Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The difference a decade makes

It’s been over three months now since I returned from my 2012 trip to the Loire Valley. It was a memorable experience, travelling with my Swedish friends, sharing my favourite spots with them and meeting all the lovely people I’ve come to know thanks to this blog. Every visit, encounter, moment, experience was unique and excellent in its own way … except one, perhaps!  

Ages ago – I think it was in 2000 or 2001 – we visited the ‘Festival des Jardins’ at the site of the castle of Chaumont-sur-Loire. It was a marvellous experience: the 20-or-so gardens were amazing, surprising, often funny and sometimes shocking. The best part however was lunch at the ‘Comptoir Méditerranéen’. It proposed a lunch ‘à volonté’ (as much as you can eat) at the fixed price, including: 

-          An unusual and healthy aperitif of poppy, tomato and carrot juice.
-          A ‘select your own’ choice of fresh veggies, pasta and condiments, wok-fried before your very eyes by three or four professional chefs.
-          And an organic dessert.
-          A nice bottle of local red, white or rosé wine that could be purchased separately. 

At the time, on arrival and after having paid for your meal and wine and collecting your aperitif, you were shown to your table under an outdoor marquee, where a large jar of pickled tomatoes and onions, a basket of baguette slices, a bottle of olive oil and two sets of plastic (the only disappointing feature of the whole meal) cutlery were waiting for you. Your ‘waiter’ opened the bottle of wine for you, which was served in real glasses. He informed you that the tomatoes and onions and baguette were your starter and that you were free to eat as much as you liked. When you had finished your starter, you were invited into the main hall where you could take a pick of the ingredients you wanted for your wok. The result was a succulent, completely personalized meal … fresh and full of flavours. You wanted a second or third helping? No problem, you picked up another (not plastic) plate, picked more ingredients and asked one of the chefs to wok them for you… Btw, we only had one helping, enjoying every bite of it.   

It was a great concept that I really wanted to share with my Swedish friends. However, it turned that the concept had been drastically revised over the years. This is what we got …
An almost tasteless veggie aperitif in a plastic cup … 
An insipid veggie mix in a ‘design’ container …our starter … 
Italian wine (mind you, it was OK, but why serve Italian wine in a region that has its own AOC?) in a screw-top bottle.

A choice out of four or five pre-cooked pasta dishes served on bamboo-looking (made of plastic) dishes. 
The worst were the plastic wine-beakers, which we later managed to exchange for some real ‘dishwasher-tired’ glasses.
The best thing was the organic strawberry ice-cream dessert, which we had to fetch ourselves from an industrial freezer. By then I had given up taking photos! 


chm said...

They probably couldn’t make enough profit with the old formula. That’s the bottom line for you! LOL

Susan said...

Is this in the grounds of the chateau? I've only ever eaten at the cafe in the garden festival itself - which is surprisingly good. Very nice filled baguettes, fresh fruit salad and icecream.

Louise said...

Martine, how disappointing for you. I had a similar experience, a couple of years ago revisiting an annual wine tasting lunch at a vineyard...the management had changed and so had the standards! They had fallen enormously...and the price had increased.

The Beaver said...

This is a bit like the exposition de chocolat in Paris . The first time that we went in 1997, it was being held near the St Eustache church and it was very interesting and fulfilling ( we paid either 3 or 5 FF each at the entrance) and we learned a lot from different chocolatiers , tasted different cocoa contents and bought a lot . We went back in 2000 and they made it bigger . No the same experience.

Now I believe that it is held in November at the Palais de l'exposition and they have another one in NYC and Tokyo.

GaynorB said...

What a disappointment, especially when compared to your previous experience.

Bob said...

compared to you other food photos, these look terrible. not fine dining for sure. unfortunately, this is how we get a lot of our fast food served in the US. did they go under new ownership/managment?

Niall & Antoinette said...

What a sad experience. Especially as your original version sounded so lovely! I expect, as CHM has already said, it has everything to do with the profit margin.

ladybird said...

Chm, Profit seems to be today's priority. Such a shame!

Susan, It's part of the catering facilities of the Festival. It's located in the main courtyard to the left of the entrance. There is a posh restaurant where food is served at the table, and just to the left of it is the Comptoir.

Louise, I guess organizers bet on the possibility that this is your first visit and that you have nothing to compare.

TB, Very often, the bigger an event gets, the higher the prices are :(.

Gaynor, I felt really embarrassed towards my friends, because the food was really lousy compared to all the previous meals we had had that week.

Bob, As far as I know it was still the same caterer, but I guess 'modern' times and overhead costs were responsible for the change (for the worst).

N&A, The orginal concept was brilliant, and I really wanted to share it with my 'foodie' friends. If only I had known ...