Entertaining one’s grandparents is always tricky. So much must be borne in mind: will the place serve sherry at Granny’s preferred lukewarm temperature? Can a Zimmer frame fit through the front door? Will someone drone off into a story about the war while ordering? What will we do about Grandad pissing himself every five minutes? It was thus with trepidation that I booked a table with two of my oldest surviving relatives. Eventually I settled for the hack-ridden, OUCA-favoured, ChCh and Oriel staple Ma Belle. I had only been once before: a delightfully long, boozy lunch with the lady of the hour in Michaelmas one Tuesday afternoon, and fancied a return. I was not disappointed. It’s a wonderfully clattery French bistro, with fine house plonk but rather dodgy baguettes. Everyone began with salad: a chicken liver pâté for me; a goat’s cheese and a smoked chicken for the fogies, all served with delicate vinaigrette and the predictable paprika garnish. Delicious but for the flavourless tomatoes in the salads. It being the Sabbath and all I chose pork, while the geriatrics both chose to dribble into Coquilles St. Jacques. They assured me this was delicious but I must say it looked rather dodgy: you simply can’t serve the delicate flesh of scallops in a cloying, textureless mashed potato. My pork was really excellent: slowly fried in butter and moistened by a herby béchamel, again served with a mash fluffed with cream, chives and an onion gravy. A superb marriage of flavours, if a little cluttered. Both courses went well with a crisp Muscadet. Best of all, Grandad didn’t piss himself till after coffee, and even then nobody seemed to mind.
ARCHIVE: 2nd Week TT 2003

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