I don't get out much, so a trip to La Rochelle is very exciting for me nowadays. We chose to live in a quiet hamlet amongst farmers for the peace and quiet. I like the fact that we don't live near a large town....except when I am down to my last pair of flat boots and they have a two inch hole in the side, and at some time we will have some have mucky weather. It was my birthday this week and I decided to go to La Rochelle with my husband for 'les bottes', the emergency new boots and lunch, of course. It's an hour and twenty minute drive away so we always combine it with a not so thrilling visit to Brico Depot for something for the renovations. At least they have a free loo...in most towns you have to pay and La Rochelle is no exception.In summer La Rochelle is buzzing with holidaymakers, acrobats, market stalls and lots of things going on. I had never to La Rochelle in the autumn and on the way I did wonder if the restaurants would be open or if they would all be shut. Do you fancy going to a restaurant at Christmas? Forget it, they will be shut for two weeks. Need to post a letter in the summer? Check the times carefully, they will most likely be shut. Need to get something at 12.15 from the shop? Well it's tough, they will be shutting for a two hour lunch at 12:30 so they won't let you in! Coming from a life where it wasn't unusual to be taking lunch that could start from 11am or even 2.30pm, it still seems strange that at midday, many French people stop. It's not to grab a sandwich, pop to the bank, pick up the dry-cleaning or buy a present. The fact is they can't. Every work day many are sitting down to a three or four course lunch with wine in a local restaurant or zooming down the road in their cars to eat at home. As the French say, 'C'est bizarre, non?' Perhaps they have the right idea! Luckily for me there were many restaurants open in the old port and whilst there are still a few tourists around there are many people having lunch. It is still warm so we ate outside at a restaurant we have been to before. Generally menus are complicated affairs here with a choice of different set menus or à la carte. There is not always a clear line between starters and main courses especially when the majority of the restaurants here serve oysters and shellfish platters as standard. The French also normally have an Apéritif, which could be anything from a glass of port to a cocktail. Being a bubbles sort of girl I opted for a 'coupe de Champagne' which was a tiny 50ml measure more suited to a sherry glass. After a starter of calamari I chose sea bass. Food is served simply with few carbohydrates although there is always bread on the table. I guess they need to leave room for all those other courses. Although it looks a bit haphazard the skin was deliciously crispy and the flesh was very moist and flavoured with thyme, which is used a lot here with fish. Simply garnished with parsley and lemon, the fish fell off the bone. It didn't really need the vegetables. Put it his way, I've never really got over being served rhubarb as an accompaniment to some grilled prawns in Holland - it's just not what I'm used to. I think I would have served some broccoli and been done with it! Anyway, it would have been rude not to have a dessert. My husband had crème brûlée, although crêpes with Grand Marnier were also on the menu, so it was a close call. The dessert menu always seems as large as the main menu with all the ice-creams and sorbets on offer and I couldn't make a choice, that is until I spotted a waiter delivering a Café Gourmand. I think I had a canelle,which is a sort of chewy cinnamon cake, nutty moist brownie, Chantilly cream, strawberry macaroon and crème caramel. Delicious, but I felt very guilty afterwards...... Whilst all this was going on I forgot to mention that there were at least two little dogs sitting on their owner's laps or by their chairs. Both totally ignored the fat pigeons waddling around looking for crumbs. Somehow I can't imagine Dexter and Gray sitting obediently next to me with all the food going past. Gray would be resting his head on each table, aspirating the contents from the plates, before embarking on a pre wash. And Dexter? Yes, he would be on a pigeon mission, tables flying in true Scooby Doo style. Utter carnage. So no, the dogs are not coming to lunch, ever.