When I learned at the start of a long, rainy Parisian winter that one of the most brilliant young restaurateurs in France, Antoine Pétrus (previously sommelier at Clarence and butler at Taillevent in Paris) had taken over the management of this historic establishment in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, I immediately started counting the days until I could discover this place for myself. So it was with great impatience that a friend in Boston and I headed to this charming old world-famous wine town in the Rhone Valley for lunch on a sunny Saturday afternoon on back roads that trace the famous vineyards.
It was a hot day and I arrived almost panting for a glass of one of my all-time favorite French wines, which is a fine Châteauneuf-du-Pape blanc. And as if the charming and very knowledgeable young sommelier had read my mind, this was the pour that he suggested right after we were seated at an outdoor table, with a verdant view of some of the most beautiful vineyards. famous around the world. Although it would have been more economical to order one of the prix fixe menus, we both wanted dishes from the à la carte it wasn’t in those so we decided, carpe diem! And we ordered what we wanted without laundering at prices, which, although not very affordable, are not unreasonable for the quality of the cuisine of the very talented young chef Julien Richard.
Even before the dishes came to the table, I loved this place, where the pendulum has been so skillfully put back to 2021 without losing the accumulated charm of one of the greatest gastronomic addresses in provincial France. This restaurant was founded by Germaine Vion in 1922, and everyone has been here, including Mistinguett, Jean Gabin and Fernandel. It quickly became a very popular stage of the vacation route, or the holiday highway, connecting Paris to the Côte d’Azur. Today, many holidaymakers take the motorway, but with the opening of a very nice hotel here, this restaurant and its new bistro have become the absolutely ideal stopover if you are traveling between Paris or the ports of La Manche and the south of France.
My first dish was one of the best summer dishes I have ever had, but it would also be a good dish on a fall or winter day – briney oysters from Camargue with ewe’s milk, poached cucumber and in jelly, soft sheep’s cheese and tzatziki, the Greek dish that combines all these flavors. With a whole range of lactic tastes interacting and flattering each other, it was sexy, refreshing and healthy; which also describes the fried zucchini flower with a lemon sardine tartare that my friend ordered, a dish that was a top notch high end comfort food. If I loved my lamb with small artichokes and a magnificent Juice embellished with Châteauneuf-du-Pape, we were both a little disappointed by the little cup of macaroni with sweetbread, a calf quenelle and a wonderful ruddy sauce that my friend had. Why? Sweetbread does not lend itself to delicate portions, when it gets overcooked, but rather deserves a more muscular portion that offers the pleasure of savoring the pastry texture and the superbly ruddy flavor of this irresistible gland (sorry if I made you shiver, but sweetbread is the thymus of a young calf; now that you know it, instantly forget about it and enjoy it without dwelling on its biological function).
If I preferred my roasted apricot dessert to my friend’s magnificent variation of grain chocolates, it is perhaps because the fruit presented an excuse for sipping a Châteauneuf-du-Pape dessert wine; these rarely leave the region and are filled with summer stone fruits such as apricots, peaches, nectarines and, shaded in autumn, plums and pears.
Having benefited from the charming service of a smart, intuitive and well-established team, I put this address on my fall list for a weekend that will allow me to taste many wines in the local cellars and discover the new bistro like good.
3 rue du Commandant-Lemaître, Châteauneuf-du-Pape,
Phone. (33) 04 90 22 78 34,
Average € 80, fixed price menus € 88, € 118.
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From France Today magazine