The Marché Nocturne season is now in full swing and the Rigaud team supported our local village last night, cue mass hangover this morning. It’s a phenomenon that’s really caught on in the past couple of years, hence the hedgerows are filled with posters advertising the dates and villages for the next few weeks.
The idea is a little like a French take on a pop up restaurant. Village squares are filled with communal trestle tables and the people gather to picnic together, sitting under strings of coloured lights to the strains of an accordion player. Villagers gather together a meal from a range of local suppliers, drink copious quantities of wines, and usually follow it all up with dancing. Great night out for all concerned, N’est pas?
On offer last night were Arcachon oysters, melons grown down by the river, some really delicious escargot cooked in butter, parsley and garlic, a charcuterie producer with some great terrines and pates in jars (we chose the goose), Mr. Banier, the butcher from Castillon with his sarment BBQ, the goat cheese producer from Pessac and of course the local baker since no French meal would be complete without a French stick.
You don’t really need to take your own gear but we like to do things properly so we arrive with our own china, wine glasses, steak knives and even a large antique china platter. Chef, Steve, knocked up a few canapés which went down well with the oysters and the rosé and Mr. Banier happily filled with a very rare steak and chips for eight of us.
The whole thing is utterly charming and incredible value since it’s possible to eat well for 10 euros, buy your wines at cellar door prices and enjoy the spectacular sights of local councillors strutting their stuff on the dance floor.
The controversy in my mind is how this sits with the local restaurant owners. The restaurateurs pay rates and taxes on their premises and keep them open throughout the year in the hope that they will make the bulk of their money over the summer evenings when we’re all tempted to eat out on a more regular basis. Suddenly they are now competing with the night markets for clientele that would previously have been theirs.
To make things worse, they’re competing against their own suppliers, the very businesses that they, the restaurants, support all year long. The butcher, the cheese maker, the baker are all taking free stands on a weekend evening to sell directly to the people who would otherwise have taken a table in a restaurant that night. It doesn’t seem quite right to me.
The night markets are definitely delivering what their audience want – the atmosphere is fabulous and now we’re in the height of the season it’s possible to attend a different night market within twenty minutes of the chateau, from Thursday to Sunday every week. But I do worry for the local restaurants. It must be quite disheartening to find yourself undercut by your cheese supplier and facing empty tables over the summer weekends.