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.

News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

    Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

    Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

    Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape