Though many people think of Provence exclusively as a summer destination, I’ve learned through the years that it’s just as delightful during the winter as it is when the cicadas are whirring away in July. Why? Because the crowds are gone, the weather’s still often good enough to dine outside at noon, and the region’s low-season produce has just as much gastronomic allure as the more obvious bounty of its summer markets.
In a need of a breath of fresh air, I recently spent a weekend in and around Les Baux-de-Provence, one of my favourite parts of France, and it was during a chat when I stopped by the boutique of Moulin Jean-Marie Cornille to pick up some olive oil that I first heard about La Table du Hameau.
“The dining room is charming, and the food is original and quite excellent,” a lovely lady from Brussels advised after we’d fallen into conversation on the glories of the oil we were buying.
She was right, too. I went soon afterwards to dinner with friends at this beautifully decorated dining room in the charming Hameau des Baux hotel and we had an excellent meal. Chef Stéphan Paroche learned to cook in his family’s restaurant and, if his father taught him his impressively steely culinary skills, his style is inspired by local seasonal produce, the Provençal palate and the cooking of three-star chef Pierre Gagnaire, whom he fervently admires.
“I love visiting local farms and seeing exactly where my produce comes from,” he says. “A really good product is half of the work for a good chef and these exchanges with passionate growers are often a source of inspiration.”
Among the excellent dishes we enjoyed were a succulent starter of leeks with truffled cream sauce, duck foie gras shavings, fresh truffle and a vinaigrette made with local olive oil, pigeon breast with a salad of turnips and pears in a juniper-berry spiked sauce, and vegetable stuffed rabbit with butternut squash purée and a spaghetti-squash salad. A banana dessert with parsley sorbet and orange jam was as memorably refreshing as the rest of the meal, and the reasonably priced wine list features an excellent selection of bottles from local vineyards.
Chemin de Bourgeac, Paradou. Tel. +33 (0)4 90 54 10 30. Prix-fixe menus €35, €49, €69 €89. www.hameaudesbaux.com
From France Today magazine