Thursday, October 27, 2005

France: 11e Jour


Our final day in France had come, and we were determined to spend it as fruitfully as possible. Fruitful it was too; we spent the morning touring the beautiful town of Avignon and the magnificent Palais des Papes, with its imposing ramparts and flying buttresses.

Lunch was to be had at a little cafe close to the Palace, when one of our number (who'd been craving French-style pork knuckles for two weeks) delightedly espied said dish on the chalkboard display menu.

Lunch at Avignon

Since I'm not fond of pork, I decided to opt for the souris d'agneau, literally the mouse of lamb (although with my poor French I originally thought it meant the smile of lamb), or more accurately, lamb shank. This top portion of the gigot, or leg, is considered the best part of the lamb's leg, and is apparently the bit everybody in France scrambles for. It should be said that this was part of my motivation for trying out the osso bucco a few weeks back.

The shank was served with Provencale vegetables that included tomato, zucchini and onion. I really enjoyed this dish, which was simply but well done. The lamb was tender to a hilt, and the melange of flavours from the vegetables provided an effective and welcome contrast. While the lamb was slightly gamey (it wasn't all that young), I never really find strong flavours a problem, so it was all good for me.

Lunch at Avignon

I was seriously considering skipping dessert and leaving more room for dinner, but what the heck, it was our last day. I know, I know, chocolate coulants have been done to the death everywhere, but sometimes you just need that chocolate fix. Also, the way it was done just made me souris (that's smile, not mouse).

Unmoulded into a platter of creme anglaise and caramel sauce, the coulant was very satisfying. Molten chocolate and creme anglaise go very well together; and is as classic a combination as the vanilla ice cream molten chocolate cakes are usually paired with. The only thing I found a bit odd was the Pocky stick speared into my coulant like some confectioner's lightning conductor, but then again, who am I to comment on slightly pretentious ornamentation?


Our last dinner in France was at the two Michelin-starred L'Oustau de Baumaniere, the restaurant of the hotel we were staying at.

L'Oustau de Baumaniere

Dinner commenced with an amuse-bouche of pumpkin cream soup, with what I believe is some tomato oil and shaved truffle. Having always served pumpkin soup straight, I was quite intrigued to discover that the shaved truffle and tomato oil added a depth of flavour that worked quite well to enhance the creamy sweetness of the pumpkin.

L'Oustau de Baumaniere

Feeling brave, I ordered the tomato tartare for starters. I was doing reasonably well too, as fresh tomatoes can really get you going. Is tart sweetness an oxymoron? If so, then fresh tomatoes are oxymoronic. So things were going swimmingly until I poked some red paste hiding underneath one of the tomatoes. I bit into it, and the clashing sourness shocked my tastebuds into hibernation. I am guessing what I had were pureed sun-dried tomatoes, but whatever they were, they were bad.

L'Oustau de Baumaniere

Main course was a roast rack of lamb that was carved up right at the table. You can see the beautiful herb crust and that luscious, tantalising pink hue of the lamb cutlet - just begging to be eaten. While the lamb was quite superb, I was a little disappointed by the otherwise barren dish. As good as the lamb was, it deserved to be accompanied with some side-dishes to provide a full-bodied meal, not by itself on an empty plate with some sauce. Very disappointing for a two-star restaurant.

L'Oustau de Baumaniere

Dessert was a layered chocolate affair with wild strawberries and chocolate tuille as well as vanilla bean ice cream. I found it slightly difficult to eat as the layers of chocolate cream were almost impossible to partake of in a civilised manner. While it was undoubtedly a very beautiful creation, I did feel somewhat that the patisseur who created it had prized form over substance, resulting in a elegant dessert that lacked a little oomph in the taste department.

And with that, the gastronomical account of our journey around the South of France comes to an end, and completes what I hope is the first of many pilgrimmages of food around the world.

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