France Culinary Travel Diary – Carcassonne and Toulouse

Le Fermier

France Culinary Travel Diary – Carcassonne and Toulouse

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Though it’s commonplace for French kids to grow up being surrounded by chateau-a-plenty countryside, and villages filled with wooden shutters and terracotta tiled roofs, even I was in awe when I laid eyes on the medieval fortress city of Carcassonne. With a history dating back to Roman times, full of sieges, ruin and renovation, the city walls still hold many secrets.

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What’s not a secret though, is that some of the best Cassoulet in the world can be found here, and because it’s a regional specialty it won’t cost you an arm and a leg either. It’s hard to find somewhere to eat within the fortress walls that isn’t “touristy” but I couldn’t have been happier with my choices, which were a little more tucked away. The first was L’Adelaïde and the second was Le Chaudron. The cassoulet at both ticked all the key boxes: crispy top layer, stewed Lingot beans, confit de canard & saucisse de Toulouse, while Le Chaudron’s version also featured pork to their dish, which was the point of difference for me to declare theirs my favourite. A word to the wise, Cassoulet is incredibly rich and filling so it’s best enjoyed at lunch and in the cooler months.

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After Carcasonne, The Madame and I stayed in Toulouse so we took the opportunity to try another variation of the Cassoulet. I could taste the difference immediately between each towns’ version. My Toulouse Cassoulet from Cave au Cassoulet, was saucier (with a hint of tomato), richer (thanks more duck fat being included in the recipe) and, in my opinion, used more delicious sausages (as I’d expect considering the city of Toulouse is the sausage’s namesake). Though I heartily enjoyed every Cassoulet, my overall favourite remains Le Chaudron’s in Carcasonne. It’s all a matter of personal taste though, so if you’ve found somewhere you think serves better, let me know in the comments below! And, if you can’t head to France anytime soon, but are craving something hearty for a cold winter’s day, check out my recipe and try your hand at it.

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For lunch on the go in Toulouse that’s a little lighter on the stomach and the pocket, you can’t go past Pikanik, a super trendy but equally delicious sandwich and salad bar that was packed by lunch time with students, office workers and tourists alike. For under 10€ you get your choice of salad or baguette, drink and dessert, and it’s even less if you don’t want all 3.

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The true gem of Toulouse though, as a coffee lover, is La Fiancée, a Salon de Café that served coffee to rival the best Melbourne cafés, including perfectly poured lattés! The staff were friendly, the decor justifiably hipster and the location perfect for people watching. A must visit!

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My Carcassonne & Toulouse Picks:

  • L’Adelaïde – 5 Rue Adélaïde de Toulouse 11000 Carcassonne
  • La Chaudron – 6 Rue Saint-Jean 11000 La Cité Carcassonne
  • La Cave au Cassoulet – 54 Rue Peyrolières 31000 Toulouse
  • Pik nik – 6 Bis Rue Roumiguières 31000 Toulouse
  • La Fiancée – 54 Rue Peyrolières 31000 Toulouse

France Culinary Travel Diary – Montpellier and Sète

Le Fermier

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It was pouring with rain when the Madame and I rolled into Montpellier. Surfacing from the underground carpark in the stunning Place de la Comédie, it was lunchtime and we were hungry so we headed for the closest restaurant and stumbled, very happily, upon L’Entrecôte. Decked out floor to ceiling in bumblebee coloured plaid, the L’Entrecôte here has the same formula as the restaurant chain of the same name in Paris. It’s simple: entrée is oak leaf lettuce, goats cheese and walnut salad, and main is Entrecôte, sliced super fine, with a sauce à la maison and as many shoestring fries as you can handle. There’s something calming about sitting down to a meal and knowing you only have to make one choice: “how do I want my steak cooked?”      

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of an entrecôte, it’s basically a rib eye without the bone, but it tastes different because of the different breed of cows between Australia and France.

Being a rainy Monday night in Montpellier when not a lot was open, and still full to the brim with frites and steak, we opted for a casual dinner of take-away burgers as this seemed to be a real trend sweeping the town. We found a great little place, which I suppose was the equivalent of Australia’s Grill’d, called 321 Burger where the meat was cooked to your liking, as were the toppings.

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Moving onto the seaside town of Sète, the skies were kind and provided a perfect backdrop of bright blue to the fishing boats and the café-lined main street. Being a town with a fishing heritage, you’d be correct in thinking the seafood here is great, it is. Along the main street stands restaurant after restaurant, proprietors out the front beckoning tourists to dine with them. The one that took our fancy, Porto Pollo, had a large blackboard, separate to the usual tourist menu, with “Moules Frites 13€” written in huge letters. We were sold and not disappointed. I overheard the owner telling another customer that they’d recently reduced the size of their menu which meant was that everything that remained was fresh, nothing frozen, and I could taste said freshness with every little garlic butter drizzled mussel I ate. Add some crispy shoestring fries, a cold glass of Rosé and the warmth of the Midday sun, and there’s not much more you can ask of a day in the South of France!

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My Montpellier &  picks:

  • L’Entrecôte : 3 Rue de Verdun 34000 Montpellier
  • 321 Burger : 4 Rue St Come 34000 Montpellier
  • Porto Pollo: 17 Quai Général Durand 34200 Sète

 

France Culinary Travel Diary – First stop: Aix-en-Provence

Le Fermier

France Culinary Travel Diary – First stop: Aix-en-Provence

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First stop is the medieval town of Aix-en-Provence, in France’s South, slightly North of Marseille. It’s only April so the town is still a little sleeply, coming out of its winter hiatus, prepping for the tsunami of tourists that will flood Provence during the summer months.

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The main drag, Cours Mirabeau, is 100% geared for these visitors, with Paris-style bistrots and Irish pubs overlooking the fountains and designer stores. They’re great for aperitif and people watching and our favourite was Bar Le Grillon. But, it’s the back streets that were far more interesting food wise and also where the Saturday markets are held. This is what I missed most about France and Aix did not disappoint!

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It was a slightly drizzly morning when the Madame and I stepped onto the sandstone pavement, bright eyed at 7am thanks to some residual jetlag. We followed the locals as they weaved their way through narrow alleys and lanes, until we were warmly greeted by stalls upon stalls of the freshest and brightest looking vegetables, meats, fruits and flowers, protected from the weather by a canopy of elm trees.

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I bought a fresh punnet of strawberries, a saucisson de Taureau and some Herbes de Provence, but if I’d had a little kitchen I would have gladly bought some Tomates de Marmande which were vibrant red and as big as two fists, fresh oysters and Homard Bretons (lobster) and about as much cheese as my nose could handle. The Madame on the other hand, would have happily spent all our Euros on bunches of peonies, despite not having anywhere to put them but in the back seat of our hire car…

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It was also on the corner of this market square where I discovered a little coffee shop that made a mean short black but also sold coffee beans, which they ground fresh to order, from around the world, including Australia! The Madame’s latté left her wanting as it looked more like a ‘froth-a-cino’ on steroids but neither of us could fault the quality of the shot.

 

I noticed a huge Italian influence (or is that tourist influence, not sure which?!) food-wise with every second restaurant seemingly a pizzeria. We found a great one though, simply called “Le Pizza”, where the ingredients were super fresh, top quality and well priced.

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The culinary specialty of Provence is the Callison, a small almond biscuit that is made in many flavours, but always almond shaped. They aren’t cheap, but they are delicious and there are two famous stores to buy them at. Le Calisson du roi René and patisserie Béchard.

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Next stop is Montpellier by way of Marseille. If you have any must visit places, I’d love you to share them with me!

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My Aix-en-Provence Picks:

  • Café Le Grillon – 49 Cours Mirabeau 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France
  • Le Brûlerie – 1 Place Richelme 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France
  • La Pizza – 3 rue Aude 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France
  • Farmers & Flowers Markets – Place de l’Hotel de Ville 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France
  • Callisons de Roy René – 13 rue Gaston de Saporta 13100 Aix-en-Provence
  • Pâtisserie Béchard 12 Cours Mirabeau 13100 Aix-en-provence