My Freind Tate recently wrote a review on his favourite restaurant the Auberge de la Foret, an attractive cosy little restaurant which nestles in the Mervent forest just east of Fontenay le Comte in the south of the Vendee. he writes:
This year (2008), two good friends from England came out for a week’s holiday and to spend my birthday with me. The three of us and Trevor could have eaten anywhere in the local area but as it was my birthday I chose the Auberge de la Forêt. It is unreservedly my favourite restaurant in the area and Monique the proprietor is without doubt a lovely lady and I’m sure she won’t mind me saying that she’s no spring chicken. She is often the chef, the waitress, and the sommelier. She takes the money, chats to the clientele and I don’t doubt does the washing up as well. If that’s not enough she also runs the accommodation and the bar, and looks after her husband. She is from a breed the like of which no longer exists, and is in my opinion simply the best. She is the wonder woman of Vendéen hospitality.
The restaurant is as its name would suggest, set in the forest of Mervent, a beautiful forested National Park where the steep valley of the river Vendée has been dammed to create lakes from which water is drained, treated and pumped to the local area. The lakes are also used for yachting, canoeing, swimming and fishing, and the forest is a walker’s dream. All in all the National Park itself is worthy of a visit, it has a zoo with a wide range of animals, which includes a petting zoo and a play area for children.
Drawing up outside the Auberge one is immediately struck by the quiet situation in the midst of mature trees. There are some tables outside purely for having a drink, but going inside is a treat not to be missed. The bar leads to a dining room split by a large fireplace with a huge Stag’s head mounted above it. During November the Auberge plays host to the hunters and the festival of horns, where the hunters gather and give a recital of music on their hunting horns. I had the misfortune to just miss this event having misunderstood Monique when booking a meal at the Auberge. I arrived when the festivities had just ended, but did however see some of the hunters with their hunting dogs and I can tell you that the dogs were more the size of Dartmoor ponies than dogs. The fact that it is an Auberge means that there are generally, though not always, other diners in the evenings, this coupled with the fascinating décor gives the Auberge a great ambience.
I almost always have the house pâte, which is homemade I prefer it to any other coarse pork pâte I have ever eaten. I normally follow the pâte with the pave de bœuf (similar to rump steak) in a shallot sauce. Monique’s sauces are legendary, her tarragon cream sauce which I ate with Sandre, a river fish similar to Zander, is stunning. I can honestly say that every sauce of Monique’s that I’ve ever eaten has been fabulous and I’d be pushed to remember a sauce that I’ve eaten anywhere that I’ve thought better than any of them.
The cheeseboard is always copious and varied and Monique always leaves it on the table so that you can help yourself to seconds if you have the room or the inclination. To finish there is normally something sweet and home made to delight the pallet, I first had oeufs au lait here and when I asked Monique what it was she told me that it was like crème caramel without the caramel. When I went to pay for the meal Monique’s combine harvester driving husband (a big guy and the only reason I don’t ask her to run away with me), asked if I had enjoyed the crème caramel without caramel and then he and his crew roared with laughter at the description.
The wine list is good enough (the cellar is probably better) it includes a Georges Duboeuf Cotes de Rhône and a Georges Dubeouf Morgon. When I first ate at the Auberge the Cotes de Rhone was half the price of most of the wines, and was fantastic value for money. Unfortunately being more gourmand than gourmet, I have continued to drink and recommend the Cotes de Rhône and as a result Monique has had to re-stock and subsequently the price has risen, but it is in my opinion an excellent wine and still represents great value.
I make no bones about it, I think the food is fantastic, it is not ostentatious, and it isn’t arranged on your plate like a work of art it is well presented and looks like food. It is fresh, home made, well cooked and full of flavour. There are no white coated waiters or sommeliers, but the service is friendly and as efficient as time constraints permit. The least expensive menu of lardon (bacon) salad, pave de bœuf, cheese and a sweet is 15 euros, I negotiate and get the pâte (which is from the 17 euro menu) included for 15 euros, but then Monique does like me. The décor is not grandiose but is in my opinion perfectly in keeping with the type of hostelry that this is. In summary the ambience is excellent and the food is better, Monique’s service is fantastic and in terms of value for money it is undoubtedly hard to beat. My English friends both agreed with my take on the restaurant, and Trevor’s only criticism was that there wasn’t a chocolate sweet with his coffee. It is simply my favourite restaurant in the area and I highly recommend it. – Tate
He is happy writing these reviews as it fulfills two of his passions, namely; writing and eating out.
I will publish more of his rantings in the weeks to come.
You can see the review with the pictures of the restaurant and Tate here
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