It is early September 2008 and Trevor and I have ventured into the
Châtaigneraie area to check out the above Farm Restaurant set in an old cloth
mill on the river’s edge in the middle of the Vendéen meadows, and surrounded by
the owners’ farm. Both Trevor and I have eaten here independently before but it
was some time ago and the Auberge had just won an award for the best farm
auberge in the Vendee. This was quickly superseded by a national award, and
Isabelle the very talented chef in the family business, Roland her husband runs
the farm, wastes no time in telling you that everything she uses in her cuisine
is produced on the farm.
The dining room is old and charming, its dark
wooden floors, antique furniture and magnificent fireplace give it a timeless
feeling and I can imagine eating there with the fire lit on a winters evening
would be a wonderful experience. Even though it was a Tuesday night in early
September we were not the only diners, and were soon joined in the dining room
by a group of four other English people and a Belgium couple. Isabel, who like
me the locals would describe as bavard (talkative), not only enthuses
about her food, but also almost uniquely amongst the French, extols the virtues
of English produce, which she has tasted enthusiastically at English evenings.
She particularly likes English cheese so Sir Alan Sugar, eat your heart out. She
also loves English diners who she thinks are possibly even more discerning and
appreciative than the native French.
decided on this occasion not to have an aperitif and just drink the house red
wine which was good and not at all expensive. Typically Trevor got lucky, as
Isabelle didn’t have any alcohol free lager he had the home made apple juice
instead and said it was as good as it gets. There were various menus starting at
18 euros, we both chose the 24 euro menu mainly because we fancied a steak from
the farm reared charolais beef. After some debate as to whether I should “chomp
the charcuterie” or “try the terrine”, I decided on the charcuterie (pork)
entrée, while Trevor went for the smoked trout. Both the charcuterie and the
terrine were home made and I am a sucker for a home made terrine de la campagne.
Isabelle came boldly to my aid and said she would put a slice of
terrine on my plate of charcuterie, I was grateful as the charcuterie was
fantastic, the boudin noir (black pudding) was amongst the best I’ve ever eaten,
the smoked ham was also sublime and the terrine, although just a tad dry, was
well on the good side of excellent. Trevor’s smoked trout was also absolutely
superb; it had a very delicate taste, was not too salty and the texture was melt
in your mouth, I know this for certain because good old Trevor gave me a taste
of the trout before I started my charcuterie.
We both had the entrecôte of charolais beef; it was served with
sautéed potatoes and an orange mash which caused some discussion amongst all of
the diners. One of the other diners was a former chef and none of us could work
out what the mash was, it was left to Isabelle to put us out of our misery and
tell us that the mystery dish was in fact pureed pumpkin. It is the first time
that I have personally eaten pumpkin and if it was always as delicious as this I
would make it a staple of my diet, but I somehow doubt that I would find pumpkin
as good as this very often. The beef was not only copious, but was of
outstanding quality and was perfectly cooked. I can’t help thinking that a top
quality cut of meat simply but perfectly cooked is hard to beat and is surely
not beyond the compass of any restaurant, it is true to say that it is so
unfortunate that quality like this is so rarely emulated.
The choice of dessert wasn’t large but it was all home made.
Trevor had tarte aux poivre (pear tart) and said that yet again it was as good
as it gets. I decided on the chocolate fondant, and here I must say was the
first very slight disappointment of the meal. The principal quality of a
chocolate fondant for me is rich chocolate sponge with a gooey liquid centre.
This was in my eyes really a chocolate tart and not a fondant and to that end I
felt let down, I wasn’t however dissatisfied with the taste, it was a very good
chocolate tart. It was for me a little dry and would certainly have benefited
from a spoonful of cream, clotted would have been terrific, crème D’Isgny would
have been a fair second best, but neither would have turned this into a fondant
in my eyes, or my mouth for that matter.
Isabelle speaks very
good English and makes all her diners very welcome, she is without doubt a top
chef, and I’m sure she would hold her own in any kitchen, but in her own kitchen
she is the maestro and with her husband Roland providing such high quality raw
materials, it is hard to see her going anywhere else. The only sad thing about
this is that more people will not get to sample her truly exceptional cuisine.
We finished with a large cup of good strong coffee and Trevor paid the bill, it
was 55 euros which I thought was good value for the outstanding quality of the
meal. I can honestly say that the whole experience was fantastic, and for all
those gastronauts out there this restaurant comes highly recommended. -
Cheffois. Tel.02 51 69 68 76.
Moulin Migne Auberge de la Ferme