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The Feast of Your Life

August 15, 2009

What an incongruous setting for France’s longest buffet bar – a municipal swimming pool in Narbonne, an old Roman town in the Languedoc, southern France.  So practical though. The kids had run riot all morning with a duet of outdoor water slides and the sparkling Olympic-sized pool. They’d made mad dashes dozens of times between pool and bouncy castle (wet skin = greater speed down bouncy-castle slide) and by noon were, in true five- and seven-year-old style, STARVING.

The buffet bar, all record-breaking 70m of it, arranged in a trio of U-shaped courtyards, was mind-boggling. Lavish trays of crabs, oysters, nail-sized tellines and other shellfish jostled for tummy space with traditional fish soup, Italianate antipasti, salads, cold meats, sushi and oeufs de poisson aka poor man’s caviar. And that was just for starters. Main course translated as sufficient roasted meats and fish to render even Mr Decisiveness Extraordinaire completely inadequate: beef, chicken, pork, ham, lamb, quail, veal, veal kidneys, frog legs, deep-fried squid rings and so on, not to mention meaty local specialities such as pieds de porc a\` la Narbonnaise (pork trotters), saucisse de Toulouse (hunky pork sausage from Toulouse) and fatty chunks of courtellous (pork belly slices).

With the exception of how many dirty plates you could cunningly balance on your well-laid table (dressed in a white tablecloth no less), there was no restriction on how many plates you took or times you served yourself. Food quality was something akin to a Swiss motorway service-station restaurant – which for any Brit translates as of an exceptionally high quality for pre-prepared food en masse – and drinks served by waiters added a touch of style.

The pièce de résistance was dessert, the course that interestingly everyone in the restaurant aged between 5 and 18 seemed to make a mad dash to – and linger on forever. Imagine a dozen different chocolate cakes, every breed of fruit tart and French patisserie, syrupy Greek-style pastries, exotic ice-creams like lavender or white chocolate, champagne sorbet in plastic green bottles, waffles and donut rings topped with milk, dark or white chocolate fresh from a chocolate fountain … each generously doused with a choice of whipped cream, fromage blanc, yoghurt, rice pudding, vanilla sauce or soft meringue.

Bottom line: The one fixed €22.90 menu at Les Grands Buffets  is good value for the ravenous and/or those who dream of gorging unrestrictedly on an unimaginable choice of different dishes and food products. Kids aged five and under feast for free, those aged 6-10 eat for €11.50, and wine is served at local producer prices (read €1.40 a glass or €7-10 a bottle). French dining hours are strictly adhered to, that is you’ll only get seated between noon and 2pm, and 7pm to 10pm (from 11.30am Sun). Turn up a second later and you’ll miss the feast of your life.

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