OLD MEMORIES LINGER!
I grew up on a hilltop farm in Tasmania….next stop ANTARCTICA! In winter, biting winds and sleet often prompted my father’s diary entries to begin, “Very rough day!” No wonder we appreciated my mother’s ‘comfort cooking’ ; rabbit pies, rich beef stews, pastries and steamed puddings. I still choose suet dumplings over sushi, and consider salads acceptable only in temperatures above 40 degrees.
Clearly the peasant style cuisine of Flanders was going to appeal to me. On a recent to visit to Lille my partner Rob and I had lunch at Au Vieux de Vielle, located at 2, Rue des Vieux Murs. It was a beautiful day, so we sat among tubs of flowers in the courtyard. Rob chose a well known dish called La Carbonade Flamande. It consists of beef shin stewed very slowly in Flemish dark beer with spiced bread and brown sugar. Oh my word, it was superb!
I tried their special sausages. I was very amused at the printed message on the menu, which roughly translated as; ‘Please do not pester the staff for the recipe, they know nothing!’
The restaurants featuring regional Flemish food are called Estaminets. It was fortunate that we arrived early at one called Les Compagnons de la Grappe, because soon afterwards at least a dozen people were waiting for tables. A mature fig tree in the courtyard added to the atmosphere, and I had to hook an errant grapevine around an umbrella beside our table. On this occasion Rob chose pan fried duckling, served with a potato and cheese souffle. It was a hot day, but true to form I thoroughly enjoyed my succulent lamb shanks in a white wine sauce flavoured with rosemary.
Another popular dish at Lille eateries is Welsh Complet, which appears to be based on the original Welsh Rarebit. It’s a very rich blend of melted cheeses poured over ham and beer soaked, French bread…topped with an egg! (I think the latter represents the ‘complet’ bit). Oh yes, and I should mention Potjevleesch, a triple white meat terrine in aspic. I tried the rib sticking Welsh and left Rob to sample terrine in aspic! Both were excellent.
THE FINALE – LAPIN ET…..INNARDS!!!
My favourite meal was at Estaminet ‘Rijsel, where we both chose very rustic food. I loved my Lapin aux Pruneaux (Rabbit with Prunes ), in a rich, red wine sauce. Somewhat to my surprise Rob bravely ordered Andouillette, a sausage made with pork intestines seasoned with pepper, wine and onions. A French politician called Edouard Heriot once famously quipped; ‘Politics is like an andouillette – it should smell a little like shit, but not too much.’ Oh my God! I don’t think Rob was overly impressed to be honest.
No room for desserts, just a pot of coffee to finish the meal before we went off to enjoy more of the city.
I loved the decor of T’Rijsel, all very cosy with old pots, pans and jugs.
We didn’t sample the desserts at any of the restaurants we went to, preferring to enjoy cakes from patisseries such as the renowned Meerts. I chose this one, called (appropriately) La vie en rose.
Mind you, it was a difficult choice. Look at that delectable raspberry confection on the right with the macaroons and meringues!
What are your favourite memories of French food? Or did you make a memorable mistake? Do leave a message in the comment box, but don’t forget to scroll down and complete the anti-spam sum before you press SUBMIT.
Hold on…it occurs to me that I have not included a photograph of lovely Lille itself, so here is a shot of Grand Place.