Thursday, 25 August 2011

La Ferme Ladouceur, Ramatuelle, France


Our two week family holiday in the south of France is always a firefoodie challenge. There is pretty much a blanket ban on open fires and barbeques everywhere except in private houses. Having seen more than one forest fire in the region at close hand I can see why.

We are surrounded by family and friends where we stay, and when my sister in law offered to feed and look after our kids one evening so my wife and I could try out her favourite local eaterie, what could we say? Her generosity was even further extended to driving us to the restaurant and picking us up after the meal.

La Ferme Ladouceur is a few kilometres from the stunning village of Ramatuelle, near St Tropez on the French riviera. It is locally reknowned for its evening only restaurant which is run along side their chambres d'hotes. The converted farmhouse is set back off the main road, surrounded by vineyards and has a beautiful shaded terrace at the rear. We asked for a special table and got one, right on the edge of the terrace under the canopies of olive and fig trees.

The set price four course menu includes wine and changes daily. There are no choices to be made, you are simply served the same four courses as everyone else that evening. Our menu:

- Petit femlleté boufe et figue
- Brandade de cabillaud, coulis de tomate
- Fromage
- Soupe de pesches

We were guessing as much as you as to what we would receive other than what we could work out with our limited French. The first course was something to do with beef and figs, no clue on the second course other than the tomato coulis, then cheese, and finally peach soup?

After we were seated, we splashed out and had a glass of champagne each to celebrate the occasion. The setting was truly lovely. The trees surrounding the terrace were gently up-lit and the tables set simply and elegantly with white linen, a small paraffin lantern and an array of wine and water glasses.

We were given the choice of red or rosé to have with our meal, and opted to start on a refreshing, chilled rosé which came to the table in a bottle without a label having been filled from a cask in the kitchen. Then came the first course, and wow.  It was a small pastry parcel surrounded by a thick glossy sauce, and garnished with a salad of mixed leaves and redcurrants. The first cut into the pastry revealed a finely minced beef filling with a few slices of fig on top of it. The beef was beautifully seasoned and combined well with the sweet fig, pastry and sauce. The sauce, I think, was a reduced and thickened beef consommé. The leaves and redcurrants had a wonderful cleansing effect as an end to the course. Our plates were left clean, any last traces having been wiped up with some of the home made bread. Our first experience was full of complementary flavours and left us wanting for more.

We were left with just the right amount of time to contemplate how good the first course was and consider moving on to a red wine now the rosé was starting to run out. The local reds are very light, so hopefully our choice would work well with the coming main course (a conversation with one of the waiters had revealed that it was fish of some sort).

And wow again. The fish turned out to be cod, and was served on a bed of what looked like potato pureé (but by its taste was not), a whole steamed carrot, a kind of herby egg roll, and a piece of toasted rustic bread topped with baked tomato. There was a lot going on with this dish and it took a bit of a while just looking at it to piece it all together.

The fish was firm, white and just moist enough, and looked like it had been baked. It was not like the watery cod often served, but superior in quality. To be honest, I wasn't totally sure it was cod until I looked up the translation of 'cabillaud' the next day. The pureé beneath the cod was an intense, creamy, fishy experience. I was thinking of celeriac and not potato at the time, but the next day translation revealed it to be the 'brandade' on the menu; an emulsion of salted cod, olive oil and milk, a specialty of the region. Cod on cod, an abundance of seasoning, the sweet carrot and the tomato coulis, a divine dish. The toasted bread on the plate I'm sure was there for the final clean up. My wife and I couldn't stop raving as we were eating. It was (together with the wine) an intoxicating experience.

The third course arrived after a suitable break. A single, fairly large slice of brie on a plate. After the attention to detail we had become accustomed to, this felt just a bit disappointing. The quality of the brie was exceptional, but we both felt a bit let down. No garnish, a few grapes maybe, some cheese biscuits? It could be that there was some contrasting simplicity versus complexity going on, but it didn't give us much to think about.

The dessert, I'm afraid, was also a bit disappointing, but possibly only because of the expectations that had built up after the superb first two courses. The 'peach soup' consisted of small cubes of peach in rich peach pureé, and a small boat shaped sponge sitting on top. The idea itself was fine, but it was served in a deep glass goblet with a long spoon which made it awkward to eat. It was refreshing and I ate it all but I was disappointed with the presentation. It had also come straight from the fridge so there was no impression of any final flair in the finishing stages in the kitchen.

All in all, however, we had a brilliant time and together agreed on a score of 8 out of 10. The quality of service, ambience, and first two courses were exquisite. Value for money? at 43 euros per person including  a litre and a half of wine for food of this quality, no question. The only let down was the last two courses. Had these followed the all round standards of the first two courses, this could have pushed the score to a 9 or even possibly a 10.

La Ferme Ladouceur is one of those places you have to try. The surprise menu of the day, the ambience and the quality have to be experienced. We will definitely be going back there. Oh, and remember to take cash, no cards accepted.


Lola Lobato said...

what a treat to be a foodie in france! the place looks great.. looking forward to see what other places you discover..

firefoodie said...

Thanks Lola, Well, back in the UK now, so time to get cooking on open fires again!

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