Tuesday, April 23, 2013
When we bought a house in Bar sur Loup almost five years ago, it was a sleepy little mountain village with a few shops, popular mainly with walkers and summer sports enthusiasts and despite the name, no bar. Today it is fast turning into a mini centre of gastronomic excellence. This usually happens to places just as we leave. Docklands was a vast expanse of yuppie (remember them?) housing developments surrounded by wasteland when we bought our first flat there in the late 1980s. Crouch End was starting to buzz in the early 1990s and Totteridge waited until we moved out before allowing a string of very decent eateries (not forgetting M&S) along the high street. When le Donjon opened last week, I thought it was cute to name it after the owner Donald and his better half Jonathan, but it derives from the building's first purpose as a 14th century village jail. There is nothing prison-like about the food however, with a blackboard of local seasonal specials, in much the same way as Ecole des Filles do things, but for half the price (€30 a head for two courses and wine, I kid you not.) Added to which the owner and chef, a charming man called Thomas, used to cook at EdF with their chef extraordinaire Stephane. The atmosphere is cosy and intimate, the setting is a wine cave-like space and service is prompt and friendly so it deserves to do brilliantly. Handyman is especially pleased as it also serves as the village bar. Thomas and his wife Christine have a daughter called Norah who is obsessed with dogs - mine had three extra walks each with her during dinner after which they ambled home and promptly crashed out. As did we after a delicious meal of fresh asparagus in a cream reduction, arrancini (little fried balls of rice with a ragu sauce), prawn risotto and the best home made cheeseburger Issy has had in France. Along with Ecole des Filles, which I have waxed lyrical about many times before as it is my favourite restaurant in the world where you can play a game of boules before or after dinner, Le Jarerrie, Michelangelo pizzeria, run by the delightful Eric and Corinne, and the stunningly situated Michelin starred Hostellerie du Chateau next door to Le Donjon, Bar sur Loup is making a name for itself as the place to eat, whether it's fine or casual dining you are looking for. People now drive from Nice and beyond to have dinner here, giving nearby Mougins a run for its money where quality and innovation are concerned. And best of all, there is not one tourist shop, it is a real, working village in the heart of a valley (see above) famed for its oranges with a brilliant community spirit. Now if we could just get someone to take over Boulangerie Maia and open a butcher and greengrocers, we would be laughing. Coming back from Barbados last week was always going to be a comedown but with Cannes Film Festival around the corner and the promise of great films, a glittering A list in attendance and some seriously amazing parties, I can't feel too down. While I was away, Earl, our visiting rabbit on hiatus from Tony and Shan's, managed to tunnel out of his hutch on the terrace below the house and scarper. We have changed his name to Steve McQueen and first thing most mornings, he can be spotted hopping about among the olive trees enjoying his new found freedom, as long as he avoids the kestrels and eagles which fly overhead. He can already outrun the dogs much to their frustration, which is encouraging.