Throughout my life I’ve had a ludicrously over-inflated view of my own abilities. Mainly this has come in handy. Elaine and I would never have shared that back stage kiss had I not had an ego the size of Lloyd Webber’s bank balance. Sometimes though, particularly early in life, it’s been like an emotional hand grenade, with the pin pulled and the timer ticking. Relationships and jobs have, in my head, been going fantastically well when I’ve received the ‘can we chat’ call.
It was therefore with a certain sense of trepidation that at the beginning of January I knocked on the Guru editor’s door. The thought that my column might be taken away had been haunting me since I received the ‘call’. Everything from the tone of voice to the re-assuring but non-committal words had been familiar.
‘Perestrello’ began the editor.
‘I know, I know, I’d just like to say it’s been fun….’
‘I’m glad, because we’d like you to become our head wine critic as well.’
A promotion, well you can imagine how that has gone to my head. Particularly since being the lethargic sort I’ve worked out how I can combine the two roles. Look upon me now as a sort of roving wine and dine critic. Lunch followed by a vineyard or vice a versa. It’s the dream job.
First on the list for a restaurant review in 2015, was Auberge des Tilleuls in Grambois. For those of you who don’t know Grambois, it has a reputation as the Luberon’s favourite retirement village. I think it was a little joke on the editor’s part to send me there:- I’ll be seventy this year and the bikini clad girls of the Cote D’Azur can, he thinks, be a little too much for my heart.
First impressions of the Auberge were positive. Situated on a roundabout at the bottom of the village, there’s a large terrace well shaded by vegetation in the summer. Inside the dining room is delightful. There was a log fire burning in the corner when I arrived. The space was well thought out, well lit, and music played at what seemed to me was just the right ambient level.
I chose the daily lunch menu at 23 euros and settled down to enjoy a half bottle of Sancerre with my partner for the day, a midwife from Barbados (it’s a long story, to which I’ll return.) She chose a tartare of salmon and tuna, I opened with foie gras and mushroom ravioli. We chatted or rather tried to chat away. On the next door table, speaking in extraordinarily loud, very bad French, was one of Grambrois’s retired denizens. Turned out he was American, recovering from a divorce, and having problems with his internet router.
The food at least diverted us from the problem of hearing each other over the voice of our loud neighbour. The salmon and tuna tartare was beautifully presented, resting on a bed of shredded vegetables and crowned with a wafer thin biscuit. The tiny morsel the midwife permitted me to taste – I quickly discovered she’s a woman to be reckoned with – was beautifully balanced by a dash of tomato coulis. The ravioli was surrounded by a light vegetable based foaming broth, which balanced the rich earthy flavours of the foie gras and mushrooms. We both cleaned our plates.
Next door the American was playing with his hearing aid and complaining that the music was too loud. His companion an elderly French lady intervened to save our lunch.
‘I thought the problem was with your left ear?’ she patted him gently on the knee.
Hearing aid re-positioned in the correct ear, the noise level in the restaurant returned to normal. The midwife who I’d encountered drowning her sorrows over a glass of rum in one of Cannes’ harder drinking establishments, was so taken by her roast baby duck served by a grain risotto that she asked for the recipe. Apparently the grain risotto in particular would be just the thing for recovering mothers in Bridgetown.
By this time, out of politeness to my companion, we’d moved onto some red Bandol. My cod on a chorizo mash was well cooked but perhaps a little short on flavour, although to be fair to the chef it was potentially drowned out by the tannins. The chocolate dessert we shared was more of a match for the Bandol: – a bitter, crunchy, almost browniesque concoction topped with diced pineapple.
So content were we, sitting by the fire, reminiscing about the great 1980s West Indian pace attack of Joel Garner and Malcom Marshall, we lost track of time, and for the second time in two days my companion missed her rendez-vous with her tour party.
This time there was no need for rum. It was a nice, if somewhat out of the way drive to Avignon for her to meet up with the next stop, and a small price to pay for a most enjoyable lunch.