Located on a beautiful farm with a huge organic vegetable garden just a few kilometres outside Arles on the way to the Camargue, chef Armand Arnal’s restaurant is one of the best tables in the south of France and a Michelin one-star destination well worth travelling for.
I’ve been here many times, and have watched Arnal’s cuisine evolve through the years since he took over the kitchens in 2006, after working for gastronomic entrepreneur Alain Ducasse at his ill-fated, now defunct eponymous restaurant at the Essex House hotel in New York City. What fascinates about Arnal’s cooking is that it’s by turns muscular and blunt, and then suddenly delicate and lyrical. But basically he cooks sophisticated and intelligently-inventive modern farmhouse food with strong roots in the south of France, since he’s originally from Montpellier and has now lived in Arles for many years.
The menu at this handsome restaurant with high ceilings and a stylishly-studied rustic décor changes according to the best of what’s in season, in the farm’s gardens and orchards and in local markets. Arnal’s food is consistently excellent year-round, but I especially like it in the autumn, when he serves dishes like whiting ceviche with potatoes, baby leeks and pickled lemon, as a starter; and main dishes such as roasted pigeon with aubergine caviar and marinated figs with a jus spiked by Sancho, a type of Japanese pepper, or grilled sea bream with tomatoes and pickled ginger.
Desserts follow the seasons and also the weather, but often run to choices like raspberries with ewe’s milk yoghurt and Sablé biscuits made from locally-grown black rice. Autumn also sees the arrival of pumpkin, duck and other seasonal produce on Arnal’s menus. Note that a vegetarian prix-fixe menu is always available at lunchtime as well.
The wine list here, as you would expect, showcases mostly southern French wines, including some fine organic wines made by growers in the Camargue. Reservations are essential.
Domaine de l’Armellière, route du Sambuc, Arles 13200. Tel. +33 (0)4 90 97 26 96. Prix- xe menus €85, €115; lunch prix-fixe menu from €56 to €75; vegetarian prix-fixe lunch menu €55. www.chassagnette.fr
From France Today magazine