As I live in the south of France you might assume I’m surrounded by lots of wonderful restaurants. In that respect, we’re very fortunate but we’ve sadly also had plenty of indifferent or badly cooked meals where, for example, I’ve offered to go into the kitchen to show their so-called chef how to cook an omelette!
My favourite type of restaurant is what I’d call a neighbourhood restaurant. One where you can be assured of a reasonably priced, well cooked meal, using fresh, seasonal local produce. I’m not expecting michelin stars just great crowd pleasers – the perfect omelette, steak and chips, grilled fish, mussels you get the gist.
We’re lucky to have a number of these types of establishment where we live equally are a number of places that give French cuisine a bad name – overpriced, poorly cooked from frozen ingredients. Fortunately, even though these establishments tend to prey on tourists rather than locals, there’s not enough tourist traffic and they eventually (thankfully) go out of business. As a consequence, I cannot confirm you’ll never have a bad meal in France.
However, I have never had a bad meal in Spain where I’ve eaten in everything from local, workmen’s cafes – the Spanish equivalent of a greasy spoon – to michelin starred temples of gastronomy. Lunchtime menus starting at 9 Euros a head for three courses, water, wine, coffee and bread are not uncommon outside of major towns where they typically rise to 13-15 Euros per head. Where we live in France – admittedly not the cheapest place – we can’t get a main course for much less than 11 Euros, let alone three courses with all the frills. Even in deepest France, I’ve never seen anything to match it in terms of prices.
Here’s the main course and dessert from a three-course meal including coffee and bread, though not drinks, from a very unassuming restaurant in a small rural town 30 minutes out of Valencia. We’d woofed down the delicious starters before I even thought to whip out my iPhone. The set menu was Euros 12.50 a head! It not only looked wonderful but tasted it too. I’d have happily paid more for food of that quality. And, to be honest, it’s not untypical of the fare (see below) we’ve enjoyed all over Spain at very modest prices. And don’t get me started on breakfast, you’ve got to love a place that serves crème caramel and cheesecake for breakfast, haven’t you?
Where and how do I find these restaurants? Generally, we either drive past and I demand my beloved halt the car so I can check out the menu and the restaurant, or I wander past. Often it’s just my finely honed sixth sense. My beloved claims I’m like a truffle hound. I like to think it’s years of developing my craft at my father’s knee.