With Lyon as our destination and the start of stage 4 of our Tour de France, we’d left Burgundy relatively late, planning to stop in Cluny for lunch. That was until we saw the sign “Cité Médiévale” – always a reason to turn off the highway and go and have a look.
According to Wikipedia, this place has had a bit of an identity crisis over the years. At the revolution, Saint-Gengoux-le-Royal took the name of Saint-Gengoux-le-National. It reverted to Saint-Gengoux-le-Royal is 1834, Saint-Gengoux-le-National in 1848, Saint-Gengoux-le-Royal in 1852 before finally settling on Saint-Gengoux-le-National in 1881.
This town is full of houses with history – and by history, I mean hundreds of years. The church was built in 1100 something by the Benedictines of Cluny but has been extensively renovated over the years – following semi-regular plunders, trade issues, and changes in architectural taste.
There are plenty of other properties from the 16th and 17th centuries as well. I loved looking through the fences to see the medieval gardens – many still growing the same plants as they would have grown back then.
When we arrive it’s just past midday and the whole town is deserted. The only activity is in the few coffee shops and restaurants in the village square.
After walking around we decided to stop for lunch too – in what ended up being the only truly bad meal with truly bad service that we had in our entire French experience.
There were a couple of lovely looking bistros in the square – the sorts of places that had wisteria hanging down the stone walls and yummy sounding fixed-price lunch menus. As tempting as the menus were, we had dinner booked at Le Nord that night so didn’t want a full meal – just something cheap and light.
There was a place across the road that looked as though it could be okay – pretty ordinary from the outside, but they’d made some effort with the decor and the menu was cheap.
Fiona and I order a croque monsieur – sort of like a French toasted ham and cheese sandwich, but (usually) so much better. This one is served spread across a disposable plate – like the ones you use at barbeques – and slapped on the table with some plastic knives and forks. It’s the worst croque monsieur that we’ve had, but then, even an ordinary croque monsieur is pretty good. It’s one of those dependable things in life.
Grant, however, wanted to eat here because they had andouillette on the menu for 7E. This sausage made of pig’s large intestines is often referred to euphemistically as a tripe sausage – and my husband has been wanting to try one ever since he got talked out of one in a Paris bistro back in 1995. What can I say? He has a long memory.
Of course, I tried to talk him out of it. I told him that Gary Mehigan (chef and judge of Australian Masterchef) said in a podcast that the first time he tried one it was like he was eating a biology lesson. I told him that the food writer Terry Durack said you needed to be able to get past “the aggressive aroma of stale urine mixed with sweet spices and pork fat” in order to enjoy it. As an aside, Durack apparently does enjoy it – as do (inexplicably) so many others. There is, believe it or not, an Association Amicale des Amateurs d’Andouillette Authentique (AAAAA) that was formed in order to protect standards and to honour those establishments serving the true, original andouillette. True story.
After Fiona and I repeated all the reasons why he’d be an idiot to eat something that sounded so gross, Grant reminded us that he enjoys blood sausage (black pudding), tripe and haggis and that this could not be much different to that. Besides, he said, at 7E if it was really awful he wouldn’t have ruined a nice dinner. Then he reminded us that he’s a Scotsman – although what that had to do with anything I didn’t know.
The andouillette turned up on yet another disposable plate with a handful of chips and an approximation of a salad. When he cut into it the smell permeated everything and all the bits that were previously inside the sausage were suddenly not – and that is the nicest way I can explain it. Gary Mehigan was right when he described it as a biology lesson.
Bravely he took a bite and wordlessly Fiona and I each handed across half of our croque monsieur and ordered him a beer – which also came in a disposable cup. Even the chips tasted of the smell of the sausage. He said that neither the beer nor the croque monsieur was able to get rid of the taste – it really was that gross.
When we indicated to the waiter that we’d finished our meals, he grunted and nodded towards the garbage bin in the middle of the floor. We understood that we were to take our plates and our cups and our utensils and the remains of the foul sausage and dump the lot in the bin.
It was a memorable meal for all of the wrong reasons.
Over the next few days, we saw andouillette on virtually every menu in every Bouchon in Lyon. ‘If they’re that popular,’ said Grant, ‘maybe I’m missing something. I must have just had a bad one.’