Well, the highlight of our cycling holiday in Provence was two nights at Oustau de Baumaniere. We were supposed to stay at the sister hotel Le Cabro d’Or, it was unavailable but Belle France arranged the other instead. I can’t thank Belle France enough for their help in organising our magical week away. We asked to change their standard tour to suit our needs and these were always met.
Our cycling tours are very gentle affairs. We tootle about the French countryside through vineyards, olive trees from one hotel to another. Our bags are taken to the next point of call for us. We just get there in time for aperitifs and dinner.
Onto the dinner of the week. Oustau has two michelin stars, so we were expecting great things. We chose the Discovery Menu. I could write it out in French but it just makes things sound more complicated than they need to be. Our starter above was essentially a spicy crab salad wrapped in spring roll wrappers. This was then encased with a cucumber jelly. Served alongside a broccoli puree with bursting balls of yoghurt raita. It was a delicious spicy crab roll, but the cucumber parts seemed very under seasoned, hence just for show.
Next up was a simple fish course. Like a lot of things in life though, if you have good produce , don’t play with it. One piece of the snapper had a superb citrus marinade. Whilst the other, was topped with basil leaves and a sheet of filo pastry. This gave the fish an amazing crisp skin. A tomato salad encased in crispy spring roll wrappers finished the dish off.
The main course arrived. Something I’d never had before. Milk fed lamb. The lambs are only 6-8 weeks old and fed simply on their mothers milk. It is expensive as you are paying for the full price of a lamb. On this dish we had a kidney, loin and a tiny chop (chuletillas) with some gnocchi and violet artichokes. It was a faultless dish which you could happily eat everyday. The milk fed lamb is more tender than normal lamb with much less of the irony lamb flavour which can put many people off. It was so nice we had a full( I say full it was the smallest leg I’ve ever seen) “gigot” the following evening.
Onto dessert. I have to say, this is when I lost my superlatives for the evening. We were encouraged to have this dish as it was one of their specialties. Well, as a maker of many a salted caramel thingamebob I’ve made many caramels. This dish looks good, but not good for two michelin stars. I say this, and will prove it by making a much better one next week. On looks alone, I can see too much pastry per layer and a thick creme anglaise. A millefeuille should have a light creamy filling, not a dry thick stodgy one. Anyhow, I have salted caramel ice cream on the side so I’ll moisten it with that. Or maybe not. I had a taste of the ice cream and the caramel had been burnt. I tried it again and it left such a bitter aftertaste I couldn’t eat it. I had half of the pastry before I gave up. Bring on the cheese.
Petit fours were a much greater success than the dessert.
Now, for starters you don’t get a cheese trolley in France. You get a Chariot de Fromage, sounds better already! The cheeses clockwise from the blue were a Foume D’Ambert, goats log, chilli medium cheese, Saint Marcellan and a thyme spiced goats cheese. They are all superb, the D’Ambert being arguably the best blue cheese going. There is a BUT though, this is how the cheese arrived. With a little hard brown loaf of bread. NO CHUTNEYS, I thought they do this on purpose to make you drink more wine. You really do appreciate a good wine at this point. It does seem to be a French thing though, they definitely need to up their game and produce some home made chutneys.
Overall, its a dinner we will never forget. The setting is what you’d expect, eating outside in the summer on the terrace underneath fig trees. The food, it has to be said was unforgettable for it being so good to so bad. I can’t recommend this experience enough for anyone who may be in the area. I would certainly return, I think next year we’ll try out the sister hotel for a change.