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.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Cannes to Paris Avalon Cruise September 2017 - Day Seven

Friday September 22, 2017

Same routine, up and shave, dress for breakfast, eat, watch the scenery as the ship tootled its way along the Rhone river (today was herons on the river banks and lots of small trees). There was the traditional buzz from the Cruisers as we entered one of the 15 locks that raised and lowered the ships traversing the rivers. They all jockeyed for places to video or photograph the said raising or lowering - couldn't figure out the attraction; once down, it was all pretty dark. Must make for good viewing…

Jean Loup talking about Viviers
As said in a previous post, breakfast had changed from the ham and cheese roll to oatmeal with prunes apricots and some absolutely delicious honey from the comb. This got rounded off by croissants with butter and jam and reasonable coffee to wash it all down. Breakfast of champions. Which also, in the immortal words of Rumpole of the Bailey, kept the system "astonishingly regular" - the morning business was swift and… multiple. Yes. Must buy some air freshener at the next supermarket.

Locked in a lock waiting to get, er, unlocked...
Today, though, it was decided to try the bacon and beans and fluffy scrambled eggs with toast and butter which would have been absolutely top end had the bacon been less a strip of rubber and more edible. The thing refused to be chewed and resisted all attempts to cut with either knife or teeth. There you go - lesson learnt. Stick with the ham. As it was, the egg and beans on toast was magnificent. Taste of childhood, all goo and butter fat bread crunch. Brahma.

The pretty tree lined walk to Viviers
The morning would see a most entertaining lecture on France and the French from Jean Loup. There is a delightful self deprecating touch to Jean Loup; he celebrates the foibles of his fellow patriots with the lightest of needles to highlight the occasional sense of the ridiculous that perfectly resonates with me. My worldview is that we must all be able to laugh at ourselves and recognise both our own fragile humanity and the divinity of the comedy therein. There is a great commonality here that unites humans in a way that can cross nations, sexes and races. But we have to let down those barriers that we feel necessary to erect seen as essential to maintaining perceived self worth; ultimately they are self delusional and destructive. Smash the mirror, Tommy…

Anyway, back to the lecture. It sought to focus on French History and Politics and was peppered with many humorous barbed asides.  Essentially, if one is either short or tall then one has a chance at French leadership; anyone in the middle has no chance. Charlemagne was tall, de Gaulle was tall, while Napoleon and Sarkozy were short. The present President Macron is short and Prime Minister Edouard is tall so maybe France has a chance. Great stories. Marie Antoinette got caught during her attempted escape in the Royal carriage because they decided to stop for lunch and the soldiers caught up. Very quintesssentially French, non? Jean Loup also shared that French people make two visits in their formative years - one to the Cabaret and one to Lourdes - and then they decide! Et moi? Toujours La Cabaret!!

Pretty. Deserted.
Jean Loup stopped for a while whilst the Affinity went through a 26 meter high lock (which it did in about twenty minutes) before continuing with a mandatory briefing to explain the rest of the cruise. I went up front to watch this one, and found myself marvelling at the engineering that we take so much for granted. The invention and genius behind the lock concept; the work, the construction, the fitting of the granite blocks that dam the water and the mechanisms that control the lifting of huge vessels many times a day and day in day out...  Wow. I still didn't get why some of the Cruisers insisted on videoing the event on the phone. The slow process of elevation, the dark turning once more to light. Maybe there is something spiritual here that I am missing. Something on which to meditate, non?

Back to the Jean Loup talk which had become aimed at finding out who wanted what excursions during the remainder of the cruise (though mostly focused on Paris so presumably he could plan his buses and tour guides). We signed up for two - Paris by Night and the Palace of Versailles.

Ghost town of Viviers...
After the talk, it was pretty much time for lunch. There was a light lunch option in the lounge (where we were) which started a shade earlier than the main lunch; we opted for this. Today was pea soup, pasta, veal stew and salad bits with a glass of the Aligote tasted on the previous evening and a dessert of a magnificent cream puff laced with some coffee liqueur, which was absolutely delightful. Pastry chef is a total star. 

Can't quite reach the souvenir...
As lunch was ending, the Affinity slowed its approach to dock in the village town of Viviers. We left the boat at 1.10 to explore and found ourselves back on board at exactly 2.10. The village was completely deserted - nothing was open, no one walking about, no life save for the odd car whizzing through and not daring to stop. Most odd. It was like everyone had died. I was half expecting some Walking or Living Dead zombies to suddenly erupt from one of the houses. Which admittedly was hugely cobbled streets and houses cute. It was also a delightful sycamore shaded walk into the town, but just that there was nothing when you got there. We could see a big church on the hill which was not accessible due to bad ankles and cobbled streets. Otherwise zip. Maybe we missed the town, but I don't think so. Odd town.

Back on the ship, I settled in and did some Wikiloops listening and comments while Lenglui slept. Then at 4pm the ship had organised a food taste of Ocala produce, which included saucisson, ham, dessert style chestnut purée, black currant Creme, and some pork bits which were very porky and possessed of that innard style taste of intestine and other yuck stuff. Saucisson and nougat were very good, chestnut purée also.The Cruisers bought up pretty much the whole consignment brought aboard, which part of me suspects was one of the reasons. Think we bought some nougat for the folks back home. 

More food...
After the food tasting, we went up to sun deck and parked at the front ahead of the off from Viviers. It was yet another glorious day which necessitated sunglasses and hat. And sunblock. The ship reversed out into the main river and let us all catch some delightful sun and river breeze whip our faces. We went pretty much straight into a lock which was quite exciting - a slow move into position, one lock barrier came down and up we floated to sunlight as the lock filled with barely a bump on either side. Lots of seagulls who flew off screeching as the boat made its headway through the lock. We also saw the occasional cormorant and heron and duck. A totally pretty day and a very scenic part of the river with what I guessed were the Alps mountains in the north east distance. 

Waiting for the off from Viviers
Eventually we tore ourselves away from this wonderful scenery and back to the cabin to change for dinner. This was to be a serious eat with Avalon serving up dishes from all of their cruises across the world - they called it the Avalon World Dinner. I got advised it was a serious suit and tie jobbo so I decked out as advised, tie and all. Got to the lounge and bugger if Lenglui and I were the only ones who had made the effort. Everyone else was in some degree of smart casual, with emphasis on the casual. Bastard. Still, I got compliments from the ladies for making the effort. And grimaces from the men who by implication were being labelled slobs. There you go - bloody French. Being too nice to the customers. Anyway, outside of a few quibbles over some of the dishes it would prove a fun and tasty evening of good dishes and wines and great service. I did make notes on the dinner and wines, but they are at this time completely intelligible and seem to make no connection to the menu. Indeed, the photos indicate a totally different menu so the one below is probably bogus. Which explains why the notes are mental. The menu was a book style hard cover jobbo so not really able to steal one for the memory. 

Here is some of the actual menu from photographs:

Carrot Ginger Soup

Spinach Strudel with Pine Nuts and Herder's Cheese

Stuffed Zucchini with Tomato Sauce

Coconut Creme with Raspberry Jelly and Cranberries

Upside Down Apple Cake

Champagne Butter Sorbet

Trio of starters
First course was a trio of something or other. There was a peanut something that was snuzz whilst a salty Salmon on Quinoa offered a cute range of textures. There was also some Foie Gras something which brilliantly matched the bread and butter. Apparently. Getting on for one year down the line, I have no memory. Of any of it. Only the notes. 

Carrot Soup and Bailli wine
Spinach Strudel
Next up was a light and delicate Carrot and Ginger soup with a slight hit of Parsley. Simple and balanced, the ginger did not overpower or overwhelm and let the sweet carrots shine nicely. the only moan was that there was not enough - it really was a taste. 

Next up was the Spinach Strudel (which I though my notes said the "Spanish thing" - I am hugely intelligible sometimes) which our Maitre D' called the Popeye. Hur Hur. It was nice…. ish. Salted and crisp cheese and pastry crust gave a good bite to the full moputh of green Spinach and cut beautifully by some fine and fresh tomato spiced pomodoro paste. Though it landed like a lead brick in the gut - needed a five minute walk around the deck to settle it down. 

There was some fish that was delicate and cool, initially more texture than taste for me though the second taste revealed a pleasant mustard and carrot hit to underpin the bland fish and vegetables. 

Fish, Lamb and Zucchini Couscous
Next was some Zucchini and Couscous with spice potato. Apparently. I found the whole ensemble slightly less bland than the fish. The couscous felt like the stuffing one might get with chicken, but minus the chicken. It did not go well with the Zucchini. Though it would have been magnificent with chicken. 

Food, Booze and a full table. Finestkind.
The lamb was belter - jus, broad beans, good salt whack on the meat. Excellent. 

Cheese and grapes - nicely presented
Wines - number one was a 2016 Bailli from Cotes de Provence and was lovely - light, frisky and like a saltless swoosh of summer seaspray from the Provencal coast. Think pretty young things splashing on the beach or idling at the restaurants of St Tropez and this is it. Delightful taste of the Riviera sun. Number two was the 2016 Ogier Artesis CdR white - way less oily than many that have passed this tongue of mine. Big nose of persimmon, chewy apricot in the mouth with a superb balance and an endless finish - belter of a wine. Be happy to find this back here in Malaysia. Wine three is a 2015 Famille Perrin CdR Reserve red - my notes say it was all right. Good fruit, fair balance; a young, fruity table wine with large tannins but not much in the way of whack.

Trio of Desserts
Dessert was a threesome - number one was Peach Sorbet with some sharp though not tart fruit. Very nice indeed with some chocolate nips for crunch and cocoa. The second Coconut Raspberry Creme felt a bit claggy in the throat. Which is fine if you like coconut claggy throat. I don't. No. And number three was a pretty unnecessary Apple Pastry which, coming after all the foregoing and the large thunk of pastry surrounding the tasty apple, had to go uneaten. No space for such a carbo charge, at least not to this UK and Malaysian palate. Too much stodge for this time of night. 

The Sauternes
'Allo M'sieur!
There was a 2010 Chateau Doisy-Dubroca Sauternes to match which was somewhat lightweight, young and lacking whack. Nice enough taste of almonds and sweet persimmons, with raisin and spiced honey making appearances. Just needed to be a bit more unctuous. Might have dissolved that Apple Pastry into consumability. 

There were some cheeses to finish off, though not able to say what they were or from where. Tasty enough to make the CdR red drinkable, though. The coffee to finish was delightful. 

Very mellow at the end of all this, suggesting a most enjoyable dinner and feeling very replete. In fairness, for Chef to be able to prepare all these styles and make it flow was quite impressive. The wines proved intelligent matches, the presentations were excellent and the service very good indeed. Perhaps I am being over critical - it is, after all, a ship and not a five star venue. It became a surprising amount of food to consume; perhaps this is why I sound a bit niggly. I should not be - it was a belter of an evening. Just can't remember much of how it all tasted. 

Bit of a post dinner dance in the lounge with a Green Green Grass of Home singalong with me and pianist Mitka and the boozy nightcappers. Seem to recall having a Grand Marnier to cap the night. And then to bed. Nice day. Enjoyed this one much. Except for the ghost town. 

Lenglui and Lengjai
The Bogus Dinner Menu

Bread - Freshly baked local French bread

Salad - Nhoam Pa Kong - Khmer Seafood Salad
Dried seafood with green local herbs, spring onions, mung beans and lime dressing

Chonta Salad - Heart of Palm Salad
With sugar cane vinegar, cilantro and avocado

Shopska Salad
Chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers and topped with feta cheese and olives

Char Gio - Vietnamese Rice Paper Spring Roll
Llapingachos - Ecuadorian Potato Pancakes

Mi Ga Ran - Vietnamese beef noodle soup with egg noodle, spring onion and roasted garlic
Crema de Coco con Camaron - Ecuadorian cream of coconut soup with shrimp, onion, coconut cream and fresh parsley

Main Course
Doncella Fillet - grilled catfish over Peruvian Pijuayo palm served with potatoes, green olive and rosemary sauce

Chinese Beef and broccoli - stir fried beef with ginger, garlic, broccoli and coriander
Breaded Alaska Pollock - Fried fillet of Alaska Pollock coated in egg and breaded misture
Winer Schnitzel - thin cutlet made from veal, pan fried and breaded in very fine breadcrumbs

Reserve Speciale Sauvignon - Gerard Bertrand, France, 12%
This 100% Sauvignon Blanc comes from carefully selected cool climate vineyards and displays citrus and exotic fruit notes

Gris Blanc - Gerard Bertrand, France, 12.5%
The colour of this Rose is crystalline. The nose and the palate show fruity flavours. The wine is very tasty and has an acidulous finish

L'Aiguebrun - Luberon France, 13.5%

An enjoyable daily wine with a soft nose of apple and some tropical fruit. A simple wine with a nice acidity, fresh taste and medium finish.

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