The city of Toulouse, located in the country’s southwest, sits smack-dab between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Its compact historical centre is easily walked and is a wonderful place to explore. The Place du Capitole with its stately buildings is the centre of town and the hub of social life in the city.
Posh restaurants, shops and street cafés line the western side, scattered beneath colonnades and stone canopies with beautiful artworks adorning the ceilings. They remind me of the ceiling murals near Mercado de la Ribera in Bilbao, Spain. The street art in Toulouse is something you can’t help but notice, with classic sculptures to vibrant graffiti murals.
Following our lunch at Marché Victor Hugo we crossed the street and stuck our heads in the tiny boulangerie – Le Fournil de Victor Hugo. The baskets of breads sitting in the window were an absolute sensation. White, sourdough, mixed grain, you name it and when you step inside you can watch all of the baking action taking place to the right of the counter. The hypnotic sweet smells from the colourful glistening cakes and pastries had my stomach tapping on my ribs for more food. We’re in a boulangerie, in France, of course we have to buy something. Right?
The tart finè (€2.3), in all its simplicity, was all I could fit in at this point in time. The slices were all cut with generosity but one of them was bigger than the others. I could only point and say “I want that one”, in my best French accent. The tart is delicately thin, fanned with caramelised apples and glazed with apricot jam. Heaven.
Every Tuesday and Saturday sees an organic market take place on Place du Capitole. I don’t know whether it was always as sparse as it was when we visited or whether it was the rain that had the providores staying at home for the day.
Despite its minuscule size Marché Biologique du Capitole is still an interesting place to wander and pick up local fruit and veg, artisan cheeses and breads, truffles, spices, the famed Toulouse sausage, foie gras and the most beautiful handmade apricot preserve we’ve had.
Idiot me didn’t even photograph the stall or the jar but it kept our toasted baguettes covered for the following week. Damn good stuff. There are even a few stalls selling used books and magazines, cheap purses and handbags and handicrafts from Africa.
No plan was made for dinner. We knew we were eating out but had no place in mind. There was clearly a plethora of eating options all over the town centre but we had to keep it close to the hotel as the mother-in-law can’t walk too far without getting uncomfortable.
The better half and I wandered down some great streets towards the river that had a few nice little bars and restaurants but sadly they were just too far. For the short time spent in Toulouse I was beginning to become fond of its diverse selection of eateries, gorgeous architecture and relaxed lifestyle.
A decision on dinner was made last minute. The restaurants flanking Place du Capitole looked good enough and despite the abundance of tourists (hand goes up) many of the places are well-priced and have similar menus.
The local cuisine is a blend of traditional French flavours, and with the border not too far away, there can also be a touch of Spanish thrown in. Clearly duck is one of the regional specialties and makes an appearance on just about every French menu you see, as are fattened geese for their meat and livers.
We take a seat under the awning, outside at Grand Café Le Florida, overlooking the expanse of Place du Capitole. The setting is a little high-brow with its white linen tablecloths and smart looking waiters dressed in black. The menu is written in French as well as English so our translation handbook won’t be used tonight.
One great thing about restaurants in France is the menu du jour. Here at Le Florida I couldn’t go past the €20.50 menu where I got a foie gras starter (normally €15) as well as a duck main (normally €16).
As we’re tucking into the beautiful red wine and nibbling on partially stale slices of baguette, my foie gras arrives. When the menu said it was with fig I was envisioning wedges of fresh fig, but there was none of that. What they’ve done is marble caramelised fig through the foie gras, press it into a mould before lightly cooking it. It comes chilled and sliced with golden butter pressed to a few edges, a squiggle of balsamic glaze, cracked black pepper and piece of light rye bread.
My god, it’s sensational. Creamy, buttery, and sweet every time you hit the fig. This was one of those moments where my world was going in slow motion and everything went silent. An absolute pleasure.
The others didn’t go for any starters and were quite hungry so I felt a little pressure to eat my politically incorrect starter so that the mains could come out. Mr H enjoys his 300g sirloin steak (16) and The better half goes for the duck breast with peach sauce (17) and all mains come with that typically French side – fries and salad.
The goats cheese salad (13) is basically a slab of pan-fried cheese with a salad of walnuts, tomato, cucumber and lettuce and Mums veal (19) is topped with a fresh tomato salsa. My char-grilled duck breast (16) is beautifully crisp on the outside and moist and rare on the inside. The simple flavour of mixed provincial herbs and a bit of salt is all it needs.
A very nice end to a very long day that began at 3am in London. The following morning after a hotel breakfast the five of us picked up a few essentials (cheese) at Marché Victor Hugo before checking out and trundling down to the train station to start the next leg of our holiday in southwest France.