Gastronomic xenophobes

So, apart from the food being the obvious reason for eating out, it's about the total experience too. It would seem many independent French restaurants appear to be completely unconcerned about this. In winter many are cold and unwelcoming, (I've even had to eat still wearing my coat!) and this applies to the staff too, of which there are never enough. Service is poor, slow and sometimes downright inhospitable.

I have found the chain franchises sometimes the better option if you like to dine in a warmer, cleaner and more up to date environment with usually enough "trained" staff, and although predictable the food is at least consistent. UK friends and clients alike, who visit during summer months after a just a few days often remark on the whole eating out shambles. "no one comes to France for the food any more, why would you?" I say give thanks for the warmer climate, for without that what the hell are we all doing here?

Brian couldnt agree more re: veg....vegetables are rarely served as more than plate decoration...and nothing exciting is done with veg. I have several veggie and vegan friends and family and one of my interests is cooking for vegans and veggies. In our village when a barbeque was held, our vegetarian friend queried what was on offer for veggies.....and was told....our vegetarians are tending towards the chicken option.....! my brother and sister in law were offered omelettes at every restaurant as the only option in St Cyprien, Languedoc... Last night we saw Life of Pi at our local Corn Exchange in Newbury....Gerard Depardeiu plays the chef on board a Japanese container ship...when told one of the passengers is vegetarian, he takes the plate of liver and sausage and perches a floret of parsley on the top of the plate...that pretty much is the attitude of most restaurants outside of large cities in France.

hi Christophe,

i agree with you...with the explosion of food programs on tV the british have changed the way we cook and view food...we have become simpley better and more adventurous .Apart from the french destination restaurants we feel the same away down here in the Haute Pyrenees....

Have to agree on this one, France is soooo parochial in it's approach. It's even worse when your OH is French too - I'm force fed SW French cooking non stop. And to make matters worse, all the in-laws are local farmers who insist on their veau d'aveyron or poultry from the farm, home made foie gras etc. there again, if I'd settled in Italy it would have been just the same but I wouldn't have complained so much as I prefer italian cuisine !

Ah yes Carol, the ubiquitous confit de canard. I am not sure what it is all about. I enjoy eating duck. But why in virtually the whole of this part of France, that same mummified bit of leg offered as a local delicacy. A delicacy is something special and different, not the standard dry, usually tasteless fare at the vast majority of restaurants. Also, given how much people grow their own fabulous vegetables, given the wide range of vegetable preparations and dishes are vegetables so rarely offered as part of a dish in so many places. Indeed, vegetarian and vegetable based dishes are generally totally absent. It all seems such a contradiction in terms. Given what good cooks many people are, at least those who are not part of the rush to buy vast heaps of prepared stuff for the freezer, why do people bother to go out to eat anyway when the menus at home are better than those out?

Donna I think one of the problems is that although the visitors may be charmed by the inevitable foie gras and confit Duck.....if you live in a village with 5 restaurants all offering the same menu's it gets a tad the Dordogne nearly every restaurant offers those dishes....and most French towns manage a pizzeria....the thing is to keep a restaurant fresh and attractive to the people who live there year have to make an effort to introduce some new dishes....we have all but given up eating out locally in France...but do tend to make the most of eating out when in our UK flat.

I couldn’t agree with you more Christophe.My husband and myself were only having the same conversation recently how stagnent the restaurants have become in many areas.
An example,the display menus outside their restaurants are the same menus we were looking at 4 years ago?
We understand regional cuisine,it’ more to do with not moving forward and having some variety.
I hate to say it but the food revival in the UK has become more interesting than France.

I think that Alexander, Johnny and Brian have made some very good points. It's hard for restaurants to survive today, the raw materials cost more and more. I don't expect a little regional restaurant to offer anything more than its regional specialities, and I'd rather see two dishes on the menu that are homemade than a large and varied menu, like the kind that big chain restaurants offer. There is good and bad cuisine to be found both in small towns and large cosmopolitan cities. Some of my most memorable meals were at "les routiers" (truck stops). I've had some of the best and worst meals in Paris, and have found food heaven in and around Lyon. France is a huge country with many different regions and cuisines, but we don't have the privilege of dining in each of them in any given week or month.

Certainly in Dijon and around the Morvan what you say is not the case. There are indeed lots of places doing traditional local stuff (oeuds meurette, etc.) but also a lot of modernising restaurants. I recently had a Christmas meal including foie gras, salmon, deer, a cheese course and dessert and some bubbly thrown in at the end by the boss of the place (Le Jacquemart in Dijon, which is more of a bar than a restaurant) for only €17 -- I was STUNNED! Basic and tasty three-course meals for €10 or €12 out in the country -- that is fairly unbeatable, certainly cheapissimo compared to prices in Dublin when I was there during the boom years.

The UK is brilliant now. I remember how it was in the 1960s when even Indian restaurants were few and far between and only the typical Brit-Indian curry, madras or vindaloo menu was available and Chinese restaurants were still the peak of exotic. For a single country's food I truly love regional Italian food which is remarkably varied from very Germanic up north to very Arabic/Levantine at the bottom. We can pop over the border from my wife's home town and depending on whether we turn left or right on the way to Milan, which is less than an hour, we can find two different regional styles. Take me to Toscana and I am in gastro-heaven, even if service is often very Fawlty Towers-ish. It used to be the case that France was the tops and, as said earlier, some regional food is fabulous but it has very much stood still as Charlotte says. That is a pity because with such a long tradition, a bit of innovation and they'll be sailing again.

i think the french have stood still. when compared to the poor quality of food on offer (in general) in the uk a couple of decades ago, or more, the french alternative seemed great. the snooty, if not downright rude, service always feels like a bit of a novelty when you are on holiday too and something to be laughed about. the brits though have seriously upped their game when it comes to eating out and the average uk eatery outstrips the average french equivalent any day. the french are arrogant and refuse to accept that they need to up their game too. sneering at the brits is so instinctive they don't realise that they have nothing left to sneer at. i went to paris recently and the best food i had was in a laotian restaurant. the best service was there and in an american diner where we had breakfast one morning.

Glad I opened this can of worms, very tasty.

Actually "torro" is not bad, but always? All year around? Well bad are only these chickpeas. Or really, really very bad these filled bowel with guts: "saucisse Lyon". I hesitate when I hear "specialty".

Still, here in Uzes are plenty of restaurants open from 1200 to 1400 and then from 1900. This time limitation bothers me a lot more, after all, France is the land of good food. Yes, in terms of versatility, international cuisine, was never particularly great. There is even in a suburb of Coventry more to find. Here for the regional cuisine is almost all fresh and restaurants are good with fairly good pricing as well. I only add a few Euro to the "ticket.

Paris is not any better just more expensive, but then, there is the M & S shop. And curry or Chinese is cooked at home, very much to the delight of our French friends. I think it is more a problem that prices are on their edge. They have been quite high and the caterers were able to buy their Range Rovers or Mercedes which they no longer want to miss, so they save a bit on the wrong end of their buzz. In the UK, Services have a higher priority not a syndicate.

There were times in the 80s when a tasting menu in France was something to be savoured. However, I am now looking forward to the following £40 12 course tasting menu in Central London

An Inverno garden martini on arrival


Sloe gin-cured Scottish salmon

Fried Halkidiki olives stuffed with spiced pork
Garlic aioli

Devon crab cakes
Garlic yoghurt sauce, baby mustard frills

Smoked cauliflower
Mascarpone, smoked table side

Sauteed padron peppers
Sherry vinegar reduction, orange

Scottish rib eye steak
Talisker sauce

Crispy old spot pork belly & Brussels sprouts
Pear emulsion, grapes, chives

Orange cake
Chocolate ganache, crème fraiche

Ice creams & sorbets
Homemade cookies

Well said and yes....I agree and think you are right....we used to love eating out in France in the 80's and 90's. The UK then had little in the way of great restaurants. Not even the most modest town ( I live in a market town in Berkshire) we have around 14 restaurants...including Indian, Chinese, Thai, Spanish, Lebanese, French, Italian, Nepalese, Mexican and South well as the usual fish and chips, burger bars, chicken bars, snack bars (again several nationalities including a Portuguese coffee bar) Pizza and Nando's. You would never be stuck for somewhere to eat. At the top end of the scale we have 7 superb restaurants within 30 minutes drive including a couple with Michelin stars, Le Manoir aux QuatSaisons - Raymond Blancs two Michelin star restaurant, The Vineyard at Stockcross with top Chef Daniel Galmiche, the award winning Crab at Chievely, Marco Pierre Whites Carnarvon Arms at Burghclere, The Red House at Kintbury and the The Pot Kiln, Yattendon. We have a superb theatre and restaurant at The Watermill in Bagnor. I can honestly say we have had two meals in the 3 years we have lived in France that were truly worth the money and were absolutely enjoyable...the vast majority were same old, same old.....France seems to be content with churning out the same classics for ever, no problem with that...but a need to liven up menu's and offer new dishes alongside is a requirement for any restaurant. Who would have thought that living in a market town in England would provide better food than I could get in the Dordogne.

@ Alexander, you live near Lyon, the home of French gastronomy and a large International city. We live in Southern Burgundy and we are sick of snails, boeuf bourbon one and the same menu all the time. We have a fairly new restaurant which does interesting food T reasonable prices and which is very well patronised. A lesson to many others.

I find the best places to eat in France are the self-service restaurants in Leclerc or Hyper U ; the food is reasonable, you can see exactly what you are getting, and therefore no surprises.

I totally agree with you Christophe. Much that passes for food in restaurants these days is industrially-prepared vacuum-packed muck. I am often disappointed too, but have found some places that serve real food at reasonable prices too, so tend to go to them rather than face disappointment.

When I was eating out a lot in Bath recently I was amazed at the quality of the food, the prices and the sheer variety on offer. Likewise in Romford last week I ate amazingly well for £8.99 in a Brazilian restaurant called Braza.

Variety is the spice of life even if regional specialities are important.

as formerly a visitor to France both in the charente and dordogne regions for the last 7 years and now home owner in the deux sevres we have rarely been disappointed with our meals out. In the Dordogne we stayed in St Marcel du Perigord and in the hamlet there is a michelin mentioned restaurant owned by a French chef and his english wife - fab food and then on the road to St alvere there is a restaurant called Le Sechoir which serves fantastic food even if the menu doesn't change. Now we have our house in premorin near chef boutonne we visit a lovely restaurant bar in Longes (Le Canton) and its superb food and value for money with excellent service. The owner, bless him, even puts up with my french :).

I concur with Johnny and Alexander. I shall add that where we live there are very few restaurants I would go out of my way to visit, even the one with a bevy of stars has failed to impress. However, in other regions there is tucker I would go on my knees to have locally. It may simply be, Christophe, that where you are is a dead patch like here. Apart from that, friends with restaurants, one of them near folding, say that custom has gone down so much that they can no longer afford to put up menus like they did three or four years ago. The raw materials, cooking fuel and where they have to employ anybody, crockery, utensils and everything else all costs a lot more and if they have less custom then ends do not meet. Go to a large town and the whole landscape changes, even over the last couple of years there appears to be a broader range of tastes catered for.