Has anyone eaten at the train station at Agen? Rick Stein highly recommended it in his last television series. I'd love to know if others agree.
Has anyone eaten at the train station at Agen? Rick Stein highly recommended it in his last television series. I'd love to know if others agree.
Agen Station Buffet:
Well, I was the one who introduced Rick Stein to it! Before he got on his barge at Bordeaux the BBC showed his producer an article I'd written about it in The TImes of Sat Aug 31, 2002. I was standing behind the camera when he was doing his stuff. I've been going there for years (I have a place about 20 miles from Agen). And yes! it's even better than he says. Mind you the helpings aren't not quite so generous as before it got well known. But the restaurant framed my article and they always give me a big armagnac when I turn up, so things aren't too bad.
Martin Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This is the article:
"Yesterday I lunched again at Agen’s Station Buffet. And
lunch there is no brief encounter. For I met again those friendly
waitresses in their short black skirts and they crowded around
me in welcome, hitching their short skirts even shorter … Yes, a
long way from a middle-class Englishwoman with a speck of
soot in her eye - and a doctor.
And it’s at Agen Station Buffet that the French have taken
menus to a fine art – making them truly the fore-play of
eating. Their big paper menus they use as tablecloths see to
that. All those seductive choices – ‘La Corniche Rapide’ (a
drawing of a long slinky train winds round its menu of salade
and omelette), the ‘Repas du Sud-ouest’ (elaborately written
on the lawn of a turreted chateau), the ‘Epicure Eurostar’ (Big
Ben entwined around the Eiffel Tower), ‘Le Gascon’ and the
‘Salade aux gesiers’ (a goose waddling around unaware of its
imminent fate) and ‘Le Foie Gras Special’ (the same goose, now
I saw again the parasols and tables on the wide terrace by
the road. And inside the restaurant I floated over its
banquettes and through the big windows overlooking the
platforms and the trains constantly moving in and out and I
smiled again when I saw the tables overflowing onto Platform
This time I’d brought my dog and was anxious in case they
wouldn’t let him in. But I needn’t have been. A lady at the next
table had her dog with her too – it was the sort with bits of hair
twisted like pipe cleaners and the rest shaved. And she had it
on her lap. And she was feeding it from her plate! The French,
And I remembered how last year I’d met friends off the
Eurostar from Waterloo with a couple of large armagnacs at
the ready and waiting for them at my table on Platform 1. Only
this time an elderly English gent was there with yesterday’s
‘Times’. Well, of course I could see the date – I just hovered in
the air six feet over his shoulder (he was reading the county
cricket report). His cream suit was immaculate with knife-
edged creases; and he wore an MCC tie. A glass of chilled
Chablis stood before him, next to his white Panama hat. And at
his feet was a battered old leather suitcase covered with labels
saying things like ‘Imperial Airways’ and ‘Orient Express
(Constantinople)’. I could have sworn I saw ‘SS. Titanic (New
York)’. Obviously waiting for the Antibes connection and a
dead ringer for Somerset Maugham.
As usual the place was undulating with travellers. Luckily I
could fly over their heads. And I watched them come in off the
trains, dump their luggage on a banquette and move to the
zinc-lined bar for ‘un demi’ of beer to wash the dust away
before they began any serious eating and drinking. Then my
mind’s eye in the back of my head observed a couple of
students who weren’t at all interested in the food and spent
half an hour more or less eating each other. After a bit they got
up and left, no doubt to continue with the main course
somewhere more comfortable. Well, that was pure conjecture:
and I didn’t follow them, although I could have.
I chose the ‘Menu Gourmet’: and first off was a whole chunk
of foie gras in a crisp curl of pale green lettuce, with a small
glass of chilled Monbazillac. Then a fabulous soup: on the menu
it just said fish soup, but it was lobster bisque and so delicious,
with cheese flakes, croutons and a tiny bowl with a rich little
sauce to add to it, if I liked (I did).
And then – I could hardly believe it, but when the Barcelona
train rattled in from the south with a little swish of its tail, some
guitar music and a jingle of bells, out came a friend of mine –
yes, well it was just like him and I almost floated over the other
diners to say to him: “why didn’t you tell me you were
coming?” He had a wide-brimmed black Spanish hat and was
smoking a cheroot and he swung his bag over his shoulder and
went and sat with four beautiful girls and vanished a few
And then the next course was a little perfumed rice with
scallops, the most delicious and expensive sea food! So light, so
delicate (and so many of them – ha!).
Well, by then I’d finished my carafe of Bordeaux. So I had
another. Then I chose a lemon sorbet and then just a touch of
St Agur to make a statement to match the Bordeaux. And
then I had an armagnac.
And then the Paris train arrived - a huge sleek and silver
undulating monster half a mile long with a black head shaped
like a cobra and it glided in with a menacing hiss of power just
like a cobra and gently slowed to a halt and pulsated quietly
while it disgorged its passengers. And a man came in off the
train and he looked just like me, sort of tall, dark and
handsome, and he had with him an elegant woman with an
expensive handbag (I could have sworn it said ‘Hermes’ or
something) and she looked rather like the wife of my friend,
the fellow who’d just arrived half an hour before, when I was on
my first carafe of red.
Then suddenly there was a lurch: and I woke up. And it was
all there – the buffet, the station and the trains. My dog had
dragged my table sideways (I’d tied him to one of its legs)
because he’d just seen the pipe-cleaner dog and wanted to
take a sniff. And there were two empty armagnac glasses on
the table, not one. And a short-skirted waitress was patting my
shoulder and asking: “would I like a coffee before I went
Isn’t it amazing what lunch in France can do to you? Even at
Agen’s Station Buffet? A la recherché du lunch perdu? Not at
all. It can happen every day – in France. All you have to do is
to get on the Eurostar at Waterloo and say:
“Tonight I’ll dream I lunched again at Agen’s Station
(This was the text before the Times' subs got at it!)
Hi Martin Evans
What a fascinating read! I really enjoyed it.
Actually, I too have eaten at Agen station - this July, while staying with friends who have a house in Puymirol not far from Agen (you probably know it). I was dying to visit after watching the programme and absolutely loved the atmosphere and ambiance (described so well in your article) as well as the straightforward, no-nonsense good food. The place had an amazing buzz.
Our Puymirol friends love it too. They ran one of the very few Michelin starred restaurants in Scotland until a few years ago so know what they're talking about!
Thanks again for your delightful reply.
Many thanks for your email and it was kind of you to appreciate my story abt Agen Buffet! It was one of a few I did on food in France - the Saturday Times took another (about finding the perfect omelette) around the same time; also two others, one on a restaurant at Blois (all mahogany, brass and T.Lautrec), then buying 50-deg armagnac (my favourite occupation) in a barn in the Gers. Seems to be all about food down there! In fact I'm shortly going to live full time at my place (near Bourg de Visa, it's on francedirect.com, then h3c040) to finish a book on France (called "France is for Lunch").
Yes, I do know Puymirol; and have pressed my nose against the menu of that restaurant! But my favourite type of restaurant is the ferme auberge, which I'm sure your friends know well. In fact it would be nice to meet them one day. The quality of the Brits down there has deteriorated greatly; and getting a Michelin star in Scotland is quite an achievement!
all the best,
Thanks for your message. I'll certainly buy your book when it comes out!
The house our friends have in Puymirol is only a couple of doors along from L'Aubergade and although I've not actually eaten there - SO expensive! - maybe one day......
Our friends have had their house in Puymirol for some years and usually spend the summer months there. We're in the lucky position of being taken to various eating places around and about when we visit and enjoy it hugely. A highlight this year was La Ferme aux Grives in Landes but that was really special. Mostly we eat at much less grand establishments. But as you know compared with Britain you can eat so simply, but so well, in France if you know where to look.
I'm already looking forward to next year.
Hi Barbara, thought I'd say that after you mentioned it I looked up the Ferme aux Grives on the net. Very impressive but far too smart (and expensive!) for me. And it seems to be some sort of health spa too - something about irrigation: what a place to inflict GBH on a thrush (now I know where 'grievous' came from)! Typical French, cos the EU says you can't kill such birds, and they ignore it. But I rather admire their attitude to the EU (so long as I'm not a thrush).
I saw you'd got a bit of stick from 'NYC world travellerette'. I'd have thought she was a typical supercilious and sneering middle class Brit, except that she's obviously a Yank (sorry, American). What was it Auberon Waugh said about American women? Better send her to Iraq.
As as for Italy's history - what's left of it? Mussolini (as revolting as and vainer than Hitler) , the Mafia (the most disgustingly mysogynist and violent outfit ever, that makes Stalin look a nursery governess), dozens of corrupt politicians milking the EU and each other (smiling) and they can't even fight (Musso tried to grab Nice when Hitler got going but found his level with Ethiopia, that only had spears - and they've hardly ever ended a war on the same side as the one they started on). You know why they salute with one hand up? 'Cos it's too tiring to put both hands up.
So what was that about culture? Yes, pretty, but it doesn't seem to have done much good. What time's the next renaissance?
But I like their cars (I've had two Alfas) and they can cook - they gave the idea to France. Long ago I was driving down to Rome (in a 1932 open Lagonda) and stopped for lunch in some tiny village far south of Siena. And I had the most deliciously cooked plate of tripe! Never forgot it!
all the best!
Thanks for your words of support regarding NYC. Actually I CAN see where she's coming from but I didn't like her tone one single bit! (I'm assuming she's a 'she' going by her profile). She just hadn't got me at all and I was more than miffed at being lumped in with the 'type' she described.
I love Italy. As an art student I spent a summer in San Gimignano, Tuscany, before they realised its tourist potential and smartened it up. A wonderful place. I've been to Florence a few times too. Great.
Yes, the Ferme aux Grives was expensive but the attached Spa and restaurant (run by Michel Guerard) was exorbitant! However, its obviously geared towards the very rich and from what I could see it certainly wasn't short of customers. The lesser Ferme was great but the whole Spa concept was much too contrived for my taste - but an experience all the same.
yes, well I knew what she meant of course, but she was just rude + sanctimonious. As for avoiding the Brits like that, she shd go to Roquecor or Montaigu de Quercy NW of Agen and near me. It's full of petty crooks who left UK one jump ahead of a court order but were too stupid to make the extra 600km to the Costa del Crime, can't and won't spk French, are only there 'cos the houses were cheap, have BBQ's all the time instead of cooking French style, get drunk on Saturday nights, swindle as many French or their mates as they can and hang around Casterama in Agen trying to nick front-end loaders. Your friends will know of them! Still, France is big enough to avoid them and after I was v.rude to one of them they leave me alone. Actually, even worse than that lot are the middle-class ex-pats who have 2nd homes there - they have snooty attitudes and supercilious accents, drink g& t and cheap Cote du Rhone, gossip non-stop, play golf and look like beetroots! Even worse, they'e usually lawyers (and one woman actually said proudly to me that she was Fergie's private secretary!). When I bought my place ('72) the area had less than a dozen young English people who were there because they loved French culture and way of life and the feeling of freedom. They were all individuals and nearly all broke. Time has eroded them, but one or two still exist. I have a friend there whose gt-aunt was Virginia Woolf, her Dad was David Garnett - (Aspects of Love) who moved to Moncuq 15km away in '73 when he was 80. Fanny, his d, lives 8km fm me in the heart of a nearby forest in a huge old crumbling stone house full of objets-trouvés and looks inside as if hippies have just left. So all is not yet lost!
As for Italy, yes I do like them too (got carried away), and know Florence, Rome, Milan quite well. In fact, when I spent a year living in Ramatuelle in 1960 (nr St Trop), we had to go to Ventimiglia every 3 months to get our passports stamped and the Italians were SO charming after the French who were very sour at the time, a mixture of Riviera tourist area greed and resentment/guilt, not having yet forgiven us for not giving up, like them, in 1940.
Interested to see that you were an art student - what medium? and are you still producing? San G must have been crackling in those days - the edge maybe, wonderful (a bit like the N.Norfolk coast, where I live now).
Actually I've spent probably too much of my life with artists (painters, ie, mother/sister/wife/sis-in-law) !
all the best, Martin
Thanks for your message.
I'm a humble art teacher now. Perhaps when I retire I'll get around to doing my own thing again. But basically, I'm more a designer than painter. My husband and I, and David from Puymirol, all met at the Glasgow School of Art. Its nice that after all these years we're still good friends.
Are you in France now or Norfolk?
Thanks for yrs Barbara,
well, it's real luxury the three of you to have had that early contact together so long ago. There's nothing like old friends, they're carte blanche if you know what I mean (sp if one of them's yr husband!). Funnily enough my two oldest friends (older even than me) both live in France (Brittany and Nancy), one's Anglo-Irish, the other's French (garcon d'honneur at my first wedding) -- and they've never met. Can't understand it.
I'm in N.Norfolk at the moment; haven't been down this year 'cos I'm trying to sell my house here. Had some hiccups - can't figure out the market. There's a big artistic community here, painters, sculptors, potters ... lots of inspiration (sp for writers, funnily enough, at least I think so); but actual public appreciation isn't v. sophisticated - top of the pops here is, eg, "geese across the marshes at dawn". And why not? Better than Lucien Freud any day!
all the best
I had a quick text message today from our friends in Puymirol saying they were enjoying a lovely lunch at Agen station - the weather, a sunny 24c, and life is pretty much perfect.
Am I jealous? Yes!!!!