Thursday, August 22nd, 2013
ALL OVER PROVENCE
Because the mission of this site is to present the best of Provence, it may give the impression that eating out in this glorious region is inevitably pleasurable. Not so. Sometimes finding the best means wading through the mediocre – wasting bundles of money on lazy, tasteless food. â€™Why donâ€™t you write about the uninspiring meals youâ€™ve eaten?â€™ friends ask. Because itâ€™s more satisfying to spread the news about the great ones. But let me at least sound a few warning notes.
The first big problem (caused by an international plague which Provence has not escaped) is that presentation so often triumphs over substance. Look at the plate in the picture, all prettified with petals and squiggles and dots. It says: look at me, Iâ€™m up-to-the-minute and up-market. Fair enough if the dish tastes good, but too often this arty approach fancies up food with no flavour. It takes more than a few squirts from a squeezy bottle to redeem the work of a chef who takes short-cuts in the kitchen and buys in menu items of questionable quality ready-made.
Another bugbear is the overuse of fashionable ingredients, even when their alien flavours clash with others on the plate. (Not exclusive to Provence either, but particularly sacrilegious in a part of the world with such outstanding local produce.) Balsamic vinegar, over-reduced and over-sweet, is being dripped over food with abandon (even – eeek! – delicate fish). Soy sauce is going in the same direction. And why does a region with magnificent goatâ€™s cheeses serve up tons of mozzarella – much of it cheap stuff with the texture of plastic?
Much worse, of course, are the dishes that are sloppily cooked, with no vibrancy of flavour, no precision, no finesse. Oh, donâ€™t get me started. My past year of eating out has had more misses than hits. But it only takes a basic little restaurant with top-quality, fresh ingredients prepared on the spot in the simplest way to set the tastebuds drooling and restore lost faith.