Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dieppe in April 2007

A dead calm sea outside.
A clear blue sky above it.
Evening sunshine pouring on to us through large windows.
A picnic of paté and mixed cheeses carried to our seats from the canteen.
A bottle of fine South African red wine, brought from England.
What a lovely way to travel.
All right, there was an accident on the M25 in England that held us up, and road works near New Haven that did the same. But we had allowed plenty of time to drive to the coast from London. So a journey usually of 1 1/2 hours took 2. So What. We were on our way to eat, drink, and buy wine and food in La Belle France.
Before we docked in Dieppe, the orange sun sank slowly beneath the horizon, shortening its line of reflection on the calm, blue-to-purple sea as it went.
Then the evening sky, dark blue above, graded its colours downward through pale blue to pale mauve, to darker mauve, and finally to the deepest sea-blue beside the ferry.
Only shore lights, squeezing through delicately coloured haze, signalled that we were near to France. Then came the silhouette of cliffs, ship-guiding lights, the barely floodlit castle, and finally the harbour.
The boat was late in arriving – a not unusual case. So the town and its inhabitants had mostly settled in for the night. The brasserie Tout va Bien contained a few late diners, finishing their meal with crème brûlée and ice cream. We sat there briefly for a night-cap before retiring to our usual room in the Aguado.
For a short stay in Dieppe our actions seem to have become almost ritualistic. After morning coffee we buy French wine at the Auchan supermarket. The choice there is huge, so I aim for a wine of good value that has been aged in oak barrels (fut en chêne). If you can find an assistant to guide you, so much the quicker. We may buy food there, too. Then on we go to a Lidl supermarket. Being a German concern, they offer not just French wine but Australian, Chilean and South African as well. Their prices are remarkably modest, and the quality surprisingly high, when considering that much of their wine has been bulk-imported into Germany and bottled there.
Then, with our main job achieved, we may lunch at the Rouen, take a snooze, and dine at the Victoire. At the latter we always eat fish (carrelet – plaice) and shellfish (moules and scallops when in season). And their cidre bouchée is excellent.
Then, for the second night running we watched the red sun sink over the horizon of sea, but now through a little mist, or vapour, lying close above the surface of the water.
After a little shopping around the wonderful Saturday market we chose to eat (having already booked) at a new restaurant to us, Les Voiles d’Or, high on the cliffs above the port.
The route we mistakenly chose to climb turned out to be more suitable for mountain goats, when steps were available close by.
We arrived early, so were able to investigate that most visible of churches perched high above the harbour and looking almost as it might fall down into the water beneath. Some brightly-coloured brickwork outside indicated that it might have been built around the turn of the 19th to 20th century. And there inside were splendid art deco stained glass windows allowing masses of coloured light to enter and illuminate lots of small stone plaques commemorating sailors and civilians lost at sea.
Food at the restaurant was certainly a cut above our normal fare, with a set menu consisting of what was good and available at the time, with wine thrown in. The scallops. grilled and still attached to their shells were memorable. But a hot fruit salad swimming in zabaglione, topped with raspberry sorbet-filled ginger-snaps was a little over doing the dessert.
I think that a pastis is a good aperitif with which to stimulate the appetite. And so did six rather rotund French men and women who came to sit next to us at the Victoire.
Pastis is fairly high in alcohol, and is offered in generous measure by the patron of the restaurant. So, after the first round, we were quite surprised to see him arrive at their table to pour them all another good measure. We had never noticed others ever starting with a second glass of pastis. So we were even more surprised when the owner appeared a third time with the pastis bottle. The now jolly diners might well have consumed almost a litre of the stuff before their food started to arrive.
Our break over, we returned to England over a calm sea, and to a country where the custom of enjoying even one aperitif is fairly unusual.