After creating a delicious little empire in Paris that includes his Michelin two-star restaurant Le Grand Restaurant, the Clover Grill, the Clover Green and La Poule au Pot, chef Jean-François Piège, 48, has opened a charming, rustic bistro at La Bastide de Gordes hotel in the Luberon, the massif just to the east of Avignon. This amiable and very appealing table, which is open daily, is furnished with antiques and flea-market finds that the chef and his wife, Élodie, have collected, and has a warm, relaxed atmosphere that perfectly expresses the stylish Provençal personality of the surrounding region.
Piège has also shrewdly drawn up a menu of dishes that are exactly what most people want to eat when they visit Provence: good, simple French country food made with high-quality local seasonal produce, rather than complicated haute cuisine.
Most starters are based on vegetables from nearby farms. I dined here with friends from London who were renting a house in Ménerbes for a few weeks, and we began with tomates tonnato – ripened tomatoes in a creamy tuna sauce with crushed fresh almonds (a delicious twist on vitello tonnato); roasted vegetables with a Parmesan fondue and Maussane olives; and a delightful salad of fresh white coco beans with sage, garlic, lemon and sardines. This fresh, light, market-driven cooking was exactly what we wanted on a warm Indian-summer evening too.
Since the restaurant caters to locals as well as people on holiday, two of Piège’s signature dishes also feature on the menu: his famous pizza soufflé – a dramatically fragile balloon of grilled bread dough garnished with rocket, aubergine, mozzarella, tapenade and oregano – and his superb carbonara of shaved squid. The latter has always been one of my favourite Piège dishes because the fine ribbons of squid not only stand in perfectly for the usual pasta but have such a satisfying texture. Main courses are similarly uncomplicated but very appealing. My cod cooked with wild fennel and garnished with charred lemon and grilled aubergine, courgettes and tomatoes was succulent, flavourful and profoundly Provençal.
As he does at his Clover Grill in Paris, Piège also proposes an exceptional selection of pedigree meat. At my suggestion, my friends ordered the Boeuf Noir de la Baltique (Black Baltic Beef), an exceptional rib steak for two that’s aged over beechwood shavings in an old brick warehouse in the port of Hamburg to give it a remarkable depth of flavour.
Other possibilities include the excellent lamb from the Plaine de la Crau near Arles, Bresse chicken (for two), and a steak of Salers beef from the Cantal region supplied by star Paris butcher Olivier Metzger. The best way to conclude a meal here is with the goat’s cheese marinated in olive oil or the coupe glacée – ice cream with cherries, mascarpone and pistachios.
Service is attentive and good-humoured, and the wine list features a fine selection of bottles from some of the best southern French vineyards. Clover Gordes is a very welcome new restaurant in the Luberon, bringing the steely talent of one of the best chefs in France to Provence in a relaxed iteration.
Clover Gordes, La Bastide de Gordes, rue de la Combe, 84220 Gordes. Tel. +33 (0)4 90 72 12 12.
From France Today magazine