Ten of our best French restaurants of 2017 – Meanderings through France n° 135
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
This year we had the chance to enjoy great meals in many beautiful corners of France. They are the kind of restaurants that leave a long lasting memory, places to remember. Let us share a few of them with you, may they be future good memories for you too.
La Méjanassère, in the Lot valley, our undisputed N°1
The first thing you’ll see when entering this ancient farm lost in the Aveyron countryside is the huge wood stove where Frédéric, the chef, bakes big smelly loaves of organic bread several times a week. Next a delicious smell will lead you to the big fireplace where, depending on the seasons, suckling pigs or lambs, poultry or ducks, slowly spit-roast. Whether sitting at a table in the lovely dining room or on the terrace overlooking a breathtaking panorama, you will soon understand why La Méjanassère has such a good reputation. Everything is homemade with produce from the farm or from farms meticulously selected by Véronique and Frédéric, the two talented owners.
Hams, sausages, terrines as well as dairy products, ice creams and sherbets are homemade with fresh local fruits, all coming from a local farm where a hundred pigs and forty cows live peacefully, fed with plants grown on the farm’s lands. They make premium quality products, such as their dairy butter that needs no les than 22 litres of milk to make just one kilo! Frédéric gets his organic flour as well as walnut and hazelnut oils in the nearby Méjane Mill where the big stone wheels grind grains since 1635. The Laguiole, the iconic cheese of the area is made in another close-by farm where fifty Aubrac cows, a local breed, graze all summer long on the nearby mountain plateau.
Using these great products and local old recipes, Véronique and Frédéric cook simple but tasty food: fresh herbs salads, Aligot, a local recipe mixing mashed potatoes and Laguiole cheese, honey roasted duck and chicken, suckling pigs and lambs, homemade potted meat, dry sausages or pâtés, walnut or rhubarb tarts, elder flower mousse, raspberry cheese cake… And of course Frédéric’s wines will be served. The “Entraygues-Le Fel” wine area dates back from the Roman occupation and is one of the smallest ones in France with only 20 hectares. Frédéric and Véronique own five hectares of vines planted on terraces of granite ground and, using sustainable processes, produce red, white and rosé wines not only served in their farm, but also in all the good restaurants of the region. www.domaine-de-mejanassere.fr
Aveyron’s best traditional recipes in Laguiole
There are many wonderful recipes made with the Laguiole cheese. Aligot and Truffade are the iconic dishes of Aveyron. Aligot is made with mashed potatoes, fresh cream and fresh Tomme, the young Laguiole cheese, and needs to be constantly mixed while cooking. Truffade is made of slices of roasted potatoes coated with melting Tomme and aged Laguiole cheese. Both delicious recipes and both very nourishing!
If the mad cow crisis put you off meat you might change your mind in Aveyron. Here good restaurants serve only Aubrac meat from cows that graze in the open all summer long and are fed with locally produced hay when they have to stay in their cowshed. Eating this meat is rediscovering the true delicious taste of beef. Here, on the main square of Laguiole, two good places with a warm atmosphere and a good value for money await you.
L’Aubrac restaurant: http://www.hotel-aubrac.fr/restaurant-laguiole-aveyron.html
L’Auberge du Taureau: http://www.restaurant-traiteur-laguiole.fr/
On the western coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in sunny Perpignan
In Perpignan one of Dali or Picasso’s best loved French towns, the best place to stay at undoubtedly is the “Villa Duflot”, a 4-star hotel and a heaven of peace on the outskirts of town. Elegantly furnished in Art Deco style the hotel also has a delightful restaurant.
After working in renowned Parisian restaurants such as “Pré Catelan” with stared chef Frederic Anton, or with the French king of desserts, Philippe Conticini, François Celestin went to Perpignan in the Pyrenees Orientales, fell in love with this beautiful region and knew at once he had to work there. His menus are simple and sophisticated, inventive and tasty and of course made with high quality local produce. After tasting his “warm white asparagus, soft boiled egg and curcuma cream”, or his “whole grilled sea bream, lemon, thyme and eggplant cooked with parsley and garlic” or his “Intense Red” a delicious dessert made with orange tomato and strawberry smoothie and sorbet, you will just want more… http://www.villa-duflot.com/en/
A treasure village for a jewel restaurant in Belcastel
Built during the Middle Ages on a hill Belcastel village overlooks a quiet river straddled by an ancient stone bridge. Its castle is not the only point of interest of the village. Belcastel also is a meeting point for all gourmets. Amazingly for such a small village a Michelin star restaurant is open from January till October in one of the village’s old house carefully restored and beautifully decorated in a contemporary way. It’s a family business: like their grandparents and parents before them, two sisters Nicole and Michèle Fagegaltier take care of the hungry gourmands! Nicole and her husband, Bruno Rouquier, make a tasty and inventive cuisine inspired by all the wonderful produce that can be found in the region. Quality, taste, sincerity without any affectation or need to be fashionable will ensure you an unforgettable meal. The menu constantly changes with the seasons and with the fresh produce found on the local markets.
Michèle Fagegaltier and her team will welcome you with care and elegance, making your meal an even more enjoyable moment. After a delicious dinner you will just have to walk across the bridge to get to The “Auberge du Vieux Pont”, a few meters away from the restaurant. Also ruled by the Fagegaltier sisters, you will find in this 3-star hotel the same demand for quality and hospitality. Not to forget the appetizing breakfast served on the outside terrace overlooking the river and the castle all summer long. Make sure to make a reservation in advance, both for the restaurant and the hotel.
Close to Paris, a heaven for golfers and gourmets
Augerville Castle is a 4-star hotel, 53 miles away south of Paris, set in a 250 acres estate where deer, foxes and countless birds have already chosen to live in, sharing it with golfers and walkers. Sportsmen, gourmets and epicureans find what they are looking for in this small and luxury hotel registered in the “Chateaux & Hotels Collection” guide: an 18-hole golf course, a brand new spa, a chocolate factory, a gourmet restaurant, a brasserie and 40 luxury rooms and suites.
During his professional career Mickael Brinioli worked for famous chefs in several Michelin-starred restaurants such as Xavier Mathieu, Bernard Loiseau, Jean Michel Lorrain or Nicolas Sale. At 34 he is now in charge of the Augerville Castle cuisines and brilliantly demonstrates his talent and know-how. Reinventing classical recipes with a touch of inventiveness, he combines tradition and originality to make elegant and delicious dishes far from the improbable and pretentious dishes that sometimes get to the tables of “trendy” restaurants. Dining at the “Jacques Coeur” restaurant in a cosy atmosphere is a moment of pure pleasure.
Augerville Castle has its own chocolate factory where every year the chocolate chef turns tons of cacao paste into delicious cakes, ganache, truffles, sweets, chocolate spreads… Made with the finest ingredients they are very popular and people come from far away to buy them in the hotel shop. No need to say that wonderful chocolate desserts are served in the restaurant! http://www.chateau-augerville.com/en/
The “Auberge du Senechal”, another rarity hidden in a small village
A French village would not be complete without a good place to eat in. In Sauveterre-de-Rouergue located in Aveyron, the “Auberge du Senechal” is much more than “good”, it’s a true gastronomic experience! Who could believe that a village of just 500 people would shelter a 4-star hotel and its Michelin-starred restaurant attracting gourmets from the whole planet? Michel Truchon grew up in the village where his mother ruled the local inn. After quickly earning his stripes in famous restaurants, he came back to his hometown and opened the “Auberge du Senechal” 30 years ago. Far from “fashionable” cuisine he values authenticity and top quality local produce sublimated by his outstanding inventiveness. The menus change according to the seasons and to the chef’s inspiration.
The hotel’s rooms express the same simplicity and sophistication as Mr Truchon’s cuisine. Vast, elegantly decorated with noble materials they combine modern style furniture with ancient decorative items found in local antiques shops by Mrs Truchon who warmly takes care of the hotel guests. http://www.hotel-senechal.fr/
Truffles’ kingdom in Dordogne at the aptly named “Auberge de la Truffe”
Sorges area is known by gourmets all over the world as the French capital of the famous tuber melanosporum, the black truffle! Truffles growing in this area are said to have a matchless taste. A renowned truffle market takes place only once a year in Sorgues on the last Sunday in January. When arriving at the “Auberge de la truffe ” (the Truffle Inn), don’t trust appearances. Behind its modest exterior you will find one of the very best restaurants in Dordogne and a very comfortable and friendly hotel. The chef, Pierre Corre, not only makes an authentic and delicious cuisine, he also organizes cooking master classes from November to April, the truffle season! There are truffle weekends or duck weekends during which for 3 days you will of course learn how to cook truffles or foie gras, but also meet truffle and duck producers who will introduce you to the art of choosing the best produce. Whether being part or not of these master classes you will enjoy great meals all year long at the “Auberge de la Truffe”, with a perfect food and wine pairing. More at: http://www.auberge-de-la-truffe.com/index.html
In Southern France the city of Nimes shelters a very secret place
You won’t go to the Croizard restaurant by accident. Unless you’ve been told about this secret place you could well pass in front of it without noticing it and that would be a shame! Ring the bell of this house and you will be introduce to an elegant dinning room and its shaded garden. Vincent Croizard and his wife, the wine expert of the house, will give you time to quietly enjoy a tasty meal made with fresh seasonal produce. Unexpected combinations, right dosage of spices and perfect wine and food paring will make you want to share this discrete address with your friends. As secretive as it might seem many people living in Nimes found their way to this unusual restaurant and booking is highly recommended. www.restaurantcroizard.com
Simple yet great food in an unexpected place
Rodez, a town now known worldwide for its brilliant Soulages Museum, has a lot to offer to tickle your palate and the regional cuisine is a rich and hearty one. For an entertaining evening go to the “Bowling du Rouergue”. This is hardly a touristic address! Set in the middle of a shopping district away from the usual touristic tours this restaurant offers tasty food in a friendly and busy atmosphere. It’s a renowned meeting point for families and friends who come here for a good meal and to play a game of pool on one of the 12 bowling alleys. Surprisingly delicious and fun! www.bowlingdurouergue.com
Since all these restaurants are located in beautiful French areas where there is plenty to do and see we hope this list will be a source of inspiration for your next holidays in France.
Text & Photos ©Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny