Ferme aux Grives is the casual farmhouse restaurant of Michel Guerard, set in an old barn on the edge of the property, a short walk from the main hotel and spa. "Grives" means song thrush, which the French used to hunt and eat but is now a protected species. The rustic atmosphere here is emphasised by the stone floor and the wooden table in the centre of the dining room with a display of vegetables. Behind the central table is a wood fire and a rotating spit in which chickens or even a whole pig may be roasting. Above the main room is a further dining area looking down over the spit, where the cooking aromas of the animals waft up, whetting the appetite. There are also tables outside when the weather is good, and it is a very pretty spot on a sunny day. There is a fixed menu at €49 (£35) for three courses at both lunch and dinner, with a few choices for each course.
Apparently Mr Guerard wants to maintain a clear line between this restaurant and his three Michelin star fine dining one, and the determinedly casual Ferme au Grives has just a short list of basic wines, rustic brown plates and has no Michelin star. Yet the produce used here is stunning and there is no disguising the skill of the chefs that work here. A nibble of saucisson could come from any casual restaurant, but not the gougere with its superb choux pastry and lovely flavour, a cheese puff that would grace any two star restaurant. Superb sourdough bread was almost as good as that in the main restaurant (easily 17/20).
A soup of coconut and lemongrass with prawns does not sound like anything special, but the prawns had a lovely hint of smokiness from the spit-roast and were gloriously sweet, and there were sliced ceps as well as a lovely balance of the coconut and lemongrass:(16/20). Local Landes chicken spit-roast over the fire had superb flavour, the skin crisp and enhanced with a layer of sweet onions and Parmesan. On the side was a terrific pasta dish with cream, wild mushrooms and Parmesan (17/20). Wild salmon smoked in the kitchen came with a wafer thin waffle with horseradish cream with slices of fennel, radishes, asparagus, sprigs of dill and a teaspoon of caviar. The salmon had superb flavour and the attention to detail was shown by the very high quality of the fennel and the delicacy of the waffle (17/20).
The desserts were even better. Apple tart has superbly delicate puff pastry, a hallmark of Mr Guerard's kitchen, and although a simple dish was genuinely top drawer (18/20 easily). An eclair was a revelation, magnificent choux pastry with a filling of cream and mousse chocolate mouse and vanilla ice cream, topped with caramelised sugar and a superbly rich dark chocolate sauce drizzled over the éclair. I have never eaten a better eclair (19/20 is probably too mean a score).
At a second meal suckling pig, the one dish that is a permanent fixture of the menu, was excellent, with very tender meat and lovely crisp skin. It came with the cooking juices, stuffing and a few herbs. If I was being picky then I would say that more greenery would have been useful with this rich dish, but the meat itself was gorgeous (16/20). Sea bream was braised in the oven with lardo, and came with a superb herb sauce with diced red pepper, the fish precisely cooked (17/20). Strawberry tart came on French toast rather than pastry, and whilst the strawberries had lovely flavour this dessert, which came with vanilla ice cream, was merely very good (15/20). It was eclipsed by a cherry compote with sour milk ice cream and a waffle, the cherries of superb quality and resting in their own juices with a few raspberries (17/20). This was fruit of a quality unheard of in Britain.
Service was casual but very friendly. The food here is absurdly good for a notionally rustic restaurant, and on food quality would knock plenty of multi-starred restaurants into a cocked hat. At £35 a head for three courses plus nibbles it is a genuine bargain to boot. If you shared a bottle of wine then your bill would still only come to around £50 a head or so. It is OK Michelin: you can quietly ignore Fermes aux Grives and it will remain our little secret.