Auberge La Fenière (a combination lunch and dinner)

A magical restaurant and small hotel just outside a magical village, Lourmarin, Le Fenière has the one of the best chefs of the Rhône Valley and Provence, Reine Sammut. All the components are present for an extraordinary occasion. My wife and I had two wonderful meals here, a lunch eaten outside under the beautiful luminosity of a Provençal day – not a cloud in the sky, no humidity and, thankfully, no Mistral winds. Dinner that night was again outside with as perfect weather conditions as one could hope for. For simplicity, I have combined the two meals into one review. This is a brilliant chef at the top of her game. Chef Sammut’s carpacchio of St. Pierre and her fish dishes are to die for. They are as good as any you will find at a Michelin three-star restaurant (even though she only has one star in that guide).The quality of her vegetables is remarkable and her lamb has all the intense essence of Provençal lamb, which is so renowned. The two perfect courses for me included the carpacchio of St. Pierre and her ravioli stuffed with rare small crabs from Spain served with a sauce made from oursins (sea urchins). The lamb was also extraordinary.

At lunch, we drank a gorgeous 2009 Condrieu and 2003 Châteauneuf du Pape. Since the bureau and tasting room of Michel Tardieu are close by, and he is one of the biggest clients, the selection of Tardieu-Laurent wines on the wine list are quite extensive as well as reasonably priced. At dinner, we had the 1999 Côte Rôtie Cuvée Spéciale, which is drinking fabulously well. It is one of the greatest wines Michel Tardieu has ever made.

It has been a number of years since I have been to Le Fenière, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It was every bit as sublime as I remembered. The menu changes with the seasons, and our visit occurred at the end of the summer season. Reine Sammut told us that in several weeks everything would change as ceps, truffles, and game came into season. She obviously has fabulous contacts in Marseilles for the best shellfish and fish from the Mediterranean. That was evidenced in her brilliant cooking. Very highly recommended.

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