Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Sesame-Roasted Salmon with Stir-Fried Vegetable Noodles

Only a few days in, and I'm TOTALLY over the London effing Olympics.

I've been stuck in traffic for hours to make a simple journey, all because someone from China wants to beat someone from Australia in a running race in my home town. Whoop-de-do.

Haven't these people got anything better to do with their lives than be good at table tennis/archery/judo/diving? I like diving as much as the next guy, but I don't expect people to gather at the pool in my summer holiday hotel and see whether I can hold my arms in the air really parallel while I try not to make a splash. GO HOME!

Anyway, just a fortnight to go and our London mayor Boris Johnson can begin the process of taking down all the posters, scrubbing out the new cycle race lanes and putting the Olympic stadium to good long term use. Then, our chancellor, George Osborne, can figure out how we are going to repay all our spent Olympic money. Good luck to 'em.

As for me? I just go to work as usual, come home (a bit late, thanks to the traffic -grrr) and cook my adorable wife, Mrs Ribeye, today's delicious dish - sesame-roasted salmon with a Chinese stir fry. The thing about stir-fries, is that you want to keep the flavours as clean and simple as possible. AVOID those disgusting brown-paint sauces you always see next to the packs of vegetables in the chiller counter. They're not remotely authentic, or even delicious - you may as well coat your stir fry in HP sauce or Marmite.

Having spent a lovely night recently at my Chinese friend Ying's house, where a sumptuous Chinese feast was laid on for me, I can tell you that there was not a creosote-coloured stir fry sauce to be found on any menu item at all. Instead, all of the bright colourful dishes were briefly introduced to maybe some soy, sesame oil or Shaoxing rice wine, before being quickly roasted, poached or fried in spring onion, garlic, ginger, chilli and/or Szechuan peppercorns. Incredible. I can't wait to be invited back.

The other thing about stir-fried vegetables, is that I have always been told to fry them over a searingly hot heat, for a very short time, to keep them fresh and vibrant. I can see the logic in it, but I don't agree. If you do that, then the minute you take away the heat the vegetables become soggy, as their moisture has not been allowed to fully evaporate away. I prefer to stir fry my vegetables over a lowish heat and make sure they are fully-cooked to intensify their flavours. If you then want to add just a little of the almost raw vegetables before serving, to give some vibrancy, then feel free.

I like salmon steak with my stir fry, with a little sesame oil and soy marinade - but you could give the same treatment to pork fillet, chicken breast or prawns. All are delish.

Morrison's Supermarket on the A1 near Elstree in north London are selling salmon, on offer, at a fantastic £6.49 per kilo (which they do about once a week/fortnight), which means that I can cook this dish with salmon and still come in at under my Potless budget - £2.75 per serving. Otherwise, I'd probably use their always reasonably-priced pork fillet instead, whether it's on offer or not.

Serves 2


2 salmon steaks
1 tablespoon of dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 x 600g pack of stir-fry vegetables
2 tablespoons of sunflower or vegetable oil
1 thumb of ginger, grated
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 x 400g pack of cooked egg noodles
2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
Sesame seeds, for sprinkling

Marinate the salmon steaks in the sesame oil, dark soy and olive oil for an hour and then sear them in a blisteringly hot ridged grill pan on one side. Turn down the pan to moderate and turn the steaks to cook them until done (10 minutes approx). In the meantime, stir fry the vegetables in a wok on a moderate heat in the sunflower oil with the ginger and garlic (15 minutes approx). Add the noodles and the light soy sauce and heat them through. Transfer the stir fry to serving bowls and top with the salmon steaks. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Italian Mixed Salad

What a lovely weekend Mrs Ribeye and I just had.

We had plans to go to a big party at our friends in Brixton on Saturday night, and then skipped it to spend a much-needed afternoon at home with just our thoughts - and a big bag of peanut M&M's while watching DVD's, followed by an evening of Fish and Chips from the Seashell in Lisson Grove and more DVD's.

The next morning - Sunday - we took a slow walk through the rose gardens in beautiful Regent's Park, on our way from our home in Marylebone to Camden Town. After a massive fry-up at the Goodfare Cafe on Parkway, we got the papers and spent the afternoon lazing around at home. Heaven. Slight problem: Too many calories and not enough exercise.

So, to avoid the 'Creeping Gut' syndrome, I resolved to make a healthy Sunday night dinner - and this is it. Italian mixed salad. Basically, it's just a whole load of things that you might put on a pizza, but in raw form and without the pizza base, but with lettuce as the base instead. Of course, being English, the bread could not be omitted entirely - slices of olive oil-soaked toast with dried oregano sprinkled on top were the perfect accompaniment. I said 'eat healthily', not become an 'Atkins-obsessed, carb-hating fanatic', did I?

The result was absolutely incredible, and I didn't feel even a tiny bit bad about eating a whole mozzarella cheese. When you eat it raw, it feels healthier. Deluded? Probably.

This week is a big socialising week, with plans for about four nights in a row. No rest for the wicked - unless we cancel, that is.

Cost-wise, this dish comes in at just on your Potless budget. £3 per serving is all.

Serves 2


1 soft round or frisee lettuce
1 large red pepper, cut into large chunks
2 large tomatoes, cut into large chunks
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 balls of mozzarella, cut into large chunks
Handful of olives
1 x 75g tin of anchovies in olive oil
Handful of fresh basil
Half a ciabatta loaf, cut into 1cm thick slices
Pinch of dried oregano
Pinches of salt and pepper
Dash of olive oil
Dash of red wine vinegar

Arrange the salad vegetables, with the mozzarella, anchovies, olives and fresh basil on top. In the meantime, toast the bread and sprinkle with some of the reserved olive oil from the anchovies, then sprinkle with the oregano and salt and pepper. Dress the salad with the fresh olive oil and red wine vinegar and serve with the ciabatta slices.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The 2012 London Olympics Special: Traditional Great British Fish and Chips

The 2012 London Olympics are finally under way!

I live right in the heart of central London, so cannot avoid the new temporary traffic restrictions, the threefold increase of tourists, the hugely increased numbers of joggers/cyclists who have become inspired to get off their fat behinds and actually do some sports, the countless bomb threats, and Coke adverts EVERYWHERE.

So, what is the fuss all about? Olympics is really just a school sports day, but on a massive scale, right? Having looked at the list of events, I noticed all of the usual suspects - running/jumping/swimming/gymnastics etc, but there are also plenty of other obscure things to compete in and watch : Trampolining?! Are you kidding me? Water polo? Beach volleyball? Apparently until a few years ago, there was even a tug-of-war!

If this rubbish is being allowed, I'm going to petition the next Olympic committee to add the egg 'n' spoon and the sack race. I think it would be hilarious to watch pairs of our nation's best athletes tie their legs together and enter the three-legged race. Why not?

But for me, the best part of sports day - and the bit I would be most interested in recreating on the modern Olympic stage - would be the parent's race. We could get every single parent of every competitor from every nation to gather at Hyde Park for a 100 metre sprint. It would be fantastic for international relations to get everyone together for a single event, but it would be more hilarious to watch the parents overshadow their offspring's performances with such a display of raw competitiveness and a bit of... cheating.

How much would you love to see Usain Bolt's mum standing next to everyone else's parents, hitching up her skirt and taking off her shoes. There she would be, jostling for position against Roger Federer's mum and Ryan Gigg's dad. The Chinese synchronised swimming team are all there to cheer on their folks, as are the Russian table tennis players and the Saudi badminton squad. Suddenly, the starter pistol fires and they're off - Mrs Bolt gets an early lead, but Mr Giggs seems to be slyly making good ground on the inside. At the tape it's too close to call - Mrs Federer wins by a hair.

In the car on the way home:  'Well done Usain, you made mummy very proud in your little race, but if I see your friend Roger's mum, Mrs Federer, again I'm going to punch her. Bloody cheat'.

What fun! - I'm phoning Seb Coe.

The fabulous thing about the Olympics is the opportunity to show London off to the rest of the world. My home town really is amazing, and I'm very lucky to have been born here, work here and live here. I wouldn't think about living anywhere else (mmm, apart from New York, maybe).

The tourists will love visiting our famous landmarks and museums, walking in our parks and eating our food. And what dish is more patriotic than good old British fish and chips? Just down the road is the fabulous Seashell fish and chip restaurant on Lisson Grove. It's an institution - selling the freshest fish in crispy golden batter, with the crunchiest chips. I always order cod (pictured above), but the haddock and plaice are equally lovely. At home, I cook with plaice, pouting, flounder, river cobbler, or any other white-fleshed fish on special at my local supermarket's fish counter. It's all good.

British chip shop chips are absolutely unique. For a recipe which is only two ingredients, I would know whether a chip was made in Great Britain or not. You could take our potatoes and oil to the USA, Africa or Spain and I would definitely know that the chips weren't made here. It's what the French called 'terroir', but it's what I call 'the taste of home' - somehow it gets right into the food. Take a look at the picture above - don't the chips look incredible? Of course, I can't recreate the exact taste at home, which is why an occasional trip to the Seashell is such a treat.

You've got to order a 'wally' with your fish and chips as well - a huge dill pickle. They're made with industrial spirit, probably, and not some sort of fancy balsamic vinegar, but they are perfect to cut the oiliness of the rest of the meal, and very authentic to London.

I don't make batter at home - I prefer matzo meal, to give a more breaded and healthier finish. Again, reserving battered fish as a monthly Seashell treat, rather than an artery-clogging regular fixture on my weekly meal rota, keeps my waistline a very respectable 'could do with a trip to the gym', rather than 'morbidly obese ready for death'.

Cost-wise, doing it my way, this dish will come in at £3 per serving. If you take a trip to the Seashell, or the many other top London fish and chip places, the cost can be up to four times that.

My Home-made Fish and Chips:

Serves 2


2 large white-fleshed fish fillets
2 tablespoons of plain flour, with pinches of salt and pepper
1 beaten egg
100g medium matzo meal, or dried breadcrumbs
3 large floury peeled potatoes, such as King Edward or Maris Piper
Sunflower oil, for frying
Rock salt, for sprinkling
Large pickled gherkin, to serve

Coat the fish in the seasoned flour and dip the fillets in the beaten egg. Finally, cover the fish in matzo meal and set aside to firm-up. In the meantime, heat a large pan full of oil and cut the potatoes into 1cm long batons. Fry in the hot oil until crisp (30 minutes approx) and remove to drain, sprinkling them with the rock salt. In the chip oil, add the fish and fry until golden (5 minutes approx). Remove the fish from the oil and allow to drain. Serve immediately with the chips and the pickle.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Potless Budget Restaurant Review #8: Chez Mounier, Lyon, France

Being Potless isn't all about cooking at home - it's about having a fabulous value-for-money eating experience, wherever you are.

So, I present to you my series entitled: 'The Potless Budget Restaurant Reviews'!

Having trawled the globe looking for the best of the cheapest eating out establishments, I can now share my findings. 

'Cheap' is, of course, subjective. But what makes a restaurant qualify for this list is a sense of extremely good value. A greasy spoon cafe might be cheap (and delicious too, come to that) but it won't make it onto the list, unless the eating experience it provides is of the very highest quality in proportion to the price it charges.

This is, without a doubt, my favourite review to date.

Mrs Ribeye and I had spent a fabulous week in Nice, sunning ourselves on the French Cote d'Azur, and we were on our slow meander homewards. We decided to stop off at Lyon in order to see whether its grand culinary reputation had any foundation, and sample a meal from one of its famous bouchons.

The word 'bouchon' has a double meaning: It's either a reference to a cork - the counting of which, by the inn's owner, would calculate a patron's bill after a heavy night of wine consumption; or it's from the verb 'bouchonner', meaning to rub-down - as in a place where the tired traveller can eat and drink while his horse is massaged back to sprightliness. Either way, it's the name for traditional inns in the old part of Lyon, which are famous for serving offal.

Eek! Offal! I love trying new things, and I love French food, but I've never eaten the more questionable parts of the butcher's repertoire. I adore liver and kidneys, and I've sampled sweetbreads - but these are really prime cuts compared to our Lyonnaise experience on that warm summer's evening in early July.

So, after booking into our guesthouse, we set-off to find as authentic a bouchon as Lyon had to offer - and the Rue de Marroniers in the heart of the old town it had to be. The cobbled street is heaving with 200 year old inns and taverns, all offering traditional prix fixe delights at very reasonable prices. We settled on Chez Meunier because it was the least showy looking place (no Coke fridges/uniformed waiting staff etc) on the street and had an air of olde worlde charm. The chef (as you can see from the picture: smiling, ruddy-cheeked lady/standing at the door/arms folded/blue apron) spotted us hanging around waiting for a terrace table, and asked us to wait a couple of minutes while another couple paid their bill; and then we sat down in eager anticipation of adding a serious foodie experience notch to our belts.

Chez Mounier
3 Rue des Marroniers

Tel: 04 78 37 79 26


Filled with locals inside and out, it was obvious that this place had a great reputation. We took our seats at a table on the front terrace and were presented with a menu and a basket of bread. A quick trip to the restrooms allowed me a glimpse of the inner spaces of the bouchon. Tobacco-stained walls were covered in mirrored adverts for pastis, and other French liqueurs, together with a few paintings of Lyonnaise street scenes and surrounding countryside. The furniture was the standard bistro-looking small wooden tables and chairs, with a bar running down the long side of the space. Everything looked unpretentious and not at all 'put-on'. Fab.


As you may know, I'm not a fan of the standard four-course French set meal. They are normally a bit heavy and bland, with a big emphasis on meat and dairy. Instead, I normally adopt my patented '3-2-1' ordering method (3 entrees, shared between 2, served all at 1 time). However, to fully inveigle ourselves in some traditional authentic bouchon culture, we ordered the menu du chef and awaited our fate.

First up: salade de chevre chaude and a plate of crudites. No problem. No offal. I love goats cheese salad and make it regularly at home. Both plates were polished-off with a bottle of the delicious house rose. C'mon! Let's go!

Oh dear. a few minutes after our plates were cleared, I could sense that the next course was on its way. Sense it? Of course I could - my nose was sensing it, as was the nose of Mrs Ribeye and the noses of probably half of Lyon. We were presented with a plate of tripe in a tomato sauce with mashed potato, and a huge andouillette sausage in a mustardy glaze with some boiled potatoes.

Andouillette sausage is a bunch of small intestines, encased in a large intestine. The tripe is also part of the digestive system, in that it is the stomach lining of a cow - cooked until it is a gelatinous bunch of scraps. The problem for me with both of these dishes, however, was not the texture, or even the taste - but the smell. The andouillette and the tripe stunk of... arse.

The sausage was a little bit better than the tripe, in that there were some spices added to the recipe to counteract the smell of crap, but the tomato sauce that the tripe came in did nothing to disguise any of it. It was as if we had been presented with two plates of shit.

To avoid accusations of being English (or in my wife's case, Russian) scaredy cats, I ate the lot. Mrs Ribeye tried a small piece of tripe and a forkful of sausage, but mainly ate potatoes. I scoffed both of the stinking dishes in double-quick time so that I could attempt to bypass my olfactory senses and consign the repulsive stuff to my inner recesses. The plan sort of worked (helped along with a second basket of bread), until I realised that my nose has a memory, and that although the food had been eaten, my nose wasn't going to let me forget it as quickly as I would have liked. There's nothing for it - I'm going to have to order the next course to blot out this one.

We were presented with the smelliest cheese I have ever eaten. The waiter called it fromage sec, and it really was as dry as the name suggests. A lump of athlete's foot. Disgusting. I normally love smelly cheese, like Munster or Chaumes - but after eating tripe? No thanks.

Next up was a huge portion of creme caramel. It was basically a sweet creamy omelette. After everything else that I had already eaten? Double disgusting.

So, let's analyse this meal: 

1. Salad with cheese
2. Cow guts
3. Stinky cheese
4. Omelette

After all of this offal and dairy, I was ready to chuck-up the entire meal all over the terrace. Thankfully I didn't, and Mrs Ribeye and I paid our bill with a grimace-y smile and hobbled back to our hotel.


Does it matter? If I had paid 1 Euro each, it would have been too expensive. For the sake of completeness, however, I will inform you that the bill came to a very reasonable(!) 17 Euros per head, for four courses including wine - about £12-13 each.


Here's the thing: After I got over the shock of eating such extreme dishes, I started getting a few weird feelings. First of all, my memory banks started telling me that the experience was not too bad. Then I started to think that maybe I had been too harsh in my assessment of the experience. Then, I started CRAVING some more of this food.

What the hell is going on? Am I a secret masochist? Did the chef put psychotropic drugs in my food? Or, much more dreadfully, am I starting to acquire a taste for this repugnant fare? God, I hope not. But the fact remains: I certainly am looking forward to going back to Lyon and sampling some more of their weird grub. My andouillette and tripe days are not over, by a long way.

I'm not eating that effing cheese again, though. Or will I.....?

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Toasted Goats Cheese Salad with Red Onion Marmalade and a Creamy Vinaigrette

One of the best things about French food, is their love of the salad. On nearly every restaurant menu is a selection of different salads, all featuring local ingredients, and which are almost always served in huge portions. I love them all.

One day, I might fancy a salad with chicken livers, as I did in Langres; on another occasion I might fancy a selection of crudites, as I did in Kaysersberg. However, if I absolutely had to choose a death row salad (sorry - a bit of a contrived scenario, even for me), I would choose a good old salade de chevre chaud.

I don't know why goats cheese tastes so much better once it's had a bit of a heat-up under a grill, but it takes on a sort of souffle'd quality with added richness. I know - it's like eating a savoury cheesecake!

To cut the richness, I have added a red onion marmalade to each toasted cheese slice. I know it's a bit fiddly and a bit poncey to start smearing your own home-made jams onto bread before covering them with cheese and popping them under a grill, but I promise you, it is well worth it. The marmalade is only 3-4 ingredients anyway. Try it - you can also use it as a nice accompaniment to an after-dinner cheese board (another brilliant French invention) or as part of my Mozzarella, Sweet Red Onion, Garlic and Rosemary Foccacia recipe.

By the by, I watched a fantastic episode of Raymond Blanc's 'The Very Hungry Frenchman' the other day, which was set in Lyon. Not only was the cheese board creatively constructed out of a wooden packing crate (tres sauvage), but the episode reminded me of when Mrs Ribeye and I visited an authentic Lyonnaise bouchon to eat the local specialities of tripe and andouillette (intestine) sausage. I shall report back soon, of course - suffice to say that the not-easily-forgotten experience has left me with conflicting feelings of strange cravings/revulsion. An ex-girlfriend once described her feelings for me in a similar way.

Back to today's recipe: If I'm honest, I would have grilled the goats cheese a little more to really melt it down, but I was afraid that I would burn the bread (see how dark it is in the picture - oops). Next time, I'll turn up the heat on the grill to maximum and reduce the cooking time. I reckon that that'll do the trick.

A quick note on the vinaigrette dressing: I now add a little boiling water to my mix, which takes away the sharpness and aids in creating a smooth creamy emulsion - a tip I picked-up from a Marco Pierre White recipe. He's quite the chef, you know.

I served this dish as a main course, but you could halve the portion and serve it as a starter. Or do as Mrs Ribeye and I sometimes do: Don't halve the ingredients, and still serve it as a starter nonetheless. All-in, a large portion of this salad comes in at very reasonable £2 per serving.

Serves 2


1 small sourdough loaf, cut into 8 thick slices
1 portion of red onion marmalade
150g goats cheese log, cut into 8 slices
1 soft round lettuce, leaves torn
3 large tomatoes, cut into 1cm dice
1 large spring (salad) onion, finely chopped

Creamy Vinaigrette:

4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons boiling water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Large pinches of salt and pepper

Firstly, make the vinaigrette by blending the ingredients and setting the dressing aside until needed. Then, grill both sides of the bread - one side slightly less than the other. On the lighter sides, spread a spoonful of the onion marmalade, then top with a slice of goats cheese. Grill the goats cheese slices under a hot grill until bubbling (3-4 minutes approx). In the meantime, arrange the lettuce, tomato and onion on a serving plate, and dress with the vinaigrette. Top the salad with four goats cheese slices each. Serve immediately.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Globe Artichoke Vinaigrette

Look, this is hardly a recipe - boiled globe artichokes served with French vinaigrette - instead it is a celebration of French produce, over that of our meagre English offerings.

Having spent a week in Nice in a rented flat, with small kitchen, I was given the opportunity to do some food shopping and cooking in France. What a revelation. The supermarkets are incredible - racks and racks of fresh produce all beautifully fanned-out in concentric circles of colourful and interesting ingredients, all waiting to inspire any eager cook to turn them into culinary alchemy.

The fruit and vegetable range changes daily - selling whatever is in season and happens to have provided the most bountiful, high quality, locally-grown crop on any given day. Of course, most of the obvious salad veg is on sale every day, but as the week went on, I grew to be less surprised by the daily almighty fluctuations of price and strain of each item as I browsed the racks, looking for the day's bargains.

Some days, watermelons were 2 Euros each, then the price would rise to 5 Euros each as the supply and demand curve dictated. Large Coeur de Beauf tomatoes would regularly flip-flop between 1-3 Euros a piece.

Fish prices were a little more stable and meat prices even more so. Wine and beer stocks changed almost daily, and the French seemed to get through lakes of the stuff. One day, Mrs Ribeye took a liking to a nectarine-infused wine, and asked me to get her another bottle while I did the day's shopping. No chance - the entire shelf had been picked clean.

One day, the rack of artichokes which had normally featured some tennis ball-sized examples at 1.50 Euros each, gave way to some melon-sized ones for 75 cents. A bargain! So I picked up a couple, and decided to simply boil them for an hour and serve them warm with a vinaigrette made with a lovely local olive oil/red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard dressing. Heaven.

Another thing about these artichokes - unlike the imported ones we buy over here in England - is that they are cheaper and better in every way. Firstly, they are huge, with enormous, smooth meaty hearts, with easy-to-remove hairy chokes, and chunky leaves with a good mouthful of edible stuff at the base of each one. Not scrawny with stringy hearts, impossible-to-remove chokes, and mostly inedible leaves, like ours. Secondly, they are prettier - when cut, the interiors have the most vibrant purple-coloured inner leaves I have ever seen. Positively psychedelic. Thirdly, when cut and boiled, they don't discolour and go that horrible black colour like the ones here at home - which even a sprinkle of lemon juice during the cooking period cannot cure (regardless of what published recipes might say). And fourthly, they're home-grown in France, which means that they were picked and sold within a day - not passengers on a long haul flight, where almost all of that fresh goodness had been lost in transit.

Also, even if I buy French olive oil, French red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard at home, the dressing wouldn't be as good as the one I made in Nice. Why? Because anything you make and eat abroad, somehow loses its appeal a bit when you bring it back. I don't know why - The French will probably say something about terroir or something. But surely if the stuff was grown there and merely imported here, the terroir is the same? Infuriating.

This recipe, a fabulous starter on a warm summer's day, came in at under £1 per serving. Even if you pay more for your ingredients, it's still a very reasonably-priced dish.

Serves 2


2 large globe artichokes
A large pinch of salt


4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
Pinches of salt and black pepper

Snip off the top third of the artichoke to remove the woodier parts of the upper leaves, and expose the inner leaves. Twist-off the stalk at the base of the artichoke. Boil in plenty of salted water until soft (an hour approx) - the outer leaves should easily part from the rest of the body when cooked. In the meantime, mix the vinaigrette ingredients together, until you have a smooth emulsion, and set aside until needed.

To serve: Place an artichoke in a serving bowl and pour some of the vinaigrette around the base. Eat the leaves by picking them one-by-one from the artichoke and dipping them in the sauce - eat only the soft lower portion and discard the rest. Once all leaves have been eaten, remove the hairy choke from the heart, by pulling it away gently - it should come away quite easily. Cut the heart into chunks with a knife and fork and eat it with the rest of the vinaigrette.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Rabbit in Red Wine with Lardons and Mushrooms

So, after a few days of touring through France, taking in such wondrous stops as Troyes, Kaysersberg, Annecy and Aix-en-Provence, Mrs Ribeye and I finally made it to Nice on the sunny Cote d'Azur.

We had rented a flat, which meant that not only did we have a bit more space to move around in, and a lovely sunny wraparound balcony with far-reaching views across the city, but finally I had a kitchen to cook some good French grub in. I'm not the biggest fan of restaurants. Once the novelty of having someone else serve and wash-up for you has worn off, I really crave a bit of my own cooking. I suppose that, deep down, I actually prefer eating my own food rather than anyone else's.

Luckily for me, there was a huge excellent supermarket located just a few minutes walk away, and I couldn't keep away from it for more than a few hours at a time. The range of fresh produce had my mind in a whirl of creativity. What would I cook first? Obviously, I definitely wanted to plough straight into the wondrously colourful fruit and vegetable racks which were beautifully displayed in concentric circles of tempting deliciousness. For a day or two, the huge green/purple, locally grown, globe artichokes would have to wait (recipe for Artichoke Vinaigrette to follow). Today it would be rabbit. 

Behind the boucherie counter glass were whole rabbits with their giblets and heads still attached - a bit unappealing for a somewhat cosseted Englishman - so a pack of cut-up rabbit pieces, sans tete, in the chilled aisles  it had to be.

The recipe I decided to cook is basically similar to a coq au vin, but with a few potatoes thrown in to thicken the sauce. I could have used flour as a thickening agent, but potatoes add a welcome smooth stodginess, whereas flour can be a bit glutinous.

Rabbit is a lean meat and therefore requires added bacon lardons to give it some richness. In the old days, coq au vin was made with a knackered old rooster which had long stopped doing its manly duties around the farm, but these days it is usually made with fatty corn-fed chicken (pretty much the only type available in supermarkets), which renders the use of lardons as obsolete. Strangely enough, this rabbit dish brings the old coq au vin sensibilities into the modern kitchen. After all, rabbit is a lean (slightly stringy) meat, which evokes memories of what a peasant-y dish coq au vin was always supposed to be - before the trendy modern gastropubs and bistros turned it into a poncey fat-fest.

A kilo of rabbit at the Monoprix in Nice was 10 Euros (about 8 quid in English) - enough to feed four people easily, or five at a pinch; which means that this dish comes in at a very reasonable £2.50 per serving. I served rice with it, but a green salad would do just as well - don't forget that there is some starch in this dish, thanks to the potatoes.

Serves 4-5


2 tablespoons of olive or sunflower oil
1 large rabbit, cut into 8 pieces
1 large onion, cut into 1cm dice
250g smoked bacon lardons
250g mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of herbes de Provence, or dried mixed herbs
Large pinches of salt and black pepper
300ml red wine
300ml water
3 small potatoes, peeled and left whole

300g cooked rice, to serve

In a large casserole pot on a high heat, fry the rabbit pieces until golden (10 minutes approx), and set aside. Lower the heat in the pan and add the onion, bacon and mushrooms, and allow to soften without colouring them too much. Add the garlic, herbs and seasoning and return the rabbit to the pan. Add the wine, water and potatoes and reduce the heat to a bare simmer. Cook for 2-3 hours until the sauce has reduced and is thick and unctuous. Serve with the rice.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Potless Budget Restaurant Review #7: Quick Hamburgers, Various Locations, France

Being Potless isn't all about cooking at home - it's about having a fabulous value-for-money eating experience, wherever you are.

So, I present to you my series entitled: 'The Potless Budget Restaurant Reviews'!

Having trawled the globe looking for the best of the cheapest eating out establishments, I can now share my findings. 

'Cheap' is, of course, subjective. But what makes a restaurant qualify for this list is a sense of extremely good value. A greasy spoon cafe might be cheap (and delicious too, come to that) but it won't make it onto the list, unless the eating experience it provides is of the very highest quality in proportion to the price it charges.

So, we made it to Aix-en-Provence, after a stop-off at the Relais Routiers south of Lyon and just before that, a wonderful night in the beautiful Alpine town of Annecy. Aix is a university town in the Provence region at the bottom of the Massif Central region of France and a bit north of the Cote d'Azur and our ultimate destination, Nice. It is architecturally beautiful. It is generally warm and temperate. It is famous for its many creative residents - writers, painters, sculptors, chefs - past and present. Oh, and did I say? Aix is AMAZING!!!

The old town is a maze of winding streets and cobbled squares all shrouded by the most wonderful interlinking tree-lined avenues of ancient plane/sycamore trees (pictured below). The whole place is a vibrant mix of students, elegant young professionals and weirdos. Mrs Ribeye and I got roaringly drunk at a fabulous  terrace bar in the main square while the (highly unconvincing, I must say) transvestite bar owner, carrying a jailer's bunch of keys, walked mysteriously in and out of the back bar area. Very cool.

The maaaaaaaasive lunch at the Relais earlier in the day had hurt us bad, and we really didn't fancy eating much when we staggered out of the bar on Place Richelme into the night. Quite frankly, I had had enough of the nutritious (but heavy and a bit same-y if the truth be told) French food for a bit, and really fancied eating some junk. Cheap wine will do that to you, you know.

Now, anyone who reads this blog will know, that I am a bit of a hamburger junkie. I can kick it with the sushi-eaters, I don't mind hanging with the bistro crowd, and I love an occasional vegan-esque meal, but my one true culinary love is the old ground-beef-in-a-bun extravaganza. And I'm very particular.

I don't mind a McDonald's if I'm desperate (I lie. I eat McD's much more than that). But I didn't want to wander into a proper Provencal restaurant and order le steak hache, or even le hamburger. It would probably have come dripping in foie gras or goats cheese and accompanied by snail-encrusted frites. So, 'Quick', a Belgian hamburger chain on the main road through Aix (and on a million other main roads dotted around France - and Belgium too I presume), it had to be.

Quick Restaurants


The Aix town centre branch that we visited had a huge al fresco eating area at the front, marred by a pile of discarded meal boxes and cartons around (but not in) the bins. What a repulsive first impression. We entered the restaurant to be greeted by large colourful photographs of the food on offer. The vibe was generally similar to any other fast food chain, but in our drunken state we didn't pay much attention to the subtle styling touches and lurched towards the smiling counter staff, grateful that the big photos aided me in my ordering (since any attempt at speaking French had been usurped in favour of grunting and pointing).

After ordering, we took a table outside, as far away from the bins as we could find. What a view! Sitting under the enveloping plane trees at night, with their spotlighting creating mysterious and beautiful shadows among the spindly branches, we felt that we were on a Tim Burton film set. Thankful that the burgers were rapidly sobering me up to fully appreciate my surroundings, I resolved to make it back to Aix on future trips.


The Happy Meal concept has made it to the Continent. All of the burgers can be ordered as a 'Menu' with drinks and French fries attached.

Firstly, the burgers/sandwiches: I ordered the Big Mac equivalent: 'Giant Max'. It was a double burger with a special sauce, but without the third middle bun. Utterly sublime. The sauce was a bit smoother than McD's own version, and the omission of the bun was very welcome - more protein and less carbs. The beef was juicy and delicious, and the whole package felt substantial and 'proper food'-like. I was, however, appalled to discover on the box information that the calories are 50% more than a Big Mac's. Ouch.

The wife had a chicken and bacon toasted pannini, which I tasted, and we both decided was awesome (I don't use this word lightly). Very gooey and tasty with crunchy good quality bread. In fact 'gooey' is a word I normally associate with Burger King rather than McDonald's, but it equally applies to this chain. I mean this in a very positive way.

Secondly, the accompaniments: You have a choice of normal fries or 'pommes rustique' - a version of our familiar potato wedges. I got fries and Mrs Ribeye went for the wedges. The fries were really well cooked, golden and crunchy. No ketchup for me though - mayonnaise is the order of the day in Belgian restaurants of course, and in Quick this is no exception. Delish.

The missus' wedges were incredible. Ridged thick slices of potato with a spicy coating. But to cap it, was the sauce they came with: Sun-dried tomato pesto! What an idea! The smooth, slightly cheesey/tomatoey/herby pesto ramped up the flavours of the potatoes to a whole new level. You gotta hand it to the Belgians. Why serve ketchup when you can have mayo? But then why serve mayo when you can have pesto? I'm definitely going to be serving chips with pesto when I get home.

Drinks were the ubiquitous Coke Zero. Why drink Diet Coke any more?


A little bit pricier than the other chains; our combined meals came to 17 Euros (about £7 per head in English). Good value.


If the truth be told, our dinner at the Quick in Aix was not the last time we visited the chain on our trip through France. Having spent a week in Nice, with home-cooked fare being the staple diet throughout our entire stay, we succumbed on our last night in France to the Quick in Amiens, the day before we drove to Calais on our ferry ride back home. It wasn't quite as good, but I attribute that to the lack of a spectacular al fresco dining area in a beautiful town like Aix, rather than anything to do with the food. Plus, at Amiens, we were sat right next to a 6th birthday party in the next booth. Utter hell.

Is Quick better than the other chains? I would say that it is as good, but not better. It's definitely more tasty and exotic than the bigger burger companies' fare, but then the calorie intake is that much more. I'm sure Burger King could serve twice the amount of sauce with everything too if they wanted. But then their customers would probably suffer 25% more heart attacks.

As the French say: 'Everything in moderation - even moderation'. The Belgians probably say it too.

Monday, 16 July 2012

The Potless Budget Restaurant Review #6: Les Relais Routiers, Various Locations, France

Being Potless isn't all about cooking at home - it's about having a fabulous value-for-money eating experience, wherever you are.

So, I present to you my series entitled: 'The Potless Budget Restaurant Reviews'!

Having trawled the globe looking for the best of the cheapest eating out establishments, I can now share my findings. 

'Cheap' is, of course, subjective. But what makes a restaurant qualify for this list is a sense of extremely good value. A greasy spoon cafe might be cheap (and delicious too, come to that) but it won't make it onto the list, unless the eating experience it provides is of the very highest quality in proportion to the price it charges.

Having escaped from Kaysersberg with my car intact, but unfortunately with my Hassenforder guest house room key still in my pocket (ready to return by recorded delivery from the post office in the beautiful Alpine town of Annecy, at our next stop), we were on our way south towards Provence, toward our ultimate destination in Nice on the Cote d'Azur.

Annecy was absolutely terrific, with a free upgrade to a double-balconied room with a canalside view, in our hotel Alexandra (#1 hotel in Annecy on Tripadvisor), and we had sampled a lovely ratatouille pizza in a friendly pizzeria - recipe to hopefully be recreated in my own kitchen soon, and posted on Potless afterwards, naturally.

While driving through France, we had resolved to only use the D roads, rather than the 'peage' A roads to get around France, for various reasons:

1. The D roads take you around the towns, through the fields and grapevines and along scenic Alpine routes, and are usually very well-surfaced for easy, picturesque touring - the main reason we drove, rather than flew, to Nice in the first place. A roads are built, for reduction of noise pollution purposes, far away from anything remotely interesting.

2. The toll roads are crazy expensive. A couple of hours on an A road will cost about 12-15 Euros. D roads are free.

3. You can get a proper lunch on a D road at the hundreds of restaurants dotted along their lengths. You will only get a burger in a service station on the motorways.

4. Petrol consumption on the D roads is a third better than on the A roads; a saving of about £80 on our entire trip.

5. French drivers on A roads are mental. The unlikelier the car, the faster it will go: A thirty-year-old Citroen Visa will drive up your arse and then roar past you at 140 kph, while a brand new Audi R8 will probably sit back and take it easy at a steady 100. Twenty minutes of this will leave you a trembling wreck.

Since we had resolved to generally eat lightly during our trip, rather than succumbing to the seeming French obsession with eating a four course prix fixe meal at every opportunity, we had decided that, for once, we might go for the big one and eat at a Relais Routier for lunch. I had regaled Mrs Ribeye with tales of these unassuming truckers stops, littering up the highways and byways with their family-run oases (as in plural of 'oasis' - although the spelling looks a bit wrong) offering cheap, plentiful traditional French meals to the big-rig drivers on their way between the big towns and cities. In England we simply do not have a comparable. Even the once mighty 'Little Chef' group of restaurants were only a place for a fry-up and cup of tea. Not the same.

Les Relais Routiers Online:


With the swirly blue/red circular logo telling us that the bland-looking restaurant at the side of the D1532 between Lyon and the south of France was a proper 'Relais Routier' - belonging to a guide, established in the 1930's, containing good value eateries to keep the truckers from starving or resorting to unhealthy fast food - we headed eagerly inside in anticipation of a good home-cooked lunch.

The adjoining parking area was filled with 18-wheelers. A good sign. We entered the lobby area containing a buffet of chilled hors d'oevres, a covered cheese platter, a huge stainless steel dispenser with three taps offering red, white or rose wine next to a tray of empty carafes, a wheel for making fresh crepes (together with a ginormous jar of Nutella), and a freezer full of ice cream. The dining room was filled with small two or four-seater tables, with double doors onto a terrace where a scary-looking Mrs Lovett type (of Sweeney Todd fame) was behind a huge BBQ, wielding her tongs with intent.

The restaurant walls were filled with large amateur drawings and paintings of celebrities, all with fairly hefty price tags of 30-40 Euros each. I cannot imagine who on earth would buy them.


We were instructed by the owner of the place that the price was 13 Euros per head, up front, for four courses. We didn't have to eat all four courses, but we would have to pay 13 Euros regardless. Oh and wine was included. We could eat whatever we wanted, and could visit Mrs Lovett and her barbie as many times as we liked.

We headed straight for the buffet. We carefully selected from the many cold cuts and salads on offer, but were mindful of the fact that there would be many delights offered later, and that we mustn't commit too hugely to the platters of pate en croute, jambon sec, cooked ham, salamis, egg salad, salad of green beans, pickled cauliflower, noodle salad, marinated mushrooms or cornichons.

We filled a half-litre carafe from the rose wine tap and took a table, already adorned with a jug of chilled water and a basket of fresh bread. The starters were fresh and delicious. We headed off the see Mrs Lovett. She was utterly adorable, and I felt a bit guilty about secretly comparing her to a murderous Victorian pie-maker. Who cared if she wore a shower cap and boots with her voluminous dress? Who cared if she strode around the restaurant with a foot-long carving knife, blade-up? She warmly told us to take what we liked and that we could come back for more. We chose murguez (the delicious north African spicy lamb sausages), chicken, traditional sausages and a big plate of frites to share. We stayed away from the big hunk of pork loin. It looked a bit... human. Eek!

After the main course, we took a slab of white-rinded gooey cheese (Brie, perhaps?)  from the covered platter in the lobby, to share. No way could we manage dessert, despite Mrs Ribeye's disappointment that she hadn't left enough room to cajole the owner into his rightful place behind his crepe wheel.


As the owner said: 13 Euros (just over a tenner a head in English money) each. Up front. Regardless of what you eat. Wine included.


Don't do this often, but do do this. The restaurant was heaving with truckers gorging themselves on all four courses, not a wimpish three, like us. Oh and they were all tucking greedily into the wine. No wonder the French government have just passed a law that all drivers must carry a breathalyser in their vehicle with them.

The food is not haute cuisine, but it's delicious, additive-free and great value for money. The husband and wife team were charming (I later found out that Mrs Lovett is not the owners wife. She must have been the nice, non-Victorian-murderous-pie maker-looking lady clearing the tables and preparing the hors d'oevres).

Not just for truckers; the Relais Routier is a big part of both the French culinary and touring traditions and I hope it lasts for at least another 70 years. But of course it will. We're off to Aix-en-Provence next. I will not eat ever again.

Friday, 13 July 2012

The Potless Budget Restaurant Review #5: A la Porte Haute Brasserie, Kaysersberg, Alsace Region, France

Being Potless isn't all about cooking at home - it's about having a fabulous value-for-money eating experience, wherever you are.

So, I present to you my series entitled: 'The Potless Budget Restaurant Reviews'!

Having trawled the globe looking for the best of the cheapest eating out establishments, I can now share my findings. 

'Cheap' is, of course, subjective. But what makes a restaurant qualify for this list is a sense of extremely good value. A greasy spoon cafe might be cheap (and delicious too, come to that) but it won't make it onto the list, unless the eating experience it provides is of the very highest quality in proportion to the price it charges.

Fresh from our lunch in Langres, Mrs Ribeye and I hotfooted it over to Alsace, close to the German border, for a scenic trip along the Route des Vins and a night's stay in Kaysersberg.

Despite being a confirmed Francophile, I had never been to Alsace before, and it certainly didn't disappoint. The countryside, with its regimented (a bit of the Germanic influence, perhaps? - Alsace suffers the notoriety of having housed the only Nazi concentration camp on French soil) Reisling and Gewurtztraminer vines readying themselves for the harvest in a couple of months time. The villages in this region, including the nearby larger town of Colmar, are all absolutely picturesque, with fairytale architecture dotted among the rolling hills and valleys. The weather was a bit damp and overcast, but that didn't stop us craning our heads out of the car windows to take photographs of the Brothers Grimm-esque views. Simply stunning.

I parked the car in Kaysersberg's municipal square and we walked a few yards down the winding street to our timber-beamed, rickety looking bed and breakfast, Hassenforder. After being shown to our room to dump our PJ's and toothbrushes, we headed off for a quick circuit of the village and scouted for a likely place for dinner.

This town takes 'twee' to a whole new level. Every shuttered house seemed to belong to an artisan. Honey, candles, books, paintings, sculptures, pottery and other objets d'art were being flogged by the local residents from their ground floor windows. Miniature rivers and springs with little waterwheels and other functional waterway devices coursed underneath between and around the narrow residential streets. Flowers and hanging baskets were dotted haphazardly everywhere. There was a husband and wife team of accordion players regaling the town's various restaurant's al fresco diners with oompah tunes. We loved it, but as a hard-nosed cynical Londoner, I realised that after a couple of nights of this kind of saccharine-laced treatment I was likely to go effing nuts. It's a bit like 'Alsace-World' at a Disney theme park. One night's stay would certainly suffice.

On the food front; A la Porte Haute, a pretty brasserie specialising in home-cooked local fare, seemed like a safe choice and was actually located right across the road from our lodgings. Perfect. We sat on the front terrace of our B & B and ordered our usual pitcher of rose, and spent a couple of happy hours unwinding from the roadtrip and wiling away the afternoon in preparation for our evening dinner.

After dinner we popped in to the local pub, L'Arbre Vert, to drink pastis and watch Italy beat England on penalties in the quarter-finals of the Euro 2012 championships - how very predictable. The barman was charming and the bar was full of local patrons, who in the main actually seemed to support the crappy English team over the dominant Azzuri of Italy. How very lovely for us. Didn't make much difference to the scoreline though...

The next morning, we ate a delicious breakfast of croissants with homemade jam. After an enquiry to the manageress, I was told that the incredible amber jam was made of local quinces, and I was presented with a large jar to take home. I was absolutely touched at her generosity. While Mrs Ribeye wandered off to take some last photographs of the village in the bright morning sunshine, I made my way back to the town square to get the car. To my horror, the municipal square was now the site of the village market, and my car was parked in the middle of it, surrounded by stalls! From a distance, it looked as if my only means of transport was about to become the star prize in the local raffle.

I feverishly ran over to the market and scanned the layout. I reckoned that with some effort and a bit of re-arranging of a few displays, I might be able to make it out of the maze after all. I got into the car, did a 27-point turn to extricate myself from the parking space, and then slowly drove through the gaps between the 25-30 stalls to make it out to the nearest exit. The stall owners, in full knowledge that the English imbecile would likely attempt this, did not bat an eyelid. Rails of dresses and counters of cheese and ham were shoved here and there to allow me to pass safely by. No doubt that if this was an English market, we would have definitely have been forced to have stayed another night in town.

As if the drama wasn't enough, I found our room key in my pocket when we got to our next destination at Annecy in the French Alps. It cost me 8 Euros to send it back to Kaysersberg by recorded delivery. I don't know what the rules on Karma are, but does this qualify?

A la Porte Haute Brasserie
118 Rue General de Gaulle

Tel: 03 89 78 21 49


A pretty window-shuttered brasserie with a pleasant al fresco-fronted dining area, and a menu filled with regional specialities. Out of the 6-7 restaurants in the locality, this was easily the busiest. Always a good sign. However, getting a table was fairly easy, and space was found for us between a mature couple who seemed like they had eaten here every week for the past 60 years, and a younger couple, who like us were delighted to have stumbled upon such gems as Kaysersberg and the A la Porte Haute brasserie.


As with almost all brasseries and restaurants in France, the prix fixe reigns supreme. Since neither of us fancied a huge four-course dinner, we decided to order three entrees and share them all 'a la meme temps, s'il vous plait' (gotta make an effort with the lingo, you know). We ordered from across the menu; a plate of crudites, a cheese platter, and the local speciality mysteriously called Assiette d'Alsacienne. The latter was a plate of porky delights accompanied by choucroute - or the French version of the German sauerkraut.

The crudites were a lovely combination of dressed salads, while the speciality platter was a huge plate of different sausages (including the celebrated local Morteau), hams and salamis with a pile of spiced cabbage. Delightful. The cheese platter contained among its 4-5 varieties, a fresh white goats cheese crotin, and the smelliest cheese in the world: Munster, from the eponymously-named town a few kilometres away. What a whiffy treat. I don't know why, but the smellier the cheese, the mellower and more delicious it seems to taste. This applies to the stinky Perigord cheese Chaumes too, another personal favourite.

Together with a basket of delicious bread and a pitcher of gewurtztraminer, our meal was incredible and looked amazing. Our fellow diners exclaimed loudly when our dishes were presented to us and covered our table, that perhaps their own choices of chicken leg in a cream sauce with pasta was perhaps not as inviting to the eye as our avant garde selections. Perhaps our '3-entrees-for-2-people-delivered-in-1-go' ordering system might catch on in France one day, and finally lay to rest the current French fad of ordering huge lumps of meat in sauce as part of a heavy four course set meal. Who knows?


The whole lot came to 34 Euros (about £14 per head in English money) for the two of us. Had we ordered the suggested 17 Euro prix fixe, we couldn't have eaten better, and it would have been dearer once the wine was factored in. Long live the '3-2-1' ordering system!


Kaysersberg will definitely feature in my future. I loved it there and Mrs Ribeye and I decided that out of all the villages we stayed in or visited, this one was the prettiest. Was it the BEST though? Not sure. There are still plenty of towns on our tour left to consider. I'll keep you updated with my views on Annecy, Aix, Nice, Lyon, Auxerre, Amiens...

On our inevitable return, we definitely would stay at the guest house again. As for the restaurant; we would certainly eat there again. The service was smooth and friendly. The wine was excellent, and the cuisine gave us a wonderful introduction to the delights of the region. Plus, it's only a short stagger back to the lodgings. Hopefully next time I won't forget to hand our room key back at reception.

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Potless Budget Restaurant Review #4: Brasserie le Foy, Langres, Champagne-Ardenne Region, France

Being Potless isn't all about cooking at home - it's about having a fabulous value-for-money eating experience, wherever you are.

So, I present to you my series entitled: 'The Potless Budget Restaurant Reviews'!

Having trawled the globe looking for the best of the cheapest eating out establishments, I can now share my findings. 

'Cheap' is, of course, subjective. But what makes a restaurant qualify for this list is a sense of extremely good value. A greasy spoon cafe might be cheap (and delicious too, come to that) but it won't make it onto the list, unless the eating experience it provides is of the very highest quality in proportion to the price it charges.

Mrs Ribeye and I have just arrived back from our summer hols to France, and boy-oh-boy, do I have a lot to report! Not only do I have plenty of restaurant reviews to post over the coming weeks from various wonderful locations and eateries on our travels to and from the south of France, but I also have a couple of delicious recipes (which I cooked in the kitchen of our beautiful rented flat in Nice on the sunny Cote d'Azur), which I cannot wait to share with you.

Today's review comes from our stop-off in the Champagne-Ardenne region, after a lovely first night in Troyes (the capital of the Champagne region itself - simply gorgeous. You MUST visit it), and on our way eastwards to Kaysersberg in Alsace, near the German border.

Langres is one of those lovely little finds which seem to be dotted all over France, but which are sadly few and far between in England - a small, pretty, medieval walled town, with a nice little central square and one of every business (pharmacy, shoe shop, hairdresser etc) radiating out to some winding little residential streets before taking you to the gap in the town's battlemented wall, onto the main road, and connecting you to the nearest autoroute. The 12th century cathedral at the very top of the town is spectacular.

Brasserie Le Foy
7 Place Diderot

Tel: 03 25 87 09 86


It was Sunday lunchtime - a notoriously difficult time to find anything much open on France's favourite day and time of the week. I had some experience of the French love of the Sabbath day-off, so was surprised and delighted to find this charming little brasserie not only open, but fairly busy with the local townsfolk in their Sunday best, drinking pitchers of chilled pink wine outside on the front terrace.

Mrs Ribeye and I spotted a vacant two-seater table and darted for it, with a quick glance at the waitress to see whether she had any objections. She obviously didn't, because menus and a basket of good fresh bread were on its way over within a flash, together with a question of 'boisson?' to be swiftly answered with 'I'll be having what they're having' in my pidgin French. The pichet de vin rose arrived and was quickly ingested before we gave the menu a run-down, and we decided to stay away from the suggested heavy Sunday-fare plat du jour of a hearty beef stew. It's a warm day in the last weekend of June, for God's sake!


As with most brasseries and restaurants in France, a number of  prix fixe (or 'formule') menus are offered, which encourage you to eat  a number of courses for a fixed price - normally reasonably priced depending on how many courses you have chosen - but which are pretty heavy-going and massively calorific. On a later occasion, at a Relais Routier (review to follow Click on the link!), we did actually pig-out, but on this occasion, sanity prevailed and we ordered lightly. A peasant-y salad with chicken livers for me, a croque monsieur for her and a plate of frites to share.

Now, I had no pre-planned desire before we got to this place to review it - we hadn't ordered anything particularly awe-inspiring or even noteworthy. The restaurant was the usual small-town gaff with some irritatingly loud, pastis-drinking, old local farts annoying the long-suffering but convivial barmaid inside the dark recesses of the restaurant; but our meal was so surprisingly delicious and satisfying that as an afterthought I whipped-out the camera to take a picture of the front of the place (no chance of taking a picture of the food, because we had scoffed it), after we had eaten our meal, and resolved to report back my findings, more as reminder to myself to use Langres as a regular pitstop in future, rather than as a review of part of any culinary excursion that I had intended to take.

Firstly, the portions were enormous. The salad and frites would have quite happily done for the both of us, without the additional (although no less welcome) toasted sandwich that was plonked in front of Mrs Ribeye. There must have been at least a pound of freshly pan-fried livers scattered over my satellite dish-sized plate. The plate of chips (supposedly for one) was enough for four. In fairness, the sandwich looked, at first glance, of normal proportions, until I noticed the height of it. It must have been smothered in a vat of rich bechamel sauce and gruyere, before being browned under a hot grill.

Secondly, the flavours were incredible. I'm not sure if the livers were marinated in milk first, because they were creamy, not at all bitter, and seemed to have a sort of sticky glaze on the outsides. The salad dressing was a creamy homemade vinaigrette, and the salad vegetables were plentiful and fresh. The sandwich was a huge delicious messy delight of ham, cheese, sauce and toast. The frites were at least twice, if not thrice-cooked. A crispy golden plate of heaven.

Desserts/cheese were offered and politely declined.

The couple at the table next to us had ordered the daube de boeuf dish-of-the-day and were labouring under its sheer volume and richness, while me and the missus hobbled off to our waiting car, and onto the rolling Alsacian hills. We were full up, but not as full up as them.


24 Euros was the bill for the both of us. That's about a tenner a head, including wine. Tip included.


Do I need to add more? I loved it at Langres, not just for lunch, but also for the nice walk afterwards around the circumference of the town, into the cool interior of the cathedral and off to search for the car in the rabbit warren of the quiet residential streets. If Langres was in the UK, it would be famous, because we wouldn't stop banging on about it. But it's France, which means that it's just another fabulous little-known friendly place, filled with locals secretly delighted that unless a tourist stumbles upon it, they have the place pretty much to themselves. Next stop, Kaysersberg.