My favourite holiday destination is the South of France. The sleepy villages, the wonderful driving roads, the marketplaces, the sunshine, and the food. Oh, the food. It’s heavenly. No French restaurant in London quite compares to just how wonderful the food really is out there. Though some come close with their rich flavours and elegant, rustic dining rooms (Comptoir Gascon comes incredibly close, actually), nothing quite compares to that feeling you get walking through a warm evening in a relaxed French town towards your supper.
So for my birthday last week I was whisked away down to Provence, an area in SOF I’ve never actually been to before but I have fantasised about visiting for ages.
My chap had rented us a cute little Airbnb in Caumont Sur Durance, about 20 minutes drive from Avignon, Saint Remy and Gordes and we had three days to spend eating, drinking and exploring.
Before we left for Provence, I naturally wanted to find ourselves somewhere special to dine for one of the nights of our visit. For some reason, however, the french don’t like working on Sundays or Mondays and so it was quite difficult to find a restaurant that was open with reservations available during our visit. Luckily however, Le Vivier, a beautiful waterside restaurant which has held a Michelin star since 2005 had a table available for us on Saturday night, so we both got dolled up (he put on a shirt, I put on a floor-length gown I’ve been desperate to wear for ages!) and made our way to the gorgeous town of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
So we arrived at the restaurant as the sun was setting (farewell long summer nights) and were seated at our table where we were offered a crisp glass of champagne as our aperitif. The restaurant has a terrace and had the evening been warmer we’d have sat out there, but alas France had other ideas.
The menu is well priced (and it would be better if that Brexit disaster hadn’t happened) with 3 courses coming in at €55 and the 7-course tasting menu coming in at €80 with a wine pairing available too at an extra cost, as well as individual prices for each course separately. Though we had stuffed our faces at lunch in Saint Remy earlier in the day, we still couldn’t resist having 3 courses, along with a bottle of chilled rosé.
My starter was a stunningly presented plate of mackerel fillet, bulgur with oysters, black garlic with a cucumber and wasabi sorbet. There were so many elements to this beautiful dish with a mixture of strong and subtle taste combinations, it was hard to recreate each mouthful to hold the same flavour experience. It had an overall fresh taste to match the presentation; the mackerel wasn’t overly seasoned with conflicting flavours, though the bulbs of deep red jelly were strong with an almost balsamic zing. The sorbet was sublime, a pity there wasn’t more of it, with a smooth texture and a freshness reminiscent of Spring. The coolness of the cucumber (I’d never realised how well that simile works) and the gentle and subtle kick of the wasabi married perfectly with the fish. He, on the other hand, enjoyed a plate of Foie Gras and Smoked Eel Terrine which was smooth and rich.
For our main courses, I chose one of my favourite food words of any language, the Pigeon and Foie Gras Pithivier, while he enjoyed the Royal Sea Bream, Razor-shell Clam & Smoked Pork tenderloin with a pistou of vegetables, basil & verbena. It was elegant and refined, while my pithivier was bold, and made no apologies for it. The elegant shiny dome of the pastry was beautifully golden, and the rich jus was thick with rich, deep tones. Inside, the pigeon served medium rare, oozed with succulent meaty juices and the thick slithers of foie gras were smooth and intense. Packed into the pastry with spinach and porcini mushrooms, it was not too dissimilar to a Beef Wellington… with a beef substitute, of course! On the side, a plate of salad topped with a single confit pigeon leg which I gladly ripped from the bone with my hands and teeth – a little uncouth but none the less delicious!
Dessert was another delicious affair and presentation really went up a notch, especially with Josh’s Tout Chocolat which celebrated chocolate in every form possible, with chocolate soil, mousse and even a chocolate tuile which had a pinch of salt added for an intriguing contrast.
My pudding consisted of Roasted figs and Blackberry, fresh ewe’s milk cheese with orange & pop-corn ice cream. It was light and creamy, with a beauty fruitiness from the figs and a sharpness from the blackberry. The pop-corn ice cream was smooth and tasted almost like caramel. A bold blackberry and fig mousse dotted the plate in small mountains and nestled within a sugared cup topped with meringue and fresh dill. It was a beautiful and delicate end to a meal.
Well… not quite the end. A selection of beautiful mouth-sized petite fours arrived including a stunning miniature lemon tart, a raspberry macaron and what tasted like brioche style almond cakes (I have recently found out are actually called Canelés), which were reminiscent of a cake/soufflé style centre mash-up.
I was also presented with a few birthday candles and a gift of miniature macarons to take home with me. Bon Anniversaire to me, indeed!
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a beautiful town and I must admit, I told a lie earlier as there happens to be a market open every Sunday morning running along the river and down the streets selling a wonderful selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, clothes and antiques, so we headed back there the next day to gather up ingredients for a picnic for us to enjoy when the weather was scheduled to get brighter the next day. If you’re staying in the area and are at a loss of something to do on a Sunday I’d certainly recommend a visit, but priority should certainly be given to an evening at Le Vivier first and foremost. It was a delicious way to enjoy turning 27, and I won’t forget it for a long time.