We sit in the large window of the French style bistro and watch the world go by. The bistro is part of a restaurant chain but despite that we like it and its location on one of York’s tiny medieval streets near The Minster is perfect for us. We love York and come here once or twice a year for an overnight stay; to walk its ancient streets and linger in the tiny old quarter under the massive spires of The Minster, enjoying the old houses overhanging the narrow lanes beneath. It doesn’t matter that those lanes are often choked with tourists or that many of the shops are stuffed with items aimed at the same audience. Its just a place that appeals to us. Restaurants, bars and coffee shops can be found every few yards, yet there are sights to remind you that people live here too; the huge market and butchers and bakers shops doing brisk trade in everyday items.
We came this morning from Berwick upon Tweed by train, a couple of hours on the limited stop service through Newcastle and Darlington and on down the coast. The weather has been atrocious and raining non stop - so bad in fact that I’ve come without my camera - but despite that we looked forward to getting here. We know where we want to go on days like this and the best route to get there. Once clear of the station at York it’s a ten minute umbrella-covered walk into town and Café Rouge, past the world famous ‘Betty’s’ restaurant and tea-rooms - too rich for our pockets today - and on down towards the spires that loom over the buildings beside them. A right turn and a hundred yards takes us to the half dozen steps up to the door I hold open to let the Lovely G pass then shake off the dripping umbrella before closing it and following behind her. The waiter takes the umbrella and our damp coats as he shows us the table by the window and tells us he’ll be back momentarily in appealingly accented English. Within a few seconds we have menus to peruse while he fetches our drinks and we settle in to enjoy relaxing in the warmth of the rustically decorated room with its display of fin de siecle French poster art, dark wood and painted walls.
The window has room for three tables of two - one on either edge and one in the middle - ours is at the left hand side of the three with a view up and down the street outside. The window sits perhaps four feet above street level and is decorated with gold edged, red painted letters advertising ‘Plats du Jour’. ‘Sandwichs’, Baguettes’ as well as ‘Boisson Chaud’, ‘Bierres et Vins’ and other temptations for rain drenched pedestrians.
The rain spattered pavement outside is busy with people coming and going at the accelerated pace of people keen to be out of the rain. It strikes me that this view of humanity has been essentially the same to be had here for several hundred years; people passing by in all weathers loaded with essentials or luxuries. The intentions are the same, merely the clothes are different. We smile across our menus and begin to read. I take a large sip of my red wine and enjoy its mellow fruitiness and perfect temperature as I try to decide what to have. This obvious detail is one of the reasons I like café Rouge so much. Too often a glass of red wine elsewhere is served too cold to taste anything other than wet. But, back in the now, we’ve decided on a light lunch as we’ll probably eat later too, so I skip a starter and choose a steak baguette with salad and thin crispy frites while The lovely G goes for fishcakes, salad and frites. The place has become noticeably busier as the rain continues. We were lucky to get this table by the window.
While we wait we talk idly across the table, looking forward to a more authentic French experience when we go to Carcassonne in a week. This overnight break has been postponed several times when we couldn’t match my time off with availability at the hotel we had arranged and now the deal is about to expire so we have to take it or lose it. So, we’re using it to get in the mood for France and I hope out loud that the weather there will be better than outside the window, where umbrellas are the essential accessory. Out there, in Scots parlance, the rain is ‘stoatin’: the heavy drops creating large splashes as they explode on the umbrellas, heads and shoulders of those unfortunate enough to be outside. We smile selfishly and I raise a glass to the smiling G across the table. Jings! - its good to be warm and dry on this side of the glass!
Some time later I smear the last piece of my medium rare steak with Dijon mustard and close a final bit of crusty baguette around it before crunching down on its savouriness for the last time. Wiping my lips with the napkin I sigh contentedly and look across the table to where G is still some way from finished - she’s a more genteel eater than I, especially when famished. I take another gentle sip of my wine and turn my eyes outside again. The rain’s continued unabated and the street has become heavily puddled by the hammering rain and by old gutters overflowing causing walkers to step off the pavement onto the road here and there to avoid an unwanted shower. Time too has marched on while we’ve been here, the light has slipped to the extent that the occasional passing cars now have their lights on, causing the raindrops hitting the ground to dance like a million diamonds in front of them. Pedestrians seek a safe distance pressed against shop fronts until they‘re gone and now seem slower moving and more hunched over than before despite their umbrellas. I muse whether this might be because of the amount of water their clothing has absorbed or dripped into bags of shopping.
Much later after coffee and conversation as warm as the room we both touch the same topic in synchronicity - should we stay or should we go?
You probably know my answer to that already, don’t you?
I recommend the house red - preferably a bottle......….and the dinner menu.
See you later.