Café Noir

Café Noir

Lunch in this café is a one-menu-for-all affair, and very good it is too. I began with a small plate of shiny, plump violet and black olives, a bowl of cornichons and a slice of nutty, air-dried ham from Bayonne. The bread came from the bakery on the other side of the church, a good chewy, yeasty flute, to be consumed with pace and care. I refused a glass of wine, to the frank amazement of my neighbouring diners. They were workmen in dusty overalls, cold and hungry, their bellies budging the table to and fro as they reached for the bread or salt.
I smiled at them and lifted my water glass. They leaned back over their plates in acute embarrassment. These Anglaise, honestly, they’re just so forward!
My second course arrived, a steaming plateful of cuisse de dinde confit and creamy haricots blancs, with an aroma to pull a man in off the street. I was informed that my turkey had been simmered in goose fat and garlic, with plenty of herbs, then stored it in vats of more goose fat for the last six months. Classically it’s the old-fashioned treatment used to preserve ducks and geese for winter consumption, but pork, lamb shank and now cuisse de dinde – not a whole one, obviously – are becoming increasingly popular fare in the restaurants and cafes. And I could see why. It was utterly delectable, crisply roasted with a melting skin and tender meat just slipping from the bones. My neighbours tucked in with great enthusiasm and wiped their plates clean with bread. I did my best, but I’m really not in the same league.
At the other end of the room a petite lady, slender and chic – and pushing sixty – was wrestling determinedly with her exquisitely permed poodle and downing her third aperitif. A well-heeled, well-wrapped and slightly shifty looking gentleman, thirty years her junior bustled in to join her, discarding his overcoat and scarf, communing closely with his mobile and causing the usual restaurant kafuffle. Her son, I thought idly, as I played with my napkin. He kissed her cheeks solicitously, and then went on to ravenously consume her lipstick… Obviously not her son! It was turning into an entertaining lunch hour.
My cheese arrived, a small disc of Rocamadour from the hills east of Cahors, ripe and runny.
Tarte aux abricots, glaces ou sorbet citron vert?” My waitress enquired.
I plumped for the sorbet, ordered a café to follow and glanced sideways at my workmen friends. They’d emptied their breadbasket with the cheese and were now haggling over the possibility of ice cream as well as tarte. Good grief!
After I’d toyed with my sorbet and they had polished off enormous portions of tarte, we sat back, sipped our coffees and compared midriffs. (They won hands down I’m relieved to say) I left in their company, full to bursting. At the back of the room the guilty lovers were holding hands across the table, scattering olives far and wide, totally oblivious to the world.
It could only happen in France.

© Amanda Lawrence 2008

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It Could Only Happen in France from French Vie

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