Friday, January 22, 2010

Truffling off

In one of my earliest postings I threatened to write a regular restaurant review from the perspective of a bon viveur with cancer; marking on ability to be distracted from said cancer; opportunity to pretend you are sticking to the anti-oxidant, no red meat, no dairy loads of fruit and veg diet; and the comfort of the seats for those of us with battered groins. Shoulder is feeling better today thanks to co-codomol so here we go with the first review

La Truffe, Sorges, Dordogne, France

There was a time in my youth when a thing called a truffle was the height of sophistication. You only had them at Christmas and my Mom's favourite were rum truffles. Generally they were a bit disappointing despite the poshness, covered in plastic looking chocolate dragees and tasting worryingly like cast iron buckets - and yes I have tasted a cast iron bucket thank you. This was the early sixties, when Delia was still just a waitress and when we only used olive oil on bits of cotton wool to stop earache - except it didn't - and thought that Vesta Chicken Curry was the pinnacle of exotic.

I am now all grown up and we have been transformed by said Delia and Rick and Nigel and even the dreaded Gordon. I know what to do with olive oil and how to make a proper curry; I also know that a truffle is a turdy looking thing that pigs root up in this region of France and other foreign parts. They do look a bit like Mom's rum truffles but whereas those were just about affordable for a special treat Mom's eyes would have watered (a miracle as her eyes were dried up by a drug cock-up in the
70s) at the price of the real McCoy.

All of this was milling around in my head yesterday when we visited one of our favourite restaurants in Perigord where we have our French maison secondaire, La Truffe in Sorges which claims alongside hundreds of other French petite villes to be the Truffle capital of France. It has a truffle museum and a weekly truffle market and not much else apart of course from La Truffe. La Truffe is a Logis de France with pretty standard bedrooms and a Michelin Bib Gourmand Restaurant. It sits on the busy N21 that goes from Limoges to Perigueux, the traffic whizzes by but some travellers stop at midi to eat the four course 10.50 euro Menu de Jour. This means two things: the place is usually pretty full and it is open in the dead months of January and February. The locals around here go into semi-hibernation at this time of year, they cocoon themselves behind their shutters and all but a few of the restaurants and cafes are closed and miserable looking.

The restaurant is nicely done, they had a refurb a year or so ago and the 80s yellow and blue decor was replaced by more subtle greys and browns; the linen is good and thick, the chairs are wide and well padded, thank you says my groin and the pictures and artifacts are a step above the usual brocante finds and paint by numbers art that adorn many of the local hostelries. The Maitre D was in fact a Maitresse and had a cheeky wink and knowing look.

Alongside the Guillaume pas des amis (Billy no-mates) office workers and travelling salespeople having their 10.50 cafe compris lunch, and very nice it looked too, there are always plenty of tables filled with those who have made a detour in order to get the full La Truffe experience, including on a fairly regular basis, us. Outside the 10.50 midi menu the menus range from 18 right up to 100 euros. The latter is for the full truffle menu where every course is truffle based. I have never seen anyone having it so can't say if the dessert resembles Mom's favourite chocs in any way. We opted for the 44 euros for 5 courses menu. This was partly because it offered non-red meat stuff I fancied and partly because all of our worries about living on a pension go out of the fenetre as soon as we set foot in the place. We deserve to treat ourselves says Stewart and he is right.

So we had good ant-oxidant pumpkin soup to start and I followed that with a dish of perfectly cooked scallops topped with the signature truffles. There were five of these placed nicely around loads of free radical chasing salad leaves and hey ho five spears of cancer busting asparagus. There was a slice of potato under each scallop which I could have done without but then realised these went very nicely with the dressing which had still more truffles shaved into it. Stewart went for the truffle omelette and voted it excellent, the French don't seem to have caught onto our knack of producing pale looking eggs and whisking them into dry leathery concoctions, we have been asked in little french bistros how we would like our omelettes cooked, very soft and runny inside or just soft and runny. This one was perfection, golden in colour with little specks of truffle and oozing delicious eggy juices.

Because we had splashed out we then had a lovely little sorbet swimming in something very boozy to clean our palate and with our nice clean mouths we fell upon our next course. Mine looked anything but regulation sick person's fare but it was duck breast so although it looked quite red, I like it rare, it didn't have fur and wasn't a mammal. Neither was the fried fois gras, crisp on the outside and meltingly soft on the inside, that sat atop the juicy duck, mamallian more ambrosian I would say. The sauce had more truffles - hope they have cancer chasing qualities - and the only other adornment was a layered potato cake which was a little over-cooked if I am being brutally restaurant reviewish. It was all rich and robust and wonderful for a beef deprived, cancer riddled foodie.

Stewart had a big juicy veal steak (apologies here to all veggies that is veal and fois gras mentioned in one review; you can stop reading now if it helps)that his knife went through as if it were butter swimming in morel sauce and with lovely buttery tagliatelle. We scoffed it all down and wiped our plates clean with the proper french bread and we would have picked said plates up and licked them if we had been back in Brum in the 60s.

They offered us cheese and oh how hard it was to say no, the trolley was full of wonders; when we had been here in the summer with our friends Celia and Richard from California (well Richard is from Wales but they live in California) Celia had asked to have a bit of every one and they were delighted to give it to her. But we said no and felt very superior, well sick really but you have to put a good face on things.

That did mean we had plenty of room for pud and I had chosen a fruity one, lovely caremelised clementines with some orangey stuff and a clementine stuffed with clementine sorbet. Oh my darling, oh my darling it was lovely. Stewart's nutty macaroon stuffed with coffee cream and ice cream accompanied by a chocolatey thing in a glass was another success. We had washed all of this down with only a half bottle of Pechermant, the local red, but I had the lion's share because it is good for me and because I wasn't doing the driving.

We finished off with a kill all cancers cup of green tea and left after all the workers and the lunchtime lovers, pensioners we, busy doing nothing.

So my marks out of 10

Comfortable seats - 9 (ten would have given me a footstool and a cushion for my dodgy shoulder)

Anti-oxidant opportunities - 8 and we had to pay the price

Distraction from cancer thoughts - 7 but this is hardly fair as my shoulder was hurting and kept the creeping leio in mind

Cost 120 euros all in and we will have to go for the 10.50 blow out next time to make up for it

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