Arnaud Donckele (to the right) with sous chef Augustin de Margerie. Restaurant La Vague d'Or, 3 Michelin stars and 19/20 Gault Millau, is inside hotel Cheval Blanc in Saint-Tropez (photo instagram.com/arnauddonckele)
I first visited this restaurant almost 8 years ago, and it was already an excellence, but three years ago it made a leap in terms of quality. So much so that it's now among the best in France and beyond.
Given the age (44), Arnaud Donckele is on the road to become the point of reference of French cuisine in the long run. He's a cook capable of matching the classic style that tends to be timeless of Bernard Pacaud [L'Ambroisie in Paris] with the open-mindedness and the ideal tension of Pierre Gagnaire. As well as with the deep knowledge of edible raw materials of Alain Passard (L'Arpège), and the direct, and very close relationship with producers.
The signature of the great cook, however, lies in his capacity of creating dishes that are never improvised, but are the result of a long research on the effects to be produced, dishes in which complexity is enhanced as a value. Dishes that are neat, well designed, in which there is no confusion. And as for his idea of a ‘dish’, or in general of a special recipe, which is also always evolving: C’est la concentration d’une douzaine d’éléments qui construit un goût et permet de le restituer ("It's the concentration of a dozen elements that creates the taste and allows us to recover it").
Not to mention the technical skills and originality of his sauces. Without naming dishes (seafood, meat, surf and turf, vegetables, cakes – the desserts are also excellent) what strikes are the rich and luminous flavours. «I'm a craftsman of complexity», says Arnaud Donckele. «I'm not interested in volumes, in warmed up dishes or bistronomy». At the heart of his restaurant there's the kitchen, not the entire setting (though the setting is super and the service with Thierry Di Tullio is of the highest standards), nor the experience. This is just music for those who believe food is art. Of this there's no doubt.
Bread with Mediterranean scampi and fennel flowers
Pikeperch, cabbage, bergamot
Roasted turbot with hazelnuts and yuzu from Provence
Arnaud Donckele and Thierry Di Tullio
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Ligurian, an art and food lover, while waiting to eat, he writes about what he’s already eaten: food worth writing, worth eating