Celebrating Christmas with the stars

Last December was more hectic than usual – after I’d decked the halls with boughs of holly, dreamt of a white Christmas with every Christmas card I wrote, I had to dash (via Easyjet) through the snow to bring my mother back here on Christmas Eve for the midnight clear, so I certainly had no time for roasting that partridge - pear tree or no pear tree – and as for the turtle doves and turkey – forget it.

So for the first time, we decided to have Christmas lunch out, at our local Michelin-starred Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle (04 98 05 14 14 - see website review: Brignoles - May 05), feasting with friends on a five course extravaganza including a winter salad of scallops, turbot braised in champagne, capon with foie gras, truffle-stuffed goats’ cheese and a stunning bûche.

The mellow-stone 18th century dining rooms were beautifully decorated and the tables were a picture, a log fire roared in the grate and the staff were at their festive friendliest.

Cost to pocket? 98 euros. Stress level? None. Unashamedly, I thoroughly recommend it!

So, on your behalf, I decided to research other Christmas options amongst the Michelin-starred restaurants of our area, in case anyone else fancies putting her feet up instead of tussling with the trussing of the bird. Annoyingly, at time of going to press, most chefs still had failed to decide between venison or goose, despite my nagging. Three are actually closed on the 25th, namely Une Table au Sud in Marseille, the 2-starred Le Clos de la Violette in Aix, and the eponymous Bistrot d’Eygalières “Chez Bru”.

I have, though, dug up two ideas for you. You could, for example, try L’Oustaù de Baumanière at Les Baux. For just (!) 190 euros you can pig out on écrevisses, truffled eggs with celery, sea bass, lamb, cheeses and dessert. Personally I think this sounds rather uncreative, for its hefty price-tag.

The only chef who’s already got her whole programme efficiently sorted is, naturally, a woman – the brilliant Reine Sammut of La Fenière, (04 90 68 11 79 - see website review: Lourmarin - June 05).

She offers a terrific choice of 4 very different menus, kicking off on Christmas Eve with a fantastically traditional Provençal Gros Souper de Noël for 80 euros, starting with a collection of 6 non-meat entrées like Tian d’Epinards, Coeurs de céléris en anchoïade, jellied snails with garlic mousse etc. That’s followed by a Bouillabaisse de Morue aux Moules de Bouzigues, and then the inevitable Treize Desserts – but being Reine-made, I guarantee these will be the best you’ll ever taste.

On Christmas Day itself her meal is classic French noël-style: oysters, foie gras, sole with asparagus, Bresse chicken with truffle stuffing, cheese and dessert. You’ll each cop 100 euros for that. Good value, I’d expect, for great cooking. On New Year’s Day she’s lined up a particularly superb feast, at 120 euros – but I’m not going to detail that for fear of ingredient fatigue setting in before I knock you out with her pièce de résistance – her Menu de la St Sylvèstre.

Now, I’d prefer you to read this on an empty stomach. But here goes anyway… After amuses-bouches of soft boiled eggs scattered with black truffles, oysters in sea-water jelly with horseradish and pumpkin tempura, your waiter arrives with Pannacotta aux Truffes Noires. Then you get three culinary angles on foie gras, followed by a crab tartare. Next up is roast turbot on squid’s ink tagliatelli. Full yet? I hope not because here comes the stuffed quail. The Brie de Meaux truffé, next, smells just too sexually seductive to turn down. Now cleanse the palate and cool off with a rosemary sorbet, and then finish with gourmandises et mignardises.

And, hors boissons, that adds up to a whopping 260 euros… The Gourmet Club better book immediately!

Bonnes Fêtes, gastronomes!

Juliet Young
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