French cafe the perfect spot for food and a show
LUNCH at Terroirs is a simple pleasure for the guests I take on my tour group each year to Provence.
But I don't keep returning simply for the food - although that is a stand-out enjoyed by one all.
Instead, I have three words for you: location, location, location.
Terroirs is a small café/provedore which sits on the perimeter of the Place aux Herbes, a square in the heart of Uzes, and offers the perfect spot for that simple pleasure of people-watching.
Terroirs is just one of many cafes that fringe the square, and while it is not very different in its presentation, it appears to be the most popular.
This is mostly down to its discovery of a successful formula: Terroirs serves no cooked food!
I usually take my guest at lunch and the place has not changed one teeny bit in the 12 years I've been visiting Uzes.
Its menu comprises small dishes to start, a selection of tartines, and then a dozen desserts that consist mostly of towering sweet concoctions in tall glasses with an abundance of whipped cream.
The service is super-fast. No sooner are you sitting down - and that is an experience as the tables are crammed together and there is much manoeuvring before bottoms hit chairs - a cheerful waiter is at your side brandishing a menu and asking what wine you would like. It is a given that you will have wine with lunch.
The small dishes include escargot, octopus, sardines, artichokes and brandade. Brandade is a puree of cod emulsified with olive oil and milk, very creamy.Comme toutes les recettes elles a de multiples variantes ! Dans certaines régions l'émulsion se fait uniquement à l'huile d'olive dans d'autres l'émulsion est complétée par du lait ou de la crème.
Then there is Terroir's foie gras. It's a controversial choice and one we make only after some serious thought and mental debate. "Should we?" we say to ourselves. "It's so rich and delicious, but those poor little ducks."
We decide no, we cannot be involved in the cruel force-feeding of ducks. But then … "maybe just this once" and we give in. The foie gras comes with gingerbread and we eat it greedily and then suffer the pangs of guilt later.
Tartines are big open sandwiches, very popular in France, and at Terroirs they are giants. Spread with layers of local produce - eggplant, mozzarella, anchovy, tomatoes, goat cheese - they come with a salad so large you can barely see over it.
But it is not these presentations that makes us enjoy Terrors every year. On Wednesdays - market days in the Place aux Herbes - it is the theatre during and after lunch.
Around 1pm, the market winds up for the day and the stall holders begin to pack up. This never ceases to fascinate. While we linger over the last splash of rose in our wine glasses, the stall holders begin their fast and efficient work.
There are systems, routine and order in place at every stall.
Two young women at one stall pile empty fruit and vegetable crates on to a trolley. One woman presses buttons on the side of her white van and a shelf at the back slowly descends to ground level. The woman with the crates wheels them onto the shelf, the other one presses buttons again and the shelf lifts to the truck and the crates are moved inside. It takes place in a matter of minutes. And before we have even taken another sip of wine, the women's stall disappears, completely dismantled with every item packed away in the white van.
One of the women jumps up to the driver's seat, the other checks that everything is in order, and they make their slow way out of the square, weaving carefully among the other stall holders packing up with the same efficiency. What was, just moments ago, a vibrant market stall packed with garlic, onions, lettuce, melons, strawberries and apricots, is now an empty space.
At the refrigerated cheese stall, a woman is wiping the outside counter. Within minute it is spotless. She lifts the glass, it fits into slots in the van, and voila! The cheese stall morphs into a van and they too make their slow way out of the busy square.
We marvel at the speed and efficiency of these vendors. One moment they have 'shops' selling exquisite products and produce, the next, they are self-contained vans moving out of the square.
Then in come the cleaners. A motorised sweeper makes circles around the square vacuuming up every little bit of flotsam that might have escaped the stall holders' attention. A man with a weird Doctor Who-like machine arrives and hoovers up stray pieces and by the time we have finished our last sip of wine, the square is spotless.
We never tire of this simple market work.