Due to my brother Henry’s interest in history and archeology, we always look for sites of historic interest when we go on holiday en famille. While in France this year, we wandered through the cobbled streets of Parthenay, a small, fortified town in the West of the country. After exploring the town centre and climbing the castle walls, we came across a novel French food experience.
Not far from the steep stone walls of the medieval keep, we found a little eatery called Aut’ Foueé, its doors invitingly open and a period decor visible through its large windows. Set into one wall is a wood-fired oven with glowing embers of hardwood at the back. The ceiling is supported by large black beams, under which worn wooden tables are laid with smart slate place settings and flanked by vintage cutlery. The jolly, pink-faced proprietor welcomes us inside, her medieval costume and warm, smiley face completing the scene.
Before the French revolution in France there was no such thing as a restaurant. In a restaurant you can sit at a table and choose from a list of different starters, main courses and deserts. You can even select which drink you fancy from a usually large selection of chilled beers and white wines, room temperature red wines and a number of soft drinks. Before the turn of the nineteenth century, someone who wasn’t of noble birth paying a chef to cook something that they themselves had selected was an alien concept. Instead, the inns and food halls all over Europe would serve one big pot of some stew or soup – the ‘plat du jour’.
Which is why the food served at Aut’ Foueé adheres perfectly to the Medieval theme established by the traditional cooking methods and the period décor. We are served the one option on offer accompanied by a regional red wine or a cool local apple juice, served from terracotta jugs. Small flat breads are filled with an assortment of blood sausage, pork rillette, soft geo-rind goat cheese and home-made jams; all of which are brought to the table in kilner jars so that you can help yourself.
While our host prepared the dough balls, she explained that in the past these morsels would be thrown into the oven to test the temperature, before the real business of baking bread could commence. Though less precise than the laser thermometer used at mum and dad’s bakery, this would be essential to prevent burning or undercooking the bread.
With full bellys and the last few flat-breads filled for the road, we were ready for the next drive; down to Ile de Ré on the West coast. As a new business in Parthenay, Aut’ Foueé is setting out on a brave venture. It is challenging people to sit down and eat without the customary element of choice. With the delicious home-made food they are serving and the fun novelty factor, I hope they achieve every success.