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Syb & I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary here in November. We had lunch in this petit resto before moving on to the aerodrome at Saumur, and a surprise flight in a light ‘plane over the Loire, the chateau and our home at Le Chant d’Oiseau!

We’d heard nothing but good reports about the place from guests here, and we’ve always said we’d give it a go ourselves one of these days. We’ve recommended it to others, purely on the strength of guest’s say-so too, without actually trying it for ourselves – naughty, I know! That’s the way it so often happens here though. We’re usually too busy to venture far in the season, and too tired out of season! For our 25th though, I thought that should change!

This restaurant is set back out of town a little way, on the route de Chinon. Just follow the southern bank of la Loire for a while, until you see signs to turn right for the chateau, and then take a left along a cute little ruelle. There it is, on the right. There’s quite a large car park a little further up, which serves the nearby lycée. Or, you can park on the street if it’s not too busy.

Approaching the restaurant, it’d be easy to miss. A very small terrace out front, with billboards either side of the door advertising the menus. We studied for a few moments, the smells of good home-cooking wafting beneath our noses! There was a gaggle of smokers huddled around the door, and they parted to allow us in.

The place is a gem.  We instantly loved it – the feel of the place, and its ambiance. This was a lunchtime, so many places were taken by office workers, fonctionnaires and probably teachers from the lycée just a couple of hundred yards away. The décor inside is a mixture of tastes and styles. Everything’s a jumble, but for us it works really well. there are things to look at, to point to and to generally stimulate good conversation. Essentially, food & good conversation go together like…well, like ‘Food & Drink’! Old crates were stacked to one end of the room, above a gantry which, I surmised was above the kitchen. These crates had corks from untold numbers of wine bottles overflowing here and there. There were ironwork baskets hanging from the ceilings, again filled with corks! Pictures on the walls were of local scenes and the huge blackboard was advertising food in a jumble if hand-written styles, some crossed out (popular) and some added to (newer ingredients?). It all worked really, really well. We felt at home.

We chose our dishes, starters and mains, from the menu, and plumbed for two glasses of local champigny, rather than a bottle. I didn’t know how bumpy the flight was going to be, and the last thing I wanted was for Syb to be airsick! She still didn’t know what I had planned!

We both chose the same starter, simply because we love mushrooms, and this area is famous for them. We chose the ‘galipettes farcies’. Basically, two huge stuffed mushrooms, filled with what can only be described as the tastiest meat filling, but the gravy. Wow! It has to be the tastiest gravy (or sauce) that I’ve ever, ever had. It really was special. This alone was pretty filling, especially given the size of the funghi, and the amount of bread we used to mop up this wonderfully rich, and aromatic gravy.

Syb went for a fish dish, and I a meat one for main. Syb chose the sandre. Locally caught and cooked in a butter sauce. I went for chicken, pan fried in a white wine sauce. Pretty quickly though, the owner, Olivier was back at our table to explain that there was no more zander, and recommending instead another white fish, cooked in a garlic sauce.

No problem, and Syb was happy to go with Olivier’s recommendation. When the mains arrived, I realised that we’d not have long before we needed to make tracks for the aerodrome, and our date with the pilot! So unfortunately we didn’t manage dessert. We did see plenty of them brought out though, and they looked super. The chicken was well cooked, nicely garnished with fresh vegetables, namely haricot verts. There was also a side dish of frites to accompany this, and they were thick, juicy and beautifully done! Syb’s fish, the name of which was almost unpronouncable was served on a bed of couscous, with a garlic sauce ‘moat’. She enjoyed the fish, but the garlic was just a little too overpowering, and spoiled the dish a little.

But overall, we enjoyed our meal here. The service was good, and we took a little time to chat with Olivier at the end of the meal, before we had to dash off.

After finally visiting and sampling the Pot de Lapin, we’d happily recommend it to anyone who stays with us. The ambience, the smells from the kitchen, the setting – in an older part of town, close to the river, and nestled under the escarpment where the chateau sits above, is fantastic. It’s definitely on our list of places we’d like to return to. Unfortunately, there are no pics of the dishes this time, as I’d left the camera in the car. Next time though, I promise I won’t forget!

Until the next time, au revoir!

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2010

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It’s been a while since Hannah & Steve quit their jobs at the local hotel/restaurant to buy their own small little bistro not too far from here. There were allsorts of hassles with everything from potential business partners, to bank loans, to finding somewhere cheaper to live to regroup. They eventually moved into Chardonneret, here with us. With CoCo the hamster, and Bill the spaniel puppy. Their potential business partners pulled out, remaining friends though, leaving the way clear for Hannah & Steve to go it alone after finding a small restaurant for sale in a local village. The place had been closed for two years, and the present owners were happy for Hannah & Steve to buy. Various meetings with various banks and accountants ensued before the right offer was put before them with Banque Populaire. We went up to see the place with Hannah & Steve, and they explained their plans to us. We were meant to have around 6-weeks in which to refurbish the place. As we’ve come to expect from certain quarters of French life (we haven’t been disappointed yet) there were hurdles to jump. In the end, due to some amazingly silly problems, we were left with just 15 days to turn the run-down, unheated, unmodernised wreck into something resembling a restaurant!

l'Oeil de boeuf

The exterior, showing the very small window, the 'oeil de boeuf'!

Steve wanted the whole of the kitchen tiling from floor to ceiling. That was to be the single biggest job. There was a wall to build to seperate the kitchen from the washing up area too. That needed tiling from floor to ceiling as well. Upon measuring, we found there was in the region of 75m squared of tiles to fit! I felt faint at this point, seeing the fortnight in front of me stretching into eternity. After having smelling salts thrust under my nose, I realised that it wasn’t a nightmare, and that Steve really did want ALL of the three rooms comprising the kitchen area to be fully tiled. Top to bottom!

Kitchen

The kitchen as it was. Basic.

Hannah meanwhile, was explaining the décor she fancied for the walls, ceilings and tables. Cream for the walls, white for ceilings and red for the detail. All wallpaper in both the grande salle and the petite salle to be stripped, new wall lights to be fitted, then walls & ceilings re-papered. New ciling lights to replace the nasty neon strip lights! The paper chosen was a kind of fibreglass, glued on to any surface and then painted when dry. It’s seemingly indestructible and covers a multitude of sins, as we found out.

Petite salle

La Petite salle.

So, having been shown around the place, the barn with potential for an office upstairs, storage downstairs. The grenier with a brick-built partition wall separating the office upstairs from the grenier itself – a fantastic salle de réunion for the future. There’s also two smaller rooms and a shower room upstairs. One could be a sleepover room/office, the other they plan to use as a very small salle de réunion for now.

Grande salle

La Grande Salle

So – how to do it? I mentioned to them both that we’d used helpers from HelpEx before, and why don’t they give that a try? I helped them draft a listing on the HelpEx website, and a shout went out to anyone willing to come & get mucky transforming the place with us. Us being the two sets of parents, and various other friends and relatives with a few hours spare to devote to the cause. Help came in the form of two lovely Australian girls, bored with working in a London bar. They wanted to see a little bit of the ‘real’ France, and jumped at the chance to lend a hand! Clara & Kate arrived, and settled into the daily routine of sanding, painting, cleaning, papering, cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning! They were thrilled to have snow while we were working, the large flakes spreading like a white blanket over the village, deadening sound and forcing life behind closed shutters to await the thaw. It grew cold. Minus 12 on a good morning, though with radiators fitted inside the bulk of the restaurant, they were toasty enough. It was a different matter though at our house! We suffer a bit from the north winds at this time of year, pipes freezing, then thawing and often bursting, meaning lots of repairwork for me. Luckily though, we seem to have escaped without any bursts so far this winter.

Clara & Kate

Skipper Clara & Kaptain kate!

Just a day into the refurb, disaster struck. Hannah accidently hurt her foot, but bravely carried on for a few days. Deciding that she couldn’t take the pain much longer (after three days of hobbling around) a hospital visit confirmed that she had indeed broken her foot and would be in plaster for 4-5 weeks! Oh no! Who’s going to run front of house? She couldn’t with a pot on her leg! So then the search was on for a temporary replacement. Just until her foot was mended and the pot removed! A replacement was found, while work continued, and a contract was drawn up by the notaire for the temporary help. Phew! Relief! Quite apart from the obvious physical work in turning the shell into something completely different, there were other things to consider. A name for one! What to call it? It is a diamond-shaped building – quite unique, and the former name reflected that – ‘Le Diamant’! Obviously Hannah & Steve wanted to change that, but what to? We were compiling lists of potential names for ages, nothing seemed to fit. Then one day, whilst chatting with friends at their house, I mentioned that the building had a very small window in the grenier. An ‘oeil de boeuf’ as they’re called. It’s only small, but a feature non-the-less. Our friends said “there then, that’s your name!” We thought about it, and it grew on us, and we passed the idea on to Hannah & Steve. It wasn’t decided until it’d been placed in a hat with around ten others ‘shortlisted’, and drawn out, that ‘Oeil de Boeuf’ it would be! Luck? Or fate? Then there were signs to be designed, ordered and erected, beer pumps to be changed, accounts with suppliers to be found for everything from fresh food to napkins. I offered to build a very simple website for them, they chose the domain name and we were off and running! As well as a website Steve took a hint from us here at Le Chant and created a Facebook Page for the restaurant and quickly gathered fans! So much to be done, so very little time to do it in! As Christmas drew closer, it became evident that we’d really have to push hard to have the downstairs completed, leaving the upstairs until such time that there was a steady income from the resto, and more time to work on it. With Christmas almost upon us, it was time to say goodbye to the dynamic duo of Clara & Kate! They were off exploring, leaving us to our quiet, short family Christmas celebrations. So, with a final flourish of paintbrushes, they were dropped off at the train station in Saumur to catch a train to Paris and from there….who knows? Clara & Kate contributed an amazing amount in such a short space of time. Thanks to you both if you’re reading this. It was much appreciated, please do come back and see the fruits of your labour for real soon? Anyway, we planned to have a quiet Christmas at home. Just two days off, then a final push to get finished in time for New Year’s Eve – and the grand opening. Eeeek! Two days off for the festivities went by too quickly, and we saw little of our French guests, spending their own quiet Christmas in Héron. No sooner had we finished, that we were back at the restaurant, and working harder than ever to get things done! You reach a point in these projects where you think you’re getting nowhere and it becomes dispiriting. Then, out of nowhere, a light appears at the end of the tunnel and suddenly things take shape. The place was looking less like a building site and more like a restaurant with each passing hour now. Kitchen equipment was delivered, including the heaviest fridge in France! A certain wall needed to have been completely tiled so’s the fridge could be placed, and the pressure was mounting. It took four of us to lift in the fridge, and turn it around in a pretty confined space, but it was managed with good humour and no feet were broken! The oven was delivered, along with another two fridges. Steve and his brother made numerous trips back to his parent’s place to bring all the necessary cooking implements from out of storage at their garage under the house! Food and drink was delivered, or collected. The beer pumps were working, the under-counter chillers too, and it looked like the deadline would be met! There were one or two things that, with the constraints of time, just couldn’t be realised – one wall remains untiled, and the barn floor too. Other much smaller things, possibly unnoticed by punters, but glaringly obvious to us, will need sorting as time allows. The wall lights unfortunately weren’t able to be completed – missing an electrical switch, and all the Brico stores were closed! Then, just as things were progressing smoothly – yet another catastrophe! The girl meant to be serving in Hannah’s stead called to say that she’d decided not to, that she’d found something else! Just a day or so before opening night! So then the race was on to find a replacement! One was found, but couldn’t start until New Year’s day. Steve’s brother, Kevin and his girlfriend Gwendoline graciously offered to forego their own meal in order to serve! Offer gratefully accepted. So. Paint dried, curtains were hung, tables and chairs cleaned of dust and paint, and tables were decorated! Pictures were hung on the bare cream walls, and a stereo appeared, perched on a table. We borrowed tapes of classical music from Sheila et voila – an ambiance slowly but surely rose from the ashes of ‘le Diamante’, and l’Oeil de Boeuf was born. We were literally still ‘dressing’ the place as guests arrived for the opening night – New Year’s Eve, or Réveillon as they call it here in France. We were among the first to arrive, so thankfully no-one really noticed us surreptitiously placing lamps, or decorations here and there! Steve had been preparing, and cooking for a while and the smells coming from the kitchen were just lovely. Everyone who’d booked were true to their word and turned up, even though no deposits had been taken. Even the couple that own the local chateau turned up, took their places on the table next to us and appeared to have a great time! Hannah worked the bar, creating the house cocktails to go with the amuse bouches served first of all. She ‘meeted’ & greeted, accepted compliments about the place, and passed the time taking coats, and explaining how she’d broken her foot! Kevin & Gwendoline did a fantastic job serving drinks and cocktails, and the evening came alive. Food started to appear from the kitchen, bottles of wine were ordered and the general hubbub rose over the volume of the stereo, and Beethoven’s piano concerto faded into the background, replaced by the voices, laughter and shared experience of a lovely evening. I know I may be biased, my daughter being the co-owner and all that, but I think this place will do really, really well. Steve’s a good cook. He knows what he’s doing, and Hannah’s a great waitress and perfect for FOH! Hopefully, many of you reading this will get the chance to sample their fare when you visit us, or even the area. Please do put it on your list – give it a try and help support a rare venture. Two youngsters with a dream, and the guts to realise it! You won’t be disappointed!

All dressed up.

All dressed up, with somewhere to go! l'Oeil de boeuf!

Until the next time, au revoir!

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2010

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