Finding a new chef is a pleasure. When the chef is as good as Rudy Ballin, it becomes a blessing. Mr Ballin mans the stoves at the delightful Restaurant Dolce Vita, which is within the lush 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 captivating 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 admirable 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. That is inside. Outside on the terrace it is even better, for the view and the verdant surroundings are so quintessentially Mediterranean that one cannot but purr with contentment. And the service I received from the friendly members of staff was both charming and correct. I sensed I was going to dine well.
And I did. Chef Ballin 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 good. 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. I began with a salad of lamb’s lettuce with summer black truffles. Truffles which grow outside the winter season can sometimes be bland and uninteresting, but these were possessed of an impressive pungency. With a little Parmesan cheese to complement their earthy flavour, the balance of this dish was just right. Then my fillet of beef, simply grilled, was just as good: tender, tasty and succulent. I concluded my dinner in a properly indulgent manner, with a superb version of tiramisù with roasted coffee ice cream. (These three courses were 102€.)
The wine list is substantial, and its offerings are French and Italian. Prices run from 48€ for a Sicilian nero d’avila to 2,500€ for the 2006 vintage of Château Lafite. Other bottles to catch my eye were: Krug Grande Cuvée (350€), 1998 Haut Brion (1,150€), 2008 Cheval Blanc (1,400€), 1995 Palmer (1,150€, magnum), 2014 Masseto (650€) and 2010 Solaia (490€). The Villa produces its own wines, under the Luberon appellation. I tried the “No. 1” white, full of lychees and melon, and the 2015 vintage of the Domaine’s top red, called simply “Le”. Both were elegant, well-structured and delicious.
The Restaurant Dolce Vita at the Villa Marie is a fine destination for dinner. The setting is delightful, the service is friendly and the food is of very high quality. I recommend it.