Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Biggest Cattle Market in France

When we were at the Charolais cattle market at St Christophe-en-Brionnais recently, we got chatting to a man who sells cattle feed. It transpired that the “biggest” cattle market in France was just down the road from us in Bourg-en-Bresse and not being able to resist a day out, we went on Tuesday morning to see yet more cows.

Farmers milling around amongst the cattle

Less than an hour from home, we were outside the huge building where all the action takes place.

Nosey cows
Inside the building there are hundreds of pens with each pen containing different types, sizes and ages of cattle. The farmers mill around and chat to one another, business is done on a human scale here. Unlike St-Christophe, the selling is still done on a one to one basis between the buyer and seller for the animals in each pen. To the untrained eye, it looks like a bunch of farmers chatting with each other, but on careful observation you can see some of them writing in little notebooks and then pieces of paper are furtively exchanged.

Isn't she a cutey?
It is a far cry from the cattle markets of my youth with the incoherent shouting of the auctioneer and the market “à la cadran” in St-Christophe which seems just as frenetic. This is really chilled out and apparently just as effective as all animals seem to be sold and all the farmers we saw seemed to be content. The cattle are not marched in and out of an auctioneer’s ring and they seem to be very content.

Depending on the age and type of animal, different times are allocated for the selling and where the bidding is not going on, visitors like us can have free access to the animals. It was lovely just walking around and chatting to the calves.

Sampling the merchandise
The only bad thing about the market is that it is a way out of town, that makes access and parking easy, but you can’t leave the market and wander around the town, soaking up the market day atmosphere and enjoy a leisurely lunch in a restaurant. There is an on-site restaurant but we decided to move on and visit the monastery at Brou. We found a superb restaurant just opposite the monastery and I’ll give you three guesses what we ordered - well what else can you eat on cattle market day?

Saturday, 11 February 2017

New restaurant at Ponte de Cotte

Massive rennovations
When we first arrived in France, there was a great simple restaurant at Pont de Cotte, less than 10 minutes drive from here on the way to Cluny. It was packed every lunchtime and when we ate there we could see why. The food was good, wholesome, home-cooked food for a reasonable price. Sadly the owner became ill and the restaurant shut. Someone bought it but they soon realised that they couldn’t fund the renovations and by the time another person with enough money to do the work arrived, we had been without our restaurant for a couple of years.

The new owners had very grand plans. They totally gutted the place including a disused barn next door and turned it into a party centre cum restaurant cum music venue cum wine seller cum cum cum cum. In my humble opinion, the scattergun approach to their business model left everyone confused as to what they actually were. Their menu was not very exciting (steak and chips and the like) and expensive enough for us to travel the extra 5 minutes to Cluny to get the same food for a fraction of the price. I asked a number of people who went there what they thought of it and every single one of them said the surroundings and the view over the river were lovely. From that I read that the food was not worth the visit. Secondly they had a sneaky way of selling wine. Being wine merchants, they advertised the price on the menu as the price from their shop with a corkage charge in small letters at the bottom of the menu. Their wine was not cheap to start with, and it gave some of our friends a nasty shock when the bill arrived. All in all, unsurprisingly, they shut after about a year.

Unfortunate name for a restaurant
The next set of owners opened a restaurant rather unfortunately named “The Number Two” (I kid you not) and despite the name (obviously the French didn’t understand this English idiom) they brought the restaurant back to the earlier levels of popularity by offering excellent value for money and great food. The place was always packed. Suddenly last year the restaurant closed. On asking around it appeared that they were only renting the place and the owners (the people who had invested in the renovations) had upped the rent so far that the new restaurant owners couldn’t afford to pay it any more –what did I say about poor business sense?

Looking good!
It must have been shut more than year when we noticed a sign – opening 20th January. It was advertised as a Franco-Italian restaurant and encouraged by the lack of the word pizzeria, we eagerly waited for the opening date.

On the 20th January we were there and we weren’t the only ones. I was rather disappointed to see that it was in fact a pizza pasta restaurant – don’t the French understand Italian cuisine? That said, the menu was interesting and they did have a menu de jour. As it was a Friday, the plat du jour was seafood, which left me out, so I decided to go for some ravioli and Cees chose the menu de jour. As the order was taken, we were heavily encouraged to take the most expensive wine, reliably informed that it was the landlord’s own wine – will he not stop meddling and promoting his flawed business model? We opted for a glass of something significantly cheaper.

Looks um well I won't say - it tasted fantastic though
Before my meal arrived the waitress returned to say that the ravioli hadn’t arrived yet and neither had the lasagne, so I had to choose something different. Not a good start, pre-made raviolis I can cope with (although if you are advertising yourself as an Italian restaurant I would expect that to be homemade) but lasagne bought in pre-prepared? Never mind, some spicy macaroni with lardons would do.

Cees’ starter arrived - a tomato and mushroom salad. I’m not sure what you would expect, but I was rather surprised to see that it was just a plate of sliced raw tomatoes and sliced raw mushrooms with a drizzling of balsamic vinegar. I was glad that I hadn’t ordered it.

The main courses arrived, mine looked very unappetizing but was in fact delicious, Cees’ looked interesting, but according to him was tasteless. When the plates were delivered to our table we were offered parmesan cheese, which we said we would like, but sadly that was either not easily available or forgotten and we waited about 15 minutes for it to arrive, I was already half way through my pasta by then having given up any hope of seeing it.

It looked a lot better in real life, but no taste
Paying was also extremely painful. We stood for about 20 minutes at the bar waiting to pay and that included the waitress taking orders from two tables and delivering useful things like a jug of water to another table. Every time she walked past us she said “j’arrive” but never did.

I will forgive a lot as it was their first day, but when I got home and found out that they have a restaurant in Tournus, the inefficiency of the staff is unforgiveable. Your first day is your showcase and on the basis of that experience we won’t be going back in a hurry.

There are a lot of cars in the car park when we pass at lunch times as it is conveniently located and reasonably priced for the tradesmen who need to have a lunch break in the area, but I can’t see many people like us going back again for a second, similar experience. I hope it works out for them, but I have my doubts.
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