The Power of Good Food
The French understand food and know the power of a good meal to raise the spirits or a bad one to set you in a foul mood. When my colleague Phil and I arrived at the factory we’d gone to visit in Chanteloup-en-Brie, our local colleague asked how our hotel had been. We weren’t sure where to start. Should we tell him about how we’d been completely ignored by the staff, how the restaurant refused to serve us or how we’d been shouted at by over-friendly drunk Danes? Recognising that he’d recommended a hotel he’d never been in himself, he was clearly feeling guilty. He took one look at the sandwich menus from the local takeaway that someone had given us so we could choose our lunch and went off to see the owner of the factory, returning a few minutes later to tell us that he felt bad about the lousy hotel and had asked Pierre to take us for a nice lunch. In France all things can be put right with good food - it's not a bad philosophy.
And so it came to pass that three of us were taken to the favourite restaurant of the gentleman concerned, a fellow who had recently sold his business to our company for several million and was enjoying being able to expense some nice lunches in the last few weeks of his tenure. He picked Le Relais Fleuri in Lagny sur Marne, just a few miles away. You can be forgiven for not having the slightest idea where that is and I hope I can be forgiven for as vague a description as ‘about 15 minutes from Disneyland Paris’.
We went on a Wednesday lunch time at around one o’clock. The car park is a good size and we didn't struggle to find a space. We noticed a large outdoor area where the inevitable smokers were gathered, drinking and smoking but that area was far enough from the entrance to not get the smell of the smoke. This isn’t a small restaurant and there are several large dining areas and there was a very lively vibe about the place. I’ve recently had a few restaurant visits where places have been half empty or in one case completely empty so it was clear that it will take more than recession to force the French to take a packed lunch to work.The restaurant is attractively decorated with lots of synthetic flowers in vases, thick table clothes and sparkling cutlery and glasses. We were presented with large, bound menus and I don’t think anyone was too sure where to start. Our host said we could choose whatever we fancied but he planned to go for one of the lunch menus – not the cheapest which was around 15 euros, but the next at around double that. Did we want wine whilst we decided?, he asked. Well it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it. So he ordered three glasses of white and one glass of red wine and a large bottle of water.
We chose our dishes from the menu. I think we all chose the same starter – a crab tartar – and split on the main courses with two of us going for ‘gambas’ and two for some kind of meat. I was surprised to be asked for a pudding order at the same time as ordering the first two courses since it's hard to judge whether you'd actually want pudding before you've even started.