Incident in Maximes

Maximes – Wine tour incident  


I didn’t tell you about our real stars of the wine tour, our couple Emma and Richard that have the world revolving around them, so much so that they nearly caused an international incident on our first meal as a group in Auxerre. Le Maxime is a lovely old established hotel restaurant on the banks of the Yonne set below the town overlooked by the ancient cathedral and abbey. The walk down from our hotel is an exploratory interesting wind down through the medieval streets and architecture. I digress but Auxerre is well worth a few days of your time especially with good company which assuredly tonight that good standard would be sorely tested.

Emma and Richard had stood aloof from the rest of the party with just one or two of us making occasional forays into their space to basically see what they are about and try to engage with them. It appears that they are indeed a couple, of sorts. She has a place in the Ribble Valley in Lancashire quite near to where we live and is a professional person but we will never know exactly in what she practices. He is from and lives in Surrey, again even more a professional, we would soon find out he was certainly a professional. He is clearly from his own opinion very important to the ongoing best workings of the human race and she concurs.  They try to give off an air of mystery about their exact relationship and delight in trying to tease the company about it. Truth is we couldn’t care less. Once in their space we give our poor excuse for intelligent conversation, always difficult when the other party know everything and can speak properly as well not like Lancashire folk. To be fair they initially in a conversation are quite affable and seem likely to be good company but the problem arises when you express an opinion however small and on however inconsequential a subject. It is then that you are immediately made to feel a very small, ignorant, stupid person and it is made clear you have offended them deeply. Their arrogance and lack of regard for anyone’s feelings is breath-taking. You are forced to slink away mortally wounded in spirit and pity the next person that tries to engage with them. I know it is said Yorkshiremen ‘call a spade a spade’ but this is hitting you over the head with the spade as well.

Tonight we are late, our afternoon wine tour overran as is to be expected when you are tasting at least eight wines in enthusiastic company and the winemaker is so taken by our increasing expressions of joy at each new wine that he starts bringing out the wines reserved for family and special friends. After such a copious tasting you really are special friends or so the wine is telling you.

We arrive getting on for an hour late and understandably the a la carte option for such a large group is no longer available. The host kindly explains that the chef will have to offer a fixed menu now for a group of 30 as he cannot prepare so many courses with choice in the time available. We all understand and even though just as in the Fawlty Towers sketch it is a bit like duck in three superbly different ways we accept hungrily. Except for two. Oh No they have rights, they have paid for this, they are going to have exactly what they expected. Oh and by the way this is exactly what you would expect of the French. They were happy to accept plenty of wine and hospitality this afternoon however. The pomposity of it all is starting to reverberate right back to the British shores and the embarrassment amongst our party is palpable. No one knows where to look but these two are only just warming up. The fat lady is not even clearing her throat.

Finally they accept with very little good grace that it has to be this way, short of them going out on their own and finding another restaurant but even they can appreciate it is getting late. So duck all round for our merry band. Unfortunately Niamh and I along with another couple are on the deadly duos table and tonight is going to be some experience and certainly not in a good way, but memorable it will be.

When the first course comes it is also duck but marinated and cured in a salad but quite raw to an English palate. This does not go down well and the grumpy factor level is rising.  It is in fact delicious and there can be no complaints.

Obviously with our two there are. It is a water problem, yes a water problem. That essentially tasteless substance we know and love but tonight we have a connoisseur on H2o. She wanted Badoit sparking water and guess what they only have Evian. To me water is not an area that is worth being a connoisseur in but she goes absolutely ballistic about this pathetic excuse for a restaurant as she sees it. On and on she rants at the poor waitress and then the owner about how ridiculous it is that they don’t offer Badoit. How can they possible claim to be a serious restaurant. Badoit is THE mineral water and nothing else should be offered by a proper restaurant. On and on standing toe to toe with the owner and the bemused waitress. Sadly for her she eventually has to accept that there is no Badoit and never will be, certainly not tonight although I have a feeling the owner might start stocking a bottle or two.  From now on whenever we are eating in France and especially with friends this has become a standing joke every time we order water. Once in Paris a friend ordered Badoit and I laughed and said ‘you will be lucky’. It seemed that it would never come and we were laughing so hard when it eventually arrived at the table that the waiter must have thought we were crazy English. I have a picture of him with his hard earned bottle. Some people just have to have their Badoit.

Everyone now is so very uneasy and the atmosphere in the restaurant, the lovely friendly Maximes is toxic. Still be assured the fat lady is still silent, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Anyway we had misheard about it being duck all the way and it turns out to be steak as a main course. This cheers everyone up except the vegetarians but what is this we hear stirring with our beautiful couple once again.

Part of the deal was a reasonable quantity of wine on the house i.e. a bottle between two and any more needed to be ordered and paid for. Seemed fair enough to 95% of us.  This is not the case with our friends on the table. No, they felt that a fair quantity really equated to exactly how much they were able to drink in a session. Having had eight glasses in the afternoon half a bottle seemed to me to be not just sufficient but sensible for our long term health.

Whatever had gone before was a real minor breath of wind compared to the tornado of abuse Richard was about to unleash. The tour guide got the initial volley but then the owner came over with the sommelier and that is when he really got into his stride. Fortunately, or should I say unfortunately, I knew enough French to understand that what he was spewing out in his perfect Public school French was the foulest abuse imaginable. Proper 18 (R) certificate stuff, in fact I doubt it would have got past any censor.  The room otherwise was silent with the rest of the party wishing the ground would open up. To their credit the French did not retaliate but probably they should have ordered them out. There now followed the most bizarre unexpected scene.

As far as we knew our tour was the only one in this region at that time. The tour guide though burst through the scene and ran into the next room which was behind closed doors.  She emerged with a man we recognized as the owner of the tour company who had in fact been running a second tour alongside ours. We had this amazing spectacle of a middle aged, very well lubricated man, wine stained white shirt hanging outside his trousers, tie still on wading unsteadily into battle. He had clearly had a very very good day and with his well-bred posh English accent slurred to a great degree, cut a very weird figure indeed. He staggered into the group trying to spread bonhomie to the hosts all the while trying not to hit them with the bottle of Red Cotes de Beaune in his left hand while brushing back his unruly Boris Johnson type hair. Even our indignant self-righteous couple realised that the argument could not go on with him as he would never comprehend it anyway and his only thought was to spread goodwill and get back to his party. Without any further ado he prized the wallet from his pocket and waved a large quantity of French francs at the poor abused owner and ordered a vat of wine for everyone.

So French and England averted war on this occasion and somehow dessert course passed off peacefully but I could not help feeling that our couple’s dessert probably had one or two bonus ingredients in it. Thankfully they did not order coffee and left together before anyone else. We all then had a wonderful 20 minutes to end a spectacularly awful evening but as I said before, it was memorable.

Neal Atherton