Monday, 12 June 2017

I am still L'Affiné - Cradock En Tours #4

Some of the un-intentional language exchanges at the Food History conference have made me smile, some have made me snigger, some have seen me laughing out loud. But all have left me feeling totally ashamed. My French is so poor - whether at the conference, in a Tabac, the Carrefour or in a side-street brasserie, I have always been greeted with "Ah, it's OK, I speak English..." when I make a fumbled attempt. Can I blame Fanny for providing me with a limited selection of French vocabulary in her 'No Spik French' section? The language skills of the other conference presenters are impeccable, how easily they can switch between languages. The confusion has been all mine. Sessions led by an Italian, listed in English, have turned out to be delivered in French. Simply because, well, they can.

Fanny Cradock L'Affiné Tours

Not only the command of English and a host of other second languages, but the phrasing intrigues me. I often am made to think of words I use everyday in a very different way. Some words make more sense with alternative pronunciations. I can clearly see their origin. Why have I never noticed before? My absolute very favourite of the conference was the women, who, I thought announced part-way through her presentation that "I will F*ck You's now". Bold. She certainly got my attention. Until, I realised she had actually said "Focus". "Folk. Use."

Fanny Cradock L'Affiné Tours

I should make a note now not to throw in any of Fanny's dodgy French translations to my presentation. For now, my mind is foc-oo-sed on food. Last night as I wandered along Rue Colbert deciding where to settle, my eyes were drawn to a Bar À Fromages. L'Affiné. They proudly displayed a Gratin Végétarien on their menu. I was won over. The friendly waitress also explained, in perfect English, naturellement, that they did plates of local cheeses too, all I would need to do is decide how many portions I would like. She suggested fifteen or twenty as ideal, but more if I wished. This seemed like a lot of cheese to me, but when I saw my dining neighbours plates arrive, I was envious. Until that is, my Gratin appeared, blue and bubbling. With salad, bread, water and a matched local wine. They know how to make you feel at home here.

Fanny Cradock L'Affiné Tours

It seems almost impossible to determine what people in Tours do. How do they earn a living? Everyone appears to be just as I am, while there at least. Plenty of time. Just enjoying the world, and the food. No-one appears in a hurry. No-one looks stressed. No-one looks chained to their mobiles. Perhaps there is barely time with all the food and wine to be consumed? Fanny is no help whatsoever, as far as she is concerned, local people are simply there to serve her.

Fanny Cradock L'Affiné Tours

Speaking of which, it would appear to be a shameful waste not to sample the delights of the dessert menu while I am here. Fanny makes sure my eyes do not pass over Le Mini-Baba-Au-Rhum. OMG. Rum. Almonds. Chantilly Cream. This is exactly how I expect them to taste, based of course on Fanny's expert tuition. The rum is incredibly strong. In a good way. Fanny would undoubtedly have had ones such as these in her time. This is what she wants us to eat, to make, to enjoy. Together.

Fanny Cradock L'Affiné Tours

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Je Cherchez L'Hôtel Metropole - Cradock En Tours #3

My mission - I just HAD to find the most celebrated hotel in Fanny's guidebook to the Tours - the rather splendid sounding Hôtel Metropole. She'd already mentioned it strongly in her guide to Wining and Dining in France. What might today's Gateaux de la Maison be? Would Fanny perhaps have tasted the very same one, in the very same setting? More details were given in the tour guide Holiday in the Touraine she published in 1956. With the address in hand, 14 Place Jean Jaunes, I set off to explore. A lack of data plan on my mobile meant I was transported back to the time that Fanny was writing. Just as in the 1950s, armed only with Fanny's guide, I had limited information, but a great supply of hope and belief.

Fanny Cradock Tour of Tours

A short walk from the Gare de Tours, the main square in the town centre appears to be undergoing a period of change. Regeneration we might call it. Many of the Grande Hôtels stand empty or have been re-propositioned with a variety of other uses. Surely the Hôtel Metropole would not have succumbed to such progress? The leafy square spreads out as if to make room for the expansive tram system which now strides the Rue Nationale, seemingly splitting the city in two. Stretching from north of La River Loire to the somewhat appropriately named (perhaps) Winston Churchill Boulevard in the south, the tram sees to be well used and smooth running. I never used it, preferring to walk.

Fanny Cradock Tour of Tours

In Place Jean Jaunes itself, people find comfortable spots in the various pavement cafés and those strange enclosed perspex spaces which many restaurants favour now, neither seemingly attached to the main restaurant nor flying absolutely solo. Islands of meeting and eating space. Without facilities. Fanny noted this was also the case in 1956, where celebrated chefs around the Touriane region told her 'we put the cooking and wines first, the ambiance and toilettes last', so it seems nothing has changed.

Fanny Cradock Tour of Tours

I wander round several times. Hôtel De Lille. Hôtel De L'Europe. Grand Hôtel. Hôtel De L'Universe. all there and all splendid buildings, giving the air of being THE 'place to stay' in town, just as Fanny suggested. Fanny noted that the Hôtel De L'Universe was plain to see in particular, even by the most myopic. So, I wasn't in need of an eye examination, but where was the glory of the Hôtel Metropole? Fanny was by now teasing me with details of their Crêpes Bordelaise, which apparently no-one, not even Fanny herself, can cook better that the chef there.

Fanny Cradock Tour of Tours

Hôtel Metropole had an ample eighty bedrooms, so would surely be in plain sight too, myopic or not. Wandering up and down Place Jean Jaunes in search of number 14 it did not appear to be so. Just as I was about to consult Fanny's guide to popular French phrases for weary travellers, No Spik French, and attempt to order a Daily Mail each day, or where to find the best dentist (as these are surely the essential phrases) in the hope that someone took pity on my French abilities and replied in English so I could ask about the Metropole, I saw it. Standing proud and smug, taunting me and jeering at me for not noticing it sooner. Also crushing me completely by having transformed itself into an H&M. The closest I could get to sharing a space where Fanny had been would be to buy a t-shirt.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

Monday, 5 June 2017

Je Suis Arrivé - Cradock En Tours #2

As I arrive in Tours in preparation for my Fanny presentation, I am greeted by the wonderful Gare De Tours. A spectacular square with fine, elegant buildings, intriguing side streets, smoking tabacs and enough bread and pastry tumbling out of the local boulangerie to keep me going for ever. Just as impressive as Fanny had said it would be. She told me that wherever I go, if I elected to follow her, she would have been sure to have been there before. Just a short hop to my hotel, which it turned out, had an unexpected Hollywood Red Carpet theme. I would spending the next few days in Ginger Rogers. I don't think Fanny had done that.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

The town itself is easy to navigate with old streets lined with poky peek-holes. Bliss for a nosey person like myself. Fanny's advice was to seek out the Mayor, the Postman or the gendarme, and study their shape. If they are oval, ask them where to eat well. Fanny says to never, and she repeats never, follow Americans. Shunning both pieces of advice, I following the smell of food, I made my way along Rue Colbert which was lined with restaurant after brasserie, each setting out its stall in a friendly, familiar manner - letting the diverse menus speak for themselves. No pushy marketing or cajoling required. The choices were endless. Which small, square table enticingly set with wine glasses to sit at? I walked back and forth several times before settling on 'Aux Lapin Qui Fumé', after all the Smoking Rabbit seemed like the kind of place Fanny would have approved of.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

Rue Colbert really was the perfect place to sit and watch Tours go by. A Tours perhaps different to the one visited by Fanny, but essentially the same. Fanny says to ensure I spend well on food, after all the sights are for free. She is not wrong. Opposite was a small vegetarian café - Shanti - which gave it's hours as Monday to Friday 8:30am - 2pm, but I never saw it open. A more elegant neighbour, Restaurant La Ruche, attracted a slightly older clientele deep in conversation. Their young waiter was tall and slender, as thin as a rake, able to contort his body, folding himself in half to serve food as if he were a ballet dancer moonlighting at Maxims.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

Fanny says that if you are rich and have the digestion of a goat, not to bother with her suggestions. Neither apply to me. The menu at the Smoking Rabbit was perfect. A choice of Grande Salades promising to tumble off the plate appealed greatly. I passed on the Salade Vegetarienne and went instead for the Salade Fruites. Piled high with leaves and fruits, topped with a dash of local honey to balance the goats cheese crostini, pink grapefruit (which was expertly cut) and a light, engaging dressing. For dessert, I had to order a firm favourite of Fanny. We've made it together. Soufflé Glacé presented as an homage to Grand Marnier. It did not disappoint.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

I was delighted to note all the wines were offered by the glass, bottle and ideal for moi as a solo diner, half-bottles. The local AOC Touraine was winking at me. C'est Tres Jolie. My evening à la Rue Colbert was perfect. An eclectic pick'n'mix of people, old shuttered apartments flung open to the world, but without obvious signs of life. Gentle queues for mysterious packages formed and dissolved at Pharmacie Colbert, mingling effortlessly with well-to-do ladies meeting to quaff champagne and American tourists attempting to strike up unlikely conversations with strangers. They seem to have followed me, Fanny would not be amused. Sitting un-noticed, un-disturbed and un-rushed, I just enjoy the scene, the food and the wine. What a warm welcome to Tours.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours