February 2023 Newsletter
Picnics, two dining disappointments and a redemption, the pastry of the month
If the cities of France were personalities, Toulouse would be the quiet, thoughtful type. It doesn’t draw attention to itself and is therefore overlooked by tourists who are distracted by bright lights and certain iconic towers. Many food bloggers have moved to France, and more often than not, the destination is Paris. Simply down to the location, their day-to-day lives seem unbelievably romantic (I read all of their newsletters; even pushing a crying child in a buggy under heavy rain during rush hour sounds idyllic).
So, I’m here waving the Toulousain flag. It would help to ease us through life if we could all feel that romance of our own rush hours, endless drizzle and screaming children. To stop and notice the tulips now for sale in the market, to take a breath as you walk to work on a sunny morning. And by writing about my city-dwelling, gastronomic adventures in la ville rose I might start to notice them too! Hence this new monthly newsletter. There will be:
recommendations of places to eat and things to do in and around this beautiful city
tips on French etiquette and how to deal with them Frenchies
restaurant, cafe and bar reviews: the good, the bad, and the oh so ugly
the pastry of the month!
This newsletter today is completely free, and thank you for subscribing! Starting next month, there will be a small paywall to support my work (and cover all the ingredients in those Raid the Fridge Friday recipes). If you love France, French food, reviews, and would like to learn more about Toulouse for a relaxing city break, you will be very happy here with me!
Toulouse is simply a city many people don’t know a lot about. Down in here in the south there are road signs to Barcelona (a very strange sight for someone from an island), geckos that soak up the sun in summer, there’s a quiet two-line automatic metro and a routine stampede to get on before anyone can get off, and a red-brick city centre full of busy boulangeries, markets and restaurants. Life is slower, people genuinely walk with less impatience, so I want to share the joie de vivre that is within our grasp!
Summer in February
It’s been a cold winter what with the gas costs, have you been feeling the sting too? On some days I have worn gloves as I sit tap-tapping away at my computer keyboard, the right hand inert on the mouse and gradually freezing solid thanks to poor circulation. Things are looking up though as this last weekend we went with some friends to the park – le Jardin du Grand Rond – for a picnic. There we all shrugged off our coats, and I even took off my gloves, and we ate our bounty which we’d bought from the bustling St Aubin Sunday market. The park was full around us, people lolling on the grass, sunbathing and drinking beers. Last February was much of the same; a surprising bout of heat where we all felt like hibernating animals, slowly inching out of a hidey-holes to soak up the precious warmth. Gaylord and I ate chicken and beef spring rolls and cheesy empanadas – the market mainly specialises in ready-to-eat bites – yet the others had come prepared.
If you ever picnic with the French, you will know that they’ll bring a baguette. That seems obvious. There will also be cheese, of course, and saucisson. In order to cut said cheese and saucisson, they will even take their own miniature chopping board and penknife. And, to complete the cliché, there will also be a cake box from a nearby patisserie, and inside will be a selection of cakes which will be cut into slices – thanks to those penknives – and shared. The cake last week was strawberry and passion fruit, and we’re talking about a French cake here, an extreme surplus of mousse to actual cake sponge. An indulgent treat is the least to be expected at a picnic in France.
Dining in Toulouse
This wasn’t our only outdoor dining escapade this month – the weather has been calling us away from the apartment, demanding we receive our required vitamin D. Gaylord and I met in town to lunch by the river. The river Garonne cuts through the centre of the city, swerving in from the north-west and curving down at an angle towards the south. It is wide and tranquil; the Thames it is not! On a beautiful day, it is as blue as the sky, beautifully contrasting the orange terracotta buildings and bridges built up around it.
Gaylord and I usually lunch early because we’re endlessly greedy. Walking through town on that late Monday morning, the cobbled streets echoed with our lone footsteps. We felt like ghosts drifting through an abandoned city, shops and cafes shut, the lack of hustle and bustle disconcerting us. Had there been an evacuation we hadn’t been told about? Then, as the clock struck 12pm, the crowds emerged, slowly at first, then as though we were caught in a river gathering speed, we were suddenly jostling hungry workers eager for their lunch. The quiet start to the day? That’s Monday in France. Don’t expect to be able to do anything if you’re an early riser.
The bad: No.1 Fufu Ramen
Gaylord and I visited a noodle bar for our take-away. This is one of those places where there is always, without an exception, a queue. People just migrate to queues – we assume everyone queuing knows something we don’t. Fufu Ramen is like a parred down Wagamamas with a few variations of yakisoba and ramen on the menu. We went for a shrimp and a chicken yakisoba and took our little noodle boxes to the river’s edge. There, we dangled our feet over the bank and dug our chopsticks into the tangle of noodles.
What can I say? They were delicious but I’ve had better? I made a rookie error choosing shrimp noodles – I found the grand total of 1 full shrimp and 2 halves hidden away in there. If restaurants can’t afford the shrimp they offer on their menus, they should simply remove them and serve something else instead. Customers won’t notice but they do notice when they are short-changed in their expensive chosen protein. I think the moral is - don’t be hoodwinked by a queue.
No. 2 L'Oiseau Vert
On my blog I discuss the good places to eat in Toulouse. Here, you will also receive the disappointments, dear reader! We all love a good moan, I think I prefer to read a bad review and I’ll immediately google the place to suss it out.
This month, it was at L’Oiseau Vert. This café is a miniature cavern with a downstairs seating area of only five or six tables. Customers sit on low couches or manage to snag a throne-like swing seat from which they can crow over their friends. There is an extensive range of tea, however, tea for 5 euros does feel painful when you hand over your debit card.
I made the mistake of arranging to meet a friend there at 10:30 one Sunday morning. I should have known better. The waiter was in a flap. His counter was covered in cartons of milk, some full, some empty, juiced oranges waiting to be thrown away, open hot chocolate canisters, sacks of chocolate pellets, milk spills, coffee grounds, and my friend and I had to stand and wait for him to finish his endless drinks orders and then carry each one downstairs before we could place our order. This wait lasted 30 minutes. Yes, we could have left and found somewhere else – which is exactly what another pair of customers did when their drinks never materialised - but in the moment, you just assume you can be seen literally standing there and therefore will be served. Finally, at long last, he made me a cappuccino, but by then I didn’t care, all I wanted to do was grab a bin bag and take a warm cloth to his workstation.
For some reason, I managed to go to L’Oiseau Vert three times in three weeks, and I don’t even particularly like it. I’m sure we’ve all managed to do that (could this be why Starbucks is still in business?) That waiter probably thinks I have a crush on him. Although I do have a deep love for the café’s little dog, a very friendly pug who will hop onto your lap for cuddles. Maybe this is the Toulousain in me emerging, someone who can bear waiting half an hour for an average cappuccino simply to make my life easier and because of a dog’s big eyes.
The good: No. 3 La Taqueria
And when I thought I was cursed with these consecutive disappointments, I went with my friends to La Taqueria to get my taco intake. My friend Meredith is coeliac so tacos are a great gluten-free option for our dining excursions, and Toulouse has two authentic Mexican restaurants within 5 minutes of each other. La Taqueria is the cheaper of the two, serving delicious Mexican street food and we sat outside under a dripping awning (because of course the beautiful weather has done a runner). Meredith had a massive margarita because why not on a Wednesday night, and we each were served three tacos - mine with barbacoa lamb - that were accompanied by rice and frijoles negros. Simple, filling, flavourful food and messy to eat which is always a plus in my book.
The Pastry of the Month
I am yet to become a connoisseur of pastries, but we all know when we taste something sacrosanct. This month, Boulangerie Cyprien delivered the goods with their pain au chocolat (in Toulouse, a chocolatine). An adjective which comes to mind is decadent, but also outrageous could do as well – forget pain au chocolat with the measly two batons of chocolate, at Boulangerie Cyprien, the pastries are baked with three. I savoured every single bite.
Only in France…
They say the French are rude and I would have to disagree - they know their please and thank yous and will always wish you a good day - however… if you want to see French audacity in action just go to the supermarket. Without exception, shopping trolleys will always be left in the middle of aisles without a thought for other shoppers.
To Read : In Paris, at the dump
- An oxymoron of a title to most, but Rebecca manages to seamlessly weave her two trips, one to Paris, the other literally to the dump, with absolute ease, and just read her description of a woebegone mattress being schlepped into the dump, it’s pure poetry. All her posts are whimsical and quite flirtatious to be honest; I love them.
- Parisian escapism – explore the city with your guide Emily as she jumps from restaurants to bars, and there's always wonderful cheese recommendations. She really has a great social life, I must say. Also, it’s refreshing to read about life in France from a gluten-free perspective; Emily proves it doesn’t mean the end of all fun!
- The bucolic French life, everything we dream it to be, is beautifully described in Elisabeth’s newsletter. Her stunning 18th century chateau and her history lessons on the region will whisk you away on a cloud of French country living.
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So much good reading (and thinking about food) with my Saturday breakfast. A post to savour like that first cup of tea in the morning.... I must follow up those links too.
Always lovely reading you.
Congrats on this new endeavour. It sounds promising!
I want to try that Taqueria with you next time I visit. My love to you and Gaylord.