Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Au Coeur de Meaulne

I'm just back from two superb weeks in France. The weather was gloriously hot and sunny both on the Roussillon coast and in the Loire Valley.

To break our outward journey, we stayed overnight in a small town called Meaulne near the Tronçais forest in the Auvergne (source of some of the best oak used for wine barrels). This turned out to be a real treat.

Au Coeur de Meaulne is a member of the Logis de France group and is run by a Swiss couple, Karin and Patrick Rajkowski. He, clearly, is a very fine chef (as we were to discover) and she runs front of house helpfully and efficiently. Sitting outside on a shaded terrace, looking across their large garden towards the surrounding forests and listening to the birdsong, we selected the 28 Euro menu (mid-priced option). Firstly little appetisers of mini gougères (cheese puffs) and succulent olives were served and we went on to have a starter of smoked duck breast with a carrot cake made in the style of pain perdu. This came with papaya chutney and tiny balsamic onions and was a really interesting, delicious dish. The main course was grilled scallops with fillets of sea bream with a taboulé of quinoa and dried tomatoes. The scallops had been subtly scented with citronella ('citronelle') and the dish came with a drizzle of sauce made with local sparkling wine flavoured with a hint of saffron. Light and refreshing – delicious summery food. A very comprehensive, well selected cheese board followed – eight large portions including a deeply satisfying, complex, aged gruyère. This was such a generous course that we didn't then need dessert, particularly as some gorgeous petit fours were served with the coffee. The wine list covers a range of French classics: Bordeaux, Burgundy, along with some enticing bottles from around Sancerre (which is quite close by), but we keen to try some local wines from the Auvergne. We had glasses of St Pourcain rosé (good with the duck) and then St Pourcain white with the main course. Both were quite rustic and interesting to taste in a quirky way, but didn't really work with such sophisticated food. We played it safer with the cheeses and had some red Sancerre – refreshing and silky.

We had a good night's rest in our comfortable, well appointed room and were then equally impressed by the breakfast buffet selection, although it was restricted to a dining room, rather than being able to enjoy the lovely terrace again. We tucked into cheeses, cold meats, compotes made from local fruit, breads, pastries, home made (heart-shaped) cake, excellent coffee.

It's a bit more expensive than some Logis hotels (rooms approx 50–70 Euros; menus 20–40 Euros), but well worth considering if you need a restful overnight stop and great food near the A71 autoroute (between junctions 8 and 9). It's also very family friendly. Highly recommended.