During our stay in Perpignan, France we were told by a local to take the one euro bus to the seaside town of Collioure. Any day trip that costs one euro will do on a year long expedition so we headed for the bus with no idea what the town was like and no expectations. It was a slow winding road through some pretty uninteresting towns before we set our eyes on the jewel that is Collioure.
The view as we exited the bus was picture postcard perfect. A protected natural harbour with ancient stone breakwater. A striking stone clock tower on the edge of a stone wharf jutting out into clear blue sea. A sheltered town full of historic buildings in a perfect palate of pastels all tucked in under mountains topped with a freakin’ windmill and castle if you don’t mind.
We walked the town and around the bay and pretty soon our postcard awe gave way to run of the mill everyday hunger. Now I said I had no expectations for the day trip but when it comes to food in a scenic tourist location I have expectations that are seriously into the negative. It is easy for a restaurateur to count on his prime position to pay the bills. To save on the cost of quality ingredients and a talented chef safe in the knowledge that his customers are here today and gone tomorrow. I can’t speak a word of French so the name of our restaurant “l’insolite” meant nothing to me. After the great food we ate here and its perfect tourist position it came as no surprise that “l’insolite” is French for “the Unusual”.
To keep up with the postcard theme an accordion player appears out of nowhere as we take our seat in the sun. We ate the “Menu de Jour” or menu of the day which is always a great value option in France. The ideal pairing on a sunny day was a local dry rose made from French Cabernet with the skin removed before fermenting. The first course for my ever reliable date Michelle was a chicken salad with grilled mushrooms and a tasty vinaigrette. For me a plate of Catalan cured meats with a simple side salad. This area is historically a part of Catalunya and keeps many of the food and cultural traditions of its brothers on the other side of the Spanish border.
For the second course we both ate a fresh fillet of Dorado with some interesting accompaniments. The fish was moist and flaky and coated with a parsley and oil sauce. The potatoes were oven baked in butter with the skin on. They were topped with some kind of herbed cream cheese which had a taste of green tea and oregano. The dish was finished with a side of ratatouille cooked for a shorter time than is traditional to keep some freshness in this summer meal. Great quality local foods with flair and creativity in how it was prepared. The chef added his touch of difference but still put the ingredients first on this delicious plate.
L’insolite is a restaurant on one side and a Glacier (French for ice-cream parlour) on the other so we both chose the home made ice-cream for dessert. Michelle’s was a combo of two flavours, super salty caramel and Nutella. I combined a fresh and tart raspberry sorbet with a scoop of rich chocolate topped with jammy cherry sauce.
So back on the bus and another euro gets us back to Perpignan. It is so easy to research travel and food online these days but somehow this can defeat the purpose of the journey. So on your next adventure leave time to explore at random, take the advice of a local and be pleasantly surprised like us.
Words by Wade Ranson Photography by Wade and Michelle Ranson