Château des Vigiers, Monestier

2014-08-11 20.15.24

Château des Vigiers is the product of some forward-thinking Swedish (and possibly Danish) wealthy-folk who decided to rescue a decaying château surrounded by enough vineyard and fruit groves to plough a championship standard 27 hole golf course through it without spoiling the view.  They also turned the old piles of stones (ahem, château) into a spectacular hotel and spa.  I’m lucky that my dad likes to play golf, this is one of the best courses around this area of South West France and he is a member here.  The three loops of nine holes provide a rigorous test of anyone’s golfing abilities, whilst offering the tourist a quintessential French golfing experience.  They also run a great brasserie, managed by the enigmatic and charming Nils.

Brasserie Le Chai

Tonight’s steak was excellent, as was Vigiers own rosé which complimented the balmy summer evening and three times cooked chips perfectly.  And naturellement, the dessert menu provided the opportunity to continue the quest…  Again, as seems to be the way when in France, presenting brûlées in a wide but shallow ramekin appears to the de facto method.  This delight offered a lemon infused custard which was refreshing light and smooth which reminded me of those classic homemade lemonades.  The sugaring was light but not completely caramelised as evidenced by the lightness of the finish, but had it been more heavy burned it probably would have overtaken the subtly of the lemon custard. A good effort in a lovely location deserving a respectable 6/10.

Les Jardins d’Eole, Fougueyrolles

2014-08-08 14.16.07

The 8th of August is a day of the year I like.  Per the Blood Orange Brûlée post, birthdays are days to be celebrated be that with family, friends, pets, your duvet or a bottle of gin.  This particular birthday day has always been an easy one for me to remember because two people share it – my dad and an old girlfriend, Karen.  Bizarrely, I’ve not seen Karen in person since some point in the mid-90’s after we finished university, but we have exchanged birthday cards every year since then.  We’re not even friends on Facebook…  What’s really lovely about these cards is that they allow us to share a little bit about our lives once a year and keeps the contact alive via old school snail mail.  Quite lovely.  If it ever stops, I can only assume one of us has died… 🙂

Now, given my dad lives in France, and today was his birthday, we went out for lunch to a restaurant situated on a small grass strip airfield.  This picture shows you were the place is located in relation to the runway; what it doesn’t show is that it has the word RESTAURANT written in huge white letter across it’s roof.  I guess this is handy if you are passing pilot looking for somewhere to land for lunch…

Les Jardins d'Eole - Fougueyrolles

When he suggested we try this place, I was somewhat surprised, thinking that if it’s anything like British airfield cafés, the best we could hope for was something fried in a bread roll.  Oh, how wrong I was…!  Head Chef Noël Raffin is clearly an artist.  And a good one at that.  Just look at the presentation of the dessert sharing plate – simply beautiful and certainly one to slow down the passage of spoon to plate whilst you admire the artistry before tucking in.  This particular dessert plate included a apricot panna cotta, chocolate mousse, coffee ice-cream and, of course, a petite raspberry crème brûlée.

2014-08-08 14.16.37

The photograph is a little deceptive in that this ramekin was around 7cm in diameter, however the warm raspberry pink custard was peculiarly pleasant reminding me of the fun to be had picking and eating in-season raspberries straight off the bush.  The caramelisation was relatively thick but easily breakable, and no sugar grains were visible on the surface demonstrating that Noël had been paying attention with his blow torch!  Overall, in amongst all the other flavours and textures on this plate, this was a good effort, especially considering the interesting raspberry influence.  We also learned that Noël also prepared his brûlées with liquorice, coffee and pistachio custards… Amazing!!  Sadly, none of these were on offer otherwise this lunch might have taken somewhat longer…!  8/10.

Restaurant le Bournat, Le Bugue

2014-08-07 13.18.56

So, once on holiday, you have to engage in a spot of doing stuff.  Our family rules involve engaging in water sports, exploring some kind of building or historical site, visiting beaches with waves or doing something that has something for the kids and the grown ups.

This particular post involves the latter – stuff for kids and grown ups. Le Bournat is a historic tourism attraction which mixes 19th century fairground rides with ancient faming machinery and artisan crafts people.  The artisans demonstrate a variety of skills including milling, glass blowing, bread making, jam making and basket weaving amongst other things.  Handily, the kids only had to endure the historic stuff for 5 minutes before being able to get stuck into the 19th century fairground rides which included horse racing, swinging chairs, carousels and the like.  They even had a boating lake which demanded the wearing of life jackets!  All very un-French…

However, knowing that lunch is very much a part of French everyday life meant the village Restaurant filled up very quickly.  What we were not expecting was the surreal experience of  two actors playing the part of maître d’ and his drunk waiter throughout an hours lunch…  My French is passable, but I could not follow a single word the waiter spoke.  With a half smoked cigarette hanging out of his mouth, surfer-tousled hair and a penchant for throwing bread rolls around, they provided much entertainment which the locals clearly enjoyed proving that not all humour translates between languages…

Following the rule of this blog to the letter, brûlée was on the menu, so it had to be ordered.  It was another simply presented marvel in a similar sized ramekin to the Brittany Bretagne post. Again, the lightly sugared caramelisation was easy to break through with a spoon to a cool, but not cold, and ever so slightly sweet custard.  Whilst nothing exceptional it was very tasty and proved that on a count of two brûlées out of two, most French kitchens appear to be able to deliver their national dessert well.  That said, this was a fine but everyday high volume production in a busy tourist restaurant, valiantly supported by the ‘entertainment’ throughout.  7/10.

Brittany Ferries Bretagne, English Channel

2014-08-04 21.11.42

Holidays.  I love them.  There’s nothing better that knowing work is over for a couple of weeks and you are going somewhere new to explore either with family or friends.  You could even be going somewhere you’ve been a few times before safe in the knowledge that everything you want is there and you know where it is so you can put your brain away and give it a rest.

I’m lucky in that part of my family lives in France so I get to spend some time relaxing in the sunshine with them knowing that the flow of wine and sunshine is unlikely to stop.  I can visit familiar places and create those lasting memories with my kids that I hope they will look back on fondly when they are older.  South West France truly is beautiful, so if you find yourself thinking where to explore or your next holiday, then I can heartily recommend the Dordogne area as a place to spending some time holidaying…

To get to France from the UK, you either have to fly, use the tunnel or take a ferry.  Taking the ferry offers the ability to bring the ‘odd’ bottle of wine back, hence I take the car.  Brittany Ferries run various services from Portsmouth, including the overnight run to Saint Malo.  This works just fine with a young family AND it has a great selection of restaurants to choose from… And so to the brûlée.

At risk of rushing ahead, tonights offering was simply superb.  I had my doubts that a passenger ferry could serve up something worth writing about, but how wrong I was.  Perhaps it’s because it was run by the French, therefore the lack of ‘focus’ that one might expect from a mass production environment was overcome by a piece of French culture that should never be ignored.  They love to eat.

The brûlée was delivered in a standard sized ramekin at room temperature, with the custard lightly flecked with vanilla pod.  The sugaring was light but firm, giving only after a second tap with the spoon.  The custard was very light and smooth with no curdling in sight hence was very pleasurable indeed!  The secret was in it’s simplicity and I found it odd that this ‘close to perfect’ brûlée was discovered in a cross channel ferry self service restaurant some where in the middle of the English Channel on a Monday evening.   I’m hoping it wasn’t a dream…  An outstanding effort worthy of a solid 9/10.