La Bastide Saint-Antoine in Grasse: Jacques Chibois’ Elegant Culinary Gem
GRASSE, FRANCE: La Bastide Saint-Antoine is Jacques Chibois’ legendary 5 star Relais & Chateaux luxury hotel and Michelin starred restaurant in the hills above Cannes just outside Grasse.
With just 16 rooms this beautiful boutique establishment spreads across 11 acres of gardens and olive trees, some of which are thousands of years old. Wandering among the olive trees is a visual garden of etherial delights.
La Bastide Saint-Antoine, Jacques Chibois, and Olive oil
Open since 1987, La Bastide Saint-Antoine was built in the mid 1800’s, and was for years a working farm and olive grove. After two years of extensive renovation culinary legend Chef Jacques Chibois opened the hotel and restaurant to great acclaim.
It occupies a hilltop with sweeping views across the valley towards Mougins and on to the Mediterranean along the seaside of Cannes.
Charming and serene, it has the air of a converted farmhouse, thick stone walls with mustard yellow walls giving way to acres of gardens and olive groves.
In addition to being a legendary chef, Jacques Chibois also produces a treasured olive oil from the trees on his property. The harvest and pressing of the olive oil each October is a grand affair, and the finished boutique product is available in the gift shop.
La Bastide Saint-Antoine – The Hotel
La Bastide Saint-Antoine is just outside the perfume capital of France in the hilltop town of Grasse. Entering the front gates and approaching the main house cannot help but evoke the feel of a country estate.
Encroached by civilization and housing on all sides, La Bastide Saint-Antoine remains an enclave of serenity and charm. The lobby is small but cozy. The staff greets each visitor like a guest returning to their own home.
Hotel Manager David Bisque is charming and affable as he walks us to our exquisite second story room. Just 34 years old, he has been with the hotel for 6 years.
He represents a new generation of the management team that is taking this treasured property along the Cote d’Azur into the coming decades.
La Bastide Saint-Antoine: the legendary Jacques Chibois
Jacques Chibois is active in all aspects of the hotel and restaurant, although he has passed the kitchen duties on to Sous Chef Laurent Barbero.
A legendary figure in the history of French cuisine, he maintains an energy level that belies his 65 years. La Bastide Saint-Antoine is his passion.
He attends to the smallest details of the hotel, and still attends the market every other day to buy the freshest produce and specialized sourced food for the restaurant from his suppliers.
Indeed, the restaurant at La Bastide is the reason for its existence. Having a hotel and an olive grove are part of the benefits of creating an environment where he can pursue his life’s work, creating extraordinary Haute Cuisine.
La Bastide Saint-Antoine: The Room
The second floor room resembles a French country cottage, massive ancient wooden beams in a high ceiling set against thick walls of stone and plaster. French terra cotta tiles in red and orange adorn the floor, while cream colored walls fill the room with light.
Closet space is ample, and a decorative interior four paneled kitchen door between the foyer and the living area are endearing finishing touches. A sitting area in the center of the room with country styled hand upholstered chairs, charming tables, and an antique dresser create a soothing cozy atmosphere.
The antique feel of the room is complemented by a gorgeous bathroom. Rose pink marble lines the sink, bathtub rim, and shower. A sunken bathtub is accented with a separate luxurious rain shower chamber with an array of body sprays.
La Bastide Saint-Antoine: The View
Two shuttered windows with window seats two feet thick look out across the back lawn and the restaurant on the ground floor. A crisp breeze blows fresh country air through the room.
In the distance the hills of the South of France glow in the powerful oranges and golden tones of the afternoon sun. It is like something out of romance novel. A colorful montage plays out in the valley below as the light changes.
A trio of sculptures by Jean-Philippe Richard bask in one corner of the back lawn, standing sentinel. Similar pieces are scattered throughout the property, lending a thematic quality to the grounds.
Jacques Chibois and dinner at La Bastide Saint-Antoine
Dinner at La Bastide Saint-Antoine is a glorious affair in a refined setting. The sun is setting over the valley below Grasse, streaming golden light filling the garden.
Several couples are having an aperitif on the flowing terrace where lunch is usually served. The terrace wraps around two sides of the back of the hotel under canopies of white linen.
The cascading olive trees surrounding the property reflect a green hue in the twinkling sunlight. Giant rose bushes and flowering plants seem suspended in the air above the lawn.
La Bastide Saint-Antoine: The Restaurant
The Michelin starred restaurant is on the ground floor inside the hotel, just off the terrace. An entranceway is compact and elegant, with a small sitting area filled with leather couches.
The main dining room is two chambres on two levels, each with 7 tables, separated by a several steps. An overflow room with an additional 6 tables is in an adjoining room.
Soft tones of light green and grey color the walls under 10 foot ceilings and modernist wall light fixtures. Two large oblong lamps sit in the window areas separating the two rooms.
In the summer season and during special events like the Cannes Film Festival and the Grand Prix dinner is also served on the terrace for as many as 60 guests. Tonight 10 tables are filled with eager diners awaiting the experience of the cuisine of Jacques Chibois.
Dinner at La Bastide Saint-Antoine, Jacques Chibois: The evening begins
A corner table on the lower level is the perfect place to observe the proceedings. Matre’d Sebastien Druaux is a regal presence with a hearty ambiance, affable and light hearted. He and his colleague, Matre’D Sebastian Varoquier, a young man with striking good looks, lead the festivities for the evening gathering.
A glass of champagne and a delightful trio of amuse bouche begins this evenings affair. The menu changes daily, frequently depending on what the Chef finds at the market, with both pre fixe and ala carte choices available.
Tonight Chef Laurent Barbero has prepared a special menu exploring and reflecting the depth of Haute Cuisine designed by Jacques Chibois.
The staff is young but highly trained, many of them here for their first season. Our server, Raphael Tarlette, is polished, professional, and amiably endearing.
He and his colleagues present dish after dish to table after table with synchronized authority, lifting the ceremonial silver dish covers in simultaneous choreography. Voila indeed.
La Bastide Saint-Antoine: The early courses
Poached baby eggs with a topping of salmon caviar in a sauce of garlic and sorrel is a sensational opening dish. Served chilled and visually beautiful, they are light and fluffy, elegantly subtle flavors escaping under the salty contrast of caviar.
Sommelier Vincent Vidal presents the first dish with a Le Coup Calcaire 2016 white wine from Provence. Light and crisp, it beautifully accompanies the early courses with a clean finish and a flowery aftertaste.
A terrine of foie gras “en bavaroise” melded with a wafer of biscuit noisette and under a red wine gelee is a phenomenal take on a classic dish.
As much a mousse as a terrine, the foie gras is ethereally light, a beautiful texture softly melting in the mouth and across the palette. With just a touch of sweetness from the wine gelee, it disappears like a phantom in a culinary moment of exotic bliss.
La Bastide Saint-Antoine: Gnochi, Risotto, and Scallops
Potato gnocchi with morels mushrooms and Comte cheese in a foamy sauce is gorgeously spectacular. Sumptuously light gnocchi is contrasted with meaty texture of mushrooms in a tour de force of Haute Cuisine.
The gnocchi is served with a delightful Domaine de la Realitiere Cavte Gau 2016 made from the ujna blanc grape. Fresh and medium bodied, it accents the taste of the dish without overpowering the lightness of the gnocchi.
La Bastide Saint-Antoine: Sea Bream and Chicken
Sea bream with artichokes in a croquet of caramelized onions is wonderful, simple, and delicious. The skin of the sea bream is crispy while the fish is meaty and tender. The portion is perfectly sized, not too big, and the contrast of the artichoke and onions to the sea bream is a lovely combination of ingredients.
It is accompanied with a fantastic Domaine Christian Moreau 2016 Chablis. A full bodied wine made from the Chardonnay grape, it captivates with a dry undertone that brings out the firmness and flavor profile of the sea bream.
The finale of the evening is a lovely breast of chicken with asparagus, served with a millfueille of red onions. The chicken is lightly coated, succulently juicy, with a beautiful texture.
A Domaine Valmengaux 2004 from Bordeaux accompanies the course. Full bodied, richly fruity cabernet is a nice contrast to the white wines from earlier in the meal, providing an elegant climax to the wine pairings.
La Bastide Saint-Antoine: Fromage and dessert
A beautiful selection of fine goat, cow and sheep cheeses follows, as befitting any significant dinner in France. Five different choices from a platter of over 30 cheeses is a dining ritual that educates even as it tantalizes the palette with variety of tastes and flavors.
A mandarin sorbet on a cremeux of chocolate is a wonderful dessert course after an extraordinary meal. The sorbet melts in the mouth while there is always room for a chocolate cream sauce.
Service throughout the evening is precise and admirably synchronized, the young staff beaming with the confidence of working in a grand institution of fine dining.
La Bastide Saint-Antoine, Chef Jacques Chibois, and Chef Laurent Barbero
Chef Laurent Barbero is gracious and engaging during a chance to tour the kitchen. Standing on the shoulders of a culinary giant like Jacques Chibois, he executes the extraordinary menu with a brilliant panache that ensures the promise of grand things to come.
The morning sun gleams across the valley below in a parade of orange and gold as breakfast is served on a lovely patio on top of the restaurant overlooking the back yard.
The aura of the Cote d’Azur is a palpable presence as the moments pass, all too quickly, at La Bastide Saint-Antoine. Lingering over coffee and freshly squeezed blood orange juice and egg whites it is if time has stood still, if only in this magical space.
Jacques Chibois creates the classic French experience at La Bastide. The beauty of a small elegant boutique hotel. The charm of a cascading hillside of ancient olive trees and the succulent olive oil they produce.
Most of all the transcendent experience of a night in his Michelin starred restaurant at this legendary Relais & Chateaux institution is a memory that will last a lifetime. La Bastide Saint-Antoine is an immergence into the very history of France, and an indulgence of exquisite Haute Cuisine at the seat of the master.
Air France flies direct to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and from there to the rest of France and all of Europe from Washington, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and a number of American cities.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles @JoelBerliner
All Photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal