Thursday, 5 June 2008

And a week in Paris...

Or, at least, half a one.

Say what you will, the French do have an effortlessly stylish way of doing things - and I was struck on Monday morning, as I peered through the steamed-up windows of the RoissyBus (goes from Charles de Gaulle directly to the Opera) by the elegance of the flowerbeds that are casually dotted through the grounds of the airport. I don't think I've ever before been struck by the charm of an airport, in any form, anywhere in the World.......but here, there were roundabouts crammed with pure white roses, and verges and embankments dripping with massed ranks of sultrily dark crimson blooms, lazily dropping petals onto the ground under the onslaught of the rain. They looked lush, and abundant, and wonderful. Had somebody had the same idea at Gatwick, they would doubtless have been in some deeply naff day-glo pink, and probably hedged in by uptight little borders of primulas.

And the same skill was brought to bear in the buffet lunches that were provided as part of my two days of Conference. Large, slab-like sandwiches, that were so inelegant in scale (and with the crusts left resolutely in place) that it can only have been done very deliberately, and with fillings of tomato and chicken that were so delicious when you bit into them that it was like discovering the idea of the perfect sandwich - all washed down with a glass (or so) of a more than serviceable white Burgundy, that required quite a degree of self control not to go for a third glass and to focus instead on the afternoon ahead. And all served with an air of quiet efficiency that clearly suggested a knowledge that this un-theatrical display was the acme of professional perfection. With which I saw no reason to argue.

The rain was not incessant - and in fact, in between the showers, there were brief and deceptive bursts of sunshine, which suddenly bathed the honey-coloured walls of The Louvre or the Palais Royal in intense sunlight for all of several minutes at a time. But not dependable enough to risk an outside table... and pre-prandial consumption of Kir each evening was spent safely under cover, as the evening sunshine inevitably gave way to yet another downpour. Certainly, it wasn't worth risking an outside table for dinner in the gardens of the Palais Royal - which, on a fine summer's evening in June, as the shadows lengthen and the fountains gently play, is sheer bliss.

And so, instead, on a whim, I decided to go and dine at Le Trumilou on the Quai de l'Hotel de Ville. As I walked there, I worked out that it must have been twenty eight years since I'd last eaten in the place, and it was associated in my mind with Saturday lunches in mid-winter, when it was always bustling and noisy, and agreeably warm and welcoming, nestled amongst all the cages of animals and the forests of plants for sale along that stretch of the Quai. In those days Le Trumilou was colloquially known as 'Chez Ruby', after the diminutive, dumpy and elderly chatelaine who presided from behind the cash register and ruled the place with a rod of iron. We generally had with us the four-footed of the day, who would curl up beneath the table and contentedly crunch on whatever bowl of bones and offcuts Madame had sent in his direction, and he always got at least as good service as the paying customers! In fact, whenever we were in that part of town, said four-footed used to accelerate in the direction of Le Trumilou as soon as he realised exactly where we were...
Chez Ruby was always slightly quirky and charming and larger than life.....and the walls were filled to capacity with paintings - the most awful daubs imaginable, for the most part. I remember that it was from there that the restaurant inverse-ratio rule had originated, i.e. that the better the art on the walls, the worse the food on the plate was likely to be. And vice versa. It generally holds good, as a rule of thumb.

And so....I arrived and was seated; and for some time I admit to wallowing in nostalgia. I ordered a terrine de Campagne - delicious! - and a half of Cotes du Rhone; and it was only as I moved on to a perfectly aceptable entrecote that I began to notice the discrepancies between then and now. Ruby, of course, was no longer around - which should have been no surprise, since she was already a white-haired septegenarian all that time ago. But the pictures, in all their glorious awfulness, had also gone - replaced with artisanal artefacts, and scenes of rustic simplicity. And, as my ear became attuned, I realised that the clientele had disappeared, too - I'm not sure that there was a single indigenous parisian in the entire place: next to me, two dutch men were dining, and behind them a slightly braying foursome from the home counties; at the table in the window were a bunch of 'ok, yah' kids from London, and to my right a elderly american and his wife. These latter, at least, seemed quite focused on what they were eating and drinking and appeared to be discussing it at some length (hey - if you dine in a restaurant on your own, it's permissible to eavesdrop...I think there's even a papal dispensation to that effect..).

Then, I noticed that these two were constantly referring to a guide book that was well thumbed and much book-marked, and appeared to form the basis of their itinerary in Paris - and to my horror, I realised that it was a 'food guide' produced by that girl who writes the 'Chocolate & Zuccini' blog, which features recipes for things like coconut-flavoured baked custard, and other examples from the more ghastly end of the Nursery canon. Worse, it appeared - from excerpts they were reading out in between mouthfuls - that Le Trumilou itself was also featured in this guide - and as the realisation dawned, I sighed deeply and signalled for the bill. The food was good - if not great - the place was fine, the bill was low - but it was no longer Chez Ruby, in any sense. Whatsoever. Ah, well...

Tonight's Dinner:

Salad of Chicken Livers ti├Ęde.

Lamb Shanks, double roast. Buttered Cabbage.

Amaretto Souffl├ęs.