It’s not just a story of a table but, in fact, a whole guest house. That guest house being in the Tarn region of South West France where the author, Orlando Murrin, and his partner Peter Steggall have made their home. More accurately, Orlando and Peter have turned an old property into a guest house, and A Table in the Tarn – Living, Eating and Cooking in South-west France charts that journey.
This is a charming volume of soft and sepia colours, and photographs by Jonathan Buckley. It’s stylish but resists the temptation to be too stereotypically “Country French”, it’s more about showing “Real French”. There are plenty of pictures of neighbours and staff who have played a big part in the success of the venture. The buildings are honey-coloured and typical of this part of the world, and just a flick through the pages will encourage you to follow in Orlando’s footsteps… but read the book before you sell your home and head south.
A Table in the Tarn is divided into two parts; it’s almost like two different books. The Story of the Manoir is the first section and will drive away any romantic notions that you might have about renovating an old French pile. The tale of the plumber who filled the house with water from dozens of leaks – freshly plastered walls and ceilings being hacked away and treasured possessions being ruined – will be enough to make you think twice.
And then there is the language problem! French TV wanted to make a documentary about the Manoir. During a tricky piece of pastry folding, presenter Hélène Bassas asked Orlando: “Vous êtes là depuis combien de temps?” To which Orlando replies, “Une heure dix à peu près dans un four chaud.” (“How long have you lived in France?” “An hour and ten minutes in a hot oven.”)
The Recipe section of the book is divided by course and there are some lovely dishes that make the best of local ingredients. “Le Cake” is a popular French appetizer or even a starter. It is a savoury “cake” which can contain bacon, cheese, olives, onions or sausage and it’s almost always loaf-shaped. Orlando’s version has bacon, black olives, Reblochon semi-soft cheese and herbs.
The Ultimate Strawberry Tartlets are impressive but not difficult. Other soft fruits could be substituted making this a versatile and very posh dessert. The pastry uses Demerara sugar which gives a nutty crunch to the base. Mascarpone supplies the creamy filling and the final result is a stunner.
A Table in the Tarn will be a fascinating read for anyone considering a serious move to France but also for anyone who loves good food, either French or British.
A Table in the Tarn – Living, Eating and Cooking in South-west France
Author: Orlando Murrin
Published by: HarperCollins
Cookbook and travelogue review by Chrissie Walker © 2018