We have waited a long, long time for a decent restaurant in our local village. Twenty years, to be exact.
When we first arrived, it was mediocre at best. Later it was taken over by a chef with a great reputation, mainly because of the “Assiette de fruits de mer,” which sounded splendid and looked authentic, but when you got down to it was little more than a heap of empty shells and big-headed langoustines with disproportionately small bodies, encased in something resembling razor wire. The place was cold as the grave, with the charm of an Eastern bloc pre-war hospital corridor (I’m applying imagination here, mixed with snippets from Cold War spy films), and the hostess shuffled around in grubby carpet slippers, raising a tepid smile if she felt like it, which on the two occasions we ate there, she did not. Dessert was either a piece of fruit or one of those unpleasant slimy things in aluminium moulds, taken from the fridge. A most distressing eating experience.
New owners took over. The sign announcing their proprietorship drooped lopsidedly from two pieces of wire, and the dead flowers in the window boxes inherited from the previous owner did nothing to enhance the appearance or whet the appetite. Consequently we never ate there.
After their departure the restaurant lay deserted for a year or so, the withered plants still languishing in the plastic window boxes, until towards the end of last year there were signs of life beginning to stir. The facade was painted. Potted palms appeared. The ugly cheap ice-cream poster vanished from the window, the plastic chairs from the pavement. However, it takes a long time for a bad reputation to be over-turned, and it’s taken several months before we dared to venture back.
It was a spur-of-the moment decision, taken at mid-day. We’d give the restaurant a try, with, to be frank, not very high expectations.
The first shock was the change in decor. I don’t remember what it was like previously, either because it was unmemorable or because it was too horrible to want to remember. But now it’s elegantly painted in shades of grey and white, with touches of pink. I cursed myself for not taking my camera, which I rarely leave at home. But as I said, we had few expectations today.
The restaurant is sparkling, bright, welcoming, with fresh flowers on each table. A carafe of red wine appeared as we sat down. I’d phoned ahead to ensure there was fish on the menu as we don’t eat meat, and as it is Easter Friday, the menu was meat-free.
To start we were served a creamy velouté of vegetables with cheese and croutons, delicately flavoured with a hint of nutmeg and cumin, I think.
Next came a mouth-watering smoked salmon tart, the plate garnished with dots of basil oil and red pepper oil. I was fairly certain I could also detect a hint of my favourite ingredient, truffle. Francis Grollier, the chef patron, came to ask if we were happy with our meal. He was rather shocked to see the speed at which we were eating. 😀 “Take it easy,” he said, “there is more to come.”
I asked about the truffle.
Yes, indeed, the red pepper oil also contained truffle. Francis owns a truffle hound, and tells me there are plenty of the wonderful fungi in our local area, and even told us how to locate them. No, I am sorry, I cannot share this information.
He also owns a truffle farm, and keeps his entire harvest for use in his restaurant, bottled in Armagnac, Cognac, olive oil ……
The main course was a thick loin of cod, cooked to perfection, served on basil and truffle-flavoured potato purėe and garnished with fresh asparagus and a dressed salad. Again the plate was prettily decorated with delicate swirls and drops of flavoured purees and oil. When we had finished,Francis remarked that it was a pity to leave them on the plate, and would we not consider mopping them up with a slice of bread? We did.
Cassandra, the pretty young waitress, delivered a tray containing a selection of 20 cheeses, including a variety of local goat cheese, which is one of the region’s specialities.
There is nothing “nouvelle cuisine” about the portions served at Le Bouton d’Or. They are generous without being intimidating, and we both doubted that we could manage a dessert.
But when it came we found room for the small poached pear in a thick glossy syrup of spiced red wine with a hint of chocolate, a foamy cream flavoured with lychee, a cube of confit ginger and some fresh strawberries.
The quality of ingredients was faultless. Nothing comes from a freezer, tin or vacuum pack. It is all sourced daily by M. Boullier from local markets. I’ll quickly mention that the meat comes directly from a couple of abattoirs thankfully some way from where we live, and poultry direct from local farmers. Fish is delivered at 3.00 am from a fish merchant.
We really were bowled over by this meal, not only the food and decor but also the enthusiasm and modesty of Francis, who has worked at some of the greatest restaurants in Europe and owned four restaurants of his own. He has further exciting plans for Le Bouton d’Or, and we will definitely become regulars. We’ve eaten at many top-class restaurants around the world, but I can truly say that none have been more satisfying than our 14 euro lunch today.