Why you should pre-book your evening meal in France
Before visiting France, I'd read that it was advisable to book your evening meal in advance as restaurants get booked up but I had dismissed this as overzealous cultural advice. However, having traipsed around Reims at 7pm and been rejected from various eateries, I realised perhaps I ought to have heeded that knowledgeable blogger.
With their blinds practically closed, I almost walked missed La Vigneraie completely. I wandered in, ever hopeful, to be greeted by a waiter. I blurted out my prepared French phrase, 'Are you full tonight or do you have a table for one person?'. It was at that point I noticed the young waiter was wearing a three piece suit.
As he turned to check his reservation book, I looked around the beautiful room feeling increasingly self-conscious of my biker jacket, leggings and the complimentary hotel flip-flops. The two well-attired men seated in the window gave me appalled looks which certainly did not help matters.
I began to hastily prepare some French to tell the garçon that I was leaving. But it was too late. I was graciously ushered to a private corner where I sat down quickly and hid my flip-flopped toes under the drapes of the pristine white table cloth. I opened the menu and realised why it was possible to eat without a reservation: the price. The water which I'd just ordered was £7 and starters began at £22...
Given that I'd spent the rest of my motorbike trip eating at local bakeries and supplementing that with Lidl stops, I started to panic. Google Translate failed me - what the hell is a 'pear of beef' or 'the white men with strawberries' or the 'swimming fish of Windalo? To save face, I chose the cheapest set menu with an attitude of 'in for a penny, in for a Euro' and decided to just enjoy my final night in France.
The amuse-bouche appeared from thin air, a delightful ham and cheese twist with a creamy gazpacho pea soup. Given my diary-intolerance, I was fairly certain this would not be amusing my bouche later but the culinary journey had begun so I ate my cheesy delight and quaffed the pea shot.
The starter was seasonal white asparagus spears with an asparagus and cream ravioli piece, served with an incredible, nutty reduction of sorts. This was followed by the pear of French beef which was heavenly and the only course without dairy; or so I thought until I finished the vegetable puree only to realise it had been cauliflower cheese. The cheese course was delicious cheesy and the pistachio ice cream finale was augmented by the mango and raspberry coulis drops on the plate.
After 5 course of incredible cuisine, I was feeling a little faint so I asked for the bill in the hopes I'd make it back to the hotel without passing out from a lactose-coma. But the chef brought out an au revoir plate to finish the meal. I ate the chocolate nugget in one go to find that it melted instantly into a mouthful of cocoa cream which perfectly complimented the crispy meringue alongside. I paid the bill and rushed back to my room and my en-suite.
This was the food highlight of my trip but for my next trip to France, I will certainly be booking in advance for the evening meal!