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Game On

Game On
France and fusion food; two things you don’t normally find snuggled-up in the same sentence.

Most French purists would claim there is no need to combine influences from other corners of the globe with their native dishes; it would simply make them worse. A little narrow minded, perhaps, but so often, they are right.

Hop on a ferry from Nice, however, and you will come across a place where the French essentials of wine, cheese and bread sit happily, side-by-side, with the rustic, hearty charm of Italian provincial cooking.

Calvi lies in a sheltered horseshoe-shaped bay on the North-West coast of Corsica. The gateway to the island, it provides an ideal place from which to explore further. A towering citadel looms over its bay; fine, narrow beaches are stuffed with families wading-out, waist-high into shallow, calm seas; and, like much of the rest of the island (and neighbouring Sardinia), it has long been a rich-boy’s stopover on their yacht tours. The harbour gleams with the things, trembling side-by-side; the millionaires lounge in minimalist bars. But for those searching for the real character of Corsican cuisine, this is the last place to look. Here, pricey pizzas, pathetic pasta and sad seafood abound. It is the Mediterranean equivalent of pub grub.

Head inland, however, up one of the narrow side streets from the harbour into the heart of old Calvi, and you will find a different story. Here it is the land, not the sea, that shapes the cuisine and with fishing quotas in the Mediterranean having swelled the price of seafood in an already expensive part of France, looking to the mountains for inspiration is as good for the pocket as it is for the soul.

Restaurants offering fine Corsican food at a good price abound around the Santa Maria church, and it was in the shadow of this church, with high-summer tourists milling past, that I enjoyed my first sweet, hearty Wild Boar
Game On
(Sanglier) and Corsican Honey Stew. Hardly summer fare, it’s true; but give me a plate of this slow cooked, much-loved creature over some overpriced mussels steamed to oblivion on the harbourside any day. A Corsican speciality - on offer at most of the island’s decent restaurants - mine came with a couple of yellow wedges of pullenda (polenta), which I dutifully swept around the plate to catch the unmissable, sweet, honey-rich sauce.

You will find seafood on most restaurant menus – prawns, octopus, mussels, scallops and sea bass are common – but it is the game that really stands out. Woodcock (Becasse) and Partridge (Pedrix) are worth trying, while the slow-roasted game stew (Tianu) will never disappoint. Don’t be surprised, either, to find ravioli, cannelloni or tagliatelle on offer – Corsica may be in France, but an Italian influence has washed up on its shores. Cheese and cooked meat - as important to the French as they are to Italians - have their own local flavour. Taking the tiny narrow gauge train eastwards along the coast from Calvi to neighbouring L’Ile Rousse, I stumbled upon a cheese and meat platter, served with a couple of frosty beers, that made for a simple, yet perfect lunch to escape the soaring midday heat. A smoked ham prisutu sat amongst ewe’s cheese (Brocciu) and other saltier, nuttier cheeses from the south; a little jar of coarse fig jam, which I piled on top, made the bread proffered redundant.
I picked up a jar of the jam from the market before hopping back on the train, stopping off at one of the sandy beaches mid-journey to cool off in the waning afternoon sun. That jam is good back home; but it can’t compete with my L’Ile Rousse lunch.

Address Book:
U Minellu
Sanglier served with Pullenda is a favourite at this vaulted restaurant which also sells a good selection of local wines.
Traverse de l’Églisse, Port de Plaisance. Tel +33 4 95650552
U Fanale
Settle under a century old Umbrella Pine to sample fabulous views and their fiadone cake made from local brocciu cheese.
Place Galetta. Tel: +33 4 95651882
Santa Maria
Nestled by the side of the church, Restaurant Santa Maria is as popular with locals as it is with passing tourists. An easy place to while away the day, people-spotting.
Place de l’ Églisse. Tel +33 4 95650419
A Pasturella
This fourteen-room family-run hotel just outside of L’Ile Rousse also boasts one of the islands best-loved restaurants serving freshly-baked bread and tender cuts of meat.
20220 Monticello. Tel: +33 4 95600565
Further Information: Corsican Tourist Board (www.visit-corsica.com) and French Government Tourist Office (www.franceguide.com).
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Pali Banwait
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