on July 14, 2009
France - 01/07/09 Shakespeare said that music was the food of love. Much as I love the Bard, I may have to disagree with him. Personally I would go for French food as the food of love... This was no Twelfth Night however. But it was a seventh date. And so a bit of romance was needed. And rightly or wrongly the French have a reputation for romance. So I made a reservation at Brasserie Gerard on Albert Square. From the exterior the Brasserie is not the most wonderful-looking, located in a 1980s red-brick office building. Inside it looks much lusher with big couches and a zinc-topped bar. However, the exterior does have a covered portico facing the marvellous neo-gothic town hall and Albert Square itself - which at this point was busy with workmen erecting marquees for the upcoming Manchester International Festival. As it was a balmy summer evening we chose to sit out here to enjoy the sun and watch the world go by. What could be better than dining al fresco - or whatever the French equivalent would be...? Probably the only problem with their menu is that it all sounds so good. Both myself and The Date were spoiled for choice, which made making a decision difficult. Thankfully I had already decided in my head what I would be having for my appetiser. Escargots. What could be more French than eating snails? Even the type of snail used is called the 'Burgundy snail' (after its French origin, rather than its colour!) I think many in Britain would be repulsed by the idea of eating snails. Though if anything they're probably 'cleaner' than most shellfish. And this is not the first time I had ordered them in a restaurant in Britain. My six snails (£4.95) came shell-less in an attractive serving platter, doused in a garlic and parsley butter. Which is necessary really, as I find snails don't actually have that much of a taste to them; they tend to taste of whatever they are cooked with. These were piping hot and had to be left to cool down a little. As well as nicking one of my snails for a taste, The Date had her own French starter - Niçoise salad (£5.45). I'm not sure that tuna is often the fresh catch of the day in Nice, but the salad had plenty on, as well as the extected salad potatoes, egg, olives, anchovies, beans and plum tomatoes, all covered with Dijon vinaigrette. I was more stumped as for what to choose for my main course. They had a lot of wonderful (and French) sounding dishes, from chicken to duck to sea bass. I was half tempted to actually order one of their Tagines du Maroc, as on the one occassion I had eaten here previously I had thoroughly enjoyed my tagine. Of course, these are traditionally Moroccan dishes, but you can certainly get them in France, as I know from my own experience. In the end The Date ordered a Tagine d'Agneau, lamb tagine (£13.95). It came out in a proper pottery tagine; our waitress whipped the conical lid off to produce a puff of steam like a genie's sudden appearance. She promptly tipped in her bowl of fluffy couscous to soak up the sauce, sweetened with apricots, prunes, cinnamon & ginger.As Brasserie Gerard proudly claim to offer ' the best steak-frites this side of Paris' that is what I went for. My 8 oz entrecote (rib eye) steak (£16.95) came rare and succulent, bursting with delicious flavour. I accompanied it with frites, thin, crisp, salted French-fry-style, and also a bowl of field mushrooms, as meaty and juicy as the steak they accompanied. Both chips and mushrooms cost £2.75 a bowl.I suppose a nice full-bodied French red wine would have been the perfect match for these two dishes. However The Date was driving and I would have been faced with that age-old problem whereby a bottle would have been too much and a glass nowhere near enough. Mercifully when we asked for a jug of tapwater it came to our table pronto, with ice and lemon and nary a moue of complaint. In fact nothing seemed to be too much for the waitress, who was perfectly willing to talk through diners (on nearby tables) about what the dishes were and what they comprised. Finally we decided to push le bateau out and order desserts. I opted for tarte au citron (£4.75). In part this was because of an in-joke. In one of our first conversations The Date had asked me if I were a pudding, which pudding would I be. Tha answer of course was tarte au citron - bitter and just a little bit pretentious. Anyway this particular tarte had a sharp lemon tang, but was a bit too curd-y for my taste. Still, it was a decent dessert. It came with craime freche and a drizzle of blackcurrant puree. The Date ordered mousse au chocolat et langue de chat (£3.95) - mainly because she was interested to see what the promised 'cat's tongues' would be. It turned out they were narrow pointed vanilla-flavoured biscuits, protruding from a pot of thick glutinous chocolate goo. This stuff would be a chocoholics dream, chocolate squared. It was thick and dark and gloopy and very filling. Full marks from both of us for this pudding! In total the bill for the pair of us came to £55.50. Thankfully, considering that I was picking up the tab, I had a CityScene card that entitled me to to two courses free, so that reduced the cost. But even so I don't think that a bad price to pay for a very very good meal. The outdoor seating was good. The service was good. The food was very good. And the company was excellent...
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