L’Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle
October 7, 2014
Linda and I stayed at the Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle the night of October 1, 2014. This old building near a 12th century Benedictine Abbey was renovated in 1999 by Alain Ducasse into a charming inn and restaurant.
The inn fronts on the old central Var town, La Celle. Behind are its own gardens and vineyard. The chef is Benoît Witz, who has been with Ducasse since the opening of the Louis XV in 1987.
We were seated in one of the small dining rooms, with vegetable photos on the walls and vegetables decorating each table. Ours was a photogenic cauliflower. We started with glasses of Laurent-Perrier Champagne. The hors d’œuvres were crudités and crisp bread sticks with two little bowls of dips for them.
We chose the larger of the two proposed menus, the Menu de l’Abbaye. A la carte selections are also offered. At the suggestion of the sommelier, we ordered a bottle of 2007 Guilhem Tounier « Cuvée Malissone » Bandol rouge.
Although I am quite familiar with Bandol wines, I did not know of this one. It was very good.
Risotto onctueux coraillé,
sauté minute d’encornets, fenouil et poivron
The creamy risotto was flavored, not with roe, as the description implies, but with parmesan, which does not usually go well with seafood. The cuttlefish were not as crisp as they should be and the diced green pepper was not a good match. Overall, the dish was pleasant, but not well conceived or executed.
Rouget de petit bateau,
The filets of red mullet were surprisingly large and meaty. They were nicely cooked with a crisp skin. The vegetable garniture was fresh, light and went well with the delicate fish.
Joue de bœuf charolais braisée,
champignons, potiron et pousses d’épinards
Beef cheeks, braised in red wine until tender, were shredded and served in onion halves. There were mushrooms, spinach leaves and little half-spheres of pumpkin. This was quite rich and could be savoured slowly. It was nice to find something so unusual and successful on the menu.
Rather than passing around a big cheese tray, we were each given our own mini-cheese-board. The pieces of cheese were a wide variety and in perfect shape, but a bit too much for us after the rich beef course. Served with them was a crisp green salad.
We enjoyed the meal very much. Except for the inexplicable risotto, each course showed off good ingredients well. The progression was logical; there were traditional, local and seasonal elements. The service, pace and ambience were excellent. L’Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle has an advantage over some similar inns, which draw only tourists, because it is in the middle of populated areas from which its restaurant also draws a French clientele.