Perestrello Geller reviews Restaurant Clarome – Gordes
The best thing about Gordes is the view of the village as you approach. There’s a rocky outcrop where tourists gather with their Nicons and Canons to capture one of the iconic images of the south of France: a fairy tale village that almost appears to float in the sky. Inside Gordes there are some pretty cobbled streets, nice restaurants and boutiques, but the view out onto the Luberon countryside is more often than not blocked. The wow factor is definitely from the outside looking-in.
And so it must have seemed a no-brainer to the owners of the Mas des Romarins hotel to cash-in on the classic view of Gordes from their terrace. All they had to do was lure the punters. Enter Marc de Passorio, rally driver, Michelin starred chef, and signature for hire. Marc agreed to design a new menu, thereby lending some heavy weight culinary clout to what would otherwise have remained the unknown restaurant of a pleasant three star hotel.
So far so good. New menu in place, staff trained, decent couple of PR articles in the local papers, it was time to sit back and count the euros. The restaurant business however is not that simple. You see in posh restaurants in France the chef and the food are King and Queen, and the client all too often a poor subject. Crazy as it may seem it is often the food that is cossetted and pampered rather than the diner.
Dishes must be served at the optimum temperature. Cold starters must not get warm in the sunshine, and warm dishes must not lose their heat on the journey from kitchen to table. Sensible enough stuff you might think. Except that is when the unique selling point of the Clarome restaurant, and the reason that Marc de Passorio was called-in in the first place, is its terrace with a view.
I arrived on a cloudy, ever so slightly windy day in May. It was put on a light jumper and enjoy the sun when it peaked through the clouds sort of weather. However for new staff trying to impress the weather posed a problem as thorny as Einstein’s theory of relativity.
‘Can we eat outside on the terrace?’ I asked (inside is nice enough but a little too similar to eating in a greenhouse for my liking).
The waitress looked horrified. What was she to do, there was a chill to the air, the chef might throw a wobbly if his precious creations weren’t served at the correct ambient temperature.
‘I’m afraid not, sir.’
‘But we’re here for the view.’
‘The food might not be as good sir.’ The waitress stood her ground, arms folded, barring the way.
‘I’ll take my chances,’ I performed a neat side-step and sat down.
It was a disagreeable way to start a meal. Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Marc de Passorio, chefs who try and trade off their name, rather than their cooking always take a risk. There is a loss of control which can only reflect badly on them. I waited for my aperitif and began to mentally pull the Clarome restaurant a part.
The Menu du Marche priced around the 30 euro mark read: asparagus veloute, seafood risotto, and mango soup. This was hospital food. I could have eaten all three courses without chewing. Then there was the view. We were side on to the village rather than face on. 200 metres down the road tourists were munching on sandwiches on the aforementioned rock and enjoying a better panorama than me.
I needed something special to cheer me up and so I chose the 45 euro Marc de Passorio menu. The foie gras starter was not just special, it was sensational. Quite simply the best foie gras I have eaten anywhere, and I have eaten a lot. The secret to good foie gras, is perfect spicing and an immaculate choice of accompanying jams and chutneys. Passario’s foie gras had both, plus an added touch of delicately pickled onions, which cut through the sweetness of the dish. The plate put me in a much better mood.
It’s possible that my main of thyme-smoked filet de boeuf arrived at the table fractionally less warm that it would have done had I agreed to be seated in the greenhouse. It is definitely true that the cold air would have quickly chilled the meat to below its optimum temperature of consummation. I say would have, because I wolfed down the steak quickly it was so good. The thyme smoking reminded me simultaneously of barbequed meats and also the delicate aroma of tea. Next time I have friends round I am going to fire-up the smoky joe, destroy a couple of thyme plants and see if I can replicate the taste.
Dessert was a grapefruit sorbet on a speculoos biscuit base. It was a delicate well thought out palate cleanser. Be warned though, waiters and waitresses, it could easily melt into nothing on a hot summer day on a baking terrace.