Restaurants: Matchless cuisine

There's football in Montpellier, but it's not the only game in town, says Margaret Kemp

Sun-starved Parisians heading south for the summer take one of two routes: east to Provence and the Cote d'Azur, or west to Nimes, Marseilles and the unspoiled Languedoc coast. This is where the sights and sounds of the south of France begin. Now, for the first time in its colourful history, the Languedoc region has a three- star Michelin restaurant and hotel - Le Jardin des Sens - owned by identical twins Laurent and Jacques Pourcel.

Although the highway is well sign-posted, you will not be the first guest to drive on by. The ugly square terracotta and grey stone building of Le Jardin des Sens stands on the corner of a busy road - a tennis club on one side, a video store on the other. In the car park, two Lamborghinis sit side by side. Do they belong to guests or is business booming for the Pourcels? Inside, a receptionist greets my French connection, Pierre- Etienne, and me with a Novocaine expression. "Ah, if we owned the Lamborghini the welcome would be warmer," sighs Pierre-Etienne, pocketing the keys to his Renault 5.

The Jardin's action takes place around a fragrant herb garden with olive trees, a fountain and a mini-vineyard. On the roof, Bruno Borrione (who also worked on the Paramount and Royalton, New York and the Delano, Miami) has designed a neat swimming-pool. When I venture up to take a dip, a gold-chained guy is nibbling a gorgeous girl in a tiny bikini. Definitely the Lamborghini owner.

The restaurant of Le Jardin des Sens has a buzz of informality not usually associated with Michelin three-stars. Dishes are presented with the minimum of fuss; not a silver cloche in sight. Ten years ago, there were just 12 dishes on offer. Now, as we study the weighty menu, a multitude of titbits arrive: a marmelade of sardines with a mousse of aubergines and a creamy miniature risotto with tiny asparagus. Square-fried croquettes of pig's feet astonish Pierre-Etienne, whose mother once owned a restaurant in Lyon. "The batter is 'eavy," he sighs. I remember my mother's credo that everybody's troubles begin with their feet.

After much deliberation, and a bottle of Cabardes red from the nearby vineyards of Adrian Mould, we finally choose. A raw tete-de-veau marinated in local olive oil, cut paper thin, is almost transparent on the chilled glass plate. My Bouzigues oysters (also local and rather salty) are mixed with crab, sitting in its shell. A crunchy fennel cream with a hint of tomato gives the impression of an upmarket prawn cocktail, with notes of aniseed.

A warm salad of Languedoc supions (squid) is perfumed with thyme and fresh pasta served with warm fig, nut and cereal breads. The squid is slightly gritty but was plucked from the sea this morning. Pierre-Etienne savours his souffle-like concoction of petits gris (snails) studded with dried fruits and potatoes, moistened with an emulsion of Montpellier butter. The flavours are rich, light, and reflect the warmth of the South. Baudroie (tiny local monkfish), lightly fried and roasted with sun-dried tomatoes and sweet onions, arrive gleaming with olive oil on a thin flaky pastry base, surrounded with dabs of thyme juice. Who cares about tickets to the World Cup when you can eat like this? Next, thin discs of lobster top herb ravioli with young leeks in a creamy basil vinaigrette. We have not ordered this, but tiny freebies keep arriving. All the china is different, some glass, some bone, some looking as if it's been made by schoolchildren. The overall feeling is of young talent and exciting modern interpretations.

For main courses, my pink-fleshed roasted pigeon must have had a happy and very short life. The bird's roughly chopped giblets are baked into tiny cakes seasoned with curry; quarters of fresh pear refresh the palate; the surrounding juice suggests bitter chocolate. Pierre-Etienne's veal kidneys, cooked in their own fat, seem dangerously rare, but he's French and fearless when it comes to glands. Shallots preserved in old Port, celery and a chanterelle pancake complete this woodland setting.

No room for cheese, but one can always rise to the finale. The desserts change twice daily according to Jacques Pourcel's inspiration. We taste figs and caramel with a feather-light rice and buttermilk ice cream, the effect almost nursery like; a delightfully frothy chocolate soup, with pistachios and tiny scrolls of Valhrona chocolate. Grainy mint, herb and fruit sorbets are an astringent prelude to a molten hot dessert (fondant au chocolat chaud), neither cake nor souffle, but from some delightful never-never land in between.

So how do the new kids stack up against France's 23 three-stars, including the traditional Paul Bocuse and the avant-garde Pierre Gagnaire? It has to be said the Pourcels' dishes are original; their dedication more than enough to satisfy the monks at Michelin. And prices are low. Lunch is a steal at 190 francs, and the well-chosen wines are reasonably priced.

It is very late, and the triple-crowned twins appear in a distant doorway. Pierre-Etienne heads them off at the pass and speaks to them in their own language. The brothers admit they are puzzled that they, and not other, older and more experienced chefs such as Alain Dutornier and Guy Savoy in Paris, or Olivier Roellinger in Brittany, were so honoured by Michelin. "But if you put our ages together we are 66 years old," they smile. Pierre- Etienne teases them about the Lamborghinis. "Beautiful works of art but no use to us," they insist. "Not enough room in the boot for market shopping!"

Le Jardin des Sens, 11 avenue Saint-Lazaire - 34000 Montpellier (tel: 00 33

4 67 79 63 38; fax: 00 33 4 67 72 13 05). Lunch, Ff 190 (weekdays only), dinner Ff 550 plus wine. Hotel 13 rooms and one suite from 800 -2,200 francs. World Cup France 98 matches will be played at Stade de La Mosson, Montpellier from 10 June.

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

    £20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

    Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

    £24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

    Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all