The vineyards lining the slopes that lead up to Château Monbazillac, south of Bergerac, are among the most beautiful in the entire Bergerac wine-growing area — a region of more than 90 villages with more than a thousand grape growers. And up near the top, with some wonderful views, lies a restaurant that’s earned a Michelin star, and is worthy of a trip.
My wife Jan and I had been meaning to visit Restaurant La Tour des Vents for a few years, as it’s not much more than an hour west of our village of Daglan. But for one reason or another the timing (or weather) was never right. But last Thursday we finally ate there with friends Janice and Bill. The four of us met up in Issigeac, and then drove on to our lunch.
Fortunately, Janice had eaten at the restaurant before, and knew how to find the place, because it’s not as easy as you’d expect. There are no signs for the restaurant itself (at least that we could see), although there were a few small signs for La Moulin de Malfourat, which is the restaurant’s actual location in the commune of Monbazillac.
The weather was more grey and cool than we would have liked, and so there was no service on the terrace. But there was enough sunlight to give us a good sense of the scenery on a summer day. Here’s one view looking out from the restaurant towards the town of Bergerac in the distance:
From the parking lot, here’s how La Tour des Vents (Tower of the Winds) looks as you enter:
Meanwhile, this photo, taken in one of the restaurant’s smaller rooms, gives you a sense of how the indoors and outdoors come together:
And now to the lunch itself; all four of us chose the 42-euro, three-course menu. Jan, Bill and I started with a kir, at which time our server brought our amuse-bouches — a small spoon of duck tartare, and a glass of a creamy mixture made from artichokes. The artichoke mousse divided the four of us into two camps: Jan and Janice loved it, while Bill and I were quite put off by its flavour. So, not a roaring success.
My entrée, on the other hand, was definitely a winner. It was described as an “opéra” of foie gras, served with small (and I do mean small) cubes of spice bread, a jelly made of reduced red Bergerac wine, and a pear and walnut chutney. If the foie gras opéra looks like a dessert, that’s because it’s meant to; an opéra is a popular French dessert, made of layers of cake and creamy fillings.
If my entrée was good, my plat principal was excellent — a piece of roasted merlu (the French name for hake), with some amazing accompaniments. They included a crispy tube filled with brandade de morue (creamed salt cod, mixed with olive oil and potatoes), and a warm mousse of peppers and chorizo sausage. The extra tastes were delicious, but the real star was the delicate, white-fleshed fish, which was cooked perfectly. Here’s my plate:
Dessert was also excellent. It’s a cheesecake (and yes, the French term for cheesecake is cheesecake, since gateau de fromage sounds vaguely unappealing and weird to a French sensibility). It’s made with basil and lemon, and it’s served with strawberries and a sorbet made of fromage blanc and citrus zests. Here’s how it was served:
With our coffees, we were served small individual trays with a few mignardises on each — a macaron, a small bowl of candies, and a glass of foamy, flavoured milk, somewhat like eggnog.
Not everything was quite right about the meal, however. At times the serving staff seemed less-than-involved (a waitress was gazing off at another table as she recited what we had been served) and not always attentive. When the Chef, Marie Rougier, stopped by our table, her visit seemed perfunctory.
At the conclusion, we agreed that La Tour des Vents had just (barely) earned its single Michelin star, while Le Grand Bleu (in Sarlat) and Le Vieux Logis (in Trémolat) were pushing at the two-star level. (If you’re new to all this, three stars is Michelin’s maximum, and earning two stars or even one is a serious achievement.)
But the food is quite good, and of course the view from the terrace (see below) is lovely. Maybe next summer we’ll get there during perfect weather, and can sit outdoors.
Wine-tasting note: If you’re new to the area, you should understand that if a wine has Monbazillac in large type on the label, it’s really a dessert wine — a cousin to Sauterne. Traditionally, a single glass of it is served with foie gras, so don’t order it as the main wine to accompany your meal. (Our cycling group made that mistake, on our first trip to the Dordogne, in 1998. Shame, shame.)
But the Monbazillac area does produce some reasonable (although not particularly great) other wines, including red, white and rosé. They will be identified on the label as Côtes de Bergerac.