I wrapped up my trip to the Loire Valley with a visit to Fontevraud Abbey, glamming myself up and made our way down to the hotel restaurant to sample some dishes from the critically acclaimed menu of head chef, Thibaut Ruggeri.
As with the hotel, the restaurant is set within an original limestone building of the original Saint-Lazare priory. The whole area has been modernised in a really fantastic way, using micro architecture within the rooms that compliments the original, larger structures. You’d be forgiven for thinking at a distance that this part of the Abbey still has religious uses.
The first part of the restaurant to visit is their famous ‘iBar‘, shown in the photograph above. Here, the tables are fully interactive, so you can learn more about the Abbey, watch videos or even play a game of chess with your drinking partners whilst enjoying a glass of ‘du vin’ from the local vineyards. Here we decided to enjoy a glass of champagne to celebrate the completion of our journey, choosing our menu whilst sampling some fresh-out-the-oven lemon and herb madeleines that the staff had served us alongside our drinks.
‘Le Restaurant’ has three set menus; ‘Menu Abeilles’ for those with small appetites, ‘Menu Menu’ for those who want to try out a few more things and the ‘Grand Menu’ which showcases all the best bits that Fontevraud has to offer to those with big appetites. Alongside these you are also welcome to choose any dishes you like from the ‘La Carte’ menu, so you can put together your own course structure.
I decided to make my own variation, by swapping the fish for the ‘Filet de bœuf “Rouge des Prés” cuit à la ficelle’ (fillet of ‘Red Meadow’ beef with seasonable vegetables) as I’d already had salmon for lunch, and dropped the cheese course because I’m not the biggest fan of ‘les stinky fromages’.
Once we had decided upon our order, we moved to the main restaurant where we were seated in one of the sleek booths overlooking a cloister, where a colourful lavender flower garden had sprouted, whilst enjoying a glass of local, sweet white wine as the sun began to set behind the roofs of the square in front of us.
As we took our seats, in front of us on the table were three lidded plates, which we were instructed not to turn over until our waiter returned. When we were eager to solve the mystery, a short while later he returned to explain to us what it was. Inside was a thin, slice of crispy bread, sprinkled with toasted almonds and served with a cool herb purée. This bizarre little entrée was in fact a little nod to the history of the Abbey; the almond bread represents the stale loaves that the prisoners would have once received, and the purée is a variation of what the nuns and monks would have eaten back in the days of the priory. Despite the garish colour, it was incredibly tasty and left me yearning for another bowl…or ten!
Soon after came our starter, a dish which turned out to be the culinary highlight of my trip to France, let alone the meal. ‘Le champignon de Paris , à Fontevraud’ was a variety of whole and sautéed mushrooms, served with a fluffy dumpling, mini pastry mushrooms and a frothy cream sauce. Can we just take a moment to appreciate those biscuits? Just writing about them now makes me incredibly sad that a bowl of this is currently 600 miles away, and not in my mouth.
The surprise courses continued to arrive after our starter, this time with a scoop of radish sorbet designed to cleanse the palette before our mains we served. It was presented with olive oil and a lemon zest garnish. It was definitely a bizarre experience for both my brain and my taste-buds, both of which were equally confused as to it looked like lemon sorbet, felt like lemon sorbet, yet was definitely not a lemon sorbet.
My main arrived with what may be the one of the nicest presentations I’ve ever seen, and has since been something I’ve tried out at home to liven up some of my own creations. The beef was done to perfection (I always have mine well done), and the string the chefs used whilst cooking had managed to hold in all the juices, making the meat soft and tender. The dish was served with carrots, courgettes, onions and peppers which are local sourced or grown grown within the grounds of the Abbey, along with a light gravy and crispy pastry rings to garnish.
Our next surprise came in the form of another sorbet, and one that was more tailored to my sweet-tooth taste. This time we were treated to a scoop of almond sorbet, served on a swirl of redcurrant jam and reduced red wine. My only grievance with this is that there weren’t six more scoops, as I could have happily slurped my way through a pint of the stuff if I’d been given the opportunity (and a spoon).
By the time our dessert arrived, a food-induced slumber was beginning to wash over me, but it was nothing a bit of chocolatey goodness couldn’t fix. The ‘Chocolat, Noisette et Cuisine Romane’ was a chocolate hazelnut flavoured mousse, served with hazelnut sorbet (I know, more sorbet!), praline caramel sauce, crushed hazelnuts and a dark chocolate garnish. While it was rich and flavourful, it was also light and fluffy, thus a perfect way to end our epic, and lengthy, meal.
A cup of peppermint tea, three more mini cakes and a shot of botanical ‘digestive aid’ later, our meal had finished, some three hours after we had arrived. The food, the service and experience at Fontevraud were second to none and I would happily go out of my way to return for another meal here should I find myself nearby in the future. Whilst our evening was quiet, the restaurant can be quite busy to it’s advised to reserve a table. Mains start from €20 and set menus go up to €70 for the Grand Menu.