In February 2012, my son Ian and I travelled to Paris for the day to film an interview with the BBC about my recollections on the filming of the Funeral of King George VI in 1952 with British Movietone News. We had gone to the station at Vire to collect our tickets a few days before. The tickets were issued in a folder which displayed attractive dishes and refreshments.
The journey to Paris was two and a half hours. There were no facilities for food or drink on the train.
The journey back was not what we expected. There was a direct train going from Paris back to Vire, but it left Paris before we could get to it. At 6.13pm, there was another train which terminated at Argentan. We were obliged to get that train and wait at Argentan for almost ninety minutes before another train came through that would take us on to Vire. None of these trains provided refreshments.
On the outward journey, Ian spotted a restaurant close to the railway station at Argentan.
We decided that we would have dinner in that restaurant. Upon arrival, we walked outside only to find that the restaurant was closed. This was 8.30pm. We had to explore further. We walked down to a roundabout where we could see the lights of two restaurants. One to the right and one to the left. We decided on the one to the left as the lights were a bit brighter than those on the right.
It was a sizeable restaurant with around fifty places. Sadly, we only saw two gentlemen sitting at a table having a quiet chat and drink. I suppose it was mid winter. We were ushered to our table and given a menu. The speciality of the house was Couscous. The menu showed a wide variety of choices for the meat that would come with the couscous.
Here is a Moroccan recipe:
For the Couscous:
Two cups of Couscous
Two cups of salted boiling water
6 tablespoons of oil
For the stew:
1 kilo of cubes lean lamb (Beef or chicken can be used in stead of or as well as)
4 cloves of crushed garlic
4 large tomatoes peeled and quartered
5 large chopped onions
225 grams of boiled chickpeas
100 grams green beans
3 carrots, sliced
1 turnip or aubergine – cubed
1 capsicum sliced
1 tablespoon of paprika
2 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley
a quarter teaspoon of ground Cumin
salt and pepper seasoning
To colour the stew:
4 saffron threads or half a teaspoon of turmeric
Saute the onions and garlic in oil.
Add the vegetables one after the other depending on how long is required to cook each variety. Cook in sufficient water to cover. Add the saffron or turmeric.
The above could, and should, be cooked the day before, allowing the vegetables to marinade.
To prepare the couscous:
Bring the salted water to the boil in a saucepan. Add the couscous and stir while th couscous absorbs the water. and remove from heat and allow to sit for about 5 minutes.
Couscous should be light and fluffy. Be sure to allow the couscous to absorb the water.
If the stew has been prepared the day before, re-heat the stew.
Place the couscous in a sieve or steamer on top of the stew while it is still simmering. Leave in position for 30-45 minutes.
(If using instant couscous, it will require only fifteen minutes in a steamer or sieve.)
The meat and vegetables from the stew are served in a bed of couscous. The sauce should be served separately.
We chose a skewer of lamb and some chicken. Ian had a beer (he was to be driving later) while I ordered the first of two whisky and sodas.
The meal arrived. What a feast. The couscous came in its own cooking dish. It was white and very fine. There was a deep bowl of sauce in which there were some boiled potatoes and turnips. The meat came in another dish. Then there was a small carrier which housed three small dishes. In these were a chilli sauce, chick peas and some pickled raisins.
We did our own mixing. As I said, what a feast. It was probably the best couscous that I have ever eaten in a restaurant. The cost of the meal was €15 per head.
The restaurant was La Palmeraie, 8 Boulevard Carnot, Argentan.
So, it you are passing that way……………
Bon Appetit !
Further reading: The 1952 Show
Next chapter: Chapter 111: Afters