French Restaurant Review: L’Oustau de Baumanière, Les Baux de Provence

French Restaurant Review: L’Oustau de Baumanière, Les Baux de Provence

Following the footsteps of Queen Elisabeth II, dine at one of the finest restaurants in France, where Provençal flavours meet a uniquely contemporary and sleek cuisine by chef Glenn Viel.

The first I ever heard of L’Oustau de Baumanière was on a muggy May day in 1972 when I was a boy in New England reading the captions accompanying photographs of the late Queen Elizabeth II’s lunch at this legendary Provençal auberge in Life magazine. In one of the images, the Queen sat at a table with a salmon-coloured tablecloth that was speckled by spots of shade from a nearby plane tree. Even though it must have been uncomfortable to have been wearing a hat on a warm day, Her Majesty looked relaxed, even perceptibly happy in an unrehearsed way. There were photographs of what she and the other notables had for lunch as well. The sea bass with a pistou crust didn’t speak to me, because quite perversely for a New Englander, I only learned to love fish when I went to university. The roasted leg of Alpilles lamb with petit pois and haricots verts looked delicious, though, as did the dessert of raspberries with lemon sorbet and millefeuille. So I dreamed of going there.

Arriving to meet friends for lunch recently, after not having been to this very charming place for a long time, I felt the same butterflies in my belly that I did when I first came here. Why? L’Oustau de Baumanière, which was founded in 1945 by Raymond Thuilier, is a place that unfailingly delivers joy, both in terms of its rooms and its restaurant.

© Virginie Ovessian

In my slightly fuzzy mind’s eye, I remembered my last meal on the terrace on a warm, early September day as a swooning tour de force of sophisticated Provençal cooking by chef Jean-André Charial, Thuilier’s grandson, who trained with Pierre and Jean Troisgros, Alain Chapel, Marc Haeberlin, Paul Bocuse and Frédy Girardet before taking over the kitchen at L’Oustau. My friend, Judy, and I ate courgette flowers stuffed with fresh goat’s cheese and a confetti of ratatouille, a Mediterranean sea bass cooked in a crust of sea salt served with a sauce vierge (chopped tomato and basil in olive oil), a few tiny black olives and roasted potatoes with a scent of saffron.

The dessert was a soup of pêche de vigne, the red-fleshed fruit that’s the most succulent of all French peaches, with lemon verbena. We drank a bottle of white Châteauneuf-du-Pape with our meal, and then we drifted apart for the perfect languor of a siesta with the whirr of cicadas in the background and a lavender-scented breeze spliced by wooden shutters.

I knew that Monsieur Charial had left the kitchen a while back and that chef Glenn Viel had been cooking here since 2015, and apparently at an exalted enough level to maintain the restaurant’s three Michelin stars. Still, I rather expected my most recent meal to be a slightly more modern version of the one I’d had with Judy, since that food was exactly what L’Oustau’s customers expected to find when they came here. Suffice it to say that I was dead wrong, and that instead I had a brilliant lesson in the way French haute cuisine is always being stealthily tinkered with and updated to respond to evolving ideas of gastronomic pleasure.

Viel’s style is perhaps best described by the French word épuré, which requires a cumbersome number of English words to translate accurately, including clean, sleek, refined uncluttered and pure… Or in other words, Viel has jettisoned the rather folkloric associations the world has with Provençal food – namely that it’s all about olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and herbs and created his own idiom, which is based on exactingly precise cooking times, light, rigorously constructed sauces and intriguing contrasts of texture and flavour in the same dish.

Chef Glenn Viel © Virginie Ovessian

We opted for the ten-course Une Ballade menu for €330 a piece a thumping sum, of course, but exceptional value for money when compared to other Michelin three-star restaurants in France. And it was a truly spectacular meal. L’Oustau de Baumanière also offers an eight-course vegetarian tasting menu, called 1987, for €180.

The superb dishes in this suite of pleasure ran from the deceptively simple – an ormeaux (conch) was cooked in its shell and basted with melted butter, a nod at both Viel’s Breton origins and his technical prowess because conch is an intensely challenging dish to cook right since it changes from succulent to rubbery in the space of seconds. Red Spanish prawns came in a velvety sauce made from their heads and shells, while a succulent pigeon breast and leg was served in one of the suavest sauces I’ve ever eaten in France (it was made with the bird’s gizzards and a trace of cocoa).

Each of us received a different dazzling dessert by brilliant pastry chef Brandon Dehan. Mine was a beautiful pastry sunflower with glazed pastry petals and a heart of peaches and cream, a truly remarkable dessert.

Our leisurely meal lasted more than three hours, and the only thing I would do differently the next time I visit is book a room for a post-lunch siesta like I did the first time I came here. L’Oustau de Baumanière is quite simply one of the greatest restaurants and hotels in France.

Mas de Baumanière, Les Baux-de-Provence, Tel: (33) 04 90 54 33 07,

Prix-fixe menus €33, €210, €180.

From France Today Magazine

Lead photo credit : L'Oustau de Baumanière © G Voinot

Share to:  Facebook  Twitter   LinkedIn   Email

More in French food, French restaurant, Provence, restaurant review, South of France

Previous Article Cooking Specialties From the Périgord With the Father of Bruno, Chief of Police
Next Article Journey to Nantes: 10 Reasons to Visit

Related Articles

Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine from 1999 until its closing, and has written about food and travel for Saveur, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Travel & Leisure, Departures, Conde Nast Traveler, and many other publications in the United States and the United Kingdom. He is the author of HUNGRY FOR PARIS, 2nd Edition (Random House, 4/2014), HUNGRY FOR FRANCE (Rizzoli, 4/2014), and MY PLACE AT THE TABLE, newly published in June 2021.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *