What do Joan Collins, Princess Diana, Delia Smith and I have in common? Up until a few days ago the answer was nothing. However, now I also class the Auberge De La Mole as one of my favourite restaurants.
For me, superb dining and excellent restaurants can turn a good holiday into a great one. And that’s one of the reasons that we’ve just had the most wonderful holiday on the South of France staying in the little village of La Mole near St Tropez on the Cote D’Azur.
One of the first things we did after arriving was walk down the main street and check out the local shops and restaurants. La Mole is a very small village with just one boulanger, a Spar shop and three restaurants. Of all the restaurants, the Auberge De La Mole looks the least like it would be the favourite restaurant of the rich and famous.
As we didn’t have internet access and hadn’t checked out any restaurant reviews in advance, it was a few days before our neighbours told us about the reputation of the food at the Auberge and how Princess Diana had dined there during her holidays to St Tropez.
So two days later we found ourselves at lunchtime indulging in their incredible 30 euro prix fixe menu. Now if you’re used the French restaurants you may be thinking that 30 euros is expensive for lunch, but I have to tell you, in this case, not so.
Initially we were offered aperitifs, as we’re not big drinkers, we chose to skip a pre-lunch cocktail and order a bottle of Domaine de Champeax rosé, which had been recommended by our neighbours. They were, of course, right, it was a lovely wine, just right for summer drinking and it matched every course perfectly.
We were seated at a table for two, but running alongside was a small side table. Unusual we thought, until the first course arrived, and then all became clear.
First the freshly baked rolls arrived and were placed on the table in a basket, wrapped in Gingham cloth. And then the starter appeared.
A young waiter brought us 4 huge terrines of pates, which were placed on the side table next to us. There was a smooth pate de canard (duck), rillettes d’oie (potted goose) a paté de campagne and tete de persille. Bread and pate is one of the joys of eating in France, whether it’s supermarket pate or something more artisan from the market, the range and flavours far exceed anything we can ordinarily find in England.
It was a help yourself, eat as much as you please starter and the pates were fantastic, perhaps the texture of the tete wasn’t quite to my taste having not grown up with that type of gelatinous food, but the canard just melted in the mouth. An example of ducky perfection which will be hard to beat.
And I was delighted to find that my opinion of the Auberge’s patés were shared by the Queen of British home cooking, Delia Smith writing for the Times newspaper.
It would have been so easy to fill up on bread and paté. And it was hard to stop eating, but after about 10 minutes, the terrines were moved on to the next set of diners and as we’d been told by our neighbours to pace ourselves, we reluctantly paused.
And then to the main courses, there were a choice of five. Confit duck, rack of lamb, cassoulet, steak or a cep omelette. Despite having had the omelette recommended to me in the strongest terms, We chose rack of lamb, and confit duck. Both were excellent and served with them were a sautéed potatoes, onions and mushrooms and a large bowl of dressed green salad. We couldn’t work out what the dressing was, there was a touch of pinkness to it, so we wondered if it was perhaps a light raspberry’ vinaigrette,
As we had already come to expect, this was delicious, and this was the only part of the meal which was not part of the all you can eat buffet. As is usual in French restaurants, they anticipate that you will be eating a multi course menu – unlike in Britain where it’s not unusual to simply have a main course – so the portion sizes are sized appropriately so you’re not completely stuffed before desert.
Again contrary to Britain, but common in France, the next course was cheese. I sometimes wonder if this is so you can finish your bottle of wine with the savoury courses and then order a pudding wine to accompany the puddings.
There were the usual range of cheeses, a mix of cow’s milk, sheep and goat, hard and soft and the obligatory blue cheese – Roquefort in this case. The waiter described each cheese to us and as with the pates, the cheeseboard was left on the side table for us for about 15 minutes while we indulged and tasted everything at least twice. The cheese were in huge chunks and as they moved from table to table any cheese which had been mainly devoured was quickly replaced by the kitchen, so the appearance of abundance and generosity was maintained throughout.
By this time, as you can imagine, I was pretty full. However, I was determined to try the puddings. After a small rest between courses, the puddings arrived on the side table. Again huge bowls, there was a terrine of creme caramel, l large bowl of prunes soaked in something and a bowl of marbled chocolate mouse.
It was by far the best chocolate mouse I’ve ever eaten – and I am a connoisseur of chocolate mousse. It was just incredible. It looked like it was marbled with whipped cream and I erred by not tasting the “cream” on it’s own. I have no idea how they managed to make something so light, yet so intensely chocolaty which looked like it had been diluted by mixing with whipped cream.
Although I was by his time full, and I knew that I was going to have to spend the rest of the afternoon quietly sitting very still, I served myself new fewer than three helpings of this magnificent mouse. The creme caramel was nice too, but not in the same league.
I declined coffee, even a small expresso would have been too much at this point. I simply hadn’t any room left.
Dame Joan Collins, who has had a house in St Tropez for many years recommends the Auberge for dinner, the 55 euro menu (also available at lunchtimes) gives an extra course and a more elaborate choice of main courses. Their famed Tournedous Rossini for example, fillet steak topped with seared foie gras. My advice if you go for dinner – pace yourself and you may not need to eat lunch first!
As you know, I love my food and this had been one of the best holiday experiences this year. We waddled very slowly and gently back to our digs and reflected on what had been a most marvelous, traditional style French bistro lunch. It looks like the menu has hardly changed for decades, but why tamper with perfection!