100 Not Out... Part II

It's good to go back and read yesterday's posting, as today started with one of those all-too-common career wobbles. As all freelancers will know, the joys of the freedom and the opportunities can easily be lost on those days you get yet another phone call from the bank asking if you might actually pay them back something this month... After a few aborted projects, and the recession apparently biting budgets all over the media world, there are days when I wonder whether it's worth persevering with this line of work.

And then I re-read some of these things, remind myself of the big picture plan that the travel is providing, the fascinating people I've met over the years and suddenly the occasionally stilted cashflow doesn't seem so bad.

Take the Laurent-Perrier experience, for example. After that fabulous dinner, I was feeling uncharacteristically jaded the following morning. It wasn't the alcohol-consumption - Davey genes are good at preventing hangovers - as much as the cigar and the general lack of sleep. However, breakfast was as perfect as continental breakfasts get, fuelled by strong, French coffee and incredible, delicious pastries and breads.

The croissants, studded with little seeds, were butter-rich and a perfect foil for the home made jams, of which the rhubarb was the stand out. The tarte au sucre was a soft, slightly custardy joy, the fruits sun-ripened and sweet, the other cake - a traditional dish, the name of which I'm afraid I didn't catch - was rich and delicious.

It was a great way to start the day, particularly served in such a light, bright room, and with such great company. It was also rather nice to have a meal where champagne didn't feature...

The simple pleasures of this breakfast would have been the highlight of the trip if it wasn't for lunch... but more of that in a second. First, we had to visit Domaine Laurent-Perrier for an eye-opening tour of their impressive champagne production.

I won't bore you with all the details, particularly as there's an excellent history here, but some of the facts and figures are astonishing. For example, the house's "riddler" - a diminutive lady with remarkably normal sized arms and hands - can turn 60,000 bottles a day. There are currently 32m bottles of champagne stocked in 9km of cellars. The scale is astonishing, the passion tangible. And if there's a happier, friendlier place to work, I've yet to find it.As Anne-Laure showed Koen and myself around, every member of staff we passed wished us "bonjour" and, whether overall clad or in suits and ties, all chatted away merrily to each other. It feels like a family business that, even as its shot up the rankings from the 100th biggest label to the third, has maintained that sense of unity. I thought the mood at Neal's Yard Dairy was impressive: it's certainly the best atmosphere I've ever worked in. Laurent-Perrier though has it beat.

They also, rather inevitably, do a good lunch. Unlike many of my countrymen, I'm not a picnic lover. I'm not very bendy so sitting on a blanket attempting to eat a sandwich while wrestling ants for a piece of quiche is not my idea of a good time. The French - ah les Francais! - have us beaten on this one. And not just due to the quality of the bread.

From the opening salvo - a light egg and cheese tart, with explosively soft, sweet cherry tomatoes - to the most vibrant fruit bowl I think I've ever seen, this was another simple delight writ large. They came served in the little baskets traditionally used to gather the grapes: the aforementioned tart, a crusty baguette with ham and sun-dried tomatoes and, an idea I intend to pass off as my own sometime soon, a kilner jar of salmon, new potatoes and assorted flowers and herbs. Seriously, look at this presentation and tell me how anyone could resist...


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