There’s this place… it’s tiny. Yet it isn’t. How do I explain…?
It’s a restaurant just beside Toulouse’s Marché Victor Hugo, one of several covered markets where one can buy the most wonderful produce to cook wonderful meals. At Victor Hugo, there are two fabulous fish mongers (sorry about the flowery language, but they deserve it): one is called the Marée Toulousaine, the other is Belloq. Their stalls are piled high with fresh fish and shellfish and the hardest part is deciding what to buy, because it means there are so many things you have to decided NOT to buy. I mean… look at this! Belloq have just done some renovation work on their stand and are going to use one end as an oyster bar. Can’t wait! (Note: Quality is top, but prices are city centre high).
Anyway, if you dont feel like cooking, I highly recommend crossing the street from the market and stepping into L’Air de Famille. On sunny days, there is a handful of little bistro tables outside on the footpath, but space is limited. On Friday, the weather was too cool for sitting outside, so in we went.
You actually have to go up a couple of steps for the ground floor where there are a few little tables and a long, high table with room for 8 – it actually used to be a wooden butcher’s block. There’s a label on it, in case you’re interested in getting one for yourself:
The smiling server offers us a table downstairs, in the cellar. We plead a little. I’m not in the mood for eating downstairs, although it’s terribly cute: at the bottom of the stairs, a couple of round tables for 4 are set in the centre, but tables for two are hidden in little tiny alcoves that must have been wine cellars or individual cellars for the different families who used to live in the building a long time ago. Now they create intimacy for a meal en tête-à-tête within a busy restaurant that is absolutely buzzing with chat and activity. So there must be room for about 50 people in all, but you always get the impression of being left in to some sort of culinary secret and you’re lucky to get a table.
We manage to snag two seats at the butcher’s block. I sit with my back against the bar. A tarte tatin is just right of my shoulder on the counter top. I believe a chocolate fondant is somewhere behind me. I can smell it. If I look over my shoulder, I can see into the kitchen through the little hatch and see the chef’s hands fluttering over the plates, adding the finishing touches before they are pushed through.
We’ve eaten here before. It’s usually quite traditional French cuisine, but always fresh, modern and impeccably executed. Take a look at today’s menu (they don’t print it on a card – it changes according to what’s good at the market, so they write in on a chalkboard and it changes pretty much daily):
I order the tete de veau (calf’s head). It’s very tasty, and its gelatinous texture is beautifully offset by the bitter leaves it is served with. If I had to criticize it, I would have liked the slices of veal to be as crispy on the outside as they are soft on the inside, like the Italian porchetta we ate in Frascati. In any case, I’m happy.
We both have the fish as our main course (although the chicken looks succulent – I spy it across the room at another table… but I know we will be having chicken for dinner). The ling tastes the way it should, and although I personally feel that risotto is overrated, there is a tiny stuffed patisson squash in the plate that makes me forget the overcooked rice and puts a smile on my face. Cute and delicious… sounds like the perfect date!
I am happy to sip my glass of Chardonnay from around Carcassonne somewhere, but Hubby orders a Millefeuille for dessert. It is a mistake. Although there is a long list of items on the dessert menu, I get the impression pastry is not the restaurant’s strong suit.
I might be wrong. I haven’t tried everything yet. I guess I’ll just have to go back, eh?
L’Air de Famille, 20 place Victor Hugo, 31000 Toulouse, 05 61 21 93 29