On my birthday last April, we drove 900 plus klicks or about 570 miles from our new home in Saintes to our exchange home in Vence above the Côte d’Azur. It rained incessantly en route and it was so chilly and windy that we moved our attempted pique-nique [picnic] from a rest stop table to inside the car. Some birthday, let me tell you! I got a present, though. One lovely €45/$60 ticket for driving 7 km/h or 4 m/h above the speed limit, on a four-lane, limited access, divided highway with very expensive tolls. Ils sont durs, ces Français*!
[*Those Frenchies are tough! Free after my favorite catchphrase from ‘Asterix’ – ils sont fous, ces Romains]
A few days later in Vence, the sun was shining on my belated extra lovely birthday lunch à deux at the restaurant gastronomique
“LE VIEUX COUVENT”
|Still Life with Candle
It appears, we just couldn’t get away from reminders of the town’s religious past, as the Vieux Couvent is located in the former chapel of a former 17th-century seminary, hence ‘the old convent’ name. The ancient stone building lends itself as a fitting backdrop for elegantly set tables, in invigorating juxtaposition with contemporary works of art by Italian-Vençois Mario Bariona.
FOH** at the Vieux Couvent is run expertly by Mme Sonia Bissière, who together with her husband has owned and operated the Vieux Couvent since 1990. Madame is ever the gracious hostess, she made us feel welcome and special and assisted us with our food and wine choices. But make no mistake, there is an eagle-eyed Maître d’ hidden behind that gentle exterior, who is very much in charge of operations, quietly supervising the staff, catching every little smudge, before it could possibly offend a guest. And keeping a subtle eye on those messy guests as well. After we had finished our main course and the dishes had been removed, Barry absentmindedly brushed some bread crumbs off the tablecloth. Instantly Madame rushed over with a little brush-&-tray set, admonishing him sternly: ‘Not on the floor, Monsieur!’. Wonderful!
[**Front of House, the part of an establishment accessible to the public]
|Painting by Bariona
‘Au fourneau’, which means ‘in the kitchen’, reigns Chef Jean-Jacques Bissière, a former rugby player, who learned, then executed his art in several famous kitchens across Europe. For a time he worked alongside the most ‘starred’ Chef in the universe, Alain Ducasse, who just today made headlines by turning his 3-Michelin-stars luxury restaurant in the famed Plaza Aténée Hotel in Paris in a largely meat-free zone. One must, he says, keep to “naturalité” or naturalness. “The planet has increasingly rare resources so we have to consume more ethically, more fairly.” He told AFP (Agence France-Press news agency). From now on, he’ll be focusing on the preparation of cereals, vegetables, and fish – until the moneyed public demands differently, I suppose.
For myself, as a biological omnivore, I’m still keen on old-fashioned meat dishes like rognons de veau and carré d’agneau and fortunately for me, so is Chef Bissière. He prepares the most delicious traditional dishes with the freshest ingredients possible.