Geoff and I were staying at a quintessential French hotel and restaurant, La Ferme on Île de la Barthelasse in the countryside within easy reach of Avignon by bike or car. We had eaten there the evening before and although it was very good and we enjoyed our meal very much, we wanted to try somewhere different. We hired the hotel’s bicycles for the day to take a look around the area. The 5 star hotel and Michelin one star restaurant, Le Prieuré with chef Fabien Fage, was in the nearby town of Villeneuve-les-Avignon – where we had a quick look around Fort Saint-André – and we headed there to see if we could book a table for that evening.
We encountered a very nice lady on reception who took the booking for us and said we could sit outside and have a drink now if we wanted one, so we thought why not, cycling can be thirsty work after all. The staff who passed by greeted us. Geoff ordered a Heineken beer and myself a glass of house white. The bottle was shown to me, a just opened bottle but funnily enough Geoff’s beer was handled the same way and shown to him 😀 It was nice to sit outside even with the mistral winds creating mini twisters with the fallen leaves. With our drinks we were given a little pot of olives and a mixture of fruit & nuts. Afterwards Geoff said to me guess how much that was? Presuming it would be expensive I replied £15-20. No, just £8! We were half expecting them to mention it when we arrived in the evening “err, at lunch time we didn’t charge you enough…” but thankfully they didn’t.
The grounds were really nice with beautiful well-kept gardens. What a shame that the stupid winds were too strong and made it too chilly for us to sit outside in the evening. Inside however was very pleasant, a mixture of old and new. A large stone fireplace, stone archways and a shiny stone floor but with a few more modern quirks such as the beamed ceiling was with thin timbers and painted white, not the usual thick old dark oak beams, a tall tubular light, modern sketches on the wall…all tables had candles and it was very cosy.
We were the first to arrive at 7.20 for 7.30. There appeared to be many staff who all greeted us and the head waiter recognised us from lunch time, even though we were looking a little more spruced up without the shorts, trainers and ‘helmet hair’.
We decided to have the set menu for that day, other menus were available which gave more courses and were obviously more expensive but to be honest there were several things on the other menus we didn’t like, so there really was no point.
First we had canapés, three silver spoonfuls each, neatly placed upon a silver tray. One contained some sort of aubergine purée or tapenade which is quitet popular around the region. Another was a white milky jelly which exploded in the mouth and our favourite, sardine in a crispy batter coating served warm. These items may have got lost in translation but you get the gist.
Next was the amuse-bouche. This was gazpacho of tomatoes. A very cold glassful of tomato juice, like a soup with a sorbet of yellow tomatoes floating on top. The sorbet part was particularly nice and it was very refreshing. Fresh baked bread was also served, a mini ‘country’ roll, an olive bread and a mini salted white, shaped as ears of wheat.
Starter was foie gras which again, is on every menu around here. This was a slice of terrine with a layer of subtle fruit jelly and served with some rather sharp tasting strawberries, which were a little too ‘tart’ for our liking and we thought something like a sweet fig jam would go much better, but hey we’re not Michelin star chefs 😉 Beautiful presentation though with a piece of gold leaf on top of the slice.
The last and only time I’ve ever had caviar was at one of Geoff’s work do’s back in the late 80’s. Served upon a canapé I found it extremely fishy indeed and have steered clear of it ever since. However, I thought it was time to give it another try – some 30 years later. The cod was beautifully cooked – Geoff and I never order fish when dining out, apart from perhaps fish and chips, which is rare but we were pleasantly surprised at this dish, in fact I think it was our favourite out of all the dishes. On each side of the delicate piece of white cod were two spoonfuls of ‘mousseline of fennel’ and atop of one was some caviar – which I liked and wasn’t fishy! – and celariac. Delightful!
The lamb was cooked how we asked for it, which was medium. The small but very tender pieces of lamb were served with ravioli of pumpkin and cabbage of Bruxelles (Brussels sprouts) with a rich jus.
Next the large cheeseboard was wheeled out with great effort by one of the young waitresses. So many to choose from and being a rather new cheese lover I don’t know what I really like yet and I could hardly ask for Gruyère or Cheddar whilst in France could I? Sacré bleu! Creamy cheeses, hard cheeses strong or mild etc.,? I said I liked Comté, mild blues, soft one’s and goat’s. All were very nice indeed, the Comté especially, much nicer than the one I buy at the supermarket. Nothing with this though, no sweet jam, chutney or oaty cakes but I suppose that would be quite filling and leave no room for dessert and we can’t have that, can we?.
I forgot to mention that each main dish was served with a cloche and the waitresses took them off at the same time. We had the same at La Fábula in Granada only last year which now has its own Michelin one star with chef Ismael Delgado who I met after our meal. La Prieuré wasn’t quite as theatrical as La Fábula, they didn’t have the twirling of the knives.
The rich chocolate dessert was superbly presented. Mango marinated with passionfruit with bits of gold leaf decorating the plate – edible I assume 😉 A nice rich coconut sorbet on top and a long twirly caramel tasting thin-as-you-can-get crispy thing stuck into the dessert.
We finished the meal off with a double espresso each and petit fours were served with it! If only more restaurants did this. Lime & white chocolate was my favourite, a thin cookie type base with an explosion of liquid once in the mouth. Another was apricot with a biscuit crumble and a coconut & raspberry marshmallow.
We had a bottle of local Rosé wine served by one of the two sommeliers. Le Prieuré is definitely worth a visit and was in our top three places to eat whilst we were holidaying in the South of France recently, along with Au Moulin Gourmand, a family restaurant in Cadenet.
A great evening, great food, great service and great company – Geoff 😉
Living life, loving fine-dining