Aix en Provence Restaurant review
Perestrello Geller revisits La Table de Ventabren, in Ventabren 10mins from Aix
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Two years ago I met Dan Bessoudo for the first time and I wrote this introduction to a restaurant review:
“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.”
Well I simply had to go back and find out how the enfant terrible was getting on. Had smashing down the terrace been the biggest mistake of his life? Had he created one of those clinky clinky ambiance free restaurants, where people are to afraid to speak, less they offend those all around them who are silently contemplating plates of food.
Well the good news is that Dan is still there, chirpy as ever, cooking away in an open kitchen, so he can keep an eye on the reactions his culinary creations provoke. The man simply produces some of the most beautiful food I have ever eaten. For once words fail me, here’s a little gallery of photos:
And to coin the old cliche it really does taste as good as it looks. Colours, flavours, textures, all combine to create a gastronomic experience which is hard to match. The price for two courses and a glass of wine is €46 euros a head, which is more than reasonable because dining Chez Dan is culinary theatre. Plus there are endless amuse bouche, and extra little courses which prolong the pleasure.
I have to confess that rather wistfully a small part of me missed the terrace, and the open air. I also have to confess that the new dining room Dan has built is spectacular. Windows on both sides can slide away. A mirrored ceiling creates the illusion of an immense space. At night in the summer time, Dan says the atmosphere is amazing. With lights on each table, and the sound of the cicadas reverberating around the room, customers gasp as they enter. I’m already making a note to visit.
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 7 years ago he returned to the south of France (Dan was born in Toulon) and set up La Table de Ventabren. Two years ago when I first visited he was the proud owner of one Michelin star, but as you can imagine from a man who bare back rides on a fish, he was (and still is) an ambitious lad.
To date the renovation has still not bought him a second star. His food is good enough and there are now the little trays, beloved by Michelin, for lady’s handbags to keep them off the floor, but Dan’s a bit of a rebel. He likes some Lenny Kravitz in the background, and a restaurant which buzzes with conversation. To gain two Michelin stars one usually has to create a temple to food, it’s a monotheist religion, only one god has to be worshiped, and it’s polite to do so in a hushed whisper.
Times might be changing though. I’ll be watching next year’s Michelin list to see if Dan gets his second star.
To compare here are some pictures of the old terrace:
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