Wednesday, 3 October 2012
A l'Auberge des Pecheurs
In the shadow of Leotoing and its castle, way down in the valley, lies the hamlet of Lanau, too small to be called a village. Here, on the bank of the River Azerre, one finds the Auberge des Pecheurs, Fishermen's Inn, where I ate one of the most memorable meals of my life. As you might think from the picture, this is not the place one would stop off if looking for a gourmet meal. Indeed, I would have been most unlikely to have stopped there for more than a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. But it had been recommended to us.
The Old Bat and I were on holiday in the Auvergne, that part of central France which is almost mystical with its extinct volcanoes, mountains and valleys, cheeses and cow bells. As is our wont, we had rented a gite for the week. Our hosts were a couple of English gentlemen whose relationship left us a tad puzzled and which we never did sort out satisfactorily. But that is neither here nor there. On the first evening we asked if theu could recommend any restaurants in the area. They suggested a few but the Auberge was, they said, the best, and they rang Rachel, not so much to book a table as to warn her that we would be arriving. Rachel, they explained, was Lebanese and had married a Frenchman. He had been seriously ill and was not long out of hospital. (That does have a bearing on what follows.)
We left in good time as we had a drive of several miles ahead of us, the first five of them being down the mountainside to the nearest village. (I had no cause to use the accelerator once out of the courtyard and when we reached the village my fuel consumption was recorded as in excess of 200 miles per gallon!) The Auberge, we had been told, was to be found soon after passing one château and before the next. We parked in a small space at the back of the inn and walked towards the entrance in some trepidation as this didn't look a particularly inviting venue. The plastic strip curtain hanging in the open doorway did nothing to improve our thoughts.
Nor did our hopes pick up as we pushed through the plastic strip curtain and entered the Auberge. Immediately in front of us was a hand-football table, while to our right was an area obviously used by Rachel and her husband as their living room. A shelf unit containing a miscellany of books, ornaments and assorted knick-knacks and implements provided a partial room divider. There was a dining table almost completely covered with what appeared to be drugs of various kinds, a television with the sound turned down very low and an ancient computer monitor. A cat was lying on the bench seat running along one side of this room and it was here that both Rachel's husband and his dog sat when he came in during the evening.
Beyond the hand football table was a small bar and too our left was the dining area. The chairs were metal with plastic seats and as far as we could tell, the tables matched. It was difficult to be certain as each table was covered with a minimum of three very thick plastic cloths. On the one laid up for us the top cloth was white on the top although the parts hanging over the sides of the table had a colourful pattern. Obviously the top had been cleaned so often that the colour had been wiped off. The cutlery was clean if mismatched and our doubts were slowly being dispelled.
Rachel told us we could have either trout or pork. We both opted for trout, that having been recommended by Bob and Frank, the owners of our holiday cottage. We accepted her offer to make a mixed salad for our starter. I told her that we would like wine and she went off without bothering to answer, only to return with a half litre carafe of white wine. As it happens, that is probably what I would have ordered if I had been given the chance. What sort of wine that was I have no idea but it tasted very good to both of us. As did the simple mixed salad when it came. Little more than lettuce and tomato, the dressing was out of this world and made the dish. It didn't hurt, either, that the vegetables were fresh.
And the trout. It must have jumped straight out of the river at the bottom of the garden and into the pan, it was so fresh. Plump and sweet, we drooled as we ate them even though neither of us is keen on having a fish with its head and tail still attached when on the plate in front of us. The fish was accompanied by fried diced potatoes which were perfect and (I think) French beans. This was followed by home-made pear tart and good coffee.
As I wrote, that was one of the most memorable meals I have ever eaten. Memorable for three things: the setting, which led one to expect the worst; the food and wine, which combined good, fresh ingredients with careful cooking; and lastly, the price, just over £20 for the lot!
We went back later in the week and were equally well pleased.
(48 years today)