I haven’t posted a single thing on this blog in a month. The reason for this is pre-Christmas exhaustion caused by illness (me), a broken wrist (smallest kid), a banjaxed knee (middle kid), a terrible teenager (oldest kid), a world-travelling husband and dozens of exams at university. I won’t even go into all the other things that went wrong and all the other stuff that didn’t go right. To make a long story short, it’s been a dreadful few weeks.
To make up for the messed up teaching exam of the morning, I skipped my second class to go for a stroll around the centre of Toulouse. It was good to get into the hustle and bustle of the city. Living in a field, one does not get an awful lot of Christmas spirit: no Santa’s grotto, no Ho-ho-hos (not even the type in short skirts), no seasonal music in the shops (just Justin Bieber on NRJ radio), even the Christmas lights only came on this evening in our little town. Walking around the pretty displays and glittering shop windows in the main shopping streets of Toulouse made for a nice change. Not that I need to buy anything – my kids are getting books and fun outings with people who love them and nobody else is getting any gifts. In fact, the only shops I actually entered were a wool shop for half a dozen balls of soft, pretty wool that cost more than a finished jumper would, and a coffee roaster’s for two pounds of freshly-roasted coffee beans from Nicaragua. And I was happy.
Hubby met me at lunchtime and we decided to try one of Christian Constant’s many restaurants, the Bibent brasserie on the Place du Capitole. It’s a proper Toulousaine institution – its decor is characteristic of the Belle Epoque and the building was registered as an historical monument in 1975, but it is just as famous for the French statesman and sometime journalist Jean Jaurès coming here to write his articles for the Dépêche. It is also rumoured that three Serb students, members of a Pan-Slavic secret society, hatched out a plan for the assassination of a certain Archduke Franz Ferdinand who would subsequently die in Sarajevo on June 28th 1914… Who knows for sure? Perhaps World War I started right here, at one of the tables of the Brasserie Bibent?
Constant being who he is, and the Place du Capitole being what it is, there were no free tables in the main dining room. We were led downstairs to the more intimate Salle Claude Nougaro with its red brick arched ceiling and comfy leather seats. Strangely enough, the absence of windows wasn’t a problem – the decorators have done a good job turning a cellar into a cozy room.
What followed was a generous hour of classic, good French cuisine. Some of the dishes on the menu are rather surprising in their simplicity: Oeuf Mimosa like Granny Constant used to make them, caramelized potatoes stuffed with pigs trotters, roasted Cantal fowl with herb butter and mashed potatoes… The menu breathed family tradition and hearty winter food.
I had foie gras with toasted pain de campagne as a starter, while Hubby opted for the salmon, sea bass, and oyster tartare. Both were delightful.
Next, I had a thick slice of calf’s liver with a lovely little vegetable garden served on the side. I’m the only one in the family who really, really loves liver, so it’s one of my favourites to order when we eat out. The liver was spiked with crispy slivers of streaky bacon. I mean, what’s not to like?
We shared dessert in an attempt to render this meal ever so slightly less decadent (we failed, obviously): a mile-high millefeuille with salted caramel sauce. Typical for me, this was the least exciting part of the meal, but this time for an atypical complaint: it wasn’t quite sweet enough. I assume the caramel sauce was supposed to balance out the flavours, but the cream felt closer to sour cream than vanilla anything.
The coffee was spot on – hot, strong, perfectly balanced – and the red wine of the day is a keeper: IGP Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Domaine Clément Noualhac 2014.
Brasserie Bibent is not cheap – the à la carte menu for 2 people with wine will set you back 100€ – but tomorrow is my birthday. Because I’m worth it.