Auberge de Tavel comes highly recommended: my mum, who is no stranger to a fine dining establishment, tells us that the five course lunch she ate here last year was the best meal she’d ever eaten. Anywhere. Ever. It’s hard to resist the lure of such enthusiasm – and why would we want to? We’re spending half term with my parents in nearby St Gabriel and, even better, Mum has found a Groupon deal, promising us that same menu for a mere 39 euros per couple. PER COUPLE! We book hastily, pile into the hire car and head off into the hills.
The auberge is a charming little hotel in the tiny village of Tavel. We decide to make the most of the October sunshine and sit outside (something we definitely won’t be doing when we return to Edinburgh next week). We find ourselves in a small courtyard, all Provençal shutters and bleached grey stone, pretty flowers and trailing plants. It’s delightful and certainly bodes well.
The first offering from the tasting menu is a dainty amuse bouche, a kind of creamy onion crumble in a miniature glass jar. It’s unusual, but rather nice, and certainly whets the appetite.
The basket of bread that arrives before the next course is not the customary sliced baguette; instead we have hunks of warm fresh olive and walnut bread. The walnut in particular is absolutely heavenly.
The second course is soup – a cold courgette soup to be precise, which doesn’t sound at all appetising but is, in fact, delicious, delicately seasoned and bursting with flavour. It’s accompanied by a crisp bread loaded with whipped goat’s cheese, which is admittedly quite hard to eat – not because it doesn’t taste amazing; it does, but because the base is so brittle, the topping so generous, and its location (balanced on the side of the soup dish) not exactly ideal for applying pressure. We narrowly avert any major spillage, and thoroughly enjoy the food.
Course three is lamb, served with vegetables and polenta. I’ve never really liked polenta but this is a game-changer: it’s crisp and light and perfectly complements the robust flavour of the slow-cooked lamb and its rich sauce.
Thank goodness the next course is a light one: a fig comfiture with ricotta cheese. It’s light, and very appropriate for this stage in the proceedings.
Next up, we’re surprised by an additional amuse bouche, creme brulee, creatively presented inside a real egg shell, with a mini soldier of cinnamon toast on the side. It’s cute as anything, and makes us all smile, even before we’ve tasted it. Happily, it tastes every bit as good s it looks.
Our final course is a sort of poire belle Helene/pavlova mash-up, deliberately retro in its style. Presented on a stripy red, white and grey plate reminiscent of 80s teenage bedspreads, it’s a pretty crown of meringue topped with cream, a poached pear, and lashings of nutella sauce. It’s unusual, but I like it.
We don’t sample the wine, although the list is extensive – Philip and I both enjoy a tipple, but lunchtime drinking has a habit of eradicating the afternoon, so we stick to tap water. We do have coffee though, which comes with petit fours; goodness knows, these are an unnecessary addition at this juncture. Still, we eat them – purely, you understand, in the name of research for this review. And very good they are as well.
It’s a great start to our week in France: a noteworthy meal in wonderful company. If you should find yourself in the area this is a restaurant you really must visit. But if you’re going for the tasting menu, you should probably skip breakfast.