Rad and I had been enjoying the Gascony Cookery School hospitality, and ended up chatting and supping the odd glass of Rosé until (very) late again, most of the new brigade had gone to bed, I recall Emma was also an occasional ‘night owl’, we were all relaxed in lively conversation, getting bitten to bits by rampant Mosquitoes and putting the world to rights, just what we needed.
We were back at Bernards kitchen the following morning after the regular substantial breakfast, and were going to make some sweet things. There are many amusing moments when what you expect to happen does not! The traditional method of adding Butter to Sugar and creaming, slowly adding Eggs and beating in, nah, Bernards method for making a Gâteau Basque is whack all the ingredients in a bowl and get stuck in with your hands, Rad was up for it, don’t tell David, he is a purist!
Gâteau Basque Is essentially a layered cake, piped into a dish, leaving a gap around the edge as a decent amount of raising agent is used to make the batter rise, it’s light and airy. The top and bottom layers are cake mixture, the middle layer being Jam or almond Cream. It’s utterly delicious and makes a great dessert, or cake to accompany a cup of tea, or coffee and its quite easy to make as you have seen. We all got the chance to practise our piping skills, apparently, I forget to breathe whilst performing this particular activity!
Next was Pièce Montée, in our case a Croquembouche a centre piece used at special occasions, a celebration, I have made one of these before, mind your fingers on the scorching Caramel. It’s a simple, but again extremely tasty affair, small Choux buns, filled with Pastry Cream and attached with Caramel, using a lined cone as a mould.
We could have spent hours making the Choux Buns, making sure they were all the same size and weight, but to save time we had a box of the Buns, pre-made, all the same size, so just had to make the Pastry Cream, make a hole in the base of each bun, pipe in the cream and weigh them again. Dipping the filled buns carefully and placing them in the mould and soon we had our structure, Bernard gently poured the remaining caramel to help fix the interior of the Croquembouche to make sure it was stable.
After a quick break we moved onto savoury, Prune Stuffed Pork, the Prunes were from Agen renowned for the sweet dried Plum that originates from China. We were shown the technique, the Pork was to be cooked very slowly to keep it moist, it was very delicious with the spicy Tomato and Umami Spinach, Cauliflower and Cheese accompaniments.
After lunch we were off touring, a short break from cooking to visit some of the local sites of interest. Condom is lovely, steeped in history and a great place to wander. The town name ´Condom´ is derived from ‘Condatomagus’, meaning ‘old gallic market’. Condom lies on the river Baïse along one of the main pelgrimage routes of Saint Jacques de Compostelle. Because of its location on the riverbanks of the Baise, in the 19th century Condom became the capitol of the Ténarèze region and the access gate to the Armagnac.
There is buckets of info about the area on the internet, and its historic ties with the infamous Musketeers just google to find more or click the Musketeer link on the previous line for some more background.
Larressingle, classified as the most beautiful village in France is like walking back a few hundred years into times long past. It’s peaceful, has lovely old buildings, a simple chapel and the usual tourist shops, although not garish and standout, more subtle and blend in. We had a quick 15 mins to look around, it was quite hot and that was just right before our next planned visit, the one I was looking forward to the most!
Next stop was Château de Cassaigne, where we were going to taste some local, and very special Armagnac. Armagnac is the oldest brandy recorded to be ‘still’ distilled in the world, as far back as 1310. I first visited this Château in 2014, it bought back fond memories of previous weeks at the Gascony Cookery School with fellow foodies.
We had a guided tour of the old Kitchen which was fascinating and the cellars, where maturing takes place and where some VERY old and special (expensive) bottles are locked away, you can see some of them in the middle picture above, we then got to taste the difference between 3 Armagnacs, 10, 20 & 40 years old.
It would have been rude not too, I decided to invest in a 40 year old, it was delicious. Checking up on ’the big brands’ at the airport duty free, the XO (Xtra old, typically between 10 and 35 years) was between £70 – £100 more expensive, the cost of brand and marketing, I was well chuffed with my purchase.
Next stop Romieu a fascinating and very old little town dating back to circa 1082, spot all the cats in the pictures above. We all went for a wander, Rad and I decided to see how many cats we could find, and then got distracted by a coffee vendor, next minute we both had a shot of Expresso in our hands which certainly hit the spot, it was a lovely afternoon.
Romieu has a famous legend related to the cats, they saved many lives, you will find more details in the earlier link below the above picture. We had completed our whistle-stop tour.
So now we took the road back to Bernards for an Aperitif and more food, we had done the cooking so relaxed on the veranda and discussed the days trips and the weeks food, a constant ’what was your favourite’, and ’would you do differently’, like seasoned (excuse the pun) Chefs!
Dinner was the usual delicious, rich, tasty, healthy fare, tonight was Boar pâté, Pâté de tête persillé pur porc, and Foie Gras with Pain d’Epices as a starter, followed by Duck a L’orange. I have always wanted to try Pâté de tête, a rough cut Pâté made with all the edible bits of a pigs head, its extremely tasty indeed, don’t be put of by the cut of meat that is used. Yummo. Dessert was the croquembouche, it went down very well indeed.
There is something about French markets and the one at Fleurance is very typical, lots of fresh produce on display, quite a lot either organic or biodynamic for those customers that want ethical and chemical free goods, cheese galore, duck and duck related deliciousness I love them.
We had been given a task and a few Euros, to get some fruit for tarts and vegetables for dinner for later in the week, so off we went in pairs to explore the sights and smells. I was teamed up with Rad, my new foodie buddy and we looked and chatted as we wondered around the market trying to find the best we could for our time in the kitchen later.
David, our chef/host had mentioned a decent coffee stall around the corner from the main square and as we both like a brew, off we went for some quick refreshment and lured by the aroma, and the churros stall opposite we soon had a cup each in our hands.
WOW. Firstly it was only 1 Euro for a shot of Expresso! I have just checked the price of a well know chain and the price is £1.95. Yes, I know they have overheads and all that but the coffee from the stall in Fleurance was probably the best we both had ever had and to be honest, the chain stores coffee is mediocre at best, and their focus IS coffee. We continued wandering around the market square and ended back at the coffee stall. ’Fancy another Rad?’, Hell yes so another couple of Euros and we were off again, but not before I purchased a 250Grm packet to take home.
Shopping done we had arranged to meet at midday at the Café Du Centre, a large indoor/outdoor establishment which amongst other things specialised in Salads, jeez where they good. A selection of at least 7 different types there was something for everyone, I went for the ‘Duck Gizzard’ variety with a slab of Foie Gras as well, it was truly delicious, very generous with the Duck, and nicely dressed with a piquant vinaigrette.
It was interesting to note that France is suffering as much as anywhere else when it comes to inflation, the menu had previous prices blacked out, most dishes had increased by a Euro or so, but hey, the food was delicious and well worth the cost.
Back at Bernards we settled down to an afternoons ’mise en place’ prepping various dishes. I was given the task of dealing with the duck we sectioned the previous day. The legs had been sprinkled with large salt grains in preparation for confit and needed washing and drying before placing in Duck Fat on a low temperature, to bubble away gently for a few hours. There was one other task to do but to find out what it is you will have to book the course, sorry. 🙂
There is no shortage of things to do at The Gascony Cookery School, it’s one of the reasons I like it. It’s definitely not one of those ’watch the chef’ events, this is get stuck in and learn, which when you have a high pressure tech job enables you to forget work, you don’t have time to think, the perfect stress buster and escape. Bliss..
Please excuse the legs as it was hot. Here we are tackling a saddle of lamb, opening it up, carefully removing the central bone and ’tenders’ ready for adding herbs and spices and rolling and tying, before cutting into noisettes ready for cooking, they were very tasty.
I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity of french cuisine in this part of France. Whilst we were having 3 course meals, twice a day most days they were not massive portions and this main dish was all served on one platter, the lamb, a mushroom egg ’flan’ and stuffed tomatoes, no heavy starchy potato stuff but all delicious.
A really simple starter which was extremely tasty consisted of a thin pastry (the one used to make Brik à l’Oeuf, the famous Tunisian snack) wrapped around a slice of ’ginger cake’ atop a small block of goats cheese and then baked or fried, served, with a salad. You could use Filo Pastry instead. The palate cleanser was brilliant, a shot glass of ‘eau de vie’ with a sorbet, it really did the job and also had a nice kick to it.
You will probably recognise the cupboard which sits in the kitchen, the next picture above which is connected to the dinning room by a very tall door, all the doors are tall, the rooms are so big and airy, its an 18th century property and very grand indeed.
Surprisingly, we had some time to spare and so ’knocked up’ a quick dessert to finish that evenings meal off. Almonds, Egg Whites, A little Flour and Sugar (from memory) and whole Almonds. After mixing and lightly crushing they were baked and served with some Ice-Cream, Crumb and Raspberry Sauce, another winner.
There was a handy veranda for quick breaks, the odd coffee or apéritif depending on the time of day. Our location at Bernards was about 147Km from Bordeaux and on one occasion the wind had changed direction and within minutes, the smoke from the tragic wild fires had covered the landscape, the stench of burning wood filled the air, it reminded us all of the effect that extremely high temperatures where having on the planet, and this part of France.
So, another adventurous day out and about and in the kitchen we headed back to Davids to relax for a couple of hours, talk about the day and think about what the next would bring.
I woke up early on Sunday morning. The ’brunch’ reservation I had made I cancelled, after the significant meal I had the previous evening there was enough ’goodness’ in me to keep the engine going for at least a couple of days and I was off to The Gascony Cookery School, a COVID delayed appointment for well over 2 years to see my dear friends David and Bernard, and spend 6 days learning more cooking techniques and spending time with some fellow foodies, that was the plan.
The pickup was back at Toulouse Blagnac Airport at 14:20, other guests were flying in from somewhere so after breakfast I packed my things and got a Taxi which only took 10 minutes to reach the airport. With a few hours to spare I camped down in a coffee shop, plugged in my mobile blogging kit and starting to write up day 1, trying to remember context, create a narrative, thinking of how I could teleport a reader into the experience I had felt, seen smelt and tasted since arriving in Gascony, Southern France.
Winnie and Shirley had flown in from Canada, friends with a common love of cooking. Jenson Button was on time to collect us, that’s obviously not his real name but his driving style was mostly with one hand, the other pointing out places of outstanding natural beauty or the aeronautical museum by the airport, he does not speak english but he is a lovely man, very kind and extremely funny.
We arrived at the small village of Gramont after approximately 1 hour 20 minutes, a beautiful drive across countryside not unlike where I live but with the exception of massive fields of sunflowers, they are everywhere.
Gramont is a commune in the Tarn-et-Garonne department in the Occitanie region in southern France, it’s massive with 147 residents, I love the place. We decamped and went inside to meet David and the other guests, Rad from Manchester, a 30 year old tech engineer with a love of food and fellow blog writer, we got on very well. Also attending were Jo and Emma, I knew Jo, we had been on a previous course together in 2014 and shared the same birth year, her daughter had joined her, it was like an old school reunion!
The Cookery School is based at a Bed & Breakfast but with a professional kitchen and enough space to teach at least 8 students. There are numerous rooms at Le Petit Feuillant and this time I had the ’Gite’ a self contained apartment at the front of the building with kitchenette/lounge/bathroom downstairs, and bedroom upstairs which were all fully air conditioned, something quite unique in this part of France.
David was preparing our evening meal as we chatted, Foie Gras with Caramelised Apple, Duck for mains and Walnut Tart (which was bl@@dy delicious) for dessert. We all convened for dinner inside as it was still hot outside with the forecast heatwave, and David explained the itinerary which had changed since my last trip. Everyone then settled for the night, Rad and I sat out on the veranda chatting and drinking Rosé till silly o’clock!
Bernards, the ‘other half’ of the Gascony Cookery School had moved since I was last here, his new ’school kitchen’ was in his massive “chambres d’hôtes, Le Bonheur” in the village of Miradoux, some 11 ish minutes dash across the sunflower ridden countryside from Gramont.
We had a great breakfast to start the day, the expected Croissant, home made Jams, Awesome Scrambled Egg, home made Bread, Tea, Coffee, Fruit Juice you get the picture and soon, after the short drive we were entering Bernards ’manor’ to start the weeks cookery.
This course is ’intense’, the itinerary is provided on the website to indicate what is going to happen, if you want to laze around this is not really for you, if you want to stretch yourself, learn loads with fellow foodies then book it now.
The mornings lesson was dealing with sectioning duck, to Confit some and get the remainder prepped to cook Duck a l’Orange for later in the week. The kitchen is massive and airy, Bernards’ previous kitchen was a lot smaller and didn’t have the magnificent views of the countryside to enjoy.
After a mornings watching, cutting and sectioning we settled down for a delicious lunch as is normal at The Gascony Cookery School this time including delicious Chicken, a Mushroom Egg ’mini-flan’ and Creme Brûlée served with lovely wine, we all chatted and discussed what we had learnt so far.
David came to pick us up, and in a flash, we were in the other kitchen, getting ready to tackle a favourite of mine, Quail. To be honest nearly all food is a favourite of mine, except sprouts, I detest sprouts, a childhood ‘do not leave the table until you have eaten all up’ type detest, its definitely scarred me and I am sure it’s not a loss with all the other food I adore, like sweetbreads etc.
Dealing with the quail was great fun, David (and Bernard) are excellent, patient tutors and watch as you progress with a knife, guiding your cuts to ensure you don’t break the skin, very critical, so when the stuffing (Farce) is added you can re-create the shape of the bird without the central ribs and bones, as you can see above.
There was a great sense of accomplishment after we had all completed the task in hand, and as we were to find out later, the end result was delicious, especially with the rich accompanying Calvados Sauce that was made with the bones of the birds we had dealt with so delicately, and the rich buttery Pomme Purée that acted as a pillowy bed for the bird to rest on.
We still had dessert to deal with, Poached Pears in a Lattice Pastry case, yumm. The Pears were peeled and the core removed them poached until just cooked, left to cool and finally stuffed with a frangipane mix and put to one side. The lattice work had to be done very quickly as the kitchen was very hot with ovens on and the temperature outside, not ideal for working with buttery pastry.
We completed the task successfully finishing with a dusting of sugar and a blast with the blow-lamp!
Everyone drifted outside onto the veranda, the weather was beautiful and the sun still doing its stuff and the chilled Rosé flowing nicely, cooling us all down. Discussions continued, what we had achieved, a collective of amateur chefs we all felt that we had accomplished something great and added skills and new techniques to our repertoire
As I finish this blog post back at home, the championship winning sausages are on low and slow and there is a Potato Rosti doing its stuff with Garlic, Thyme, Salt and Pepper gently cooking in Ghee, something I saw Anton Mosimann cook many years ago. In the next blog post (the following day) we are off to the market at Fleurance, so pop back and see what happened.
It was the day after the night before, I have always wondered about that particular use of english but I am sure you know what I mean. Jules (2) had a midday train to catch to Marseilles, to meet Chef Paul for some more foodie adventures before departing for the UK to meet family and friends.
As we sat down for breakfast at The De Brienne Hotel, before us an excellent selection of Pastries, Fruit, Bread, Meat and Cheese, you know, the usual continental affair backed up with Sausages, Beans and Scrambled Egg for the ‘Brits’ stuck in their ways and determined to keep up tradition, we carried on discussing the meal we had experienced the previous evening, and its location, a memorial night indeed.
As time was limited, I suggested we wonder over the road to the ’Japanese Garden’, a gentle stroll, there was a cafe too so we could have some refreshments as it was going to be a very hot day.
The garden was very quiet, peaceful and serene, nestled in a quiet suburb of Toulouse it definitely could provide an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We heard a couple of loud ’splashes’, there were the traditional Koi Carp in the expansive lake that was central in the beautiful landscape, it was a lovely place to chill, even for a few minutes and contemplate life, the stars, the moon, whatever your soul felt needing some contemplation time. After getting attacked by Mosquitoes umpteen times we headed for the cafe and had some light refreshments, then back to the Hotel, sorted a Taxi and said our farewells.
I felt a wall picture was apt at this point, on my own until the following day, what to do, I was slightly tired, it was getting hot, I definitely didn’t want to sit in my hotel room and waste time, ah, I needed a hat as I could not find mine before I left so donned some footwear, and set out again to explore ’The Rose City’.
After the experience so far, at the market the previous day, some amazing food with more to come, the fantastic architecture Toulouse was a city I wanted to return to as it had a certain magic that was almost drug like, hypnotic, it was a great place to get away for a short break, less than 2 hrs by plane and it wasn’t expensive. I wondered around taking in the sights and stumbled across Primark! Ah, hat, and 10 minutes and 4 euros later, had myself a rather cute ‘Peanuts’ cap, nice.
In my previous post I mentioned ’TheCoffeePot’ situated near the Basilica Saint-Sernin pictured above in resplendent glory, it was just around the corner and I didn’t need an excuse to stop for a ’cold brew’ as it was getting really hot.
I sat down for a while, ordered the refreshment of choice and watched the day go by for a while, soaking in the calm atmosphere, watching Toulosains going about their business in the afternoon heat it was thinking time, what was tonights restaurant going to deliver, there was no menu describing dishes, no clues, fingers crossed it was going to deliver… I popped in to pay and started chatting about the amazing coffee to the person that served me. The coffee was Carmelites, from Copan in Honduras and he kindly wrote the details down on the receipt, a nice touch for a foodie freak like me!
It was getting close to main event time again, I decided to walk through the now familiar streets, the ones we had ’flowed’ through on Bastille Day with two zillion other people, like rapids heading towards a water fall not knowing the final destination. Luckily, this time I did, Le Jardin De L’Opera, a 1 Michelin Star restaurant on the corner of ‘Le Place du Capitole’ which is the historical heart of the city of Toulouse. I was a bit early, the restaurant had not opened yet, so I took a wonder around the massive square and boy was I pleased I did.
Years go, it would have been in the early 80’s I started to get seriously interested in food and one of my food heroes at that time (and still is) was Anton Mosimann, a Swiss genius who ran the kitchen at The Dorchester Hotel and achieved 2 Michelin stars. He had numerous TV programmes and on one, showed how to make by hand, Kirsch Stengeli, ’sticks’ of hollow chocolate, internally lined with a thin coating of sugar and filled with Kirsch. I used to get them at Frankfurt airport when I was travelling for work a few years later, and then they seemed to vanish.
OMG, I almost bumped into the Lindt shop, famous for chocolate so I popped in, ’Bonseur, ave you Baton Kirch Sil vous Plait’…. Oui, yes we have the lovely man returned in english, automatically realising the limit of my french….BOOOOOOOOOM, Yeassssss, 5 minutes later 2 boxes of my favourite EVER chocolate were in my hands, well a bag….. I started to think, bu@@er, its 40 degrees outside, they will melt, I started to panic, then think……
There was a McDonalds a few shops up, surely it would be air conditioned, I could hang in there for a bit, pretending to buy a hideous ‘Big Mac’. I hung around in there for a while but it felt hot, next door was a mini CarreFour, I dived in there, bliss, air conditioning on full, it was COOOOOL. Whilst I wandered around the chilled area I looked at the various fresh produce, ’ugly’ tomatoes that would never grace a British supermarket shelf, they looked enticing to me. It was nearly opening time at the restaurant so I took a dash and a few minutes later I was in Le Jardin de L’Opera…. Phew.
Apéritif sir, yes please, why not. After the ’Lindt Dash’ my was heart was pumping a bit, the combination of heat (40 ish degrees), and the excitement/panic of finding a lost friend and wondering if it would survive the evening or end up a melted sludge. After some chill time I caught the waiters attention and said I was ready to start, and within minutes the wonderment started, a 7 course degustation menu with matching wine flight.
Hmmmm, this looks interesting as three differing receptacles of food were laid before me. I asked the waiter If they could write down what the menu was, for my blog and memory, they actually went further and emailed me Menu and Wine details a couple of days later, excellent. BOOOOOOM, here we go, this was just the amuse bouche, and my bouche was extremely amused, I cannot easily describe what I ate, suffice to say it was outstanding, fresh, light, tongue tinglingly scrumptious.
Garrigues Herbs are similar to a famous herb blend from Provence but with the hearty addition of rosemary, fennel, mint and bay leaf. The starter had texture in bounds, the smoked eggplant came in a pyrex dish with a lid and was served onto the plate at the table so you got a decent ’waft’ of the smokey herb/spice aroma, the sesame cream adding a delicate but tasty finish. the crispy slice of eggplant I suspect may have been in a hydration, it WAS like a crisp. Here we go again, BOOOOOOOOOM no.2.
BOOOOOOOOOM, no.3. At the beginning of the evening I had been asked the usual dislikes and allergies question and I had said none. I think if you are going to try a degustation menu, unless you do have a dangerous reaction to a particular food that could cause serious damage, proclaim it loudly, if not, go with the flow. I absolutely hate watching those cooking competitions on TV where someone, or a couple complain they don’t like this, or that, or whatever they shouldn’t be allowed to compete in the first place. Rant over, I am not a keen Oyster person, I am now a convert, the light delicate poaching, probably only seconds had firmed up the plump beauty and it was soooooo good, with the Soy adding seasoning and the green vinegar a punch of umami, jeez this chef and his brigade really know their stuff. The croquette was equally delish, dipped into the ’green’ vinegar that had the addition of sea weed too add colour and flavour.
Sorry……BOOOOOOOOOOM no.4. This dish was genius, I didn’t think it would work but it did, the quality of cooking, flavour balance, textures was outstanding and quite delicate, but enough to identify what was going on, I was in my happy place, amazing food, beautiful surrounding, great waiting staff, gorgeous matching wines….home made bread……ahhhhhhhhh, blisssssssss.
Can you feel it, the excitement, the joy, taste buds shouting at you to dive in….BOOOOOOOM no.5. I love this kind of food, if you are going to eat meat, then use as much of the animal as possible, don’t waste anything…. I Love sweetbreads, this dish had a small amount of Lemon Gel mounted on top, I love Blanquette, it’s a sparkling wine that originates from Limoux, it’s how Champagne was started, a Monk stole the idea and marketed the hell out of it, I’ve visited one of the original wine producers at a local cookery school. This dish was knockout, there was a content feeling flowing through my veins, I was happy, extremely content and really chilled out.
Hmmmmmm………Lamb…….Cassoulet………BOOOOOOOOOOM no.6. I adore Cassoulet, I have made it, in Gascony, at the cookery school was I was attending the following day, again this dish was clever, very clever. It retained all the flavours of a cassoulet in a kind of deconstructed way, but as you ate it, the flavours came together, like a Cassoulet but lighter..
Lets talk wine next.
I was so busy tucking into a delicious meal I only managed a couple of pictures, but the wine that was served is as follows:
– AOC Bordeaux Domaine Loumelat “Sauvignon” 2019
– IGP Pays d’Oc Vingobles Ferrandière « Marsanne » 2018
– Vin de France Vignobles Jean Claude Mas « Gewurztraminer » 2017
– AOC Côtes du Roussillon Château Lauriga « Bastien » 2014
– IGP Périgord Sens Dessus-Dessous
The wines worked very well indeed, I would say, for my palate perfect matches they slipped down very easily.
This dish was chosen in honour, and to remember amazing times approximately 8 weeks ago when I was in the region at my other favourite cookery school. I met two beautiful couples from Ireland, Joan, Seamus, Deirdre and Bernard and we shared many meals and cooking experiences together. During the week they realised I had a love of cheese, in fact I recall having cheese three times a day everyday, well, when in France. We had one particular meal in La Barbacane in Carcassonne Citadel, the medieval city and surprise surprise. I had the ’extra’ cheese course before dessert which was delicious.
So this cheese course was well crafted, Ardi Gasna, which means “sheep’s cheese” in Basque, it’s a French cheese found in the Nive valley of the Pyrenees Mountains. It is an uncooked, pressed, hard cheese matured for 4-6 months before being sold to the market. The cheese is available throughout the year, but the finest produce is available during the spring and summer months when the flavour of the milk is more pronounced. It was served with Nuts, a lovely fruit compote, some olive oil and a ’sauce’, absolutely scrumptious. BOOOOOOOOOOM…….. well, it’s cheese and I am an addict, but this was exceptional.
BOOOOOOOM…. No.7. Well the whole meal was, I think, the best meal I have ever had (ever), only beating Paul Ainsworth No.6 by less than a millimetre, it was that close. Clever wine pairing, a journey of flavours, sometimes intense, sometimes dreamy, sometimes rich, often subtle this is one meal I will never forget, and the main man will apparently pop out after service and say hello to everyone, that does it for me…. Awesome.
Jeez, whats going on now. I was presented with a flower pot and asked to look for a nugget of treasure whilst Rum Baba and Chantilly cream were placed in front of me. A small truffle, with a liquid centre was discovered and another play on textures flavours and an excellent finale to an amazing evening. Food 10/10, Service 10/10, Restaurant 10/10.
Cheers Chef Stéphane Tournié, you and your team made my trip to Toulouse something very special, the food was the best I have ever eaten, and yes, I love Sweet Breads and Frogs Legs, apparently it’s something us British folk don’t like. We chatted for about 10 minutes about food then it was time to go, I had to get those Baton Kirsch into the Fridge back at the hotel before they melted, TAXI!!
It was ’thrilling’ trying to get back to the Hotel. We roughly new which direction to travel in, but helping my friend Jules(2) through the massive crowds with a somewhat ’painful’ hip (she is due for a major operation soonish) was an interesting exercise. The night was still young and Bastille day celebrations continued, this is the national day of France when the French people united and triggered the French revolution on July 14th 1789.
At breakfast the next morning I suggested an ’easyish’ day, using Taxis, Metro and only walking short distances due to the impending heat that was forecast, and not wanting to be over tired for our next evening meal experience at Au Pois Gourmand, more of that in a bit.
The Victor Hugo Market (1896) is an old but established landmark of Toulouse, and our morning destination which we decided was in relatively easy walking distance, with the cover of the tree lined Boulevard de Strasbourg to protect us from the sun, in fact 22 minutes according to Google Maps!
On the way we passed a traditional street market by the side of the road, this seems popular in France, fruit and fumes but trade seemed good as we carried on to our first ’proper’ destination.
Markets fascinate me, at least ones outside of the UK do. We seem to have a real nervousness about certain parts of an animal anatomy. I do appreciate the views of vegetarians and vegans, I have eaten and cooked both styles of food, but as I have personally experienced to my detriment in the past 6 months, there are certain VITAL building blocks of the human body, Vitamin B12 being the one I was short of that made me very ill, that you can only naturally get from meat, and if you are going to partake in the consumption of said ’animals’ then you should use as much as the said animal to give it the respect it deserves. (Apologies to Vegetarians and Vegans, I am an eater of meat)
This market had everything as my first post indicated. Alongside the Tongues (Beef and Lamb), and Testicles there were ’lambs heads’, and I bet you are thinking what use is that? Keep reading this series of posts and you will find out, yes I ate ‘head’, well bits of it, more in a few posts.
As we carried on strolling around the market we saw food from everywhere, yes there were the local specialities, but Bacalao from Portugal, Meat from Scotland and Peppercorns from everywhere it was a foodies delight, and Jules(2) and I looked, stopped and chatted for what seemed a lifetime, it was a really enjoyable visit to an amazing market.
We decided to call it a morning, stopped for a coffee and then had a stroll to one of the many green spaces in Toulouse, it was only a few minutes from the market and on the way to the Metro station which we were going to try next. Jardin Pierre Goudouli was an occitan poet, click his name to find out his story, it’s really quite interesting.
Two stops on the Metro and we were within walking distance of the Natural History Museum, a really great place to spend a few hours gentle strolling through the various exhibits which were very well laid out and displayed.
We were starting to feel a bit tired with the heat, an UBER rescued us and enabled some respite, and a couple of hours sleep time before we headed out for dinner, well this is mostly a food blog, I would recommend the Museum though, what we saw was great and it was very inexpensive at €7.
Another Taxi and approximately 10 minutes away from the Hotel du Brienne is Au Pois Gourmand, our second eating experience (and Jules (2’s) last as she she was heading to Marseille the following day). I try and research what I do and where I eat I guess a bit like a detective looking for a needle in a haystack, I really hate disappointment when it comes to food. I wouldn’t say I was a great cook, but I can say ’I CAN cook’ having invested probably over 40 days and quite a few thousand pounds in learning from great chefs over the past 9 or so years, so if I eat something I know I could do better, and have to pay for it, well you know…..
As we were being driven to the restaurant, our UBER driver (we did use Taxi’s too, depending on the urgency!) asked if we were going to ’the’ restaurant, ’yes’, we responded. He said he had been told the food was not very good and it was expensive! Oh dear, I thought back at the checks I had made and also how much we had paid the previous night, his second statement was definitely wrong, but I was hoping I had not messed up.
We had been given an Amuse Bouche of something similar to a Japanese Custard, which was really nice, on arrival I had ordered a couple of glasses of Floc de Gascogne, a local aperitif made with a combination of Wine and Armagnac which got things going and went surprisingly well with the Custard and our starter, Langouste and Langoustine Liégeois which was, well yummy. it had a deep intense flavour and a light sprinkling of Piment D’Espelette which I have mentioned before to provide a delicate warmth.
BOOOOOOOM, here we go….The next dish was outstanding, the first was good but now we were heading into ’this tastes stunning’ country. Gambas and Langouste Tartare, Carrot and Citrus Vinaigrette, Puffed Quinoa. The Chef Ugo Plazzotta had been cooking in Asia and Shanghai, this dish suggested just that, it was utterly delicious, brilliantly balanced and my friend Jules (2) and I were talking about it for ages, the wine pairing was perfect.
I forgot to mention at the beginning the menu we choose, sorry! Langouste AND Langoustin with a wine flight of course, it would be rude not to, it was a great value choice at €99. Our sommelier was probably the most enthusiastic sommelier I have ever met, jeez he was so passionate about his trade it was infectious! The next dish to be presented before us, BOOOOOOOOOM Breaded langoustine with puffed rind, White Chocolate-Yuzu cream and its juice. Before you ask, puffed rind is also known as ’Air Bag”, yes I have some in my cupboard at home, inspired by a famous chef Glynn Purnell who has a Michelin star and a dish in his book ’Cracking Yolks & Pigs Tales’ where the ’air bag’ is used to coat squid and give it a crispy umami coating, delish.
Anyway, Chef Ugo had done it again, mixing White Chocolate in a savoury dish was a stroke of genius another talking point of the evening. I must find that UBER driver and correct his views on this restaurant, it’s brilliant.
Half-roasted lobster, seared green asparagus, Chanterelle fricassee and new pink garlic siphon. BOOOOM again, another winner, this Chef and his brigade were on fire, maybe not quite as precise as the previous night, but still very good indeed and all the food was delicious, nicely presented and service was very good too, with monsieur sommelier doing justice to every glass he poured, after explaining why it had been chosen to match a particular dish. Yumm.
Pre-Dessert, a ’Carbon Dust’, Lime and Cream concoction which cleansed the palate nicely. The carbon element was a pleasant surprise as it would normally suggest ’burnt’ but it did not taste like that all, just providing a pleasant texture with the lime and cream doing its stuff to prepare you for the finale.
The evening meal was coming to a close, our Garonne River Bank Table had been a talking point, was there a tide, was the water flowing up or downhill, the food was certainly front and centre of the conversation with the dessert a Surprise” Exotic Chocolate and Passion Sauce ending things very nicely indeed, a combination of Mango, Chocolate, Textures etc. we both said the night had been a complete success and that when I wrote my review, `i would make sure the excellent food was mentioned first’.
The next post concludes the Toulouse element of the trip, and the finale, which was…….wait and see.
………………………………..Until Next Time……………………L8ers………………………..
I am at Toulouse Airport at the moment, waiting for my lift to part two of my second French Adventure for 2022, the first also being food related and a previous blog post. I have been coming to this part of France since 2014, a happenstance moment of flicking through some cookery school web-sites and stumbling across the Gascony Cookery School, todays final destination.
The flight had been perfect, not so keen on the 3:00 a.m. wake up and a blocked M4 due to an accident (hope no-one was seriously hurt), but with all being well I arrived in plenty of time, and the short flight from Heathrow to Toulouse-Blagnac went without a hitch. There are numerous ways of getting to Toulouse from the airport, I have been here some 7 times, but always in transit to somewhere else, I had never actually been to ’The Pink City’ which was famed for the red brick used throughout many of its buildings, and radiating a pink hue accentuated as the sun set; it is truly a beautiful place to visit and I was even more excited to be meeting a fellow foodie I had not seen for years, Jules, we met on a fish course at the very same Gascony Cookery School i was returning to for the third time, and she was flying in from Tasmania on the other side of the world!
When I had done my research in planning for this trip I was looking for a sensibly priced Hotel near to transport systems, not too far from the restaurants we wanted to visit and preferably in a quieter part of town so the Hotel de Brienne was chosen, it was a 10 minute walk from the Compass Caffarelli Metro line. It’s a lovely 4 star Hotel close to the Canal Brienne, which links the Garonne to the Midi Canals, and the centre of Toulouse is within easy walking distance.
I decided to take the shuttle bus from the airport, the easiest option and within 10 minutes I was walking towards the hotel and bumped into a……….Pizza Vending Booth….. jeez….never seen one of those before.
I am sure somebody must use them at times of abject desperation maybe after too many bieres on a Friday or Saturday night…..not me though as we were dining in style later in the evening, and before long I had checked in to the Hotel and caught up with my friend from Tasmania, Jules (2) (I am Jules 1!) she is English, in her younger 70’s and was to visit family and friends after we had spent a few days together seeing the foodie side of Toulouse.
We set off to wonder, a random escape into the unknown, the mysteries of Toulouse and its culture, history and food. It was a very hot day, but not the hottest which was due later in the week and after a shortish stroll of discovery we settled down for a coffee and a catch-up and the first of our ’foodie’ experiences at ’The CoffeePot’, which was near to the Basilique Saint-Sernin at 2 Place du Peyrou.
“Fancy a cold-brew” said the waiter, “I don’t drink alcohol before 18:00” I replied, no he said it’s a coffee that’s left to steep in cold water for a long time, less bitter than normal ’cold’ coffee’s, more natural and as their is less risk of the coffee being burnt, it’s a much nicer drink. OK, let’s have two of those please.
They were sold in jars, with paper biodegradable straws, and extremely tasty too so we had one more each and set off back to the hotel to get ready for the evenings entertainment.
Our table at Le Cenacle was booked for 19:30, it’s near the ‘Pont Neuf’ bridge in Toulouse nestling in the ’La Cour des Consuls Hotel and Spar’. The chef Clement Convard is innovative and pushes the boundaries with many of his dishes so the night was going to be a gastronomic night of fireworks, perfect as it was July 14th, Bastille Day and expectations were high.
I didn’t get a chance to write down the amuse bouche description, suffice to say, it tickled the tastebuds preparing us for the delights that were to come. We had picked ’The Cenacle” menu option, a selection of 6 dishes along with a wine flight of 5 different wines chosen to match the food. This was my friend Jules first Michelin star experience so I was somewhat nervous with what she would think, and whether the experience was overpriced and underwhelming!
We were then surprised with another course which I didn’t see on the menu, It was a Smoked Burrata, with Tomato Gazpacho, Onion Crisp Tomato and Pepper. And then along came a freshly made Brioche bun that was still warm and a Butter whipped with Thyme Flowers and put through some kind of noodle machine to make a ’worm pile’! Both were extremely tasty indeed and continued to tempt the taste buds.
The first course, Mackerel & red pepper Smoked and grilled, Squid ink crisp & Tomato ice cream was served in a round dish, the disk suspended the ingredients above a cavity full of a delicious full flavoured thick ’soup’, although it wasn’t. BOOOOOM, here we go, Michelin quality at its best. When you broke the disk and ate all the elements together, dancing on the tongue, in the throat, all over everywhere. YUMM
And what do we here, we questioned the waiter. Service so far had been immaculate, patient, great interaction and explaining to a couple of native english, not much french speaking food fanatics each dish, and when questioned even further, did their utmost to ensure we knew what was on the plate.
Lets go with Lobster In salad with zucchini Tagète herb granité. This was a delicate dish, delightful, tasty, subtle. At this time our waitress suggested trying some of the granité on its own, and then pile onto the dish and ’dive in’. BOOOOOM another hit, the delicate flavours of Lobster, the tiny Courgette adding texture the granité taking you in a completely different direction with its chilled herbyness, delish.
The next dish was somewhat fascinating, Sous cloche Bucatini pasta dome Toasted pine nuts & basil Cream of vieux Rodez cheese. Some might say it was a ’classic’ pasta and cheese sauce and in some ways yes it was, but in others it was so much more refined and delicate. The cheese sauce really packed a punch and was ’mighty’, the pasta perfectly cooked, texture from the Pine Nuts drew everything together beautifully.
The next course, Mediterranean Red tuna semi-cooked Eggplant Millefeuille & rillettes Tomato and verbena foam was outstanding, I wasn’t sure If I was going to like it, yes the Tuna, one of my favourites should have been great but this particular construction…BOOOOOOM another winner, in fact all the dishes so far had been outstanding. We had been offered copious amounts of delicious home-made bread throughout the evening, wine had flowed (more of that in a bit), and each dish meticulously put together with so much expertise, my friend Jules and I could not stop talking about each dish, comparing our views, she was having a great time and I was happy she was having a great time after travelling over 30 hours on a plane, she deserved a nice meal and she was loving it.
This next dish was awesome, Pigeon from la Coulonnière Roasted, almond and popcorn crust Potatoes cream with almond and Amaretto! Read the description at least three times! Amaretto in Potatoes, jeez it really did work, this was so so clever and even more delicious, you have to come to this restaurant and try it, just brilliant and clever food, thank-you Clement Convard and your brigade. I am guessing it was the subtle (ish) almond and popcorn crust that helped the potatoes along but its was mind blowing.
Dessert finally arrived, Apricot from Le Lot poached and confit Raspberry sorbet & jam Light foam, transparent crisp. Yum Yum Yum ’nuff said’, it finished the meal perfectly and cleaned the palate at the same time.
So, I mentioned the wine flight earlier, it was very good indeed, we did think though that the last ’glug’ a sparkling wine, was not sweet enough to match the absolutely stunning and delicious end to our fantastic meal.
We had a range of really excellent wines and all except the last were perfect matches, the whole meal was bl@@dy awesome, sorry for the slight language, it was damn good and my friend said it was the best meal she has ever had…. magic.
This day was a relatively short one, quick wander, amazing coffee, awesome meal, and then as we were leaving, as it was Bastille Day, there were thousands of people streaming off the bridge as the celebratory fireworks were finishing.
The next post will be covering the following day, a visit to a market and another different, but amazing meal.