Restaurant Review – Supermarket Cuisine
It might seem strange to include supermarkets in a ‘Restaurant Review’ but not to do so would be to neglect one of the great achievements of the French Nation, up there with the discovery of Penicillin and the Suez and Panama Canals, (well, perhaps not the latter because the Americans had to finish that!).
But why is this? I hear you ask.
It is because by careful and intricate planning French men have persuaded French women that, in the great battle of the sexes, the women have won and they are now able to drag their men, kicking and screaming, to the supermarket. Or, in fact, not kicking and screaming at all, but rather with an ingratiating subservience.
However, far from being a victory for Womens’ Lib., what the ladies do not seem to notice is that whist they are wheeling their malfunctioning “chariots”, around the aisles filling it with Cassoulet, Roquefort and Jammy Dodgers, their men folk are safely ensconced in the bar, contentedly drinking their wine, pastis or café calva and watching the crumpet walk by. Unless, that is, there is football or rugby on the bar TV. It is, of course, always a matter of priorities!
Of course, there has to be a trade off and this is that the men folk are expected to be at the till when their wives or partners arrive with their groaning chariots. This is somewhat annoying when one is down to the last five minutes of a Six Nations Rugby Match, but that is the way the contract works. At least watching the bulk of a
rugby match on TV is better than inanely following your wife up and down supermarket aisles for several hours, like some perverse copy of the Muslim tradition which has the women following some way behind the men!
What these bars also do is to supply cheap, good value food at lunchtime, (12 till 2,) and, if you are in a rush or have large families to feed, they really provide another, viable option. Their popularity is proven by the fact that, come midday, they are inundated by local workers from the surrounding offices and factories. Another, not inconsequential, result of the supermarkets hosting bar/restaurants is that they have to stay open during the lunchtime hours and this is by far the best time to do your shopping as all, self respecting, French people are busy eating.
As all the bar/restros are franchised their method of operation tends to vary at the discretion of the franchisee. For example the bar/restro at Leclerc in Saumur is a straightforward self service operation, although the vegetables and chips are supplied ad-hoc from another service area behind the main till. The one in Super-U in Doué la Fontaine is similar but gives you a ticket whilst the main meal is being prepared. The Super-U at Vihiers, by far my favourite, operates as a straightforward restaurant with waiter service for the main course and cheese/dessert with the entrée normally being from a self service salad/charcuterie bar.
If you ask for coffee, with the exception of Vihiers, all the others give you a token or a ticket. The token means that somewhere in the vicinity there is a self service expresso machine and the ticket means that you go to the bar to obtain your coffee, after you have finished your meal. It is a great surprise to the French if you want to drink a beverage during a meal instead of afterwards. It offends their perceived notion of how things should be done!!
So there you are. You cannot expect haut cuisine and one must say that the quality is occasionally variable. But millions of French workers cannot be wrong.
And it has to be better than a recently deceased sandwich with a cup of lukewarm, indeterminable liquid from a café in Asda. Probably costs about the same as well!
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