A sombre but polite waitress left us a selection of bread and a quirky little bottle of lime coloured olive oil capped by a pipette. I squeezed some oil into the pipette and drizzled it onto my bread… and the oil went right through the bread’s honeycombed surface. As there was no plate below, the oil dripped onto the pristine linen tablecloth where it spread like a disease.
We stared in horreur at my oil spill for a couple of seconds… then both burst out laughing. It was a totally absurd occurrence. Up till that point a dining experience that should have been an exhilarating outing for the senses had been teetering on the edge of being not particularly enjoyable.
MEO – Moment Emotion Osmose – in Tarascon boasts a Michelin star. It’s an appealingly tasteful restaurant with an attractive, upmarket French rustic design of apple green walls, chocolate coloured tables and copper cooking utensils. The environment is warm and welcoming enough but our gastronomic trains ran on parallel tracks from the moment we tried to order.
The maître d’ was attentive and supremely professional. However, when he explained the menu he only referenced the taster menu at €53 or €75 per person. We were confused as there were clearly other items on the menu which weren’t mentioned. We asked for clarification and, again, the taster menus were pointed out but nothing else. In the end we had to inquire whether it was possible to just order a main course.
We felt awkward and cheap at having to ask. A good restaurant doesn’t make its customers feel uneasy.
However, we’re not intimidated by excessive culinary prissiness. Whilst we always ask for the chef’s suggestions, ultimately we choose what we want from a menu. But we were becoming increasingly irked by the restaurant’s pretentiousness.
We placed our order and Andy went to powder her nose. As soon as she left the table, a waiter picked up her napkin and folded it into the perfect triangle it was when we arrived. I smiled. It was too fussy for me and would have added to the feeling we were making the place untidy if it hadn’t been for the fact there were two huge dogs lying beside a table opposite. Their presence made life very awkward for the waiter who had to bend precariously over them to put anything on the table. Absurd and amusing. It’s impossible to be too serious when there are dogs involved.
The oil going straight through the bread totally broke the spell and we began to enjoy the restaurant’s, shall we say, quirks.
The Cuisine at MEO
By the time the amuse-bouche (a complimentary appetiser) arrived we had adjusted to the MEO scene and were more relaxed, helped by a pastis aperitif and then some vin rouge that sat off screen and was regulated by the maitre d’.
The amuse-bouche consisted of an artistically arranged dried sardine with a cold courgette compote, split peas and a sweet tomato paste. Although it looked like it would be full of flavours, they were more subtle than we expected.
For main course Andy had dentex fillets on a bed of Mediterranean sea foam, small clams and a selection of spring greens. My choice was more of a landlubber mix, consisting of a fillet of beef “les Hautes Terres” with mushroom, aubergine and a Phu Quoc pepper sauce. The two dishes made up a half of those included in ‘Emotion’, the more economical of the taster menus.
Meat, fish and vegetables were all prepared flawlessly. In most restaurants I would consider both dishes to be most enjoyable because… well, they were. The thing is, neither blew me away. Neither delivered the giddy whirlwind of flavours I expect from a restaurant with a Michelin star to its name. They were as perfectly tasteful as the restaurant’s décor, but we both agreed they just didn’t have that extra pizazz that has you sitting back, beaming at the joy of having a culinary work of art in your mouth.
As we ate I watched the waiters and waitresses at work. All were attentive and descended on tables in an instant (sometimes more than one at a time) when anything was required. They rarely smiled, as though they’d been instructed that dining was a terribly serious affair.
Maybe there’s a cultural thing going on. I subscribe to the belief that dining should be an enjoyable experience; it should be fun. I don’t connect good food and fine wine with sobriety, I associate them with damn good times.
MEO is obviously an attractive, excellent restaurant with highly trained staff and talented chefs. I’m sure it will fit many people’s idea of top notch dining. It just took itself too seriously to fit mine.
My main disappointment though is that the food just didn’t move me.
MEO; Place du Colonel Berrurier, +33 4 90 91 47 74; open midday to 2pm and 7.30 to 9pm (closed Sunday dinner, Monday and Tuesday), average cost of main course €27, taster menus are €32, €42 (lunchtimes only), €53 and €75.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+