Continental: Simple French cuisine

Whilst on our summer family holiday, we were able to leave our children with my father and step- mother, who live near Toulouse, smack bang on the Canal Du Midi, writes Emma Crowhurst.

For our mini-break we drove to Castres, which is in the Languedoc, to the right of Toulouse and above Carcassonne. Castres is a pretty town, intersected from north to south by the Agout and Durenque rivers. The buildings are actually overhanging the river and the fish and ducks are easily seen from our hotel balcony. We stayed at the Grand Hotel, which was almost empty as many people leave the town to avoid the summer heat.

Hard by our hotel was the Cath�drale Ste-C�cile, which is a veritable fortress of brick, a striking building opening through a canopy porch. We just popped in to see what was within and discovered a magnificent interior, and we spent a cool 30 minutes exploring. We lunched at The Place Jean Jaur�s, which is the town square. It is a fine classical area with sandstone fa�ades. The statue of native son Jean Jaur�s by sculptor Gaston Puech dominates the square, where a wonderful market is held three times a week. We also visited the Goya museum, which was very pleasant, although there were only three Goya paintings amongst the fine artwork.

We always look for somewhere interesting to eat when we are without the children; they are good in restaurants but might draw the line at a late, lengthy meal.

Last year we ate in Albi at a one-star Michelin restaurant. We tried to find similar but the two-star Michelin restaurant was closed for the holiday.


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Instead we tried a restaurant that Alistair had seen on the internet. Le Medievial is a great little restaurant. The dining room is spacious and very prettily decorated in an 11th century building overlooking the river. You can also dine on the balcony, with the river beneath your feet.

The restaurant is run by two women in the prime of their lives: one cooking and the other front of house. The food is classic old-fashioned French.

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We went for one of the region’s gastronomic regional menus and were not disappointed. I had foie gras and toasted brioche with onion marmalade, followed by a fabulously-cooked hunk of cod with citron beurre blanc. Whole pieces of lemon confit provided a good contrast to the delicate fish. Stuffed courgette and artichokes were straight from my old repertoire de la cuisine, the book that was my bible whilst at catering college. I delighted in the classic delivery and simple perfection of the food. Portions were enormous and I could not fault it at all. No seasoning required; an usual thing for me!

A dense and intense chocolate truffle torte nearly finished me off! A valiant last effort and then a long walk through the beautifully-lit streets of Castres to aid digestion.

There was an excellent well-priced wine list with lots of nice local offerings; we chose a ros� from Galliac.

This restaurant is well worth a visit and was a trip down memory lane for me. A far cry from the much-presented modern style. Simple and often rather old-fashioned, but delicious and well cooked throughout. Classic French cooking with no frills or fuss.

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