Crossing the Loire River at Port Boulet near Bourgueil, and driving west through Candes-Saint- Martin and Montsoreau, you reach the village of Turquant in the Maine-et-Loire department. Seen from the main road, the village has very little to offer, but once you drive or walk up its narrow streets, you’ll be charmed by the typical troglodyte houses and the peaceful atmosphere.
Across the local ‘Mairie’ is an unusual but excellent restaurant, called ‘l’Hélianthe’. The troglodyte house used to belong to Antoine Cristal, the ‘inventor’ of our favourite red
The present owner has invested a great deal of time and money in buying and restoring the house. It had been abandoned as a ruin by the former proprietor after a fire had ravaged the whole interior. Even now, and in spite of the amazing restoration job that has been done, some of the floor tiles still look blackened and scorched.
As it was a sunny and warm day, we started our lunch on the tiny outdoor terrace. A delicate salmon mousse accompanied the chilled sparkling Vouvray that we had ordered.
In the meantime we studied the menu card. One of the starters was ‘escargots’ – snails. Nor my friend, nor I are big fans of the ‘grand gris’ (the large variety), which can be rather chewy, compared to their smaller cousin, the ‘petit gris’, which is more to our liking.
While we were discussing this, we heard a ticking-clicking noise coming from the steep alley leading to the restaurant’s kitchen. The noise became louder till finally we saw what was causing it. It was a large ‘escargot’ in his shell rolling down the alley. It landed right in front of our feet. The poor creature must have heard us talking and was obviously ‘making a run for it’ after successfully escaping from the kitchen! We picked it up and placed it carefully on a nearby wall in the shade.
After this little incident, it was definitely out of the question that we would have snails as a starter. So we shared a plate of trout rillettes that came with thick slices of wholegrain homemade bread. This was followed by guinea fowl with braised baby fennel in a port sauce for me and a filet of
Ruelle Antoine Cristal