Today we celebrate our 37th anniversary, or as a very nice French person said earlier, our 37th wedding birthday. It was a sunny and crisp day, perfect for a drive through the countryside. A drive with a specific destination, however. We were aiming for the village of Breuillet. Breuillet is about 10 Km or a little over 6 miles inland from the very popular seaside town of Royan while the northern margins of the village extend to the brackish waters of the river Seudre with its famed oyster farms. These oyster beds were the childhood playground of one Xavier Taffart, son of oyster farmers, who grew up to become a Michelin starred chef. Well, ‘fils d’ostréiculteur’ sounds so much more glamorous, I think. English can be exceedingly boring and prosaic.
M. Xavier Taffart is Le Chef at the L’Aquarelle, a one-star restaurant and boutique hotel, which he owns and runs with his wife Mme. Aurélie Taffart. And we had booked our anniversary lunch In their lovely place. It was a wonderful experience, because from the contemporary architecture of the building to the choice of linens, the style of l’Aquarelle suits our sensibilities perfectly. Clear lines, uncluttered spaces, a minimalistic approach to decorating just barely softened by the curvature of the dining chairs, allows the main attraction, the superb food, to shine without having to compete against ambitious works of art on the walls. Most of these walls actually consist of large panes of glass through which the vast, flat expanse of the surrounding coastal land becomes part of the enclosed dining space. A countryside, made ever more significant, as it first imprinted Chef Taffart before he began his journeyman travels through the kitchens of the world.
Madame and her staff provide their guests with impeccable service extended with cheerful grace, belying the hard work and incredible attention to detail needed for running a smooth and pleasant front of house. We began our celebratory lunch with a glass of champagne to toast to all those year still to come. While sipping the rosé bubbly and selecting a menu, we were offered the first of a succession of delights to tease and please. We savored them all!
The Chef presented us with an array of amuse-bouches or amuse-gueules, which are as much a pleasure for the eye as they are delectable in their taste and texture variation.
The pumpkin was an especially sweet local variety and the satiny soft surface of the mother-of-pearl-like caviar spoon was a perfect utensil to enjoy the mousse. Still, first prize must go to the milk ball. The contradiction of textures developing as you explore its components in your mouth is perfection. And I don’t even like milk.
The following was quite a work of art in its presentation and included a huge taste surprise.
How does one conceive of mussel sorbet? Astonishing. And so good! It explodes between tongue and palate with icy distinction. Next we enjoyed local crabmeat in a lightly foamy consommé of surprising power. The crabmeat was also very flavorful and rich – and easy, as in France one usually has to pull it out of its shell at the table. This was a much-appreciated lazy version for us. The broth was served separately and added individually by our waitperson.
All these flavors and we haven’t even glimpsed the actual menu dishes yet. While we were tasting and nibbling, we also enjoyed looking around a little,
before focusing on our meal again, when our entrées arrived.
We each had a glass of white wine perfectly matched to our respective appetizers.
Our main course was reminiscent of El Rancho Leon. ‘Filet de biche’ or venison filet with celery croquets and miniature onions. There was also an intensely flavored venison concentrate and little dabs of a very aromatic citrus distillate. Strong flavors, perfectly balanced and accompanied by a rich Syrah from the northern Côte du Rhône region.
Our feast then concluded with a cheese course followed by dessert and coffee. I can’t tell you much about the cheese, because I’m not knowledgeable enough to recall the specifics, you just have to go and taste them for yourselves.
Have I mentioned yet that we were also presented with anniversary candles in macarons, nougat, caramel, peach fruit jelly, little cakes and strawberry flavored cotton candy? Ils sont fous, ces Romans!
Our wedding birthday was an epic experience and we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it!
As a closing picture, I would like to select another version of the bouncy milk ball. Sheer genius, Monsieur Taffart!