I fell in love a few years ago. If you’re lucky enough to know what it feels like to be in love, you’ll understand the feelings of excitement, the butterflies, the all consuming happiness when you’re together and the devastating emptiness when you’re apart. It’s intense, like an addiction and you can’t help but keep wanting to feed it. So since I fell in love a few years ago, that’s exactly what i’ve been doing: feeding it, until I can’t hold it in any longer… and the top button of my jeans has to be popped!
Of course, I am talking about the South of France, and its wonderful food.
You thought I meant a boy? Please! Foods before dudes, people!
Don’t get me wrong, I love pretty much all types of food, but there is something about French food that makes me tingle. The rich flavours, the elegant presentation, the luxurious combinations and the indulgent ingredients… its all so refined, well thought out and ultimately delicious every single time.
That’s exactly what the food is like at Smithfield Market’s Comptoir Gascon, a gourmet bistro and delicatessen that specialises in food and wine exclusively sourced from the South-West of France. You walk into the bistro and even the decor transports you straight to the rustic and elegant world of beautiful French market towns, sleepy villages and homely chateaus. Legs of ham hang from the ceiling and wine bottles fill the shelves. A beautiful blossom branch drapes itself over the bar where handsome waiters prepare drinks.
We had chosen this restaurant for one dish in particular. The menu is inspired by classic Gascon cuisine and includes a section dedicated to “the best of duck”, including several dishes that celebrate one of my favourite ingredients on the planet; Foie Gras. Think what you will about the ethical issues surrounding Foie Gras production, I don’t think there is an ingredient which elevates any dish higher than Foie Gras, especially when it has been pan fried in a rich, creamy butter.
The dish in particular that lured me into this City located bistro was the £9.75 Foie Gras & Truffle Burger ‘Signature’; pan-fried foie gras sandwiched between a soft, sweet brioche bun with truffle cream & lettuce. It’s a small dish, the perfect starter.
It’s a thing of beauty, and the flavour provides instant gratification. The foie gras, smooth and creamy, melts in the mouth. The truffle cream has a mayonnaise like tang which coats the light crisp lettuce, and the brioche is warm and salty while also sweet and soft. As dishes go, this is a work of art and satisfies every part of the mouth. It’s sad that it only lasts a few bites, but this is the perfect example of how wonderful things come in small packages, and it makes you appreciate it even more.
Alongside this we enjoyed a bottle of red which is praised for being a wonderful accompaniment to duck dishes; Château de Gueyze, Buzet 2011. A very dark, fruit filled wine with a rich, bold taste that lingers on the pallet. A little expensive at over £30 a bottle but beautiful none the less.
It had taken us a while to decide which of the tempting main course dishes we should opt for. The traditional cassoulet Toulousain came highly recommended by our waiter, as did the Duck confit which my friend ordered at £14.50, while I couldn’t resist the sound of the £13.50 Grilled beef Onglet with red wine jus and sauteed potatoes – rare, of course.
The onglet was succulent, melt in the mouth tender and mopped up the red wine jus like a dream. The potatoes were soft, comforting and filling. This was one of those rare occasions where I wasn’t quite able to finish the plate (though I scraped up as much jus as I could with the side of duck fat and crazy salt fries that we had ordered for good measure)
My friend’s confit duck was mammoth and juicy, cooked to perfection, with a soft potato cake and bitter leaves. It fell from the bone, exposing pink meat beneath the golden crisp skin. Coincidentally it went very well with my jus (of course I had a taste) and was a match made in heaven with the wine.
Each plate was rich and elegant, with bold french flavours that took me right back to the meals of holidays past in Carcassonne and Beziers; my two favourite holiday destinations. While I should have spared by top button, I couldn’t help but glance an eye over the dessert menu, and when the waiter told me of the wonderful puds included in the £6.50 Cafe Gourmand ( a miniature vanilla creme brûlée, a madeleine – light as air -and a chocolate mousse alongside a few chocolate truffles PLUS a coffee) I had no choice but to order it!
The creme brûlée was the perfect size. Is there anything more satisfying than bringing your spoon down for the first time on that golden, crystalized surface, hearing the crunch as the creamy custard beneath is exposed? I’m not sure, but the light yet indulgent taste comes pretty close!
The chocolate mousse was almost refreshing – creamy rather than sweet, and very light. I left most of the cream alongside it simply because cream isn’t a favourite of mine, but I wolfed down the madeleine in just two bites and was reluctant in sharing my bitter, gooey truffles that left my fingertips darkened and sweet.
My coffee washed all that sweetness down perfectly and lifted me from what was soon to become a food coma! The bill arrived and we swooned over what had been a beautiful meal that had put extra fuel onto the fiery love affair I have with South of France food. I’m already dreaming of my return visit. If only they could replicate the beautiful french weather, this place could become a new holiday destination, if only for an evening…