Warm breezes caress my bare shoulders as I sit on the terrace amongst my lemon trees. Despite their diminutive size, the amazing scent of their blossom is almost overwhelming. At the bottom of the garden I can hear the first of the season’s cicadas screaming – the heralds of hot weather – and I sigh in contentment. Nowhere is summer more seductive than in the Quercy.
Down in the markets the early summer fruits are rolling in. Prayssac was awash with cherries this morning, huge black Burlats, tart and exciting, laid in vast piles on the wooden tables, the dusky scarlet Bigareaux just beginning to nudge them out. They are late this year and before long will be replaced by the honey-sweet, fuzzy golden globes of the early apricots, and everywhere the fragrant aroma of the Garriguette strawberry. Asparagus was late this year too, but all the more welcome for that, and I encountered it in one of its most delicious guises in – or strictly speaking on – one of my favourite restaurants last week.
The boat restaurant in Cahors has been moored along the banks of the Lot for many years and has a long reputation for fine dining. It isn’t particularly cheap, you wouldn’t expect such excellence to come cheap, but it’s nowhere near as expensive as many of its more pretentious rivals. And that is exactly its secret; there is little or no pretention about it. It is a medium sized restaurant serving excellent cuisine on a boat. No posh hangings, no penguins, just a very relaxed atmosphere, a breathtaking view and on hot nights an opportunity to feed the ducks. We arrived fairly early for dinner in France, the church bells had yet to strike the hour and there was only one young couple on the boat’s tiny deck, I rubbed my hands with glee. We were shown a vacant table and sat in the warm air overlooking the medieval city on the far side of the river. Kirs arrived with the amuses bouches, they were a new take on the age-old theme of Quercy melon and Bayonne ham. Finely chopped melon and shredded ham set in aspic, utterly delicious. After a leisurely gap a small rectangular platter arrived. On one side lay a finely constructed salad, on the other a bruleé of foie gras and in the centre a delicate fan of poached asparagus in a wonderful sauce. I can’t tell you how sensational it was, and by the time I’d greedily mopped the foie gras with some warm bread I was fast approaching full-up. The restaurant was in the same state. On our arrival we had walked through a completely empty dining room to get to the little deck, less than an hour later it was thronged with laughing, chattering diners. Nobody was hurried, none of the waitresses rushed. We sat back, sipped our sloe-dark Cahors wine and considered the view.
Our main courses arrived; mine was a trio of meats. A mignon de porc, some slivers of magret and a little papillotte of spiced and shredded beef. It looked delightful and tasted equally good. I washed it down with copious quantities of wine and sat back to watch the paddling ducks, thoroughly contented. The sun was slowly sinking over the crenellated towers when the final flourish of this masterly symphony arrived. It was a mille feuille of the afore-mentioned Garriguette strawberries, a light vanilla scented foam and two wafer-thin crisps of filo. The lights were beginning to wink as I swallowed the last exquisite mouthful, and the coffee was placed beside me by a soft-footed waiter. It was all I needed after such perfection.
So, If you want to see old Cahors at night and be wined and dined like a medieval prince whilst you doing it, this is the place.
© Amanda Lawrence 2010
Author White Stone Black Wine