Sunday, 5 May 2002
Amboise is one of those ‘If it’s Tuesday, it must be France’ places, full of gift shops and tacky tourists like me. The chateau is enormous and can accommodate twenty or thirty coach loads of Japanese and their cameras with ease. It looks very pretty in the postcards anyway.
My Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms is 5 miles up into the hills overlooking the Loire. As I parked the Beast beside the delightful little garden leading down to a stream, the chef came out of his kitchen to pick some fresh herbs. Seeing the car he came over and greeted me like an old friend. He seemed genuinely delighted to be having me dine with him this evening. He looks reassuringly plump.
My room is light and airy in the modern style. It overlooks the garden and terrace and features on the front of their brochure so it must be the most expensive one. The four poster bed is a little ‘de trop’ for my liking. It would probably enrapture the Moroccans.
Decided on the white linen suit for the eccentric foreigner look tonight as this will probably be my last Grande Bouffe before my credit runs out.
I walked into the restaurant and noted that all the men were wearing linen jackets. It struck me then that only in England was I an eccentric foreigner, in France I was, well, just another bloke.
Madame had reserved me a pretty table overlooking the floodlit garden and terrace and the house champagne was Louis Roederer. Couldn’t be better.
Black pudding on toast doesn’t sound very appetising but these tasty morsels were divine. There were tiny cheesy profiteroles and puffs of crisp savouriness and this was just whilst studying the menu.
I couldn’t order the menu gastronomique for two so I had the next best thing: the £28 set menu. Rabbit terrine, asparagus, steamed fish, sorbet, guinea fowl breast, cheese and rice pudding. Put like that it sounds dull. In reality each course outdid its predecessor in terms of delicacy and flavour. The rice pudding was a thimble full of rice in a sweet custard on a smear of marmalade made from dried fruits. That I can still recall every detail here on Sunday morning, despite a somewhat heavy Saturday, shows how skilful the cooking had been.
The wine discussion with Madame was more of a short lesson in local variations. I took her advice and ordered full bottles as she promised to cork what I left that evening for drinking the next day with a picnic.
She even offered to call the proprietor of the red wine chateau and arrange for me to visit him.
Two hours later I staggered out into the garden and wandered down to the stream, as full as an egg but neither drunk nor stuffed, just content.
Fat and happy.