It seems that no matter where one roams, we Brits still hanker for the taste of home. And although for each one of us those tastes may vary, the sum of hankering adds up to a general yearning which cannot be denied. And so it came about that somewhere in the depths of rural France, in a village so small and insignificant that it does not register on the GPS navigation built into our very modern rental car, we came across the British Market Stall. Within the rather unprepossessing walls of what was apparently once a barn attached to a large house are shelves stacked and stocked with all the goodies for which British palates yearn.
Thus, our astonished gaze encountered extensive supplies of genuine Heinz Beanz (spelt thusly on the sky-blue tins), Birds’ custard powder, cream crackers, genuine Scottish shortbread, as well as fruit cakes (both with and without icing), and an enormous fridge stocked with classic British cheeses, sausages, and many other goodies. You can even find genuine curry powder, as the curry has become the staple food of most of the British population, as well as digestive biscuits, Hobnobs, and many other items intended to delight the expat Brit in self-imposed exile in the alien fields of France.
The welcoming owners, Cris and Andy, who also run a gite (self-catering B&B), do a weekly run in their truck to the UK to stock up on all the foodstuffs which their customers crave, and are even prepared to try to meet any special request that may be presented to them. Just to enter their establishment and encounter one’s compatriots and hear the accents of ‘home’ is an enjoyable and heart-warming experience in itself.
Most mornings, in order to buy the fresh baguette which is an indispensable part of our French breakfast, we have no choice but to drive to the next village, some ten kilometers away, and frequent the local boulangerie-patisserie, where baguettes are ranged in rows and an eye-watering assortment of little cakes lurks beneath the glass-fronted counter. But at the entrance to this village one is confronted by a large and rather imposing statue of a sphinx. No, we’re not back in Egypt, but rather passing the studio of a local sculptor. Nonetheless, it is at first startling but then almost reassuring to find this echo of the ancient past guarding the entrance to a French village. Whatever next? one wonders. By now we have become accustomed to the sight, but it did come as something of a shock on our first sighting of it.
Since France is the country of culinary delights, it is incumbent on anyone staying for any period of time in the country to partake of its delicacies. Our excursions to local restaurants generally provide us with a reasonably-priced but not very exciting ‘plat du jour’ which, while enjoyable, does little to titillate the senses. This was not the case, however, when we ventured a little further afield, to a restaurant called ‘Le Viaduc.’
Set in wooded hills and overlooking the viaduct built in the 1890s by none other than M.Eiffel himself, the restaurant is a very different proposition from the run-of-the-mill eating establishments to be found in the region. Simply to enter the restaurant is to experience an aesthetic shock, with flower arrangements on the tables, and a spectacular view from the panoramic windows of the wooded hills and the viaduct, on which a train still runs daily. The tables are set with loving care and even each course of the ‘menu du jour’ is an aesthetic as well as a culinary delight. The ‘pièce de resistance’ was the dessert, which combined a tartelette bedecked with seasonal fruits and a delicate strawberry sorbet, all arranged on a plate which in itself constituted an artistic achievement. It seemed a shame to eat it, but it certainly was delicious.