Food and other matters.
Grenoble is a small town – some 150,000 people – but it services a much wider population in the area, more like 600,000, so this means it has lots of shops, cinema, theatre, museums, restaurants relative to its size. Rather like Geneva, I guess. We went at the end of August, that odd month in Europe where everything closes down and yet it is supposed to be high season, so it felt like a ghost town here and there. Despite that, I think I can unreservedly say that the food is awful. We tried French, Italian and Chinese. The only thing that I can speak highly of is The Sushi Shop High standard sushi at reasonable prices with excellent salad accompaniments. They make some up ready to go, but you can also order from their menu, which I did.
For the first time in Europe/UK I found myself staying at a hotel where the breakfast was excellent. This was the Le Grand Hotel Recently refurbished, the entire hotel, although housed in an old building, is sparkling new. Breakfast was around 20Euros, so not cheap, but nor was anything about the meal itself. Eggs and accompaniments cooked to order in any style – we tried omelette, scrambled and boiled – top quality breads and pastries, lots of bio like the yoghurt and the specially packaged for the hotel mueslis/cereals. Best quality tea and drinkable coffee. All the crockery and cutlery is stylish – loved the teapots. There is sufficient staff to ensure that there is no sense of having to wait in one of those everybody-comes-to-breakfast-at-the-same-time queues you get so often in hotel breakfast rooms. Everything looks fresh and neat as breakfast goes on, none of that bedraggled, picked over look that is part of the ubiquitous hotel breakfast buffet. This is a really nice little hotel, which I believe is family owned. Its very modern features may look lack warmth, but they combine with about the best service I can recall experiencing in a hotel, including fairly posh ones. Everybody who works there looks genuinely happy that they are there and not somewhere else. It doesn’t look like they are doing it because of the threat of trip advisor hanging over their heads. Consequently the place has a sense of home as you walk in.
My only serious gripe about this hotel other than internet connection that isn’t the worst I’ve experienced in hotels by any means, but isn’t really good enough for work, is screens in the bar and breakfast areas. I don’t expect this is in a classy hotel – but then, maybe I’m the only one who boycotts screens in restaurants and the like. Unfortunately the breakfast options in Grenoble gave me no choice but to stay put. However, I hope my objection is noted!!! If people are addicted to screens, why can’t they pull out their phone or pad and they can feed their addiction without a visual and aural invasion of my space.
As to other restaurants. We went to the number one rated Italian and it was – average according to Manny, dire according to me. Aside from my stuffed beef being salted beyond edibility, it was also very dry and the stuffing was all but missing. It is a dish which I would normally not bother ordering in a restaurant as it is so likely to be done badly and so it was. The Chinese restaurant we went to, which came recommended as well, was so very bad, I simply have nothing with which I can compare it.
To argue ‘why would you eat Italian or Chinese in France?’ makes you wonder doesn’t it? The implication is that French restaurants/chefs/patrons care only about French food, not food per se. But if this ludicrously chauvinistic attitude was actually upheld in France, at least the French restaurants would be good, which they aren’t. We only went to one and it too was very VERY ordinary. Hilariously I’m told the reason for this is that French people are not really interested in French food any more and are heading for Asian in particular. The fact that the Asian food available is truly dreadful must in some way reflect upon French food too. You go to eat in an Asian restaurant and the idea that the locals actually prefer that to ‘their own’ cuisine is pretty damning. Quite the best quality and best value French I’ve eaten since I’ve been in Europe has been in the UK. Equally, you can get quite good French in Australia, though it isn’t very popular, being very boring compared with what is otherwise available there.
Now why doesn’t it surprise me that the only reasonable restaurant we ate at isn’t even mentioned in trip advisor, as far as I can see. Maison E. Portes is run by very friendly staff who know their oysters. We had a couple of dozen, two different types to compare, followed by fish soup (about 12EU) and then a plate of scallops to share (23EU). This plus a carafe of house wine and one dessert came to 108 Euros. Not cheap, but nonetheless, we were happier paying this for fair fare, than any of the other meals we forked out for. (I think I’ve got the alliteration out of my system now, not to mention bad puns.) This is a restaurant on the side of a roaring trade in delivery of seafood platters, so if you don’t like oysters, which is really their core business I don’t know that I’d be urging you to go. I have to say, however, that although the scallops were pricey, they were nonetheless cheaper than they would have been in Geneva and nicely cooked. I liked the fish soup, but I’m no expert and the cold toast instead of nice croutons on the side didn’t beg me to eat them. Dessert was fromage blanc dressed in the restaurant’s own marmalade – an inelegant looking affair, but I’m told it was good. I guess it was that which made us splurge (by our standards) on seafood, it just isn’t something we eat in Genevan restaurants.
Thankfully European towns love markets and supermarkets have not acquired the ground they have in anglo-saxon countries. Grenoble is no exception and Sunday it was particularly notable, with various squares in the town centre taken over by fresh produce. Lots of the butchers and so on are also open on Sunday, and – of course – the boulangerie/patisseries. The queues at the best of these spill out onto the footpath, as I discovered while waiting outside Bourbon Ets hoping to pick up an icecream. I noticed that they had yoghut with fig, it looked divine and I just couldn’t resist. Fantastic!
And as you stand in front, the street running down the side, takes you into a lovely area of antique shops, bookshops, cute cafes….walk down it for long enough and you get to a small botanic garden including a museum.
We are definitely going back to Grenoble to see what it is like when there are people in residence and to look at the various museums we failed to get to, including a fine collection of contemporary art. In practice the only one we got to this time was the Exhibition of ladies’ underwear through the ages – no guessing who wanted to see that.