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.

Fera at Claridge’s, Mayfair

Simon Rogan may not have received a star for his Manchester culinary triumph, The French, but his prestigious new London eatery, Fera, was awarded the accolade within weeks of opening. Housed in the iconic Claridges Hotel, it is surprisingly daring considering the traditional clientele who frequent this establishment.

Rogan first made an impact on the food scene with his 2 star restaurant L’Enclume in the Cumbrian village of Cartmel, an eatery that introduced us to the chef’s clever cuisine inspired by nature. The French is similar in style, offering innovative food presented in unusual ways.

Fera is latin for wild but, located within the beautifully redesigned art deco dining room at Claridge’s, it is quite the opposite: pristine and organised with a bare tree construction branching out in the centre of the room. In his food however Rogan tames the wild wonders of the garden and pairs the delicate and sometimes obscure flavours with meat and fish cooked to perfection.

I began with one of the delightful seasonal cocktails, it was a lovely shade of pink, a carefully combined mix of pear juice, fig-infused vodka, spiced wine and fennel seed spray. An ideal aperitif to sip whilst nibbling the amuse-bouche. In due course homemade warm malty bread arrived at the table with a dish of whipped caramelised butter.

The lunch menu for the day featured:

To start:

Smoked Bantam yolk, salt-baked kohlrabi, cavolo nero, Isle of Mull, truffle

Beetroot with fresh cheese, chicory brined in dill, pickled pear and horseradish

Main Course:

Reg’s guinea hen, salt-baked celeriac, buttered kale, cider sauce

Roasted plaice with purple sprouting, new potatoes, seaweed sauce

Dessert:

Chocolate cream, apple marigold, shortbread and rapeseed jam

Bramley apple cake, praline ice cream and chestnut

The dishes were beautifully arranged, plates of contrasting colours, textures and shapes, Rogan challenges the diner with unlikely flavour pairings. The Beetroot was a delectable treat, soft and sweet with vinegary and crunchy chicory and indulgent cheese. Smoked Bantam yolk shone marigold orange from the centre of the plate, strewn with greens and an almost tart milky sauce with a luxurious hint of truffle.

Desserts were conservative in size, and my Bramley apple cake tasted almost too healthy for a Michelin meal; light and refreshing with a sharp apple taste and creamy ice cream, shavings of chestnut on top. I thought the cake was most impressive, a dense but spongey texture packed full of flavour. I barely got to taste the chocolate dish, it was polished off pretty quickly, a dollop of silky chocolatey cream and vibrant citrus and biscuit crumbs, the perfect conclusion to the meal for sweet toothers.

A meal for two at Fera will cost you a hefty £300, but visit at lunchtime and you can taste Rogan’s revelatory cooking for just £30 a head. You will experience three courses, as imaginative as the a la carte but lighter and smaller, so you won’t feel weighed down all day. I can’t think of a better Michelin lunch deal in London.

More information and book a table at Fera here.

Pollen Street Social, West End

Jason Atherton seems to be in-charge of the London restaurant scene at the moment, last month he opened his third restaurant of the year, and the reviews are just getting better and better. I visited his original London eatery Pollen Street Social recently to understand why his food is so sought after.

The set lunch menu has to be one of the best value michelin-star choices on offer in London (two courses for £26, or three courses for £29.50). They don’t skimp on extras either, we enjoyed the pre-starter nibbles and the palette cleanser enormously.

On a Friday lunchtime the large west end dining room was full to the brim: jolly business lunches, family catchups and romantic couples surrounded us.

Pumpkin and Parmesan velouté was a comforting and intriguing starter served with chunks of pickled apples and pears (tangy and surprising), and brioche crumbs (seriously moreish). The meaty mosiac game terrine was a less creative recipe though the plate looked beautiful, decorated with elderberries and cobnuts.

Our mains were exquisite. I must admit I was sceptical about the chocolate and orange roast partridge but it exceeded all my expectations, one of the best main courses I have had in a while. The Red-legged partridge was cooked to perfection, amazingly tender white meat with a delightful crisp edge. Celeriac, kale and game chips (more like crisps) complete the dish. My only complaint, it arrived luke warm. My guest loved the braised Lake District lamb neck with “haggis, neeps & tatties” – a modern take on a classic British dish. It was a large portion but he seemed to have no trouble polishing it off.

We decided to try just one option from the dessert menu, opting to share passion fruit sorbet with vanilla sable, meringue and coriander foam. Taste wise it had a strong fruity flavour but was the least exciting of the courses. We were more impressed by the super thin shards of sweet meringue.

Pollen Street used to be a dingy, dark, damp alleyway but never again will it be seen that way. Jason Atherton turns every site he touches to gold and from now on Pollen Street will be forever glorified by his fine cuisine.

More information and book here: www.pollenstreetsocial.com