Côte d’Azur 2

Early morning start today: I have an 8 am meeting with my first customer. The valet collects my car from the garage, then I drive up the Grande Corniche on the way towards Monaco. This particular customer is in a splendid location: from his plate glass meeting room windows, the view stretches from the seaside to the glinting snowy peaks of the Alpes Maritimes. Aren’t meetings better with this kind of scenery rather than with a view of a car park?

In contrast, I spend the rest of the day in the large industrial area north of Nice. Decidedly more down-to-earth, but also very convenient, as I can see four customers one after the other. Exit one customer, drive a couple of hundred metres along the road, enter another customer.

More visits in the afternoon, then back to the hotel. After checking in back home and a shower, it’s time for dinner! My chosen spot for the evening is l’Effeuillant at 26 Boulevard Victor Hugo, tel 04 93 82 48 63, in the modern city centre, specialised in Provencal cuisine. As I enter, I feel somewhat out of place: it is maybe more suitable for a romantic evening out rather than a single business traveller, but the waiter soon puts me at ease. I decide on the menu fixe. Firstly an amuse-gueule is served: a small toast with smoked salmon, plenty of olive oil, a few sprigs of fennel.

With the entrée, it is obvious that the chef has an artistic bent. I order a Terrine de fois gras de canard au Muscat de Frontignan, pain brioché. Instead of the usual limp lettuce leaf to garnish the slab of fois gras, I have an exquisitely decorated flower made of sprigs of chive with a tiny quartered tomato and a few drops of balsamic vinegar to serve as branches. The foie gras is sprinkled with a few grains of sel gros. It is so beautiful that I am reluctant to eat!! As we say in Italian, “anche l’occhio vuole la sua parte”!

The foie gras is excellent as well as beautiful, and is soon followed by the second course: Carré d’agneau tout simplement rôti, avec son jus d’ail, a succulent roast rack of lamb, with a very garlicky sauce and roast potatoes. I love lamb, but it’s hard to get in our part of Italy out of season, so I am glad to enjoy it.

The waiter arrives with a rumbling cart: the cheese course! I am presented with a wide selection, and choose the St. Maur, St. Marcellin, Livarot and a tiny piece of chèvre whose name I forget.

Dessert is a soufflé glacé à l’orange which is a rather posh name for a cylinder of orange ice-cream, but here again the chef has excelled in the decoration: with tiny pieces of exotic fruit, candied orange peel and a sprinkling of icing sugar, he has created another work of art!

A half bottle of Côtes de Provence red went down very well.

Now I ask you, can you show me where I can eat a comparable meal in England for EUR 31, let’s call it twenty quid?

From the restaurant it’s not far to the Negresco and the sea front Promenade des Anglais, and I walk briskly in the cool night back to the hotel.

Côte d’Azur 1

This week I’m on a three-day trip to visit my customers and contacts on the Cote d’Azur. Not a trip I do every year, but it’s always “un vrai plaisir“. The locals are friendly, the climate is agreeable, the customers are generally “sympa“.

The drive to Nice is around 550 km. I leave at 8:30 and at a steady pace arrive at 15:00, with a short lunch stop before Genova. Weather good, temperature about 12C, not exactly balmy, but certainly warmer than back home. On the way to France I pass the dozens of greenhouses on the coast of Liguria, housing the famed Sanremo flowers. Mimosas in full bloom bedeck the hillsides.

Quick meeting with a small customer in the industrial area outside Nice, longer meeting at the airport with a potential agent for Poland, but who lives in Cagnes-sur-Mer. Claims to be able to sell millions but requires rock-bottom prices. Hrrumph! Then I drive along the Promenade des Anglais to my hotel, near the old town. It is dark, but the immense crescent of the Baie des Anges is impressive as ever: lined with fine hotels, the Negresco in primis, the West End, the La Pérouse just at the end beside the castle, where many, many years ago I spent my wedding night!

Tonight’s dining choice is an old-time favourite of mine, Flo in rue Sacha-Guitry 2, just round the corner from the hotel. It is a 1920s theatre that has been converted in a restaurant, whilst still maintaining it’s original structure. The foyer has become the bench for the huitrier, on the stage, beyond a huge red curtain and a plate glass window, is the kitchen with the bustling chefs and the diners are seated at tables where the audience would normally be.

I decide to eat fish: as a starter Tartare de saumon mi-fumé, jeunes pousses, parfum exotique. As expected, the classic minced salmon with a baby spinach leaf salad, but hey, what’s this?? A mango sauce! Strangely enough, the smoky, salty salmon is well matched to the sweet mango! What a surprise!

As main course I chose a Nage crémeuse de joues de lotte, ravioles au basilic. I am presented with a mysterious black cast-iron cocotte, the waiter opens it with a flourish, and proceeds to ladle out the contents. I have a delicious creamy monkfish stew, with tiny basil-filled ravioli, with morel mushrooms, a sprig of rosemary and a dried tomato. Incredibly tasty – only the French could make a dish of such perfection!

As a wine I choose a dry Muscadet sur Lie, 2001, but a red would have gone down equally well with the monkfish.

Dessert: being a chocaholic, I am sorely tempted by the Croustillant de Chocolat amer, crème anglaise à la vanille, but after much indecision I decide on the Croustade de Pommes gasconne au jus du vieil Armagnac. A worthy choice: I get a crunchy puff pastry castle with a puréed apple filling, the alcoholic aroma of Armagnac wafting all over. An excellent meal!

To aid digestion, a brisk walk up to the seaside, I watch for a few moments the bright lights of the planes landing at the airport on the other side of the bay, then on to bed.

Paris – Thursday

Evening out tonight with my Turkish distributor and his wife. As you know, I have visited him several times and he is a good friend as well as a customer, so a nice soirée is in prospect. I select the venue: Le Petit Zinc in Rue St. Benoit, just off Boulevard St. Germain in the Left Bank. Not far from Vagenende where we went on Monday.

Thursday evening is late shopping night in Paris, and you know the ladies have to submit to retail therapy, so we arrange a late booking at 21:30. Petit Zinc’s ambience is fantastic as usual: a large oval dining room on three levels, colourfully illuminated by Art-Nouveau lampshades. We are seated right in the middle of the oval, with a grand view of our fellow diners.

The menu arrives with the regulation apéritif: after some hesitation, I select a so-called Salade Folle as a starter – this seems enticing but turns out to be a mistake! I receive a mâche and chicorée salad with four shrimps and a slice of warm foie gras. A folly it certainly is – the ingredients were individually good, but the mixture of the three left much to be desired! Avoid!

My guests choose instead the plateau dégustation de huitres – a selection of four different types of oysters, from the various regions of “ostreiculture” in France. They report that a difference can indeed be tasted, but oysters are not much to my liking, so I decline the offer to try.

As a second, we all have an excellent salmon tartare – very good with fresh slices of baguette, and certainly a recipe I must find in time for the Christmas dinner. A good bottle of Chablis 2001 goes down very well with things fishy.

Dessert: I love those French classics, so a tarte tatin is my choice – the classic upside-down pie, but with a variation, as this is made with pears instead of apples.

After the coffee we set out back to the hotel, past one in the morning!! Le Petit Zinc is highly recommended for an evening when you’re out to impress, who knows, maybe to escort a good friend…

Paris – Wednesday

Exhibition day much as yesterday: slow start, but livening up in the afternoon. More customers turned up, my bubbly Woman in Portugal, a few new contacts. Back in the hotel at 19:00, quick wash and brush-up and out at 20:00 for dinner!

Tonight’s guest is my gastronome Belgian distributor. After some perusal of the Red Book, we decide to try a new spot to us, but well-known in Parisian gastronomic lore: Fermette Marbeuf 1900, 5, r. Marbeuf, 75008 Paris, tel: 01 53 23 08 00 Just off the Avenue Georges V, near the Pont de l’Alma.

Good impression right from the start: a beautiful Art Nouveau décor, with a dining room shaped like a conservatory, with colourful tiles and stained glass walls. We have a Kir Royale to get us going as we peruse the menu. I decide on the Foie Gras de Canard layered with cèpes, accompanied by a glass of Sauternes, followed by a Magret de Canard aux épices, with a side of puréed turnips. The foie gras is a melt-in-the-mouth experience and the duck is just parfait. A good bottle of Bordeaux 2000 (sorry, forgot which cru!).

And the desserts! I had profiteroles as I have never tasted before, with vanilla ice cream instead of whipped cream in the choux pastry and a very dark chocolate sauce. My partners chose Crèpes Suzette (served by the waiter with appropriate flourish) and a crispy Tarte au Pommes with a ball of apple sorbet on top.

Warmly recommended! Prices to match the high standards of cuisine!

Paris – Tuesday

Aah! A busy show day together with my Portuguese and English agents. These two fifty-something ladies are talkative, bubbly characters and also have a business relation together. They have a whale of a time reminiscing of assorted incidents on a recent trip to Portugal. A lively ambience is called for, so I select Le Grand Café in Boulevard de Capucines.

The ambience is the usual 1900’s Art Nouveau style, our table is on the verandah overlooking the Boulevard – just the spot for people-watching! And people-watch I must, as my two companions are late! They appear after 45 minutes, claiming to have mislaid addresses, delayed taxis, etc…..methinks they have just gone shopping! Anyway, after a quick apéritif (A Kir Royale for me), we get down to the nitty-gritty: I choose to go for the seafood tonight, and order a plate of langoustines and crevettes grises. These are served as usual on the platter of ice, with a side of brown bread and mayonnaise. A nutcracker, steel toothpick and an L-shaped fork device to get at the innards of the langoustines. I spend a happy hour cracking them open and getting at the succulent meat within. The tiny little crevettes grises are also excellent, but require rather more effort in peeling them open. My partners instead choose escargots and sole meunière, and foie gras and a magret de canard. A good Pouilly Fumé washes everything down.

Dessert: I decline the superb Moelleux au Chocolat , and plump for the Parisian classic – the Crème Brulée. The shiny sugar crust gives way with a satisfying crack, the creamy, eggy interior is simply délicieux!!

Paris – Monday

First day of the exhibition. It’s rather slow to get going, but then we had a steady flow of visitors, mostly our existing customers and distributors. Competitors also came along to talk shop. The Parmesan was attacked and red wine flowed. Travel back to Paris on the RER jam-packed with exhibitors and visitors, but I manage to win a scramble for a seat.

An so on to dinner tonight – I select an old favourite of mine that I used to frequent regularly but then dropped as once they failed to honour a reservation because I had arrived a mere 10 minutes late! But for good food, I am willing to forgive and give them a second chance, so here we are: Restaurant Vagenende, 142 Boulevard St. Germain, 75006 Paris. Tel. 01 43 26 68 18. In the heart of the Quartier Latin. Beautiful 1900s mirror décor.

We start with an unusual apéritif: a glass of Crémant d’Alsace, perfumed with an essence of violets. Sweetish, but a lovely aroma! Accompanied by an amuse-gueule of croûtons with olive paste. As entrée, I have Feuilleté de Chèvre Chaud, a wonderful creamy goat’s cheese, served on crisp puff pastry on a bed of frisée salad and a good spoonful of acacia honey! My partner chooses a Tartare de Saumon fouttée à la crème, I do recall I had this dish ages ago and it still looks delicious.

Our seconds arrive: Carrè d’agneau rôti au thym, with a side of gratin dauphinois. The lamb chops are tender and juicy, but maybe a little too fatty – it’s the wrong season! My partner instead opts for a tender melt-in-the-mouth fillet with a two-pepper sauce. A bottle of Médoc Château Carcanieux 1997 accompanies our meal.

Dessert – a high point for Vagenende: the crème brulée vanille bourbon here is an unctuous delicacy, but I leave that for my partner, whilst I have a croustillant chocolat crème anglaise – a cylinder of mousse au chocolat placed on a chocolate biscuit with a light vanilla and chocolate custard. A must for chocaholics like me!

OK, Vagenende, all is forgiven! I’m a loyal customer again!

Paris – Sunday

Long lie in this morning. We take advantage of being bambini-free, and I arise at 10:30. I avoid the overly expensive hotel breakfast (a mere EUR 20!), go to the local café and partake of a croissant, jus d’orange and a café au lait. Just what we need to start the day in France and to prepare to build the exhibition stand where we will spend the rest of the week.

We hop in the car and drive through quiet Sunday morning streets up to the Périphérique and on to the A1 northwards. Just before CDG airport are the giant Villepinte exhibition halls. As usual on the day before exhibitions, the place is a hive of activity, with workmen hammering, sawing and driving fork lift trucks at top speed. We unload our exhibition essentials (Parmesan, red wine, espresso, a couple of brochures….) and locate our stand. Our stand builders are there, but…..the stand is not according to the agreed plan! Frantic phone calls to Italy follow and we determine that the workmen’s boss had given them the wrong drawings!! More phone calls to our stand designer, we agree on a new plan that can be made with the materials to hand. The final result is decent enough, but we wasted much time and then had to hang around whilst the builders finished the job. We get back to the hotel at about 20:45, totally knackered!

Moules.jpgNo desire to go miles out to eat, so we go to the nearby Chez Léon, a chain of Belgian mussel restaurants. The ladies have a panful of mussels each, but I can’t stand the things, so I make do with a steak frites and a large Affligem. Collapse into bed afterwards.

Paris – Saturday

Long drive over to Paris – we manage to do 1.100 odd km. in 11 hours. Rain and storm in Italy and much of France, but the weather cleared as we approached the Ville Lumière.

We check in our hotel. The Holiday Inn in the Place de la République is a large establishment, housed in a Napoleon III era building, with a large central courtyard. The room is not large, but comfortable, a good place to spend a week in.

chez Jenny.jpgHowever, the hotel has no private parking! I have to drive around for an hour before I find a garage that has a free space! With this, we don’t go out to eat until 9:30, so I choose the nearby Chez Jenny, in the Boulevard du Temple. This is a brasserie alsacienne, with lots of choucroute varieties, groaning with sausage, bacon, jarret de porc and so on. But we are tired and decide on simpler fare: I choose a Foie Gras de Canard avec marmelade d’oignons, followed by a Steak Tartare avec frites. My partners also have the Tartare, but choose Escargots and Frisée salad as starters. A good bottle of Gewürztraminer Riquewihr 2000 with a lovely fruity bouquet refreshes our taste buds.

Three Pigs

After 10 days of hard fair work in Düsseldorf, I barely had time to drive back, dump the papers and have a meeting that I’m off again. I now write to you from the fair city of Lyon.

I am still this morning attempting to digest last evening’s meal. We met a pal of my colleague, and all went to a restaurant recommended by him. A _bouchon_ called *Les Trois Cochons*, nearby Place Bellecour. Decoration based on three piglets. Many plastic, glass and ceramic pigs on the walls. Menu features all kind of porky stuff, that even German cooks cannot devise. Nothing remotely approaching _nouvelle cuisine_ to be had. Pork scratchings were served with the apéritif. As starters I had sliced pigs ears with salad. The meaty bits were tender and garlicky, but ears are mostly chewy cartilage!! For seconds I had _andouillette au gratin_, which are pig intestines in a creamy sauce, also very tasty and tender, but so heavy I was unable to finish the plate – a rare event for me, I assure you! Colleague and friend had a _Double Gras_, which is just as fatty as the name implies, consisting of tripe and other innards. House Côte du Rhône, coffee. NOT a restaurant to go to if you are prone to indigestion. We both skipped breakfast this morning!