Sardent Oyster Festival

Howdy peeps, I’ve had a very fun afternoon.

Thanks to a kind soul posting a flier for the Sardent Oyster Festival on Facebook yesterday, I’ve just returned from tasting award winning champagne in the middle of a temporary fish market! Yes, because France is random and glorious and unexpected as well as sometimes being downright frustrating, but it’s afternoons like this that remind you exactly why you live here.

We’ve been living in France for just over a year, so we’re only just building a calendar of local events that we plan to watch out for and return to year on year. This is a new favourite.

Foire aux Huitres de Sardent is running from 9th – 11th November, so you can still go tomorrow French friends!

It’s just over a half hour drive through Bourganeuf and Pontarion towards Gueret from us, and you won’t need directions because there will be abandoned cars parked on verges as soon as you turn the corner from the main road. We walked about 5 minutes up the small incline, and with the oncoming wind, you could start to smell the fresh salty smell of the sea, despite being in central rural France surrounded by cows. We started to pass people carrying bags and boxes of mussels and oysters back to their cars, and then we saw the carpark, full of specialist suppliers and fishmongers vans from all over the country, there were many! The carpark was flanked by a modern Salles De Fetes, and a large marquee, so we headed in there first, although you could hear the sounds of laughter and general conviviality way before you got inside.

There was obviously a high concentration of molluscs and fishes, but also cheese, charcouterie, artisan chocolate, cognacs and champagnes. There were tables in the marquee for you to eat your oysters fresh off the stall, and a bar selling a great selection of wines and beers, a glass of wine was €1.50!

Huge selection of fresh fish
Madeleines, nougat, chocolate…
Anyone watching Rick Stein’s new French series this week, will know there’s a term for the tail biting, which I’ve already forgotten…..

Out of the marquee, and in the villages municipal building, was a lovely bar, and the place where you could order your lunch. It was a very simple system of pre ordering from a set menu, fish soup, moules mariniere, fruits de la mer, or a platter of oysters in various sizes, desert, coffee, and a wine-list most restaurants would wish for. Most expensive of which was €25 a bottle for Champagne, but most were sub €15. You ticked your boxes on your form, paid at the bar, and then joined the queue in the super efficient canteen in the adjoining room. We decided against wine, Craig was driving and I didn’t want to try to smash in a bottle to myself with my moules. (€10 by the way for a regular moules mariniere and 2 portions of frites). I need not have worried as the wine just had the corks loosened and popped back in at the bar, and you carried it through to dinner with you, meaning you could re-cork and take home any you didn’t drink – genius!

You join a long cafeteria style queue with your tray, complete with most important lemony wet-wipe, if you have to have a wash at the end you know you’ve come to the right place! Hand over your receipt and voila! Seating is at long, communal trestle tables, garnished with little bowls of shallot vinegar for the oyster-munchers. We sat down and a bowl of crusty bread appeared for us, for some post mussels dunking in what remains – it’s the law! Honestly the best mussels I’ve ever had. Tiny, sweet, salty and delicious. It was all I could do to not get in that queue a second time (this time with wine) and make an afternoon of it.

Super efficient service
Damn. Just gorgeous.
Lovely convivial atmosphere

Earlier, we saw some award winning champagnes were €3.50 a glass so opted to try 2 different ones. They were both outstanding! Unusually for me, I preferred the cheaper of the two, and hubs the more expensive, so we decided to get a bottle of each to put away for Christmas (or our anniversary on the 29th Dec). We were then offered a half glass each of their most premium offering (a huge €20.00 a bottle). It had that freshly buttered toast flavour that we’d come to associate with sparkling wine that’s over our usual budget, (should add, we don’t make a habit of this – Aldi Cote du Rhone is just dandy in my book). As it was, we preferred the wines we’d already tasted, so a bottle of each it was, €14.80 and €17.80 respectively. Wow!

My Favourite
Craig’s favourite

To finish the day, I fancied some oysters to take home, so I bought a dozen for (wait for it) €7. What?! I’ve had them a couple of times before, I like them, but I have no idea how to shuck them, or what to have on them. Do I make a crumb and have hot like in New Orleans, or cold with tobasco or a vinegar. Not got a Scooby Doo. If tomorrow’s blog post is entitled “how I accidentally severed a finger before vomiting”, you’ll know this hasn’t gone well….

NB. The bag, smells really, really fishy. I am hoping this is just the shells. I AM SCARED…. #oysternovice

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