I almost embarrassed myself. Roussillon – a name which instantly invokes images of wine and warfare – had my mind motoring through elaborate metaphors and playful puns, probably involving Food Snob fighting les Français. It may not sound like much now, but it would have been something grand. Crois moi. This was my first reaction anyway; after all, the namesake London restaurant surely must be titled after the oft-fought-over petite province près les Pyrénées – former Catalan territory, land of vineyards and for centuries subject to the egomaniacal martial chauvinism of the monarchs of Aragon, France, Majorca and the Moors – non? Non!
You have the wrong Roussillon in mind, mes amis! Swap the Counts of Barcelona for the Popes of Avignon, Morue Catalane for Brandade de Morue, replace anchoïde with oursinade, gardiane with bouillabaisse, set your eyes 150 miles due north-east et voila! Where you should be looking is not Languedoc-Roussillon, but Lubéron, wherein little red Roussillon resides – a small village of Provence, birth-province of chef-patron Alexis Gauthier, famous for its tinted ruby-pink hills, rich with ochre and iron oxide deposits.
Embarrassment rolled over into relief; Languedoc-Roussillon natives had once been nicknamed ‘rat eaters’ – not exactly a palatable picture at dinnertime. But just as fast, relief revolved into restlessness as I recalled this ville perchée’s local legend and foodie folklore: there once was a young Lady Sermonde, wife of Raymond d’Avignon, Seigneur du Village, who was neglected by her husband, himself too preoccupied by hunting. Inevitably, the lonely Lady fell in love with another, a young troubadour, Guillaume de Cabestan. Raymond found out and furious, he killed him. In cruel revenge, he also had Willy’s heart served to his wife during dinner. Sermonde, having learned what had happened, threw herself off the close by cliffs, forever colouring the hillside with her blood. But on the bright side, for me at least, eating heart would be nothing new…
Scintillating as this storytelling is, let us refocus on the Pimlico restaurant, Roussillon, thus named by Chef Alexis after acquiring it in 1997 in partnership with Alex and James Palmer (the same entrepreneurs who set up, then sold, the New Covent Garden Soup Company); it had been Marabel’s, but new ownership and opening of MPW’s Mirabelle the same year, prompted the name change.
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