One More Croissant For The Road, Felicity Cloake (2019)

A satisfying cycle journey through French cuisine

Mudlark/Harper Collins 9780008304935 14 x 22 cm 344 pp £14.99

The unparalleled effectiveness of the bicycle as a means to convert energy into forward movement is long established. Cycling’s real efficiency miracle, however, is that its fuel delivers pleasure in both consumption and expenditure.

It is to doubly sate herself that Felicity Cloake sets off to circumnavigate France, with a tent, a bicycle and a smart-phone full of gastronomic recommendations. 

Cloake made her reputation as a Guardian food columnist over the past decade. Each week she explores ‘The Perfect….’ recipe for a fresh dish – the ongoing slot that has a deservedly loyal fanbase and several publishing spin offs.

Her five-week French expedition took place in the summer of 2018 against the distant backdrop of the football world cup in Russia. Cloake’s reference points, however, come from cycling – her Odyssey is divided into 21 stages, in the style of the Tour de France. But while there are occasional nods to Le Grand Boucle, food is her real focus.

She is a media professional in her mid-30s. There is some solo camping, but she is also joined by friends along the way and intersperses canvas with apartments and occasional hotels. Longer legs are undertaken by train.

Her progress through Normandy, down to Burgandy and east to Provence makes for an easy, evocative and amusing read. History, topography and incidents en route form an airy case around the book’s real filling – the meals she reviews and the recipes with which each chapter concludes.

Here she is enjoying France’s greatest omelette, on Normandy’s most photographed tied island. 

“The outer shell is almost leathery, in pleasurable contrast to the mousse interior, and gilded with salty, slightly burnt butter – its almost like an American-style half-moon breakfast omelette rather than the classic runny French cigar, but stuffed with an off-white foam rather than grey cheese. A dish of potatoes and bacon fried in lard arrives on the side; for a few euros more I could have had scallops or foie gras instead, but really there are limits. My advice is, go to Mont-Saint-Michel, watch the spectacle, then go home and make one yourself”.

Having spent some time spying on work in the kitchen in question, Cloake then provides instructions that would allow one to replicate the €34 marvel without need to cross La Manche.

By the conclusion of Cloake’s epicurean gazetteer, I was as restless as I was hungry. For those seeking an armchair tour of French cuisine, she dishes up a treat.

TD June 20

Cloake is by no means the first cyclist to combine their enjoyment of cycling with a passion for food. Tom Vernon’s Fat Man series devoted much entertaining prose to his fondness for food. Meanwhile, Tom Kevill-Davies toured the Americas with a rolled up chopping board and a saddle bag full of herbs in search of extraordinary dishes, to produce The Hungry Cyclist in 2009.

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