Archive for the ‘Languedoc’ Category


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.


A Timeless Lunch

August 5, 2009

So my table reservation for 12 – six adults, six kids – is confirmed for Saturday. And with what relish I am looking forward to it, all the more so because I will lunch on the exact same meal I savoured so smugly last year when researching Lonely Planet’s Languedoc-Roussillon guide. This is where the unique charm of Château de Jau kicks in. I mean, where else in the world can you dine so memorably – think dining al fresco between 18th-century stone and pea-green vine with tasting notes to accompany each wine – and, return years later, to same said chateau to relive same said meal all over again. This address has been a faithful lunch date for returning Languedoc-Roussillon lovers since the 1970s.

Château de Jau by ulterior epicureI also love Château de Jau’s creative fusion of dead-contemporary art and timeless tradition. As with any self-respecting French restaurant, it serves its Côtes du Roussillon and Muscat de Rivesaltes wines by the bottle and carafe, the latter in this case being endearingly dubbed ‘le jaja de Jau’ and stamped with a unique Ben squiggle designed for this wine-making chateau by the self-same New Realist artist, born 500km-odd along the Mediterranean coast in Nice.