When we decided to spend our holiday in France, the first thing I bought was...a Red Michelin Guide, the oldest European hotel and restaurant reference guide.
This is the bible for anyone who wants to experience a culinary highlight in a restaurant recommended by the Michelin inspectors who crisscross the country, anonymously sampling the dining establishments.
The hierarchy of one, two and three stars was introduced in 1931 and since then, with a short suspension period during World War II, it is published on an annual basis.
Since the mid 1950s, Michelin also publishes the Bib Gourmand recommendations. It is given for restaurants serving exceptionally good food at moderate prices.
According to the guide, excellent value meals need to fulfil the price criteria of no more than 36€ in Paris and 32€ elsewhere in France for a three course meal. In 2016, there were 650 restaurants in France which were given this distinction.
Our culinary journey through France started with the Bib Gourmand recommendations. We thought that paying around 70-80€ for a dinner (including drinks) is already a lot, especially when you go out a few times during your holiday. So we hoped for the best in terms of food that would be served to us at those places. And with 100% certainty I can say - we love it!
Since our first visit to France in 2011, we have been to many of the recommended places all around the country and compared it with some of the ones which hold one Michelin Star. From our experience there is no big difference in terms of food quality in most cases, but the prices between one-star and Bib Gourmand establishments varies greatly.
Here is a list of restaurants in Southern France which remained in our memory for a long time.
The chances of finding this restaurant by accident are virtually close to zero. It is located in a tiny village with around 160 inhabitants, about 20 minutes away from Pézenas and one hour from Montpellier. You have to be prepared for winding roads leading to this place, which are sometimes barely wide enough for one car. Upon arrival, you have to look for a church. L'Auberge is just right next to it with a stone-built, shaded terrace overlooking the beautiful valley and La Peyne river.
The young couple Marine and Baptiste Fournier run the place which serves not more than 30 covers. The food is simply amazing and beautifully presented. The same goes for the service which was impeccable and well-paced. Overall, a culinary highlight of its own.
Situated between Arles and Avignion, in a small town of Eygalières. The town has not even 2000 inhabitants but 10 restaurants, which I guess can only happen in France! The restaurant has a beautiful outdoor patio where we had our dinner on a hot June summer day. The patio is filled with marvellous micocoulier trees (Mediterranean hack-berry) that the restaurant is named after. At night it looks amazing with candles spread throughout the area.
I remember that at this restaurant, for the first time, I had the pleasure to taste fleurs de courgette (zucchini flowers) fried in a delicate tempura. I guess this remains one of my favorite starters I have eaten in France.
Located about 20 minutes away from Narbonne, this restaurant is situated in the center of the small village of Bizanet, in a restored wing of a 13th century castle. In the kitchen Eric Marsanne is responsible for the food and his wife Patricia takes care of the serving. They put a lot of stress on the use of local quality products and a beautiful presentation on the dishes.
Both owners are extremely welcoming and happy to answer any questions. The chef himself came out of the kitchen twice and talked to us about his creations. Overall a great experience, recommended for anyone staying in the area.
During our trip to Bordeaux, we visited Saint-Émilion which is known worldwide for its wine production and amazing landscape, paved with vineyards and Romanesque ruins. Since 1999, the town has been titled as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The restaurant itself is located just on the outskirts of Saint-Émilion. It lies in the middle of the 13-hectare big vineyard of Chateau de Candale, which is planted to Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Souvignion grapes. Therefore when eating here, wine tasting is almost obligatory and in my opinion they have one of the best wines I have tasted so far (Château de Candale Grand Cru). The food itself is very creative and really delicious, which with the great wine and a stunning view makes the experience just perfect.