Alexander Lobrano heads to the former house of actress Catherine Deneuve in Eure-et-Loir.
For the most voyeuristic of reasons, I was delighted when friends from Exeter invited me to join them for a night at the Domaine de Primard, a new hotel an hour from Paris by the clever couple who’ve already created the Domaine de Fontenille collection of auberges in Provence, the southwest of France and Menorca. Why?
Well, until they bought it, for more than two decades it had been the country house of actress Catherine Deneuve, and its lavish gardens on the banks of the Eure River were designed by the cult Belgian landscape architect Jacques Wirtz, who also designed the jardin du Carrousel in the Tuileries Gardens when they were revised between 1990 and 2004.
Arriving, the handsome 18th-century house was a welcoming place, and after the drive it was a pleasure to have a wander in the gorgeous gardens and a paddle in the outdoor pool. I was really looking forward to dinner, too, because Romain Meder, who was formerly executive chef at Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, had recently taken over the kitchens.
Meder mastered Ducasse’s new cooking style, ‘La Naturalité’, which was intended to guide French haute-cuisine to a more environmentally sustainable model and also make it dramatically healthier by privileging pulses, vegetables, tubers and seafood that’s not threatened by over-fishing in dishes that built flavour with reductions and herbs instead of dairy produce like cream or concentrated meat and poultry stock. This was a huge challenge: it certainly wasn’t easy to convince most avid Gallic gourmands that chickpeas can be as delectable as langoustines or Jerusalem artichokes as tempting as foie gras – but Meder managed with admirable gastronomic grace and the iron-spined talent necessary to make it persuasive.
Most recently, he cheffed in tandem with Catalan cook Albert Adrià and others at a pop-up called Admo at Les Ombres, the restaurant on the roof of the Musée du Quai Branly. Now he’s starting a new chapter of his career in the sylvan setting of the Domaine de Primard in Normandy, and on the basis of our meal, leaving the professional pressure cooker of Paris behind for a while has done Meder great good by allowing him to cook in his own style with some spectacular local produce.
We dined at Octave, the hotel’s bistro, because Meder hadn’t yet relaunched the gastronomic restaurant, and we had a very fine meal of beautifully sourced and prepared rustic French comfort food with a contemporary twist.
Highlights of the meal included grilled baby gem lettuce with trout roe and yogurt, and celeriac remoulade with a soft-boiled egg and burnt lemon condiment, both starters. Then came turbot cooked in the fireplace with baby carrots and a veal rib for two with frites and spinach. Floating island with elderflower and caramel and a strawberry tart with rhubarb granite concluded this feast, and all of us left the table with a keen desire to return and discover what Meder gets up to at the fancy table here in the autumn.
Domaine de Primard, D16, Guainville
Tel. (33) 02 36 58 10 08
Lunch menus: €28, €38, average à la carte €65.
Lead photo credit : Octave at Domaine de Primard © Bruno Suet
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