One thing I have learnt this year about the French is that they like their lunchtimes. Trying to see any administrative person at 11.30 is like trying to drink water from a sieve: disappointing. You need to get out your book and wait until 1.30 – more likely fifteen minutes after that – until they are dined and dusted. Although there has been a slight change in lunching habits, as the American/British desk lunch creeps over to other countries resulting in pre-prepared sandwiches, lunch still tends to be the biggest meal of the day. Hordes of French people descend upon cafés to take advantage of their formules – more glamorous versions of meal deals involving fresh salads and classic desserts.
For those who may be interested I used to have a stonking great lunch at my secondary school. Edging towards the classroom door at 28 minutes past 12, the second the bell rang a rampage of navy blue blazers flapped its way to the canteen, trying to blag our way into the canteen despite it being blaringly obvious we weren’t year sevens. I know canteen lunches have pretty poor reputations, I loved mine. It warmed me up and gave me energy for the rest of the day. Lasagne, pies, roast dinners, fish and chips, there was always something I would enjoy. And then crumble, or sponge, bathed in delicious creamy custard. It was a tragedy when the one-ladle rule came in for that ambrosia.
Now that I’ve lost myself in a nostalgia of watery vegetables and pizza-for-break, I remember how great it was to have a long lunch. It might not be the most practical way to spend the working day, but I think it would help stretch the mind out a little.
When my mum came to visit me last week, I had one thing on my mind. She was going to try a salad. At lunch. My mum is a notorious leaf eater. She goes through countless boxes of rocket a week, and is known to eat a tomato like an apple. I thought that if anyone would appreciate a salad, it would be Mum. However, although I had seen many a salade on my wanderings round the city no specific café sprung to mind so I decided to wing it.
We came out of the apartment, which was near a beautiful old church called Saint Pierre, and I was intending to wander around a little. We walked past La Terrasse Saint Pierre, which was situated, if the name didn’t give it away, a stone’s throw from the church. Yet it had people lounging in the sun outside and had a good old ambience humming through it.
We decided to sit inside (sun being no indication of temperature) and eventually ordered the same salade marinirère: salmon, prawns and squid. It arrived in a shower of pink stars, juicy flesh and an intriguingly cut lemon, with a HUGE prawn posing on top (cue prawn head chat, it’s happening and it’s a goody).
The slabs of raw salmon were wonderfully tender and full of sea-salt flavour, with juicy squid rings that had a subtle but sumptuous seasoning. I loved the combination of salady-snippets, sweet carrot stalks adding a satisfying crunch.
And then the prawn. Always the prawn comes last. I peeled back its orange-pink shell, discovered a translucent prawn that shimmered in the sun falling through the window. I twas almost too beautiful to eat. I’ve never had a prawn so thoughtfully cooked. It was the softest, sweetest gambas I’ve had the fortune to sink my teeth into and its head o its head. I can honestly say I have never had such an incredible sweetfishmeatjuice experience in my life.
As we lingered over lunch in its beautiful sitting, we watched a group of businessmen go through their starter, frites+meat, wine, glass of green ice-cream, coffee and shot that constituted their lunch. That’s how they do it in France, in this restaurant. I totes see why.