Les Deux Bouchons Provence restaurant, Calas, near Aix en Provence
Perestrello Geller revels in the great atmosphere at Les Deux Bouchons, and finds the only thing missing is a giant corkscrew.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I treasure the image of the perfect restaurant. It’s not high summer when I visit, rather mid-winter. The time of year when a restaurant is a refuge, as well as somewhere to eat. There’s a bustle. Tables are full of hungry people eating greedily, and drinking gutsily, topping themselves up from pichets filled with lustrous red wine. The chairs facing the wall are wooden and the seats facing the room are leather banquets. The table tops worn to a sheen, and the knifes and forks veterans of too many services. Curiously I don’t dwell too much thinking about the food. It’s excellent obviously but what my imagination cherishes is the atmosphere.
I’ve yet to find the place. Nothing after all can quite match the perfection of the mind. I did though experience a strange sense of coming home, when I walked into the Deux Bouchons brasserie in Calas, just to the south of Aix en Provence. In the real world there were wars and crashing stock markets in China, but the room before me was a haven where things were as they should be.
The owner Michel greeted me and my companion, a broad smile on his face:
‘Ah the most beautiful woman in the restaurant today,’ he said with no hint of irony, immediately bringing a smile to my partner’s face. Lest I think he was preparing to jump into bed with her, Michel, followed this up with:
‘You’re such a lucky man,’ again there was no hint of smarminess. With a broad sweep of his arm he led us into his dining room.
In the UK today there is still a chain of French restaurants known as Café Rouge. When they first started opening maybe twenty years ago they captured in the English popular imagination the essence of the French bistro and were for a while hugely successful. The décor consisted off old posters and prints from Parisian flea markets, specials of the day would be written on a salvaged chalk boards. At their best Café Rouges managed to offer both the security of a chain restaurant coupled with the individuality of a one-off resto.
Nowadays the format is jaded, but what they were and still are aiming to create, exists at Les Deux Bouchons. Here the dining room is like a window into the owners mind and life. There’s humour in the collection of china pigs arranged around the bar, there’s art in the form of various Toulouse Letrec prints, and there’s the sense of a journey conveyed by old street signs. It’s all so cluttered and yet with the tables heaving with jovial diners, it’s strangely appropriate, and homely.
When we sat down we immediately felt part of the throng, part of the furniture. I could imagine customers coming and going, but the essential spirit of the place remaining unchanged. Individuals that we all are, only the strongest of personalities could dent the pervading bon humeur of Les Deux Bouchons. In such an environment the food was never going to be light and delicate. Indeed the restaurant bills itself as a Lyonnais Provencal cross. In the winter the Lyonnais favourites of innards and offal dominate the menu, in the summer lighter Provencal fare comes to the fore.
Those not fond of munching on testicles need not fear a winter visit. I survived perfectly well as did my companion. To start with we shared the special of the day a truffle infused ravioli. The ravioli came in a rich unctuous sauce strongly flavoured with truffles, inside the ravioli was a delicate goat’s cheese, flavourless in itself, but well adapted to taking on the pungent aroma of truffle. As a main I enjoyed a daube de boeuf and my partner a confit de canard. Both were excellent, full and hearty, with the confit home-made rather than the sub-standard tinned variety that so many restaurants rely on.
As we ate the tables around us cleared. The clientele was a combination of office workers and locals. They left a pleasing mess of empty plates, licked clean cutlery and empty pichets of wine. Soon it was just me, my partner and her beautiful eyes. We had a coffee and congratulated ourselves on a great find. Just twenty minutes from the airport there can be no better way of getting off a plane and immediately feeling you are in France.