“ Address: 2 Place Benjamin Zix 67000 Strasbourg, France „
~Have you ever eaten Alsatian?~
Strasbourg is an interesting place whose nationality has swung back and forth between French and German due to its proximity to the border and the sometimes rather enthusiastic tendency of its near neighbours to pop over for a visit and decide to stay for a lot longer. Driving around you see road signs to places that it's hard to believe a French tongue can contort itself to pronounce. I was visiting our office in Schiltigheim and we have another in Bischeim - what can I say other than they don't sound very French. Alsace is thus rather special with a culture and heritage quite different from much of France and of course its own local cuisine. When someone asks you "Do you want to eat Alsatian?" - don't worry, they're not offering you dog. You'll need to go to Korea for that.
My lovely colleague Dominique invited me for dinner and asked if I had seen La Petite France, the city's historic riverside district. I told her that I had but only in photographs so we decided that we would head into the area, have a look around and then pick a restaurant.
~Washing your linen in public~
After wandering the streets and looking at menus rather too heavily based on sauerkraut and pork, we opted for La Corde a Linge - or 'the washing line' for those who've long forgotten their school French lessons. There's no historical information about the building on the restaurant's website (or at least not any I could find or understand) but it's a fair guess that it must have been an old laundry building. The theme is apparent inside with clothes lines hanging from the ceiling in some areas, wooden draws with the menus in which look like they were used for linen storage, and blown-up photographs of laundry themes on the walls. We had a tiny table from which I could see colourful spools of thread lined up between the ceiling and the top shelf. Even the menu expands on the theme giving some of the dishes names taken from the typical items in a laundry basket. And why not - it's nice to have a gimmick.
The restaurant is mid-sized with several different dining areas. People were sitting outside which seemed rather silly in February until I realised this didn't mean the restaurant was full - only that some people wanted to smoke. There's an area to the left as you walk in which is close to the bar and if you turn right there's are several distinct areas, the most popular of which seemed to be under the glass roofed 'drying area'. We were shown to a really small table which made us realise we'd better not order too much or there'd be no place to put it. We hung up our coats, hid our bags behind my chair and settled in to look at the menu.
~Feeding hungry laundry users~
The specialities of the restaurant are 'spaetzle' noodles - more normally associated with Germany but very much a part of the Alsatian kitchen. They also have lots of salads, gourmet burgers and daily specials on offer. I found the menu totally confusing in both structure and content and having the info in English didn't do much to make it clearer. For example we couldn't find any starters. Maybe this was because the dishes are so enormous that they think you won't need them or perhaps they were there all along, hiding in plain site. Dominique found one page with a selection of dishes she thought might be starters but all of them were meat based and seriously not the kind of thing any meat-avoider would want to go near like foie gras and bone marrow.
I rejected most of the hot food options as they were predominantly meat dishes with the exception of some salmon with a Riesling sauce. I'm a bit sick of restaurant salmon that tastes of very little. I contemplated the spaetzle and sauce options which included a sauce with mushrooms and cream which sounded lovely but too rich, or a tomato sauce which just sounded a bit too ordinary. Eventually I opted for a Mariniere salad with smoked salmon, smoked herring, crayfish and crabmeat which sounded delicious and not so over-the-top indulgent. Feeling slightly smug at resisting the mushroom cream sauce, I allowed myself to be persuaded to take a side order of 'buewespaetzle' which are potato spaetzles and which I expected to be a bit like little gnocchi, whilst Dominique too the buewespaetzle as a base with tomato sauce on top. To drink I had a glass of Gewurtztraminer which is one of my favourite wines so I made the most of the opportunity to try a few during my trip to Strasbourg. We also had a large bottle of water.
~The proof of the laundry is in the eating~
The waiter brought our food within about 15 minutes, along with a basket of bread which we didn't touch due to the portions being really big. My salad soon dispelled all my thoughts that I was being good because it was a monster sized amount. A big bouncy bed of mixed baby leaves was topped by multiple strips of smoked salmon, several large chunks of smoked herring, a scattering of crayfish and a small mound of white crabmeat in the middle. My bowl of potato spaetzles looked small but I soon realised you didn't need many to feel full. Each spaetzle was about 1.5 to 2 inches long, tapered at either end and seemingly consisting of a roasted piece of potato-pasta dough. They looked a bit like small pointy chips but weren't fried and were much more tasty.
Getting through a massive bowl of salad was quite a time consuming business. I like to try to get the balance right and not get left with all the fish or all of the leaves and there was just so much to get through that I wondered if we'd be there all evening. The salmon was pretty ordinary - smoked salmon is so common these days it's hardly a treat any more - whilst the herring which I'd been a bit worried about had a lovely firm texture and was remarkably free of bones. The crab tasted of very little and the crayfish were juicy and tender.
~The Laundry Bill~
Our bill for two main dishes, one side of potato spaetzle, two glasses of wine and a bottle of sparkling water came to just over 40 Euros which I thought was pretty good value for a well-known, busy and rather funky little restaurant. Service was fast and polite, the surroundings were intriguing and I'd certainly like to go back - perhaps in the summer when we can sit outside. I'd set out for the evening in fear of heavy lumpy Alsatian food - think pork knuckle and dumplings - and been very pleasantly surprised to find food that wouldn't leave me leaden and unable to move afterwards.
La Corde a Linge
2 Place Benjamin Dix
Open 10.30 am to Midnight Sunday to Thursday and until 1 am on Friday and Saturday nights.