Aix en Provence Restaurant review
Perestrello Geller discovers another great Aix en Provence restaurant – La Table de Ventabren, in Ventabren 10mins from Aix
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Did you hear the story of the Michelin star chef Dan Bessoudo? You can tell the man’s kind of whacky by the promotional photos for his restaurant. There’s Dan riding on a giant fish, like you or I might ride a horse, and there’s Dan chopping at a fairy-tale sized mushroom with a woodcutters hatchet. There’s a crazed genius behind these photos, but nothing to prepare me for what Dan plans to do next.
You see Dan is the proud proprietor of La Table de Ventabren, the only restaurant in the beautiful Provencal village of Ventabren. From the terrace of the restaurant there’s a glorious view out over the Provencal countryside down to the coast. It’s one of those views that’s a mood changer:- your bank’s just bounced a cheque, you’ve discovered your wife in bed with the pool man, and horror of horrors the truffle oak at the bottom of the garden has just got knocked over by mistral, life’s kicking you in the face, but then you happen upon Dan’s terrace, order a glass of wine, and gradually the universe rights itself. So, it’s a privilege to sit on this terrace, and even more of a privilege to own it, which is precisely why whacky old Dan is going to knock it down. Yes, you heard me, he’s going to smash the whole thing to pieces.
It’s not just the terrace that I’m going to miss, it’s the food as well. Dan is something of a talented man, he trained in Paris, and then worked in Stockholm as the Swedish foodie revolution was beginning to take off. Then some 5 years ago he returned to the south of France (Dan was born in Toulon) and set up La Table de Ventabren. At the moment he’s the proud owner of one Michelin star, but as you can imagine from a man who bare back rides on a fish, he’s an ambitious lad.
And so he should be. There I am enjoying the view of the Med from the terrace having ordered the 39 euro lunch menu, when my amuse bouche turns up. It looks like an egg has been cracked on top of a green sea, in fact it’s a mango froth on top of a petit-poi gazpacho. Now I’ve not eaten peas, since the age 5 when my Mum made me sit at the table and eat every last one of the evil green balls on my plate. They revolt me, in their smug, everyone likes peas, doo-goody way, they make me want to crush them under foot, spread Round-up on the fields where-ever they are grown, until they are as extinct as the Woolly Mammoth.
However, as I mentioned earlier, Dan’s terrace has a way of putting people in a good mood. So instead of grumpily sending the dish back, I tried a mouthful. Sweet Jesus it was good. Now I’m not reversing my opinion of peas, they are still clearly the devil’s food, but anyone who can take these satanic snot-balls and transform them into something so sweetly delectable, has a hint of the divine about him. If only I could have introduced Dan to my Mum all those years ago.
Next came Cote de Boeuf, sliced from the bone and served with beetroot and apple. Normally I would have snorted with derision at such a flavour combination, but after the peas, I was prepared not to pre-judge. In any event the world has had enough of the meat and potato combo, so feeling magnanimous I cleared my mind of prejudice. Texturally the combination works, the apple and beetroot both deliver the crunch of a well-cooked chip, to set against the unctuous give of the flesh of the steak. There’s an acidic sharpness that is, if not welcome, then not unpleasant, and here’s the main thing, despite the heaviness of the steak, one’s palate remains completely fresh and unjaded. Each mouthful of meat is miraculously cleansed by the clean crunch of the fruit and veg.
To finish with I had the most beautiful and delicious desert I have ever eaten in my life. On the menu, it’s called simply agrumes, the French umbrella word which describes all fruit of the citrus family. The waiter introduces the dish with a slightly fuller description but such is the range of fruits and their culinary treatment that I am quickly lost, although I do catch that my ice cream has been made with Perrier water. On my plate is a delicate circular ring of pastry, holed through the centre like a polo mint. You eat clockwise, sampling a different flavour sensation with every mouthful, tart grapefruit, sharp lemon, zesty orange, there’s crunch, melt in the mouth softness, and a panoply of textures in between. Mine was gone, in one greedy excited minute, after I’d finished I even questioned whether the dessert had ever existed.
Time is short for me to pay a return visit to discover whether the dessert was just too good to be true. As I mentioned Dan’s going to knock the whole caboodle down at the end of the summer. He’s bought the land adjoining his restaurant, and like a Phoenix from the ashes, a whole new dining experience is going to take flight from the rubble. Dan’s promises an inside-outside 40 seat dining extravaganza, when on sunny days, an entire wall slides away into nothing. I believe him, he’s a kind of magician.
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