Bonjour mes amis et bienvenue en France. I would obviously continue this whole review in French but a) I think I might lose some readers and b) other than asking can I borrow your pencil or telling you my ruler is in the bathroom (why did our teacher assume that on any visit to France we were going to come across native speakers who were short of school equipment?), that is my French language well and truly exhausted.
Anyway, as you may have realised, this review is being written en France as Red (the wife) and I, along with our two boys, Fidget and Shy join our friends, Lady Furness and Vincenzo and their two bin lids, Crouchy and The Raven, on a week of relaxation in their converted forge in mid-west France. This is a very relaxing, rural get away in the middle of nowhere and it is bliss! A week of very slow sunny days, listening to the half- hourly church bells and stopping only for great food, beer and wine. You can keep your Benidorm or Faliraki, with your Mike Reid EastEnders geezers, chomping a mixed grill in the Cockney Tavern, in their pork pie hats with a copy of the S*n under their arm, eagerly anticipating Brexit and cheering on the release of Tommy Robinson. I love Europe and I love France -Vive la Republic!
Anyway (for the second time), whilst out here, Lady Furness and Vincenzo celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary, so we were heading out for a meal to celebrate (now if any of you know these two, you would be forgiven for thinking that Lady Furness deserves the Legion d’Honneur rather than just a meal!). So we trundled off in our hire car (Citroen Space Tourer – for those who like detail) to a local restaurant in the neighbouring village of Vernoux en Gatine called La Petite Noisette (the little Hazelnut – which ironically is Lady Furness’ bedroom name for Vincenzo), run by husband and wife team Richard and Hazel. This has often been closed on our previous visits to France but had remained open as Lady Furness had dropped major hints back in October that she would love to come here for her anniversary.
So we arrived into another quaint French village – all French villages are quaint and have a genuine sense of civic and parochial pride with their own church, Mairie and square, and this was no exception. We entered into a very pleasant but small dining room which consisted of 3 other parties and, with us, filled the place. We were greeted by Hazel, the owner (and hence the restaurant name), and quickly seated. Vincenzo and I opted for a quick pint of Grimbergen which despite sounding German is actually a Belgian / French beer.
Whilst checking the menu we were sent over an amuse bouche of salmon pate and bread – very delicious. The menu is a tight ship with very pleasant pricing and for starters we chose: duck (me, Vincenzo, Fidget), pasta (Red and The Raven), salmon (Crouchy) and cheese (Lady Furness and The Raven). Then for mains: steak (me, Red, Fidget), duck (Lady Furness, Crouchy and The Raven), cod (Vincenzo) and of course Shy, who is the fussiest eater ever, had bread and a pre-ordered chicken goujon and chips which Hazel and kindly agreed to cook for him.
The smoked duck with walnut cream cheese and walnut bread was excellent. The duck was very well smoked and not overpowering, balanced nicely with the softer creaminess of the walnut cream cheese. The cheese with hazelnuts and honey was also good and according to Lady Furness “Mmmm that was lovely”. However, the star of the starters was the trofiette pasta with asparagus, parmesan and black truffle oil – this was a heady and indulgent combination of flavours: garlic, truffle oil and parmesan, that just seemed to work. Red couldn’t finish the generous portion but, like a wounded impala amongst hunters, it was quickly taken care of by the rest of us.
The sirloin steak was extremely well cooked across the rare, medium rare and medium choices, I say this as, those who have ‘steaked’ in France will know it can often mean an entrecote and cooking something rare consists of sitting it on a radiator for 10 seconds. This was good food cooked well, seasoned perfectly and covered in a strong but not overpowering garlic butter along with a very generous portion of noirmoutier potatoes. The duo of duckling breast and confit leg served with baked peach was again well cooked on both counts and served simply, though could possibly do with a side dish. Finally the cod loin with brioche crust, almonds and cherry tomatoes was Vincenzo and Lady Furness’ favourite. The crunchy brioche crust was unusual and set the dish up well, the cod itself was again cooked perfectly and the subtle combination of flavours ensured it was complemented rather than overpowered. I must also say a special thanks for the homemade chicken goujons that were put on especially for Shy – excellent and he is very fussy!
I know what you are thinking – surely no more could be eaten but this was a special occasion, recognising that unique act of union between man and woman and, more importantly, the fact that Lady Furness had somehow managed to avoid murdering Vincenzo across those 20 years. So in that spirit we embarked on the dessert menu. Red had the speculoos and salted butter caramel cheesecake which was light, buttery, crumbly and lacked any hint of stodginess allowing Red to finish it all. Shy and The Raven chose the Vernoux village strawberries with lemon cream and meringue. Shy asked for his without cream, which was no problem, again an excellent dessert from the Eton mess family and well executed. Meanwhile Lady Furness and I went for the spectacularly decadent chocolate ganache with granola and hazelnut. WOW. This was a shiny ball of chocolate luxury, that would have been slumming itself in the Palace of Versailles on the table of Louis le Grande, le Roi Soleil. It took us to heaven and back, and with my mid-holiday weight at the moment it almost did!
I know you are never likely to visit this place but, on the off chance you are ever over this part of France, please go out of your way to try it. It was wonderful and made a special night even more special!
Type: family / budget restaurant
Service: 9.5/10 went above and beyond to accommodate Shy.
Atmosphere: 9/10 small dining room which livened up when Vincenzo arrived.
Food: 9/10 good food cooked very well across the board.
Value for money: 9/10 £250 for 8 of us, most having desserts and including many drinks!
Overall: 9 A great family concern in a part of France you are never likely to visit but that you should!
These are judged against the best of that type of restaurant. For example cafes against what you would expect from the best cafes, high end restaurants against the best high end restaurants etc.
Website: La Petite Noisette