Le Moulin du Roc The Dordogne, France
I went into a pharmacy in the Prigord. It was the Pharmacie Normale in Brantome. One of us had a rhume-with-a-view to slowing us down on this trip in the Dordogne, and so it had happily.
The queue stopped just inside the doors, so I sidled into a vacant corner to wait my turn. A little old lady, clutching a tube of something, hobbled through the doors that opened automatically, and bumped into the queue. She only stood there a moment, then, straightening her back importantly, jumped (not quite the word) the queue.
One of the girls, with a twinkle at me and then at her, said, What’s your hurry, grandmre? Theres no reason to rush unless you’ve got a hot date; none of us are going anywhere.
That’s part of the allure of this region its unspoiled timelessness.
There are several highly recommended places to stay throughout the Dordogne but, having see most of them, we chose Le Moulin du Roc to be our base. Just a few minutes from Brantome in Champagnac-de-Belair, it teeters on the banks of the Dronne whose falling waters provide a soothing nightcap to each day spent in this peaceful area.
Nearly fifty years ago Solange and Lucien Gardillou converted this seventeenth-century, nut-oil mill into what I think is an extraordinarily charming hostelry. We were in a freshly-decorated, adjoining building reached by a covered walkway which passes the huge, kitchen window; Solange smiled bonjour each time we passed.
Our room was upstairs facing the sunny southwest overlooking the mill-stream, and had upholstered walls, antique furnishings, but thoroughly modern mattresses and plumbing, with a separate W.C. What more could one want; comfortable, clean, and quiet.
The staff is obliging to a fault: the receptionist even took my laundry home and did it herself to help me keep my schedule!
Does all this sound wonderful, well it is, but there is more. Madame Gardillou was a sweet, petite gal who just happened to be one of the highest-rated, female chefs in France, and has now passed on all her secrets to her son and his wife, Alain and Maryse Gardillou. So, besides the comfort of the charming, antique-filled rooms, the food is wonderful too in an easy sort of way despite two Michelin stars. You see, almost always in restaurants with two or three stars, I usually sense a sort of tenseness or pomposity that almost inevitably comes from trying to get that final star or having to live up to what is considered to be the absolute best; but not at Le Moulin Roc a sense of ease permeates the dining-room, eating is fun here. The food is unpretentious, exciting, even experimental; and, above all, perfectly delicious.
The complex richness of local foie gras, sauted pink, is given an added sparkle and lightness in a sauce of honey and raspberry vinegar.
A deceptively simple asparagus in pastry (served with a slightly astringent cream reduction) is surprising in its earthiness that puts to shame those bamboo-like stalks in supermarkets.
A grilled confit of duck, slightly salty, is nicely off-set with creamed sorrel another native, early-spring vegetable sadly overlooked elsewhere.
A pig’s foot is stuffed with a cornucopia of fresh, black truffle, breaded slightly, and pan-fried. The distinctive woodiness of the truffle, especially in such amounts, surprisingly doesn’t overpower, but here is meltingly warm, rich, and lovely.
The breast and thighs of the guinea-fowl are cooked to moist perfection, sliced thinly and served with a coarse-grain-mustard sauce that again doesn’t overpower but compliments the special gaminess of the bird.
Desserts are heavenly sinful. Don’t miss the chocolate and orange charlotte that ends the meal with extravagant aplomb.
The stone-walled, rustic dining rooms look out over the stream and the flower gardens to the setting sun. Pretty and absolutely charming is the mood.
Sure the service is correct and dignified but it’s been softened by the enchanting personalities of the Gardillous and by the real pleasure each individual member of their staff seems to derive from your happiness.
Visiting Le Moulin du Roc really is one of the most charming, small, country inns in the world.
All the best,