Friday, February 19, 2010

Penetrating the Périphérique - the delights of Rennes.




I like Rennes. Rosie, bitching about Brittany, and hankering for real city life, says there is no city worthy of the name in this region, though she concedes that Nantes, which is arguably not of the region, might have its charms.  Indeed, compared to the better known glittering metropoli and capitals of the world of which she has been the habituée, Rennes is really just a sedate big town, albeit withoug too many tractors in the streets, which brings it a step above the usual for Brittany.  But as you might agree, there are some lovely buildings, and emerging from a rustic winter, it's town enough for me. 

Barrett Bonden, on the other hand, whose only experience of the place has been negotiating its ring-road, the périphérique, sees Rennes as something akin to the Seventh Circle of Hell, without the benefit of Virgil to show you round.  Happily, coming from this direction, one does not have to undergo the ordeal of it at all, but can cruise into the centre almost effortlessly. We used to go round the périphérique to visit our friends in the Sarthe, however, and it took us a few goes to crack it.  It can certainly be confusing and unnerving, though compared with the périphérique of Lyons (I like to put the 's' on, it has a bit of retro cachet I think...), it's a walk in the park.

And a walk in the park is something we have to do here, the park being Les Jardins du Thabor, the on in the black and white at the bottom of the collage.  I put it in black and white because I was influenced by 'Last Year in Marienbad' which was the film of choice for the previous weekend's Winter Saturday Film Club - a few friends and myself gathering here every couple of weeks to watch the kind of things we've got hanging around on DVD but don't get round to watching on our own, because they're too weird and arty or long or because our menfolk wouldn't watch them or all of the above, and because no one else has such a good telly as we have, Tom's choice not mine, but one might as well enjoy... 

I wrote about Le Thabor before with more pictures here a couple of years ago, it was later into spring then, greener and more flowery. 

Before the walk in the gardens however, our first and foremost destination was curry.  Yes, I know, 80 km is a long way to go for a curry.  But sometimes these things just have to be done.  I checked out the website of 'Le Gange' restaurant and it was open and promising.  When we entered, a handsome, smiling and somehow familiar man came towards us with a very friendly greeting.  As I have mentioned, I am hopeless when it comes to recognising even people I know quite well in any setting other than that which I usually know them.  I think perhaps there is a name for this condition,  I'd like to think so anyway, as this would make me feel better about it.  Fortunately Tom is the Jack Spratt other half of this and is capable of identifying and contextualising almost anyone anywhere, for example obscure actors in films from before they were famous, had nose jobs, grown or shaved their beards or dyed their hair, though he frequently can't put a name to them, which I'm better at.

'Ah' he beamed at the friendly handsome man 'Dinan!'

Previously when we felt the call of an Indian restaurant lunch, we would drive about half as far, to Dinan, where there was a nice one.  Indian restaurants in France are often run by people from Pondicherry, where there was a French colony and hence they have the language.  The food is, to a British palate, somewhat delicate, creamy and lacking in bite.  However, beggars can't be choosers, and I'm not particularly a heat freak in spicy cooking anyway.  But one day we went to Dinan, without telephoning the 'Taj Mahal' first, and there it was gone.  Our fists in our eyes, we resorted to a rather pretentious and expensive mediaeval themed place where they offer you raw meat to cook on a stone, or to impale on a strange heated device that looks like an implement of torture.

We always wondered how that Indian restaurant kept going, as it was never very full of people, and wasn't  expensive.  It was light and pretty and pleasant but rather quiet and without much buzz.  But now the chap who ran it, the handsome friendly man, has decamped with his his French wife and young son to Rennes, and is now working at 'Le Gange'.  His colleague there is an older man, tall and distinguished looking but vivacious and funny and slightly chaotic.  They seem to be a good team, and despite the older man's faulty French and slight air of chaos, the service was spot-on. The decor was less reserved than the dusty pink walls and prints of Indian miniatures of the Dinan place; there were those, but also more photos of scenes of modern Indain life, and a lot more sculpture and carzy woodwork.   It was busy, with a very mixed clientele, groups of presumably working adults, one family group, an older more staid-looking couple deep in conversation, some student-looking pairs - they do a good student menu including wine - there was a  lot of chatter and smiling going on.  And I realised afresh that of course much of what I like going out to eat, and in which I'm rather often disappointed, is being among other people enjoying themselves, being able to observe and soak up the the conviviality without having to socialise and perticipate directly . 

Though when the little onion bhajis - more like spicy gram battered onion rings than the big spiky oily pompoms we knew and loved - and the fluffy cheese-filled nan-bread, the basmati rice, much more fine than I can ever get it, with deep gold saffron-dyed grains scattered among the white, and the aubergine curry - they mince the aubergine too fine, I'm afraid, so it loses its identity and disappears into the creamy sauce, though it's delicious anyway - and the aromas of cardomon and fresh coriander pervaded the air around me, I wasn't inclined to compain about the food either.

I took a quick wonky photo of the place, top left in the collage, but didn't want to intrude on the other customers, and I've upped the shadow in it to keep them more anonymous.
Unfortunately, I was certain I knew my way around well enough to navigate to the gardens afterwards, a notion in which I was sadly deluded.  We ended up driving round in circles and asking one person after another the way, then finally giving up and parking miles away anyway.  But everyone we asked was friendly and did their best to be helpful, and we probably needed to walk off the curry.

I think we'll go there again.

14 comments:

Plutarch said...

So much enjoyed your account of Rennes. Creamy curries lacking in bite is what you might expect from an Indian restaurant in France, I suppose. No less to be hunted down, though. Just reading about curry makes me salivate. The restaurant looks busy. When I first saw the photograph I thought just for a moment, before taking a second look that you had boldly taken your camera into a church.

herhimnbryn said...

Mmmmmmmmmm, curry. Thankyou for taking me out to lunch. I now have to make some dahl, with pumpkin and ginger, I think.

Barrett Bonden said...

There's a book to be written called Périphériques - How not to do them and, since the French invented the word, to them the glory. One has two choices in Lyon(s): maundering off into the country on what can only be described as a détour or taking an autoroute which follows a twisting direction almost through the centre of the city. So where's the peri idea in that?

But all else pales in front of Paris. I enjoy the cut-and-thrust of Parisian traffic but I'll do my damndest to avoid making a paranoid entry into that nightmare circus down one of those 50 m ramps. Even now, envisaging that stream of traffic divided by a mere 80 cm, bumper to bumper, then going for it where the gap has increased to a capacious 125 cm, gives me the heebie-jeebies. The ironic thing is it works but it's so hard to convince yourself that it will.

Tom is beginning to assume kindred status with this latest revelation. Want to ask him why I have a justifiable reason for listing "Duel at Silver Creek" (Starring Steve McNally, Audie Murphy and Faith Domergue) among my favourite films? Not so much "favourite" as "significant". With the IMDB at his command he'll solve it in a flash. But it took me several years and a final phone call to the BFI before I was able to make the connection in those dim pre-WWW days.

Story Weaver said...

Congaratulations on being a Blog of Note!

Rouchswalwe said...

Great timing with your "appetizer," sweet Lucy! You see, a new curry restaurant has opened its doors here in the city, so if the weather holds, we're off to give it a try this weekend. I'm pressing my thumbs!

Oberon said...

...i invite you to join globalove think tank.

Rosie said...

I thought that top picture was of a church at first... but the heads were bowed in honour of curry

The villager: said...

Looks like a great outing.

A Good Moroccan said...

Well done with Blogs of Note.

Lee said...

Must put it on my 'to do' list!

Tonia said...

I agree Rennes is beautiful with amazing architecture: just wish we'd remembered that it would mostly be closed on a Monday! I blame the post-wedding hangover!
Congrats on being a blog of note - justly deserved.

marly youmans said...

Lucy,

Thank you for the jaunt and vicarious circling and dining. I always feel refreshed after an outing with you and Tom.

Dave King said...

The image was beguiling and the writing equally so. A really enjoyable read.

amw said...

how wonder to stumble on you from Blogs of Note. i started my blog when we left the US for life in Rennes in October 2008. alas, we spent only a short 9 months there and now find ourselves in Halifax, Nova Scotia. i enjoyed seeing pictures and reading about brittany. what a fabulous part of the country. if you are back in rennes for food, you might also try "L'île du Mets" on 4 Rue Descartes. its not indian but it was right near our apartment and a great foodie restaurant.