Provence’s foremost restaurant critic, Perestrello Geller, ate at Juste en Face , 6 Rue de La Verriere, Aix en Provence, Tel: 04 42 96 47 70
I had a veritable feast of restaurants lined up for review this month. Places like Le Chateau in Calanque de Sourmiou which had me salivating over the location before I even looked at the menu. Instead though I’ve been navigating the vagaries of the French national health service. To take advantage of this Rolls Royce of health care I have discovered that you have to be ill the French way.
My problem has been too much stiff upper lip, the old flesh-wound mentality of the Monty Python sketch. Culturally you see the local doctor hasn’t quite known what to do with me, blood test followed blood test, homeopathic cure piled on top of homeopathic cure. After a month of torturous progress I booked myself in with a specialist in Aix.
By now I’d figured out how to behave. I walked in, all but collapsed on his floor, begged for mercy, told him that my life was practically over, complained of an additional five or so unrelated health problems from which I wasn’t suffering, added that I thought my girlfriend was having an affair, that my dog was sick with worry for me and that a distant cousin had recently died from a genetic disease, which I was sure was going to strike me down at any minute. In other words I conducted myself as a true Frenchman and finally, triumphantly left with a bag full of goodies, including several drugs with an opium base.
So delighted was I at the prospect of a pain free lunch, that I popped double the recommended dosage and headed into the centre of Aix. What followed was akin to a trip (of the narcotic, rather than vacation kind). To be honest with you I really can’t vouch for the veracity or otherwise of this review, because as any weed smoking hippy will tell you when the munchies strike, whatever you eat tastes mighty fine.
Anyway here’s what happened. I ended up in a restaurant called ‘Juste en Face’ which I found distinctly funny at the time for a reason I can’t remember. I sat down and as I was handed the menu a tiger jumped from its pages, roaring savagely and going for my throat. Holding up my hand to ward of the attack, I fell backwards off my seat, dragging cutlery and glasses with me. Together we landed slap bang in the middle of some sort of teleportation device. I know this because when I sat back up on my seat, the cutlery and glasses were the same but the tiger was gone and I was in Spain, in munchy trip heaven.
Wrong-headed tapas concoctions kept on arriving at the table – parmesan, nut and potato slurry; onion, bacon and goat’s cheese pie. All was fine and surprisingly delicious until the fried squid in the earthenware dish in front of me began wriggling. An enormous tentacle reached out towards me trying to wrap itself around my neck and pull me into the squirming mess of oil and sea food. We wrestled for an eternity, a battle of ancient greek proportions before I severed the offending tentacle with my knife and promptly fell backwards once more into the teleportation device, ending up in Morocco.
The smells of the souk drifted in front of my nostrils, lemon confit, slow cooked tajine chicken, fluffy aromatic couscous. A belly dancer squeezed between the tables gyrating her bell clad midriff to the rhythmic clapping of the crowds. The tender chicken melted on my knife and memories of the titanic struggle with the giant squid faded. My plate was cleared and, a dark as tar Morrocan coffee was slipped beneath my eyes, accompanied by, what was that?… a Calisson d’Aix.
I looked up, the drug haze began to fade. I was sitting on the terrace of a restaurant in Place des Cardeurs in Aix. Shoppers passed laden with bags full of new purchases. Tourists flicked through guide books and chatted about where to eat. There was no sign of a teleportation device.
But then as the bill arrived so the tiger returned. This time it was tatooed to the forearm of my young waiter, a frightening creation it looked too, a roaring open mouth and grasping paw all etched in black ink. I looked across at the serving station and saw amid the stacked dishes the remains of my squid, swimming in what looked like a glass of spilled water. Next to me a young mother dined while her infant son played with bells, looped not around the waist of a belly dancer but to the handle of the push chair.
I studied the menu, properly this time, a collection of tapas starters, each priced at €4,90 or €18,90 for all 7. The mains were a mix of standard tourist fodder and more inventive palate challengers – rabbit with roasted peppers, and various tajines. The staff must have been delightful because they’d coped with me falling off my chair twice, and spilling water all over my squid without a word.
As I paid the bill I felt the first twinge of pain begin to return. I popped another pill and headed inside to the loo. The interior of the restaurant had a cozy wine bar feel. There were open bottles to try by the glass and blackboards full of specials. A nice place to eat, I thought. That was before I opened the door to the loo and was run over by a convoy of hairy Harley Davidson bikers. I lay flat on the floor as one by one they roared over my prone corpse and out of the restaurant door. There must have been hundreds of them.
I came around, half an hour later, in the arms of a fellow diner, who was fanning my face with a magazine she’d found in the loo. As my eyes focused I discerned the title – ‘Biker World’, and resolved not to take any more pills until I was safely back in the sanitised environment of my own house.