Jamie Ivey reviews the Moulin de Lourmarin, Luberon, Provence
Sometime ago my first book was the subject of a review in The Sunday Times. As you can imagine as a first time author I was somewhat anxious to find out how I would be treated on the pages of this revered journal. I was in France at the time, and it took me a while to track down a copy. I shouldn’t have bothered. In the 500 words the reviewer used, she managed to insult my writing ability, the concept of the book, and even my wife. There was not a single positive word that could be taken from the review.
I spoke to my agent who thought that The Times had been totally unprofessional. He explained it was generally accepted that first time authors were not going to sell any books, so the only point in publishing a review was to say something positive. Otherwise one was just ‘putting another hole in a sinking ship.’
This advice came to mind several years ago when I ate in the Moulin de Lourmarin. Edouard Loubet, the Michelin-starred owner chef of the Bastide de Capelongue in Bonnieux, had passed over management of the Moulin to a new team and things were not going well. The review I wrote was so ghastly I couldn’t bring myself to publish it. After-all, I reasoned, why put another hole in a sinking ship?
I hadn’t been back, until last week. The Moulin has been under new management for some time now, and in general the feedback filtering back has been positive. It was lunchtime on a sunny day and my first impression was what a pleasant place the shady courtyard was to sit. The centre of Lourmarin in the summer can be a hot sweaty unwelcoming environment, but set in a side street away from the bustling cafes, the Moulin is well insulated from the tourist hordes. High plane trees arch overhead, mature olive trees grow next to old stone walls and there’s the sound of water trickling nearby.
The service was swift and polite, the staff well trained and young. I chose the 25 euro daily menu. It used to be that Brits came to France and raved about the price and quality of the food on offer. These days there’s a lot of grumbling about how expensive things have become. I suspect that people tend to eat out more in the evening, when many restaurants switch to their a la carte menu. Lunchtime dining tends to be more competitively priced. At the Moulin I was served a seafood salad, an entrecote frite, and a cafe gourmand for 25 euros.
The seafood salad consisted of a three large tiger prawns, some smoked salmon and flakes of tuna. It was an unimaginative affair, particularly when compared with the sunflower seed fish tartare I’d recently eaten at the Table de Pablo on a similarly priced menu. However, for a menu starter it was good enough. The entrecote frite was also good but unspectacular. The meat a little too fatty and the steak a little too thinly cut, both evidence of the hand of the restaurant accountant.
The café gourmand is a neat way, being used by most restaurants, to speed up service and increase table churn. Coffee and dessert are taken together not as separate courses, and a selection of mini-cakes and sweets accompany the espresso. When a restaurant possesses a talented pastry chef the café gourmand can really sing. At the Moulin, there was a good but not sensational collection of sweet temptations, including a calisson in a packet, but I suspect no pastry chef.
I don’t want to sound too critical becauses the point of the Moulin at lunchtime is that you eat well, but not sensationally, for a reasonable price, in an enchanting olive tree planted, stone courtyard. I’ll be going back, for the ambiance, the professional service, and a full stomach, content in the knowledge that I could part with far more money, for a lower quality meal in the centre of the village.