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Something extraordinary happened to me the other day. I went to review a Provencal restaurant and ended up in America. It all began in the Gordes village pharmacy. I was waiting in turn as I eavesdropped on the following conversation:
‘Two glasses of champagne, and a glass of wine’
‘And you say he failed the test?’
‘6 points on his licence’
‘For two glasses of champagne and a glass of wine, c’est pas vrai’
So far so French. After all a little coup of Champagne is barely considered to be alcohol. And what were the gendarmes thinking of, stopping him when there was clearly something to celebrate in the family?
Once the general indignation had calmed down a bit, I asked the Pharmacist the way to La Trinquette restaurant.
‘No problem, at all sir’
I blinked, surprised by the effusiveness of the response.
‘Step right this way, sir, I’ll show you myself.’
The door was held open for me and I was led into the street.
‘Now there are two ways to the restaurant, sir, the first is shorter, the second more picturesque, I’ll take you the second.’
‘Well if you are sure,’ I replied barely able to contain my shock.
‘No trouble at all, sir, no trouble at all.’
And so I was escorted, in my bewildered state, to the door of the restaurant. Helpfulness and hospitality, two words that are not as synonymous as they should be with rural Provence.
The reason for my visit to La Trinquette was that it has a table with perhaps the best view in Provence. It sits on a Romeo and Juliet balcony, which looks out in a grand sweep from the vertiginous heights of Gordes across the Luberon. Adjacent is the terrace of the five star luxury palace that is the Bastide du Gordes, only at La Trinquette a glass of wine will not cost you 15 euros. In the summer at sunset, the Luberon’s version of the northern lights plays out over the hills, as blazing sunshine fades to orange, to purple, to blue, to darkness. For a honeymoon meal, there can be few better locations.
I’d called in advance to reserve the table for my visit. It was the end of March, the sky was blue, but the air was cold and the mistral was howling. The first action of the waitress as I arrived was to discourage me from eating outside ‘c’est glacial’ she said, as I was led upstairs. So far so very French. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been forbidden from eating on a terrace in France, (see my recent review of Rabanel in Arles). This is a country in which the waiting staff are usually right, and very rarely the customer.
I prepared to puff out my chest and demand to be seated outside. I need not have bothered.
‘Of course, come this way, it may be a little cold, but the sun should be over the hills in twenty minutes. Can I get you a drink?’
The owner returned moments later with my aperitif and blankets, yes, blankets and yes I was still in France.
‘Feel free to come back inside if you want to, once it warms up you can always go back out.’
And that is exactly what I did, helped by obliging courteous staff. The gravalax starter was superb. Most restaurants these days serve thin slices of salmon in copious amounts to disguise how tasteless they are. Here I enjoyed 5 or so thickly cut chunks of Gravalax, served with soft rye bread and a cream cheese accompaniment which I could add to taste. The main was the dish of the day, confit de canard parmentier. It was hearty, and well cooked, although retrospectively a little heavy on the garlic.
I took coffee and dessert back outside on the terrace. The sun was out, the blanket redundant, and I felt like the King of the Luberon surveying all around me. The chocolate tart further buoyed my mood: – rich intense and uplifted by a ginger kick. Inside the restaurant was full, proving that the terrace table is as it were, the icing on the cake, rather than the sole reason for eating at La Trinquette.
I left Gordes bemused. I’d definitely eaten a very French meal, but the service, well even an American waiter busting his butt for a tip would have been hard-pushed to do better.