Now, while the menu might promise such celestial transports (“Walk into La Pataterie, and you’ll discover a welcoming universe with a country atmosphere”), the reality is that this is a potato-centric fast food chain – a Gallic cousin of the old student favourite SpudULike, if you will.
Our friend Steve had ordered a baked potato with ham and cheese. His tweet went viral. As you might expect, Steve came in for a lot of flak, both online and in an article in the southern newspaper Midi Libre. But then something happened. People rallied to the defence of our potato guy, Steve, criticising the snobbery of many who sneered at him.
This being France, some of the defence of La Pataterie went a bit Les Mis (A favourite: “These are obviously petit-bourgeois tweets based on class contempt.”) Others simply praised the convenience and value for money of these chains, of being able to eat whenever you wanted, with minimum fuss.
There are certainly plenty of them. The motorways are dotted with branches of Courtepaille, Buffalo Grill, Flunch and, yes, La Pataterie.
Our local Hyper U supermarket has a branch of the Hippopotamus chain in its entrance, which I always think is a punchy name for a fast-food restaurant – is it a warning, or an invitation to wallow in their mousse au chocolat? These chains will be joined later in the year by American chain Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, which will probably just be called Popeyes in France, as all of those words are the wrong kind of mouthful.
And, of course, there’s McDonald’s. France is the chain’s most profitable market outside the US. Customers spend more per head here than anywhere else; they come in larger groups, and often have dessert, too, with 70 per cent choosing to eat in rather than take away. Make a day of it.
When you ask French people about the popularity of McDonald’s, no one mentions the burgers. They will look you directly in the face and explain they love it for the free Wi-Fi, just like those who used to say they bought Playboy for the fiction.
But it’s true there is also a sort of egalitarianism about chains that is gently appealing. You know exactly what you’re going to get, no surprises. As if to assuage any lingering feelings of malboufferie, many of these places go big on provenance. They want you to feel like you know where the cow came from, practically down to the field.
At Buffalo Grill, despite the bull’s horns on the roof, ersatz Wild West saloon interior and softly piped country and western music, the menu is bedecked with the blue, white and red of the French tricolour. The corn on the cob is served with sel de Guérande and the steak haché of the burgers proclaims itself façon bouchère.
Even the big international chains have specials in France that you never see at home. On a recent DIY outing, we stopped at Burger King, where I ordered a cantal cheeseburger with rocket. It was as good as any burger I ever ordered from a waiter with a man bun and tattoo sleeve at an East London pop-up, at a third of the price.
Of course, France now has its own fashionable independent burger restaurants, too, much like the ones that sprang up in my corner of London over the past decade or so.
And, like them, they have a tendency to faff about, to create towering burgers with too much meat, too much cheese, special sauces of intense individuality, extra bacon, added pickles, so much presence you feel they might require their own postcode.
And here, in true vive la France fashion, as if directed by the Académie Française itself, these burgers with notions are sometimes served not in a nice, soft bun but a baguette, thus rendering them impossible to eat without the promise of immediate access to a dry cleaners, and possibly a dentist.
When McDonald’s was launched in France in 1972, sceptics expressed doubts about its potential for success, as they believed it would have a hard time convincing French people to eat with their hands. More than 1,400 branches later, McDonald’s seems to be doing fine. But one thing that I appreciate about my new-found burger habit is that here – unlike in London – it is perfectly acceptable to eat your burger with a knife and fork. No one stares. No one sneers. No one deducts cool points.
Personally, quite apart from having found the house of my dreams, I think this alone was reason enough to emigrate.