What is the fascination with food? Well, OK, I can understand being fascinated by food: I am. But being interested in what other people have eaten? When there is no chance - or very little chance - that you will ever eat at that particular restaurant? If that's what floats your boat or, to coin a phrase, if that's how you like it cooked...
Oh, I found the Bovril. I had expected it to be next door to the Marmite, which is just along from the Heinz Sandwich Spread, which is alongside the jam. But it wasn't there. I found it with the Bisto and Oxo cubes.
So, what did I eat. Let me start by explaining something about French restaurants. At least, something about restaurants in France. It's not universal: you are unlikely to find this in creperies, for instance, and only in some pizzerias. As well as a la carte, restaurants in France usually offer one or more fixed price menus where the choice is restricted to three or four dishes for each course. These can offer extremely good value for money, especially the lunchtime menus ouvriers, or workmen's menus. These often offer a three course meal, sometimes with wine included, for about 10 euros, which - with the current exchange rate - is less than £10.
Au Vieux Castel is no different. We always opt for the cheapest menu there, but that offers a choice of about half a dozen starters, half a dozen meat dishes and two fish dishes, and four or so desserts. The dishes offered are changed from time to time but several have remained constant in all the years we have eaten there.
For my starter, I usually opt for either the crab tartare or the goat's cheese salad, while the Old Bat will choose either one of these or the ham tartare or (her favourite) scallop terrine with lobster sauce. (I have chosen the snails but this menu allows for only half a dozen and at a different restaurant I get a full dozen.)
The main course is always something we dither over. Should it be the piece of beef, or the steak with shallots, or maybe the turkey escalope. Beef in France can be very indifferent - they butcher it differently to we Brits - but the meat here is consistently good. Whichever we choose, it will be served with the vegetable of the day (always fresh and in season) along with a portion of chips (French fries) and a baked potato. This is one of the "signature dishes" of Michel, the chef, and neither we nor anybody else we have taken to the restaurant has been able to work out what is done to the potato. It is cooked in its jacket but the inside has been mixed with herbs or some sort and we can't tell what they are! I can tell you that it is extremely tasty and I'm getting hungry just writing about it.
Dessert could be a very pleasant creme caramel or sometimes rum baba is available. Last week there was a delightfully light chocolate sponge cake covered with chocolate which was served with creme anglaise, the French version of custard.
This will, of course, be followed by proper French coffee and was washed down with a pichet of merlot.
I have never tried it, but this is the only restaurant I have found where Chateaubriand steak is offered, which I find rather surprising in its home town! The reason I have not tried it is cost. The menu gourmand on which it appears costs five euros more than my usual menu and offer only two courses.