a personal guide to good eating & drinking

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015


Domaine de la Bouïssière


T Faravel

Rue du Portail
84190 Gigondas
04 90 65 87 91

Pushy people tend to get themselves into print faster than retiring, gentle types. Maybe that is why I’m only writing now about Thierry Faravel whom I’ve admired for years. Working in tandem with his brother Gil since the death of their father in 1988, this quietly reflective winemaker is celebrated for wonderfully shapely, ageworthy Gigondas.

As a double-bass player, his first ambition was to become a full-time musician – so, given the fashion for influencing vinification with appropriate harmonies, should we expect Mozart in the cellar? ‘That would be ok for sweet wines… but I’d prefer something more bracing.’ His objective, he says, is to make des vins droits, des vins tendus – upright wines with a certain tension. With pure fruit, reviving acidity and very fine tannins, they are masterpieces of elegance with precision – so if you fancy big Rhône whoppers you have come to the wrong place.

Working alone rather than with a consultant (‘I’ve never found one who will look at the vineyards and listen to what we want to achieve, rather than impose a system’), Thierry Faravel has gradually honed his own techniques. Having experimented with small oak barrels and bigger 600-litre casks, he is happy now to use traditional outsize foudres – a new one purchased every year. ‘They make wines that are more refined, with a clearer identity.’

While most of his grapes are de-stemmed, he is not averse to including a small proportion of stems in some vinifications. ‘Oenologists are terrified of stems in case they give a green streak, but I think they can add nice, fine tannins and an attractive little touch of menthol.’

With 9 hectares in Gigondas and 2.5 hectares in Vacqueyras, Domaine de la Bouïssière has expanded into Beaumes-de-Venise (5 hectares) since the 2012 vintage. While I have always enjoyed the Vacqueyras – more refined and less sickly than many – the Gigondas remains my favourite. Dark, peppery and subtly spicy with a firm mineral undertow, over six or seven years it develops a savoury splendour which marks it out as one of this appellation’s finest wines. Not that you need to wait that long…

Written by marydowey

Posted in GIGONDAS,wine producers

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Thursday, March 19th, 2015


Le Clos Saint Antoine


Clos St Antoine David

26 Chemin des Costes
83830 Callas
04 94 67 95 85


Considering the prodigious amount of superb olive oil that Provence produces, it seems strange that decent vinegar is in such short supply. ‘I love cooking, and I was shocked that good vinegar was so difficult to buy,’ says David Doczekalski, who took the plucky step of setting up his own vinaigrerie in 2005.

‘I went to Italy and Spain to learn,’ he explains. ’I’m self-taught because no training was available.’ Artisan vinegar could scarcely hope for a more enthusiastic advocate. Showing off his Bordeaux barrels and demi-johns, Doczekalski describes the18 to 24-month process whereby good Provence wines of all three colours are converted into vinegar, following the rhythm of the seasons. They are then flavoured with plants, woods or spices before being bottled and sold, either in his small shop or on the internet.

He is particularly critical of cheap balsamic vinegar. ‘It’s made from caramel powder, so it’s horribly sweet and useless for salads which need a good kick of acidity.’ I couldn’t agree more, and was especially impressed by his carefully crafted version which tastes lively and refreshing. I also think his wild fennel and thyme vinegars are inspired creations for fish.

Drop in for a chat and he’ll have you enthralled in five minutes. You can even buy your own pottery vinaigrier, made to his design, if you fancy being able to produce high-class vinegar of your own in a mere six weeks.

Written by marydowey

Posted in food producers,NEAR DRAGUIGNAN,vinegars

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Friday, March 13th, 2015




Agape mackerel

21 Place des Corps Saints
84000 Avignon
04 90 85 04 06


The Avignon food scene has been due a shot of excitement for what can sometimes feel like an eternity. Hallelujah, here it comes. L’Agape opened last summer on one of the city’s prettiest squares. Two lunches there – one soon after the opening and the other in the last few weeks – have brought it right to the top of my Avignon favourites list.

With cement-topped tables, assorted chairs, a scuffed wooden floor and a massive blackboard, the industrial-chic décor makes for a casual ambiance – but boy, there’s nothing casual about the food. Chef Julien Gleize, who trained at the Avignon hotel school before co-running a restaurant in the Drôme for some years, cooks with brilliant precision, bringing classic dishes carefully conceived touches of individuality. Presentation is punctilious, too. Plates look colourful, elegant, modern, fresh.

In a first course of mackerel with Roseval potatoes (see photo), a vinaigrette made with preserved lemons delivers just the right amount of zing to lift the entire dish. Lamb navarin as a main acquires extra exuberance from bright spaghettis de légumes, morsels of crispy bacon and a few artfully positioned baby salad leaves. Desserts are masterly also. Instead of the formulaic, pre-prepped line-up on offer in so many restaurants you’ll find finely tuned dishes executed from scratch. A light chocolate-orange mousse with citrus segments and chocolate shortbread is especially enticing.

Top-notch produce is locally sourced (much of it from Les Halles nearby). At lunch time bread comes from the Avignon branch of Olivero; in the evening (when tables are more formally dressed and the atmosphere becomes more languorously intimate), it’s home-baked.  A well-chosen selection of wines, arranged by style and fairly priced, clocks up more points. And let’s not forget the chef’s wife at front of house – glamorous Anne Gleize whose wide smile lights the whole place up.

Written by marydowey

Posted in AVIGNON,restaurants

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Saturday, March 7th, 2015


La Bastide des Magnans


Bastide des Magnans ext 3

Chemin de Fontpourquière
84480 Lacoste
06 18 55 19 30


Travelling around Provence in search of appealing accommodation has put me right off the all-beige colour schemes which have spread across supposedly stylish interiors like a rash. So predictable, so anaemic, so boring… You won’t find them here, I’m happy to say, because Myriam Guisset who runs this imposing Luberon B&B deplores them. ‘Ce n’est pas ça, la Provence!

Too right. Provence has wonderful, traditional colours. Why not use them? In charge of a company specialising in the restoration of historic buildings (including the church in Ménerbes), Madame Guisset is more alert to such details than most interior designers. The result is that the B&B she has created out of an old silk worm farm mixes authenticity with charm. In all five bedrooms, traditional white bedspreads look all the more effective against colourful backdrops, often involving pretty printed fabrics.

The house sits on an elevated site with wide views to Goult and Gordes; in fact, in four of the bedrooms it’s possible to admire the Luberon landscape without even getting out of bed. Guests do tend to get up eventually though – for a tasty breakfast with home-made jams; a swim in the meadow-fringed pool and then the usual toss-up between lazing and sightseeing.

In this well appointed house, guests also have their own kitchen and salon. Why would you ever leave? Many are regulars.

Written by marydowey

Posted in hotels/b&bs,LUBERON,NEAR MENERBES

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Sunday, March 1st, 2015


Leg of lamb on a bed of thyme


Roast Leg of Lamb

The recipe for this simple and delectable dish comes from Lulu’s Provençal Table by Richard Olney (published in the UK by Grub Street) – a celebration of the food served at Domaine Tempier in Bandol when Lulu Peyraud was in charge of the kitchen.

‘Leg of lamb on a bed of thyme was high on the list of the Peyraud family’s preferred dishes. Lulu says: “The thyme branches should contain quite a lot of wood so that, when the leg is placed on them, it doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan. After roasting, the thyme and the fat in the pan are discarded.”

The Provençal hillsides are covered with gnarled and woody plants of wild thyme. If only fragile garden thyme is available, use a roasting rack and scatter over an abundance of thyme sprigs before placing the leg on top. Sometimes, Lulu mixes sprigs of winter savory with the thyme. In late spring and summer, when garlic is fresh, she often surrounds a leg of lamb, without without thyme, with whole heads of garlic – one per person – before putting it to roast. At table, guests pull the heads apart, pressing the cloves with the tines of a fork to force the purée from the skins before spreading it on the meat or on pieces of bread.’

Serves 8-10

2 large handfuls of fresh thyme branches

2.7kg / 6lb leg of lamb at room temperature, pelvic bone and superficial fat removed

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper

8-10 fresh heads of garlic (optional)


1 Preheat the oven to 230C/450F

2 Prepare a bed of thyme branches in the bottom of a heavy, shallow roasting dish or large oval gratin dish.

3 Rub the leg of lamb with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, place it on the bed of thyme and surround with garlic if wished.

4 Roast for about 1 hour, lowering the temperature after 10 minutes to 180C/350F and, 20 minutes later, to 140C/275F.

5 Transfer the leg to a heated platter and keep it for 20 minutes in the turned-off oven or another warm place before carving.

Written by marydowey

Posted in Bandol,recipes

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Wednesday, February 25th, 2015


La Maison d’Odette


La Ciotat harbour

2 Rue des Frères Albert et Georges Anroux
13600 La Ciotat
06 31 14 21 73


Location – that’s the first thing. It’s just a one-minute walk from the prettiest stretch of La Ciotat’s old waterfront (see above). Simply but stylishly refurbished, it’s comfortable too. Run by Camille Lhomme and partner Alexandre – the dynamic young couple behind the popular restaurant L’Epicerie just down the street – La Maison d’Odette even has a touching story. Camille’s grandmother (Odette) lived in this tall, narrow town house as a young woman soon after the second world war, spending much of her time teaching French to Italian immigrants.

What La Maison d’Odette doesn’t have (unless things have changed since my stay) is a noteworthy breakfast; it’s a DIY situation based on tea or coffee, bottled juice and packeted panettone left in the room. Thankfully matters can easily be improved by a quick hop to the excellent Pâtisserie Duby almost next door.

Written by marydowey

Posted in hotels/b&bs,La Ciotat

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Thursday, February 19th, 2015


Château La Dorgonne

Ch La Dorgonne ext

84240 La Tour d’Aigues
04 90 07 50 18

It’s true that great wines can emerge from apparent chaos or dilapidation. Occasionally. (The exquisite Châteauneuf-du-Pape Château Rayas is one striking example.) Conversely, well-tended vineyards and an immaculate cellar don’t necessarily produce the goods. Even so, a commitment to precision often bodes well. This is certainly the case at Château La Dorgonne whose wines I rank among the Luberon’s best.

It wasn’t always so. ‘When my uncle, who lives in Cambodia, bought the estate in 1999 it was in a pretty bad state,’ explains Nicolas Parmentier. ‘The house was in need of renovation and a cellar had to be constructed as the grapes had previously been sold to the co-op.’ The whole project also needed a dedicated manager, so Nicolas – a lawyer with a PR agency – arrived to run it in 2004.

With regular advice from the leading French soil expert Claude Bourguignon, the first priority has been to put life into the soil and encourage the vines to develop deep roots – processes encouraged by the presence of 16 types of plants between the rows. Hard pruning, green harvesting, hand-picking, careful grape sorting… these too play their part in the effort to produce perfect fruit.

Certified organic since 2007, the wines have lovely balance and finesse. While I enjoyed the peachy, zesty Château white (mainly Rolle and Ugni Blanc), the reds made the deepest impression with their fine texture, vivacity and subtle use of oak. They age well too, as I discovered sampling a superb savoury-but-still-plummy 2005 the other day. A rewarding ten-year-old! Not something that fans of mature wine stumble upon in the south as often as vignerons seem to think.

La Dorgonne is a delightful place to visit, with two self-guided vineyard walks. Be sure to pick up the illustrated guide and you’ll learn about pruning, cover crops and more as well as the estate’s eight grape varieties.

Written by marydowey

Posted in LUBERON,wine producers

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Friday, February 13th, 2015


Fromagerie La Pastourelle


Pastourelle Chevre Fleur

Le Plan
83300 Châteaudouble
04 94 70 90 00

Life as an artisan cheesemaker sounds romantic, or romantically authentic at least. That may be one reason why Provence is dotted with hundreds of small producers – some excellent but others visibly struggling to make even a feeble living. Against this backdrop it’s intriguing to discover that one of the biggest artisan fromageries in the Var is also one of the best.

Jean and Catherine Fleury have built up La Pastourelle gradually over the past 17 years, he with a useful background in accountancy and she having previously studied homeopathy. Unusually for this part of the world, they make cheeses of all three main types – goat’s, sheep’s and cow’s – rather than specialising in just one. ‘The idea is to encourage people to buy several different kinds,’ says Jean, gesturing at the well-stocked cabinet in La Pastourelle’s terrific shop. ‘We can probably offer 25-30 different cheeses at any given time.’

This bounty is assured by four Abondance cows treasured for their rarity almost as much as for the richness of their milk; 150 shiny-coated Alpine and Chamoisé goats and 70 Lacaune ewes (the species that is used for Roquefort). The Fleurys’ range includes many classics plus a number of their own creations including Chevre Fleur, a goat’s cheese wrung in a tea towel (see photo); a sheep/cow Marbré and a sheep/goat Coeur de Pirate – heart-shaped, of course. They also sell their own yoghurts and milks, plus breads at the weekend.

The shop, open 364 days a year (but closed 1-3pm), is worth a visit, I guarantee – especially as there are picnic tables outside to facilitate immediate scoffing.

Written by marydowey

Posted in cheese,food producers,NEAR DRAGUIGNAN

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Saturday, February 7th, 2015


La Table de Sorgues


Table de Sorgues int

Avenue du 19 mars 1962
84700 Sorgues
04 90 39 11 02

I keep meaning to banish the word passionate from my vocabulary. Passionate chefs, passionate food producers, passionate winemakers… these geniuses, often self-styled, are so ubiquitous that the term isn’t worth a bean. And then I land into La Table de Sorgues and see how Jean-Paul and Sandrine Lecroq have raised the level of what used to be a decent enough restaurant up ten notches through attention to detail and enthusiasm. Passion by another name.

A recent dinner here was one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had in quite a while. A short menu, which changes every week, cleverly allows for flexibility; three fish courses, for example, can be chosen as entrées or mains or both. The latter may be a sensible option for guests without gargantuan appetites as the smallest menu features four courses (for just €38), including cheeses from a trolley so spectacularly laden that it would be criminal to skip it. Four courses with tasty apéritif nibbles and a mise en bouche and a post-dessert and petits fours, that is. How any mortal could manage five (€52.50) or six (€62) I cannot see.

Our first courses were both perfect: panfried scallops served with sautéed wild mushrooms on a crispy raviolo  and roast maybe just pipped to the post by Szechuan-peppered crayfish tails in a sauce lifted by the zest of la main de Bouddha (fingered citron). Next, brill fillets gently steamed and served with cockle broth and leeks kept me purring so contentedly that I forgot to ask for a morsel of lièvre à la royale (hare stuffed with foie gras) from the neighbouring plate. Its owner, pronouncing it masterly, polished it off with such relish that he forgot to offer one.

Then that marvellous, old-fashioned cheese trolley (the Lecroqs do the maturing themselves – just as they bake their own bread). And a brilliantly refreshing dessert of raspberries and mangoes on a lime base encircled by a see-through sugar leaf. No faddish nonsense, no bling, no pomposity, no fuss. Just flawless cooking and good service from start to finish. As proprietors of a château-hotel in the Gorges du Tarn for 15 years before moving to Sorgues, the Lecroqs have honed precious skills.

What else? The wine list is magnificent – stuffed with treasures at prices so fair that you should order a gem. The selection of Chateauneuf-du-Pape is especially impressive – appropriately: this grand appellation is ten minutes up the road and en plus the restaurant sits in the birthplace of Paul Avril of Clos des Papes. We defected to Burgundy, though, for a thrilling Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet.

Written by marydowey

Posted in NEAR AVIGNON,restaurants

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Sunday, February 1st, 2015


Prawns sautéed in pastis


With spring well on the way (in Provence, at least), I’m in the mood for cleaner, fresher flavours. This super-fast, easy dish comes from Everyday French Chef run by enthusiastic francophile Meg Bortin.

Meg writes: ‘This recipe takes about three minutes from beginning to end. The gambas may be served as a starter or as a main course, accompanied by a salad of dark leaves, pasta with pistou, Provençal tomatoes or whatever takes your fancy.’

Serves 3-4 as a starter, 2 as a main dish

12 raw gambas or large prawns

1 clove garlic

1 sprig thyme or 1 pinch thyme leaves

1 small dried cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons pastis (or another anise-flavoured spirit)


1 Peel and mince the garlic.

2 Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium flame. When the oil is sizzling, add the garlic and the gambas. Sprinkle in the thyme and cayenne.

3 Lift the gambas to check them after about 30 seconds. If they have turned pink underneath, flip them over. Keep checking until all the gambas have been flipped.

4 Now lower the heat slightly and add the pastis. It will sizzle and bubble. Cook another 30 seconds.

5 Serve immediately accompanied by a dry white wine or a dry rosé.

Written by marydowey

Posted in recipes

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Sunday, January 25th, 2015




Melvita shop

La Fontaine du Cade
07150 Lagorce
04 75 37 78 82

Although factory tours aren’t necessarily inspiring, a visit to Melvita has obvious attractions – like the opportunity to browse through delicious products and see an interesting, eco-friendly building. But the thing I enjoyed most was the realisation that a man with a passion for bees and plants could begin by cooking stuff up in his kitchen and 20 years later launch one of the most significant organic cosmetic companies in France. It would seem that Bernard Chevilliat’s passion for an Ardèchoise also played a role in transplanting him from Bordeaux to near Lagorce.

Jump forward a decade further and Melvita is a major enterprise within the mammoth L’Occitane cosmetics group. In fact the two brands share production facilities, with the Ardèche plant focusing on items for the face and Manosque turning out goodies for the rest of the body. Within each factory ingredients are kept separate, however, since Melvita is certified as 100% organic whereas L’Occitane is not.

Back in 1983, the first product made was the now-famous hexagonal beeswax soap It’s still a bestseller (which, by the way, I can heartily recommend) – and honey remains an essential ingredient in a number of Melvita products: only right and proper for a company whose name means ‘honey and life’. Acacia honey has recently been found to be particularly effective for regeneration of the skin.

But there are hundreds of other key elements derived from plants, vegetables, flowers, trees and algae. Roses from Iran, Argan oil from Morocco… these are just two to show how wide the sourcing net has spread. The sales network likewise: 80% of production is exported, with Asia and Russia topping the market league. ‘The Japanese love Melvita almost as much as they love Chanel,’ we hear on our tour.

You don’t have to travel to the Ardèche to find the products, of course; they’re widely available in pharmacies and online. Another of my favourites is the gentle but effective Gommage Corps (body scrub) – ideal prep for a lasting Provençal tan.

Note: Melvita factory tours are free. They should be booked in advance and last about an hour.

Written by marydowey

Posted in ARDÈCHE,inedible treats

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