When you’re lucky enough to go to lunch at a 2 star restaurant in Provence and you’re someone like me, you start salivating 24 hrs prior to your dining event of the year, or perhaps even a life time. 60th birthdays allow for special events and so a table was booked for our family at Oustau, one of the restaurants in the uber – or I should say trés – chic Hotel Baumanèire in Les Baux de Provence.
The setting is spectacular, the hotel stands surrounded by beautiful green gardens at the base of a towering cliff face. The sun was shining for the first time in forever for a Brit, I felt good in my jeans – a good day!
As you enter the restaurant the hotel walls are lined with pictures of all the people that have graced its halls. Johnny Depp, the Queen Mother, Bono you get the gist. All VERY important. We are offered a table inside or out, both already laid up – for 7, I thought that was impressive – good start. We are then immediately surrounded by about 5 people ready to help us enjoy our lunch, slightly overbearing but they were all smiling and one was the spit of Rolf from the Sound of Music, so I’ll let it slide.
Drinks were ordered, an excellent Martini – I remortgaged the house for that alone – be warned. We were brought olives on actual tiny olive trees, and some sort of delicious Aubergine purée – all good. The wine list was basically hugely terrifying and offered to a gentleman at the table. Thankfully we wanted to drink Rosé, what else in Provence? The bottles were local and at €40 a more affordable prospect than some other wine featured. Though if you were looking to spend €10,000 to impress your boss, mistress, wife you’d have no problems.
Menus were handed out and as we were discussing the options (you can eat a la carte or from a tasting menu if there are enough of you), it became obvious that I didn’t have the same information on my menu as everyone else. Neither did any other woman at the table. We didn’t have any prices. BLIND MENUS. What the F! At this point I’m so flabbergasted it takes a while for the sheer 1950’s ness of the situation to settle in. I’m sat next to my brother in law, who works for one of the UK’s best selling women’s magazines and he is FUMING, practically ready to throw over his chair and storm management.
We swap menus – decide upon a tasting menu and allow the strength of our drinks to slowly soften the edges. There is a slight panic about what some members of the family will be able to eat- crab tartare topped with “raw” beef -is a bridge too far for some at the table, but we soon settle (though feeling slightly out of place) into the sheer, exorbitant luxury of the place. Rosé helps.
Next comes the amuse bouche. I can’t remember if it came under a cloche; everything seemed to be under a cloche, like the element of surprise for every course adds to your meal, and then 45 people lifted simultaneously for the big reveal- so old school you couldn’t help but smile at it.
Actually it didn’t come cloched, it came sexist.
Yes different foods for the different sexes. Moules cream for the ladies with their subtle, soft palates and smoked haddock for the strong, robust men. DIFFERENT FOOD! We eat on, it’s really very good but the experience is already marred. So far, I can’t choose a drink unless a man does it for me and I can’t eat the same food as my brother lest it over power my palate and I need some smelling salts and a quick lie down.
The food was excellent, but it was hugely expensive. The Large Dublin bay prawn, pasta leaf and basil, cream of parmesan cheese with “Saint Michel” olive oil and zucchini’s green was so very good but cost €70 on the a la carte menu- ridic.
We switched up the gender roles loudly with large gestures throughout the meal. I asked one of the waitresses why we were being served different food- she told me that “it was the Chef’s choice”. Chef Charial came around, pausing briefly at our table. I hoped it was because he’d heard about the table of Brits in unconventional pairings (I expect some of them are homosexuals) who’s evident principles were stirring up lunch for the important men and the women with them.
Apparently Monsieur doesn’t cook anymore, he welcomes guests and tastes the food. According to the blurb he and his wife try and stay faithful to the memory of his grandfather, the founder of Le Baumanière. A noble aim. Tradition in food has its place. There are things that we do when entertaining today that we have done for years. But some things must change with time. They are, according to the website, “different due to its capacity to adapt to modernity and respond to the needs of a new generation of guests”. Have a laugh. The feminist movement in France started with the revolution. That was the 1790’s. It’s 2016 . More worrying, none of the restaurant reviews reflect this blatant sexism. Why aren’t men outraged that their sisters, daughters, wives and friends are deemed too delicate or unimportant so as to be able to make a decision? And as a woman who visited Oustau – I’m writing about it, so all 4 of you can read it.
As a woman I don’t mind if someone pulls out my chair or opens a door for me, offers to buy me dinner or tells me how nice I look, but anyone who assumes I can’t afford to pay for my own meal or that I wouldn’t want to?
You can go F*** yourself.