For all the increased kitchen action, we haven’t stopped eating out altogether.
Indeed, before opting for Cyril’s galettes on the beach, we walked part of the way around the bay one lunchtime to eat at Bar de la Marine, which backs onto the canal as it merges with the sea.
My choice was never in any doubt. It might be two years (at least) since we ate there, but it was always going to be the salade du Vallespir.
A pile of rocket and herbes de Provence, hiding melon balls, thick slices of tomato and black olives, topped by goat’s cheese, drizzled of honey and toasted, itself atop large croutons and garnished with toasted pine nuts, this is a quite divine plate.
It’s a bounty of natural sweetness.
And the treasured memory was in no danger from a revisit.
Not that I am the only one who chose a remembered favourite, as The Other Half selected the Collioure salad – anchovies, roasted red peppers, an egg and a mountain of greens.
Traditionally, it has black olives too, but this year, this had been replaced by tapenade, which he seemed a tad disappointed with.
On Thursday evening, we’d decided to eat out in the evening before watching the fireworks that form the climax of the Fêtes de St Vincent.
Staying as near the house as possible was the aim, because the best views over the bay would be there.
Hitting the promenade after showering and tidying up, it didn’t take a genius to realise that the village was seeing a vast influx of people.
It was equally clear that we might struggle to find a place, so with a view in mind that simply getting food would be good, we glanced first at St Elme – only to find that it was not serving food at all that night.
A restaurant on the corner was doing a very much shortened, celebratory menu for the evening – with pretty much every table reserved.
The next one we looked at was Restaurant le Dali, a few metres away, where we’d eaten once, a few years ago, enjoying a good late lunch.
It was also advertising a special menu, and the waitress was able to find us a table – albeit inside.
We both started with a tartare of salmon, with tomato and cucumber, a half moon of a pale beet and lashings of green salad.
An absolute delight: the tartare itself was gloriously fresh and contrasted beautifully with the big, ballsy dressing on the leaves.
To follow, we also both opted for a millefeuille of duck confit.
Flaked meat, mixed with sweet, soft onion and sitting between feather-light puff pastry, was complimented by a banyuls-based gravy.
On the side, a small portion of potato dauphinoise, a little bowl of ratatouille, a halved tomato, topped with breadcrumbs, garlic and herbs and grilled; a baton of carrot, a baton of parsnip and a spear of asparagus.
The heat has left both of us thinking that we’re not particularly hungry, but we both cleared both plates.
The millefeuille was a modern homage to the cooking of south west France, with its confit, ratatouille and Provencal tomato.
It really was excellent cooking.
We were accompanying all this with a demi of a local Cornet & Cie rosé, bursting with strawberries and blackcurrants.
Well, that was where it went a bit pear-shaped.
The restaurant has a fair few tables, inside and out. Unfortunately, it did not have the staff to deal with an evening when it was packed out – we were very lucky to get a table at all; several people were turned away not longer after we’d been seated.
The maître d’/waiter was running around like a headless chicken, with just the waitress who’d initially found us the table.
Early pauses/waits had been fine – I hate rushing a meal – but there is a limit.
Over half an hour after we’d finished the main course, the dishes were still in front of us, the remains of the gravy congealing onto the plates.
And all the while, despite having given ourselves plenty of time, the fireworks were getting nearer and nearer: people were streaming into the area outside and we needed to find somewhere to watch.
We gave up eventually, walking out and paying at the bar.
The maître d’ was apologetic – and instantly cut the set-price bill to account for the missing dessert.
I have no idea whether he’s the owner and/or has responsibility for staffing. Clearly there are difficulties in hiring staff for just one night – and perhaps someone was sick – but the place was woefully understaffed.
And the biggest shame of all is that that will stick in the memory at least as much as the food we had, which really should be remembered for being so very good.
C'est la vie, as the French themselves might say.