THE FRENCH RIVIERA
RESTAURANT DOLCE VITA, VILLA MARIE
Generosity is an excellent quality in a chef. When the chef is as good as Lionel Arnoux, it becomes a blessing. Mr Arnoux mans the stoves at the delightful Restaurant Dolce Vita, which is within the lovely gardens of one of St Tropez’s best hotels, the Villa Marie. I say St Tropez, but it is outside the town (on the way to Ramatuelle) and enjoys lovely views over exquisite countryside – so the aesthetic pleasure to be had here is as generously offered as the pleasure afforded by the food. The portions of both are large. The panorama is of the sea and of the Bay of Pampelone. The dishes brought to the table are of the highest quality.
The restaurant is called Dolce Vita, and the life it offers is, indeed, sweet. I liked this dining room. It is in the form of a greenhouse, with a glass roof and a colour scheme of black, white and coral. It is a luxurious greenhouse, of course. Its floor is of stone, the dining chairs have Rococo twirls and plump cushions, the napery is beige and the sparkling glassware is by Spiegelau. The lighting is subdued, and fat candles burn on the tables. The service I received from Sandrine was both charming and correct. I sat next to a potted palm, looked out across the terrace to the distant Mediterranean and thought I was going to dine well.
And I did. Chef Arnoux sends out plates which have a prettiness which is entirely appropriate to this pretty setting. Clearly, he knows how to find ingredients of the highest quality and, equally clearly, he has the skill to transform them into dishes which delight his guests. And the portions are large. This generosity is commendable, so I will commend it. I wish every chef I encountered shared it.
I found the menu a highly appealing document, and I could happily have ordered from it virtually any item. In fact, I began with a dish which brought to me on a plate the colours, flavours and textures of Provence. This ‘Ratafia’ of raw and roasted vegetables, with oil and lemon sauce, was a treat for my eye and for my palate. It was beautiful to look upon and it was beautiful to eat. And it was large. So was the fillet of beef with a crust of pine nuts. This was lovely, ‘gamey’ meat, with each mouthful a minor explosion of rich intensity. With it were super rösti potatoes, precisely cooked asparagus and (by special request) sautéed onions. I would have preferred all this excellence on a white plate, instead of a red one, but that is but a trifling niggle. I shared a hot lemon soufflé with my companion – which was light, luscious and brilliantly done – and then indulged myself with praline and hazelnut craquelin with fresh fraspberries and coffee ice cream. This was – surprise, surprise – very large. It was also very good. (Allow 85-90 euros for three courses.)
The wine list is mostly French, with some Italians (like 2010 Solaia for 490€), and has 168 offerings. Prices run from 45€ for a 2012 red Crozes-Hermitage to 2,500€ for the 2006 Lafite. Those of you who like to guzzle such first-growth clarets will be pleased to see also 2007 Mouton Rothschild (850€) and 2006 Latour (1,420€). Other clarets include 2004 Lynch Bages (310€) and 1985 Ducru Beaucaillou (485€). The Villa produces its own wines, under the Luberon appellation. I tried the No. 1 Domaine de Marie, 2011 – a blend of 50% grenache, 30% syrah and 20% mouvèdre. It was impressive: full of ripe black fruit, especially damsons, and with lots of lingering sweetness. I thought it a snip at 65€. It was, we could say, a generous wine.
That is why the Restaurant Dolce Vita at the Villa Marie is such a fine destination for dinner: it is generous – with its food, with its surroundings and with its atmosphere. And generosity is, indeed, an excellent quality.