Thursday, 25 January 2018

La France in Perth

Having recently invited some friends over for a French-themed lunch here in Perth, I felt inspired to write about our experience of seeking out French food, and the presence of French culture in Perth more generally. To create something of a French environment for our lunch, we started off by hanging a number of French-themed pictures on the walls, and found French bunting on the internet to decorate our alfresco eating area. To look the part, Richard secured a French outfit (beret and stripey t-shirt) from a party shop - hey, no stereotypes here! He also managed to fake a pretty convincing French accent and sport a not-so convincing Poirot-type moustache (oops, Poirot's Belgian, isn't he?!).
"It 'az been a good day. I 'ave sold all zee oignons!"

Food-wise, we have bemoaned the lack of variety of Australian cheeses in a previous blog post, but it is possible to buy French cheeses over here - albeit at hugely inflated prices so we rarely purchase them. Roquefort, for example, can retail for around AUS$100 per kilo, making it more than twice the price of the best rib eye steak! C'est fou!
AUS$100 is approx 65 euros. The same cheese retails in France for around 28 euros per kilo.

One of the cheeses we selected for our lunch was a small slice of one of our favorites, a mild cheese made from ewe's milk called ossau-iraty. At AUS$90 or so per kilo, the little 100 gram slice we purchased was probably equivalent to small rib eyes!
Ossau-Iraty cheese for sale at Little Sister deli in Fremantle

You have to be a bit careful when selecting your French cheese, however, as some available over here, such as Le President Camembert, are actually made in Australia, not in France. Ce n'est pas pareil!
Cheese, wine, baguette, cheese jam (not very French) and quince paste (also not very French)

For charcuterie (cold cuts), we were unable to find anything originally from France so settled for prosciutto, chorizo and salami which were probably produced in Australia or China! French paté is also non-existent over here - I think because of Western Australia's strict importation and quarantine laws - although you can buy Normandy paté made up the road in the suburb of Malaga (bof!), and we did hunt down a few small tins of terrine.

Otherwise, all things French are greatly appreciated in Perth, and none more so than French bakery/pastry shops or boulangeries-patisseries. To provide an authentic lunch, we were obliged to sample several of these boulangeries-patisseries to find the best French bread - baguettes - and cakes, including Choux Café in Swanbourne, La Galette de France in Nedlands, and Jean-Pierre Sancho in Dalkeith. Actually, Jean-Pierre Sancho have a chain of bakery/pastry shops across the metro area and coincidentally, the name of the business is inherited from a small boulangerie-patisserie in Lodeve (where Michelle's parents live) called Sancho - it's a small world! The Australian Sancho even include a photo from the 1920s of the original Sancho in Lodeve in their promotion (see below):
The Jean Pierre Sancho on Hay street in Perth City
Zoom in on the photo at the top to see the original Sancho in Lodeve

After all our sampling (poor us), we settled on macarons, small eclairs, petit-fours and a sachet of freshly baked palmiers biscuits from La Galette de France for the dessert course of our lunch. Michelle also made a galette des rois - a frangipani-type almond pastry available in France throughout January, traditionally made to celebrate Epiphany on 6 January. All washed down with cream (not French) and a bottle of French sparkling wine, a Crémant de Limoux, Limoux being only 20km or so from La Bastide sur l'Hers. We're fortunate that we live close to a Dan Murphy liquor store which carries a range of international booze so buying French wine is easy enough although there's not a huge selection. I did, however, draw the line at buying a 75cl bottle of Normandy cider for over AUS$20 - it would probably cost the equivalent of about AUS$5 in France!

Interestingly, the staff in the French boulangerie-patisseries are often French and indeed, there are now enough French people living in Perth that you often hear French voices in the street - that wasn't the case when I lived here before in the 1990s. There are a number of French organizations in Perth promoting French culture and language, and social interaction for native French speakers, including Alliance Francaise and La Maison de France, and there are even pétanque clubs where you can play in competitions. And, of course, there are a number of French restaurants in Perth run by some internationally acclaimed chefs - Guillaume Brahimi, who featured on the Australian TV show French Food Safari springs to mind with his Bistro Guillaume. So all in all, it is possible to live the other side of the world from France and still experience a taste of France locally, albeit a lot of it comes at a pretty steep price!

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