Too Selfish to a be food writer

Sometimes I think I am way too selfish to be a travel or food writer, like many in the profession I am in search of that unspoilt beach, or the little bistro tucked up a cobbled street in some French city.

Except when I do I want to keep them to myself, those top restaurant critics have in their power to either destroy a restaurant or often praise them to the sky which results if fully booked tables, six month waiting lists and no chance of us locals getting fed.

On one of those rare occasions when one of the broadsheets finest ventured north of the M25 and reviewed a small restaurant in Leamington Spa he rated it 10 out of 10, within days you could not get in for love or money, the local streets were blocked with Volvo Estates with Kensington Street parking permits.

Sadly, they could not cope with their success, and it no longer exists.

It is the same on the travel front, those top writers rave about a little village in Spain that no one has ever stepped foot in, the beach in Bali that can only be reached by boat or the little Cornish fishing village where you can buy fish straight off the boat as it docks in spectacular sunsets.

My good friend Richard Binns who had a passion for France wrote several books, Hidden France and Off the Beaten Track being just two, great books but changing the places in them forever.

Back in the 1970s I stumbled across the village of St Mawes tucked away at the end of the Roseland Peninsula just across the water from Falmouth.

In those days it had a was a working fishing harbour, it had two or three slightly run-down hotels, a couple of pubs where fisherman swopped tales and sang shanties, two banks, a post office, a homemade fudge shop and Patrick who made the best pasties in Cornwall.

Its geographical situation meant it had its own microclimate, somewhat seduced I acquired a cottage down there on a long-term lease and bought a small boat that I kept in the Percuil River.

But then it was discovered, it now boasts the best hotels in the county, property prices have gone through the roof, the cottage I rented recently sold for £1.5 million, indeed just this week a survey showed property prices having gone up 54% in the last twelve months.

The price of the car park is the same as a weeks rent on a flat in my hometown of Warwick, the main item each month on the Parish Council agenda is another application from yet another resident for permission to land his helicopter on a regular basis.

Locals can no longer afford to live in the village, but it is still a charming place and Patrick is still there making the best pasties in Cornwall.

Moving on to food, once when interviewing a legendary three-star Michelin star chef I asked him what the best meal he had ever eaten, “If that’s the best question you’ve got you better leave now”. Apparently, it is a standard question all chefs get asked and really irritates them.

I am going to share my best ever meal with you, it was in France and that’s all I will tell you though there are a couple clues in the story that may help you identify the region.

We were staying in a farmhouse that did bed breakfast and evening meal and was a perfect overnight stop on our long journey south, dinner was taken at a massive communal table around which all the guests sat, several different nationalities though it did not go down well with a stuck-up English family from London.

There was no menu, no choices you had what the farmer and his wife served up and all that we ate they very proudly announced came from their farm.

The first course was a vast bowl of carrot rapee, simply grated carrots dressed with vinaigrette and a handful of caraway seeds, then a massive turkey, no prissy slices but hacked into big chunks with a well-used cleaver.

Served with just a few green beans and a handful of potatoes that had cooked in the birds juices it was as good as anything I have eaten before or since.

Here is a clue, no wine with the meal but big crock jugs full of cider produced by our host Farmer Marcel.

Next up was as the French tend to do, cheese, a brilliant white goats cheese fresh and creamy accompanied by slices of farmhouse bread with unsalted butter and dripping with honey from Marcels bees.

Dessert next, Ilse Flotant, a cold custard thick with vanilla flavour a soft meringue with crisp caramel draped across the top floating on it. Absolutely delicious.

And then the piece de resistance, more crock jugs but this time full of Calvados, there is another clue, proudly plonked on the table by Marcel. Being a working farm, his hands were gnarled and his fingernails black, much to the chagrin of our sniffy friends from London.

30 years since that meal and still the best finest I have eaten, and Marcel and his wife are still there, all the best of luck in finding them.

Just to come bang up to date this week I popped into a tearoom somewhere to the west of Cirencester and had the best flapjack I have eaten indeed it was so good I had two, good luck in finding that too, I am not going to tell you.

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