Imaginative cooking in chic surroundings

A Provence restaurant with style as well as substance

A chic and modern restaurant serving delicious food at reasonable prices is something of a rarity in rural Provence where, though the local cooking is often excellent, the decor usually veers to the traditional. An exception is a favourite of mine – Dolium, just outside Beaumes de Venise and an offshoot of the town’s very go-ahead co-operative winery. The 1950s architecture of a formerly disused part of the building lends itself very well to the restaurant interior’s understated chic of deep grey, beige and black, big rusted chandeliers and oval mirrors with unpolished wood frames, fiery red flowers (first picture).

I had eaten there cosily several times in winter – and earnt my lunch with a superb, panorama-filled walk beforehand over the hill behind it – and have now enjoyed the full-on summer experience on the wood-decked terrace outside (second picture), under a jasmine hedge and a full moon, and with a fascinating view of the glass-walled kitchen with young chef Pascal Poulain and his staff busying efficiently away. All the produce is fresh, local and seasonal and, though there are only two choices per course, the menu changes completely every two weeks so you can eat there once a week and have a completely different meal each time.

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Poulain’s cooking is imaginative and beautiful – recent delights included grilled pollack on little coco de Mollans beans infused with local herbs, lime, and lemongrass; and red pepper ice cream on a fine vanilla crème base with raspberries. There are also seasonal menus built around items such as truffles or lobster, where each course either includes it or complements it. A two-course lunch is €20, three courses for €29, four for €38.

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The overall result is a terrific blend of substance and style. Even the co-op’s excellent wines, which come by tasting glass or bottle, seem to fit with the decor: we had a prize-winning rosé, in a sensible 50cl size, for the princely sum of €8, and not only was it zingily fresh and fruity, but its natural, almost neon colour (“hints of fuchsia”, according to a critic’s notes) was the perfect foil for the dark grey table setting.

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