Rain woke us up thundering on the roof of the house before the sun had come up. By the time the sun had risen the rain had stopped and because the land is so dry from months of hot summer the water had soaked in almost immediately. The only evidence it had happened at all was on the glazed tiles on the terrace. We hurried breakfast and jumped in the car heading for Gigondas in the south of the Cotes Du Rhone where we had a lunch booking.
We stopped in a tiny town called Beaumes-de-Venise on the way. They were having their weekly market consisting of about 8 stalls down the main street. Commercial radio was blaring from an outdoor PA system right down the street and the locals were out in force buying their fruit and vegetables. There was also a lady selling blankets and getting quite a bit of attention. We walked to the top of the hill in the centre of Beaumes-de-Venise where we found the remains of ancient houses cut back into the cliffs, the facades long gone leaving shallow gouges in the cliff face.
The tiny market at Beaumes-de-Venise.
From Beaumes-de-Venise it was a short drive to Gigondas, famous for its heavy red wine which those in the know say competes with Chateauneuf du Pape. The town also seems to be a real mecca for local artists. Sculptures are situated all around the village and the second castle, in slightly better condition, has been converted into a gallery. Public art is quite rare in Provence. The only other place we could remember seeing any was in Arles and then only because of the Vincent Van Gogh connection.
We returned from the hilltop to the Cavau De Gigondas, the co-operative wine shop that supports all the local wine houses. They have around 150 wines to taste, all of them red and tannic. The tannins integrate beautifully as the wines age. We tasted wines from as far back as 2000.
The tastings on offer at Gigondas.
Some of the art at Gigondas in the second castle
The outlook from Gigondas
We drove 5 minutes out of Gigondas to the restaurant Les Florets where we had a booking. It has a long narrow driveway that opens out into a sweeping car park and a brand new black Jaguar XR was parked in front of the doors as we drove up. The establishment in the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range looks out over a deep and heavily-forested gully.
The Michelin Guide 2009 stickers on the windows promised a special lunch. We were shown to our table and presented with large menus and a very large wine list, an inch thick. We opted for a 44 Euro menu of six courses and focused on the wine. It seemed rude not to order the local drop so we agreed on a 2005, hoping it had had enough time in the bottle to soften. It had!
Our first dish was baked olives, tapenade, croutons and a little skewer piercing a slice of pork sausage, black pudding and poached pear. This plate of salty things did its job: we were now very hungry!
Elysia reading the wine menu at Les Florets - it was huge!
First dish: baked olives, tapenade, croutons, pork sausage, black pudding and poached pear.
Some of the local wine at lunch.
Amuse bouche was a chilled carrot soup that was lightly curried and creamed. It was served in a very nice heavy based glass with a tiny basil leaf on top. The texture of the soup was quite coarse but had great flavour. France's obsession with curry seems to be similar to Australia's obsession with chilli and coriander.
Our entrees arrived. Elysia had rabbit terrine with rabbit rillettes, thinly sliced eggplant wrapped around some sweetened confit onions, a little cheesy pastry thing and a mustardy vinaigrette to cut the terrine. Iain had a foie gras espuma squirted into a hoop of dried whole grain bread and containing a brunoise of various glace fruits for sweetness. It also came with a sphere of melon sorbet that tasted only of ripe melons and something that resembled a scotch egg with the yolk being a sphere of melon and the white being a duck rillettes, the whole lot was rolled in poppy seeds. The "Scotch Egg" was described to us by our waiter in French so we didn't fully understand what it was until we cut into it - a nice surprise!
Chilled carrot soup with basil.
Mains were duck breast cooked pink and sauced with a sweet and sour sauce containing tiny girroles, a confit tomato, a cheese croquant and a little glass of curried spelt barley. This time the curry was in the style of Thai green curry. The other plate was Coquilles St Jacques - four large perfectly seared scallops with a loose salsa of tomato, lemon zest and anchovies spooned over the top. There as also a stack of confit tomato interleaved with grilled eggplant and a small cigar of crab, broad beans and mushrooms contained within crispy pastry.
Duck breast with spelt and sweet & sour sauce.
Coquilles St Jaques.
Next up was the cheese course. A large cheese trolley was wheeled over and we were offered a selection of local goat and cow cheeses. Don't ask what they were; there was such an overwhelming selection we were instantly lost. We chose four goat and four cow cheeses to start. The goat cheese ranged from fresh unsalted to an aged and gum-tingling variety. The cow cheeses ranged from a Camembert to a blue. It was strange to be served cheese with no accompaniments, no bread etc.
The cheese trolley.
The cows' section.
The goats' section.
Desserts were a different story. Les Florets obviously has a dedicated and talented pastry section focused on putting a lot of skill and technique onto the plate. It was a bit much decoration for us but none the less very impressive and there were great flavours. We had a nougatine parfait with a pear mille feuille and a chocolate sable with tuille croquant.
The nougatine was shaped in a cylinder and perfectly soft with a genoise base. The parfait itself contained glace fruit, tiny chocolate spheres and candied peel. The mille feuille was a thick compote of pear with a rectangular piece of perfect crispy puff pastry. It was dusted with icing sugar and accompanied by two different creme anglaises, a sprig of mint, fresh raspberries, red currants, and a cape goose berry still in its husk and dipped in white chocolate. While still soft it had been placed onto the glass plate so it was stuck there. There were also two pieces of soft but chewy nougat on a thin skewer on the top and a lacy toffee tuille.
The chocolate dessert was equally intricate. A chocolate sable with a light chocolate mousse, a shard of glossy dark chocolate with tiny spheres of chocolate painted in various colours stuck to it, another cape gooseberry dipped in chocolate, a lacy toffee tuille, candied peel coated in cinnamon sable, a sphere of vanilla and milk sorbet and sugared raspberries!
Nougatine with pear mille feuille.
Chocolate sable with milk sorbet and orange sable.
The bon bons arrived on a two-tiered silver tray with the sugar for coffees on the top. There was a tiny chocolate tart with perfect crumbly pastry, a little marzipan and citrus thingy with crystalized sugar on top and a little pink meringue with party sprinkles on top. It looked very naff but was surprisingly lemony in flavour - almost lemony sour.
The bon-bons at Les Florets.
The lunch, despite being a little over garnished, was the best we have had in France. The cutlery was silver and polished. The service was good and the food tasted fantastic. It was unfortunate that the weather was a little cool so we were confined to the indoor dining room because the terrace was very pretty.
As we left the restaurant it began to rain very heavily and we scampered to the car and headed for the town of Orange to see another ancient Roman theatre cut into the side of a hill. By the time we got there it was raining so heavily we decided to turn around and come home. The roads were running with water.
Dinner was a steaming hot bowl of brothy soup made from the fresh local red coco beans (not the chocolate kind) a bit like a cannellini bean, green beans, courgette, pasta, potatoes and basil pesto. We were so keen to eat it we forgot to take any photos for you but take our word for it it looked and tasted great! A glass of dry muscat from the fridge.
Still raining heavily outside so we spent our evening chilling out on the couch watching Michel Roux Jr wrangle professional chefs on the British version of Master Chef: The Professionals.