I am a great fan of French restaurants particularly the kind that are usually found in villages the length and breadth of France.
These are restaurants for working men, farmers etc which are cheap and cheerful, open at 12 and have a fairly fixed menu. I have written about them in previous missives and have rarely been disappointed. However I would be less than honest if I said that this was gastronomy of the highest order, it is not and does not pretend to be. This is steak and chips and red wine country and good baguette and is all the better for being so.
So when our good friends Sue and Mike asked us to go with them to Le Mans for lunch on them to celebrate my birthday and indeed Mikes, we were not prepared for the haut cuisine to come. We never get any further than the huge shopping area on the outskirts of Le Mans but today we were taken to the old town in the shade of the huge cathedral which to my mind is quite ugly in comparison to say Notre Dame but awesome nevertheless.
We parked in a huge car park and then set off to the labyrinth of narrow streets which zig and zag this part of the old town. The buildings are reminiscent of York in the UK with typical medieval wooden beams everywhere and indeed one had a plaque dating the building to the 1500′s.
There were some intriguing shops too, a brass instrument restorer and a model shop which was a delight with scale model cars and models of Tin Tin the Belgian comic character to mention but a few, oh and Asterix as well. We wandered around taking it all in, the weather was fabulous, the sun was incredibly hot considering this was mid March.
Lunch had been booked for 12.30 at Les Sept Plats, an unremarkable building from the outside but inside was a different matter, we were greeted at the door by smiling staff who confirmed our reservation and advised us that we were to be seated in the cave. And it was just like a cave, the entrance looked as though it had been dug out from solid rock and the stairs whilst very well lit are nevertheless steep and you have to bend low so as not to bang your head.
The dining area is quite long but narrow and cosy is a word I would probably use. Once installed the waitress almost immediately poured us a Kir, white wine and in this case blackcurrant cordial and from the flavour certainly homemade. She then appeared with a basket of country bread, some fresh some half toasted and we dipped it in a creamy, herby concoction which was delicious.
The mains included beef in a sauce, fish in a butter sauce but on hearing what the plat de jour was, we all went for it. The Chef here has a lightness of touch, and an ability to create a dish so far beyond the budget he is working within, and when the dish arrived I cursed myself for forgetting the camera again. Veal is a meat which like foie gras tends to evoke strong emotions with people in the UK but not so the French nor me or my fellow diners. This was veal with foie gras and chanterelle mushrooms in a sauce that cried soak me up with that fine country bread, but there was more to come, in a separate bowl was mashed potato to die for, not only creamy, buttery, light but flavoured with what I thought was just finely minced mushrooms but now I think about it was there not a hint of truffle as well?
Just for good measure another larger bowl of the fabulous mash was put on the table between us and it soaked up the sublime sauce beautifully.
On the wine front a bottle of muscadet went down well but a carafe of plain water was provided without needing to be asked for.
Puds were typical French, myself and Mrs Powerfulpierre went for the Paris Brest, choux pastry filled with hazelnut cream and doused in icing sugar and crushed hazelnuts. There was lemon meringue pie, white chocolate ice cream and hot chocolate sauce, I forget what else but what we had was delicious. Coffee came with a jar of marshmallows which was unusual but went really well.
And after just over 2 hours we exited into the bright afternoon sunshine well fed and content and affirming that we would go back again this time with a camera.
So thank you to Sue and Mike for treating us in the first place but also for letting us into their little secret as well.