The original Maison Jaune, home to poor, deranged Van Gogh in Arles is no more. Happily, in the midst of St Rémy (whose citizens also welcomed our dear Vincent in his more difficult days when Arles threw him out) there is a much more pleasing Maison Jaune still standing.
This 18th century town house in yellow ochre with blue shutters, not far from the church, overlooks the hôtel de Sade, so it's bang in the historic centre of town. This is a fairly upmarket address, menus starting at €30, so when you enter the rather unassuming front door, a lackey guides you upstairs, tiptoeing past a monstrous sleeping watchdog, like Cerberus guarding the gates of Hades. In winter there are 2 very pleasant 'salles voutées', in summer a great wooden terrace soaks up the sun.
Françis Perraud is the sort of chef who reminds you why you shouldn't stick to €18 menus all the time. The difference between his food and 'your normal Provence meal' is staggering - and well worth the price hike, once in a while. We started with a fantastic 'amuse gueule' (rabbit rillettes with capons, tomates confites and smoked roes of grey mullet) - a superb and surprising mixture, but when you realise that he's created a palate stimulant of balanced bitter-sweet-acid-salt to get the tastebuds gasping, you know the rest of the meal will be a real treat.
The fresh taste, textures and colours of the artichoke starter spelled springtime in the lightest broth. The chicken with baby beetroot enrobed with aïoli was only bettered by the signature roast pigeon in a reduction of Les Baux red wine, spiced with crushed black pepper. Puddings looked delicious but we resisted resolutely. (Disappointing soggy madeleines with the coffee, though - the real Cerberus, who was only ever appeased by Orpheus' lyre or honey cakes, would never have approved.) The winelist had a good selection of local wines starting at about €20. If in doubt go for the Ste Berthe in all colours.
St Rémy, in line with its many posh residents, boasts many posh addresses, and for my birthday last July we booked a weekend just outside, in a beautiful 6 ha park, where you can hardly make yourself heard over the screaming cigales, clinging to the centurion cypresses - and where the Les Baux coachloads seem a million miles away. The graceful ancient bastide of the Domaine de Valmouriane is an enchanting getaway - the deliciously cool, stylish rooms eschew cheap TV's, offering CD players with a collection of jazz and classics instead. Lunches start at €27 on a delightful terrace outside; dinner, when the evening aromas of the surrounding gardens are getting really heady, is superb, starting at €37. Great food, romantic ambiance. Don't ask me what we ate — I was having far too much fun to take notes.
2007 – I’ve not revisited, but at last La Maison Jaune has just got its first Michelin star. Great news. Prices for lunch are up a bit, as you’d expect – 35/64 as menus. I’ll definitely be going back to see progress, soon.