Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cilantro, Arles

For such a small town (population 52,000) Arles has not one, but two very good Michelin star restaurants. My first choice had been L'Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel, a two Michelin star restaurant lauded for its inventive cuisine, but unfortunately the restaurant's rest days coincided with the two days that we were in Arles.

Happily though, our second choice, Cilantro, turned out to be stunning. A short walk up a open courtyard led to the greenhouse,which was the focal seating area of the restaurant, allowing light to stream in. The lunch menu was priced at 29 Euros for three courses, which was a complete steal. My first course of Hereford beef salad with lemon grass vinaigrette was delightful - thin slices of lightly seared rare beef perfectly complemented by the light vinaigrette.

E's starter of sauteed escargot with tomatoes marmalade and nettle juice, served in puff pastry, was equally mouthwatering. The sharpness of the nettle juice gave the dish an unexpected edge, while the unusual matching of flavours melded so well together, that this dish elicited an unsolicited exclamation of "oiishi!!" from a Japanese lady seated behind us.

The mains were equally awesome. Roasted duck breast with "panisse" (a lightly fried potato mixture), olives onions and saffron marmalade was simply perfection - perfectly seasoned lightly with sea salt and roasted to a deep pink, and scrumptiously tender to the bite.

The roasted grey sea bream with young vegetables in vanilla emulsion looked deceivingly simple but the flavours of the freshest, sweetest vegetables simply shone through, while the creamy vanilla sauce added a suprising twist to the dish.

The desserts were simply magical as well. I had the cutest little petit trio of home-made sorbets - passionfruit, basil and raspberry - full of concentrated natural flavours. Even E who does not like basil, conceded that the basil ice cream was good. And E loved his pear ravioli with fruits. It's not often that we see ravioli being used in sweet dishes so this was really unusual for us.
We were amazed by how well the petit fours were exceuted as well - almost like a second dessert!

This was by far one of the best meals that we have ever had - inventive with a sense of mischief and adventure, yet so completely delicious and flavoursome. A wonderful meal at a wonderful restaurant.

Le Cilantro
Arles, Provence

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