eating fantastic italian food in… france, of course

As well as calling at Amsterdam on our recent cruise, we also visited Le Havre. A lot of passengers on the ship had mentioned that booking an excursion was the way to go, but we decided to wander in to the port and see for ourselves. Needless to say, we soon realised there wasn’t enough to do to keep us occupied. Le Havre was heavily bombed towards the end of WWII, and was rebuilt in concrete. As a very industrial city, it doesn’t do much to occupy a boyfriend who loves visiting historical buildings and sites!

We decided to take the train to Rouen, approx. 1 hour away. Rouen is well known as the place Joan of Arc was taken to be tortured, and ultimately where she was burned to death. We looked around, taking in the sights and culture. Rouen was really quiet – the streets were calm, with lots of businesses not opening until the afternoon. After a couple of hours of wandering around, we decided to look for somewhere to eat. We came across plenty of patisseries and cafes, but kept walking until we reached a small bistro called “Tavola Calda”. It looked absolutely packed from outside, so we took this as a good sign!

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The staff quickly squeezed us into a table by the doorway, promising to move us to a nicer spot as soon as one became available. We definitely had a language barrier, with the waitress speaking minimal English and us have no Italian or French language ability, but she was still extremely attentive and helpful. We loved the traditional European decor, with the addition of quirky vintage items, such as an old street clock above the window. The table mats were made of paper and covered with photocopied signatures and messages from happy customers over the years. The tables We had a look through the wine list, and of course I had to order a glass of red wine! Mr Greedy ordered a Peroni. We were quickly moved to another table, where we were treated to complementary appetisers to enjoy with our drinks, which were absolutely delicious! One was a white bread crostini topped with white bean puree, radish and courgette, while the other was wholemeal and garnished with a vegetable ragu.

Deciding what to order in a restaurant when you can’t understand the menu is… Interesting. There’s lots of odd words that we knew (arancini, linguine…), but we couldn’t be entirely sure of what the courses were made up of.

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I was immediately drawn to the arancini. If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know how much I enjoy making it myself. Well, basically anything fried in breadcrumbs. I was planning to order something else on the side, when the waitress suggested I tried the charcuterie. It sounded good enough to me, so I agreed and ordered that instead. Mr Greedy ordered the “linguine à l’encre de seiche”, which we now know is squid ink linguine!

When the food arrived, it looked fantastic – an unusual combination of rustic and refined. My plate can only be defined as meat and cheese overload, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. It was absolutely delicious – a generous portion of Italian cured meats, paired with Parmesan, pecorino and creamy mozzarella. The addition of the arancini trio also gave it a little more substance, all served on a peppery salad base. We were provided with olive oil and balsamic vinegar in spray bottles, which is a brilliant idea – you can evenly distribute the flavour without drowning your food in it. Safe to say, I REALLY enjoyed this meal. For me, it was heaven on a plate.

Mr Greedy enjoyed his squid ink linguine – kept refreshing with the addition of salad, but also a clean and simple flavour. The pasta sat on a bed of fresh clams, and drizzled in an olive oil based sauce, he definitely loved it.

Recently, a friend (who, I must say, is Italian) told me that Italian food made or bought outside of Italy is simply just food. True Italian food must be from Italy. I can understand his point, but it did not stop this meal being scrumptious.

The best way to finish off an Italian meal? With an espresso, of course.

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And back out to Rouen we headed. We ventured over to the L’église Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc, the church built on the site of Joan of Arc’s death. A really modern and striking church, its located in the city’s ancient market square.

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A little more walking around before heading back to the ship called for… You guessed it.

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