French restaurants are currently on the menu in the news. A hapless blogger posted a bad review and was fined by a judge. And as from last Tuesday, restaurants have to indicate if any or all of their meals are “homemade”, i.e. cooked on the premises with fresh ingredients.
Let’s take the blogger first. This Frenchwoman, who runs a popular blog, criticised a restaurant in the Aquitaine region for poor service experienced in August 2013. She entitled her blog “The place to avoid in x town” and then named the restaurant in the title.
The restaurateur claimed that his business was suffering because of the blog post’s high ranking in Google search results. A judge agreed, ordered the blogger to change the title (she removed the post altogether) and fined her €1,500 plus costs.
I can see both sides. The title of the blogger’s post was somewhat ill-considered. And I appreciate that restaurants are suffering in today’s climate of financial crisis and belt-tightening (although that’s even less excuse for poor service).
Conversely, if judgements such as this discourage people from writing what they believe to be true, then we are going to see an awful lot of bland, uninformative reviews. It’s possible to be critical without being scurrilous, but now people might be too afraid to try.
I seldom write restaurant reviews on this blog, which is perhaps just as well, given the above. However, as I have often remarked, it is possible to eat badly or to have a bad “dining experience” in France. In fact, I have criticised an upmarket restaurant on these pages, but I hesitate to draw attention to it now.
Homemade in France
Will the “homemade” meals logo make people more confident that they are getting decent food?
The scheme requires restaurants to identify which dishes are “fait maison“, i.e. homemade, as opposed to bought in. They can display a logo showing a house roof covering a pan lid, or indicate the same thing in words. All restaurants also have to display a definition of “homemade”, regardless of whether their dishes are or not.
Naturally, the scheme will be policed by inspectors, although it’s difficult to see how frequently they could get round the thousands of restaurants in France.
Here again, there are two sides to the argument. If the scheme discourages some restaurants from passing off bought-in stuff as made on the premises, then that must be a good thing for the faltering reputation of traditional French cuisine.
On the negative side, just because it’s “homemade”, a dish isn’t necessarily better – and might be a lot worse – than a ready-made meal or one composed of ready-prepared ingredients. And it’s easy to cheat if said inspectors don’t call often enough.
And what constitutes the definition of acceptable ingredients for a “homemade” dish? I went to the Journal Officiel, where the French government publishes its decrees and it’s enough to give one indigestion on its own. I won’t enumerate the acceptable comestibles here. But you’ll be pleased to know that bought-in wine is allowed – so restaurateurs don’t have to tread their own grapes. Ready-prepared veg are okay, too, except for potatoes. So frites must be prepared from scratch.
A good dining experience
Incidentally, we ate out last night at one of our favourite restaurants – La Grange du Cros near Varaire in the Lot. Thierry does front of house, Rebecca does the cooking. The restaurant is in a converted barn with a pleasant garden where you can take an apéritif. The ambiance is good, the food is tasty and creative without being off the wall, they support local suppliers and the prices are correct (€25 euros per person, including 250cl of wine). 2021 update: the website no longer works, but they have a Facebook page.
It’s nice to see they are supported by local French people as well as by ex-pats and tourists. I didn’t read about the “fait maison” scheme till today, so I didn’t scan the menu for the logo. I’m not sure it would have made any difference to me – I know I’m never disappointed there.
Now, I can’t be sued for anything I’ve said above – can I?
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