Sunday, 8 August 2010

EXTRA! EXTRA! Restaurants in la Belle France, no. 1

Paul and I recently spent a fortnight in France. We are lucky to have friends who are willing to let us use their lovely holiday home in rural France, near Monistrol d'Allier - not far from Le Puy-en-Velay, where the lentils come from.

Monsitrol is a pleasant little town on the pilgrimage route through France to San Sebastian de Compostela in Spain. The main restaurant was, until recently, at a hotel called Les Gorges and, particularly for a French eatery, frankly dire.

Fortunately, it has new owners and (wisely, I think) a new name - Le Pain de Sucre (The Sugarloaf). Even better, the restaurant has been renovated from a dreary, dull room, to a bright and airy one. And, better still, the food on offer is extremely tasty. We visited three times over the two weeks we were there and were never disappointed. They do delicious, thin-crust pizzas and and an excellent €18 menu with 3 courses. Their confit of duck was delicious.

On 20th July, we decided we fancied lunch out. It makes a change from my standard baguette, paté and cheese. :o)

We chose to visit a restaurant we had only recently discovered (despite passing close to it many times) in nearby St Christophe sur Dolaizon; the Auberge du Grand Chemin, run by Julie and Julien Bonfils. They are a charming couple, welcoming and friendly. The food is excellent.

We took a table inside, out of the hot sun, to profit from the €16.50 (four course!) menu. Outside, you get to choose from a selection of salades and other dishes.

After Julie had taken our order - in good English and with a cheerful smile at our attempts a French, Julienpopped out of the kitchen to give us an amuse-bouche in a shot glass. It was made up of mashed Le Puy Lentils, covered in salted Chantilly cream, sprinkled with chopped peanuts. We were, to be honest, dubious, but really enjoyed the tastes.

To start, we had the trout with green lentils and the gratinée of bleu d'Auvergne (a very tasty take on cheese on toast). Next came the cocotte (in this case, a beef stew) and small steak in a green pepper sauce. Delicious. This was followed by fromage blanc (unmatured cheese) with cream and honey. Very nice. Finally, we were treated to an assiette gourmand ("greedy plate") made up of four tiny desserts: maccaron; compote of banana and apple covered in cinnamon crumble; choux buns with Chantilly cream and chocolate sauce; and a blueberry sorbet. I think we must have enjoyed this, because we finished every last morsel.

The cost of two menus, a 50cl carafe of a good house white and two HUGE cafés au lait: €45. Very good value, so far as we are concerned.

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