We had a commission to film the 1968 French Grand Prix held outside Rouen. As was my habit, I arrived a day or so before the event with our Italian cameraman Vittorio Dellavalle. We stayed at the Hotel Quebec but it was not our custom to eat in the hotel we stayed at. Quite often their restaurants were not up to our standard and we were not particularly picky.
We walked out alongside the Seine and found an impressive hotel in which we thought we could eat well.
Vittorio was a wine buff and he told me that he wanted me to try out a white wine. He said that it was called “Sancerre” and I told him that I had never heard of it. It had never appeared on any of the wine lists which our wine club received.
He said that it had recently reached a standard that was making the wine world sit up and take notice.
“Sancerre is a French wine Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) for wine produced in the environs of Sancerre in the eastern part of the Loire valley, southeast of Orléans. Almost all of the appellation lies on the left bank of the Loire, opposite Pouilly-Fumé. It is well regarded and primarily associated with Sauvignon blanc, making wines of great purity and elegance”.
It is made from 100% Sauvignon blanc.
We had a bottle – wow ! One of the great wines that I have ever tasted. However almost ten years later, while lunching in Charlotte Street at the Belle Meuniere, I saw that Sancerre was on the wine list. I told my, then, colleague Norman Dickson about having tasted it in Rouen and he agreed that we should have a bottle. It was quite expensive, but, when we tasted it, it seemed quite ordinary and I have never drunk it again.
The following day, the rest of the film crew arrived and, guided by cameraman Julian Botras from Paris we walked into the old city and, when we reached the cathedral, turned off the main road into a lane. The lane was so narrow that we all had to walk one behind the other. Eventually we arrived at a small square and on the south side of which was our chosen restaurant.
There were six of us and, as we entered, two waitresses ran up to Lucien and threw their arms around him. He had obviously found the right restaurant.
We were shown into a room of our own. A room just large enough for the round table, the customers and with space for the waitresses to move around.
For the first course, we all had the same – Moule Mariniere. A great bowl was delivered and we all had a bowl full of mussels. When we had disposed of them, another large bowl was brought to the table and we disposed of them as well.
Here’s a recipe for Moules Mariniere:
One and a half kilos of mussels, 8 tablespoons of white wine, an onion, a shallot and freshly ground pepper .a large knob of butter. 5/6 Parsley stalks, sprig of Thyme, a half bayleaf and a pinch of pepper.
The Mussels must be scraped and brushed in several waters. The “beard” must be removed. Any mussel open should be checked by striking it with the back of a knife. If it closes, it is o.k. if not it must be discarded.
Finely chop the onion and the shallot. In a deep pan, add the onion, shallots, parsley, thyme and bayleaf. Add the pepper and the white wine.
Put on the saucepan lid, tightly and place on a high heat. After two minutes, give the pan a good shake. Repeat bthis over the next five minutes when the mussels should be cooked. The shells should be wide open. Any shells that are not open must be discarded.
For my second course I had Raie au Buerre Noir. What a treat. Here’s a recipe:
One and a half pound of skate, flour, 4 oz butter, 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon of vinegar.
Divide the skate into three-ounce pieces and sprinkle them with flour. Fry them in the butter for three minutes each side. Serve them. Add the parsley to the butter and continue cooking for a few moments until the butter begins to darken in colour, then pour it over the fish. Pour the vinegar into the frying pan and when it becomes hot, pour it, too, over the fish.
We had a visit in London from a client, Monsieur Paul Broncard Director of Public Relations for Peugeot. He had to eat while he was in London and we had to impress him. My colleague Norman Dickson suggested we took him to an Angus Steak House. He did not regard it as a top restaurant, but he thought that the food served would be reliable.
We asked Monsieur Broncard what he would like from the menu . He asked for roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes. He said he thought that it was wonderful. We agreed with him. He sang the praises of British cuisine and said that if the French had thought of Roast Beef first, it would be one of their top dishes.
Next chapter: Chapter 52: The Grand Tour of Grand Prix