With Australia’s exit doors still firmly closed for a second winter, the 17,000 kilometre journey to France is an impossible goal for most of us – unless you happen to be lucky enough to live in the Canberra bubble.
No, I am not a politician who has had early access to a Pfizer vaccination, nor have I been granted an exit permit to attend side events at the G7 Summit or take a sneaky peak at Our Ash winning Wimbledon.
I am just a regular retiree hoping one day I might be able to travel overseas again, and meanwhile along with a group of fellow avid Francophiles, had the pleasure of celebrating France’s Fête Nationale in a tiny corner of France close to home.
A half-hour drive from Canberra, Bungendore was one of the first settlements in colonial New South Wales. Its quaint old buildings are now home to craft shops and cafes that are a drawcard for Canberrans and those heading towards the beaches of the south coast.
It has also long been the home of Le Très Bon, where Chef Christophe Gregoire and his wife, Josephine, share their love of traditional French cuisine and the best of seasonal produce in a homely cottage restaurant.
Known for its cooking classes and its focus on regional delicacies such as truffles and chestnuts, Le Très Bon also regularly features special events highlighting the Gregoire family’s special connection with France, notably an annual celebration of the Fête Nationale (or Bastille Day, as most Australians know it).
This year on 14 July, guests were welcomed with a Kir Royale (a cocktail of champagne and crème de cassis) and were soon savouring a lightly truffled, delicate velouté, dedicated to the Countess du Barry, the favourite mistress of Louis XV who ruled France for almost 60 years. Louis XV was fortunate to avoid the fate of his son, Louis XVI and wife Marie-Antoinette who were beheaded during the revolution which we were commemorating.
Less imperial, but equally as pleasing, was our main course of beef cheeks en daube, served with a potato croquette. Suitably ‘melt in your mouth’, we paired the beef cheek with a 2015 Bordeaux from Château la Rame. La Charmille is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend, on the bold side which complemented the beef cheek very well.
It may have been the Bordeaux or just the general desire to escape a dreary Canberra winter for more exotic locations, but we were emboldened to join in the revelry as accordionist Matthew Dennett serenaded us with traditional French ballads.
Mindful of COVID restrictions on singing and dancing, we along with our fellow diners could be heard ever so quietly stumbling over the words to Piaf chansons – but when Chef Christophe emerged, fully masked, to lead us in a rendition of La Marseillaise, even the most diligent of us couldn’t avoid a muted cheer as we toasted la révolution and La République. Perhaps some of us were dreaming of a revolution and republic closer to home?
We finished an excellent meal with Chef Christophe’s homage to his Alsatian roots – a Kugelhopf served with a delicate créme de Gewürztraminer.
Our Lockdown Escape, all within the COVID light lockdown regulations in place in ‘gold standard’ New South Wales, was a perfect way to pay tribute to a country so many of us love when our world has become so much smaller.
If only we’d been able to retreat to a country gîte, the evening would have ended perfectly. But at least the Bordeaux helped make the down-at-heels local motel semi-bearable. For my next Lockdown Escape, I’ll be looking for accommodation that is less ‘Aussie backpacker style’ and more befitting my ambitions to be a world-travelling retiree.
If you go:
Le Très Bon
40 Malbon Street
+61 (0)2 6238 0662