Troisgros style, cafe prices

This article was also published in the Financial Times. No sooner had I walked through the door of Le Central, the café/épicerie operated by Michel and Marie-Pierre Troisgros in Roanne, south-east France, than I was relieved of my suitcase by their long-standing maître d’, Patrice Laurent. We exchanged handshakes and pleasantries before he informed me, with a touch of regret, that my guest was running 15–20 minutes late. Excellent, I thought to myself. Now I can spend some time exploring just why this is one of my favourite restaurants in…






Francophilia; more of it please

Francophilia; more of it please – 2005 While I was enjoying a stunning first course comprising a pile of white crab meat with the brown meat pureed with a touch of lemon juice, toast and salmon roe at Racine, London SW3 on a cold Wednesday in January, their reservation line rang with someone trying to book a table for the coming Saturday evening. “Certainly, sir, “replied the French maitre d’ politely “but I’m afraid that I only have tables available at 6pm or 10pm.” When I subsequently spoke to Henry…






The future state of French food

The future state of French food – 2002 Dear President Chirac, Newspaper articles probably rarely cross your desk but two recent reports – one from a very widely read British national, the other carried by many French regional papers – go so directly to the heart of everything that France stands for, particularly abroad, that I would like to bring them to your attention. The first, in The Daily Telegraph, argued strongly that eating out in France is no longer as exciting as it once was. Although this sentiment has…






Marseille and the perfect bouillabaisse

Marseille and the perfect bouillabaisse – 2005 Tracking down the most authentic bouillabaisse, that rich, garlicky fish stew which Marseille has so thoughtfully bequeathed to the world, was my original pretext for visiting the city. But no sooner had I arrived that I was enthralled by its history. The impressive Bourse, now doubling as a Marine Museum; the brief ferry across the harbour – where the fishermen sell their catch every morning – named Caesar (although the city backed losing Pompey a couple of thousand years ago); and a mobile…






Oustaù de Baumanière

Oustaù de Baumanière Here are three invaluable rules on how to eat outside when the mistral, the wind which whistles down the Rhône valley in southern France, is in full swing: 1. hold on tight to your menu and wine list, 2. make sure your water and wine glasses are at least half full for ballast, and 3. don’t be surprised if, just as the waiter is about to serve you, he whips the plate back to the kitchen because the wind has blown away an essential ingredient and it…






La Pyramide, Vienne

La Pyramide, Vienne – 2003 My parents arrived at Ferdinand Point’s Pyramide, a world famous staging post on the great drive south, at 11pm one night in 1949, exhausted by a long day’s battle with Routes Nationales. After a morning’s work in London, we flew Ryanair to St Etienne and arrived in time for a stroll round Vienne before dinner. During the meal I kept closing my eyes trying to imagine how much had changed. The garden would have given off the same heady smells of the hot Northern Rhône;…






Beaune, Burgundy

Beaune, Burgundy – 2009 Beaune, the best-preserved town in Burgundy in eastern France, is the country’s fifth most visited city and it is easy to see its attractions. The ramparts; the narrow, cobbled streets; and the magnificently tiled roofs of its many medieval buildings continue to give the illusion that it is still a dukedom. Its restaurants, however, have been changing much more quickly – although what is so different now, as the city embarks on the busiest three months of the year between the start of the wine harvest…






Why French isn’t sexy

Why French isn’t sexy – 2010 In conversation with Pascal Aussignac, the chef/proprietor of Club Gascon in London’s Smithfield, I was amazed to hear him utter a phrase that I never thought I would hear from a Frenchman. ‘The problem is, Nick, that we French just can’t do sexy.’ He was not, of course, referring to the French nation as a whole but to the fact that French chefs are no longer considered to be the most admired or respected. In any world poll, the best French chefs lag behind…






Auberge in the Auvergne

Auberge de Chasignolles – 2009 Auberge de Chassignolles, set in the tiny village of Chassignolles 1,000 m above sea level in the Auvergne, central France, has belonged to chef/proprietor Harry Lester and Ali Johnson for the past three years. They now live in this tiny village with their small children – and all because Lester called into Leila’s, a well-known food shop in the City of London. Ahead of him was Sally Potter, a British film producer with a holiday home in Chassignolles, who was asking the shopkeeper whether she…






The strange emergence of Buffalo Grill

The strange emergence of Buffalo Grill – 2001 The sight of dozens of French families sitting round restaurant tables is not in itself surprising. But in this instance, and at another 239 locations around the country, there were significant differences from the decades-old image of la belle France. Above each table was an umbrella shouting Coca-Cola. There was hardly a bottle of wine in sight. Nor was there any menu as everyone ordered from a paper table mat that doubled as the menu. The waitresses, sporting short denim skirts and…