Le Relais des Moines, Provence

I have never had much need to visit restaurants in Provence. The fresh market produce and my family’s culinary enthusiasm mean a great meal is never far away. However on my last trip to the South of France I did a bit of exploring, keen to discover what Michelin star eateries offer in this part of the world.

Le Relais des Moines ticked a lot of boxes: close to home, good value lunch menu and very appealing sounding dishes. Head chef Sebastien Sanjou cooks passionately but meticulously with the vibrant flavours of Provence, preparing thoughtful dishes that are clever yet uncomplicated. This simplicity emphasises the quality of the ingredients used.

Located on the route to St Roseline in a quiet corner of the Var countryside, the restaurant is set in a beautiful preserved 16th century stone house overlooking the lush Cote D’Azur, illuminated by the southern sunshine. We sat at a calm table near the window, so we could admire the views while enjoying our food and drinking wine from nearby vineyards.

The lunch menu costs 39 euros a head and includes three courses, two glasses of wine and half a bottle of water, coffee and petit fours, and numerous little extra amuse-bouches throughout. Immediately unusual and delicious tiny tasters arrived to perk up our palates… cauliflower jelly, crispy bread-crumbed beef, and a glass vessel of mushroom soup. For starter we loved the small but rich bowl of chestnut veloute, lightly grilled foie gras, crunchy croutons, slivers of bacon and green cabbage. Despite the rich ingredients, the dish was delicate, thanks to the airy recipe and careful seasoning.

The main course was bold and brilliant, and I couldn’t believe our luck, as it was the only option on the set lunch menu – fine lean pieces of gorgeous beef dressed with braised mushroom and a foam with an intriguing woody flavour. The meat, though very pink for me, was so tender and tasty that I didn’t notice its rareness. The jus had clearly been given all the chef’s attention and had a real depth of flavour. After the waitress drizzled a little over our plates I asked her sweetly if she could leave the little jug of steaming sauce on the table, needless to say when she came to pick up the empty plates the jug was also empty.

Dessert was a more extravagant version of my favourite breakfast recipe. Pain Perdu (similar to French toast) with pear sorbet, caramel, sugary nuts and nougatine was a delight of different textures and flavours: soft warm cooked bread surrounded by a pool of sticky caramel sauce and topped with cooling fruity sorbet and vanilla bean silky cream. I scraped up every last bit with barely a breath between mouthfuls. If you are going for the more luxurious a la carte menu, I’ve heard the mandarin dessert is unmissable.

Hidden away in the hills of Provence this restaurant showcases the flavours and captures the atmosphere of the area perfectly. I can’t think of anywhere in London where a Michelin starred lunch offers such masterful food, special wine and value for your money.

More information and book a table here.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 244

Fragonard is one of France’s most famous perfumery houses, located in Grasse in the south of France, an area known for its perfume making history. Fragonard makes its products in its own factory, which is one of the most interesting sights in the town of Grasse. Whilst in Provence this weekend I visited the wonderful historic museum and shop, a fragrant homage to the brand.

The house was founded by Eugene Fuchs in 1926 in Grasse. He named the company in honour of the French rococo painter Jean-Honore Fragonard who lived ion the town. Over time there have been hundreds of scents from this old perfume house. The earliest edition was created in 1928 and the newest is from 2015. The nose who worked on the fragrances most recently belongs to Jean Guichard, a true expert in the field.

The Museum offers free entry to all visitors, and is a lovely place to learn about this special company. With magnificent views over the Cote D’Azur and nearby cafes for lunch, Grasse is the perfect Provencal town to spend the day.

You can now buy a range of the Fragonard products at Marks & Spencer, one of the most familiar chains on the British highstreet. I particularly loved the Brioche-scented candle, which would make your home smell like a French bakery!

More information on Fragonard here, and buy the products from M&S here.

Domaine de la Maurette, Restaurant, South of France

Domaine de la Maurette is my second home, and though I use my grandmother’s idyllic house in the South of France as my escape from the blogging world, I cannot resist writing a short piece on the restaurant that resides up the road.

The vines here provide delicious wine so it seems sensible to build a restaurant in the middle of the vineyards. The establishment, named ‘La Maurette’ is now a favourite for locals, though popular too with tourists in the know. As the chef often changes at La Maurette so does the food served, however one thing always remains, the modest and homely atmosphere. I have very fond memories as a child enjoying the delicious lightly battered courgette flowers at this restaurant, it was I think even a highlight of the holiday. Sadly these unusual salty treats are summer fare, however a lengthy, varied a la carte menu, and a cheaper daily menu is on offer.

My family are famously difficult to please, especially in the food department, so a trip to eat out is always a slightly fractious occasion. Luckily La Maurette were welcoming and patient and allowed us time to choose and then correctly pronounce our choices. With a table of eight there were lots of dishes I could mention but it seems wise only to tell you about the best and worst, what to choose and what to avoid if you did ever visit this authentic Provencal eatery.

The menu du jour cost a very reasonable 13 Euros and the main menu a more expensive 24 Euros. Lovely La Maurette Rose (which I think is the best variety of this wine) arrived on the table to accompany our food. To start: ravioli with sundried tomato was richly flavoured but too al dente, the gnocchi rather bland and heavy, the vegetable tart was well seasoned and tasty and rabbit terrine went down well. The best starter in my opinion was the goat’s cheese salad, very fresh with creamy strongly flavoured cheese.

Mains were enormous… I saw my family’s anxious expressions as the feast was placed in front of us. Half the table had ‘faux filet’ steak with peppercorn sauce, chips and vegetables which was surprisingly good considering the low price. The sauce was absolutely delicious, very light and creamy with whole green crunchy peppercorns, the mixed vegetables were very tasty too. The chips were a little disappointing, soggy and unsalted. The lamb with couscous from the daily menu was not a resounding success, sloppily presentated and bland. Aubergine Moussaka looked very yummy, piping hot and extra cheesy, my sister loved it. The other dishes seemed to go down well but nothing else stood out as being particularly special.

How we still had room for dessert I do not know and yet, crème brulees, floating islands, chocolate mousses and tiramisu all disappeared within ten minutes. The puddings were lovely, simple and classic and well presented. The crème brulee had an interesting lime zesty flavour and apparently the floating islands were sublime, though I didn’t taste them to confirm this! Before settling the bill a few of the team received complimentary strong espressos.

There is something very lovely about eating in the Maurette restaurant… the Provencal vibe, the lively chatter, the sense of community. Perhaps what makes it most special is that while you sit here eating, you are surrounded by luscious vines that make the wine that fills your glass.

Visit the website for more information here.