“Le Bouchon Ponot” – Le Puy Notre Dame
I have been a little busy lately with my new position of “travialleur social” – carer- to my wife, Sheila, who, after having spent a lifetime preparing for the big one by breaking various ankles, wrists, suffering severe whiplash and having other mysterious and complicated illnesess which were a source of great delight and edification at assorted hospitals in both England and France, has now decided to slip a disc in her back and so is incapable of any meaningful movement. That is with the notable exception of her right hand, which, with the utmost dedication, she selflessly continues to use in writing page after page of lists, just in case I forget to do anything. Thus I am now trying to finish the renovations and, at the same time, do all the shopping, driving, cleaning, etc, etc. A woman’s work is never done!
I really cannot understand what the problem is with women these days. In the past they would have a baby in their tea-break and then get back to the fish-gutting, corn threshing or whatever, ignoring any pain. Now, a little twinge from a disc pressing on the spinal nerve and that’s it – incapacitated. I blame Mrs. Pankhurst!
One great problem was that, until recently, not only could Sheila not even stand and cook but, in her more depressed moments seemed quite prepared to put on her hair-shirt and live on stale bread and water. This does not suit me very well as, of course, with all the extra duties plus the additional stress, (I mention stress because one feels that these days one must, otherwise it would seem as if I was the only person in the world not suffering from it), I am normally in a state of ravenous hunger which sometimes puts me in danger of eating my own arm!!
However, salvation was on the horizon, when the new restaurant, Le Bouchon Ponot, opened in the village. After a slightly dodgy start when Jean-Yves and his team had to overcome major obstacles like how to switch the new cookers on – and I am not joking!! – , all has now settled down and each time we (or I) go it gets better and better.
The restaurant is situated next to the small supermarket and occupies the former bread depot which, in turn, gave way to the artisan bakery just up the road. The renovations have been tastefully done and feature lots of the local white, “tuffeau” stone, this, together with the tiled floor, gives an impression of space and cleanliness. They have also managed to make the place look about three times the size it was before, which is a neat trick.
Lunchtime meals are €11 and like many local restaurants the menu is fixed. The price is for three courses and, normally, is the sort of simple, well prepared food one expects at lunchtime in rural France. The Evening menu is four courses at €16,50. The last time we went was last week and the entrées ranged from paté to frogs legs, (which I love and were delicious), whilst the main course choices were monkfish, duck, beef or venison followed by cheese and a selection of desserts. I am afraid I neglected to ask about ‘Veggy’ options, a subject not dear to my heart, but I will do so tomorrow. Everything was superbly cooked although our friend thought the veg was a little uninspiring. This is often a complaint about France in general and, given that the region is a major producer of market-garden produce, of the Loire in particular, I am afraid, that is the traditional french way with vegetables being given only a small accompanying role, almost as a garnish. The french generally supply the “bulk” by eating copious amounts of bread with their meals and quite often have a dish of “crudités” (raw vegetables) as a starter. And don’t forget that four courses is often the norm.
The wine-list has only wine from two local producers, one organic, but it is quality stuff – the 2005 Red from La Domaine du Vieux Tuffeau is particularly interesting – and why not drink the local wine when you are eating in a wine producing village, particularly one with its own appellation?
All in all, a very promising start exemplified by the fact that it is getting busier and busier. The other night, (Thursday), there were just two tables empty, which is not bad for a restaurant in a small village in the middle of January and the talk in the bar on Saturday was that it had been full on Friday night. I presume that most of the people there could easily have eaten in Doué la Fontaine or Montreuil-Bellay, both five minutes drive away and with a vast choice of eateries. My rule of thumb in France is that if the locals use it then give it a try and I have rarely been disappointed. We are now recommending to our gite accommodation clients that we reserve the restaurant for them if they wish to eat there when they arrive. It really is a wonderful thing for both residents and holidaymakers to be able to walk to a local restaurant of quality, (or indeed a bar), given the increasing governmental pressure on drink-driving which, as a result, is becoming more and more risky, plus, of course, it really is not very sensible. Thus I am sure that “Le Bouchon Ponot” will become a great asset to the village.
Just one postscript. The former restaurant, La Collegiale, which closed two years ago, has now been purchased and the rumour in the village, is that it will become a Wine and Tapas-Bar, if this is the case it will be amazing in a small, traditional village like ours. Whatever next – a Lap-dancing Club?!
Finally, I bumped into Jean-Yves in the bar and asked him about ‘Veggie’ options and he is quite happy to discuss various options when the reservation is made.