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Hotel de Vendee
rue de la Republique, Fontenay le Comte
Today’s undertaking for Trevor and I was to visit the Hôtel de Vendée with Trevor’s long term friend Christophe. He has been a great help to Trevor in his dealings with the French authorities and though he doesn’t speak any English and Trevor’s French, by his own admission, leaves much to be desired, they seem to understand one another pretty well. I had heard a lot about Christophe but this was our first meeting, which always makes for an interesting time. Christophe had heard good reports of the restaurant from many of his friends and so we approached the task with our normal zeal and relish.
The first thing to say was that this was a typical French hotel bar with dining, so you couldn’t exactly say that the décor was anything but ordinary. The table tops were laminate and the place settings were plate sized sheets of brown paper, I would have had no problem with this in a rustic setting, but I would have expected something better in a hotel. To our right was the bar’s pool table, thankfully no one wanted a game but even without players it didn’t exactly add anything to the ambience of the place. I was encouraged however as there were a few people dining, including I was told, a high ranking official of the Vendéen Chamber of Commerce, with a very attractive young lady. The young lady was in my direct eye line and was without doubt the best thing visually in the room. Was the said official eating there because the food was good, or was he there because it was a discreet place to meet a mistress? We would never know the latter, after all she could have been his niece, but hopefully we would soon learn about the food.
The menu was displayed on blackboards, which I found quite encouraging as it indicated that everything was more likely to be fresh and that the menu probably changed frequently. We all ordered the St Jacques (scallops), the waiter said he would have to check as he thought that there were only two portions remaining. We also all ordered the T Bone of veal. The waiter had yet more encouraging news, saying that if any of us wanted the Tarte Tatin as a sweet we needed to order there and then, as it was made to order and took a minimum of twenty minutes. The wine list was not extensive, so we ordered a glass of Sancerre to accompany the St Jacques and a Vendéen red for the rest of the meal.
The three St. Jacques arrived and it seemed to me that the chef had shared the two remaining portions between three plates adding a couple of small fillets of red gurnard to each to extend the portions. This was in my opinion a fundamental error. The St. Jacques were not copious enough to satisfy, and I thought that they were probably from a tin. Though the red gurnard was perfectly acceptable it wasn’t what we’d ordered. It would have been far better in my opinion to admit to only having two portions remaining and asking one of us to choose an alternative. I especially think this as I had made it perfectly clear I would be happy to choose something else from the entree menu. The Sancerre was however a perfect accompaniment to the dish, I enjoyed it more than the food.
The T. Bone of veal and sauté potatoes arrived, with garlic cream sauce which though tasty was unbalanced and overpowering, but the tragedy of tragedies was that the veal was overcooked; overcooking veal in my opinion completely negates the reason for eating it as it takes the subtleness out of the flavour. The Vendéen red wine was acceptable if a bit ordinary. The wine’s character however changed completely with the arrival of the cheese course, it became a larger fruitier wine and was much better for it. Suffice to say, the reason was probably that it was a poor choice of wine to accompany the veal. Though it helped bring out the flavour of the wine the cheese was a disappointment. There was no choice and we were served with two small slices of cheese, one was camembert and the other was a blue cheese distinguished mainly by the fact that it was so unmemorable I’ve forgotten its name.
I think that chef’s speciality must be dessert as it was delightful, Christophe and I had the Macaroon with strawberries and it was delicious and almost certainly home made. Trevor had the Tarte Tatin which he said was very good, with the exception that it was served with ice cream which he does not particularly like. He was given no choice and he would have preferred crème fraîche or nothing at all rather than ice cream.
We all had coffee and the bill arrived, it was 32 euros a head, which I thought, though not exactly overpriced was far from good value for money. The best parts of the meal for me were the view of the aforementioned young lady, and the company none of which can be guaranteed if and when you decide to visit. - Tate
About the author: Tate spends the summers in the Vendee and is passionate about good wine and good food,he now writes exclusively for the www.vendee-guide.co.uk website. This article may be reproduced as long as it's in it's entirety including this Bio.
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