Almanac Food: Art and beauty in various forms

 

How do you work out value when it comes to eating a good meal at a restaurant? When is a meal just the antidote of hunger, so probably the cheaper the better? Or when is an expensive gourmet experience a combination of art, beauty and pleasure worth a considerable financial investment?

 

Here are two tales from our travels.

 

We stayed in a farmhouse in the Dordogne for a week – only about five residences in the whole village and not all of them inhabited while we were there. A rainy day not conducive to sightseeing saw us drive a few kilometres to the next hamlet, Masclat, to savour a French, middle of the day meal at a typical local eatery in a typical local village.

 

A set menu for €13.50 (just over $A20) each plus a bit more for a (very) modest house red. For that, we got five courses: a big bowl of leek soup infused with brown bread (hearty), a first plate of terrine with a mountain of lettuce (tasty), a main of roast pork medallion with potatoes dauphinois, a platter of five sizeable cheeses with crackers, and a dessert of creme brûlée with a slice of orange cake. Tea or coffee also part of the deal. It was unpretentious, less than ostentatious in its presentation, at a pretty ordinary little table with a plastic tablecloth and served with no great elan.

 

It was a brilliant meal – good country style, home cooked, down to earth, generously proportioned and delicious food that satisfied the soul. Just like Mum used to make on the farm. Plus the experience of an authentic rural French setting among local people.

 

How do place a value on that? It was certainly worth a lot more than we paid! And it was a rare experience for us.

 

Today was a bit (!) different. Five years ago, I experienced the best meal of my life at The Ledbury, a Michelin starred restaurant on Notting Hill, London. At the time, it rated in the top twenty restaurants in the world. On that occasion, we had the basic three course lunch set menu and two half bottles of the cheapest red and white on the list. But it was the setting, the service, the flavours, the textures, the subtleties and the presentation that absolutely floored me. The great gastronomical experience of my life.

 

We went back today, a bit of a gamble if you are hoping to repeat the experience. We decided that this would be one of the highlights of our trip and that the experience would be worth the not inconsiderable expense involved. This time we chose the four course lunch menu with matching wines, the most expensive meal I’ve ever eaten.

 

At several points during the meal I sat with tears in my eyes as I took stock of the situation. My very modest upbringing on the farm was a world removed from this elegant setting and I wished that Mum, a good cook in her own right and not without an appreciation of the finer things in life, would have had the chance to experience this. I appreciated that this was a rare privilege and sat there thankful for the opportunity. I surveyed the art and beauty of the presentation of each course as it came and then revelled in the experience of the range of flavours, textures and subtleties they provided. The matching wines enhanced the pleasure and the service was flawless. This was total bliss!

 

So let’s go back to the original questions above.

 

I don’t think you can fairly compare the two experiences. One cost a considerable multiple of the other but both were great value. Each was emblematic of its subset in the gastronomic spectrum even though one was plain cooking and the other haute cuisine. Both provided pleasure as well as an enjoyable experience, but then so did the genuine Cornish pastie we had the other day in Bath. Both provided a version of sustenance, even if so, so differently.

 

I think I am just bloody lucky to have had the opportunity to savour them both. To paraphrase Matt O’Hanlon, “You’ve just got to love food.”

 

 

 

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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. As well as being one of Footy Almanac's online editors, I moonlight as an editor for hire - check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au

Comments

  1. I know what you mean IJH – when you mention your forebears and your upbringing and food. I was in a restaurant three or four times until I left for uni. Weis’s Smorgasbord in Toowoomba which is where the extended family gathered to celebrate the cousins’ confirmations. At uni, pizza at Pepe’s (remember that great place in St Lucia) was something special and I recall my first ever real restaurant outing to a Chinese place in Sydney during IV Golf in 1980. That felt very special – and decadent. It was funded by the little kick we got from the uni sports association to help finance the trip.

  2. Hi Ian, over here in good old Adelaide, I had a favourite restaurant that i would take my current girl friend for an excellent meal and it was then off to the movies. The eating place was called the Lido Barbecue and I loved their fillet Mignon, it was both. delicious and mouth watering. Would you believe, one night with a gorgeous red head, I had 2 servings (the extra instead of desert) much to Erica’s amusement.

    Besides great food, I have always enjoyed the company of red heads and no, I didn’t marry Erica. She dumped me about 6 weeks later. I did however did marry another red head, Heather and we have been married for 47 years. I love her dearly.

    Incidentally these days we both enjoy a good feed of fish and chips. We have a great shop close handy.I am unable to go fishing, health problems, to catch my own like I used to.

  3. Did your mother really make creme brûlée; potato dauphinoise and terrine? Jeez mine made grilled chops, sausages, mashed potatoes, carrots and peas or beans. Roast chook or lamb on Sundays. Not much variety but bloody tasty.
    With you on the many and varied things that can go into a great meal. The food; the vibe; the friends; the setting. Had one a few years back on the front porch of the Avenging Eagle’s rellies in her birthplace of Makarska. Modest place but high on the scarp with views over the Adriatic Sea and islands. Sky and sea the deepest aquamarine. Warm sun and not a breath of wind.
    Local cheese; prosciutto and home baked crusty bread. Local olive oil. Whole fish grilled over vine cuttings. Blitva – potatoes with spinach, garlic and loads of olive oil. Local beer and simple fresh bjello vino.
    Heaven on a stick.
    Thanks for reviving the memories and stimulating the senses.
    Can’t think of how your week could have gone better for a Queenslander (extra points for restraint).

  4. Great stuff Ian. When I lived in England an absolute treat was a Cornish pastie from the accurately named West Cornwell Pastie Co. Although they were north of four quid they were a treat. When we returned many years later it was high on the list and didn’t disappoint. Keep travelling well, and post more of your journey.

  5. Ian Hauser says

    Thanks for the feedback (no pun intended), gents.
    JTH – when I was at boarding school in Toowoomba in the second half of the 60s, Weis had their setup at Picnic Point. Parents came every third Sunday to take us out for the afternoon and Weis and/or the large public park there were regular destinations. If my parents brought along a picnic lunch, Mum was sure to include a pineapple tart with melted marshmallows on top – my favourite! And, like you, restaurants were places other people went to. The local cafe in Laidley run by Peter Cominos was our limit, and even that rarely. Takeaway was very rare because we lived on the farm and life had to be inexpensive. Mum and Dad spent whatever they had left over on sending four of us to boarding school to give us the opportunities denied to them when they were young. They would have groaned at the bill yesterday!
    Fisho, great stories. My favourite pub in Adelaide was the Goodward Park where, in the early 70s, I took a few young lasses for the ‘Wiener schnittel’ – that’s the way it was spelt on the chalkboard. Huge piece of veal that fell over the sides of the plate, and cheap to boot. There was also a great Chinese place on Unley Road called ‘Unley Palace’ that seemed quite sophisticated to this country boy Then, in the city block, there was a great Greek place named ‘The Aeneid’ on Whatmore Square (?) owned by the Souvertjis family whose daughter I taught.
    PB – no, Mum didn’t make those particular dishes, although she did a great potato gratin. She probably could have if she had the ingredients and put her talents to it. Like you, it was all meat and three veg stuff for us. Funny how chicken was for special occasions in those days. Our luxury was steak. Dad ran a few head of cattle and every now and then would get our Irish neighbour John O’Shea, who worked then at his in-law’s butcher’s shop, to help slaughter a beast and do the cutting up. Talk about flavour! We had it simple but we had it tasty, nutritious and we all sat down and ate together. And, yes, a good week for Queenslanders. Now we just need Ash Barty to get up later today at the French Open. Loved the sound of your Adriatic experience.
    Mickey – we’re near the end of our trip, back home in just over a week. I might do something in review. Certainly lots that could be shared. Meanwhile, keep up your pub reviews – I enjoy them very much.

  6. Ian Hauser says

    Update: It’s a Queenslamder week as the girl from Ipswich wins the French Open to follow on from the State of Origin lads on Wednesday. You little beauty, Ash Barty! Celebrating in Knightsbridge.

    Queenslander!

    (Sorry for the lack of restraint, PB.)

  7. Jason Day for the Trifecta in the US Open at Pebble Beach next weekend? Adam Scott is a chameleon like Bob Hawke and JT Harms. State allegiances and origins vary from week to week and sport to sport. Is Adam a Queenslander or a Croweater?

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