Imaginative food and eclectic wine in Provence

L’Oustalet shines at truffle time

chef Laurent DeconinckThe menu features Mediterranean-inspired fare
chef Laurent DeconinckThe menu features Mediterranean-inspired fare

Provence, for me, is at its best out of season. In the hush of midwinter, gnarled bush vines crouch still and leafless in the vineyards and mustard-yellow puffs of fragrant mimosa hang from silvery branches – and competition for the hottest restaurants melts away. This is when I pounce on a usually difficult-to-come-by table at L’Oustalet, an alluring little inn in the village of Gigondas, not far from Avignon. 

Opened in 2009, L’Oustalet is owned by the Perrin wine-growing family and chef Laurent Deconinck, and wine underscores the whole enterprise. The combination of pared-back Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and an eclectic wine list (not exclusively Perrin-made ones, although its celebrated Château de Beaucastel is certainly worth trying) makes the place irresistible for people like me whose appetite for imaginative food is matched by a thirst for fun, under-the-radar wines. 

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Deconinck takes his cue first from what’s in season, before consulting sommelier Hugo Boulay as to which wine his dish will work best with. The result is a concise, regularly changing list of suggestions (“Les Produits du Moment”) and wine-pairing menus (from €89 to €136). Standout dishes from my past visits include a memorable monkfish poached in almond milk with slivers of pickled pink ginger; juniper-crusted beef fillet with shallot confit and wild mushrooms; and a dessert of trembling, just-risen chocolate soufflé with a cool blackberry and grape coulis. Right now, there’s a distinct whiff of black truffles in the air; the Menu Truffe (€96; available during January and February) features such delights as soft-boiled, truffle-buttered egg complete with soldiers for dipping, and sea bass, Ibérico pork and a soft-ripened Pérail sheep’s milk cheese, each laced with black slivers of deliciousness.  

L’Oustalet restaurant in Gigondas
L’Oustalet restaurant in Gigondas

For dedicated truffle fans like myself, there’s also the Grand Menu Truffe (€136) – a seven-course tasting extravaganza. For €84 you can opt into the wine pairings, but one thing I love about L’Oustalet, which is so rare in France, is the wide selection available by the glass – from €6.50 for a simple Côtes du Rhône, to €18 for Didier Daguenau’s rare Pouilly Fumé. 

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