Eat: Gallic pretensions
These two dishes have all the flavours of France but you only have to pretend to be French to make them
Goat’s cheese fritters and salsa. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Balsamic braised pork. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Far back in the mists of time, before you could download menus from restaurant websites, the only way you could get your hands on a competitor’s menu was to get it faxed to you, or steal it. I am ashamed to say that I have two large boxes filled with restaurant menus from all over the world that probably aged me more from the guilt of the petty crime than they harmed the restaurateurs.
I remember one really mortifying occasion – which was all the worse as it was definitely in the era of downloadable menus – when my sister and I were squashed into a fabulous corner banquette in the Wolseley when it first opened. Determined to study and pore over every item we couldn’t possibly order for brunch that day, we willfully ignored the repeated requests from our waiter to take the menu back once we had ordered.
One of us kept watch, while the other tried to shove the menu into inappropriately sized handbag. We must have looked like two pigs in a blanket desperately trying and failing to fit in amongst all the celebs. Huffing and puffing our way through this inept encounter, our shame was finally sealed when the manger walked over and said: “Madame, a copy of all our menus, to have with our compliments.”
Oh the shame of it all. I still go red thinking about it. But it was magnificently handled by the staff and to be honest, great restaurants seem to be used to it and are usually flattered by these menu misdemeanours (I hope). But it has taught me that all you have to do is ask. People generally say yes.
There is a fabulous bistro in the 11th arrondissement in Paris called Chez Paul. It’s one of those typically French and really romantic places that make you curse yourself for not being fluent. (It’s always after one of these trips that I convince myself that taking up French classes will give me inner peace.) There are mussels, snails, boeuf Bourguignon, lots of rabbit and that all-time bistro classic: warm goat’s cheese salad or salad au chevre chaud, s’il vous plait.
Sometimes they’re on little croutes and sometimes they have a little crust on them and are all battered up and fried. It really doesn’t matter. I just adore the damn things.
So these goat’s cheese fritters transported me way back to a carefree time when I skipped out of a great restaurant, menu stuffed into my handbag. It’s so long ago that the prices are in francs. A glance through it makes me nearly as happy as a flick through my favourite photo album.
You can serve these fritters straight up with this lovely mango salad or add them into your favourite mixed greens – a little frisee or curly endive would be perfect. Some crisp lardons (God bless you, lardons) thrown in for good measure, a lovely French dressing and voila: a taste of France.
The pork is the type of lazy, slutty cooking I imagine someone very glamorous would do, a la Betty Blue, in some sort of stunning tantrum. Again, perfectly, effortlessly French, and something no amount of French language classes will teach you.