Le Relais des Moines

March 15, 2007

Route de Sainte Roseline, Les Arcs-sur-Argens
04 94 47 40 93. www.lerelaisdesmoines.com.

(March 13, 2008) img_0524.jpgTo drive one hour from Nice for lunch to a restaurant that was just written up in Nice-Matin requires a great leap of faith.

However, David and Frédérique are always up for something new and different, so the four of us met there not knowing what to expect except what we had read. We parked and walked up wide stone stairs, passing a brand new swimming pool, to an old bastide. Once inside we were immediately entranced. The restoration with its wooden beams and vaulted ceilings just oozes charm as well as comfort. img_0520.jpg

Géraldine, the chef’s wife, greeted us with smiles and a very warm welcome as she led us through the dining room to our table by a large fireplace. Before bringing the menus she fixed us up with the coupe des Moines, a blanc de blanc with a drop of gin and something to make it pink, and a plate of small tastes—four small glasses of caviar de courgettes, four olive Madeleines, and what was called a risotto cake but didn’t taste like risotto; almost too delicious.

With all these wonderful tastes rolling around, we now were beginning to suspect that we just might be in luck. The menus came and required much discussion. Maybe we were just slow, but it took us some time to figure out the lunch menu on the left-hand side, priced at 25€, was only two courses, either entrée and main or main and dessert.

Moreover, each course was the chef’s choice. Once we had that figured out we quickly moved to right hand side where we could have the menu découverte at 50€ or the dégustation at 65€. With each, there were three choices per course. The difference was that the menu dégustation offered two entrees, plat and dessert while the menu découverte offered just one entrée, plat and dessert.

Digging into our entrees, Frédérique pronounced her escalope de foie frais poêlée, oeuf mi coque-mi brouillé aux champignons silky and superb; and David found his noix de coquilles Saint Jacques with its sweetly spiced bouillon to be outstanding. Gary and Varian both took the stuffed baby vegetables, which replaced the third offer on the menu, and they bore no relation to the typical Niçoise stuffed vegetables. These were delicately cooked, and the stuffing was very meaty and well seasoned. A totally different type of dish altogether, and not surprisingly so as this cuisine is certainly not Niçoise.

Moving to the main courses, both David and Varian chose the pigeon de Bresse rôti, served over a bed of baby spinach garnished with escargots in a foamy herb emulsion. “Wow” is all I can say. David went one better. He had just eaten at both Mirazur and Hostelerie Jérôme and said this whole experience was better. In fact, he had eaten pigeon at Jérôme’s that was tough, with a presentation that paled before this one.

Both Frédérique and Gary purred their way through their grenadine de veau en cocotte served with lovely cauliflower, salsify and Jerusalem artichokes and topped with a sauce vigneronne. For dessert, two chose the larme crousti-coulante au chocolat grand cru, with a saffron ice cream, while two chose from the tray of six cheeses. With our coffees, the mignardises maintained the same high level of the whole meal. The comments which, we all kept repeating, were “outstanding,” “very special.”

During the meal, we drank a bottle of the local Chateau Roubine rouge (48€) which was acceptable but not up to the cooking. For that we have only ourselves to blame.  Reading back over the review in Nice-Matin, we were reminded that the chef, Sébastien Sanjou is only 24 years old. His wife, Géraldine, is a contemporary. And mother, Chantal, is younger than all of us.

Sébastien and Géraldine both got into the field right out of school. He trained with Christian Willer in Cannes and Labarère in Tarbes. Le Relais des Moines is already one of the best restaurants on the coast and by next year it will have added hotel rooms and a spa to make it a real destination.

We can look for and expect lots of wonderful creations from Sébastien Sanjou. And, a star or two.

img_0526.jpgIf you need another reason to go to Les Arcs, and it is hard to imagine that you would, stop at the Maison des Vins on the N7, ten minutes west of the restaurant. Here you will find selections from three hundred or so vinters, and an able staff ready to help you choose from the extensive collection.

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