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La JOLETIERE in the heart of the Mervent Forest.
Tel. 02 51 00 02 39.
La Joletiere By Tate
I first visited La Joletiere in 1992 on an initial research foray into the Vendée. It was a couple of years after the sudden death of my father and we were looking for somewhere to put Mum’s caravan. Mum had spent a fairly unhappy summer on a small “camp site” near Limoges owned by friends of my brother, and we were taking the caravan home. We targeted the Vendée as a possible spot for mum, as it was close enough to the UK to get to fairly quickly, and it had a Micro Climate producing similar amounts of sun to the French Riviera. We pulled into the campsite Camping Mervent and set up the van, my brother and his wife left their 3 kids with mum and me and booked into the hotel La Joletiere, which was just across the road. That night we all ate in the hotel restaurant, and though I don’t remember any of the details my memories are that the meal was very French and very good. We left the campsite the next morning having seen nobody and paid nothing. We did slide a note with our name and address under the door but have never heard a word from that day to this.
The next time I ate there was some fifteen years later in 2007 with some very good French friends, they were very happy with it and it does have a very good reputation in the local community. I personally always feel guilty eating at La Joletiere as it is literally just around the corner from my favourite restaurant the Auberge de la Forêt and the lovely Monique sadly closed now; I know it’s a matter of false loyalty and quite ridiculous, but you can’t help the way you feel. Earlier this year (2008) I ate there at the request of my dear late mum’s two best friends from England. We keep in touch and they were at the end of a week that they had spent with me, so it was their treat as a way of saying an unnecessary thank you for my hospitality.
This time I was eating with my old pal and culinary gastronaut Trevor and two of my very favourite people Steve and his wife Sally. They have a holiday home quite close to me and are amongst the most hospitable people I’ve ever met, they are quick to offer and hard to say no to, and Steve often helps Trevor with the things he does for me, covering my pool for the winter and the like. The last time the other three had tried eating at la Joletiere Trevor was taken ill (nothing to do with the food) and Steve had to take him home so neither had managed to eat anything, so it was a first for them.
Before looking at the menus we ordered aperitifs, a Riccard for me, a glass of rosé for Sally and beer each for Steve and Trevor the latter’s being alcohol free as usual. There were three menus the first was 20.50 euros then 25.50 euros and finally 30.50 euros they were for 3 courses plus cheese and dessert, if you wanted you could have just 2 courses for some 3 euros less. Steve went for the full 20.50 euro menu Sally went for the same but with just 2 courses and Trevor and I both went for 3 courses of the 25.50 euro menu we ordered a carafe of house white wine and a carafe (which turned into 3) of house red wine.
Trevor and I both went for the hot Gizzard Salad, Steve had the hot Goat’s Cheese Salad and Sally had the Avocado Cocktail. Trevor and I immediately crossed swords over the Gizzard salad, which apart from the normal mixture of meaty delights and salad included a mousse of chicken liver. I thought the whole thing was as good as any that I’d eaten; Trevor was not so generous he thought it was OK though not outstanding. Steve wasn’t ecstatic about his Hot Goat’s Cheese Salad, but what can you do with a hot goat’s cheese salad. Sally’s Avocado Cocktail however with its four large prawns seemed to go down very well. My second course was a Rillette of Duck, which was absolutely delightful, my only grumble was that it was served with toasted pain de mie which is the French equivalent of a sliced white loaf and is always too sweet for my taste. Trevor had Hake with Beurre Blanc, he said the taste was good but he thought that he had the tail end of the fish and as a consequence there was a large centre bone and many small bones which he thought detracted from the quantity of fish that was served and the quality of the dish. Steve had Jambon Cru (cured uncooked ham) which was exactly as it should have been and Sally ever mindful of her marvellously slim figure declined a second course.
The third courses came and yet again my Cuisse de Pintade (the leg of a guinea fowl) was absolutely what you would expect a gamey chicken leg which tasted so good I could have ordered it again just for the taste, it came with a thin mushroom sauce which was a perfect accompaniment. Trevor had Rôti de Veau (roast veal) served with a sauce and Trevor was at his most scathing when he said that it was hard to tell if the meat was veal or pork and that the thin sauce that it was served with was like tasteless English gravy. Steve wasn’t much more polite about his Stuffed Porc Pissotte, but Sally seemed pleased enough with her Hake. All of the dishes were served with sautéed potatoes, mojettes which are white beans and are a speciality of the Vendée, it took me a while to acquire the taste for these but now I’m hooked, and remarkably shredded lettuce which we all agreed was totally incongruous with all of the dishes.
I must also at this stage comment on the bread, it was without doubt yesterday’s bread rehashed (probably warmed through in the oven) the crust turned to dust in your hand and some of the insides were hard. If it wasn’t yesterday’s bread then the restaurant seriously needs to look at changing its boulangerie (bakery). In our collective opinion there was no excuse on a Friday night in a French restaurant for the proprietors to serve stale bread.
For desert we forced Sally to order a crème caramel even though she wasn’t going to eat it and we three men were going to share it. We all ate the Gâteau Familiale which was a creamy coffee mixture with apples set in it and we all agreed that it was absolutely delectable and would have been a perfect end to the meal, if we hadn’t ordered the crème caramel. Now the crème caramel was in itself perfectly good but our greed, and I must take the lion’s share of the blame because it was my idea, ruined the delicious aftertaste of the Gâteau Familiale. We finished the meal with large coffees which to Trevor’s pleasure was accompanied by a chocolate.
La Joletiere is in my opinion a very good and very French restaurant (though not everyone agrees with me), the dinning room is large airy, pleasantly furnished and decorated and the service is friendly and not overbearing. When you dine with Steve and Sally their company is instrumental in the creation of an ambience all of its own, and though there were not many other diners, there was nothing at la Joletiere to hinder that. There were it’s true high points and low points in the food, the bread and the shredded lettuce being particularly odd so far as I was concerned, but the taste and quality of the food made up for it in my opinion. Trevor was also disappointed with the presentation of the food, which true enough was not as artistic as some places that we’ve eaten in, but again I can forgive that because it wasn’t served with a lack of thought just a lack of artistic talent. The bill came to about 30 euros a head and considering the drinks and coffee I didn’t think that it was out of the way for a dinner experience, and I would personally have no problem in recommending this restaurant. - Tate
About the author: Tate spends the summers in the Vendee and is passionate about good wine and good food,he writes exclusively for the www.vendee-guide.co.uk
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