February 2012

Its a minor miracle I don’t have a hangover. I think because I stuck to white wine, but I certainly drank enough to get me quite merry!

We went, last night, to a French restaurant we’ve both been longing to go to for a while, which serves very very good French food. Le Bistrot Pierre, a lovely little bistro in the heart of Leicester… and which absolutely made our night. From the waitress (who was charming, cheerful, who seemed to display a sixth sense about when she was wanted and when she was not: thank you, Kerry!) to the decor, the food… it was not a cheap night but it wasn’t about being cheap. If we’d wanted that, there was a McDonalds over the road! We threw caution to the heavens, ordered what we wanted, and to my surprise, when the bill arrived, it was not as expensive as I had feared. Win-Win on all counts!

We arrived and were promptly shown to our table by Kerry (Michiel having booked ahead). The restaurant wasn’t busy – we were seated towards the back of the restaurant, sharing a room with one other couple, but that was perfect for us! Kerry advised us on wine selection to go with our food – unlike most restaurants I’ve been in, most of the wines on their wine list are available by the glass (and two sizes of glass as well, in some cases) as well as by a half bottle and a full bottle. This gives great freedom in trying wines, especially if you are new to the whole wine thing, as I am, which was lovely.

I started withSalade de betterave et chevre (‘Warm trio of beetroot salad, including honey roasted golden beetroot and striped ‘Candy’ beetroot, served with goat’s cheese, lamb’s lettuce and garlic croutons’). This was delightful – not at at all what I expected. The beetroots were sweet and tangy, which offset the tanginess of goat’s cheese wonderfully, the croutons giving a welcome crunch factor in a plate that would otherwise have been devoid of that element. Although its marked as a vegetarian option I would recommend it to non-vegetarians, its that lovely.

Michiel had Sardines Grillees (‘Grilled Sardines with confit red peppers, salsa verde and a dash of pernod’). This is not something I would have ordered at all (sardines being filled with tiny bones – which I have a horror of) and initially Michiel struggled with it, before finding the knack of lifting the meat from the bones without ending up with a forkful of bones! He said later that he felt a fish knife would have helped with this. He carefully picked out a small piece for me to try, ensuring it was bone free, and I was quite surprised how subtle it was. In the past when I’ve had sardines, the flavour has always been quite overpowering, to the extent that it was difficult to taste anything else. This was subtle, present, but allowed the sweetness of the fish to come through as well – and I had no difficulty tasting the salsa verde that he slipped to me immediately afterwards.

We were also served a basket of French bread and butter with the starter. In these days where french sticks are so easily available in the supermarkets its a joy when you’re reminded just how good GOOD french bread can be – this was soft in the middle, slightly crunchy on the outside without the dryness that you can sometimes get in inferior french sticks that makes eating it almost a journey in pain. They hadn’t stinted on the butter either: small packets of Lescurebutter, which gave a lovely salty flavour (without being over salty) that puts most packaged butter in the shade.

We each had a glass of Basa, Verdejo-Sauvignon Blanc (‘Telmo blends a little sauvignon blanc in with the local Verdejo grape. The result is subtly unconventional and delicious’) from Rueda in Spain which was lovely – not at all dry and without the crisp acidness that you can sometimes get with whites – I would happily have this again.

For our main meal, I had Supreme de Poulet (‘Chicken supreme with apples, Calvados, smoked bacon lardons and caramelised onion). This was delightful – I polished off every scrap, with the exception of the skin, which had been left on the breast (and which Michiel gleefully polished off instead). The apples lended a sweet note that wasn’t at all odd in a savory plate, and while I had expected the bacon to add a certain salty note, it didn’t do this at all – just a lovely subtle bacony undertone to the chicken, which was allowed to shine through as the star of the dish in a way that rarely happens. I had a glass of Sancerre (‘Aromatic, complex, lithe and elegant’) from the Loire Valley in France which was the only wine I didn’t much like for the evening. It had that crisp, acidic bite that many like, I suspect, in a white, but that I don’t. However, Michiel encouraged me to finish the glass at least and I’m glad he did because by the end of it I was picking up some of the other notes behind the initial tartness, which were quite lovely and subtle. But not a wine I shall be repeating, I think – although this is personal taste and certainly not in any way a ‘bad’ wine.

Michiel had Epaule d’Agneau (‘Overnight slow-roasted shoulder of lamb with minted pea puree and Roquefort butter’) and this was absolutely divine. Quite the star of the evening, it melted in the mouth, so unbelievably tender in a way that quite belied the fact that it had had a long, slow cooking – and wasn’t dry at all. The sauce with it made Michiel close his eyes for a moment’s concentration on the flavour, and when I dipped my fork in it, I did the same – the depth of the sauce was gorgeous. He had this with a half bottle of Cotes du Rhone (‘Grenache based blend with dashes of syrah and mouvedre. A lightly perfumed combination of pepper, spice and berry fruit’) from Le Pas de la Beaume, France,  which was the recommended red to go with the course (if you look at the menus, which are available on the site, you will see that some of the courses have specific wine recommendations which is a very very good idea, I think). This was a rich, deep wine with very little of the tannin bite that I dislike in cheaper reds, and complemented the lamb beautifully.

Both of us were served two little side dishes: a sort of Dauphinoise potato dish, which I think had some cheese in as well, and a red cabbage dish with a spice I initially struggled to identify until Kerry thankfully cleared the matter up: cinnamon. Quite surprising and very very nice.

After our main course plates had been removed Kerry cheerfully asked if she could interest us in the dessert menu. “ohhhh YES!” was the reply which earned us a merry laugh. I chose Cafe Gourmand (‘A platter of small desserts – mini citron flan, mini tart-tatin, raspberry sorbet and mini chocolate torte’). This can be served with an espresso coffee, but I chose to forgo that and instead indulged in a chilled glass of Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois (‘Sweet, fruity, floral and utterly unctuous’) from Domaine de Barroubio, France. This was glorious – a nectar I could happily drink for the entire meal, although it certainly would not go with any of the other foods! The platter was glorious – one difference from the description – the sorbet was a strawberry sorbet, not raspberry, but this really did not matter (and I only realised it when typing this just now). I tried the mini chocolate torte first – at first glance, it looked like a small, slightly bigger than bite sized chocolate cake, quite simple and unprepossessing. Cutting into it with my spoon though… the cake oozed a chocolate sauce that was hidden in the middle and I gleefully said “ooh Chocolate Fon-don’t!” (for the uninitiated, chocolate fondant has failed so often as a dish on Masterchef (the TV series) that its now called “Chocolate Fon-don’t”). Although small I wasn’t left feeling short-changed in any way at all – the rich, chocolate velvetiness was wonderful. Next time I shall certainly go for the Moelleaux au Chocolat (‘Chocolate torte with whipped maple and Grand Marnier cream’) which I think the mini chocolate torte is based on. Next up was the strawberry sorbet – sorbets can be a little wishywashy but this wasn’t. It was almost more strawberry-ery than a strawberry! Placed into a small bowl with a mint leaf delicately placed on top, the strawberry flavour refreshed my mouth and left it aching for more – which I found in the form of the mini tarte-tartin, which tasted almost like a toffee apple, deep, rich, and unctuous – of all the four desserts on the platter, this best matched the wine, I think, although all went well with it. Finally, the mini citron flan – lovely and lemony, not tart but not oversweet either – that balance is so difficult to get right – with an unexpected crisp layer ontop of the tart, where I think a blowtorch had been run over to create a sugared layer to give a lovely crisp snap in the mouth. Gorgeous. My only gripe is that I wanted to order it all over again and I didn’t have room in my tummy!

Michiel ordered the Plateau de Fromages (‘Our typical rustic French cheese board of: Brie de Meaux, Tomme de Savoie and Bleu d’Auvergne, served with biscuits, celery and red onion confiture’), which he had with Quinta do Crasto (‘Intense, powerful and peppery port – ripe flavours of raisins and dried figs’) from Duroro, Portugal. The port was simply lovely – I got warned off taking too big a mouthful by a possessive Michiel! – and with the blue cheese, it was toe-curlingly wonderful, you simply had to close your eyes and wish the world away to concentrate on the flavour. I wasn’t too impressed with the Tomme de Savoie – the first time I have tasted this cheese – but Michiel liked it well enough and it was his meal! The Brie was lovely too but nothing could match the loveliness of the bleu d’Auvergne with the Quinta do Crasto, for me, after that – Stilton and port aficionados will understand the loveliness of that pairing, although this was more subtle, with more depth, than the average Stilton and port combo.

Would we go again? Oh.. yes. in a heartbeat. tonight, if we could afford it, which sadly, we can’t! The restaurant does special evenings though, ‘Soiree Gastronimique’ and ‘Dine with Wine’ evenings that may be a little cheaper for us than last night’s dining from the a la Carte menu, and I am sorely tempted to go and try their Breakfast or Lunch menus. Part of me is tempted to wait and try their Spring/Summer menu when it comes out. Quite when we will return I don’t know but I do know that we will!! Thank you, Le Bistrot Pierre for making our anniversary night so special!!

Every now and then a date comes by where you stop, sometimes just for a moment, sometimes for longer, and just think about where you are, where you’ve come from, where you want to go. We all do it, different dates for each of us, although some of us have dates in common, such as 9/11. Some dates are more personal. For Michiel and me, its today.

9 years ago today I stepped into his arms and whispered to him to never let me go. He never has. That sounds terribly romantic, but its not the sop to cupid that it sounds. That never letting go has meant heartache and pain and growth and love for us both. Somehow, we’ve clung on together, while the waves and tides of our lives have dashed us around, sometimes near the rocks, sometimes out to sea, sometimes into calmer waters, but always, always, we’ve managed to cling to each other, one of us always holding on even when, temporarily, driven to the brink by the pain of the moment, one wanted to let go.

We don’t stop, I think, he and I, to consider the beauty of that, or to honour and reflect on the strength and determination that has allowed us to maintain that grip on each other.

But today I want to change that. Yesterday, I stopped outside a lecture theatre and reflected on where I was 9 years ago – then, I was attending a friend’s wedding with Mom and Dad. It was a period of my life that heralded great changes: I’d just ended one relationship in very very upsetting and painful circumstances. I had to close down the home I was then living in, and I had no job, no future. Everything I had depended on up until about 4 weeks before that point had vanished, except my family and friends. I remember Dad driving us home that night and looking up at the moon and wondering where my life would go, reflecting on the changes that were to come. I suppose I could have been excited by the chance to change where I thought my life was going up to that point, but I don’t remember thinking that way. I think I was still too wounded at that point for that.

I’d met Michiel online a few weeks before we met in person. It was a friendship that grew into something more, although we both agree now that it was too soon, for me, especially. But despite the problems that came afterwards, in that moment when we met for the first time, a connection was forged that has withstood everything that’s been thrown at it for the last nine years.

In those nine years we’ve withstood a breakdown (mine), depression, unemployment, illness, antisocial behaviour from so-called neighbours that drove us both almost to the wall. We’ve withstood family problems, deaths (from my dad and grandmothers to his grandfather, to friends, who died far far too young), a cross-country move and the beginning of my studies. In that time we’ve both changed a great deal. I can only speak for myself here; but I’ve grown as a person and now bear little resemblance to the wounded individual I was nine years ago.

And its that connection, in many ways, that has enabled that growth to happen.

Thank you, Michiel, for never letting go. I love you.