Organising trips abroad is all the rage at the Rust these days. Yesterday Bob Tickler, Nancy Bright-Thompson and myself went on a jaunt to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the passing of Ronnie Poulton Palmer, the Edwardian rugby player, organised by Henry Elkins.
I was given the job of chef de mission de restaurants. Nowadays going to Tripadvisor is popular and indeed Google sent me in their direction, I prefer a dedicated restaurant critic who gives his name so, after a fruitless search, I consulted the tried and trusted Michelin guide. Monday evening is hardly gastro night in The Calais Nord Region. Indeed I found some difficulty in locating any restaurant open, let alone one worthy of such eminent clientele.
Eventually I found the Chateau de Beaulieu near Bethune and I hoped that our organiser deemed it logistically practical in terms of the schedule he devised for the day. Henry supplied us with this schedule for the trip in advance. The Southern flank of Bob, Nancy and myself took a train to Ashford International. Bob was boasting of his new found visino when he tripped on the stairs at Ashford station in full flow.
I have never been to the graves of World War One and my impressions are those of an ignorant traveller. Bob said that never stopped me before!!! I was immensely impressed by the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Uniformly the cemeteries were well kept and well signed. I rather expected huge cemeteries but some were quite small and all the more moving for that. As a mother I felt the inevitable conflict of emotion for the waste of youth more than the stirrings of patriotism and valour.
Approprately we started at the grave of Ronnie Poulton Palmer at a place known as Hyde Park Corner. There the cafe hostess greeted us with”We are closing”. I won’t dignify her rudeness by giving the name but do avoid it. This small graveyard contained German soldiers too, which again surprised me. I again felt conflicted emotions – impressed by the courageous tales of the VCs but equally the insane loss of young life. I remember at boarding school we had the choice of reciting Wilfred Owen or Rupert Brooke and I chose the former, possibly because his poem had shorter lines!!!
At Ypres we attend the service of remembrance at the Menin Gate. There was a huge crowd assembled to hear the Last Post and the reading. The remembrance centred on a young soldier – Wilfred Jones – who was immediately sent to the front and to his death. It was deeply moving but I did not care for the number of those present taking photos. This was the first time too I felt tourist exploitation of the Great War.
After a long day on the road we were all up for a splendid meal and I hoped The Garden of Alice restaurant, the second restaurant of Marc Meurin at the Chateau de Beaulieu, would not disappoint.
It certainly did not. Indeed we could scarcely find a fault. We all ordered foie gras and this came in two forms:- heavier traditional pate and a light one served with a mango compote. I cannot recall a better foie. We all then ordered the beef. I think we might have preferred more than two strips.
Here I was impressed by the invention of the dish. The black Angus beef was served with crisps, onions and cold haricots verts, who would have thought of the latter? We let Bob choose the wine and he went for a velvety Pomerol. For puds Bob and I chose the cheese board: goat cheese, camembert, a sot of Comte. Bob was taken by the pert blonde waitress. The bill, which Bob took, came to €55 per head which I thought incredible value for such fine dining. If we all had one criticism the decor was very bright. I suspect it was the day restaurant of the hotel and diners normally would be directed to the two star Meurin one. However I am sure they would have the same chef so this may be a good ruse.
The weather was filthy. The rain was hurling down like stair-rods. We allowed enough time to return to the place where poor Ronnie met his end shortly after midnight. Again I was surprised that a sniper 600 metres away away at Anton’s Farm could kill anyone from such distance in the middle of the night. But he did and another young life goes, but in his case one blessed with such rugby and humane talent. It was certainly a memorable day and to those making this trip I could totally recommend Chateau de Beaulieu.