I’ll try not to allow this post to sound like some completely over the top advert for a quite impossibly perfect place to go on holiday BUT, to be quite honest, our three night honeymoon (apparently rather nauseatingly known nowadays as a “minimoon”) was just heaven. We went to the Auberge de Cassignolles in the Auvergne, a small hotel with eight rooms and, most importantly, an utterly amazing restaurant.
I simply loved everything about the place: the jar of wild roses and blackberries by the bed, the crispy white bed linen, the shuttered windows opening out onto the village square with its medieval church (along with very loud bells), the fabulous art on the walls. It’s almost impossible not to bang on about it all but I’ll hold back and let Peter’s pictures ( well, I might have taken a couple) do the talking.
And, as to the food, it just couldn’t have been better. Peter Taylor (previously of The Riverstation, Bristol) owns and runs the show with his incredibly resourceful chef, Matt Robertson (American… Arkansas in fact, been cheffing in Paris and all over the place for years including Chez Panisse). The auberge vegetable patch provides most of the fresh produce along with eggs, goat’s milk (for the cheese, ice cream etc) lamb and pork. Unpasteurised cow’s milk comes from just down the road, as do all the amazing local cheeses, charcuterie is all made in-house (Peter visibly winced as I asked him if the veal boudin blanc was homemade – of course it was) so are all the fabulous jams. Breakfast is perfect, dinner is even better (sorry, I did tell you that I was going to go overboard in my excitement).
Every night Peter serves a five course meal (an absolute bargain at 25 euros) of the most stunningly balanced food, it’s all obviously so gloriously fresh and as he says “it’s what Matt doesn’t do to it”. Locals book tables for the upcoming evenings without even inquiring what will be on the menu; the blackboard goes up just before dinner.
Our first night will stay with me as one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever eaten- a citrus scented pumpkin soup, a fresh goat’s cheese salad with grilled courgettes and shaved radishes, then roast lamb with fresh chard, tomatoes and the creamiest flageolet beans, followed by local cheese and leaves from the garden and finishing up with a strawberry frangipane tart with incredible buttery pastry. It sounds as if we would need to have been stretchered off to bed but, incredibly, the plates were so carefully measured that I felt beautifully satisfied rather than stuffed.That’s the thing about a chef’s menu, as Sally Clarke’s been demonstrating for decades in London, they think about the balance so much better than we do when we select our favourites from a menu. So basically, if you love food just get to Chassignolles; it’s simply no wonder that it was recently listed by The Times in their Top Foodie Hotels of Europe
A rather miraculous side to our trip was the lack of hang-overs or the slightest hint of an early morning fuzzy head – even if Mr Bassett does look as if he’s getting pretty pie-eyed on the Negronis. This has to come down to the natural wines that Peter serves, he’s brilliant too when it comes to introducing you to what is, for most of us, pretty new territory. SO, a gushing review about, what does just happen to be, some friends of our’s hotel but I’d like to add that it doesn’t make the positive report predictable at all, I have to admit that it makes me quite nervous going to a friend’s joint, it’s that awful feeling that you might NOT like it…. then silence is the only way.
We didn’t spend every waking hour eating and drinking at Chassignolles, we headed out in our diddy hire car to the market in Langeac – one of those proper French markets with producers bringing their own small selection of cheeses, charcuterie, fruit or veg. I came away with a few saucissons (finished last for lunch today) and some Mirabelles jam.
We pottered down country roads, got lost (I was map reading – more about my navigational skills later) but did find the lentil Mecca of Le Puy en Velay. The volcanic landscape was stunning but not a lentil in sight (all harvested in August) but we still managed to slip in a lentil salad for a light lunch beside the Cathedral.
It’s so tempting to digress into talk of pilgrims, the trail to Santiago de Compostela, winding medieval steps trodden over centuries but I do need to get down to giving you a lentil salad recipe. I’m sure that you get the picture from Peter’s photos & I’m definitely getting back to Le Puy in lentil season next year, so more on that at a later date.
The salad recipe is as simple and straightforward as they come, all about quality ingredients and perfect seasoning; a lesson learnt in Chassignolles.
Simple Lentil Salad Serves 4
No photo I’m afraid – you’ve had more than the usual ration and I want to get this post out before the auberge closes for the winter. If you’re in Bristol then you’re in luck, as it seems that Peter and Max’s Bar Buvette is set to “pop up” again in the coming months. I’ll keep you posted.
250 g/9 oz Puy or Castellucio lentils, rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 small red onion , finely sliced
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
salt and black pepper
4 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
Place the lentils in a pan with the bay leaf and cover with cold water by about 5 cm/ 2 inches . Bring them up to the boil and then simmer for about 20-30 minutes until tender but still just intact (don’t leave them like little pebbles, or you’ll have a lot of fun digesting them)
Meanwhile pour the vinegar over the onion and leave to soak, red onion will turn fuschia pink and become softer in both texture and flavour.
Drain the lentils, reserving their cooking liquid, and whilst still warm add the vinegar, olive oil and season well with salt and black pepper, allowing the tastes to marry.
Once cool stir in the chopped parsley and add a little cooking water if the salad seems dry.
Try stirring in a teaspoon of Dijon mustard & serve with cold ham or a good pork pie.
Use as a base for any winter salads with roast vegetables and goat’s cheese.
Recipe from my book Pulse
Most of the pic’s by Peter Bassett – my husband!.
Oh, and just one word on my navigational skills, or travel planning. It’s wise to check maps and distances carefully on the internet. It transpired that Chassignolles is indeed just an hour from Limoges airport, just not the Chassignolles that we were going to…….. could have been the first marital bust up after 4 hours in the car BUT thankfully Peter was swept away by the auberge’s charms too.