In the very heart of the Camargue, chef Armand Arnal lives in synch with the mainstay of his cuisine: his organic vegetable garden. His fare is progressive, yet faithful to the Mediterranean traditions he continually redefines. His appreciation for the global vegetable genre notwithstanding, Arnal uses only local produce, sustainable development oblige.
New One Star 2009
Popeye the Sailor Man, take heart - vegetables are back in vogue! Initiated some time ago by Arpège’s Alain Passard and continued by Jean-Luc Rabanel in his Arles atelier, the new tendency puts vegetables - long considered French gastronomy’s poor relations - in an ever-brighter spotlight.
In the kitchen of La Chassagnette, presided by young chef Armand Arnal (who had caught superchef Alain Ducasse’s eye), the vegetable garden rules. It offers diners a superb panorama, as beautiful as it is instructive. There is no scission here between the art of growing and the art of dining. This organic restaurant has revived gastronomy, as once defined by the French epicurean Brillat-Savarin as “the reasoned knowledge of everything which relates to man, insofar as his nourishment is concerned.” Microcosms, macrocosms, growth cycles, attention to the seasons, the harmony of humankind and of nature: La Chassagnette makes every effort to follow this demanding path.
Not that this curbs the restaurant’s creativity! In tandem with his gardeners, Armand Arnal looks to utilize all of the different stages of a given plant’s growing cycle, from seedling to perfect ripeness. Take the spring onion, for example. After benefiting from a complex irrigation system, the onion, when ready for harvest, may be served raw, marinated, in soup, in broth, as a starter, or even, like fennel, as an ingredient in dessert... What chef - or everyday grocery shopper, for that matter - wouldn’t love to be able to choose from fifty kinds of tomatoes, including the irresistible Téton de Vénus (Nipple of Venus) ? Thanks to the Garden of Eden which surrounds the kitchens, Armand Arnal can choose from and combine a panoply of textures and colours, flavours and aromas: herb salads, courgette and nasturtium flowers, cream of bitter and aromatic herb soup...
This is not, however, a vegetarian kitchen. Fish, shellfish and meat - especially that of the bull - are all welcome here. Perch, Mont Ventoux pork, Monsieur Lamonica’s Marseille pigeons, sea snails from St. Martin de Crau and beef from the Camargue are all produced nearby, sustainable development oblige. All of this science and expertise is devoted to concocting Mediterranean cuisine which is delectable and colourful, modern and straightforward, and faithful to tradition while avoiding clichés. The experience is precise and joyful, and the diner can expect a complete change of scenery in this old sheepfold fused with modern architecture.
Between Montpellier, Arles and Marseille, La Chassagnette is a must on every gourmet circuit. It is also one of the rare restaurants in the Camargue which can serve evening meals outdoors, thanks to a gigantic wood-framed mosquito screen.
Le Sambuc 3200 ARLES
Open daily except Wednesdays
Tel. +33 (0)4 90 97 26 96
Fax +33 (0)4 90 97 26 95
La Chassagnette is 12 kilometres from downtown Arles, on the road to Sambuc. Go towards Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, then turn left onto the D36 towards Salin-de-Giraud. You’ll see La Chassagnette ten minutes later on the right.
Fixed-price lunch menu at €34.
Dinner: starters at €14, main course €29, desserts €11.