The pandemic has been a trying time for many chefs. But, at least looking from the outside in, it seems like it’s been anything but for acclaimed French chef Hélène Darroze.
First came a second Michelin star for her flagship Paris restaurant Marsan par Hélène Darroze, shortly followed by the ultimate accolade of a third Michelin star for Hélène Darroze at The Connaught in London.
Now, the fourth-generation chef who trained under the renowned Alain Ducasse has opened her latest culinary offering. And she couldn’t have chosen a better location: the exquisite Villa La Coste nestled within the heart of the rolling countryside near Aix-en-Provence.
It is here — within the architecturally acclaimed 28 suite hotel between the vineyards of Château La Coste Estate — that the aptly named Hélène Darroze at Villa La Coste opened its doors on July 2, 2021.
After cutting her culinary teeth at Alain Ducasse’s three -Michelin-starred Le Louis XV in the famous Hotel De Pari in Monaco, Darroze left to helm her family restaurant in Villeneuve-de-Marsan in South Western France in 1995. It wasn’t long however before the ambitious chef set out on creating something that was uniquely hers, opening Restaurant Hélène Darroze on Paris’s Left Bank.
Earning its first Michelin star in 20o1, the restaurant underwent a major transformation in 2019, reopening as Marsan par Hélène Darroze with a re-imagined menu, which is an ode to the beloved cuisine and bountiful produce of her home region.
Across the channel in London, Darroze brings that same unshakeable commitment to sourcing local produce worthy of her menus at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught. The finest British ingredients are transformed with Hélène’s classic French flair into dishes that have won her a loyal following and of course the restaurant the maximum number of Michelin stars.
At Hélène Darroze at Villa La Coste this same level of dedication to crafting beautiful dishes with seasonal ingredients from trusted local suppliers forms a central pillar of the chef’s offering.
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Drawn in by the richness and variety of the fruit and vegetables from the region, Darroze has chosen to cast them in the leading role on the menu at Hélène Darroze at Villa La Coste, with meat and fish acting in support. “The quality of local produce is such that this decision was essential from the outset, as was an absolute quest for simplicity,” explains Darroze. “When we are lucky enough to find such exceptional vegetables and fruit, it is up to us to cook to enhance them, not to transform them,” she says.
Around 95% of the fruit, vegetables, meat and fish served at Hélène Darroze at Villa La Coste are locally sourced, with a small percentage coming from the gardens of the Château La Coste Estate. This however is set to increase as the hotel’s gardens mature.
The eight-course menu named “Walk in the gardens of Provence” conjures up visions of herb gardens, olive groves, citrus trees and an abundance of fresh legumes which couldn’t be more fitting. A true celebration of local ingredients, each dish on the menu is accompanied by the name and location of the producer who supplied its key component.
Developed by Darroze alongside Marco Zampese, her head chef at Hélène Darroze at the Connaught in London, Thomas Pézeril, executive chef at Villa La Coste and her pastry chef Kirk Whittle, the menu will evolve naturally according to the harvests and seasons.
Highlights include the Terra t’air safran in Puy-Sainte-Reparade, featuring organic saffron pistils grown a stone’s throw from the Château which add a golden hue to creamy Camargue rice with shellfish and cuttlefish, enhanced with savory greenery and a dash of Espelette pepper oil.
For dessert, the Guillaume Galoppini apricot features a freshly picked apricot which is gently poached served with milk and orange blossom ice cream and finished with a textured olive oil crumble from Château La Coste.
Situated within the Château La Coste Estate, the organic and biodynamic wine’s produced within the grounds naturally feature prominently on the impressive wine list. The Château’s delectable selection of reds, whites and a rosé sit alongside bottles from other French regions, as well as some of the finest vineyards in the world.
Housed in a contemporary glass-walled pavilion surrounded by water, the restaurant is entered via a small footbridge. Once inside, the first thing diners will notice is the all-encompassing panoramas over the estate and the massif of Luberon in the distance. Seamlessly inviting the outdoors in, the restaurant opens onto a pretty outdoor terrace where diners can make the most of the balmy Provencal evenings.
The spacious and breezy interior remains simple yet elegant, leaving the stunning natural surrounds peering through the glass to do the heavy lifting. Within the center of the restaurant hangs a large metallic artwork suspended from the ceiling representing an embracing couple by the acclaimed artist, Louise Bourgeois. But the real centerpiece is the dishes coming from Darroze’s kitchen.