RIVER DEEP, AQUEDUCT HIGH

L’Arquier, Roquefavour, Les Milles 04 42 24 20 45

L’Arquier has to be one of the Pays Aixois’ most secret and tucked away restaurants…. Well, it’s managed to evade me for the past 15 years — and now I’ve discovered it I’m captivated.

Who would have thought that just within 10 k’s of Aix, and little more than a stone’s throw from the capitalistic, carbon dioxide horrors of the Z.A.C of Les Milles, you could stumble on a little rustic oasis of green serenity, where the chef mixes a winning combination of reasonable prices with decent ingredients and the odd flight of creative whimsy, beside the gently flowing waters of the River Arc?

Location, location, location, they say. If you’ve never visited the impressive Roquefavour Aqueduct, a stunning tribute to 19th century engineering, then you’re in for a double treat. Almost twice as high and 100 metres longer than its inspiration, the Pont du Gard, it throws its 3 storey shadow over the nearby restaurant and makes a fascinating detour before or after your meal. (Follow the D65 direction Salon, turn right about 300m after going under the aqueduct, then follow this winding road north about 2 k’s before turning right on the 2nd indicated ‘Rigouès’ track, then right again to the keeper’s house located on the aqueduct’s top level, past the ruins of Marius’s Roman camp. Great views. Closed 1 July to 2nd Saturday in Sep).

L’Arquier is more like a Normandy auberge or an old Loire hunting lodge than a Provence restaurant. In summer you are shaded by centennial plane trees on a wooden pontoon overhanging the River Arc. The cooling, murky waters beneath are filled with greedy chub, swarming together to catch diners’ breadcrumbs, thrown from above. The opposite bank is tangled with greenery, preventing the thirsty Thelwell horses from the field behind from venturing as far as the water’s edge. In winter (I’m told) huge log fires crackle and spit in the main dining room.

The menus are good value — 25€, 28€, 34€. Not surprisingly fish dominates — trout, salmon or perch. It’s relatively rustic food-wise — but there are some surprises. Like the dessert of aubergines layered with an orange confit — really imaginative, and excellent. But mostly it’s honest country cooking — rabbit, asparagus, crayfish, pig’s liver stuffed with sweet sage… All juicy and well presented by charmingly disarming waiters, one of whom is clearly Boris Becker’s much younger brother, or perhaps his secret son…

Bringing the cost down, too is the wine list (starting at €17) — a simple selection of local Provence wines, also well-chosen, wisely priced trustworthy Rhône addresses.

The WC is pretty rustic, too, but clean.

It’s definitely worth discovering this simple hideaway — lunch or evenings at the water’s edge in the heat of summer are delightful — and in winter, the baronial dining rooms will be more than welcoming.

Juliet Young

Revisited July 07
Even more impressed this visit, with the air heavy with cigale song, and the cool river slinking by. Very pretty. And the food was better than I remembered it — we had very fresh, summery dishes, which all looked incredibly attractive! And unusual dishes — ecrevisses on a carpaccio of granny smith apples, baudroie with pain perdu and a fondue of fennel — and a river perch in a calissons sauce! At menus of €25, 29 and 35 — this is excellent value.

Copyright © 2007 Anglo-American Group of Provence