We’ve just returned from a lovely visit to Mr W’s parents’ home near Valbonne in the South of France. The trip yielded many culinary highlights, not least of which was my second visit to the idyllic Le Mas Candille, a hotel, spa and restaurant nestled in the hillside just outside Mougins. The restaurant has one Michelin star, and we’d eaten there on a visit last year so I was keen to go again, this time with my blogging hat on.
We went for their Sunday lunch menu, which is extraordinarily well-priced at EUR59 per head, which includes a glass of champagne as an aperitif and pretty much unlimited (within reason!) red and white wine, plus canapés, an amuse bouche, three courses and coffee with petit fours. From the moment you drive in to the driveway, you know you are arriving somewhere special, and the friendly valets seamlessly whisk your car away as you enter the building.
Our previous visit had been in the height of summer and we had sat on the terrace in the sunshine, but despite the sunny mid-October day, the sun was a little lower and the leafy shade of the trees surrounding the terrace made it a little too chilly to sit out for the duration of our meal, so we took our aperitif in the bar where we were served with a generous selection of canapés (three each) which included a roule of smoked salmon and something along the lines of a cheese straw.
For our meal, we had a generously sized round table in the restaurant, which is a glass-sided room with ceiling hangings that make it feel almost like a Bedouin tent, and again with lovely views across the countryside. When we went in, it was extremely warm, with radiators on, but we had these turned down, had a couple of the windows opened and it soon felt a little more comfortable!
We were brought an amuse bouche which we think was something mushroomy – it was certainly very good, and stunningly presented, but sadly we don’t know what it was, as it wasn’t explained to us by any of the staff (more on that later!) The bread is also worth a mention – I chose a seeded bread with sultanas and a hint of spice, which I almost could have made a meal of on its own!
I made the schoolgirl error of not asking for a copy of the menu, so unfortunately I can’t share the exact description of what we each had, but I will endeavour to remember the finer details! Each course had two options, and between us we tried both options for each of the courses.
To start, I had a crab ravioli served with fennel froth. This was extremely unusual in its presentation as the top layer of the ravioli was transparent, so you could see the crab filling inside. I was concerned that it might be jelly-like in its consistency, but it wasn’t and in fact it was barely noticeable on eating. The filling itself was pretty much pure crab meat, nothing creamy or saucy with it, but the fennel froth more than compensated for this, and it was a delicious starter which left me wanting (but not needing!) more. Mr W had something which was described as potato, served with a surprise of snails (literal translation there, I think!) This too was delicious – light, fluffy potato, and delicious tender snails, quite delicate in their flavour and not at all chewy.
For the main course, Mr W opted for boneless breast of guinea fowl, which was served with ‘forgotten vegetables’ (again, a literal translation which didn’t really mean much to any of us!) and a puree. This was absolutely excellent, the meat tender and moist and the puree and vegetables a perfect, tasty accompaniment.
I had pan fried fillet of gilthead bream, which had a variety of accompaniments and a sauce, but to my eternal shame I can’t tell you exactly what they were, other than confit of peppers with the tiniest sliver of chorizo (to be honest, had I not read chorizo on the menu I never would have known that it was there!) The unidentified sauce was fantastic, and there was some sort of little ‘mousse’ on the side too, which was really special.
For pudding, Mr W had ‘apples every way’ which is fairly self-explanatory and featured, unsurprisingly, a variety of different apple treatments, including sorbet, chopped, stewed apples and a little bit of crumble. This was nice, but we were a little disappointed as we had hoped for more focus on the crumble!
My pudding certainly came up trumps – it was a little bit like a chocolate brownie, with some thin layers of chocolate, some absolutely awesome morello cherries and some of out this world pistachio ice cream (plus a few additional pistachios and some morello cherry sauce into the bargain). It really was a fantastic choice.
Mrs W didn’t fancy either of the desserts so asked if she could have cheese, which I was thrilled about as it gave us the opportunity to look at the cheese trolley, which was an absolute sight to behold with a mind boggling range of different French cheeses. Our waitress served the cheeses at our table and was happy to talk us through as many of them as we wished. I think only a photograph will do the sheer awesomeness of the cheese trolley justice!
All of that wonderful food was accompanied by the white and red wines of the day – these were explained to us by one of the waiters, but again my memory escapes me (perhaps due to the wine itself!) It’s probably an opportune moment here to mention the service. On our first visit, last year, I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the service. It was one of those experiences where you took a sip of wine and suddenly your glass had been topped up again – but somehow this was done unobtrusively. The staff danced attendance on us and nothing was too much trouble. Unfortunately, this time, although each of the staff individually was helpful and friendly, as a whole they were nowhere near as efficient or attentive. We had to ask on several occasions for top ups of wine as glasses had run empty, the food wasn’t explained to us as it should have been (for example the mystery amuse bouche) and it just felt disjointed and disorganised, and not the quality you would hope for in a Michelin-starred establishment, although admittedly anywhere else I would have thought it was pretty good! Mr W’s parents dine there regularly and they too felt that the service was not up to the usual standard, but hopefully this was a one off, rather than a general decline since my last visit, as they have had a few more positive experiences there since then.
We adjourned to the terrace for our coffee. It really is a stunning location with views across the countryside and I could have happily sat there for hours. Coffee was served with a selection of petit fours, which included some stunning macarons.
Despite a few issues with the service, our lunch at Le Mas Candille was still a fantastic experience. The food and presentation was stunning, and the location can’t fail to impress. There are a range of dining options, many of which could become seriously expensive, but given the quality of the food and the generosity of the included drinks, the EUR59 lunch menu is outstanding value and really has to be experienced!
Food: ***** Service: *** Ambience: ****