Ripaille – noun feminine: blow out, feast

When I left London, an extremely generous friend gave me a lovely parting gift – a voucher allowing me and a guest to eat at my pick of 160-odd restaurants throughout France. The nearest to Nyons was Michelin-starred “Le Grand Pré” in Roaix, which I thought might be a hardship, but what the hell. Madame insisted on being the guest, but then as she was willing to drive while I drank that seemed like a fair swap.

We booked for eight, the “de rigueur” starting time for most French meals, only to find that when we arrived there was only one table taken on the garden terrace and none indoors. I was worried that we were in for one of those self-conscious meals where the customers whisper and waiters hover, but clearly in Michelin-land normal rules don’t apply – most people drifted in at 8.30 or later, including some who seemed to be regulars (at these prices!). By then, our little 15 year old Nissan Micra (with large scrape and multiple dents down the side) was surrounded by Range Rovers and Maseratis. Perhaps the other customers thought it belonged to the cleaner.

The garden at dusk

We started with a little amuse bouche of raw bonito tuna marinated in soy, ginger and lime – brightly flavoured, fresh and lively. Not exactly adventurous by London standards but fairly out there in these parts.

Then, to keep us occupied while we perused the (very good) wine list, aperitif maison – blanc de blancs fizz with a little pêche de vigne syrup. Refreshing, wildly aromatic and rather delicious. So much so that afterwards we bought our own syrup to make the aperitif at home. The fact that a bottle cost 18€ probably helps to explain why the apero cost 14€ each.

Alongside the drinks, a few nibbles – crisp toasts not much thicker than a euro with home-made anchoïade and houmous. Amusingly for Brits, who eat so much houmous it has become an honorary national dish, the waiter felt the need to explain that it was made with chick peas. The thoroughly French anchoïade – a paste/emulsion based on anchovies, garlic and olive oil – got no explanation.

Starter No1 - deconstructed bouillabaise

The first starter (yes, that’s right, it was that kind of meal) was a sort of deconstructed bouillabaise made with rose dorade (the fish element) served on a bed of caramelised fennel and spiced up with a potent rouille and a shot glass of a saffron-y, seafood “essence” – to be drunk, the waiter stressed, not poured over the fish.

Not an egg yolk, but saffron seafood essence. Drink, don't pour.

Great stuff, the fish firm and meaty and the essence like, well, the essence of the sea. The suggested glass of Domaine des Escaravailles “La Ponce” blanc 2011 was good on its own – the blend of grenache blanc, marsanne and picpoul was rich with ripe pear and acacia – but something in the combination emphasised the wine’s alcoholic warmth.

Foie gras in a stack with fig/grain mustard relish off to the right

Starter two was poached foie gras, cooked just enough to firm it up, on top of a stack of peas, broad beans and green beans with a base of crisp walnut bread. Alongside, a relish based on wholegrain mustard and fig, the sweetness of the fig working brilliantly with the foie. The glass of white that came with it was Clos Bellane’s blend of viognier, roussanne and marsanne. A lovely wine, aromatic (as you would expect given the grape blend) and a good pairing.

Veal, beetroot and artichoke pot-au-feu. Delicious.

Main course was a pot-au-feu made with veal cheeks, beetroot and artichoke (veal, foie gras – not a meal for animal welfare addicts, then). Very good, especially the (deliberately) thin but slightly sticky broth, but the mushroom risotto served separately was even better, although it slightly overpowered the veal. (You must remember that in any other circumstances one would be delighted – judging gets picky at this level). For me, the best combination was a little of the veal and broth spooned over the risotto, just playing a supporting role.

Even better. Mushroom risotto - looks simple but intensely flavoured.

The suggested wine to go with it was Grand Nicolet’s Rasteau 2009 (70% grenache, 30% syrah) which had a surprisingly “cool”, sleek feel despite the heat of the vintage. I wouldn’t have chosen it from the list – the combination of 2009 and Rasteau sounding way too heavy – but it worked.

Yes, it's a glass of wine. Grand Nicolet Rasteau 2009, to be exact. And that's me, holding my knife and fork like a peasant, in the background.

Dessert number 1 was a chocolate mousse, flavoured with cinnamon and cardamom, with a ginger crumble topping and a chestnut cream. Yum.

Not much left of dessert number 1

Dessert 2, a sablé biscuit with raspberries and an elderflower sorbet. Yum yum.

Pretty as a picture - dessert number 2

With coffee a selection of caramelised almonds and pecans, home made praline, chocolate covered figs and  little cones of mixed spices that I didn’t know what to do with, so I poured the contents of one into my hand and licked it. Very Michelin, I’m sure.

Surely you can squeeze in a few chocolates?

I then have a scribble in my notebook  that says “Dom. Delubac/De Lubac? Les Brunneau Cairanne Rouge”. I can now see this is a reference to Domaine Delubac’s Les Bruneau grenache, syrah, mourvedre, carignan blend. Whether I drank it or whether it was a recommendation from the charming sommelier I can’t remember – it seems unlikely that I had another red after the coffee, but the time was getting on and I had already had a glass or two, so it’s possible. Anyway, I’m sure my note is significant.

We left stuffed but happy.

If we had paid the bill ourselves, it would have come to well over 200€, so it’s obviously out of the reach of many people. But if you have got the cash, is it worth it? I think I would have to say yes: it’s grand food, made from good ingredients put together with intelligence, expertly cooked and eaten in lovely surroundings, and all served by delightful staff. And there’s a cheaper bistro if you want the cooking skill without the financial pain – 29€ for the evening menu. By comparison, you will routinely pay 30€ plus per head, without drinks, for three courses of frankly mediocre grub at lots of Nyons/Vaison tourist trap restos. Now that, to me, is poor value.

Dedicated to the lovely Lesley.

Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours, where we revel in our gourmand nature. If you want to read something more specifically wine related, by all means have a look through the other blogs or follow the link to the website – www.Rhô – where there’s loads of stuff about the region and some of my favourite winemakers.




2 Responses to “Ripaille – noun feminine: blow out, feast”

  1. Julie bull says:

    Thanks for this lush food writing. Almost felt I was there with you. Sounds wonderful!

    • admin says:

      Julie, you’re welcome! At last a genuine comment. Or are you secretly trying to sell genuine fake watches like all the others?