(I leave you to translate this, interrupting only to observe that escapade in French is un faux ami, a false friend, because it doesn't mean what it seems: it simply means an outing, maybe with overtones of a change of perspective. So I'm sorry if escapade romantique led you to expect something a bit spicy; what follows is entirely on the level. But I'll try and pimp it up a bit, all the same.)
My birthday falls within a few days of St Valentine's day, hence the hotel's dinner, bed and breakfast promotion. Most years we go away for a day or two in mid-February, but as a significant and sensationally expensive event is coming up at the end of the month Josephine and I thought we'd rein ourselves in a bit, save our euros and go for something fairly modest. So we booked in at the hotel, La Demeure de Flore, which I suppose you could translate as Flora's Manor, Flora being in this sense neither a person nor a butter substitute but the Roman goddess of flowers. La Demeure de Flore is in a village so unassuming that I hesitate to give it a name and merely observe that its chief advantage is that it isn't very far away, in fact so close that if we'd forgotten to pack our toothbrushes it wouldn't have taken much out of the escapade to drive home for them and come back for the revels.
We arrived on a cold grey evening with a snaking wind as bone-chilling as any the High Languedoc can unleash in winter. A noble avenue of leafless lime trees led to an empty car park. Not a good sign. No flowers grew. Evidently Flora hadn't passed this way yet. We braced ourselves.
* * *DINNER was promised for 7.30, so we arrived in the bar half an hour earlier for the glass of champagne included in the price. Before settling down we glanced inside what we took to be the dining room, although no tables were laid. An immense oil painting of a fleshy nude, reminiscent of Goya's La maja nuda, occupied one entire wall. The champagne arrived, pleasantly served with that studied courtesy you don't often find outside France. The waitress announced the menu, a set menu with no choice.
If ever I had to write down items of food or drink which don't turn me on in any sense and which I wouldn't mind if I never thought of again, let alone consumed, they would include:
1. Potatoes (I know. I'm very sorry. Desperately tiresome for anyone doing their best to cook for me.)
Presently we were called to table in part of the dining area hitherto unexplored. It was bright and warm, although the presence of other guests would have livened it up no end. When you're on your own in a dining room with space for maybe thirty other people you tend to become a bit circumspect, a bit furtive, even, and certainly the conversation doesn't flow as spontaneously as it would if the room was full of lively chatter and laughter. In any case we were knocked fairly speechless by the décor. Some inspired artist had heated to malleability large sheets of thick milky glass measuring about 1.5 metres by 1 metre, and had embossed in the glass low-to-medium relief nude female torsos in profile, half-profile, and, just above where Josephine and I were sitting, life-size full frontal anatomically complete with every lump, bump and nodosity. In case you were wondering what the French for nodosity is, I can tell you: it's nodosité.
Four gourmet courses were promised, and as I describe them perhaps you'd like to glance at the list of dislikes a paragraph or two above? This will help you to appreciate their impact better. To start with, the ever-courteous waitress served us potato gnocchi in a creamy coulis of tomatoes, laced with pistou.
There followed rack of lamb, those ribs of lamb that chefs sometimes decorate the ends of with little paper crowns, so that you can pick up the bone without soiling your fingers. We'd been asked beforehand, as always happens in France, for the cuisson, how well the meat should be cooked. I always ask for bien cuit, well done, and it always arrives extra rare. One cut of the knife showed pink inside. Horror. I was repeatedly asked if I wanted it sent back to be a bit more bien cuit, but I refused: I was determined to go through with it.
The cheese course (always before dessert in France, of course) arrived, a slice of Gorgonzola in a cinnamon and honey sauce, while the dessert was a rum baba in a glass with a two inch-thick coating of creamed dark chocolate.
I'm proud to say that despite the fad-list above not a crumb was left, not a smear of sauce, only a few drops of rum in the bottom of the glass. A triumph of first-class cuisine, matched only by a triumph of mind over matter. But of course I had allies: not only the inspiration and encouragement from the Universal Woman above and opposite me, but also the wine. . .
. . . aficionados of this column may have noted that it's not always easy to find positive, enthusiastic references to Languedoc wines in it. Well, I'm happy to redress the balance for once. If ever you have the opportunity to savour a rouge from the Domaine Moulin de Lène (website below, and the music isn't bad either) called Romanus, bow the knee, touch the forelock in respectful deference to a truly magical nectar, a rare and subtle vintage grateful to all the senses.
* * *WE MAY have been cold, we might not have eaten what we might otherwise have chosen (although it's no bad thing to give your gastronomic perspectives a good shaking-up now and again), we may have found the décor on the bizarre side, but we discovered a wonderful wine. A bottle or two will shorten the winter and might even lead to an escapade romantique without the bother of going away, with or without your toothbrush. I should lift a glass and see. A vos nodosités!
Domaine Moulin de Lène