The first time I holidayed in France it didn’t start off too promisingly. I was 12 and inwardly furious that we weren’t returning to Corfu, which had been the setting of my first holiday abroad, the previous year. I had nothing against France other than it was not Corfu, that and the fact that this was a driving holiday, yep we were traversing the country by car, stopping off at various cities and towns. I still wonder how my parents overlooked my constant car sickness when planning this excursion. So armed with a map, plenty of motion sickness tablets and a miserable child, my parents set off. I was mutinous, 2 weeks of feeling sick, stuck in a hot stuffy car when I could have been in Corfu’s turquoise waters, floating on my lilo, looking forward to a dinner of kleftiko.
Our first lunchtime and my mother disappeared into a small shop and came out brandishing a long stick of French bread, some cheese and fresh orange juice. Dull, I thought. Dull. Dull. Dull. Then I tucked in and realised that this was a million miles from the bland bread and cheese we got at home. The bread had a chewy crust and a creamy soft interior. The cheese was soft and so flavoursome. The fresh tang of the orange juice such a pleasant surprise. Our evening meal at a local restaurant revealed more pleasant aspects of dining in France. It was a rather formal, silver service kind of place and we had a 4-course meal. I remember being stunned into silence when after the first course, the waiter brought three small silver bowls and placed them in front of us. In each bowl, lay a ball of yellow sparkling ice. I looked at my parents in confusion. Had he bought dessert at the wrong time? My mother explained it was lemon sorbet and we were to eat it as a palate cleanser, to rid the taste of the last course before we embarked on the next. I was sceptical. I thought this was some kind of prank. I put the sorbet in my mouth and my taste buds went into overdrive. This was amazing, the flavours danced around my mouth, sharp but sweet and utterly refreshing. The rest of the holiday continued to be a revelation. For breakfasts there was bread that was like a cake or buttery flaky croissants. I discovered Tarte Tatin, Mille-feuille, clafouti, chocolate
éclairs, the hilariously named pets de nonne. All so good. I surprised my parents with a love of steak tartare, not to mention my rapturous response to ratatouille. Like most children, vegetables were never my favourite items on a plate but this amazing Provençal stew was sublime, especially when eaten with a freshly baked baguette, used to mop up the herb infused juices. I’ve returned to France many times since my first holiday and the food still thrills me as much as it did on my first visit. This week, I will be bringing both ratatouille and French onion soup to The Waiting Room, along with fougasse bread, brioche, madeleines and other French inspired bakes.