Ferme au Grives is the casual sister of Michel Guerard’s three star Michelin Les Pres des Eugenie. It is set in an old barn a short walk from the main restaurant. It opened in 1993 and is a charming, rustic spot, the room dominated by a huge fire over which suckling pigs and chickens are roasted. There is a large wooden table groaning with local vegetable produce, and the atmosphere is informal, with no tablecloths. The menu is a la carte, with canapés and three courses, including some side dishes, priced at a remarkably fair €52 (£46) given the standard of the food. There is only a very short and basic wine list, but by prior arrangement you can order from the full list of the main restaurant - see my review for notes on that list.
Our first of two meals here on this trip started, as a fine meal should, with warm cheese gougeres, these neatly piped into spheres, the choux pastry fabulously light and deeply flavoured with the comforting flavour of Emmenthal cheese. I have rarely met a gougere that I disliked, but these are really special, and few multi-starred restaurants seem capable of really getting them just right, as they do here (19/20).
I had terrine of local foie gras and hen liver, the terrine deliberately a little rustic rather than the silky texture you would seen in the main restaurant here, served with toast of the excellent bread that is made fresh in the kitchens here. The meat had deep flavour, lifted by the richness of the liver (16/20). Herrings came on a base of potato salad made with vinegar and shallots, topped with two herring fillets covered with creme fraiche and chives, garnished with radish and shallot rings. This was delicious, the bite of the vinegar perfectly balancing the natural oiliness of the herring and the richness of the creme fraiche, the quality of the herrings being sublime. It is one thing to take a luxury ingredient and make it taste nice, but it takes real talent to elevate the humbled herring to taste sublime (19/20).
Local Landes chicken has a deeper flavour than its more famous cousin from Bresse, and I actually prefer it as it tastes more like a traditional bird. Here it is roasted on a spit over the huge fire, and served with crispy onion skin. This was a simple but superb dish, perfectly cooked and having lovely flavour (18/20). Hake was the only relatively dud dish of the meal, served as a steak on the bone. At the edges it was a touch dry, the fish resting in a herb sauce and topped with a mound of fresh herbs. The sauce was excellent but the fish merely good, and a fraction overcooked (13/20). Mash potato was very buttery, with silky texture and yet still tasting of potato rather than butter, as some versions these days can. The potatoes used are the Agria variety, which have a floury texture and plenty of flavour (17/20). Penne pasta with mushroom and Parmesan sauce was superb, the flavour of the mushrooms intense, the pasta perfectly cooked, the seasoning spot on (17/20).
Apple tart had very thin puff pastry and delicate slices of apples, the acidity of the apples balanced by just the right amount of sugar. Michel Guerard trained as a pastry chef, and there is not a restaurant in France that makes better puff pastry than here. Perhaps this tart would be even better with Cox’s orange pippin apples rather than the local ones used here, but this was otherwise hard to fault (19/20). Cherry compote was fabulous, a lovely balance of sharpness and sweet, with vanilla compote, all resting on a hot, fresh, perfectly light waffle, garnished with raspberries. I don’t know how this could be improved upon (20/20).
A second meal started with the same lovely gougeres and some saucisson sausage. The herrings were as good as they were the night before, and I tried the salmon, smoked in the kitchen and served with beetroot and horseradish cream, a thin crisp bread and a garnish of caviar. The salmon was excellent and the horseradish had just the right level of bite, a touch of dill being a classic accompaniment (16/20). Grilled sea bass with herbs was lovely, cooked precisely and served with a vinaigrette of tomato, the little tomatoes as garnish having excellent flavour (18/20).
Suckling pig came with black pudding and a stuffing made from pork, apple, ginger, sugar, red pepper and mixed spice. The meat was delicious and the skin crisp, though the stuffing seemed to me just a little dominated by the allspice, though the sauce from the cooking juices was a delight (17/20). For dessert, baba was paired with Armagnac rather than rum, served in a kilner jar on a base of Chantilly cream. Baba is hard to get right as it very easily dries out, but this was beautifully moist (18/20). Service as charming, and although the atmosphere is rustic, the waiters all knew the exact composition of the dishes. The manager was former head sommelier of Midsummer House. With soft drinks the bill was just €67 (£59) each. If you shared a modest bottle from the small list then a typical cost per person might still only be £60, which is a complete bargain given the really high standard of the food here.