1217, founding year of Château de Bagnols and from where its gourmet restaurant takes its name.
Walking through the dining room Salle des Gardes, you can’t miss the ornately carved Gothic fireplace filling one entire wall and it’s reputedly France’s largest! Let’s take a moment to indulge in seeing this architectural gem; it is where you will see the royal coat of arms marking a visit by French King Charles VIII in 1490. Keep walking towards the gardens, there are dinning tables on a double masonry span over the moat, with the lavender path on one side; Salle des Gardes on the other, our table was right there.
Kent and I favoured eating on the moat terrace as in summer, alfresco dinning seems so enchanting. Plus we take pleasure in watching nature’s theatre, the clouds the sunset the twilight and the stars…
Chef Jean-Alexandre Ouaratta transformed the gastronomic experience at Château de Bagnols. Traditional local fare made with great skills and innovation, his hard work was rewarded with a Michelin star in 2016 – Le 1217’s first! Kent and I enjoyed Chef Ouaratta’s creations on several occasions during our 12-night stay at the Château. But for now I want to share with you our dinner celebration on Kent’s birthday.
Menu Guichard D’Oingt
We were on time for our 19:45 booking, and being the French summer it was still quite bright for this time of the night. There were à la carte and some dégustation choices, Kent and I both set our eyes on the Menu Guichard D’Oingt. It had foie gras which I loved; lamb, which Kent fancied, and fish, which we were both keen on. Also we chose it for the sake of the name; after all, we knew that it was Lord Guichard d’Oingt who built the Château in 1217.
Wine Choice Of The Night: Château de Javernand – Chiroubles 2011
Kent the birthday boy started with a local beer, whereas I chose a glass of pink champagne. We decided not to go for the wine paring; instead, we asked our knowledgeable sommelier to pick a bottle of local wine to broadly suit our meal. A Beaujolais red wine produced by Château de Javernand was recommended. It was light and with a lovely bouquet, very easy to drink even by itself.
First to arrive on our table, a compote filled with coffee beans, and resting on top, vivid coloured mouth amusers. They looked like children’s fancy candies but all the flavours were savoury; perhaps a little too sophisticated for kids. The mini ‘waxed tomatoes’ were my favourite! How I enjoyed them? ‘Pop one in your mouth and wait for an explosion of flavour to happen!’ I encouraged Kent to try one, it was a hit with him too and I just wanted more!
Another amuse-bouche was Sardine Mousse. Airy, light, a great balance of citrus and saltiness. These appetisers definitely offered a preliminary glimpse of the chef’s style and flair.
Roasted Foie Gras From “Maison Rougié”, Victoria Pineapple Candy And Buckwheat Crust
When this entrée was brought to our table, I felt like I was receiving a plate of joy. The bright yellow pineapple jellies and orange pineapple cubes looked playfully inviting! Eating the roasted foie gras together with the pineapple candies, a pleasurable mouthful of sweetness, sourness; saltiness and umami. A great mix of textures too, wobbling, crunchy; meaty…
Chef Ouaratta definitely gave the classic foie gras a ‘star twist’! As what the Michelin Guide has stated: ‘tradition (cuisine) gets a new lease of life’ at the 1217. This dish was one of my personal highlights from the restaurant.
Cod Fish Cooked Under The Oven Grill, Morel And Corn Fricassee In Jura Wine
My fish was transparent and flaky. When I cut it through, it felt like cutting a panna cotta or soft jelly but not fish. The texture of this cod fish was something I had never experienced before and it was superb.
Not only was my fish cooked to perfection, I enjoyed the morel and baby corns. Being Chinese, these are the sort of veges I’m familiar with. The jus was made of Burgundy red Jura wine. The effect of the whole dish on my palate was very satisfying.
Roasted Saddle Of Lamb “Aveyron” With Kaloupilé Curry Condiment, Crispy New Potatoes
This was the start of a quest for Kent that has now straddled the globe. ‘What has happened to the taste of sheep?’ He means lamb of course; ‘Bring back mutton!’ This little rant after just a few bites. Despite the meat being exceptionally well cooked, medium rare, melt in your mouth and juicy; the taste of lamb was so subtle that for Kent at least, it did not exist. (After a similar incident in Australia, he took to Facebook to scope out the problem, and was told it’s all about how and where the lambs were raised.)
An exceptional plate of food! However, while current trend seems to be for very mild taste; old school lamb lovers like Kent still prefer a stronger flavour.
Cheese Plate Selection
An unpretentious plate of selected cheese. Some of you might think that for a Michelin-starred experience, it could be presented fancier but I didn’t mind the cheesy presentation – wink!
Bourbon And Vanilla Cream
Then came our pre-dessert. This alcohol infused sweet treat was so tasty!
As you can see the night has fallen… We had been adoring the dances of the clouds and the changes of the sky. Kent certainly amused other guests by jumping up at regular intervals to photograph the dramatic sunset. The nature did put on a spectacular show that evening!
Soft Peanut Biscuit, Manjari Chocolate And Vetiver
This dessert came with a birthday candle, for Kent. I remember telling him to ‘make a wish’ when I was busy snapping away. About this time Chef Ouaratta came out of the kitchen to greet the dinners, first at Salle des Gardes; when he stepped out to the terrace, we all acknowledged his arrival with applause. Lucky Kent received a birthday greeting from the ‘star chef’ himself; the loveliness of Chef Ouaratta and the atmosphere of celebration has become a precious memory we both cherish.
Our beautiful looking desserts were delicious. Sweetness, bitterness; creaminess and crunchiness all perfectly balanced in each mouthful. And an aromatic nutty flavour from the soft peanut biscuit which I liked most. Well we both really polished off our plates!
Satisfaction For Epicureans
Dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant in a luxury medieval French castle.., yes, this sounds like a fairy tale lifestyle belonging strictly to the very well to do. But no, the staff of the 1217 made us feel very welcome and relaxed us by treating us with French country hospitality – it showed in their manner, and it shone through in those dishes. Personally I think for a tasting menu, the servings are rather generous!
Delicious, inventive and well-considered, these are my thoughts remembering the meals created by Chef Ouaratta. Unfortunately this experience is no longer available, as we have learnt from the Château staff that Mr. Ouaratta has left the 1217 this year for a brand new career path. Bonne chance Jean-Alexandre, like many fans of yours, your warmth and appetising signature dishes have enriched our travel and our epicurious journey.