The Paris supermarket may have had me at hello, but that was before I met Les Halles.
Lyon’s covered central food market helps you understand why Lyon has more restaurants per capita than any other French city. They’re serous about food.
I’m wandering around like Augustus Gloot in Wonka Land. My mouth’s open, I don’t know where start. There are cheese counters where I lose count. There are tray after tray of pre prepared baby desserts in glass cup- trifling trifles with layers of fruits, creams, jellies and crumbles that are the size of thimbles. There are sloping plains of quenelles, the classic Lyonnais eggwhite based fluffy fish dumplings, just waiting to be plunged into a hot seafood sauce which comes in bottles, ready to go. There are oysters eye to eye waiting to be shucked and sucked with lemon and pepper. There are more macaroons and we have to try a couple as we contemplate the expanse. It’s confirmed. Fig is a new favourite flavor for me.
Oh the fun I could have. I wander round and round silently plotting menus in my head, contriving ways to come back and find somewhere with a kitchen to go crazy in.
But instead we’re staying in the Concorde de la Cite, near the park which has a zoo nested in the middle of it – lions and tigers and bears, oh my! and deer who follow you on the walk home, until their pen ends and look at you with sad eyes . Our choice of hotel wasn’t a conscious one, more born from an urgent Expedia mercy dash after the ‘groovy’- read incompetent – hotel in the old city lost our booking. At our pinnacle of corporate monotony and competence there’s a decent bath, a view of the river and a small table. There’s no kitchen, no oven, no prep space. As a last resort I hear a hotel carpet picnic calling.
After wandering in concentric circles I finally decide on a smallish washed rind ripe goats cheese, two bursting apricots, a bunch of green grapes, a large box of strawberries, eight slices of San Danielle cured ham, a centimeter thick slice of mixed vegetable terrine, a wholemeal baguette and three of the teeny tiny thimble trifles to share.
In our thimbles there’s pear puree with citrus crème, another with lemon curd with a crumble base and a hat of meringue wearing a cleft of candied peel and finally a strawberry puree with chocolate mousse and vanilla Chantilly cream.
But if I had a kitchen….? And a bigger appetite after lunch at Nicholas Le Bec?
I’d stop in at one of the three specialist foie gras shopfronts and pick up a pink lobe. I’d try and construct a salad of lightly seared liver, mache, raspberry vinegar and dot the plate with a few of the fresh raspberries in baskets at the front of the fruit stall. I think the sweet and rich and tart would all be good friends.
For main I’d make something slow braised with the haricot beans that I can hardly ever find in Sydney and the pig trotters which just sit there, as if there’s nothing special about seeing them in the window. Or maybe go completely traditional and pick up a famous Bresse chicken to be roasted and screw my courage to the sticking place and lop off its head with one eye closed before stuffing it with grapes, walnuts breadcrumbs and lardons.
For dessert maybe I’d take some more of the apricots and some puff pastry and create a tarte tartin with a cinnamon crème fraiche. Or I’d just be a little lazy and buy one of the incredible looking cakes from the seven patisseries I saw.
It’s a tricky question. If you love something so much at hello, how do you go about saying goodbye?
Our parting was made a little sweeter by my eyes being bigger than our collective stomachs- particularly after our enormous lunch at Nicholas Le Bec . So the relics of our carpet picnic were easily transformed into a car-picnic- which has been enjoyed on our way to Tolouse.
But never fear Les Halles- I’ll be back.