Last time, I wrote about a ghostly story linked to the château de Belcastel. This week, we had the opportunity to make a return visit to this plus beau village in Aveyron. Not only does it occupy a delightful setting beside the River Aveyron and boast a well-restored château, but it also has a Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Vieux Pont. Since the SF had an important birthday, we felt this was sufficient justification.
In fact, this was our first visit to the restaurant in more than nine years. The last time, we were a little disappointed and felt they were having a difficult evening. This time, I’m pleased to say, they more than redeemed themselves.
A family concern
The Fagegaltier sisters grew up in this house. One now runs the kitchen with her husband; the other runs the front of house. They also own a small hotel on the opposite bank of the Aveyron, housed in a converted barn. We decided to stay the night, since Belcastel is a good hour’s drive from us. That meant we could enjoy the wine without worrying about breathalysers.
In summer, Belcastel is heaving, like all these places. In autumn, it’s almost empty, so the SF’s birthday in November does have some advantages. Even on a Wednesday at this time of year, the restaurant was almost full.
Delicious but light
The restaurant offers several menus but we went for the four-course one, including cheese. And it’s pretty good value at 53€ a head. Now, prepare to have your taste buds tickled. Someone at the next table was taking pictures of their food with a mobile phone. Beautifully presented as the dishes were, I didn’t feel this was quite comme il faut, so you’ll have to imagine them.
First up, the appetisers. A tiny bowl of fishy-tasting soup and some conical savoury nibbles. Every Michelin-starred restaurant worth its salt feels it has to offer several freebie courses, and so we were served an extra starter of smoked salmon rolled around a creamy filling in a light broth.
Next, the starters. We both had carpaccio de Saint-Jacques, thinly-sliced scallops on a duxelles of mushrooms, with a tea-flavoured broth, served with a wafer-thin piece of wholemeal bread topped with winter veg. Light, but delicious.
Main course: venison from the Aubrac. I’m a big fan of game but you don’t find it much in the shops in France, except around Christmas. This is surprising for a country where hunting is almost a religion. The meat was perfectly cooked and pink in the middle and served with purées of pumpkin and apple.
Cheese: you choose from a selection of local and regional cheeses, including Laguiole, Roquefort and a variety of goat’s and ewe’s milk cheeses. We remarked that there seemed to be fewer cheeses than last time. A sign of the times, maybe? Or perhaps just an indication that the season has finished.
Palate cleanser: a shot glass of an unidentified green granita, which I guessed to be parsley, topped with lightly-whipped cream.
Desserts: three types were on offer: chocolate, chestnut, or pineapple and orange in various forms. Knowing that we would regret it if we pigged out on the first two, we chose the fruity one and it was absolutely the right choice.
All this was washed down with a bottle of Château Figeac, a Saint-Emilion.
Being November, the weather was gloomy and damp, but this couldn’t lessen the charm of the village or dim the autumn colours. Belcastel is set in a steep-sided valley, clothed with beech and chestnut trees and they were at their resplendent best.
And not a ghost in sight.
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