If you’re going to Beaune

So it’s time for the welcome return of guest blogger Jan Orchard who has been experiencing the joys of Beaune. My mouth is watering as I read…thoughts of the best cheese shop in the world (I may never get out if I walked into that)…wine lists with over 800 choices and the rotisserie van that’s always present in the markets of Europe and impossible to walk past without purchasing…Wow, Beaune is some foodie destination. Here’s what Jan has to say

The home of some of the most famous wines in the world – think Romanee Conti, Puligny Montrachet, Givry and St Aubin – Burgundy is famous for traditional, rustic food and great produce. The wine capital is Beaune, a walled town of immense charm where eating and drinking well are the most important things in life. If you are heading south, it’s a natural halfway stop – but also well worth a three or four day holiday. Just forget the diet.

If you are planning to visit Beaune, Ma Cuisine is a must – but only on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and not in August or February. This small restaurant is a favourite with locals in the wine trade and with visitors – so booking well ahead is vital. We once sat next to the most riveting wine merchant, rumpled and devastatingly attractive in that French way, who taught us more about wine by explaining our choices than you could learn in a a year. His advice – buy by the man – famous winemakers don’t make bad wines. Our Bouchard and Hubert Lamy choices met with approval.

So, what makes Ma Cuisine special? Fabienne Escoffier cooks traditional Burgundian food in the Elizabeth David tradition while knowledgeable Pierre presides over a wine list with 800 amazing choices. It is food a Frenchman from 100 years ago would recognise, firmly based in the culinary history of the region – and yes, they are Escoffiers from the famous chef’s family.

There is a set three course menu priced at around 25 euros and an a la carte. Both are displayed on blackboards and vary depending on what is good in the market. Three of us had beef carpaccio – which was wafer thin and excellent. I had plump griddled scallops, wonderfully fresh and tasting of the sea. All four of us had the demi coquelet – a little free range chicken, roasted and subtly spiced (there is ah istory of spices in this area with spice biscuits a tradition in nearby Dijon). We shared cheese – local pungent washed rind Espoisses served with Ma Cuisine’s rustic bread.

Loiseau des Vignes couldn’t be more different. Run by Dominique Loiseau, the widow of Bernard Loiseau who shot himself fearing he ws about to lose a Michelin star, this one-starred restaurant is next door to elegant Le Cep. The bar there is lovely for a pre-dinner drink and for people watching the clientele of very well-heeled Americans.

Loiseau des Vignes does a 25 euro lunch – there’s no choice but every course is outstanding. The waiters are the sort who know what you want before you know you want it – and materialise silently by your side. There are over 100 Premier Cru wines by the glass – a chance to try some top vintages at an approachable price.

Lunch starts with a complimentary gougere – the cheese choux pastry that is a favourite nibble in Burgundy. On the day we went the starter was an amazing crab soup with white crab meat on a tiny croute, surrounded by a rich crab bisque and finished with a cream of sweetcorn soup poured by the waiter. It sounds odd – but it was fabulous.

The amazing crab bisque served with sweetcorn soup

The amazing crab bisque served with sweetcorn soup

The main was a beautifully cooked sous vide cylinder of Bresse appellation controlee chicken with tiny vegetables. For dessert there was a mille feuille that combined very crisp, very thin layers of pastry with a chestnut cream filling – or you could choose a selection fo cheese. Coffee comes with the best macarons I have ever tasted – they’re blackcurrant because Burgundy is big on blackcurrants, crisp on the outside, melting within.

The cheese trolley at Loiseau des Vignes

The cheese trolley at Loiseau des Vignes

Beaune is packed with restaurants. Food does tend to be hearty – it’s designed for those who work hard on the land. Typical dishes are boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, jambon persillade (a terrine of ham set in parsley jelly), oeufs meurette (paoched eggs in a wine sauce – sounds awful but is actually delicious – and of course escargots awash with garlic butter.

Hearty was certainly the word for the plat de jour myself and Chris had at Au Raison. Tired after a very long drive from Calais in the rain, we went into a cafe advertising a 12 euro plat de jour. It was packed with truckers and builders, concentrating on putting away a very large amount of food. There was absolutely no other choice than the plat. Madame (at least 6 foot tall and built like a rugger player) plonked a large bowl of dressed lettuce, some bread and a puff pastry rectangle with a cheese filling on our table – this was the starter. The main was a choice of pork or lamb – two thick slices of beautifully cooked meat sitting on a mountain of potato puree. Cheese – one huge plate with several different cheeses on it that circulated from table to table followed, and pudding was a banana. It was an experience and great to see that this sort of food still exists.

Food and wine are central to the Burgundian way of life. Beaune is packed with wine shops and with the head offices of some of the biggest and most famous names in wine (Bouchard, Drouhin, Louis Latour) where you can taste and buy. Shops include the fabulous Alain Hess, the best cheese shop I have ever seen, offering over 100 varieties plus pates, traiteur (ready made to take away) dishes, olive oils, spices – and of course, wine.

Saturday is market day where the whole of the square opposite the Hospice de Beaune is packed with stalls selling whatever fresh vegetables are in season (it was asparagus and artichokes when we were there), honey, charcuterie, roasted chicken and pork (the rotisserie van appears at every French market), pizza from a wood fired oven, flower and vegetable plants, local cheeses, artisan breads, apple juice, spices, soaps – all incredibly tempting.

Heaven for asparagus lovers

Heaven for asparagus lovers

A stunning pile of artichokes

A stunning pile of artichokes

The rotisserie - the aromas alone are impossible to resist

The rotisserie – the aromas alone are impossible to resist

Heritage tomatoes from the south come in all shapes and sizes

Heritage tomatoes from the south come in all shapes and sizes

The market finishes at lunchtime when you can go and relax over something nice. Our favourite is Le Chevalier, a cafe with outdoor tables in the Petit Place Colbert. Top choices are grilled goats cheese salad, coq au vin, morel mushroom omelette – and Chris swears by the Andouilette – a rather grisly sausage made from offal.

How fabulous that all sounds! Wine and food to delight and so much of it…Another destination on my list. Thanks Jan for transporting us into the foodie heaven of Beaune.

Bulls, markets and Marc at 5am in St Remy

My first guest blogger on my new blog. Welcome Jan Orchard. She wrote about her visit to Arzak in San Sebastian for the previous, destroyed blog and I’m glad to say has agreed to making another appearance. And it’s a real goodie from the town of St Remy in Provence, France.

Visiting St Remy by Jan Orchard

If you ever have the urge to feel like a character in one of Peter Mayle’s novels, take yourself off to St Remy de Provence, sit in the Café Place and watch the passing scene. On market day, you’ll be serenaded by the sounds of Charles Trenet, Edith Piaf and less appealingly Johnny Hallyday from the vintage record stall.

If you want lunch, get there by 12,30 latest – the tables are occupied by robust Provencal types who want to tuck into the plat de jour before it all goes. The plat changes daily – while we were there the choices were moules mariniere featuring fat, juicy mussels from the beds at Sete and brandade de morue (salt cod) with mashed potato and a tomato stew.

This is just an ordinary café but the food is outstanding. We both had hand rolled trofi pasta served with creamy burrata. One dish came with pesto, the other with a rich, full tomato sauce, both were fabulous and over generous. As we ate, we watched a dead ringer for Carla Sarkosy, all pout, high voltage glamour and poker straight hair pick at a beef tartare between puffs on her cigarette (eating exterieur in the South of France means smoking is allowed – even if the exterieur is a veranda). The enfant with her was badly behaved for a French child. Usually when confronted with food, French children stay in their seats, eat up and from time to time comment on the menu. We’ve never recovered from seeing a five year old order and enjoy oysters!  I’ve also eaten salade chevre chaud at Café Place which instead of the usual grilled goats cheese on a croute is a toasted ham and goats cheese sandwich with bayonne ham, fig chutney, sun dried tomatoes and a large salad.

Trofi pasta with pesto and Burrata at Cafe Place

Salad chevre chaud with a difference

St Remy is set at the foot of the Alpilles and is a major area for olives, fruit, tomatoes and Mediterranean vegetables. The Wednesday market is a food lover’s heaven. The narrow streets are packed with stalls selling local olive oil, mountain cheeses, olives, little jewel like boxes of strawberries, redcurrants and other fruits, tomatoes in every colour imaginable, pesto, tapenade, pungent anchoiade, sun dried tomato paste, the ubiquitous Vietnamese nems you see in every French market (a relic of the Colonial past), saucissons, hams and more. The table setting isn’t neglected either – there are dozens of stalls laden with colourful salad bowls and dishes, table linen and the Opinel knives no French countryman can be without – so handy for cutting a piece off a passing cheese or saucisson!

This great olive stall also sells hummus, tapenade, pesto and sun dried tomatoes

Sun dried and fresh Provencal tomatoes with herbs. Heaven.

Cheese, glorious cheese from cows, sheep and goats.

You’re going to need something to carry all your food home in! Go on, buy a new basket.

The porchetta is sold by the glass at this stall

As you walk around the streets, you’ll see signs saying, danger, manifestation taureau. This refers to the annual bull festival  – a spectacular event where the gardien horsemen from the nearby Carmargue come into town with their little black bulls who run through the streets. They take part in a bullfight too – but not the Spanish corrida. The bull gets to chase unarmed young men around the bull ring. One event during the festival features a large pool in the centre of the ring – it is not unknown for the bulls to give up chasing and go and stand quietly in the water instead ! Posters around the town advertise that Ferdinando or wboever from a particular mas (farm) will be appearing – and lists his parents and his and their victories.

St Remy has tourists but is still very much a Provencal town. Get up at 5am and you’ll see workers sitting at the Café Marche with a glass of Marc and a strong coffee. There are designer shops and galleries – but also many beautiful patisseries and delicatessens. On the drive into town there are farms advertising wine, honey or olive oil tastings – well worth a stop.

Stay at Hotel Gounod, right on the main square. Ask for a garden room. Eccentric in the extreme with religious statues and clutter of various sorts everywhere – but very convenient and with parking. For a treat, head to Mas de Carassin which is about a mile outside town. Dinner is a wonderful experience here – there is no menu, everyone has the same four courses but it is delicious – and advertised in the morning so changes can be made if there is something you don’t eat.

Thanks Jan! How amazing does St Remy sound and look? I’m totally sold on the place! The closest big town is Avignon where you can catch a bus there. Oh and Marc is a fearsome spirit made from squashed grapes and stalks after the wine is pressed – a real firewater officially called Pommace Brandy! Who’d have thought I’d learn about a new liquor I hadn’t heard of.

Do you have something you want to share on my blog? I’m always keen to have you help me cover the world of food…so get in touch if you have something to say.