Welcome to a review of some of the best 4 hours of my life. This was one of those experiences you can have while traveling where you look back and wonder, did that really happen?
We had the opportunity to attend La Table Haute de La Mirande in December of 2016 while on our Christmas trip to Provence, France. La Table Haute translates to The High Table, but I have also seen it referred to as the table d’hote, the “the guests table” or “table of the host,” which at La Mirande is a multi-course meal prepared by one of the chefs in their medieval kitchen.
La Mirande is right around the corner from the Palais des Papes in Avignon, and was named after a famous room in the palace. It was originally built as a personal residence for a cardinal in the 14th century during the Popes reign in Avignon, and then was restored and ran as a hotel in the 17th to 20th centuries, when it was taken over by the Stein family. In 1990 it was transformed back to glory in the style of the 1800s and reopened as a luxurious hotel and restaurant. In addition to the table d’hote, La Mirande also offers a gourmet restaurant and a cooking school.
I discovered La Mirande early on in my research for Avignon, but had hesitated to book it because of the price of 86€ /person. Since we had already decided that this trip was our Christmas gift to each other, I decided that attending a chef’s dinner would be more than worth the splurge. When you factor in the 4-course meal, plus drinks and appetizers to start and coffee or tea to end the meal, the ambiance, the distinctive Rhone Valley wines, and the being able to be in the presence of an extremely talented chef as they cook your meal right in front of you, it ended up being a bargain price for the experience.
From the moment we got there, to the end of our first coffee, it was a magical. It was exactly what you would picture a French kitchen to be like without being snooty or stiff. It was accessible and approachable; a modern twist on the traditional table d’hote cuisine.
This dinner came at the end of our day when we had already been out on a wine tasting tour in the southern Rhone Valley. We weren’t sure that we would be able to top the earlier part of the day, but this meal did it justice.
Now on to the dinner!
I did more research after our trip, but we were about to have the pleasure of being prepared a meal by Séverine Sagnet, our chef for the evening. Séverine is a French native who grew up in an area west of Avignon in between Bordeaux and Toulouse. She has a vibrant personality and devotion to using only products from their indigenous regions and peak ripeness. Before winning awards for best foie gras and cooking in several different countries, she came back to France and started cooking at La Mirande in 2010, where she took over the cooking school. Since August of 2014, Séverine has also been the head of the table haute at La Mirande, which she hosts every Tuesday and Wednesday evening.
We couldn’t help but take a quick peek in to the room where Séverine was hard at work.
Now this is a farmhouse table.
Before we sat down to dinner, we were taken down to the wine cellar for appetizers and our first wine course.
Waiting for us down in the wine cellar were appetizers with an array of dips, cheeses, and olives, and a delicious bottle of Viognier. Viognier is one of my favorite grapes and this bottle lived up to my expectations.
In the cellar, we were told more about the history of La Mirande, the cooking style, and the wines they serve by an expert in wine and cocktails who was helping Séverine with the dinner. I want to say her name was Anne (this is why you write things down if you have a bad memory like I do!) She was a lovely lady and was nice enough to give the details in French and then also in English. Her English was very good as I believe she had spent several years living in London.
Nothing quite like drinking a delicious wine while surrounded by other French bottles aging in a perfect environment. (Forgive the bad lighting.)
Adjacent to the wine cellar was another cellar that held the hotel’s prestigious bottles of wine. We walked through it and felt the jealousy kicking in since we will probably never be able to afford any of those bottles!
Back in the kitchen, we gushed over the gorgeous table that was decorated with fruits and vegetables and beautiful floral displays, even in the middle of winter.
I was ecstatic that I got a seat right next to all the action happening on the stove. Séverine was plating our first course as we got settled into the table.
Our first course was pureed mushroom soup with cream, hazelnuts, and shaved truffles. It would be a crime to come to Provence and not try the famous black truffles.
I have to admit that I am not a fan of mushrooms. There are few things I will not eat, but mushrooms is one of them. But this soup was one exception I have found. The flavors went together perfectly and with the addition of crunchy texture from the nuts, it just worked. I won’t say that it changed my mind about mushrooms, but if they were always served as this dish (and if I could always eat it in Provence!), I would definitely eat it again.
The couple from Japan that sat across from us was nice enough to take a shot of our group. Since we had people from different countries and backgrounds as our fellow dinner guests, we had a great time talking with them about where they were from and what brought them to Avignon. Our travel buddies also had fun going around the room to figure out how a word would be pronounced or what sound effect would be used whether you were speaking Japanese, French, or English!
While we were waiting for our first course to digest, Severine began preparing the herb coulis for our second course. I made the mistake of asking Séverine if this was her first time cooking at La Mirande because I had the impression that the chefs rotated in and out for the table d’hote. Later, after reading more about her experience, I felt silly that I asked! So, moral of the story is to do your research on the chef so you don’t make a fool of yourself.
The coulis was light and delicate and was a perfect way to showcase the herbs of Provence.
Can you imagine cooking in this kitchen? It’s a dream. The tiles and copper cookware made you feel like you really could still be in the 1800s. When we come back, we will not miss the chance to take a cooking class with one of La Mirande’s chefs in this gorgeous setting.
The second course was tender, flaky cod with a herb coulis, avocado mousse, and radishes from Clos Mejean, just north of Avignon on the Rhone river. At least, I’m remembering it as cod, but it may have been sea bass. Either way, it was probably the best fish I have ever tasted.
The fish paired perfectly with the chosen white Cotes du Rhone.
There’s something about colorful, beautifully presented food that just makes the experience that much more memorable.
Our main course began to sizzle away on the stove top. It smelled incredible!
One of the young ladies at our table had a loose tooth that was just on the edge of coming out. Séverine used a pear from the table to demonstrate how to coax the tooth to finally release. An impromptu addition to the entertainment for the evening!
The main course was duck in a savory sauce, cauliflower, broccoli, and sauteed apples.
Watching Séverine prepare the dessert was one of my favorite parts of the evening. The fruit had been marinating in a pan of some type of delicious juice. These were put on top of a round cake, with cream and passion fruit.
Desserts should always require a little bit of lime squeezed over it.
And a perfect piece of meringue to top it off.
As the evening came to an end, the lights were turned off and the candles were lit to begin our evening entertainment.
Have you ever had your chef sing to you at the end of a multi-course meal? No? Well that was the way that this spectacular evening ended. Séverine has two passions: first, for cooking, and second, for singing. She has a beautiful voice and it was a pleasure to get to hear her sing. Most of the songs we did not recognize because they were French classics, but most everyone should know the snippet of the song I’ve included below about the famous Champs-Elysées in Paris: “In the sun, in the rain, at noon or midnight, there is everything you want on the Champs-Elysées!”
A meal enjoyed and a table that shows it.
Never, ever, turn down the chance to get a picture with a talented, award-winning French chef.
At this point it was almost midnight, but it had all gone by too quickly! We retired to the main floor lobby to have tea and coffee.
Can you see the satisfaction on our faces? When can we come back?
This was a 10/10 experience. If you find yourself in Avignon, or within the Provence area, you will do yourself a favor to plan to attend the chef’s table dinner at La Mirande, hosted by the wonderful Séverine Sagnet.