MMoorree ooff FFrraannccee aanndd aa NNoorrtthh AAffrriiccaann ttiinnggee……
Last week on this page, my theme was French and it continued for several more days after I had written it. In Surrey, south of London, for a couple of days we renewed acquaintance with a restaurant we knew even before we settled in Cyprus in 1991. Appropriately called The Rendezvous, it started in the small town of Westerham, just inside Kent, as a tiny Bistro and expanded through buying the properties next door.
Deservedly it has survived and prospered. As well as the usual touches you expect in a French Bistro, there was always a little something different, as if a French Moroccan or two had had a hand in the kitchen. Once we asked the French waiter about the delicate but definite spicy flavouring in the soup. “We call it (four spices)” – but he wouldn’t say which ones. They were not the customary cumin and cinnamon was as much as we could detect.
This time, delicate, interesting spice flavours permeated Mary’s chicken and apricot served on a bed of cous cous. It was utterly delicious, making a nonsense of the cooking of the vast majority of dishes cooked (or warmed up) by British chefs. Normally, I would have joined my wife in a dish like this, but I saw that a French cut of beef, served with a Bordelaise sauce and was on offer. The cut was called “Onglet”, known to Brits as “Hanger Steak” (because it “hangs” from the diaphragm). It is said butchers keep the cut for themselves because of its flavour.
I can assure one and all the flavour was superb, though the meat did need the service of the sharp knife presented by the waitress. But the bordelaise sauce was out of this world. I have never had a better one, even in Bordeaux. And the were all the better for being dunked in it.
Steak and French fries may well be the most served dish in the world. At this moment I would wager thousands of restaurants throughout Cyprus are cooking it for local and foreign customers. I would also wager that there are very, very few indeed that serve it with a sauce as good as the Bordelaise at the Rendezvous.
Our meal was conventional throughout. Mary started with the red, white and green of a tomato, Buffalo Mozzarella and avocado salad and I with a slice of blissfully creamy and no doubt cholesterol-laden chicken liver paté, and to conclude we shared a huge
A 50 cl carafe of excellent Merlot, sparkling water and filter coffees completed the repast which cost under 100 Euros.
I am not giving a recipe for Bordelaise sauce, because it requires ingredients difficult to find in Cyprus and it’s quite difficult. It is made using dry red wine ( bone marrow, butter, shallots and sauce demi-glace. My advice is find a place that does do it – like Nicosia’s
and in Limassol, and sup up there.
You don’t need the Moroccan shaped tagine to make the eponymous dish. “Oh yes you do”, daughter Susanna always says, and perhaps, as a most accomplished Mediterranean cook she should know; and I agree that served in one of the attractively decorated varieties of this implement it looks good.
Anyway if you can’t cook your Tagine in an earthenware pot over hot coals, the recipes work perfectly using a heavy pan with lid. This is a recipe adapted from one in an excellent American book called “Cooking at the Kasbah”, which is now in its ninth printing and you can buy on-line from the author Kitty Morse’s own website. It rejoices in the title “Tagine Bil Kok”, but for safety’s sake you may prefer the English “ 2 tbsp olive oil 8 – 10 pitted prunes (according to size – or you may mix some prunes with dried apricots and /or figs) 1 tsp ground turmeric 2 tbsp honey 1 tsp ground ginger 1 tsp ground cinnamon 1 kilo / 2.2 lbs meat from a leg of lamb, trimmed of fat and cut into 5 cm / 2-inch chunks 25 cl /8 fl oz chicken stock Black pepper Two medium onions 1 tablespoon sesame seeds 1 cup chicken stock 8 threads Spanish saffron, chopped and put into a cup of boiling water for a few minutes 3 sprigs of coriander or parsley, chopped