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A Welsh girl walks into an Irish pub in France. No joke.

The Irish Pub seems to be colonising the world. I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice them in European and American cities, and they're usually packed to the gubbins too. There was one in Antibes and I studiously avoided it – partly because we chose to live in France not a reconstructed ex-pats drinking outpost, and partly because the outside tables were perpetually cloaked in cigarette smoke. 

Palais de Papes, Avignon
I’m not really a pub person anyway. I generally don’t go to them in the UK (my last pub visit reduced me to a state of shock – read about it here) so they’re not high on my agenda when I’m travelling. Until I went to Avignon last week.

You can have wonderful meals in France but there are plenty of average ones to be found, and a whole bunch of bloody awful stuff as well. Like any country, I guess. But the myth of a gourmet France persists. Perhaps we should blame Elizabeth David. There is also the hit and miss element of French service, not just table service but any form of customer service, from the supermarket check-out girl, to the receptionist at a hotel, to the person who answers the phone at the boiler repair company, to the customer service desk at Carrefour… any position really where the greeting and treating of customers is a primary responsibility. I am speaking from experience and when I lived in Antibes I could feel the dread rising from the soles of my feet when I entered a new restaurant or had to return a faulty purchase. I never could guarantee the kind of response: outright hostility, indifference, or a genuine desire to help. It was unsettling to say the least.

Perhaps it was the holiday resort nature of Antibes and Juan les Pins that was the source of the problem – tourist places in the UK can be the same. It’s as if some people who work in them resent having to deal with the visitors who create their livelihood. A kind of, ‘I can take your money but I can still despise you’ mentality. 

But I digress. My disgruntledness comes from having spent a weekend in Avignon (home of the 14th century stroppy popes) where we paid for a four star hotel whose idea of customer care was to have the air-conditioning on a timer that switched it off between midnight and 7am, the hours when you’re most likely to want it! 

Back to Avignon’s Irish pub. O’Malley’s, O’Neill’s, O’Something or Other. You’ll find it on the Rue de la Republique. It’s open all day, the waiters are funny and prompt, and the food is reasonably priced and great quality. Our first pit-stop there was to grab a snack between a jaw-grindingly bureaucratic marriage ceremony at the Hotel de Ville and the reception a couple of hours later outside of town. I chose a pizza and could have wrapped myself in it and snuggled down for the rest of the day. 

The only thing I’d have changed was the black olives with their stones – you get so used to eating pizza with de-stoned olives in the UK and USA it’s easy to forget and crunch a molar when you bite down on one. 

The next day we went back for an early lunch before heading off to the airport and this time I ordered the Salade de Chevre Chaud. And again I wanted to lay down my dizzy head on this plate of salad with mustard dressing, crispy lardons, walnuts and slices of sweetly sharp goat’s cheese on toasted bread.

We weren’t the only people to be impressed with O’Irish in Avignon. Every pavement café was taken, a sharp comparison with the other lunch venues along the street. 

A half litre of chilled Guinness seemed to be the perfect foil for it. I was a happy lapin. Vive l’Irelande!

  1. Hungry Writing Prompts
  2. Write about going into a pub.
  3. Write about bad food.
  4. Write about someone who is openly hostile.
  5. Write about lying down.
  6. Write about what happiness means to you.

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