The other week my French exchange from Montpellier and two other girls spent the weekend in Bordeaux with their friend who she introduced to me. On the Sunday we went for lunch at L’Ombrière, a restaurant I had been to with my parents for dinner last term. It is on Place du Parlement, a lovely location, and has a lunch formule which gives you a main and a dessert, which everyone decided to go for. I hadn’t yet had moules here, so I chose moules marinière – the cream sauce seemed too heavy and I’m a bit dubious about the curry option. I love the taste of them so much I’m happy to let the mussels do the talking.
The orange moons of flesh were sweet and fresh, soft mouthfuls dripping with briny liquid. Mmmmmmm. That warm, sea-sand broth was so fabulous that at intervals I spooned it up by itself. The onions cuddling onto the mussels were plump, having absorbed the liquid, and so were fantastically juicy. I also soaked hunks of bread in the brine which was so simply wonderful. To break mussels yourself and get sticky fingers might sound like too much fuss, but it makes you part of your meal – you get stuck in there.
The second part of the moules frites duo were not a disappointment either. I have repeated myself a lot on this subject – French fries are at the top of the chip chain. I’m also going to introduce the slightly controversial idea that their ketchup is far superior to Heinz. It has SO much more flavour than the sugarsalt of Heinz. And I’ve sung praises about Heinz for ages, so I wouldn’t say this unless I was absolutely convinced.
The moules were tip-top. There is only one other episode of mussel-munching that beats them, which began with an afternoon wander in Cornwall. Most years the family head to Treyarnon Bay for a week of sandy hair, walks that trace the gorgeous coast, blue fingers after surfing in torrential rain and ritual Padstow trips for pasties and the Wonka-esque chocolate shop. We wandered to the neighbouring beach, Constantine Bay for a spot of rock hopping. Lying in between Trey and Cons are slabs of rocks which are fun to explore when the tide is out. That afternoon I was struck by how many huge, gleaming mussels there were. I wanted to eat them!! So, armed with a few plastic bags, we scoured the rocks for the biggest ones and cooked them at home to have with bread!!
For pudding, I had the crème brûlée à la vanille. I love vanilla, especially when the black flecks are discernible. Vanilla ice-cream, vanilla custard, all have a tick next to them in my mental food list. However, when it comes to eating out I never tend to choose it. Take a milkshake, for example. Banana, chocolate or strawberry would always take precedence over the somewhat bland sounding vanilla option.
Crème brûlée, however, is different. Its essence is a rich, oneness of flavour. The egg custard and the burnt sugar topping do not blast your tongue into the next generation of food combinations, instead using few ingredients expertly. The addition of vanilla was a simple but gorgeous way of making the most out of this traditional pudding. It added a beautiful creamy sweetness to the soft, buttery custard. My only gripe was that the burnt sugar on top took burnt a little too literally in some patches. There is clearly a fine line between caramelized and burnt but I would expect a restaurant to keep on the right side of the line.
Overall, a splash of sea and a touch of vanilla for lunch with some lovely gals in the beautiful city of Bordeaux – not much else I could wish for, really.