Thursday, November 09, 2006

Dieppe No.2. Eating

I do not believe that you can eat cheaply in France, but it is for certain that you can eat very well cheaply. And all the talk about the decline of gastronomy in France is idle talk.

We continue to eat very well in Dieppe because we know where to go.

A few restaurants of old have closed, some have opened (unlike the clothes shops that have burgeoned and upgraded).

For the most part, our favourite eating places remain, with children taking over from parents - as it should be in France and as is the case with our hotel, where the grandfather of the present granddaughter, who runs it, was the first of his family to greet me when the place was being built shortly after the war.

Our favourite eating haunts are decidedly downmarket. One caters for, it seems, old friends and an occasional passer-by. The other, which, thankfuly, has a young son to take over, has as its lunchtime clientèle, teachers, office workers and policemen.

Here the noisy patron greets you from the kitchen or bar with his loud voice and hearty handshake. His wife, charming and mouselike, goes about her business in her own time, eventually taking your order, then eventually delivering the ordered drinks (when one is now very thirsty), and finally coming with the excellent fare - by which time much of the drink has disappeared down the gullet. I suppose that the Americans would call that good business practice, but it is her natural way and the leasurely style of the place.

The nice part about both of these favourite places of ours is that the food is absolutely traditional French. There is no pretence of originality or innovation. You know pretty well what will be on the menu and know what the food that you have ordered will be like.

One hears that places like these are becoming harder to find elsewhere in France - I hope not.

When rumour had it that one of these two restaurants was to close we were crestfallen. But it was only rumour, an unfounded rumour at that.

At one of these two places we eat plaice that has been dusted in the lightest of batter (if you can dust batter) and served with pommes frites. We would be foolish to eat all these delicious chips, for it ruins our apetite for further food. As the first course I choose macqueraux mariné of a mackeral soused, or cooked slowly in a vinagary solution, with a few onion and carrot slices.

Madame's very chocolatey mousse rounds off the meal beautifully. For drinks, the Alsace white and Cotes du Rhone red in pichets are both excellent, but there have been changes in the marques of cider. For years it was akin to champagne, if not better. Then the supplier went out of business and the patron made do with a much inferior brand. Now things are better, but the new variety of this regional and sparkling draught is not quite as good as the original one. So items do change over the years, but not much.

We eat at a much smarter place because we have known the family who have run the restaurant for years, and we like them.

The cuisine went downhill for a while, but a new chef has restored the quality of food once more.

In French restaurants we seldom drink anything but carafe or pichet wine because the mark-up with wine in bottle, though not quite as exhorbitant as in England, is too great, and the wine sometimes not as good as anticipated.

One enormous advantage when eating in France is that tax and tip are included in the bill, with only small change being left as a gesture. This does make paying far less troublesome.

For part 3 of Dieppe I will write (possibly in two sections) on its people.