We were not able to stay at La Bastide Saint Antoine, but we did have the great good fortune of having dinner here. I have the good fortune, from time to time, to dine at very good restaurants in the course of my work, many of them presided over by grands chefs of Relais & Chateaux, as is Jacques Chibois. This meal , however, was a 25th anniversary dinner, but it was not just the emotional situation that made the difference. This evening was beautifully constructed and sensitively choreographed as only the very best of my experience have been. It was one of the most expensive meals of my life and also one of the best.
What Chibois has done is to create a space in which we, as diners, can open up and experience all the sensations around a meal in a fresh way. This begins with the environment, arranged around an open lawn with statuary of three Muses in one corner and lighting that creates a sanctuary while also revealing the valley below. We chose the Menu Decouverte - the tasting menu, and I strongly recommend it. Yes, it is 9 courses - in our case actually 11 - but that actually is just right for what M. Chibois has in store for you. Beginning with the first of three amuse bouche offerings, an explosion of tomato within what looked like a "naked raspeberry" sans seeds, the sensation woke us up, announcing that we should pay attention. Every mouthful from now on would have something to say, and each one would be different. I think Chibois is, to some extent, a scientist of taste. This menu seemed designed to touch on all possible tastes and smells in a carefully ordered manner. He is very well versed in tradition and he is consistently inventive within it, as when he created a sabayon of ceps (boletus mushrooms from the Limousin). Leaving out the cream that usually goes with ceps, but using the froth of eggs and reduced mushroom broth he created what to both me and my wife, who hunt mushrooms, experienced as the ultimate Cep flavour.
The Sommelier was amazingly skillful, guiding us with ease through the wines of Provence. We enjoyed a Chateau Saint Roseline white (ancient local Rolle grapes), and he wisely suggested we add a glass of red Bellet to go with the meat dish. And the cheese selection was one of the best I've ever seen, with the goat varieties offered on a completely different tray from the cow and sheep.
Our meal began around 8pm and ended after 11:30pm, and there was not a wasted minute during that time. The maitre d' who spoke excellent English and recognized that we had little French, paid close attention to us throughout. We were the last to leave and he said he was happy when people "reste" with him, because it means they have appreciated the food and the service. And that was exactly so.
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