While the venue is typically very French, the current menu at Très Français features morsels from the Basque region. I am here to see whether this culinary heritage found straddling the Pyrenees and covering parts of southwestern France and northeastern Spain really deserves the near 40 Michelin starred restaurants dotted around the region.
The restaurant is easy to find along Kostolna, As I stroll across Maidan in its direction, I stop to enjoy the new water fountain show. The square is vastly different than that of just three years ago, and I do hope one day I am able to simply enjoy the ambience and mood rather than reflecting on recent history.
The greeting on arrival at the restaurant is bilingual, both a bonsoir and a dobriy vecher are offered. Shown to my table I’m given a choice to communicate in English also, so staff are clearly comfortable conversing in pretty much any language a diner could want. I’m in a sort of somber mood from having just spent some time on Maidan, so I order a whiskey and coke – not very Spanish I’m aware. However, my surroundings are warm and cosy and my rather subdued state is starting to lift.
As one would expect from a French restaurant, the tables are located close to one another, the wooden chairs are sort of old worldy, there are sofas made of leather which look like they might envelope you, and the ambience is set off by material shades over soft lights.
Dining alone this evening, I browse the Basque menu offerings. Like the Spanish, Basque cuisine has it’s own version of tapas, called pintxos, so a starter of mixed pintxos seems the most appropriate order. The main course is an easy call a traditional French south dish of beans and duck – cassoulet. To sate my early appetite, there’s a basket on the table with fresh crunchy French bread and soft creamy butter.
When the pintxos arrive at the table I switch to the house red wine – a very drinakable French merlot. I sip as I taste the six items laid out on the plate, two pieces of bread each topped with a tomato and pepper ragu; tuna; and jamon. Think Italian bruschetta a la Basque – a fine way to start any meal, and an ideal dish for splitting with a partner. The tuna is especially lovely, cooked to perfection, lightly drizzled with a very complementary sauce, sitting on a bed of onion confiture.
In good time, the cassoulet comes to the table, and I am salivating in expectation. Cassoulet is one of my favourite dishes in the world, and in fact the first place I ever tasted this simple masterpiece was exactly in the French Basque country many many years ago.
Tonight’s slow-cooked casserole however is different from others I have tried. Normally a mix of various beans well stewed together after being slow-cooked over many hours and different cuts of meat, this cassoulet is more fresh, and has al dente vegetables in the mix, which lighten up what is normally a very filling meal. The chef has obviously followed the slow-cook method on the duck however, as the meat is just falling off the bone. As I get to the end, I find I have no room or appetite for dessert, but leave with a smile.
Maybe it’s the whiskey, maybe it’s the wine, maybe it’s the food, maybe it’s the atmosphere – I walk home basqueing in a warm glow.
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