The centre of Pernes is discreet. It’s parcelled up in cobbles and the mottled trunks of plane trees, and not actually in the centre at all. It’s half-way up a hill, a third of the way through, twenty metres to the right, and approximately 200 years back in time.
At the eastern corner you will find the closest fragment of the 21st century – Au Fil du Temps. Tendrils of wire creep over the walls in artforms, and stretch to the neighbouring workshop with similar name: Au Fil de Fer (the iron wire). But Au Fil du Temps is not set as solidly as iron – it’s a wire is made of time, an intangible string that holds onto the history of the medieval village at one end, and modern French cuisine at the other.
Only two clock in for service each day. Husband and wife, chef and Maitre’d, Julien and Claire. Both young, well travelled, articulate, and very knowledgable about food and wine. There are only 14 seats to be had. For this reason, it’s nearly always fully booked. Not only that, they are selective with their reservations. Never a table larger than six, often at a time half an hour later or earlier than you desire. But it’s not a pompous inflexibility. It’s about knowing their limits, and their ability to achieve their own goal of perfection for every diner.
Service is either in or out – never both, and weather dependent. Outside we perched on lime iron chairs on treacherous cobbles, with the company of one of the 40 of Pernes-Les-Fontaines fountains for music. Another night, while the mistral huffed and puffed we dined in – joined by teak furniture in smooth gentle sixties curves, pins of yellow lights in kooky lamp-forms, and the aforementioned art.
Menus this summer arrive in the guise of retro LP sleeves. Clever recycling, of both the physical and the fashionable. Three entrees, three mains and three desserts. Confident and assumptive, yet simultaneously modest and clever. One changes each week to keep return-diners happy. I wanted to try them all.
Wines are a mirror of the establishment – small-scale, family operations. Organic or similar, cult following or at least rare. They are wines chosen to sympathize with the food, and through the many we drank, there was not a bad one, nor one that overshadowed the dishes or hid behind them. Claire knows her products, and directed us when we lost our way, always sending us somewhere pretty, or pretty spectacular.
Ingredients are inherently French, and suitably seasonal. Then, we ate skate, sea bass, duck, lamb, peaches, fennel and berries. Now the menu holds mushrooms, beans, cod, oysters, beef, nuts, oranges and walnuts. As the weather cools, I expect the fundamental mix will change again, and I long to go back to see what they do with truffles, pork, game birds, leaks, squash, clementines and chestnuts.
Each dish is clever. There is no bang or whistle to accompany, but instead a subtle melding of flavours that will grab you after about the third mouthful. All of a sudden, you will realise although it’s not a conventional union, the sea bass carpaccio would never be the same without the oven-dried tomatoes, which lie evenly on the scales between juicy and chewy. Nor would it have the earthy flavours and crunch without the scattering of noix, or the freshness delivered by what initailly seemed to be an obscene amount of chervil garnish. And the fresh cream that holds it all together does just that – both on the plate and in your mouth – it’s between a marscapone and a creme fraiche – again, usually out of place with a carpaccio, but entirely necessary to fill out a fish that is full of flavour but lacking the oils of tuna or salmon.
The dessert tout blanc (all-white dessert) is likewise a gem, and Julien has been kind enough to provide his recipe below. It seems to be a firm favourite of diners, as it appears often on the menu, simply with a different heart. It arrived camouflaged in a white soup plate, a simple mound of what could be almost anything between cream and cloud. The outside – a milk foam, and a yoghurt ice-cream – was not as sweet as many would expect with a dessert, but the flecks of meringue and the dulce de leche that hid beneath occasionally interrupted my mouthful to satisfy that part of my brain. Even further down was a bomb of summer peaches, stewed just to the point where they had started to disintegrate, lightly spiced but very subtle. It was one of those desserts that feels like air as you eat it, and leaves you bouncing with happiness after rather than wallowing in the inevitable sugar-drop and post-caloric guilt that follows a sweet indulgence.
I wonder what Julien and Claire will do in years to come. They are obviously talented and attuned to the industry, but I am scared to think that the country life, and a tiny restaurant will one day bore them. I am afraid they may move to wider, if not greener pastures. They are too young by far to hang up the shingle, and yet they have seen some quiet winters in this village already. But Pernes has its charm, and would hold enough for me to stay in its embrace for quite some time. Perhaps they will stay as time goes by, allowing me to return and see what they have come up with. And to give you the chance to pass by too.
Restaurant Au Fil du Temps51,place Louis Giraud 84210 PERNES LES FONTAINES
04 90 30 09 48 website
Recette du dessert tout blanc
- faire confiture de lait , 1kg de lait et 1kg de sucre cuire jusqu a obtention d une confiture
- réaliser un yaourt a la yaourtiere
- avec le yaourt faire une glace a la sorbetiere
- mousse de lait au syphon avec une pointe de xantane, 1 blanc d oeuf et sucre glace
- un coulis ou des morceaux de fruits de saison, eclats de meringue au dessus
All-white dessert recipe
4 textures buttermilk
- make a dulce de leche, with 1kg milk and 1kg of sugar – cook until obtaining a jam
- make a yogurt in the yogurt maker
- with yogurt make ice-cream in an ice-cream maker
- Use a siphon to foam the milk with a hint of Xanthan, 1 egg white and icing sugar
- Use a jam or pieces of seasonal fruits, garnish with flakes of meringue
note: Dessert is assembled with the fruit as the base, then the dulce de leche, followed by the ice cream and topped with milk foam.