Country & Town House
Alice B-B goes culinary road-tripping with her mum.
It was my first time. And what I moslty remember is that it went on for hours. Aged just six. I leant that three Michelin-starred food is not lunch, it's an event.
Encouraged to be experimental by our foodie (greedy) parents, our palates had been educated with blind tasting from the fridge, spices and chilli as soon as we could hold chopsticks - and then came the serious stuff...
A sunny Sunday and we headed to the Waterside Inn at Bray, where legendary brothers Michel and Albert Roux were cooking up the kind of storm that had earnt them those three stars. In our bestest clothes, we had cocktails in a boat on the river and then back to the restaurant for lunch. I remember the pudding trolley because I'd never seen one before; every sugary treat imaginable on wheels - genius. And my brother Henry (aged four) having a nap on the banquette; it was about 5pm and my parents were still sipping Armagnac and scoffing petit fours. But waht really marked me was the excitement about the place; more than just a restaurant, this was where ingredients were tenderly massaged into something greater than the sum of their parts, where lunch might take four hours out of joy and respect.
So plotting a road trip through France with my mother (kind of Thelma and Thelma's mum) meant hitting the gourmand trail. First up arrived in Lyon to stay in Cour des Loges; a very pretty hotel, four Renaissance buildings with arches and turrets, twists and turns and even a secret passage. And on the roof, a peaceful hanging garden with hives of honey-making bees. Dinner was in the glass-roofed courtyard, created by young chef Anthony Bonnet, whose dishes - including duck foie gras cooked in an orange, and pigeon with spicy fruit and breaded mushrooms - earned him a Michelin star in 2012.
Then on to St. Tropez - to our family home built by my grandparents when the harbour town was still "un petit port de pêche" and theirs was the only house on the hill. Cut to 65 years later and it's a very different story; diamond at breakfast, heels at the beach, mega yachts at dock intent on a very different kind of fishing. But the swanked up version does bring benefits. Namely the youngest ever chef to receive three Michelin stars.
Arnaud Donckele's restaurant, La Vague d'Or, nestles beneath sculptural pine trees at the sugared almond-pink hotel, La Résidence de la Pinède. Overlooking its private beach as the sun set, canapés arrived on a mini olive tree like tiny presents. and then dinner - five courses that blew our minds, our palates and our socks off. This was the zenith of sensory experiences; South of France evening light, balletic but cool staff, the sound of the waves and summer laughter, and exceptional food. We left reeling and feeling this was the only restaurant we ever want to go to. Ever. And my motto for future road trips with my mum - "Fill'er up". And I don't mean with petrol.