Out to lunch.
So, bars and restaurants are opening again down south. It seems an extraordinarily stupid act by blustering Boris to fix a Saturday in July as so-called Liberation Day. The distasteful scenes on the beaches at Bournemouth in recent days show that managing the easing of lock-down promises to be a difficult job. A metre and a bit may prove to be an unworkable concept. And the earlier Dominic Cummings fiasco has merely encouraged a lot of people to think that they too can make their own decisions regardless of what the government guidelines seek to enforce.
Up here in Scotland the cautious Nicola looks statesman-like by comparison. Is that sexist usage, I wonder ? And while we are finally allowed to travel more than five miles from home, bars and restaurants still remain out of reach for most of us. So, as I walk round the hill every day, I have been compiling a list of places to go out to lunch. In my head. This is emphatically not intended as a Michelin guide substitute. More as a reminder of happier times. The list inevitably reflects where we have lived and been in the past couple of decades. But some of these places we haven’t been to for a few years; so please don’t complain to me if you arrive and find it no longer there. The order is pretty random, and does not indicate any relative merit.
There are [at least] two restaurants of this name in Lyon, both good. The one I am thinking of is in the centre of town just down from Place Terreaux. OK the tartan decor is a bit naff, and there is virtually no choice on the menu; it is entrecôte with ‘its famous sauce’ with a pile of pommes allumettes. And they bring you as second pile of chips halfway through your steak. I’ve been there lots of times. And the steak is always brilliant. Desserts are nothing special, but who cares.
Cafe Marlayne, Edinburgh
A distinctly French bistro style restaurant in Thistle Street, in central Edinburgh. They serve an attractively priced prix fixe lunch with a choice of three or four starters and mains. Dinner is a more extensive menu. The wine list is all French. When I was last there in January, the restaurant was full at lunchtime. Good food and efficient service. My recollection is that the owner is lyonnaise. Not to be confused with the Cafe Saint-Honoré, another Edinburgh bistro, a few minutes walk away, where we celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary earlier this year.
Restaurant de Fourvière, Lyon
On top of Fourvière, on the south side of the Basilica, opposite the entrance to the Chapel of St Thomas Becket. The situation is incomparable as you look out east, through a plate glass window, across the cathedral and the city and the two rivers, all far below. It was our preferred place for taking visitors for lunch during our decade in Lyon. The food was serious and the prices honest. Especially the daily menu des pelerins. Very sadly, word is that the restaurant may now be closed. If that is true then I think we would instead try Les Retrouvailles in the rue de Boeuf.
Can Gata, Soller, Majorca
Susie and I were on a week’s package holiday in Puerto de Soller, on the north coast of Majorca. We didn’t stray very far because I was nervous about the buses on Majorca’s mountain roads. One day we took the tram into Soller, and walked up to Fornalutx, bought a couple of tee-shirts and walked back down to Soller to find the Can Gata. You go through a dark, unprepossessing cafe/bar into a nicely planted garden with half a dozen well-spaced tables and umbrellas. And a few sleeping cats. Simple food: gazpacho, croquettes, tapas, salads. An oasis on a hot day. Decent service and prices.
The Fat Fox, Watlington
Watlington is an attractive village in east Oxfordshire, not far off the M40. A few minutes drive from where The Vicar of Dibley was filmed. It’s probably now best known for the high class bakers. The Fox is in Shirburn Street, very close to the centre and the market square. Pretty standard pub food: battered cod, steak, lasagne, steak and kidney, good sausages. Good food. Good desserts. And good beer. Slightly different lunchtime menu. Apparently there are rooms too. But our son and daughter-in-law and their children live a few miles up the road. Which is what takes us to Watlington.
Chez Janou, 75003 Paris
Most of the restaurants that I once knew in Paris are no longer there. But Chez Janou has been our favourite for about a decade. It’s small place near the Place des Vosges, a bar at the front, always crowded, and quite tightly packed tables behind. Lots of artwork on the walls, tiled floor, bent-wood chairs, and provençal colours. I’ve read some very mixed reviews on line, mainly complaining about long waits and poor service. But we’ve been here a few times spread over a decade, most recently with three generations for Susie’s birthday lunch a couple of years ago, and I’ve always found the staff helpful. Excellent food. Beware of the industrial size portions of chocolate mousse. When we get back to Paris we’ll certainly make a bee-line for this place.
The Loft, Haddington
Haddington is a small town about half an hour’s drive east of Edinburgh, formerly the county town of East Lothian. Although there is a lot of new building on the outskirts, the town has retained its central historic street plan around the former market place. The Loft is a straightforward cafe that concentrates on serving simple food well. Entrance up the steps. I’ve never been there early enough for breakfast. At lunchtime they do home-made soups, quiches, filled rolls, mackerel pate, toasties, and summer salads. And coffee and cake. Not fast food. All home made. Afterwards walk it off by the river Tyne, and visit St Mary’s Collegiate Church, the longest parish church in Scotland.
Cafe de la Place, Rontalon
Rontalon is a village in the Monts du Lyonnais, about twenty minutes west of Lyon going towards St Martin en Haut. It is surrounded by fields of fruit trees. For a decade or so the Lyon congregation walked at Rontalon on Good Friday, up a very steep hill to a hill-top cross for a short service. And back via another cross.The circuit was about 8kms.The weather was variable; from snow one year to clear skies and spring sunshine. Afterwards we had lunch in the cafe. I think the food usually is pretty basic. But we invariably had roast pork, wonderful gratin dauphinois, and big steel bowls of green salad. And fromage blanc à la crème. And plenty of wine. Good Friday has never been the same since. But there are rumours that the cafe may have transmuted into an Italian bistro.
La Porteuse d’Eau, Saint-Gilles, Brussels
A corner cafe on two floors rather than a restaurant. A bit away from the historic centre in the Saint-Gilles district. It’s named after a nearby statue of a water carrier. Major attractions are the stained glass windows and the spiral staircase. Fairly standard collection of Belgian dishes. Service and food OK when I’ve been there. If all you really want is frites then I think Maison Antoine in the Place Jourdan is your best bet. It has been there since 1946, and is [was ?] housed in a shack left behind by the German army after the war. You can enjoy your frites sitting at any of the local cafes for the price of a beer.
Merlevi Sofrasi, Konya
Konya is is best known as a place of pilgrimage for the Muslim world, a city that is dear to the heart of pious Turks. It was the adopted home of Celaleddin Rumi, the 13th century Sufi mystic known as the Mevlana [the Master], and founder of the Mevlevi sect, better known as the Whirling Dervishes. This sprawling restaurant overlooks the Mevlana Museum, a very dignified complex of buildings that cluster round the tomb of Celaleddin Rumi.
We were there on a very cold day in December. Lots of local specialities. Service was slow as most of the staff were at prayers. But the waiters were friendly, and the food was excellent. There is a lot of meat [like everywhere in Turkey]. I had the slow-cooked beef, served in an earthenware dish. Excellent. No alcohol. Drink yoghurt.
Dream on !