In which I visit a very traditional pork restaurant and consider the old French ways of eating meat complete with teeth and toenails…
One of the great things about living in rural Pas de Calais in the north of France is the chance to explore the hundreds of tiny villages which look as though time has stood still with old houses, ancient churches, traditional boulangeries and charcuteries. There are rivers and streams, forests and woods, sandy beaches are never far away and there are fine towns like Montreuil-sur-Mer and Hesdin which are lively and vibrant and awash with history.
This weekend I went with the Other Half to Dourriez which is close to the border with Picardy and not far from Montreuil-sur-Mer. It is a typical, sleepy French village with a grand and imposing church that seems out of place in such a quiet little place. This is one of those towns that looks like it has not changed in decades; there are no shops and just one restaurant.
We decided to have lunch at that one restaurant, the Estaminet l’Andouiller – estaminet is a Flemish word for brasserie, bistro of café – the Flemish influence is strong in this part of France. The restaurant was almost full to the brim and had a great atmosphere, we were welcomed as friends and seated.
The menu with lots of traditional French dishes can be seen on slates hanging from the beams alongside dried hops. A fire was lit in the huge chimney where on the first and third Friday of every month, the evening menu is hog roast (an accordionist plays French music on those nights). As the restaurant is owned and run by famous pork butcher Michel Vasseur, a gold medal winner for his sausages, pork was the main offering.
I considered out loud what “grottin de porc a la biere” might be and a man seated behind me leaned back and said, “I hope you don’t mind but I heard you considering the grottin. It’s very nice, cooked in local beer, but I thought I would just mention that it is the snout of a pig and sometimes it comes with teeth”.
Now, I don’t know if that is true or not however, it crossed my mind that you can take the girl out of London and… I’m not quite ready for that dish yet.
We then considered the rest of the menu and I saw something with pork glazed with honey which I thought sounded great. It was pig’s feet though, and someone once told me that sometimes they come with the toe nails on. Another London moment for me then.
In the end I chose a pork stew which was delicious. The chef and award-winning pork butcher came out and shook hands with everyone in the restaurant much to his daughter’s annoyance as he got in the way of the servers! “Papa” she scolded him “stop making our life so difficult” as he kissed the English couple in greeting behind me as she was trying to put plates of food on their table.
Up at the bar a group of French farmers had popped in for a quick break and were knocking back glasses of rosé, their tractors parked outside. A birthday lunch was taking place at one end of the restaurant and newcomers known to the farmers group received kisses on both cheeks before being kissed again by the table party (I estimated about 23 minutes was spent on kissing!). At 14.00 on the dot, the farmers departed for their tractors and home with a clatter and a puff of black smoke, one of them with an old fellow clinging precariously on to the back of the vehicle.
It was a wonderful taste of yesteryear, a fabulous, authentic restaurant with a welcoming ambiance… rural France at its best.