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The Fig is Back!

Our lazy Corsican summer is over for another year.

“Not so lazy” I hear Stephane cry. Eager to please and satisfy our customer’s appetite for his Corsican home-made fig relish, he has had to work doubly hard this year on gathering enough figs and then transforming them into our iconic fig jam.

This mountain of jars is an exquisite reminder of holiday, of family, of hot sun ripening the delicious fruit (although the excessive wind this year coursing through the island’s maquis delayed the ripening of the fig crop).

More set-backs to our fig jam production came with the news that Stephane’s Uncle had incurred a serious back injury and would be unable to bring in the figs (a job he undertakes every year, but since the popularity of Corsican fig jam expanded in Nottingham he has taken great pride in increasing the crop)

Extra help was recruited and the figs began to reach our small kitchen where the family alchemy began.

A true Corsican enjoys matching fresh figs, or fig chutney with one of their extra-mature, ultra -pungent mountain cheeses. It’s a stunning partnership that many of our customers have discovered thanks to French Living’s infamous Discovery Evenings, or due to being tempted by one of our fait maison jars and a ripe goats cheese from our

deli counter.

Come and be tempted. The fig is back!


All posts since 2007 are on http://www.frenchlivingdiaries.blogspot.co.uk/

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Team Building

There are two clear teams in a restaurant – kitchen and service – but customers only ever get to see one in action. However, one cannot perform without the other – it is essential everyone gets on, communicates well, and stays calm and focused.

Annabelle and Gaelle, two of our fantastic service team, thought it would be a good idea to put to the test these team-work skills and so they organised a trip to the Peak District in Dovedale. A number of physically demanding (well they were for me!) challenges were set, along the beautiful trek, creating competitive spirit between our teams – kitchen versus service. Who would end the day as champions of team-work?

Unfortunately for the kitchen team, they had to accept me on their team to make up the numbers.

Setting off towards the mountains!

The first challenge involved reaching the top of a very steep mountain (ok, so maybe it was a hill), but it was extremely high and the sun was shining strongly upon us. The task was made more difficult by having one of the team blind-folded! Kitchen got off to a slow start with kitchen porter, Arnold, struggling to adapt to having no vision. However, as his confidence grew and he began to believe in our instructions, they raced to the top. Unfortunately, team kitchen didn’t realise they had another weak member who was gasping for breath and struggling to lift her legs! In spite of trying to drag me up the last stage of the mountain, our team had become separated and we couldn’t finish together, so maximum points were awarded to team service. After some heated negotiation it was decided to give team kitchen some points for having reached the top first with their blind-folded team member.

Challenge two involved crossing the icy cold river.

Arnold trying to swim!

It was such a hot day, no one seemed to mind taking shoes and socks off and negotiating the pebbly river bed to get to the other side. Although team kitchen had more volunteers. It was declared that extra points would be awarded for dipping the entire body, up to shoulders in the freezing water. Chef Jeremy surprised everyone by doing just that!! Team kitchen moved into a massive lead.

Brice and Guillaume – intrepid explorers

I am happy to report that I redeemed myself in the wheelbarrow race, winning my part of the relay. Arnold and Brice, however, collapsed just short of the winning line, allowing team service to take a win.

An interesting ball game, involving trying to hit the opposition and put them in prison – a game of throwing and catching skill – so surely our sporty, footballing kitchen team would claim this one! It was not to be, team service notched up another win.

Team kitchen, however, confirmed their lead at the very end of the trek by plunging into the ice cold river for a swim!

Team service seemed happy to sit and watch with a well deserved ice cream.

Annabelle in search of zen..

A massive thank you to Gaelle and Annabelle for organising this amazing day out. It brought us all closer together and certainly helped us learn lots about ourselves and others.

Also, thank you Jeremy for putting together our gastronomic picnic lunch.We would not expect anything else from our incredible French Living chef!!

Brice –  a kitchen team member
Guillaume, Brice and Gaelle – a well deserved rest!

Read all posts since 2007 in http://www.frenchlivingdiaries.blogspot.co.uk

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Community, Communication, Connection

“I love the new tablecloths” whispered a customer, catching my attention as I waltzed through a busy lunch-time service.


“I love them too” I said happily, beaming at the bright, sunny colours.

Stephane was chatting with a family of four in the far corner, probably not discussing the beauty of our Mediterranean cloths, but he was generating lots of giggles and happiness.

It’s quite incredible the effect a few simple additions can have on everyone’s mood. There is a feeling of inclusion, inviting early morning coffee drinkers, opening up the lunch-time experience to suit everyone’s taste, blending baguettes, salads, galettes with the classic restaurant plat du jour fare. These simple adaptations seem to have lifted the atmosphere, inciting communication, relaxed informality, like the old French Living days.

We were so busy the other day, we opened up the downstairs cellar space to accommodate our hungry diners.

“We ate downstairs today” said a loyal French Living customer, “it felt just like old times.”

She was talking about the days when we had the shop and cafe upstairs, and the restaurant menu was served exclusively down in the cellar. My heart thumped with excitement because in our 20th year of existence I had yearned to recreate that joyful, community atmosphere of the early years. The cellar restaurant space never failed to create a wonderful party, with customers cosily ensconced table to table, finding themselves talking to their next door strangers, some making friends for life.



This is what eating is all about, and this is at the heart of French life, the raison d’etre of French Living.

Food is not just fuel for the body; food is community.




Mornings are still pretty quiet. Customers have not yet realised we are open for breakfast, or for shopping at our deli corner.

“I’ll sit outside with a petit creme” I told Audrius, hoping passers-by would notice, and maybe be enticed to stop and visit.

King Street was pretty busy, particularly on the opposite pavement, a steady flow drifting down to Market Square, others joining queues for buses, all with their heads dropped. They were not checking the pavement or their feet, but managing to execute a brisk walk while tapping on a mobile device. Quite ingenious.   No one bumped into another, some even managed this trick while pushing prams! So, not surprisingly, no one noticed me, or that French Living was open for breakfast. I retreated back inside to report my findings.


My morning observations generated an interesting discussion among the waiting staff on that day. They all confirmed an addictive usage of mobiles at the dining table. Apparently it is very rare not to find mobiles sitting on the table, ready to be answered. It is strange because our mobiles might seem like they are connecting us, and they do to a degree, but as my morning’s coffee experiment showed, they also disconnect us from the world around us. People are missing out on connecting with people around them, even sometimes with those who are sitting opposite them at a restaurant table.


I sincerely believe that the French Living experience is not only about wonderful food, but also about community, enjoying the company of others; communication, relishing a couple of hours of delicious conversation; and connection, letting go of our mobiles, emails, and truly connecting with people and environment.


I am threatening to introduce a cloak-room where you not only check in your coats and umbrellas, but also your mobiles! Stephane cast me a horrified look, so I think this idea may have to wait….

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Back Home!

We are back home, everyone together again, ensconced cosily at 27 King Street, once more a restaurant, cafe, and boutique.

I can’t believe we turned around this removal and renovation in just two days! Big special thank you’s go to Rob – as a regular cafe-creperie customer who kindly volunteered to help Stephane and I on Sunday, we owe him a few petit cremes. Also to eager, enthusiastic Guillaume, who is more than just a French Living waiter, he too gave up his Sunday to help us magically transform French Living in record time. A massive thank you to our genius chef Jeremy for the extra hours, the heart-felt commitment to the French Living cause. You are a shining star. Thank you also to chef Brice and waiter Guillaume 2 (yes we have two Guillaumes working for us at the moment), who just so happened to be walking down King Street when we needed more pairs of hands to shift an enormous fridge down a narrow staircase. Thank you boys!


I thought about taking before and after photos, but when the moment of destruction came, a flicker of panic swept through me, and I moved into over-drive to rectify the damage. At that instant, it didn’t seem appropriate to lay down tools and dreamily take photos. And so, here are a few “after” shots:





















My photos really don’t do justice to the newly created corners – coin epicerie/deli corner – and particularly the culture corner downstairs.




















For the magnificent mirror down there, I am lovingly grateful to my beautiful yoga teacher Katherine who kindly agreed to part with it.


Katherine’s mirror in Culture Corner


Our wall of French Icons


Come visit and experience authentic French Living. We are open from 10.30 Tuesday to Friday, and from 9.30 on Saturday, for coffee, breakfast, or treat yourself to a flute of champagne and a delicious smoked salmon galette. It’s time to celebrate!


Read all posts since 2007 in http://www.frenchlivingdiaries.blogspot.co.uk

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What’s in a Name?

“Strange name for a restaurant” is a frequent comment, and then there are those observers who believe our name should be French in order to reinforce our credibility.

I love the name French Living – it’s the one discreet acknowledgement to my English presence within our French family business. It’s a French business operating in England, which is why we communicate our mission in English so the maximum number of customers will understand what we do.


Back in 1994, our mission was to sell the French way of life, in the form of a French shop, selling everything to do with food from France, from cookware and tableware, to  cheese, wine and charcuterie. And so the name French Living was a perfect fit.


The restaurant came along two years later, down in the basement, but the name did not alter. It had no reason to change. Our business became a shop, restaurant and cafe, but the mission always remained the same – selling, educating, promoting the French way of life through food.


It’s true that we don’t sound like most French restaurants in England who frequently opt for a cliche to communicate their Frenchness – L’Escargot, Petit Paris, La Petite Auberge, Ratatouille – but that is because we are not like any other French restaurant in the UK. We have always delivered more than just a delicious cassoulet, and now that uniqueness will be reinforced in the next few weeks as we bring the cafe creperie,  epicerie dresser, cheese and wine, back under one roof at 27 King Street, back to selling the complete concept of French living.


Look out for the colourful transformations over the next few weeks….



Have you spotted our new toile du soleillogo?




Some new iconic additions have already been introduced….




How many of these French faces can you name?


There’s one name, however, you will always be able to pronounce and remember, and that is French Living. Don’t expect any modifications to this essential element of our much-loved business.


Read all posts since 2007 in http://www.frenchlivingdiaries.blogspot.co.uk

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Guest Blogger Alan Dawson

Nottingham’s cult blogger Alan Dawson has written about his recent visit to French Living

Please visit http://porchesterng3.com/tag/french/

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After a long, languid supper at home we decided to take a stroll through the village and enjoy the mild early evening air.Add to Technorati FavoritesOur village boasts a traditional red telephone box that has been ingeniously recycled into a book exchange. It frequently tempts us in, to rumage through the abandoned tomes with the hope of unearthing a hidden gem. It was as if the telephone was ringing out to Stef to come in that night because he quickly pulled out a perfect match. A hasty flick through “The authentic Bistros of Paris” unveiled dozens of inspiring images, photos of quirky bars stuck in the past, eccentric signage, out of date interiors, chalk boards scribbled with menus, wines, slogans and homespun philosophy.

Le Bistrot du Peintre
Chez Leon
Le Temps des Cerises

As French Living celebrates its 20 year birthday, this little book appeared like magic , to remind Stephane and I of heritage, of our creation, to revitalise and inspire us as we move French Living forward.

French Living is like so many of the bistros described in this book – “at a bistro, it’s more about the men and women who spend time there, and whose souls, after they’re gone, will still haunt the back rooms, the booths and dark corners. Its about bits of conversation ricocheting off the tobacco-stained walls, little bursts of laughter, tears shared at the bar.”

Over the years we have shared weddings, births and deaths, divorce, proposals of marriage, re-marriage, illness and heart-break with so many of our customers. Many are friends, more than just acquaintances, or bill-paying guests, they are the soul, the heart-beat of our business and of our life.

I read a little more to Stephane: “Most of the owners of the bistros in these pages have a single word on their lips: soul. They feel as if everything they’ve created is hanging by a thread, built on a fragile foundation of ghosts and time. Many of them told us they were afraid to expand, to repaint, to resurface mirrors that have become clouded with age, to change their tablecloths, their hours of operation, their brand of coffee. It isn’t nostalgia. They’re afraid they might break the spell. Afraid they might chase away the guardian angels who bring them business.”

We both grinned knowingly. I was distraught when we had to say goodbye to our original antique cheese fridge. We are both firmly adamant that cassoulet should always remain on the menu. And above all, I am determined that our shabby decor should always stay just a little bit shabby.

All posts since 2007 are on http://www.frenchlivingdiaries.blogspot.co.uk/