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Yes, it’s art: Oeuf en colére (“angry egg”) at La Grand’Vigne (©J BOYER 2015)



I hate spas. I don’t believe in diets. I have a horror of white-coated ladies who might tell me to relax to a soundtrack of Inca flute music. I don’t want to release my tension. I like it just where it is, buried cankerously deep inside me, so I can keep an eye on what it’s up to. And if I felt like paying someone to touch me, I hear there’s a very good website called Gentleman 4 Hire. So I was distinctly unthrilled to learn that I was to review Les Sources de Caudalie near Bordeaux.

“It has wine,” said the beauty editor.

“When am I leaving?”

A spa in the vineyards of Château Smith Haut Lafitte has to be about as good as spas get, especially when on arrival I discovered that the business end of matters is taken care of in a pavilion at some distance from what is essentially an extremely elegant hotel. Better still, of the three restaurants managed on site by the Cathiard family, the proprietors of the vineyard, La Grand’Vigne has two stars, which was even more promisingly un-spa-like. I did manage a swim in a deep green marble pool housed in a cavernous converted barn before getting down to the serious subject of dinner. The principle of Caudalie is that the beauty products derive their rejuvenating products from the grape, and the chef at La Grand’Vigne, Nicolas Masse, also takes a winemaker's approach, extracting the essentials of this exceptional terroir to offer local ingredients in their most perfectly-realised form. At least, that’s what it says on the press release, yet as I took my seat in the 18th-century orangery, with a glass of 2007 Clos Ste Hune Riesling, which smelled slightly alarmingly of flowery petrol but rolled off the back of the palate like God’s own rocket fuel, I was prepared to be convinced.

Not so the English couple at the next table. We were served our canapés at the same time; they poked suspiciously whilst discussing all the things they had left on the plate the night before. An Arcachon oyster in cucumber cream was ignored, as was a carpaccio of beef smoked over seaweed and presented under a transparent cloche which wafted blood and salt and tobacco as the dome was lifted. I thought it was the best thing ever, to the extent that I would have been quite prepared to lick the glass, but they were unimpressed. The husband speculated that he’d quite fancy trying an oyster, but what if it made you gag? They knew someone called Toby who’d once gagged on a scallop. They got on better with a roast mushroom stuffed with a cream of trompettes de mort. You know where you are with a mushroom.

Masse’s presentation was a bit Noma-ish, lots of twigs and nutshells, which I heartily hope will soon cease to be a Thing, but it didn’t distract from my pleasure in the pre-entrée of artichoke stuffed with chard and tarragon cream.

“Lots of fuss for such a small dish,” remarked my neighbours.

I’d chosen the langoustine with citrus as a first course, presented in two services: first raw, in an absolutely extraordinary grapefruit sabayon, then in an intense consommé with kumquat. There was quite a bit of stage business involved in the serving, which gave my companions the chance to speculate about me.
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F Hugh Eveleigh
February 23rd, 2018
8:02 AM
What a delightful breakfast read your article was. It all sounds wonderful but, concomitantly, expensive. Had I been at your table I could have helped de-lesbianise you to your fellow diners but apart from that not much else other than ooh-ing and aah-ing loudly enough to confirm nearby prejudices. Thank you.

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