Monday, 27 April 2009

Le cuisinier ample en France

For many years now we've bought virtually all of our wine and a lot of foodstuffs in France. We don't go just for the cheap booze – honest. As we live approximately 90 miles from Folkestone it's quite an easy trip. We used to just buy at the hypermarkets in Calais and Boulogne which really only stocked French wine - fair enough. But as Mr Ample Cook and myself are partial to wine from outside of Europe it's been really helpful that both Tesco and Sainsburys have opened up drinks stores in Calais. We have bought some fantastic bargains over the years, however now with the Euro almost neck and neck with the pound it's becoming uneconomical to do it. Shame. We probably bought a third of what we would normally buy. I'd normally stock up on olive oil, assorted vinegars, anchovies, mustard, butter, cheese etc etc not only for our use but for my catering use too. This time unfortunately it was just too expensive.

Since the tunnel has been open we have always used it to cross the channel. The ferries take longer and you've got the loading and unloading from the car decks and if the weather's bad they can cancel some crossings (also, lots of people vomit). However going by Eurotunnel means you just drive on, and 35 minutes later you just drive straight off. We never pay for a crossing as we just convert our Tesco clubcard vouchers. A one or two day return is £54.
We usually do the trip in a day but last week we had an overnight stay in Wimereux which is just along the coast between Calais and boulogne. The North French coast is stunning with really wide sandy beaches. We were lucky as it was a beautiful day so we were able to enjoy a long walk along the prom.
Before we got to Wimereux we stopped off in Boulogne and had a stroll around the harbour where there are a few fish stalls. The fish was so fresh - mainly plaice, turbot and a lot of squid and scallops. It really was great quality fish.
Our meal in the evening was a bit disappointing. We'd had lunch there last year and we were really impressed, but it just didn't float our boat this time round. I had some really good scallops but they'd added a curried sauce to the plate (our French translation skills let us down unfortunately) Mike had veal kidneys which were good, but both main courses arrived with soggy unseasoned veg. I'm afraid every time I have a disappointing meal out, I can't help feeling that it's a meal wasted. Ho hum. Anyway, we retreated to a bar afterwards and had a couple more drinks and then tottered off to the hotel.
We were up bright and early and ready to shop. We managed to find a few bargains in Sainsburys, but not in Tesco. Everywhere was incredibly quiet. The young girl on the till at Sainsburys told us that they would probably be closing down as trade was so bad.
Our final bit of shopping was at Carrefour, a very large supermarket in Cite Europe which is a large shopping complex about 3 miles from the Euro tunnel terminal. The only things I bought were Dijon mustard and chocolate. I use pounds of chocolate for my brownies and cakes and at .55 of a euro for a 200g bar of 60% cocoa solids it's still worth buying, but not much else was I'm sad to say.


  1. What a great trip - shame about the curried scallops though!

  2. Wish I had a car and could do this - there is only so much you can lug back on the eurostar!

  3. In 2005 Neil and I went to Calais for a mini-break and for my visa "purposes". A year later we went to Paris and I kid you not that I thought the food was better in Calais. Paris just targets tourists and every single menu was the same. If I see the item duck confit again I'll scream. I really liked the big supermarkets in Calais and they always seem to get it right much better here in the UK. The produce just seem nicer and I couldn't help gawking at the fresh fish stands and mountains of prawns. *drool* It's a shame about the shoddy pound...

  4. What a devastating post. I'm driving to Brittany in a couple of months and had hoped to come back seriously abusing my rear susension because of all the wine in the boot.

    In previous years, we've done much the same thing...come back from France with a preposterous amount of wine, cheese, coffee, mustard, etc, etc. Not this year, it seems.

    No matter. France is just a culinary adventure anyway. Have you noticed, not that anybody could fail to notice, that the basic quality of just about all ingredients is just so much better than in Britain. Just look at those fish photos above and I rest my case.

  5. Rich,

    You're so right. Most things are of a better quality. The garlic for instance. They're not miserable stales little bulbs like we get here. The fish counter doesn't smell - unlike the miserable displays in the supermarkets here.

    My advice would be to have a look in Sainsburys, we still found bargains there. Otherwise I reckon you're at the mercy of the cheap French stuff.

    Have a great time anyway and thanks for your comments.


  6. Really thought provoking Post Jan.
    Interesting comment about the soggy veg. I work with a French 'foodie' and she mentioned before that in her opinion we don't cook veg long enough in this country. I guess she doesn't remember the boiled to death veg from the 70's and 80's then LOL. I much prefer some 'bite' to my vegetables, so it seems we're finally getting it right.

    As for the Euro-Pound rate - such a shame, seems like the worlds been turned on its head. As long as I can remember a trip to France was all about cheapness and food bargains. And now - it's not.
    Pity - I have a trip booked to Paris in July and it's going to be eye wateringly expensive at this rate.