So, I found myself in Toulouse in 2011 at Christmas because the lovely French authorities failed to issue a Carte de Séjour to my sister (who was on her Erasmus year from Edinburgh Uni) in time for the holidays. There was no real exploration of Toulouse, so I must return another time. I whiled away the days, eating, drinking and sleeping. Simply joyful.
We checked into a boutique hotel in the city centre Le Grand Balcon which was great. Designed by Jean-Philippe Nuel, it is sleek and modern with a 1930s aviation theme. The service was impeccable, staff were extremely polite, helpful and friendly. Nothing was too much of an effort, even a desperate plea for crème brûlée past kitchen opening hours was answered, without so much as a huff and a puff.
Breakfast rose me out of bed each morning, usually indulging in a spread of scrambled eggs, baguettes, cheeses, jam, croissants, rounded off with natural yoghurt and puréed fruit. Another little nice touch, was the mini vitamins cabinet that sat above the bar counter top, with small bowls by the side, to pop your pills into.
We managed to catch the Christmas Market held in the Place du Capitole, a minutes walk from the hotel. We browsed the many chalet style booths selling a range of things from jewellery, to baby boots, leather goods and foodstuff.
I sampled a hot chicken baguette which was very flavoursome; the filleted and seasoned chicken was cooked on an open griddle in front of us.
It would have been sinful to not try one of the many crêpes on offer, so I ordered one with a nutella spread, which was divine. A nice cup of vin chaud was next in order to wash it all down.
Toulouse located in the Midi-Pyrénées region is meant to be one of the great gastronomic cities. Cassoulet and duck are some of the region’s speciality. As I don’t eat pork, the former was kind of out of my reach but I made up for my lack of Cassoulet consumption by eating a duck dish every night!
The first night was spent at Le Bon Vivre which was recommended by Condé Nast Traveller as a ‘modestly priced bistro specialising in delicious regional food’ – I don’t think I had a starter but if I did, I don’t recall it. My main course was half a grilled duck breast ( à point) & home made fries – the duck was mediocre, the fries tasty but a bit on the soggy side for my liking.The service was APPALLING. It took them the better part of 30 minutes to hand over our bill and our waitress looked like she’d been slapped with a wet fish.The bill came to c. 25 euro. Needless to say I shall not be returning.
The second night we walked to a restaurant my sister had recommended we go to but it was closed until the new year, so we wondered around that area and stumbled upon a cool little restaurant called Meet the Meat on boulevard de Strasbourg.It is small and intimate and the darkness of the restaurant lit up by little tea lights creates a romantic ambience (helped also by the rather attractive and witty waiters).Meet the Meat, as the name suggest is designed for the more carnivorous folk. The waiter went through the hand written menu and I settled on a starter (complimentary with a main meal) of salad – mixed leaves, sundried tomatoes and cubes of roquefort drizzled with an olive oil vinaigrette.
For my main, I opted for duck breast accompanied with a honey infused gravy pot and a delicious potato gratin. We had a caraf of red wine for 12 euro which went down very easily. By this point, the restaurant was quieting down and the front of house ushered us into a better position in the restaurant, which was a nice gesture. He followed this by plying us with several (complimentary) digestifs. I will definitely come back to this fine little establishment not only because the food is of a good standard but the service was impeccable.
We sampled a couple of other good restaurants including Le Crix de la Truffe (set in a cave like space) and a restaurant whose name I frustratingly can’t remember; it had some dodgy ‘street art’ on the wall but the food was boss. So, if you stumble upon a restaurant in Toulouse with naff art on the wall, don’t judge it on that alone, go in and be delighted.
Toulouse folk are extremely welcoming and it was ace just being able to enjoy the city albeit in the limited form of eating and drinking. I’m sure I didn’t even scratch the surface of eateries in Toulouse, so would definitely be up for revisiting.
All images of the hotel taken from Le Grand Balcon website