the Spanish influence on Toulouse is quite heavy. The buildings look so much like the buildings in Spain it’s pretty eerie. The architecture is definitely Spanish/Portuguese. Also, there is a lot of Tapas available in a peculiar French way. In fact, Toulouse is the only city in France to have bi-lingual street signs; in French and Occitan - the original language of the region which is more like Catalan than French! When we arrived in Toulouse, the weather was more like the balmy 20 degrees one would find in Barcelona than the bracing 5 degrees we had left behind in Paris.

You may well ask why we are in Toulouse. The answer my dear reader is very simple. We are here to enjoy French Regional cuisine and of course to see the wonderful Airbus factory. French Regional cuisine you say? Yes. This is an area where Ducks grow very well. So the clever French have made a few great dishes around duck. First of all you must have heard of Foie Gras. That is force feeding a duck or Goose until its liver in engorged. The liver is a delicacy the world over. Well, with the number of ducks around this is Foie Gras city. What do you do with the rest of the duck? With the Legs you make confit; that is preserve the legs in the abundant duck fat. It’s a delicious dish. The Duck Breast is also eaten naturally, both normally as well as smoked. So, duck is big here. Goose too. Then there is the delicious Toulouse Sausage, made with pork, garlic and wine. The famous Bean and Duck and Pork dish Cassoulet is a local speciality as is the loads of wine from the Langudoc region. With so much Pork and game, these clever Frenchmen also make all manner of Pate and Terrines with the produce. This is really food heaven here. So we are here to eat.

Toulouse is also the centre for aviation and space travel in France and the Airbus factory is located down the road. So that is on the agenda as well. We have bookings for 2.30 pm on Saturday.

Meal 1 was at the most renowned local food restaurant called Le Bon Vivre, or the Good Life. This is a really famous restaurant and chefs from far and wide recommend visiting this when asked. To start we ordered a portion of Pork Liver Pate and a bottle of Beer to wash it down. The Pate was top class. Homemade and not factory bought.

Then we had to order our starters. HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered a Burgundy special dish, Eggs poached in a Red Wine Sauce. Burgundy food again! Are you following my drift? Anyway, the dish arrived of two perfectly poached eggs with the classic Burgundy Red wine sauce with the 4 traditional garnishes – Shallots, Bacon Lardons, Fried Bread and Mushrooms. Superb dish.

Foie Gras with Garlic

Eggs poached in Red Wine

I had to order the Foie Gras. We were in Foie Gras country and I do quite like it. This restaurant specialises in Foie Gras with Roast Garlc. Large pods perfectly baked thus the garlic inside is soft and sweet.

The buzz in the restaurant was quite lively and many of the patrons were quite obviously local, which is always a good sign.

For mains I ordered a Cassoulet (which is what we were in Toulouse for) and HRH asked for a Confit Duck. Mains arrived soon enough and I must say the portions were extremely generous. My Cassoulet was enormous and I could see HRH was going to struggle with her Duck.

The Cassoulet was everything I had hoped for. Robust, hearty and extremely satisfying. HRH seemed less happy with her Duck Confit which had a thick layer of un-rendered fat. Although the skin was crisp and the meat flavourful and very delicious, a little more time rendering the fat would have done wonders to the dish. Her potatoes cooked in goose fat though were sinfully good. The colour that potato gets when cooked in goose or duck fat is quite unique, golden.


Duck Confit

All this with a bottle of the regional wine - Cahours - and we were two happy bunnies. The tables at Le Bon Vivre are extremely close together and we soon in deep conversation with the couple at the next table.

Dessert was a floating island for me and a round of Armagnac. A very pleasant evening and a perfect introduction to eating out in Toulouse. The walk back to our hotel was 30 seconds!

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