Perestrello Geller goes in search of more Gordes restaurants and discovers meta-modernism at the Bistro, La Coquillade.
The verdict: ‘Hear me, tourists of Provence, I urge you this summer to discover the delights of dining in a five star hotel. Go for lunch and sample the pleasure of enjoying the same level of luxury as the people on the table adjacent, with the comforting knowledge that they, not you, are paying 400 euros for their room.’
The price: €39 for three courses
It’s that time of year again. People I barely know start getting in touch and discussing their summer plans. The foolish try for a room chez moi for a couple of nights. I assure them that the Riviera is a hellish place during the summer, full of Russians and their entourage of private chefs and kept women. Go inland, I say, enjoy the real Provence.
Mistaking me for a travel agent they persist and ask for hotel and restaurant recommendations. For hotels I refer them to the guru website, for restaurants I take a little time to advise them myself. The needs of the stomach are, after all, close to my heart. I fear for the poor lost tourist souls, left without a guiding hand they’ll traipse from café to café in the sweltering heat, eating meat tenderised under the chef’s foot, and leave wondering how France ever earned a reputation for gastronomy
It needn’t be like this though. Some remarkably good, well-priced meals are available throughout Provence. But go looking for one in the picturesque streets of a Provencal village and the chances are you’ll hear the stamp of the chef’s foot as another steak gets flattened. No, the secret to eating well is to eschew the cobbled streets of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, and instead head to the five star hotels, which stud the region’s hills like diamonds glinting in the sunshine.
Now staying in these places is out of the reach of most people. The room rates and the fact that a glass of orange juice can cost you a tenner is enough to put off many. However they are undoubtedly built in some of the most picturesque parts of Provence. And in order to lure wannabes to eat they offer very competitive lunch time menus in their restaurants.
I was thinking about all this recently sitting on the terrace of the Bistro at La Coquillade in Gargas. The place has been around for about 5 years now. More that time to iron out the faults you might think. However, even after half a decade some thought is needed. Upon arrival there are a set of imposing gates, and the ubiquitous rows of lavender. First you pass the staff car park gleaming with hundreds of Clios baking in the sunshine, next the helipad, next the overflow car park, and in the distance the gaudy flags of the bike centre. It’s hardly a pastoral vision.
Finally, you park beneath the main hotel, next to the staff cantine. Call me old fashioned but when I step out of the Aston in a 5 star hotel, I want Provencal magic, I want the sticky smell of the garrigue, a trickling fountain, some beating cicadas and at the very least some decent shade so I don’t fry when I return from lunch. Instead at La Coquillade you are confronted by the realities of life below stairs. Maybe this is just the new post-Downton vogue, millions might have been spent to achieve such an authentic upstairs downstairs experience. Putting the reserved parking for the Paris Porsche club, right in the eye line of staff members as they eat, might for all I know be a meta-modernist work of art, a comment by the hotel’s cultural director on the prevailing zeitgeist of our times. More likely it’s an oversight on behalf of management and architect.
Enough quibbling though, because I come to sing the praises of lunch at the Bistro rather than to damn. La Coquillade has three restaurants, a gastronomic Michelin starred affair, the Bistro and an Italian by the picturesque swimming pool. The Bistro is set next to sweeping fields of vines, which chase away towards the dark shadows of the Luberon hills. In the distance sous-chefs can be seen picking herbs from the hotel’s potager. It’s idyllic and the staff are so attentive I thought that one of them was going to follow me into the loo rather than just show me the way.
At my table (which was close enough to the vines to help out with the vendange verte) I ate like a prince. A starter of chickpea, rocket and chorizo, was inventive, spicy and filling. My partner had a velouté of asparagus which she perhaps would not have ordered if she’d realised that the chef’s complimentary amuse bouche of the day was a velvety velouté of courgette and mint.
My main was a Seabass filet served with pesto and seasonal vegetables. The marriage of the light fish and the pungent pesto was delicious and impeccably well balanced. My partner had the faux fillet of beef, which was finely sliced and served with a deep jus and roasted vegetables. I tried some, the meat was well hung and tender, the sauce unctuous. For desserts we enjoyed lemon tart and cherry clafoutis. Both were mouthfuls of instant happiness on a plate, if not quite in the league of the best dessert in Provence served at La Table de Ventabren.
The cost of this feast was 39 euros. Eat a starter, main course and dessert in nearly every village restaurant and I guarantee you the bill will be over 40 euros, and that the quality of what you are served will be much lower. Then there’s the impeccable service and the view, neither of which you’ll get in a village.
Therefore, hear me, tourists of Provence, I urge you this summer to discover the delights of dining in a five star hotel. Go for lunch and sample the pleasure of enjoying the same level of luxury as the people on the table adjacent, with the comforting knowledge that they, not you, are paying 400 euros for their room. Take your time, walk around the grounds afterwards, enjoy the views from the swimming pools, and the shady corners. Soak it all up, because once you’ve had lunch, it’s free!
Provence Guru, The Insiders’ Guide to the South of France, top tips:
If you are looking for a Provence villa rental in the Gordes and Gargas area then our selection of Provence vacation rentals is comprehensive, reliable, and composed of the very best luxury villa rentals in the south of France. Access our listings here.
Planning a shorter stay then browse our selection of Provence boutique hotels.
For more Provence, Luberon, Les Alpilles, Aix en Provence, and Avignon restaurant recommendations see our extensive review section.
For Provence recipe inspiration look no further than our Provence Food section.
And if you are thinking of making a permanent move to Provence then our Provence Life section takes you behind the scenes of year round life in the south of France.