Film Scouts on the Riviera 2000

2000 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
May Gourmet: West Side Story - Lourmarin Stars

by Jim Byerley

Film Scouts on the Riviera 2000 is presented by:

The road south from Bonnieux to Lourmarin is twisty and wildly beautiful. A marvelous place to stay just east of the town is the Hotel de Guilles. Set way out in the green, green countryside, it is a member of the hotel association known as Relais du Silence. It has a pool, tennis courts and is surrounded by vineyards, poppy fields and almond groves. The hotel is without a restaurant, at present, but is looking to rectify the situation. The charming town of Lourmarin is just a couple of kilometers away and dining there can be quite heady. After seeing the imposing 15th century Chateau of Lourmarin and visiting the grave of Albert Camus, you will have worked up an appetite. Make your way to the famous Moulin de Lourmarin.

Does your mother know where you are? Edouard Loubet seems too young to be let loose in a kitchen and he already has two Michelin stars. His future seems bright, indeed. The Moulin is another Relais and Chateaux installation on the edge of town with a spectacular view across a field towards the chateau. One can have pre-dinner drinks on a shaded terrace or in a plush indoor sitting room. There is an intimate walled-garden just off the restaurant which was not in use recently. The language on the menu is a bit windy "complicite de fois gras" and "loup de ligne a l'unilaterale"), but the staff could not have been more friendly or cordial. The old moulin stone was present in the large dining room which boasted a soaring, arched ceiling. Nice Provencal linens adorned the widely spaced tables, but an overall feeling of intimacy was lacking. Thanks to the shape of the room and the stone floors, one kept hearing conversations of diners seated yards away on the far side of the restaurant. The institutional silverware was common too, looking like something lifted from the HBO cafeteria back in New York. Nothing matters, however, when Mr. Loubet starts to cook.

The meal was a joy from beginning to end. Snails in a foamy herb infusion, a caramelized onion tart with a salad of country greens on the side and a mushroom soup redolent with truffles were bursting with flavor. The aforementioned loup was tender having been quickly cooked on one side only. A duck consommé with fresh asparagus cleared the palate for the lamb from Sisteron. To the side of the lamb was an old-fashioned casserole like Grandmere used to make. Sliced pomme de terre, cheese, cream and garlic…delicious and then some. A simple, local white wine, Domaine de Citadelle 1998, accompanied the herbal explosion with ease and never got in the way.

The cheese tray looked scrumptious, but we moved on to dessert. Celery sorbet (better than it sounds), strawberry sorbet and almond ice cream made a refreshing pause. Three crème brulees followed and were fragrant and creamy…green tea, saffron and jasmine. All the herbs come from the chef's own garden which is three kilometers away. A knockout mixture of herbal tea, framboise liquor and honey from Lormarin brought the meal to a stunning end. Can't imagine what young Mr. Loubet will do when he grows up. Lunch goes for 200 FR while dinner menus range from 400 to 600FR. With the current rate of exchange, it's a bargain to be savored.

Slightly south of Lourmarin is another restaurant of refinement. The one star Auberge La Feniere, which also rents seven rooms, has a fabulous backyard complete with pool and drop-dead view. The interior is quite sophisticated for a country place, but the artwork was not to my taste. The meal was quite good and the lady chef, Reine Sammut, graciously signed a menu before we left. The menu degustation was 550 FR and began with a tasty pea soup spiced up with morilles and bacon. There was a terrific pungent risotto with vegetables and grilled shrimp on the side. Raviolis graced the tender lamb, making me wonder if Mme. Sammut has some Italian in her family. Cooked strawberries with green pepper were partnered with basil ice cream as dessert began. Hot and cold sensational. Next up was a dreamy chocolate caraque with thick chocolate mousse in layers. Uncle!

Lourmarin is a most hospitable spot to headquarter yourself, for a gastronomic tour of the Luberon and eastern Provence. Forget the insanity of Cannes and enjoy.

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