Gastronomic xenophobes

Is it that standards of food have actually declined in France or is it just that the standards back in the UK have risen so much as to leave the French way behind.

Very few restaurants locally I regard as worth a visit. I've been here for more than a decade and it seems nothing has changed. The same menus, offering the same traditional French medieval faire. In the same disturbingly grubby places. And as for the service...... No, it's not retro, they were always like that. Aren't they sick of it? I know I am! So I no longer venture out to dine very much, and when I do, well it never fails to disappoint. Maybe it's regional thing? Probably not. How is it almost impossible to have nothing other than your particular region's "specialities" on the menu? We want choice, don't we? We don't want to, and shouldn't have to travel to Burgundy for snails or Marseilles for bouillabaisse, etc, etc.

They say "use it or lose it" well I don't think it would be all that great a loss, would it, really?

I do wonder if the French would ever say "We have a favourite restaurant, it has an exciting menu including luke warm vegetable potage, salad de gesiers, confit de canard and 50 tasteless cheeses et tarte au pomme. Living in the past doesn't help anyone. Tradition has it's place but arrogance and complacency will only result in bankruptcy. Just look at the French wine industry, arrogant and complacent to a fault! It's the same thing in supermarkets, offering everything you could possibly want as long as it's French. Don't they know if they found the courage to actually break with tradition and try something new and different and maybe from a foreign land (God forbid) it may be a life changing result and enhance and broaden their insular existence? Well obviously, sadly it would seem not. They don't want it.

Tradition has its place, and it's in the past. Back then the cuisine was frugal and folks made do with what they could grow and what they could afford, recipes were devised solely on those facts, that was then and this is now, and we can all afford better, but here in Francia we seldom have the choice to do so and the peasants are no longer revolting, well not so you'd notice (mostly). It's a total myth, that is still to this day fuelled by UK TV channels who constantly bang on with their "Little Englands" and their "Home in the Sun" etc, etc, telling us about all the fabulous food that can be had anywhere and everywhere in this fabled French land. When the truth is the Brits now do it much much better. If we have a fault it's that we don't blow our own trumpet loudly enough, unlike the deafening French horn.

We have a favoured restaurant in a nearby village in Hampshire...its called Sasso's after an Italian mountain and is of course, Italian. The food takes time, there is one sitting per are not rushed out. Their vegetables are a delight. The standard veg if you dont order a mixture of carrotts, corgettes, onions, mushrooms, and other seasonable veg dipped in a light chinese batter...and quick fried...this takes minutes. The veg prep takes time, but we all eat al dente now, and even for dinner parties, I cook most veg for 3 to 5 I dont understand what you friend is saying Brian. We took our son out for his 30th birthday the Crab at Chievely, primarily a fish restaurant, but game as well. There are covers for 40, we were a table of 6 and had a fantastic selection of veg, around 9 different ones, all perfectly cooked. We waited maybe 10 - 15 minutes between the removal of the starter plates and the mains arriving. I think its a case of rethinking how a restaurant works. There are enough Masterchef style programmes on UK tv where we see the candidates cooking in top class professional restaurants. The veg is not pre cooked, but is ready in minutes. I think the main problem is restaurants dont employ enough staff in the kitchen, and of course, that is again down to employment laws in France.

It is a very hard call with fish. At present I have a fairly strict diet regime that includes lots of omegas, that especially come from oily fish and I fortunately happen to love sardines, smoked herring, haddock and so on.

It is not as easy as the demise of Nouvelle Cuisine, I suppose Kenneth immediately before you makes a lot of the points. I do not agree on the cafeteria at supermarkets, Buffalo Grill, MacDo and so on, but then I have an aversion to preprepared food tipped out of the packet on to the pan or griddle. For me it is cooked from scratch or forget it, not food snobbery but preference and a healthy respect for my body. If it is preprepared it is almost certainly bearing conserves of some nature to keep it fresh and coloured right, even a lot of deep frozen food too. I had enough of that during the bad years in the UK when people began to look like a mass army of Tellytubbies - as if that is actually getting better.

I think that France is a country that likes to be thought for, they elect people to govern who do that, so they sit on their laurels. Seriously demand change and they will, if the right tone is used. People are fed up with dodgy internet on ageing phone lines, unreliable and monopolist energy suppliers and so on. They can see what is happening in the world and yet bureaucracy and government plough on relentlessly in the same old groove without changing things for people. They have created the economic circumstances that are killing cuisine in France. Where there are very rich people and the demand for good food the restaurants are outstanding and will often give anybody in the world a run for their money. Sadly, that is not evenly distributed enough for those of us fed up with cheap, tinned foie gras, confit de canard with some flavourless potatoes in a sauce out of a jar with a bland, badly dressed salad and a dessert worth forgetting instantly. No, I do not blame the people who own the restaurants, but have sympathy with them. They cannot afford to do better. What goes round, comes round and that is what economics has done to food.

Our retired chef neighbour told me about vegetables in restaurants when I asked some time ago. He said that they take too long to cook for each table and if a lot is cooked for a whole session then by the end of service they are soggy and nasty. He always offered a choice, the reason being that he cooked from scratch and people knew they had 30 to 40 minutes wait for most main courses, so the entrée was served a reasonable time after the order was placed, then there was a pause between courses and when the main went out he could plate up the vegetables ordered to follow to the table. That has gone out of fashion with people wanting quick service comparable with fast food restaurants, so people no longer bother. All really good restaurants keep people waiting, so you do. He thinks the world he worked in originally, especially when he was a trainee over forty years ago, is dead and buried in general. There are many good cooks who are depressed because of the general malaise and no longer have an edge, so have just given up trying. I get the feeling he is right.

Well Brian you have convinced me to give up fish! which I do eat quite a lot of...I always buy line caught fish and buy it on the internet and have it posted to me....(UK). One of the things I would have loved to do in France, but was worried that along with the loss of money on our property I would lose the rest in a business venture destined to fail...was to open a vegetarian restaurant. I use alternative protein sources, mushroom protein, soya and seitan....hard enough to even get hold of in France (have never found seitan even online in France). I certainly know half a dozen vegetarians in our town...there must be lots I dont know, who are not catered for at all. My friend Magi manages to go to the Pizzeria in town and eat either a tomato and cheese pizza or have a truffle pasta....but nothing else in the other half a dozen eating houses..unless you count the ubiquitous omelette. Kenneth having had holidays in France for 25-30 years prior to moving over....we have found that the restaurants have been going downhill since the demise of Nouvelle Cuisine....a lot longer than the more recent economic crisis...though you could probably trace it back to the introduction of the Euro which made everything so much more expensive in all Euro using countries.

My personal belief is that the UK is much more outward looking...if you live on an island you will die if you look inwards. We took on ideas from all countries, were willing to embrace new tastes and never turned down a new experience. We started from a point of having few cuisine delicacies of our own, so had little to lose and much to gain. The French on the other hand have huge problems taking on new ideas. They like the status quo.....and so many people on SFN have voiced the fact they enjoy the laid back attitude of the French, and that of course includes the fact they are never looking to the new and not bothering to try out new things. There is a firm belief that the French do everything best, so why change. I had the experience of cooking for French friends...who could be seen to be nervous before eating...obviously believing anyone who was English was likely to serve them unedible was hugely amusing to see Monsieur take the first tiny tentative taste....consider....then raise his and nod enthusiastically to his wife....they cleared their plates. As most people have commented, the American style restaurants are hugely popular in France...McDonalds and Buffalo Grill have great businesses here.....they ignore closing times so doggedly followed by French businesses and are open from morning to late...and they benefit from all those customers who can find no where else to go.

France could be the first European country to build its way out of the present economic crisis, by changing their mindset, throwing off the dogma and looking forward. New businesses not hindered by endless red tape and stinging taxes, new restaurants with exciting new menus...and opening times that help those businesses rather than hinder. Sadly the dogma I fear will win....France will never admit they could do things better and thus a learning and enriching experience will never come to the endeth the lesson!

There a number of reasons why French restaurants are dying on their feet. Firstly French people are going out to eat less as they tighten their belts in the economic crisis. Secondly restaurants as a rule do not open between 14h00 and 19h00. Thirdly restaurants cannot have an extensive menu if numbers are falling due to the high cost of raw materials. As a fourth point, restaurants cater neither for vegetarians nor for vegetable lovers. Finally relying on regional dishes is an excellent strategy for bringing in tourists but makes for boring and repetitive menus.

We include ourselves in the “going out to eat less often” group but when we do go out, we are looking to escape the humdrum village life of the Ardennes for something a little more exciting than regional food. In one restaurant, our soup was enhanced by Ardennes ham and our main course included strips of Ardennes ham too. Another regional speciality, elevated to fine cuisine status, is a local flabby white sausage. (Boudin blanc) We cannot escape the Quiche Lorraine either which is one dish I have managed to cook for myself.

We agree with Kwashi Konu that the Flunch restaurants in Leclerc offer a good range of reasonably priced food as does the restaurant attached to Cora. We thoroughly enjoyed “Mijoté de Marcassin” with mashed potatoes and mixed green vegetables yesterday.

Travelling through France and enjoying the local regional dishes as suggested by Johnny Summerton is not very practical for most of us. We agree with Alexander Keith Watson that food in Lyon is excellent and have fond memories of finding an Indian restaurant on the banks of the river. Unfortunately choice in the Ardennes is limited and we are two hours drive away from Metz.

We agree with Carol Norwell about vegetarians in French restaurants. We gave a local restaurant a week’s notice that a vegetarian meal would be required. This would give them the time to come up with something out of the ordinary. To our embarrassement, we were offered a (rather expensive) plate of vegetables. On one occasion, I complained to my boss about the lack of vegetables on offer in restaurants – he replied that vegetables were not considered as “fine dining” and should be eaten at home.

We are with you, Carol and Christophe. If you oversleep on Sunday morning, where else can you eat in the middle of the afternoon but Buffalos? Our local restaurant offers good food at reasonable prices whenever we want to eat in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. At peak times, this very un-French restaurant is buzzing with the locals so in spite of their faults, they are doing something right.

Carol and Theo, sorry to butt in on this argument, and there are a lot of rights and wrongs in fisheries policy. The UK has had its waters reduced but after all they did include the entire sea around Ireland to within sight of people on shore, which has been reallocated to the middle of the Irish Sea and has lost the Atlantic to the west of Ireland. Germany and Denmark have almost no home water fishing rights. The former now needs to go into the Atlantic or Norwegian Sea whereas the latter still has the waters around Greenland. The Spanish fleet question is a moot point, they actually do fish illegally and pay the fines and then blaming their government or the EU is a blunt edged tool for hitting out with. No matter what the Spanish government says, the sizeable fleet still does what it wants. Rather than reading/hearing what are usually media versions that are half-informed and often rather 'nationalist' in essence, try reading FAO reports on the state of the Atlantic. EU treaties fall second in line to international treaties that all countries squabbling at present, including Spain and the UK, have signed. Get rid of those treaties then as fisheries experts have said, in less than a decade fish stocks will be so radically reduced that the oceans will be at risk of becoming filthy, swirling masses of toxic vegetation because there is no animal life left to consume it and hold its growth back. Fish depletion is horrendous, dumping rubbish in the deep water trench has made several species inedible. Anybody who eats any kind of tuna now is asking for trouble because of the cancer causing mercury build up in their systems. Somehow, they have developed a kind of resistance to it, store it and pass it on to predators - which includes us. Now, even fry, grayling, sardines, mackerel and so on that were very, very abundant and swam in great shoals that were often up to nearly 3000 sq metres volume are only found in shoals of a few hundred. territorial waters and allocated fishing grounds are all but totally depleted as it is. Shell fish are gradually becoming more and more a risk. The mussels off the SE and E England coastline are now relatively high in things like lead, asbestos trace, plastics and things we humans should not have in our bodies thank estuary tipping that finished up to 40 years ago now leeching into the sea. Langoustine and salmon off the Scottish coast and into the mouths of sea lochs are reasonably good, but look at the price of them. Nothing taken out of the Mediterranean, anywhere, should pass human lips. It is a frightening picture that is contributing to loss of valuable nutrients and several hundred thousand livelihoods in our hemisphere alone. I happen to love all of these things, really enjoy all sea food, but reading about them is frightening. I am probably too old to care, but if eat them my young children will eat them and am I contributing to their misery with stomach, liver or intestinal cancers later?

None of that is out of my head, it is taken from UN sources, especially the FAO, and a number of very serious environmental organisations, two of which I am a member. They do not propagandise things at all, that is what politician say to avoid having to admit they are delivering us facts and truth.

However, Carol, your point on vegetables is absolutely right. I too have vegan friends and see how they struggle to live up to the standards they set themselves. I also have friends who are vegetarians who do not eat fish, poultry or eggs but use dairy products down through the line to those who consume largely vegetable matter with fish and white meats. Some are French, one does not eat out because she feels she cannot. That must, as Carol is saying, change.

So maybe we need to start looking at eating more veg...something we have discussed frequently on this site... its a case of finding a restaurant that provides vegetarian food in the hinterlands of France.....vegetarianism isnt known or really accepted in France...and to be a vegan is only possible with a huge effort and an undertaking to either eat very simply or get some foods shipped in. You are right Theo that the world is going to have to start looking at more environmentally sound ways to feed itself....and veg is the way to go...France has plenty of green space to grow veg, it should be simple.

@ Carol, I know a good haddock or cod was always better on the "Island", its just no fish there anymore and the causes are known for over 30 years. Overfishing has started with "Buy one, get one for free..." Its a profit before preservation conflict of interests. Since the use of GPS every boat can be tracked. Its size, its positions, even weather-maps are being kept for 10 years. The questions are rather more on how we share food in the future and in chase of fishing industries, does take national law precedence over international law even in your own sovereign waters...

The EU is turning a blind eye on this with a high price to be paid when we will see Europe's last remaining coastline with intact sea-flora and - fauna being destroyed by such lack of regulations: Croatia is becoming next year EU member and Italian trawlers will come to their shores with their trawls despite the fact that fishing with trawls between Croatian islands and its entire coastline has never been allowed in history.

Veronique....I live or rather lived in Eymet...I am now back in the UK....the food we were offered in local restaurants was samey and poor...the beef...or steaks tough and chewy...beef not hung in improves with hanging and becomes tender and delicious. The Buffalo Grill serves meat that is toothsome and tender, however they cook it, I would rather eat tender meat at a reasonable price rather than overpriced chewy steaks that I end up spitting out.

Oh Theo....get real! have you any idea how much the Brits have given away in terms of fishing areas since joining the EU? The Spanish make hay and fish wherever they can, whenever they can...The Brits have been given smaller fishing rights than their French and Spanish neighbours...fishermen in Cornwall have all but given up the ghost...many have the right to fish for 9 hours a week! The Scottish Languastine is the king.....the mussels off the coast of Kent...specifically Whistable are second to none....the best scallops from Galicia....not France....the Brits are way too polite and do not prosecute the Spanish and French trawlers invading British dumping 21 tonnes of scallops is environmentally sound? I dont think so....if I wish to eat good seafood I will travel to Scotland or Spain....not really France...I have an apartment in the Languedoc and apart from Anchovies....I am hugely disappointed by the cost and quality of seafood in the area.

I want my scallops and not a comedy at sea!

Okay, a British trawler is free again. Illegally dredging scallops in French waters cost the fishermen 50.000 Euro. Last year British mussel digger said to have been surrounded and stoned by a French flotilla of 40 boats while attempting to snap a few scallops from beds off the port of Le Havre. The scared British fishermen called their government for help, to send the Royal Navy, to protect them. They had been fishing legally in international waters, - in the port of Le Havre.
Their French counterparts accuse them of regular intrusions into their territorial waters and undermining efforts to preserve stocks. The "Van Dijck" was the third British boat to have been detained and accused of illegal fishing in French waters. For now French authorities ordered the captain to dump all 21 tonnes of scallops on board, a catch worth hundreds of thousands of euros in the retail market. A judgment on whether the first boat to be detained did actually breach the rules is due on January 16. Till then its looking bleak for my scallops...

I went to the Bergerac BG once because we had a power cut & the children fancied it - never again - the table was filthy & the lacklustre slattern who showed us to it just dabbed at it in a desultory way after some time when I asked her nicely to do something about it - and the food was formulaic & dull (it comes in helping-size packets that they just open & cook, I know this because I've had pupils there doing work experience). But chacun son goût.

haha! we must be quite near you Christophe...we are in the Bergerac Buffalo our local...though in truth we dont usually eat there....its our travelling safe restaurant...Ive got to the stage where I wont stop at a hotel unless there is a Buffalo Grill within a mile or three! We are in France next weekend...Saturday pm to Tuesday we have a viewing on Monday and the house has been shut up for months..and we need to clean and heat we are likely to eat out rather than buy in probably will venture there on the Monday evening when everywhere else is closed!

I'm with you Carol on the Buffalo Grill experience, it really does stand out here in the hinterland. Consistently good, warm and friendly. I never hesitate. Certainly the Bergerac franchise has excellent staff, I've always found them very helpful and fun too! No confit de canard either, marvellous, however during the Xmas period I noticed, disappointingly, that they were serving a slab of foie gras (so wrong) on top of one of their steaks.

We have found the waiting staff here (London) pretty good....polite and well trained most of the time....certainly not like the Paris experience. Locally the waiters are very good (Newbury)...and the more expensive the restaurant, usually the better the staff. Funny favourite chain of restaurants in France is Buffalo Grill....we eat there whenever we are travelling through France and probably have eaten in these places over 60 times...staff are always polite, helpful, smiling and a delight. The food (we love meat) is reliably tasty...the beef and buffalo lean and tender..and the prices excellent.

If anybody can afford it, the place to eat in Europe now is London. What puts the dampers on that too often is miserable waiters/resses but where they are good, they can be brilliant. It is the only thing, apart from visiting my sister and a few friends, I ever go there for. Bit far for an evening out if you live in SW France. So we take turns cooking and enjoy what we make and eat.

But eating out should be a "total" experience, not solely about the food. It's a night out. Life get tedious don't it, always eating in at home. I've had some very average meals out but had a super time because of the ambience/staff. Not only is the food decidedly average/poor the ambience here in this mythical land is non existent for the most part.

@Bruce-totally with you on that. I am so often disappointed, that we know opt for "good food, simply cooked" at home.

This means I don't spend hours slaving over a hot stove, and we eat very, very, well.

Simple good of a good standard is hard to beat.

doesn't anybody cook anymore? Over the years, Stella and I have returned, so many times, from dining out, saying that we can cook better, so we now normally do. Here in Mauritius, we went out to a restaurant only last night and vowed we wouldn't go again to consume ubiquitous tourist food.

home made fish curry, local veg and rotis tonight!