Saturday, October 25th, 2014
7 Route de PaÃ¯olive
07140 Les Vans
06 27 83 98 57
PRICE RANGE – EXPENSIVE
Iâ€™d love to tell you exactly what I had to eat for lunch at LikokÃ© but itâ€™s out of the question, I’m afraid.Â There were so many dishes, each more startlingly inventive than the one before, that the notebook was abandoned half with through with the words immensely sophisticated, complicated food with exciting flavours underlined three times.
I remember an extraordinary candy floss of duck liver with black pudding and beetroot; a delicious little dish of goatâ€™s cheese with sunflower seed granola and fermented olive oil sorbet; a superb chicken dish called MoambÃ© (see photo) inspired by chef Piet Huysentruytâ€™s childhood in the Belgian Congo; a pigâ€™s skull carried solemnly to the table as the prelude to a rich pork stewâ€¦ And feeling utterly, replete long before we were invited to lick the naked torso imprinted on a square of mascarpone that arrived with the bill.
The rest is a blur of exquisitely artistic plates, theatrical service, daring flavour and texture combinations and a welcome shot of fun. â€˜I create new things all the time,â€™ says Huysentruyt, a Belgian ex-TV chef who ran a simpler brasserie in Les Vans before opening ambitious LikokÃ© in 2013. â€˜I canâ€™t stand restaurants where the same dishes stay on the menu for years. You have to be daring. Il faut prendre des risques.â€™
The ambiance is relaxed and slightly funky, with cowhide or brightly coloured seats; wooden table tops supported by tree trunks and a bit of tree propping up the bar. Do not be fooled. The boss of and his young team of fanatically dedicated chefs, rewarded by their first Michelin star in 2014, couldnâ€™t be less casual in their commitment. My advice? Starve yourself for a week, cancel your commitments for a day and give yourself over to an endless LikokÃ© lunch.
Sunday, October 19th, 2014
WINE ESTATE / B&B
120 Chemin du Long Serre
84330 Saint Hippolyte le Graveyron
09 51 13 01 63 / 06 07 13 11 47
PRICE RANGE – MODERATE
Itâ€™s the perfect package for wine lovers: B&B in a gracious old chÃ¢teau where a surge of new blood and youthful energy are producing increasingly worthwhile wines – further proof of how exciting the Ventoux region is becoming. Cerise sur le gÃ¢teauÂ - the icing on the cake – is that the owners are delightful.
Anne-Marie and Bernard Forestier left established careers in IT in Grenoble for what they describe as a quieter life. Taken by the idea of wine tourism they bought ChÃ¢teau Juvenal in 2001, captivated by an old-fashioned charm which they have kept pretty much intact.
Until 2008 their grapes were vinified separately by the local Balma Venitia co-op, pointing to the excellence of ChÃ¢teau Juvenalâ€™s terroir. Then along came the opportunity to team up with a young vigneron neighbour, SÃ©bastien Alban; build a new cellar and produce their own wine from their joint vineyards – a healthy total of 35 hectares. By 2011 they had secured the services of Philippe Cambie, the Mr Wine Consulting of the Southern RhÃ´ne, and of leading US importer Eric Solomon. â€˜Two enormous strokes of luck!â€™ says Anne-Marie. Hmmm, maybe. This lady has the energy and focus that make good fortune happen.
Certified organic since 2012, the wines are well made and expressive. I especially enjoyed the poised white Les Ribes du Vallat, and the red flagship La Terre du Petit Homme, a spicily concentrated 50:50 blend of Syrah and Grenache from 50-year-old vines. I keep thinking how especially delicious they must taste at Anne-Marieâ€™s elegant table dâ€™hÃ´te dinner table, impeccably set for 13 guests the day I called with roast veal en croÃ»te and apricot bavarois ready to go into the oven.
Monday, October 13th, 2014
La Bastide de Caseneuve
CASENEUVE – NEAR APT
Place de lâ€™Ã‰glise
04 90 04 88 96
PRICE RANGE – MODERATE
StÃ©phane Delarue worked for the upmarket Relais & ChÃ¢teaux hotel group for 30 years before launching into the hospitality business as a solo entrepreneur. Boy, it shows. The top-to-toe renovation of this sturdy old house – previously a second home for Parisians – was conducted at breakneck speed, starting in January 2014 and finishing in time for the doors to open in May; but attention to detail and a focus on quality run through every bit of it.
The four bedrooms are simple – modest in size and blessedly unfussy – with what you might call luxurious essentials: big, high-spec beds, excellent bathrooms, thick white towels and dressing-gowns comfortable enough to live in for days. Even though the house is in the heart of the village, its outlook to the rear over open countryside gives it a calm, rural feel. I awoke to the tinkly clatter of bells on a herd of sheep far below.
All good, but M Delarueâ€™s breakfast is better still. Served with supreme elegance on a nice little terrace (as you can see), mine included a freshly made fruit salad; thick, home-made yoghurt; several home-made jams in pots specially commissioned from a local potter; delicious bread, viennoiserie and coffee and, in case all that were not enough, a generous bowl of home-made rice pudding.
Mon Dieu! Morning feasting on this scale calls for activity-packed days – long Luberon walks, winery visits, exploration of Aptâ€¦ On the other hand you might just be lazy. A pleasant sitting-room for guests is right beside the breakfast terrace.
Tuesday, October 7th, 2014
A tasty tour around Terre d’Argence
Every time I set foot in Terre dâ€™Argence I seem to have a marvellous time. Tucked into the triangle between NÃ®mes, Arles and Avignon, this grouping of small townships may only have been baptised a decade ago – but a history stretching back through two millennia makes it a fascinating region to visit. Close to the RhÃ´ne and the Camargue, it has its own local traditions, its own art de vivre, influenced by both Provence and the Languedoc yet proudly individualistic.
Slightly off the beaten track, itâ€™s attractive without being overrun by tourists so it doesnâ€™t have grandiose notions about itself. In my experience this makes for super-friendly people and keen prices. Go for a full day and you wonâ€™t be bored, I promise you.
MORNING Â Make an arty-crafty plan. You might start in the village of VallabrÃ¨gues, visiting Chaises Lacroix, superb manufacturers of traditional ProvenÃ§al chairs, or dropping into Lâ€™Oseraie to buy traditional basketware from Daniel Benibghi who makes it here in his studio. In nearby Beaucaire, FranÃ§oise Rebord turns out eye-catching pottery.
LUNCHÂ Lâ€™Epicerie de CÃ©cile in the centre of Beaucaire canâ€™t be beaten for simple, home-made food in cheerful surroundings.
AFTERNOON Â Devote it to wine and olive oil. Mas des Tourelles is an absorbing place to visit, its ancient origins so carefully recreated that you can even taste wines made the Roman way. ChÃ¢teau Mourgues du GrÃ¨s is one of my favourite wine estates for quality combined with affordability. (I especially love their whites.) Then turn yourself into an olive oil taster at the Huilerie Co-operative de Beaucaire.
DINNER Â Sample more home cooking showcasing local produce at the Auberge de lâ€™Amandin on the edge of Beaucaire.
STAY Â Check into Domaine des Clos, a delightful big 18th-century farm estate run with flair by enthusiastic foodie Sandrine Ausset. Depending on dates, you may also be able to enjoy her table dâ€™hÃ´te or a cookery class.
Wednesday, October 1st, 2014
Courgette spaghetti with parmesan
REINE SAMMUT – AUBERGE LA FENIÃˆRE, LOURMARIN
For 6 people
Juice of 2 lemons
100g parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons sundried tomatoes (preserved in oil)
A few basil leaves
Wash the courgettes, then use a mandoline to grate them into spaghetti-like strands. (Alternatively, you may use a shredder with a serrated blade.)
Chop the basil leaves finely and combine with the olive oil. Add lemon juice, salt, pepper and mix through the courgettes. This acidic vinaigrette will â€˜cookâ€™ the courgette spaghetti.
Use a potato peeler to make parmesan shavings. Distribute the courgette spaghetti between the plates and drizzle with olive oil flavoured with basil. Top with the parmesan shavings and slivers of sundried tomato.
Taken from Mes Cours de Cuisine: Reine Sammut Ã La FeniÃ¨re de Lourmarin, published by Ã‰ditions du ChÃªne â€“ www.editionsduchene.fr.
Reine Sammut is chef-proprietor of Auberge La FeniÃ¨re.
Thursday, September 25th, 2014
ChÃ¢teau de lâ€™Ange
04 90 72 36 41
Ã‰dith MÃ©zard has been embroidering beautiful fabrics for almost 30 years. â€˜I started to do it because I love it,â€™ she says. â€˜Câ€™est une passion! But in fact I am also trying to save a dying tradition. There are so few hand-embroiderers left that we should be a protected species.â€™ She waves vaguely towards the upstairs studios where six ladies stitch relentlessly all year round.
Although plenty of customers drop in to buy already-embroidered linens (or some of the many smaller gift items that Madame MÃ©zard sells to attract passing trade), much of the work she undertakes is done to order. Fine cotton or linen sheets may be embroidered with initials or romantic phrases. â€˜A lot of people love beautiful bedlinens. Iâ€™m convinced that they encourage a sounder sleep, and they neednâ€™t necessarily be expensive.â€™ Personalised tablecloths and napkins are also popular – perhaps emblazoned with childrenâ€™s names or a house name.
Orders take about four weeks to complete and may end up in any corner of the globe. â€˜Sometimes we have to embroider Chinese or Arabic characters which can be complicated. We often wonder if we are doing them correctly.â€™ Probably is the answer. Everything here speaks of attention to detail – right down to the deliciously subtle scent of Madame MÃ©zardâ€™s Blanc linen spray.
Friday, September 19th, 2014
HÃ´tel de l’Europe
12 Place Crillon
04 90 14 76 76
PRICE RANGE – EXPENSIVE
Enfin, enfin, enfin! I have no idea why it took me so long to visit the HÃ´tel de lâ€™Europe, a grand Avignon instutition with a list of satisfied guests stretching from Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens and John Stuart Mill through to Picasso, Salvador Dali and Jacqueline Kennedy. Fear of insufficient grandeur on my own part, perhaps – or an insufficiently stuffed wallet.
Foolish. Lunch here one sunny Thursday turned out to be one of the best treats of the summer. The hot bustle of the city is only metres away, yet, shaded by a massive plane tree, the restaurant in the courtyard of what was once an imposing 16th-century mansion is calm and cool. Hah, proper linen – none of your ersatz easy-care polycotton, thank heavens, with fine old cutlery and highly polished glasses too – yet thereâ€™s nothing starchy about the atmosphere.
Starting with a â‚¬38 weekday three-course lunch and working up, the menus read well, presenting ProvenÃ§al produce in a way that sounds neither too predictable nor too gimmicky. Then the food arrives and there are gasps all round. It looks exquisite and tastes even better, every element carefully thought out so that it enhances the whole.
Look at the foie gras with strawberry jelly in the photograph, for instance. (We strayed, I must confess, from the menu dâ€™affaires, tempting though it seemed.) The yellow dots are a tangy apricot purÃ©e whose acidity cuts the richness of the dish – served, by the way, with bitter cocoa bread for the same reason. Superb. Roast crayfish comes with a deep-fried basil leaf and courgette flower whose warm crunch contrasts with a beautifully concentrated tomato sorbet.
I ask chef Bruno AngÃ©lis whether his approach has changed during the 14 years that he has worked at Lâ€™Europe. â€˜I cook with more precision now,â€™ he reflects, â€˜and am probably less inclined to mess up superb local produce.â€™ He talks about his 12-course dinner tasting menu – always written at the last minute as it is determined by whatever foodstuffs catch his eye in the market. I believe I have a duty to try it.
Saturday, September 13th, 2014
Route deÂ CourthÃ©zon
04 90 83 70 51
APPOINTMENT NOT ESSENTIAL
From various tastings of ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape, CuvÃ©e du Vatican lodged in the back of my brain and eventually worked its way on to the to-visit list. Itâ€™s easy to find: within walking distance of the town, a cream-painted building clearly emblazoned with the Vatican name. Except that since the 2010 vintage, the main ChÃ¢teauneuf wines from this family producer go under the name ChÃ¢teau Sixtine. CuvÃ©e du Vatican is now used only for CÃ´tes du RhÃ´ne, CÃ´tes du RhÃ´ne Villages and an entry-level ChÃ¢teauneuf.
This is the latest change in an estate that has evolved significantly in the 25 years since Jean-Marc Diffonty joined forces with his father and grandfather. Today most of its 15 ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape hectares are in the appellationâ€™s three most revered terroirs: the sandy soil near Rayas, the stone-strewn plateau of La Crau and the plateau of Beaucastel.
â€˜Previously most of our vines had been mainly on galets. I was determined to add other terroirs – otherwise our wines would have been too jammy and alcoholic. My other contribution was to make sure that the various varieties were planted in appropriate places.â€™
Of the key varieties, Grenache represents only 40% of the typical red blend. Diffonty particularly values MourvÃ¨dre for its acidity and ageing potential; Syrah, trained on high trellises to ensure easy ripening, is important to him too. â€˜Weâ€™re almost organic,â€™ he says, pointing out his pheromone traps in the photo, â€˜but we prefer to avoid the bureaucracy that certification entails.â€™
ChÃ¢teau Sixtine is an impressive wine, certainly – rich, complex, vibrant and a major quality step up from the simpler Manus Dei du ChÃ teau Sixtine. Whether it quite merits a cellar-door price of â‚¬42 is less certain.
Sunday, September 7th, 2014
HOTEL / RESTAURANT
MURS – NEAR GORDES
Rue du Brave Crillon
04 90 72 60 31
PRICE RANGE – RESTAURANT UPPER END OF MODERATE; HOTEL MODERATE
Years ago, on what was billed as a gourmet cycling tour through the Loire Valley, I discovered that hotels with rudimentary (or frankly dismal) bedrooms might well be redeemed by spectacular food. Accommodation standards have climbed up steeply since then, thank heavens – but there are still occasional reminders that in France food easily comes first.
The brand-new proprietors of Le Crillon, Marc-Antoine Nivresse and his Argentine partner Giselle, have made a few immediate improvements to their eight bedrooms (decent beds, crisp linens) and envisage more – but the kitchen is and will remain the raison dâ€™ÃªtreÂ of this old village inn. â€˜Our chef Edward Cristaudo worked at the Michelin-starred Maison du Parc in Nancy and is determined to win a star here too,â€™ says Le Crillonâ€™s energetic young owner.
If not yet quite at Michelin star level, M Cristaudo is a rising star; and M Nivresse has the good sense to provide tableware elegant enough to show his food off to best advantage. A summer dinner enjoyed on a pretty terrace under an arch of jasmine across the street from the hotel showed both promise and panache. The line-up: cold pea and mint veloutÃ© with goatâ€™s cheese; seared, sesame-coated tuna with pak choi and shrimp froth; then the zestily refreshing dessert in the photo: pink grapefruit in campari jelly with Bulgarian yoghurt.
Exceptionally good bread and a small but carefully chosen wine list added to the experience. The only down-side? Vulgar, noisy, wealthy locals at the next table – but the fact they had eaten here five times in the space of a few months can only be seen as a positive sign.
STOP PRESS! AFTER ONLY A FEW MONTHS IN MURS, CHEF EDWARD CRISTAUDO IS APPARENTLY LEAVING LE CRILLON IN MID- SEPTEMBER AMIDST RUMOURS THAT THE HOTEL IS FOR SALE…
Monday, September 1st, 2014
Fig, goat’s cheese and poached pear salad
PROVENCE & BEYOND
This is one of my favourite late summer lunch dishes. With variations (slivers of air-dried ham, for instance, or pine nuts instead of walnuts), youâ€™ll come across it all over Provence and in Italy too – but in fact this recipe comes from the Belle Isle Cookery School in Northern Ireland, my home land. Itâ€™s important to make this salad only when you can get your hands on luscious, fresh figs.
2 ripe but firm pears
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon sugar
4 fresh figs, quartered
160g goatâ€™s cheese
40g walnut halves
100g rocket leaves
50g salad leaves
For the dressing
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
sea salt and black pepper
1 Peel and halve the pears and place them in a small saucepan with the bay leaf and sugar and just cover them with water. Put a lid on the saucepan and turn on the heat. Bring to the boil and poach the pears 2-3 minutes or until just softened. Remove the pears from the liquid with a slotted spoon and allow to cool.
2 Whisk together the salad dressing ingredients.
3 Turn the grill to medium and place the figs, goatâ€™s cheese and walnut halves on a lightly greased baking tray. Grill for approximately 5 minutes until the cheese starts to soften.
4 Wash and dry the salad leaves and place them on a large serving platter with the rocket. Slice each pear half into 3-4 slices and place these on top of the leaves. Break up the goatâ€™s cheese and place it on the salad along with the quartered figs and walnut halves. Re-whisk the dressing, drizzle it over the salad and serve immediately.
Tuesday, August 26th, 2014
La Bastide de BrurangÃ¨re
167 Chemin des Rols
06 75 24 59 29
PRICE RANGE – EXPENSIVE
When she decided in 2010 to migrate south from Courchevel and create an upscale B&B, Catherine Gastaldi had two obvious advantages: a background in hotels and luxury ski chalets, and a Savoyard partner in the carpentry business. With vast expanses of rustic timber, the 19th-century bastide near Carpentras which they completely overhauled has more than a touch of the Alps in its aesthetics.
Otherwise, from a dÃ©cor point of view, itâ€™s the standard modern mix of putty-coloured paint, the odd splash of colour and the occasional bling chandelier. What counts most is space. There are two large bedrooms and three positively enormous suites, all with sleek, generously proportioned bathrooms. Add to these one big salon for quiet lazing, another with a billiards table, a sauna and hammam plus two outdoor pools (heated and unheated) and youâ€™ll see this is the kind of place where guests need never get in each otherâ€™s way.
There is no lazy morning buffet: freshly squeezed juice, freshly made coffee, fruits, yoghurt, breads and viennoiserie, cheese, eggs, or ham if wished are served individually, as all decent breakfasts should be. In summer the setting for this feast is a magnificent courtyard with a fountain – rather like a private village square.