Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Burgundy and The French Riviera (4 of 12) - Le Girelier St Tropez

Bit of a digression here, talking about getting from Lyon to St Paul and the drive to St Tropez - skip down to the bold type if this doesn't grab you. 

Three cabs got loaded up and a mid afternoon drizzly drive to Part Dieu station got followed by a forty minute wait due to delay in the train arriving. Of course. We parked our luggage by the stairs and guarded it like Dobermanns. I'd read stories about train stations in France being a bit hairy for petty thieves. As it was we didn't see anyone even remotely shifty, but then the good thieves don't fit this mould. Whatever, there were squads of mean looking blue uniformed military police style hombres parading up and down the main thoroughfare with their macho looking rifles and would give pause to anyone. For darn sure gave pause to me. Don't mess with these guys. 

The train duly got announced and we boarded what turned out to be the wrong carriage. Which can happen when the carriages are not labelled. Whilst the others went about finding their proper seats and rolling their luggage through the train, Lenglui and I settled into the nearest seats and waited to be told to move by someone in authority or someone with a seat number on their ticket. No one came and we had a pleasant nap filled journey to Aix.

Our breakfast spot on the road into St Paul-de-Vence centre
Off the train and up and down elevators to exit the station and the queue for the Hertz cars. Paperwork processed, hunt for the cars, and off to St Paul de Vence where the five room town house Villa Mandarinette had been rented to serve as our base. We figured given all the delays it would be pretty dark by the time we got to St Paul and sought to keep the cars together as much as possible. We did pretty well on the motorway but we lost each other after we got on to the two lane blacktop main road to St Paul. The village was pretty well signposted, and we found the Villa just after the others had arrived. Got met by the managers and instructed on the amenities. The rooms were quite spartan with a TV, two stools and a concrete shower room, but the view of the village at sunset was stunning. Think we had bread, ham and cheese supper with some of the wine bought in Beaune. Also a 2002 Moet Rose Champagne we had bought in Cardiff got scarfed by everyone. We managed to snuck a glass each and very tasty it was - biscuit, complex and with a few good years left in it yet. Paid about Fifty Pound in House of Fraser. Washed some clothes and hit the sheets.

On the outskirts of St Paul-de-Vence
Woke up to a glorious morning sky and a shaded view of St Paul village. Found the coffee machine and managed to get one espresso out of it before it decided to get temperamental. Bloody French. Ten minutes later, got another for Lenglui but that was pretty much it. It was French press for the rest of the home stay. But it was totally pleasant to sip the morning brew with such an amazing view. No wonder all the artists came here to paint. I would too. If I could paint. The house was rousing and eventually we got it together to wander into the village for breakfast. Down the hill and through the fruit market and town arch for Croissants and coffee at the local patisserie. Very pleasant. We had a free morning which was spent wandering through the main thoroughfare of the town and gawping at all the art and fashion in the shop windows. A very pretty town is St Paul - lots of old stonework and narrow winding streets and enough on the sides to maintain interest. We bought an owl but not much else. 

St Paul-de-Vence main street
The plan was to drive along the Corniche de L'Esterel for the afternoon and end up in St Tropez for a brief wander around the town and a sunset dinner at Le Girelier on the Marina. I spent a bit of time trying to figure out the GPS in the van, but pretty much failed. Seemed to be a bit French and wanting to double back to earlier instructions all the time. I did manage to input our Villa as a favourite though, figuring at the least that if all else failed we would find our way back from wherever we were. Fall back was a map of the French Riviera which came with one of those Insight travel books and which was to prove hugely useful. 

The navigators (all of whom had seemed to have decided to travel in the other van) asserted that they had totally done their homework and had loaded all their maps and everything into the iPads and all we had to do was to just follow the van. So. Within ten minutes they had headed off the complete wrong way. We were later to find out they wanted to take a scenic route to the main road and the GPS screwed them. Hmmm. Needless to say we lost each other as they sought to double back. Busy Roundabouts anywhere will do that to you. So we broke out the paper map and with a bit of "Cow Sense" made our own way along the coast road. We figured if we kept the water to our left we couldn't go far wrong. Got a bit stuck getting through some thick traffic through what we figured might have been Nice but was probably Cros de-Cagnes. Whatever, once out on the coast road it was lovely. The Corniche de L'Esterel is one of those James Bond Riviera drives that take you through mountain hugging road to reveal some of the most stunning vistas this planet has to offer. There's a lovely piece of schmaltz 1960's music called "That Riviera Touch" which was humming through my mind as we were driving the road. Wonderful. Felt like I had arrived somewhere and was totally in the moment. Zen Buddhism holds that we take one moment and release it to the next and simply observe the passage of it - felt a lot like that. Stopped for a few photos on the way and coffee and crepes. We were in phone contact with our navigators who urged us to speed up and make up time but we decided to take our own sweet leisure and get there when we got there. The views and the ride were worth it. 

En route to St Tropez
The road into St Tropez was quite clearly marked and we found the Car Park quite easily. A short walk along the dock area led into the town. There was a sense of faded glory about the place, like an old colonial expatriate who has stayed too long in the one place. A bit shabby, though wealth was clearly in abundance from the huge boats impassively static on the dock. Any one that rocked with the waves was clearly not of class and the big suckers showed it all off. Quite obscene in some respects but there's not one of us reading this who would not change places with someone in that position in a second. Comfortable wealth is the goal of us all; obscene wealth is still the dream. Or the nightmare...

On the Marina in St Tropez - Le Girelier is somewhere in the background
We found the Le Girelier restaurant and reconfirmed that the reservation was 7pm which gave for a bit more shopping time so back into town we headed to look for pharmacy stores. We seem to spend a lot of time in these when overseas, hunting down those little life easers that for some reason are not readily available back home. We are experts on pharmacy stores across the globe. Lenglui had bought some bunion pads in Waterford and had decided that a spare pair were essential. Finding such things at a fair price proved elusive. The staff in the one store we visited didn't seem fully alert, possibly because it was near closing time and they were keen to go home. Didn't buy anything there. 

Interior - photo from restaurant website
Le Girelier - Dinner
Quai Jean Jaures, St Tropez

Situated on the port of Saint-Tropez, Le Girelier claims to be renowned for Seafood specialties and Provencal influences. It offers refined cuisine with fresh ingredients and letting patrons eat in the spirit of the "fisherman's hut." Specialties include whole fish a la plancha, seafood, paella and bouillabaisse and a good wine list. 

Entering the Michelin Two Forks Le Girelier restaurant was a bit like walking into a snowhouse. Visually, it was almost totally shockingly white - the tablecloths, the seats, the staff, though the walls and chairs gave way to a more pastel pink and pine. Must be murder to keep everything so pristine and starchy, but there you go. Also felt a bit austere sitting there, as if we were the germs in the disinfected purity of the place. Being cramped around a round table Chinese style also didn't help, but it's tradition that everyone must sit together. Quite right too. But a bigger table would have helped. 

The location is the real selling point, looking out over a marina filled with gently rocking ships and a sunset that burns the eyes. We had been given prime table to enjoy the sunset over the St Tropez dock - the only downside to this was it was still burning fiercely and brightly as it set and we needed to break out the sunblock and sunglasses to prevent ourselves getting blinded and burnt. It was a bit fierce. 

The Plateau Royale - from the restaurant website
We started with two servings of the PLATEAU ROYAL, comprising 9 Oysters, 4 langoustines, 6 whelks, 8 prawns, sea snails, 1⁄2 crab, shrimps and 1⁄2 lobster. It came out as lots of shellfish stuck into crushed ice on two silver plates in a tower and was visually quite splendid. For the main courses, most of the table went for the Bouillabaisse du Girelier as the main dish. Apparently famous, it is not a dish that traditionally appeals. The bisque is often over seasoned to the point of brutality and becomes very demanding on the palate. Others went for the Loup entier pour 2 pers en croûte de sel (Sea bass for 2 persons in salt crust) which sounded bland and which indeed was predictably salty. So it was to gasps and shrieks of culinary incredulity from some of the assembled that Lenglui and myself went for an extra 6 oyster starter and shared the home made Paëlla Royale. Shock! "How can you eat Paella in France? It's Spanish! You should go for something else! We're in France!!" Well, and maybe. My reasoning was that any seafood at a seaside restaurant should be a better bet than meat or poultry. And St Tropez is not that far from Spain so it might offer a French twist on a Spanish staple. As it turned out the Paella was extremely good. It had spice, taste, verve… and some very good fresh seafood mixed in. Crunchy prawns and fresh mussels and not too ungenerous with them - total belter. The others quietly scarfed their bland fish and mouth beating Bouillabaise and equally quietly finished off our mussels without a word. So. Drinkswise, we had a double bottle of the local St Tropez Rose which was light and crisp and totally refreshing, with good zing and mouth watering acidity. Probably quite cheap too, if we'd gone to look for it on the streets, but no time. Anyway, the palate of the group wouldn't take much more lightness - more complexity was the usual order of the day in the whites. One of the group has a reaction to sulphites so the thinking is that if one is going to drink one might as well drink the very VERY good stuff. Fair enough. Life is too short for headaches from bad wines. Memorable for the sunset, the whiteness and the Paella. Bit cramped but very good seafood. Worth a shot with some light wine at sunset, but get there early to snag the best seats.
The excellent Paella Royale
It was a pleasant evening walk back to the car park where I finally figured out how to use the GPS en route. As said, I had been surprisingly smart enough to input the GPS location of the St Paul villa whilst we were parked that morning getting ready to head off. So inputting it as our destination along with the paper map and a bit of cowsense, the drive back was drama free and quite quick. The only hassle was trying to figure out the toll road gates. The apparent ticket sign was not actually a ticket sign - it was a credit card sign and meant "pay by credit card" rather than "take a ticket." Probably a cultural thing - here in Malaysia we take tickets and pay by preloaded card. We found the gate which took coins and threw money at the machine which let us through. Back at the villa we polished off the fizz and fell into bed. Slept well. 

No comments:

Post a Comment