Thursday, March 6th, 2014
Auberge de Montfleury
SAINT-GERMAIN – NEAR AUBENAS
Quartier de la Gare
04 75 94 74 13
PRICE RANGE – MODERATE TO EXPENSIVE
Richard Rocle is one of the up-and-coming chefs of the ArdÃ¨che, installed in a tall stone house beside Saint-Germainâ€™s old station for the past eight years – long enough for any promising cook to become deft. Even so, lunch at the Auberge de Montfleury was surprising. A modest setting on the fringe of a tiny village turned out to be the backdrop for food of remarkable finesse.
Dishes were carefully judged, carefully cooked and exquisitely presented, as youâ€™ll see from the photo of a terrific main course: chartreuse of ArdÃ¨che guineafowl stuffed with tiny vegetables and placed on a red pepper coulis with cauliflower â€˜semolinaâ€™ for added texture.
A first course of marinated trout derived its delicate tang from gentle ThaiÂ combavaÂ lemons. The peaches in a gorgeous soupe de pÃªche, infused with subtle spices and served in a big glass bowl, were well partnered by chestnut and verbena ice cream.
Rocle credits a long list of local suppliers for tip-top ingredients on hisÂ menu – but to make food taste this good and look this good he should probably also credit himself. His partner AngÃ©la Faure cheerfully manages front of house as well as a carefully chosen list of mainly local wines.
Saturday, March 1st, 2014
Chocolate cake with olive oil and salt
Chocolate has been daringly teamed with many unexpected flavours, from roquefort in Jean-Paul HÃ©vinâ€™s ganache to wood in the bÃ»che de NoÃ«l designed by Philippe Starck. It was Pierre HermÃ© who made adding salt to chocolate (milk at first) popular. Here the Parisian chef Inaki Aizpitarte takes things one step further with the addition of olive oil. Surprisingly, it works. The olive oil enhances the depth of the bitter chocolateâ€™s aromas. And the crunch of the fleur de sel brings out its sweetness.Â
200g best-quality dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
200g unsalted butter
4 medium eggs
150g caster sugar
60g plain flour
1Â½ teaspoons baking powder
extra-virgin olive oil
fleur de sel (sea salt flakes)
1 Preheat the oven to 200ÂºC/400ÂºF. Grease and flour a 22cm sandwich tin.
2 Melt the chocolate and butter together in short blasts and stirs in the microwave, or more sedately in a bain-marie (or a heatproof bowl placed above a saucepan of barely simmering water). Stir with a wooden spoon to mix the two ingredients completely.
3 Put the eggs and the sugar in a bowl and whisk with an electric beater until the mixture turns pale and doubles in volume. Add the flour, a tablespoon at a time, and the baking powder.
4 Stir in the chocolate mixture, pour the lot into the prepared sandwich tin and bake for 20-25 minutes. The cake is cooked when a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.
5 Leave the cake to cool for 15 minutes before turning out. Ideally, you should wait until the next day before serving it – chocolate cakes are always better when they have settled down a little, and in this case, where we are concentrating on pure and simple flavours, it is even more advisable.
6 To serve, cut the cake into slices, set them on plain white plates and pour some extra-virgin olive oil around. Serve with some fleur de sel (on the side, for the timorous and the dubious).
Taken from Nobody Does it BetterÂ by Trish Deseine, published by Kyle Books
To find out more about the fine flakes of sea salt known asÂ fleur de sel,Â click here.
Monday, February 24th, 2014
VALLABRÃˆGUES – NEAR BEAUCAIRE
04 66 59 20 50
The spread of IKEA and other chains selling bland, budget-priced furniture has made true Provence fans long all the more for locally produced, handcrafted pieces. Where to find them? Antiques fairs and brocantes donâ€™t necessarily hold all the answers. How intriguing, then, to discover a family company making traditional ProvenÃ§al chairs by hand.
In the village of VallabrÃ¨gues on the banks of the RhÃ´ne, Maison Lacroix has been producing the sort of seats you might associate with Van Goghâ€™s paintings since 1856. Now in the hands of the fifth generation, it is run by brothers Jean-FranÃ§ois (on the design side) and Bertrand (in charge of finishing). With an extensive garden, a pretty courtyard and several display rooms, this is a pleasant place to visit whether youâ€™re in dire need of new seating or not.
Over the years the brothers have developed about ten different ranges including Provence with its familiar, decorative curves; Ventoux in classic, bourgeois, Louis-Philippe mode; simple, straight-lined Rustique and slightly more rounded FermiÃ¨re. â€˜The Luberon range is particularly popular,â€™ Bertrand Lacroix points out, â€˜because it goes with new or old interiors.â€™ The Camargue range includes radassiers, those two or three-seaters with straw seats that are so typical of grand old country houses in the south. (Originals can be seen in the MusÃ©e Arlaten in Arles.)
All the woods used by Lacroix – mainly beech, walnut and oak – are from sustainable French forests, and certified as such. Given the high level of craftsmanship, prices are reasonable: from around â‚¬200 for a dining chair, â‚¬340 for an armchair or about â‚¬1,100 for a magnificent three-seater radassier.
Thursday, February 20th, 2014
Le Mas du Haut Roussillac
4600 Route de ValrÃ©as (D976)
04 90 12 83 46
PRICE RANGE – MODERATE
When recording B&B impressions the usual reflex is to photograph the bedrooms, the breakfast room maybe, the garden, the pool. Here Iâ€™ve snapped the guestsâ€™ kitchen. It somehow typifies MichÃ¨le Duhamelâ€™s generosity of spirit, not just to provide a cooking corner for her clients but to make it as well equipped and pretty as this.
In her guest book stuffed with compliments, two phrases are endlessly repeated. The first is beaucoup de soin reflecting the high standards with which MichÃ¨le and her husband Patrick run the rambling old farmhouse which captivated them in 2005 (even though it lay in ruins), persuading them to give up big city life in Nice.
The second is un havre de paix, for through their renovations the Duhamels have created a calm, spacious home – a perfect decompression chamber, whether youâ€™re lounging around in the upstairs livingroom with its stove, piano and books or wandering beyond the pool along infinite paths through vines.
The five bedrooms, all done up by MichÃ¨le in country cottage style, have pristine white bathrooms with separate WCs. Breakfast is as lavish a spread as youâ€™d expect of a born hostess who will help you with your itinerary and advise on restaurants, should you so wish, before youâ€™ve reached the end of your freshly brewed pot of tea or coffee.
Art lovers’ alert: in collaboration with an artist friend, the Duhamels run courses in watercolours and pastels every couple of months. Check the website for details.
Saturday, February 15th, 2014
Domaine du PÃ©gau
15 Avenue ImpÃ©riale
04 90 83 72 70
Itâ€™s a decade now since I first came across Laurence FÃ©raud, the firebrand alight under PÃ©gau, and thereâ€™s no sign that she has quietened down. The determined young woman who told her father Paul years ago that she would return to the family estate only on condition that she could do things her way is still running the show with her own fizzy mix of feistiness and flirtatiousness.
In the hands of a family whose wine roots stretch back to the 17th century, Domaine du PÃ©gau produces ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape in the traditional mould, using all 13 permitted grape varieties. The wines, matured in large old oak foudres, have a firm, savoury backbone and, unlike some of their more opulent, fruit-forward rivals, can seem austere until they soften and open with the passage of time.
The main red, CuvÃ©e RÃ©servÃ©e, spends two years in cask and the 2010 vintage is already mesmerisingly attractive – meaty, harmonious and lingering. CuvÃ©e Laurence spends a total of around four years in wood, and in exceptional years gives way to CuvÃ©e da Capo, a massively concentrated, long-living wine made from a selection of the best fruit, including grapes from 100+-year-old vines at La Crau.
Created in 1998, it costs over â‚¬200 a bottle even at the domaine (around five times as much as the CuvÃ©e RÃ©servÃ©e). Could that be because Robert Parker took a shine to it? Maybe. If you like big hitters and decide to buy it, keep the 2010 for a few more years at least or youâ€™ll be guilty of infanticide.
Monday, February 10th, 2014
Le Pont de l’Orme
Route de Suzette
04 90 46 17 50
One thing Provence has taught me is the wisdom of going out for lunch more often and settling for soup or an omelette at home in the evening. Itâ€™s better for the constitution, not to mention the domestic budget. Take Le Pont de lâ€™Ormeâ€™s midday menu du jour as proof: â‚¬16 for three competent courses on a busy Friday not so long ago, all cooked from fresh produce on the spot – an approach which should be the norm – but which, alas, is not.
Headquartered in a gracious cream house with a fine garden on the edge of MalaucÃ¨ne, Le Pont de lâ€™Orme has built its reputation for reliability over the past eight years. The sober feel of the diningroom (proper tablecloths, tall leather chairs) is echoed in the classic menu, featuring traditional dishes like terrine de canard, stuffed loin of rabbit en barigoule, rack of lamb in a tapenade crust or chocolate and caramel mousse. Donâ€™t expect high-fashion food or culinary pyrotechnics, in other words. The customers I saw were mainly people of a certain age who didn’t look as if they would have missed either.
But the mackerel fillet above, served with rice and tasty pleurotte mushrooms in a creamy, thyme-infused sauce, was the lynchpin of an enjoyable, very well-priced lunch. With a thick cauliflower soup with croutons and crispy bacon lardons to start (a rather dried-out spinach ravioli was definitely de trop) and a cafÃ© gourmand to finish (with a gorgeous baby plum clafoutis), there was barely a centimetre between stomach and steering wheel on the way home.
The wine list features an excellent selection of local bottlings with helpful short descriptions, many costing less than â‚¬20, and about ten wines by the glass costing â‚¬2-3. Another valid reason to salute this northern Provence institution.
Thursday, February 6th, 2014
Les Secrets de Lola
Z.A. Les Amarens
04 90 28 97 82
Hereâ€™s a new French paradox: a small, unremarkable industrial estate houses one of the most exciting biscuit bakeries in Provence. Itâ€™s open to the public, too – so you can go and salivate over about 40 types of crunchy delights, all made on the spot from the purest of ingredients with no preservatives.
Originally from Aix-en-Provence, Laurence Albanesi had a baking background and Marc Boccassini some restaurant experience when they decided to set up shop together in 1999. â€˜There was very little proper biscuit-making in Provence – thatâ€™s one reason why we did it,â€™ explains Marc. You only need to see them for five minutes to guess the other – an absolute passion for their own creations.
Abricotiers made with fresh apricots and pÃ©chÃ©s made with white peaches in summer; mendiants made with local figs in autumn; vignerons ingeniously infused with the sweet red wine of Rasteau; galets de lâ€™OuvÃ¨ze incorporating hazelnuts and vanilla; croquants rather like Italian cantucciâ€¦ these are just some of the Lola goodies that Iâ€™ve sampled and enjoyed. â€˜Some of our biscuits are made without eggs, some without butter, some without sugar, some without flour,â€™ says Laurence, â€˜so all intolerances are catered for.â€™
Living above the bakery, the couple could hardly be more closely involved in the production of their biscuits, doing everything by hand. If you canâ€™t get to Entrechaux, look out for them in the weekly markets of Vaison-la-Romaine and Lâ€™Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Saturday, February 1st, 2014
Sea bass with fresh herb and olive oil sauce
JERÃ”ME NUTILE â€“ LE CASTELLAS & LES TERRASSES
For 6 people
6 fillets of sea bass (150g each)
10cl best quality olive oil
large pinch of turmeric
50g confit shallots, finely chopped
50g confit tomatoes, finely chopped or shredded
Â¼ bunch of tarragon, finely chopped
Â¼ bunch of chervil, finely chopped
Â¼ bunch of chives, finely chopped
salt (fleur de sel if possible) & freshly ground black pepper
1 To skin the tomatoes, put them in boiling water, count to ten, then plunge them into cold water. The skins will now slip off easily. Cut the tomatoes in two horizontally and remove the insides. Cook on a gentle heat in a little of the olive oil for 5-10 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper.
2 Cook the sea bass fillets in a little olive oil, skin side down in a frying pan over a gentle heat for 8 minutes. Season well.
3 To make the sauce, bring 5cl of water seasoned with salt and pepper to the boil. Gradually stir in the butter and turmeric. Mix well, adding the chopped herbs, confit tomatoes and shallots and remaining 3cl of olive oil.
Put the sauce on the plates first. Place two half tomatoes in the centre and position the sea bass on top, skin side up.
Stir the sauce very gently when you are adding in the olive oil so that droplets of oil are visible in the sauce. Be careful not to emulsify the mixture.
Point to note
If you like acidity, you can add a little drop of white wine vinegar or lemon juice to the sauce.
Chefâ€™s wine suggestion
Les Lys Sauvignon, Vin de Pays dâ€™Oc, produced by Ray Monahan & Olivier Privat at Les Lys, near UzÃ¨s.
JÃ©rÃ´me Nutile is head chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant Le Castellas in Collias. He also oversees the menus of Les Terrasses at the Pont du Gard. This recipe is taken from his book, 12 Menus du Gard, published by Altal Ã‰ditions.
Sunday, January 26th, 2014
RESTAURANT / WINE BAR
3 bis Rue de la Calade
04 90 86 20 74
PRICE RANGE – MODERATE
When, pausing for breath one day recently between two of his Â busy wine tours, Kelly McAuliffe invited me to lunch, I accepted in a flash. Besides being one of the most entertaining and convivial people in ProvenÃ§al wine circles, Kelly loves to eat well – so any restaurant he suggested was likely to nourish this website as well as me. CO2 was his choice. Already Iâ€™m plotting a return.
Opened five years ago, this small spot right in the centre of Avignon is Olivier Combeâ€™s second restaurant venture. The snappy name stands for Cuisine dâ€™Olivier 2 – but that sounds a bit too noxious for aÂ nÃ©obistro that is breathing precious oxygen into the Avignon food scene. In an unpretentious setting – big mirrors, terracotta walls, chairs of dark polished wood and a cosy year-round terrace – Combeâ€™s careful cooking, based on top-quality, fresh ingredients, delivers vibrant flavours that express the essence of Provence.
Itâ€™s not show-off stuff. Some dishes on the menu sound so simple, indeed, that you might hesitate to order them at all – but flavour counts for infinitely more than fancy flourishes. Our winter lunch began with goatâ€™s cheese served with honey dressing and raisin bread, every component tasting terrific. Main course was roast cod on Brussels sprouts – one of my least favourite vegetables, miraculously converted into a tasty, almost rich accompaniment for a perfect piece of fish.
The wine list which Olivier Combe promises will soon be bigger and better already offers an attractive, eclectic selection. Letâ€™s hope the expanded version still includes Kellyâ€™s choice, a cracking Anjou white from Patrick Baudoin. Slowly savouring that and a torrent of wine gossip was our excuse for being the last to leave.
Tuesday, January 21st, 2014
TABLE LINEN & BED LINEN SHOP
8 Place Ferdinand Buisson
04 90 38 50 19
Eye-catching as they are, the aprons outside the door tell only un tout petit peu about Un Jourâ€¦ This shop in the centre of Lâ€™Isle-sur-la-Sorgue stocks a whole array of top-drawer home textiles – not just tablecloths, napkins and tea-towels in any shade you might fancy, but everything from swanky Yves Delorme pillowcases and jazzy Designersâ€™ Guild sheets to baby-soft Hanro pyjamas.
Better still, Un Jourâ€¦ is the place to buy blankets, quilts and bedcovers in natural fibres made by Brun de Vian-Tiran, a venerable Isle-sur-la-Sorgue manufacturing company known for products of exceptional quality since 1808. Linen, cotton, silk, pure new wool, camel hair and cashmere are the options for luxurious bedcovers, either smooth or padded – with the highly prized wool of MÃ©rinos dâ€™Arles Antique acting as a reminder that not all ritzy raw materials need come from far away.
While pondering a serious investment of this sort, you might fall for a gorgeous scarf or wrap. Donâ€™t leave without at least fondling one spun from baby lama, alpaca or yak.
Thursday, January 16th, 2014
RESTAURANT / HOTEL
Route de Remoulins
04 66 59 21 32
PRICE RANGE – MODERATE
One quick look and you might be inclined to dismiss Le Robinson. It seems to have been wedged into a time warp at some indecipherable point between the 1970s and now. But if, like me, you consider that tacky, bland, identikit makeovers are the scourge of todayâ€™s hospitality scene, its stance as a traditional, family-run restaurant and hotel without what the French call tra-la-la comes as a relief.
Lunch here recently on a cold winterâ€™s day was cosy as you like – comfort food at a well-dressed table beside a log fire. There were no presentational flourishes, youâ€™ll notice, but the Gardâ€™s famous beef stew gardiane de taureau served with Camargue rice was one of the best Iâ€™ve tasted, bringing unctuous savoury richness to generous chunks of lean, tender meat. Coming after a tasty (copious) first course of involtini Ã la NÃ®moise -Â grilled aubergines stuffed with a creamy version of the NÃ®mes salt cod speciality brandade in a fresh tomato sauce – it left not a centimetre for pud.
With the Blanc family at the helm for decades, Le Robinson has become a Beaucaire institution: the kind of place where the infant stars of christening parties end up holding their wedding receptions. I think I see why.