Saturday, December 13th, 2014
The bubbly glass of Biot
BIOT – NEAR ANTIBES
Encapsulating a mass of tiny bubbles, the glassware of Biot is so famous that you might imagine it rooted in centuries-old tradition. In fact it dates only from the mid-1950s. The hill village of Biot overlooking the coast near Antibes had been an important centre for pottery from the 16th century until the early 1900s; then mainly agricultural until Fernand LÃ©ger and other artists arrived to give it an arty edge.
Itâ€™s touristy, certainly; a visit one Sunday during a weekend on the coast revealed so many visitors drifting in and out of so many glassworks that it seems I am not the only person to have lusted after a Biot water jug for an eternity.
The RaphaÃ«l Farinelli studio at the bottom of the hill makes an interesting starting point – for glass as art, however, rather than glass for the dinner table. The pieces on offer range in style from exquisite toâ€¦ well, outsize versions of animal glass ornaments. As for the prices, they seem to be aimed at CÃ´te dâ€™Azur Ferrari drivers – making the traditional bubbly Biot glass on sale elsewhere seem like a brilliant bargain.
A clatter of glass companies offer fairly similar wares in the delicate colours that are typical of Biot – pale apricot, apple green, lavender, lemon, rose and so on. Iâ€™m delighted with my curvy, sky-blue jug, bought at the Verrerie du Val de Pome for under â‚¬50; although I might just as easily have made a purchase at the Verrerie de Biot or some other studio. By the way, the business of trapping the bubbles was developed in 1956 by Eloi Monod, a ceramic artist who discovered that molten glass reacted rather dramatically to a sprinkling of bicarbonate of soda.
More information on www.biot-tourisme.com
Sunday, December 7th, 2014
La Nougaterie des Fumades
GARD – NEAR LUSSAN
Hameau de Boisson
04 66 24 26 85
Iâ€™m not a bit surprised that the lemon and thyme nougat made by Sylvie and Philippe Dura earned a gold medal earlier this year from the Militants du GoÃ»t association which promotes the best Gard produce. Itâ€™s delicious. What did take me by surprise was Sylvieâ€™s comment: â€˜Itâ€™s excellent with fish en papillote.â€™
In the dozen years since they moved from Nice (where Philippe ran a restaurant) to launch a nougaterie deep in the Gard, the Duras have created 36 kinds of nougat – all of the soft type, made without artificial colourings or flavourings. Rosemary, lavender, fig and nut, rose, cherry, apple and cinnamon, truffleâ€¦ these are just a few that caught my eye when I dropped into their workshop-cum-shop in a vaulted 16th-century cellar beneath the ChÃ¢teau dâ€™AllÃ¨gre.
But nougat with fish – really? â€˜They can all be used in cooking – even with meat or fish,â€™ Sylvie insists. â€˜For example, you should try carrÃ© dâ€™agneau with a nougat crust, or scallops with a mandarin nougat butterâ€¦The current sucrÃ©-salÃ© (sweet-salty) trend is helping us a lot.â€™ As further proof she points to a book of 40 nougat-rich recipes inspired by Fumades flavours and published by Hachette Cuisine.
Lemon and thyme has become their bestseller, closely followed by caramel with fleur de sel. Next comes the good old traditional variety – 50 per cent of it made up by fat French almonds which are oven-toasted before being added to the egg white-sugar-honey mix. This one will find a place on hundreds of Christmas tables, surely.
Monday, December 1st, 2014
ALL OVER PROVENCE
Little discs of chocolate decorated with dried fruits and nuts are particularly popular around Christmas in Provence. Among the â€˜13 dessertsâ€™ (more accurately small, sweet things) which form part of the traditional ProvenÃ§al Christmas meal, four are termed mendiants because they represent the mendicant monastic orders: raisins for the Dominicans, dried figs for the Franciscans, hazelnuts for the Augustinians and almonds for the Carmelites. Chocolate mendiants can be decorated with these four things – or pretty much any combination of dried fruits and nuts that takes the cookâ€™s fancy.
They couldnâ€™t be easier to make and you donâ€™t need to worry about precise quantities of ingredients. Simply start with the amount of chocolate that you want to use and have your choice of toppings to hand.
Good-quality dark chocolate (65% cocoa solids)
A variety of about four toppings – e.g. almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, raisins, dried cranberries, dried apricots (quartered or chopped), dried figs (quartered or chopped), candied orange peel, chopped crystallised ginger
1 Line a baking tray with baking parchment.
2 Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl which sits snugly above a saucepan of warm water. Heat the water until it just begins to boil, then turn off the heat. Let the chocolate continue to melt slowly above the hot water, stirring it occasionally.
3 Depending on whether you prefer large or small mendiants, use a dessertspoon or a teaspoon to spoon the chocolate on to the baking tray to form rounds, leaving a gap of about 5cm between them.
4 Tap the baking tray on the work surface gently so that the chocolate spreads out smoothly with no air bubbles.
5 Place your assortment of dried fruits and nuts on top of each mendiant before the chocolate sets.
6 Leave in a cool place until set, then carefully remove from the baking parchment.
Tuesday, November 25th, 2014
HOTEL / RESTAURANT
Auberge de Banne
Place du Fort
04 75 36 66 10
PRICE RANGE – MODERATE
A large swathe of Provence shuts its doors from Halloweâ€™en until Easter, or from late November until early March. A huge pity as winter can be magical with dazzling skies, the scent of woodsmoke in the air and black truffles for the occasional gastronomic blast. Three loud cheers, then, for this cheerful, comfortable hotel-restaurant which stays open 365 days a year.
FranÃ§ois Dumas, an interior architect originally from the Southern ArdÃ¨che but working for a time in London, became so frustrated by the limitations of local hospitality on visits home that he decided to convert a fine old house on Banneâ€™s main square into a 12-room hotel. Itâ€™s modern-retro in style: modern as far as the bedrooms and bathrooms are concerned, with touches of nostaligia downstairs – especially in the brasserie-style restaurant with its dark red seats, marble-topped tables and black-and-white film star photos. (Catherine Deneuve has already visited and signed hers.)
Food is simple and hearty to suit ArdÃ¨chois appetites. Breakfast, served on the verandah, weather permitting, raises the usual buffet experience up a notch with coffee or tea served individually at tables creditably decked with white cloths and large white napkins. Factor in the pretty backdrop of Banne – an alluring little village – and youâ€™ll be glad you stopped by.
Wednesday, November 19th, 2014
La Maison d’UzÃ¨s
18 Rue du Docteur Blanchard
04 66 20 07 00
PRICE RANGE – EXPENSIVE
When an old favourite disappears it isnâ€™t always easy to embrace its replacement. I adored Les Trois Salons, the restaurant previously housed in the sumptuous 17th-century mansion now transformed into the five-star, nine-bedroom Maison dâ€™UzÃ¨s. While running wine appreciation courses in Provence, it was here that I held gorgeous wine-matching dinners with menus specially created by the talented chef Petter Nilsson. It was the perfect place to celebrate birthdays or indulge visiting friends. But then Nilsson went off to Paris to open La Gazzetta and the doors closed.
It has been heartening to see them open again. UzÃ¨s badly needs more fine dining and La Maison dâ€™UzÃ¨s – fast off the blocks to secure its first Michelin star – widens the limited choice with panache.Â We recently sampled Ã‰motion, the â‚¬55 four-course set dinner menu. (The alternative is Classique Fiction at â‚¬78).
The food is more showy than in the Nilsson era, as is the dining-room with bling light fittings and pop-bright chairs applied like slightly overdone make-up to a fine-boned beauty of a building. Plates came out looking like intricate, colourful works of art, all tiny dots and miniature petals and micro-leaves – sometimes a worrying sign that form is about to lord it over flavour. But no. A first course of cod confit with smoked salt, codâ€™s roe, sauce vierge and brandade was tastily precise; a main course of black-foot chicken with langoustine, borlotti beans, rocket wasabi and sauce suprÃªme better still, the harmony of its elements beautifully achieved.
After these triumphs, a Mont Blanc with ArdÃ¨che chestnut cream, chantilly and ice cream, then a mango tart with chocolate, seemed competent rather than thrilling – but that might just be the verdict of a savoury addict. Every morsel was consumed anyway.Â The only disappointment was around wine – not an exciting selection, particularly at the low-to-middle end of the price spectrum (if â€˜lowâ€™ is the appropriate term to apply to local wines retailing in shops at â‚¬7-8 and costing â‚¬35-40 here). Wine service was slow (we worked our way through an extensive amuse-bouche selection with empty glasses), and contentious too: we were talked out of our red choice and a so-so substitute was opened all in a flash.
Still we welcome La Maison dâ€™UzÃ¨s and look forward to having lunch there soon. For elegant food in an elegant setting, â‚¬25 sounds like a steal.
Thursday, November 13th, 2014
Domaine des Enchanteurs
52 Chemin dâ€™Aubignan
04 90 12 69 82 / 06 73 99 98 26
With just three hectares, Domaine des Enchanteurs is one of the smallest wine estates Iâ€™ve ever seen. â€˜A Barbie doll domaine,â€™ says co-owner and director Bertrand Seube. Maybe, but with a lot more depth and interest than that description might imply.
This promising, micro-managed enterprise certainly isnâ€™t a plaything – or even a hobby. Monsieur Seube has a solid background in wine, having worked for 12 years as technical director of ChÃ¢teau de Pennautier in CabardÃ¨s (a Languedoc property I admire) before the idea of a joint venture with barrel-makers Remond drew him up to this tree-ringed rural paradise close to Mont Ventoux.
â€˜I looked at a lot of places and fell in love with this one,â€™ he explains simply. â€˜The terroir is really unbelievable with a lot of flint to improve acidity in the wines. I honestly believe that the Ventoux is another Priorat in the making.â€™ Letâ€™s hope so…without Prioratâ€™s mad prices.
While continuing to work for Remond as a barrel salesman, Bertrand Seube has upgraded both estate and cellar, securing organic certification from 2013. Of the four wines produced, I was particularly impressed by Songe dâ€™Or, a firm, full-bodied rendering of Viognier and Grenache Blanc, and Ambre CÃ©leste, a zestily lightfooted Muscat de Beaumes de Venise with minimal sugar. The flagship red RÃªve de Rubis, 50:50 Syrah and Grenache, is emphatically stamped by toasty oak – but a bit of barrel action is to be expected in an estate co-owned by a cooperage, I guess.
Friday, November 7th, 2014
FRUIT JUICES & COMPOTES
La Table des Lutins
NEAR MONT VENTOUX
84410 Crillon Le Brave
06 80 66 96 77
For over a decade Manuel Larraux earned his living by foraging for wild mushrooms which he sold to restaurants. Then came a eureka moment and a change of direction. One day while picking wild savory he noticed cherry trees laden with fruit. â€˜I asked for permission to pick the fruit, then went home and made cherry and savory juice on the spot,â€™ he recalls. â€˜That was in 2003. I was almost forty and felt ready to construct a new life.â€™
Gradually he developed other organic juices (or, more accurately fruit nectars – but with a maximum sugar content of only 10 per cent). Pear and thyme, blueberry and heather and my favourite, apricot and rosemary (which you see him picking above), are central planks in a steadily evolving range. Equally important are delicious compotes and conserves made from fruits so perfectly ripe that they require little or no sugar. One of the yummiest is made entirely from black Caromb figs. Add a dollop of organic yoghurt, a drizzle of lavender honey and you have an instant breakfast treat.
Which reminds meâ€¦it was in the excellent Lâ€™Isle-sur-la-Sorgue B&B La Carolâ€™Isle that I first came across Manuelâ€™s exceptional products. Working on a small, artisan scale, he sells to a limited number of high-class establishments from Les Fermes de Marie in the French Alps to CafÃ© Beaubourg in Paris.Thankfully, thereâ€™s an easier way to sample his flavoursome fruit and herb combinations. All can be ordered online.
Saturday, November 1st, 2014
Beef carpaccio with black truffles and hazelnuts
20g black truffles (tuber melanosporum)
400g beef fillet (in one narrow piece)
juice of 1 lemon
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
salt (the ordinary kind)
fleur de sel or Maldon salt flakes
1 Well in advance (up to 2 days if you have access to a professional slicing machine, otherwise just a couple of hours), season the beef with salt and cracked pepper, wrap in cling film and place in a shallow dish in the freezer.
2 A short time before you are ready to serve the dish, remove beef from the freezer and slice thinly. (A bacon slicer will do the job perfectly, otherwise use a heavy carving knife.) Arrange the slices on a plate.
3 Put the lemon juice in a small bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well, then use a paintbrush to cover the beef slices with this dressing.
4 Roast the hazelnuts in the oven (15-20 minutes at 160C), rub off their skins and chop them finely.
5 Sprinkle the chopped hazelnuts, salt flakes, pepper and finely grated truffle on the beef. You may also add a scoop of truffled celeriac remoulade (the recipe for which is in the same book as this one – see below). Serve immediately.
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.