Clermont Ferrand is not the most glamorous of towns but it was on our route so we paid a visit. Besides it got yet another cathedral and it is not that pretty! This one is made of black rock from the town of Volvic, yes, the town famed for its mineral water. Michelin is famous in Clermont Ferrand. This time however it does not refer to an abundance of high quality restaurants but the fact that Clermont Ferrand is home to the Michelin company and its accompanying museum. (Apparently worth a visit but one was not tempted to see one of the largest tyres in the world).
Despite the unappealing nature of the black Cathedral we nevertheless paid a visit. Afterwards, Fortescue and I took a saunter around the Cathedral and we were confronted by the Taverne de Maître Kanter which was a typical large French Bistro with a menu to match. You know the sort, escargots, beef tartare, onion soup…”Tourist trap” methought and we carried on. Just around the corner we chanced upon a little restaurant in Rue Terrasse. The door was open and there was a wonderful aroma emanating from within. Like mice following the scent of a good Camembert, we poked our noses in the door and sniffed. Thierry exited the kitchen to greet us, phone held to his ear. He explained to the caller that his restaurant was not Michelin star but featured good home cooking a-la-Francaise. He took the booking and noticing we were English proceeded to banter with me about the recent Brexit vote (in French of course). We asked if we could dine that evening and he agreed that we should return at 7.30pm, no earlier. We were to find that we had been favoured, as you will see.
We arrived promptly to be greeted warmly by Thierry who pointed at the only other couple in the restaurant and the Union Jack at their table (no stupid comments about Union Jack vs Union Flag please – harrumph!). “Alas, declared Thierry I only have one flag but maybe they will let you share it later.” He then explained the deal. The menu has limited choices. Wine is ordered by glass, pichet or bottle. There is one price for each size and you may get a Chablis, a Sancerre or whatever Thierry finds in his cellar that he thinks you may like. Now, before you suspicious folk out there start thinking “there’s one born every minute”, he does let you try the wine and will happily take it back if you don’t like it.
So, what about the food? Well, as Thierry stated on the phone, it’s French home cooking. Don’t expect foam of crevettes, foie gras or food to be served on a stone, in a flat cap or on a shovel. This is classic French cooking from the house of Madame St. Ange. (For the uninitiated she is the French equivalent of Mrs. Beaton in the UK.)
Thierry is a real character with a big personality. He is patron, chef, provisioner, waiter and washer up. A one man band who loves good food and wine and has a passion for what he does. His restaurant, La Table de Thierry is small with about 20 covers maximum plus a few seats at the bar. It is an unglamorous but homely French bistro. His menu is simple and he changes it every day dependent upon what he fancies cooking or what he finds at the market. He has a real passion for what he does and loves to interact with his customers.
We had Serrano ham and melon followed by entrecote steak. It was straightforward food and the steak was excellent. For dessert he explained that he could offer his home made dark chocolate mousse, white chocolate mousse, or white and dark chocolate mousse mixed or ice cream and chocolate mousse etc… The choices were entertainingly delivered and made up for the somewhat limited choice. Naturally, being a French restaurant there was always cheese to be had.
During the course of the evening a few couples stuck their heads in the door inquisitively. The restaurant was half full. Thierry stated in an assertive tone “complet” and then would guide them to another restaurant in town…or not. He explained to those listening that he was on his own, he did not like to be rushed and when he had enough customers in the restaurant, that was it. So, tables come at a premium in this congenial spot. You need to book in advance as late walk-ins didn’t have much chance.
Service is not fast. So, you need to relax, enjoy the food, savour the wine, chat, take one of his books from the shelves, relax some more…. and suddenly you find Thierry has introduced you to the diners on the next table…and the next table. Before long, if he can manage it, everyone will be chatting. This didn’t quite happen on the first night…ahem…yes we went back. We so enjoyed our meal that we booked our return before we left that evening. The second night was even more fun than the first. Everyone in the restaurant ending up chatting away in French (about Brexit of course) and when they felt sorry for Fortescue (who can only say “oui” and “bonjour”) they also spoke to him in broken English to cheer him up.
A young couple arrived at about 8.30pm and Thierry said “complet” but the young man had been before and said he didn’t mind waiting. Thierry explained that it would be at least half an hour before he could serve them. The young man nodded. He then placed one of the tables outside and waited there with his girlfriend. After 15 minutes he came inside, said something to Thierry which was unintelligible and then he rummaged in the wine rack. He selected a bottle, grabbed two glasses and returned to the table outside. Finally, Thierry took their order and having finished their first course they waited further. They seemed unworried, as were we. It was a lot of fun being here. Eventually the young man got up and carried his plates into the kitchen. As we came back we began chatting to him. He was a regular and knew Thierry’s foibles. Before long he was caught up in the conversation as three of the tables (including ours) were chatting away. He spoke perfect English and I commended him. He then explained that as well as his native tongue and English, he spoke Spanish, Italian and German. He worked for Michelin and travelled a lot. The whole restaurant was a merry throng, Thierry orchestrated the conversation from the centre of the room. What fun! Even the cat from across the road tried to join us, tempted by the aromas coming from the kitchen and not one would guess by the quality of our conversation. It was a fun night and makes one hanker to return. Alas it may be a while. If you want to see Thierry take a look at the Google entry for the restaurant or his facebook page. He’s a real character and the restaurant is a breath of fresh air from the cookie-cutter French bistros that you so often encounter in France. I shouldn’t give you the address as it is a special find but here it is damnit.
La Table de Thierry
9 Rue Terrasse, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand, France
Tel: +33 632 426 624