Saturday, 13 June 2015
Bloody Good Chap goes to France: If sex was a sandwich
It was time to leave Nantes, so stopping off at a bakery on the way to the station, I grabbed a baguette filled with saucisson and cornichon and a black coffee to stiffen my resolve. Although the night before had not been too heavy, I had enjoyed a few nicely chilled beers and a couple of glasses of eau de vie in the buzzing city centre at the popular Circle Rouge. Being a solo traveller I had attracted a bit of attention with my trusty book in hand, ‘Ad Men and Bad Men’ and of course played the role of affable tourist answering a stream of questions on my English credentials.
Arriving at the station I had a little time to kill, so I opted for the first of many customary train beers. As the rather sub-par Kronenbourg original (non of this 1664 rubbish) slipped down, I kept hearing the the opening bars of Shanice’s 1991 chart topper ‘Smile’ to a point where it became quite irritating. Of course it wasn’t the R ‘n’ B classic but a weird jingle for the constant stream of announcements from the team at SNCF. It was a sound that was going to characterise the trip as I experienced the French railway system.
The lush countryside of the Loire Valley unfolded before me as we wended our way to Angers and I munched away on that delicious sandwich, full of cold butter, cured meat and piquant pickle. Before I knew it, the ancient city of Angers revealed itself and it was time to enjoy the second destination on the trip.
Any fans of medieval history will be familiar with Angers, the seat of the legendary Geoffrey of Anjou and a wealthy dukedom. It houses a number of treasures, including a set of UNESCO tapestries of the Apocalypse and a great collection in their museum of fine arts. Furthermore, the city is beautifully preserved full of fine architecture so there is plenty to see and do. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday so the town was somewhat sleepy, but that didn’t stand in my way too much.
I dumped my bags at the ever reliable Ibis Hotel, a French institution and hit the town, but not before I had a discouraging exchange with the hotel’s concierge, who told me that the only place to eat in the whole place was the rather uninspiring hotel restaurant. I’m sure the food would not have been that bad, but I was not hear to dine in the bar at a chain hotel. I knew I could do a bit better, even when taking pot luck.
It was time to explore the town, take in the cathedral and, have a glass or two of the local tipple, Rose d’Anjou. A strange wine, this beverage is not that popular in the UK and is a little bit rough and ready, however, it goes down quite agreeably on a piping hot day when chilled, especially with a bowl of finely sliced saucisson in a well-appointed square in the shadow of an ancient tower.
An hour in the Fine Arts Museum was rewarding, especially for the small but impressive room of 16th and 17th Century Flemish old master paintings and some sombre but beautifully crafted 12th and 13th Century iconography. It was well worth the 6€ ticket and I recommend popping in if you find yourself in Angers.
I become a habitual snacker when I go on holiday, making the most of the change in cuisine and, pottering around the quiet Sunday afternoon streets, I found the most amazing of fast food emporiums: The rotisserie. It was an emporium of meaty wonder and a rare place of activity as the sultry sun beat down.
I entered and the enticing smell and site of chickens ‘turning and turning in a widening gyre’ or rather spits greeted me. But that was not all, there were trays of Rillons (confit pork belly), sausages, Morteau, roasted lamb, bowls of sauteed potatoes, pots of homemade mayonnaise, chopped hard boiled eggs...
This was real fast food! Rather than the disgusting array of draft soft drinks, there were half bottle of wine and plastic glasses, cans of beer or freshly squeezed juice. We desperately need this in London for the masses. I went for a Rillons sandwich with a can of lager, it was unctuous and delicious, sticky, slightly gelatinous, slightly greasy, utterly deliciously. If sex was a sandwich, this would be it!
Dinner soon came around and despite the Rillons sandwich, a little aperitif of Rose de Anjou and a bowl of olives whetted my appetite for a simple plate in an equally simple restaurant. Yes Basserie de Gare (opposite the station as you might guess) was basic, but not unpleasant. It was a fine evening so I took a table outside. Scanning the menu and looking at the rather pedestrian offering I saw something that had long been on my bucket list of things to try, Andouilette.
For American readers this is not to be confused with the Cajun Andouille which is a spicy pork sausage, this one is actually made of pigs intestines rolled into a cylinder and bound in more intestines. It has quite a high, offaly smell and an acquired, chewy texture. It’s not for the faint-hearted and is certainly an alien taste to the Anglo-American palate. I ordered with some trepidation, and the waiter was rather surprised, ‘really?’ he said. This made me more determined, ‘of course!’ I replied, ‘d’accord’ returned, he went away shaking his head, probably thinking I was made. I ordered a glass of Sancerre (another Loire Valley wine) and awaited my fate...
I must say the dish that arrived did look very inviting, a rustic white sausage with appealing grill marks, a pile of fries and some simply dressed lettuce arrived. I tucked in, and I must say that I don’t know why I was so apprehensive. Tasting the andouilette dispelled any negative illusions that had been communicated to me by others who had tried this delicacy. Yes there was a slight barnyard-y element to this, as one would expect of anything associated with the digestive tract, but it was not unpleasant. I love chewy, gelatinous textures and I consumed my meal with gusto, almost as soon as it had arrived, it was gone!
I did not go for a pudding, I didn’t need it, instead I went back into town for a digestif, in particular a glass of Cointreau, another local tipple (it’s produced on the outskirts of Angers). Luckily, bars are open on Sunday evenings and so I was not disappointed. It was a great way to round off the day, accompanied by a half-pint or three of beer. Another perfect ending to another delightful day...
Coming up: I head to Tours to discover why it’s one of France’s most famous destinations for charcuterie.