In February 2009, I had the great opportunity to be invited to La Feniere, the restaurant and hotel that Reine Sammut owns in Lourmarin in the South of France.
It was a sweet and sour affair as it was a family reunion with my sister and my parents, one of them terminally ill and it was potentially our last celebration together. As I live in Australia, I had not seen them for five years and I was really looking forward to this treat.
Needless to say, the decor was lovely, understated, rich but not ostentatious, with a view of Provence in winter (and it was very cold outside, as snow was still on the ground less than 100kms north) through the windows.
The food was exquisite, the wine list to match (Dad treated us to a Meursault 1998...), the service diligent with none of the traditional French arrogance that you might expect in such a Michelin-starred establishment.
We had a ball!
Unexpectedly, I found out last week that Reine Sammut was in Sydney as part of Cuisine Now organised by Tony Bilson, the ‘Godfather of Australian Cuisine’, at the Radisson.
Expectedly, it was our 23rd anniversary on the 21st of January, and I had planned to treat my wife to a home cooked dinner of scallops with an Eastern treatment from a recipe by Eric Briffart accompanied by a Chateau Carbonieux 2005. (more on that story in another post later...)
I quickly changed my mind and called the Bilson's to book at table making sure Reine would be cooking that night.
I managed to keep that as a surprise until we were actually sitting at the restaurant's table and my wife asked me what was so special about the menu ( obviously, she was already impressed by being at Bilson's by then...)
So, I asked her to read the menu more attentively and she would find the surprise!
What I forgot to mention is that, although we have spent a lot of time in Provence together, we actually never made it to Lourmarin (Cucuron, Gordes and Oppedes-Le-Vieux had taken our fancy so much that we circled around Lourmarin without actually getting there...)
So, she was thrilled to find out that she would have a chance to sample Reine's famous food on the other side of the Planet!
The whole experience was very fitting, the Chablis Grand Cru Fourchaume 2006 a wild counterpoint to the Degustation Menu. Highlights were "Escabeche de Moules aux Epices", "Risotto aux Herbes et Citron vert, St Pierre Roti" and "Calisson au Roquefort" certainly the most out of the square of all 8 courses!
The cherry on the cake, so to speak, was meeting Reine Sammut who came in the restaurant around the sixth course.
Neither of us had met her before in person, but my parents had, as they have been dining at la Feniere half a dozen times, and my wife had written an article on her restaurant in a French trade magazine in Sydney.
Reine was very touched that we had all these conections and was thrilled that I could produce a photo of my parents for her to recognise.
We had a great chat and were very impressed by her simplicity and calm and she definetely enjoyed a bit of conversation in French in the middle of Sydney.
So, if you are in Provence, or in Sydney for the Festival next year, make sure you visit La Feniere, or watch out for Reine Sammut poping up at some local eatery and share the simple, yet sophisticated wonders she can create out of fresh and locally sourced produce.
If you want to read Reine's account of her trip to Sydney, click here
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.
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