Apricots!…and the rest of that meal

Apologies for having accidentally posted this before it was finished.  Here is the full version.

We’ve come back from Catalunya to find our apricot tree covered with tiny fruits for the first time for a couple of years.  Now we just have to keep our fingers crossed that there won’t be any very strong winds to blow them all off!



Following l’amuse bouche…..

Well, starting before it, with Banyuls grand cru in the hotel bar.  I posted photos and more information about this speciality of the area, a naturally sweet wine made from grapes grown on steeply terraced ground in vineyards with UNESCO world heritage status, two years ago.


Another glance at l’amuse bouche:


Marinated local anchovies with olive oil:


(I won’t post photos of all the dishes eaten by the whole table, but I must mention Lo Jardinièr’s saddle of rabbit stuffed with pine nuts, tomato confit and spinach – almost a main dish, so plenty for him to offer tastings to the rest of us!)

This is now primarily a fish restaurant, which is appropriate given its position just metres from the sea, and the set menus feature at least two fish courses, but I was pleased to see there were good meat dishes on the carte.  It was hard to choose: the gambas risotto was very special, as well as the duck roasted with bitter orange, and for my main course I had lamb roasted rare with thyme and garlic – tender, pink and delicious.


There was an impressive choice of cheeses (which I forgot to photograph), which included local Pyrenean sheep’s cheese, goats’ cheese, mountain cows’ milk cheese and, of course, Roquefort.  My choice of dessert was sablé à la figue, réduction de muscat


We drank excellent local red and rosé wines from the Domaine de l’Étoile in Banyuls-sur-mer and coffee came with a piece of candied citrus peel dipped in chocolate. The service was friendly and very attentive, but not formal.  As Lo Jardinièr said, it was three hours of pure pleasure.  We’ll be back again for our third visit to the Hotel des Elmes and its restaurant as soon as we can!

>A Catalan break


I seem to have become a ‘weekend blogger’ – I don’t usually leave a gap of nearly a week between posts, but I have couple of excuses: first, I’ve been unable to connect to the internet for more than 15 minutes at a time since last Sunday night, something which has been resolved today by the installation of a new ‘Livebox’. And secondly, I’ve been away, staying for a couple of days in Banyuls-sur-Mer in the French part of Catalunya.

Banyuls is famous for its vin doux, a naturally sweet wine produced thanks to the amount of strong sunshine in that area. Squeezed between the Pyrenees and the rocky Côte Vermeille coast, the vines are grown in terraces anywhere on the slopes where there is space to make it worthwhile working the ground.

The vines were only just beginning to sprout this season’s bright green leaves, but these pictures show how close to the sea and the mountains the vineyards are.

The terraces are walled with local stone, with drainage channels leading down between them, and are sometimes wide enough for only two rows of vines.

DSC03008 DSC03018
DSC03023 DSC03015

The three variations of Banyuls – red, white and ambré (with added caramelised sugar to give a golden colour) – are all delicious apéritifs and can also be used in cooking. The chef at the restaurant at the Hotel des Elmes where we stayed was expert at this – two of the wonderful dishes we tasted were scallops and Catalan blood sausage with a reduction of Banyuls, and escalope of foie gras with a chocolate and Banyuls sauce. There’s more information about Banyuls on this website.

On the way home we stopped near Millas at the Moulin du Mas St Pierre where Monique and Joseph Planes decided some years ago to change their fruit farm into an olive farm. They now have 30,000 olive trees all of the Arbequine (Arbequina as it’s called in Spain) variety grown closely in rows, rather like the fruit trees in neighbouring farms. These Arbequine olives, grown mostly in Catalunya and Spain, are very small and Monsieur Planes told us that this gives them one great advantage over other varieties: the olive fly does not attack them because there isn’t enough flesh around the stone for it to burrow into the olive. This means that they have been able achieve organic status for all their production as they don’t need to use chemicals on the trees. There is a very modern mill at the farm and huge tanks where the oil is stored at a constant temperature of 18 degrees C to preserve the flavour of the oil. As always when we visit the premises of a producer of good food or wine, it was a delight to talk to someone as impassioned about his products as Monsieur Planes and, of course, to buy some of his wonderful oil to bring home. His passion and hard work have been rewarded, too, with a gold medal this year at the Concours Général Agricole in Paris. Madame Planes travels around the world – as far as Shanghai recently – to food fairs, so that now their oil is sold in many countries and even, M. Planes told us proudly, in Harrods in London.

DSC03027 DSC03028