Les Bacchanales, Vence

February 3, 2010

It is a disappointment when one learns shortly after arriving at a restaurant that the chef is not present, but this time we were intrigued when told that Christophe Dufau was working in Copenhagen that day. A little research later discovered a story that, during Dufau’s six years as a chef in Denmark, René Redzepi was once a stagiaire for him and that Dufau’s son Mathias is now working in the kitchen at noma.  So with that connection Linda and I were encouraged about the prospects for this lunch at Les Bacchanales on January 28, 2010.

The dining room is upstairs in an old villa outside of Vence near the Matisse chapel. It is simply furnished with what we used to call Danish Modern.

Among the pottery decorations are several pieces by Martine Pollisset of Biot; we also have five of her works, ceramic fruits. We ordered glasses of the house Champagne, Bereche et Fils.  A basket of four fresh hot grissins, rosemary and black olive, were put on the table with a bowl of parsley pesto.

We were hungry and devoured them as we had been walking and shopping in old Vence including on the excellent and charming twenty meter stretch for food shops on the Rue du Marché.

There was no written menu; the chef of the day, Olivier Kohen, came to our table and proposed a five-course menu which sounded good to us. There was a printed wine list; we selected a 2000 Dunazet “Cuvée Charlemagne” Cornas. It was very good.

Bread and delicious beurre à la sarriette were put on the table.

Our first course was
Lisette et petits coquillages en nage glacée, cocos, huile de soya, algue rouge de l’Atlantique, framboises confits et roquette
The piece of young mackerel was nice, but the ingredients underneath and the plate were right out of the refrigerator. This might have been okay for the broth, “nage glacée”, but it made the texture and flavor of the white beans unpleasant. The candied raspberries were silly.

Merlu de Méditerranée
pommes de terres espagnoles, bottarga, sauce thé verte, mâche, câpres, râpé de macadamia

The piece of hake was formed into a round cake. It was topped with a mixture of capers and mache with grated macadamia nut on top. A green tea sauce was poured around. There were three cubes of potato with fish roe shards on top. Enjoyable, but I didn’t see the point of all the complexity; we were not at Pierre Gagnaire.

Veau de Corse
pappardelles au truffes noirs et pappardelles de potiron

The slices of veal seemed a bit dry and grainy to me. The wide noodles of pasta with truffles and of pumpkin were amusing, but not much truffle flavor came through. The lemon foam added a trendy visual effect, but the dish ended up seeming very ordinary.

Tomme de Savoie
confiture de noisette du Piemont

This hard Alpine cheese was very nice; the hazelnut jam and the toasted raisin bread were perfect with it.

Inexplicably, I didn’t take a photo of the dessert
Orange du Pays confite et glace à la brioche, fleur d’oranger et vanille
A vanilla cream, described as like in a Tropézienne, was under a slice of candied orange. On the side was a scoop of delicious brioche ice cream. A good dessert.

Two iced chocolate truffles were served with the coffee.

The meal was okay, but nowhere near what we were expecting. The dishes didn’t seem well planned or executed. We were told that the menu is planned according to the market, but that wasn’t evident. We were the only customers for this meal, but there was a surprisingly large staff of young helpers in the kitchen.  

Les Bacchanales received its first Michelin star in 2008, when it was in nearby Tourettes-sur-Loup. It moved to its present location a year and a half ago. It hasn’t really settled in. We could hear renovation work in the floor above us. Out back was a big bare area that is supposed to be a terrace with fifty seats by summer. This area is right below a busy road. The restaurant now holds forty and we were told that people are turned away every night from May through September.  During our lunch there was a major burning of garden cuttings right next door in what seems to be a gardening company’s dump. It blew big clouds of smoke at the restaurant and the odor penetrated. You would think that arrangements would have been made with the neighbors by now.

Certainly we were not there when Les Bacchanales was showing its best, but a starred restaurant with ambitions should not have off days.

Addendum: We returned to Les Bacchanales on June 18, 2011, and had a very good meal. To see our report on it click here.


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