If you react poorly to decadence and over (self) indulgence, look away now.
Best. Meal. Ever.
It’s around an hour, due east by car from Toulouse to the town of Castres. We’re in town to see some dear friends and – unbeknownst to birthday gal G – dinner is booked for Friday night. It is announced mid afternoon that we need to be ready for 6.30 for a drinkie before we head out. G all excited. Many out of ten for a nice little surprise.
We have previous’ with Michelin star chef Simon Scott and the lovely Marie-Helene. I’ve barbecued for them, I’ve played sax to diners at their previous restaurant and we took G out for birthday dinner with them on the occasion of her forteith. So when we step through the door of the restaurant – Bistrot Saveurs – it is nice to see a friendly face or three. Simon emerges from the kitchen looking chilled and on the case in funky chef whites.
Knowing the form here makes for a very, very relaxed evening. It works like this: you book, you arrive, you have a glass of something deliciously fizzy and you eat what is put in front of you. Menus? Menus are for wimps. This is – en francais – menu et vins Surprise.
So, as you relax with conversation, the first course arrives. Since I do not take photos of my dinner – even if I did I certainly wouldn’t put them online – you’ll have to pop on your imagining hat, picture-this glasses and ready your yum-yum virtual tastebuds. Aside from being giddy at seeing our friends for the first time in ages, we’d tickled a cocktail or two and watched the BBC Masterchef final the prior evening. IE: we’re in optimum mode to enjoy a foodie thrill ride.
A slender board turns up with savoury macaroons, risotto balls and nut-encrusted foie gras lolly-pops. Oohs and ahhs are issued. (The only other time I ooh and ahh is at a fireworks display. There are some parallels I guess.) Perfect teeny mouthfuls of each. I almost burst into tears when I taste my first morsel. Them’s tears o’joy so delightful is the taste, texture and satisfying decadence of each bite. Oohs, ahhs and now mmms. Especially when the test-tubes of cucmber gaspacho reveal their salty chilli finish.
Presently a glass bowl is placed in front of each of us. An amuse bouche of a oh-so-light mushroom soup with tempura escargot and a quail egg. Delicate, flavoursome and mind bogglingly right. How do they do that? Calmly and precisely as it happens. We can see into the kitchen just across from our table. The staff work with scientific, graceful, passionate pace. Not a cross word, nary a flustered moment. Here’s a team at the top of their game. After all, they won (renewed) a Michelin star just a month ago. That’s not by chance nor the work of a moment.
I couldn’t tell you what wine we had with which course and it wasn’t the kind of evening to make written notes. All I can say is that they were perfectly judged and delicious. From sweet to crisp, smooth and chilled, rich and velvety. It was all there. We must have put a fair bit away, glass by splendid glass. [Hic]
The next course was a thin fillet of skin-on red snapper on a bed of oh-so-lightly curried squid risotto with squid-ink sauce on the plate. It was hearty and satisfying without being filling. J&R had warned us off consuming all the wonderful kitchen made bread that was available. So we had a little nibble on chunks employed to mop up way-too-good-to-leave sauce.
At this point in walks Scottish international egg-chaser Ritchie Grey. He is six-feet-million tall with mental blonde locks. I guess no one can reach that altitude to cut/comb it. As he ducks under the door frame I completely fail to notice his gorgeous leggy girlfriend. Our hosts tell us that he is in town to sign for Castres for the 2103/14 season. Simon gets all the rugby players in here apparently. I assume he didn’t fly Sleazyjet as at 5’11” I can’t get my legs arranged comfortably.
Next a slate arrives with teeny fried foie gras on a chutney with some beets and teeny veg with a hollow crispy shell roll, teeny peas shoots, fresh garlic flowers. By this stage, the French descriptions were washing over my head and I was freewheeling on the sights, smells and tastes of everything that came my way. So it’s likely that I have forgotten at least one course entirely.
Now a little pallette cleanser. A glass of iced shavings of a local flowering plant. Between all of us and the staff we couldn’t muster and English translation. It was subtle, refreshing and had a tang of, er, um, toilet cleaner. Around the table there was a hiatus whilst we grappled with terms to describe what we were experiencing. It was a bit of relief to discover that my dining chums all felt the same way. J intoned to Simon – in a none to subtle stage whisper to the open kitchen – that this was a dish best left on the mountain meadows. It takes a brave man to insult a Michelin chef in his own kitchen during service.
Now it’s time for the main course. It’s a melt in-the-mouth veal steak with the lightest of veg and rich sauce. With a glass of scrumpotuous red we’re unanimous that it’s a triumph. Exactly like meat and two veg at school dinners. No, not at all like that. Really, a million miles from that.
Just when you think there can’t be any more courses it’s time for the fromage! Slither of twelvety cheeses tempt and tease. Stonking Roqefort, goats cheese with a little local honey, a sheep’s cheese or two and a glass of rich, rich red.
Who could wish for more? Oh, wait. Dessert.
From right to left it’s a chocolate bombe with a delicious oozing core to the (with sheeps milk ice cream), a teeny fruits exotique tarte front and centre and to the left a rhubarb souffle hovering over fresh strawberries in a delicate sweet syrup spiked with basil leaves. Gilly’s with a single candle so we could massacre “Joyeux Anniversaire” for her birthday. Where’s that glass of port? Ah, there it is.
Are we done? No.
Why it’s coffee and sweets. And what sweets! A teensy banana doughnut, a sweet macaroon and chocolate ganache lollipop.
We arrived at 7.30 then ate and chatted. So when we stood up to leave it was something of a surprise to note it was almost midnight. I am still embarrased at the lack of fight I put up when our friends insisted on treating us. Again! (I will scheme and find some way of getting them back…)
It’s a strong contender for best meal ever. But then it strikes me that the others in the top five are all with the same friends. Magic.
Lucky, lucky us.