Though it is the object of international adulation and remains a cherished destination of the Parisian chattering classes, along with a complement of their opposites from across the Channel, across the Atlantic and other European countries, the Luberon valley just due west of Avignon can be a frustrating place to eat. Instead of the simple, seasonal Provençal cooking one yearns for in such a setting, many of the Luberon’s restaurants are fussy places serving over-wrought and over-priced food sadly far removed from the gorgeous produce you see in the region’s open-air markets. To be sure, there are exceptions, like the wonderful Le Jardin du Quai in l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, but what the region’s been wanting is a stylish dining room that celebrates local produce with a modern twist and also breaks free of the folkloric decorative idiom of rush-bottom chairs, Souleiado fabrics and bound bunches of lavender, for something younger, hipper and fresher.
Now with the recent opening of Le Domaine de Fontenille, a relaxed and casually chic hotel where the owners, Frédéric Biousse and Guillaume Foucher, have deployed their love of modern art and photography – they own galleries in Paris and Brussels – and flawless good taste, this restaurant has arrived, and it goes by the wonderfully lyrical name of Le Champ des Lunes.
Filled with natural light, this is one of the best looking restaurants to have opened in Provence in a long time. The large dining room has polished cement floors, suspended factory lamps with Edison bulbs, and re-editions of classic modern furniture, including Charles and Ray Eames chairs. The chef and his team can be viewed behind the picture windows that enclose their open kitchen.
Rather surprisingly, Jérôme Faure, the chef, is from the Vercors region of the Jura rather than Provence, but the only reason you’d ever guess as much is that he occasionally uses a signature product or two from his home turf to make the best Provençal produce really sing. For example, one of the highlights of a recent lunch here was a beautiful composition of seasonal vegetables – asparagus, artichokes, petits pois, Savoy cabbage and broccoli – in a pool of racingly refreshing and nourishing watercress-and-sorrel bouillon. There was, however, another ingredient in the emerald green broth that I couldn’t quite identify, something pleasantly bitter and complex. So I asked the waiter.
“The chef adds a little Chartreuse to the broth,” he said with a sheepish smile at having given him away, since this herbal elixir is distilled by monks in Faure’s native region. Foie gras with seared citrus and a yuzu coulis, another starter, was excellent, too.
Main courses further demonstrated just how good Faure actually is, because his sourcing was outstanding, right down to several of the best but lesser-known regional products, like juicy, free-range Mont Ventoux pork, served with Granny Smith apple twigs, pear, and gnocchi in a sauce charcutière (cooking juices deglazed with mustard and vinegar) spiked with locally grown saffron. Olive oil poached salmon was lushly succulent and came on a bed of split-pea purée with a second garnish of a sort of baked ‘leather’ of sprouts and pulses. Like all Faure’s cooking, this dish was a success both gastronomically and in terms of being light and healthy. And almost as if to disguise his deep seriousness as a chef, Faure makes lavish but playful use of flowers, leaves, petals and sprouts when he plates his food.
Desserts were just as intriguing as the rest of the meal. They included a preparation of Valrhona chocolate leaves filled with chocolate cream with a garnish of stunningly good cep mushroom ice cream that tempered the richness of the chocolate, and a millefeuille of candied carrots and ice cream made with Calissons d’Aix nougat candies.
This was an outstanding meal, so I look forward to returning the next time I’m in the area, and also to sampling Le Domaine de Fontenille’s second table, the simpler La Cuisine d’Amélie.
Le Domaine de Fontenille, Route de Roquefraiche, Lauris, Tel: +33 04 13 98 00 00. Le Champs des Lunes: prix-fixe menus €38, €40, €62 and €112. La Cuisine d’Amélie: average price à la carte €30.
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From France Today magazine