Welcome to a weekend away in the land of fairytale castles, vineyards, and gastronomic pleasures. Antoine whisked me away for 2 guilt-free days: no children to worry about, no cooking, laundry, shopping, homework, and above all – no computer. Ouf! We all need a wee breather now and again, don’t we? Thanks, Mum and Dad, for making this possible!
It was only 3 hours’ drive from Paris – albeit that the back was playing up again and so I had to lie completely flat out in the car. I discovered every inch of our car’s interior details but it was worth being patient. Look what greeted us on arrival in Azay le Rideau…
I picked my bedroom out: that one with the pretty tower, please. I’ll let down my short, dishwasher blond hair and Antoine can serenade me below, with a kareoke version of Lady in Red from his Blackberry.
Not so sure if I liked the kitchen, though. Imagine cooking with that “oven”? Pretty hot work, n’est-ce pas?
On the other hand, the drawing room was rather civilised. Draw in your chair for a game of cards in front of the fireplace with the salamander symbol of François 1st, sip tea from a royal porcelain cup, and nibble on a macaron, peut-être?
The beds were always so small. Did they really sleep upright? Jings. That couldn’t have been comfortable. The concrete mattress was possibly the same original that we had in our B&B up the road: back-breaking!
On the way out, a lovely large bottle of the local Bourgeuil red was just sitting saying bonjour. The red wines here are served chilled. Each time I’ve had the Loire reds, though, I’ve not been as keen as the whites; something I have to work on…
The wee town of Azay le Rideau is picture postcard material. Walking over the bridge, there were a few people fishing in amongst the lily pads.
Just a 10 minute drive out of of Azay-le-Rideau, however, there is a gastronomic restaurant in the village of Saché: L’Auberge du XIIème Siècle. Balzac lived in Saché (now a castle museum), and just up the road in Monts is where the abdicated Edward VIII married Wallis Simpson at the Château de Candé in 1937.
Antoine and I couldn’t help ourselves. We ate there two nights in a row. Put a gourmet Frenchman and a Scot together to pick a restaurant and the best value for money element comes into play. 😉 We went for the normal dinner menu at €35. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll show you the highlights as one meal, as we both tried absolutely everything, just for you…
The sommelier suggested a local sauvignon blanc for an apéritif. This is perfect to get the appetite going, especially to accompany the five little amuse-bouches. I’m apologising now, as I’m difficult in restaurants like this; I dare say that the cheese straw clashed with the langoustine mousse and the carrot-chive sorbet was a bit too sweet for my liking before a meal. Now if they’d put spices in the carrot to react with the sugary sorbet, that would be totally dynamite…
The rabbit confit (tasted just like roasted chicken bits) in the shot glass was tasty but so dry, accompanied by a little pancake with no sauce. Wetting it with the sauvignon was the thing to do, I think. The other pastry with snails was better. Time to go to our table indoors for the main meal…
Another amuse-bouche arrived. This time a warm port caramel was sitting on a crème brûlée of foie gras. I honestly would have preferred this for dessert. It was far too sweet and the wine hadn’t arrived yet. Why do I get so irritated when the sommelier has all the wine bottles in the centre of the room and you have to beg to be served? Or am I just a wine artist?
Now you’re talking. A beautiful starter of sautéed giant prawns with asparagus, crispy potatoes on a lemon thyme jus arrived – enfin with a Chenin blanc, produced locally by an organic winegrower.
The crispy potatoes were revealed under the prawns – but they’d lost their crispiness. Lovely idea, though; cut finely with a mandoline and in clean-cut, even rounds.
The main course of small duck (canette) arrived. This was perfectly pink inside, the confit tomatoes and red peppers a perfect match, as was the tapenade – once I’d found it underneath the pile of chervil. You can see from the lighting that service was slow but after seeing the cheese trolley (extra 12€ supplement), it was worth the wait. I’ve never eaten so much chèvre (goat) cheese in my life! The best over the weekend was goats’ cheese that was more mature and dry. The flavour was powerful and was perfectly matched with the fig jam.
I couldn’t help putting the strongest chèvre under this lady’s nose on the plate. On the palate, I preferred sticking to the Chenin blanc. Antoine’s red chilled Chinon just didn’t have the same reaction. It certainly went with the cheese ok (go for something outside the region and the cheese tastes like washing powder and no – I haven’t tried eating it, if you ask) but the Chenin brought out floral honey notes.
Oops. Photos, Jill? Wine and photos don’t go together, as I’ve shown my knack of camera shake like this before, remember? 😉 Da-dada-da-da-da: dessert! Hm. Lovely. It was a bit disappointing, though. Antoine’s puff pastry flute to accompany the strawberries and green mint sorbet was the same they used for the apéritif, I’m sure. I don’t like overly sweet desserts, but this seriously lacked sugar.
And, since we obviously looked like we were still hungry at this point, a verbena infusion (verveine: see blog post for verveine macarons) arrived with some mignardises: an orange fruit jelly, a mini crème brulée (see what I mean about the port caramel? That would have been fantastic at that point to finish up, although perhaps not with the foie gras!), an almond financier (excellent), and a beautiful raspberry mousse.
I took one spoonful, but then the spoon wouldn’t fit into the glass to fetch out the rest. Ah well, I think we really did well by that point. Time to order a crane to lift us out of the restaurant, Monsieur?
All in all, I would give it 14 out of 20. Where were the macarons? It was funny seeing clients order from the other menus – they had more or less the same things from the main menu, dressed up with bigger or smaller tasting portions. Antoine gets 20 out of 20 for taking me out – let’s face it, we don’t go out that much but when we do, I love getting ideas and inspiration for entertaining when my light fades in ze kitchen.
Or should I say he gets “vin sur vin”? Speaking of wine, the chenin blancs were so good that we popped in to the cellars to find out more and stock up. The winemakers were so passionate about their babies as they explained the much longer process of making wines organically.
First stop was at Château de la Roche en Loire. Our favourite was the one in the restaurant: the 2009 Cuvée Céline. It’s so intensely fruity and “oily” that it can easily cope with partnering a meal from start to finish. A real blockbuster that could even take on the toughest of highly flavoured dishes, was La Noblesse d’Aziaum 2006, from Pascal Pibaleau’s cellar. Like all organic wines, you’ll see a lot of deposit at the bottom: c’est normal.
I’ll finally finish off with an image of one of my favourite trees, full of perfumed scents. It greeted us on arrival at the B&B and we had breakfast underneath it. Such inspiration for macarons, my friends! I’ll show you next week. Any guesses?
Egg Yolk Recipe Series
I am so proud to welcome Marsha, the Harried Cook. When her email arrived with her recipe and photos, she literally dropped a bombshell. If you haven’t seen it already, drool over her Strawberries and Cream Mousse Pie, using pâte à bombe – a French term for a base of egg yolks and sugar. What’s more, she’s offering a Giveaway of 2 Mad About Macarons!” books; hurry, the giveaway ends on Sunday 26 June.
Discover France Feature Article
I’m so proud to be listed amongst their featured authors. They also include an excerpt from the book:
Ouf ! I’m finished now, promise…