Friday, September 25, 2009

Day sixteen Provence... Lucky last!

Today was our last day in Provence and it was a blinder! The weather was fantastic not a cloud in the sky and around 28 degrees. We started the day by heading to Avignon to Les Halles to buy some fish and oysters for dinner before they all sold out.

Our last day at La Louche

We got to Avignon and wandered into the old town across the bridge over the Rhone. The sun was already heating up the cobbles. We walked into the covered market, its external walls made of plants. We headed for the fish section and looked it over discussing what we would like to eat that evening, it was all fresh as the morning and sitting on beds of ice. There was half a bluefin tuna about the same size as Iain and scores of other fish.

The fish at Les Halles in Avignon

We decided on three different types of oyster from three locations around France's coast; some huge prawns; some small prawns; some langoustines; and some strange little 'Morton Bay Bug' -looking critters. We hunted the rest of the market for olives, eggs and lemons. The eggs we found at one of the butchers, selecting them individually from a big basket.

Les Halles in Avignon.

Leaving Les Halles we checked out the outdoor market in the square and found some French release vinyls from the 60s and 70s for only a few Euros. Back over the Rhone to the car with our big bag of fruit de mare and home again.

It was then on to Roaix to lunch at Le Grand Pre, a one-Michelin-starred restaurant that came very highly recommended from various people that don't give out glowing recommendations lightly. We drove into the foot hills of Mont Ventoux. We had a little trouble finding the place, but once we did, parked on the crunchy gravel drive way in the shade of a tall bamboo windbreak. The entrance path winds through a kitchen garden with herbs and tomatoes to the terrace where we were seated. We were offered drinks and presented with menus.

The centerpiece at Le Grand Pre (figs in various media).

We opted for the signature Grand Pre menu of six courses, Iain was driving so only Elysia enjoyed the matched wines (of course!) . The plate of treats (like you usually get in good French restaurants) came out to the table. A little cylinder of heirloom carrot, purple on the outside orange on the inside, containing a garlic and herb whipped butter; a pumpernickel-type sandwich with a creamy filling containing figs; and a little cheesy crumbly biscuit.

First up! The carrot slices were really cool and the biscuit were like fancy Womens' Weekly cheese busters.

The amuse bouche, a tomato vichyssoise, was placed on the table in a tall conical ramekin. The soup was chilled but not cold, and tasted of beautiful rich tomatoes with a dice of oven dried tomatoes in the bottom. It was creamy and thick, a perfect start to the meal.

Tomato Vichyssoise.

Next a combination of fig and prawns. The prawn tails were halved lengthways and were sitting upright on a line of quartered figs dressed in a creamy and delicately mustardy sauce and a little coriander. It was nice to have coriander as we haven't seen any since we've been here. There was also a drizzle of slightly spiced tomato salsa. The coriander, fig and prawn was a great combination, the prawns cooked perfectly, sweet and juicy.

Prawns and figs.

The prawn wine match, the winning variety of the region a grenache blanc blend (how have we never seen this?).

The second savoury was the best dish we have eaten on the trip so far, Never before have we had preserved lemon used with such subtlety and skill. The dish was a breast of Bresse chicken and was perfect. It came with a lemon sauce, baked salad onions and creamy coco beans grown locally. The lemon sauce was creamy but so so light and delicately flavoured with preserved lemon. The beans were soft and creamy the chicken was probably sous vide and then seared in a very hot pan so the skin was almost smokey seared. The dish was beautiful! Worth the trip all the way to Europe and a real epiphany for Iain's chef brain.

The greatest chicken dish.

Close up.

A rich lovely viognier blend (chicken wine) .

A little clothed table was placed next to our table and a silver platter with the best part of a large wheel of sheep's cheese was placed on it. We were set with a piece of dense walnut bread and a little cup of tiny salad leaves. The leaves were in a little ramekin that looked uncannily like a disposable plastic cup that had been crushed on one side. The cheese was slivered in front of us and plated with some stewed fig puree. The cheese was creamy and nutty, very nice.

The little ramekin the salad came in.

Sheep's cheese.

The cheese's wine match (yes it was a shiraz), light and peppery yum yum!

A pre-dessert arrived in a cylindrical shot glass with a pineapple coulis layered under a creamy coconut layer like a pina colada with a line of palm sugar on top.

mmmmmm pina colada (...and getting caught in the rain).

Dessert was in two parts using fresh berries. Perfect raspberries with a fromage blanc and lime ice cream. The other was tart blueberries with strawberry sorbet, a little orange sponge and a little tapioca. The two dishes were served in two tiny bowls resting on a little wooden board. The strawberry sorbet was so soft that, as it sat, the sugary and bright red strawberry part started to separate from the tiny ice crystals creating a pale translucent outline to the rochere.

Berries! The last of the season.

A lightly sweet, yet wonderfully balanced beauty to finish.

Petite fours were very interesting. Candied pecans, liquorice almonds, nougatine croquants, cinnamon wafers and a tiny silicone paper cone containing an intense gingery dust that we were instructed to tip into our mouths last.

Petite fours.

Le Grand Pre was fantastic. The terrace was warm and shaded under fig trees, the service was great, the wines were interesting and well-matched, and the food was elegant and skillful. We recommend anyone in Provence to go and sample it for themselves.

Dinner at home was fishy. We split the oysters and had them with red wine and shallot vinaigrette (no surprise if you've ever eaten at Piccalilly). The langoustines, little prawns and buggy things we poached in a court-bouillon to keep their sweetness. We shelled the large pawns and sauteed them in butter and lemon juice and served with garlic and parsley and a lemon and parsley mayonnaise. The oysters were lovely and so was everything else.

Prawns as big as a small cat!

French oysters!

Prawns in butter and lemon.

We scoured the house for all the belongings we had spread around over the last two weeks and packed it all into our bags awaiting the 6:45 departure to Lyon to fly to London.

Stay tuned to but posts may not be so frequent as the hotels we are staying in during our time in London and Paris may not have enough internet to post every day. BUT, rest assured, the Fat Duck review will be on the net ASAP!

For all those interested in La Louche in Caromb to live their own Provence adventure check out You can see the house and get any information you may need. We highly recommend it! We also recommend getting a GPS for your car, it makes navigating the maze of roads so easy!

1 comment:

  1. A slice of heaven at The Grand Pre.
    The Bresse chickens are out of this world and that dish looks divine...enough of the god-talk!!