***** Mistral Proof dining
Price – €90 for two, with shared starter, mains, and shared cheese board, and a bottle of Corsican pink.
The editor called me in at the beginning of the month. He wanted to have a chat about my reviews, they were excellent as always, he began with the required dose of praise, but he felt that my view of the fairer sex was somewhat antiquated. I explained that I grew up in an era when patting a pretty woman on the bottom was a perfectly acceptable show of affection and that it should be no surprise if occasionally I admire the female form in a restaurant review. Yes, yes, said the editor, this is just a kindly word in the ear to tone it down a little.
And then we went to lunch. That day the mistral was moaning like a lady of the night, the sky was blue and we needed to find a sheltered spot in the sun. Guru headquarters are in the village of Lourmarin and so the editor suggested that the new restaurant, Number 9, opposite the venerable old girl that is the Moulin, might be an appropriate place to review. ‘There’s a sheltered little courtyard’ he promised, ‘and a good 17 euro lunchtime menu.’ The little cobbled rue that Number 9 sits on turned out to be a wind tunnel and the mistral screamed climatically in the promised courtyard, so we headed elsewhere.
I don’t usually review cafes, there are too many of them and the food tends to be stereoptypical and boring. We sat down at a table in the sun in front of Cafe de La Fontaine. Here the wind barely whimpered and the sun was pleasantly strong. Like waving a red flag in front of a bull, the editor told me that I was going to like the owner, a Corsican girl, jet black hair, flick knife temperament, type of woman you don’t want to get on the wrong side of. I nodded, pleased that my dark glasses hid the furtive glance I cast at the legs of a couple of young blondes who pranced past like fillies in the parade ring.
When, the owner, appeared to give us the menus, she was in a pleasing temper. The mistral had knocked over her flower
pots, there were glasses shattered all over the pavement, and it seemed as if serving lunch would all be too much trouble for her. For once the editor was right. I liked her instantly. She was a vrai Corsican, proud, beautiful and for the inhabitants of that island surprisingly tall. The menu featured the usual dreary cafe standards of salads and steaks, but also a long list of Corsican specialities, including the famed charcuterie.
While England has been having its horse meat scandal France has been mired in a Corsican charcuterie crisis. Dried meat from Corsica is so special because of the diet of the pigs and boars. The animals roam the island eating almost exclusively acorns, which gives the meat its particular full flavour. This however is an expensive way of producing ham and some sharp eyed business men have figured out its much better to ship pigs over from the mainland, slaughter them in a Corsican abattoir, and label the resulting product as Corsican charcuterie.
‘C’est le vrai charcuterie?’ I asked.
The owner’s dark eyes looked at me with contempt. I liked her even more. We finished ordering and chose the wine, a bottle of rosé from Clos Landry just outside Calvi.
‘I once did a degustation there,’ I made small talk with the owner, ‘mid-way through the gendarmerie turned up, I thought they were going to charge me with drink driving, instead they shared a couple of glasses with me.’
‘That’s so Corsican,’ she laughed, touching my knee with delight. The editor looked away.
The food when it came was everything I had hoped for.
The Corsican charcuterie was dense, meaty and full of that nutty flavour which calls to mind the intense smells of the island’s garrigue. The editor and I fought over every last slice. My main was a figatelli – a spicy Corsican sausage grilled over a wood fire, until the skin was crisp and full of the flavour of oak. It arrived with a salad, patate au four, and roasted tomato scattered with dried wild herbs.
The editor explained the cafe didn’t have a kitchen and that all the mains were cooked on the open fire I could see right next to the bar. We finished with a shared cheese board, including a Corsican fromage de chevre which was like no other I had ever tasted. It was so salty and intensely flavoured that I could manage only the smallest sliver. Like everything else in this restaurant there was no doubting its authenticity. By the end of the meal I was replete, and full of fond memories of La Corse, the cows wandering in the middle of the road, the white sandy beaches, and the warm embrace of the locals to all tourists as long as they weren’t French!
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