Le Dejeuner Francais
December 03, 2011
Le Dejeuner Francais
The French are having a problem with lunch.
This is a meal which still truly exists in France- unlike in Ireland where it has virtually disappeared.
If I remember back to my youth in Cork it was the mad rush home every lunchtime from school to eat ( my mother was a great caterer ) soup , meat and two veg , and a pudding , this was called dinner , not lunch , because it was the main meal of the day.
At six o clock , or thereabouts, one had ones "tea " usually in winter, a rasher and egg , in summer , the leaf of lettuce, slice of ham and beetroot we called a salad.
(You then filled up with sliced pan , butter and jam)
Now we all know that the northern hemisphere has shifted its main meal from midday to the evening , dinner is now eaten at seven o clock or even eight and the miserable midday meal has been reduced to a snack ; a bowl of soup and a sandwich or even a scrappy biscuit and apple at the office desk.
The French, sensibly, are finding it much more difficult to banish lunch from their lives . The quick sandwich option does exist but is not popular , the three course lunch is still the favourite.
Workmen tied to a site during lunch will often be seen disappearing at 12.00 to their cars and returning to the site with a cool box full of good things to eat and drink (yes! alcohol is not considered taboo at midday)
This of course provides a problem for the restaurateur as they are expected to produce a three course meal of both substance and quality for all comers between 12 and 2.00.
Lunch is one of the great bargains of France , often priced between €10 and €15 or even less , you will get starter , main course and dessert sometimes even a glass of wine. (people holidaying in France on the cheap should note this well )
Interestingly we have noticed a new compromise which is insinuating itself into restaurants in our area.
This is called L'Assiete Gourmandise or the like , what it consists of is a whole lunch , all the courses , but served on the one plate .
And believe it or not I think this French compromise works excellently.
Yesterday Síle and I were Christmas shopping in Beziers and decided to have lunch in Le Patio , this is a smart restaurant in the middle price range.
We went for the Assiette Gourmandse.
This cost €15.50 per head and was described rather baldly as ; a green salad, a piece of grilled fish or beef, cheese and a mini dessert , with either a glass of wine or coffee.
It turned out to be rather more impressive than its description.
My large plate contained a little glass of excellent Gaspacho, a well dressed lettuce salad with little slivers of smoked duck , a bavette steak of beef cooked perfectly saignant as requested , a large chunk of St Paulin Cheese and a little Verrine (the French adore serving things in little glasses ) of Chocolate Mousse.
At the same time we were served a basket of bread and a glass each of wine.
Sile, who had gone for the grilled fish , was given a scattering of slivers of smoked salmon on her salad and a piece of barely cooked salmon, otherwise her plate was identical to mine.
The significant thing was that in this , maybe 40 seater restaurant , all the serving was done by one waitress , most likely the proprietor , with her husband the chef working alone in the kitchen.
They were able to produce a good quality meal for that price by economies on the wage bill rather than the food costs.
I must say at this stage that the (very large ) plate was not a mess or hodge podge of ingredients despite the amount it contained , also it allowed you to graze rather than eat each course strictly as it came - I ended up eating most of my lettuce with my cheese.
This is not the first time we have been offered this solution to the French Lunch , sometimes special plates are offered, rather in the Japanese style , with separate compartments for each course- a rather nice refinement.
I think this gives another example of the French attachment to the table , and the proper meal . They are making compromises it is true but I prefer their compromises to those practiced elsewhere.