LE CANNET, FRANCE: La Villa Archange is Two Star Michelin Chef Bruno Oger’s culinary temple to the art of Haute Cuisine in the hills above Cannes. The culmination of a lifetime of work, he creates an exhilarating experience with an array of sensational cuisine. It is a revelation that must be tasted to be believed.
With only 9 tables in the fine dining Relais & Chateaux restaurant, Chef Oger provides a glimpse into the most exquisite of preparations from one of France’s greatest Chefs.
Bruno Oger and La Villa Archange: In the hills of Le Cannet
La Villa Archange is a compound on the edge of Le Cannet, a beautiful suburb in the hills above Cannes. Le Cannet is also the home of the Pierre Bonnard art museum.
It was an old stone farmhouse until Chef Oger renovated the main buildings as the fine dining restaurant. He built an adjacent bistro, Bruno Oger, for more casual food.
Just months after opening La Villa Archange, Chef Oger was awarded two Michelin stars for his new venture. He has retained them here for the last 8 years.
Chef Bruno Oger: Two Michelin Stars for 23 years.
This should come as no surprise. For the 15 years previous to that he was awarded two Michelin stars as the head chef at the Majestic Hotel in Cannes.
The Majestic is the center of the action during the Cannes film festival. From 1994 to 2009 Bruno Oger was the master of this wildly admired domain.
His stature has only grown since then. At a youthful age of 53 it is notable that he has held two Michelin stars for 23 years in a row, since he was 30.
La Villa Archange: a new beginning
At La Villa Archange, however, he is free from the restraints and demands of a head Chef at a major hotel. Here, he says, “I can do what I want”.
That involves bringing to life a wonderfully exciting menu that emphasizes the kind of cuisine that he likes to create. Food that is simple, emphasizing the core taste of the main ingredient, with finesse that is unmatched in the south of France.
The farm house is now two wings of the building connected by an entranceway. In one building is the gleaming expansive kitchen, which serves both the fine dining restaurant and the bistro.
Bruno Oger and La Villa Archange: a converted stone farmhouse
In the restored farmhouse are two dining rooms, a long chamber with six banquets and a window filled parlor with three tables. Immaculate cream colored walls are hung with an array of beautiful art.
It is like having dinner at a good friend’s house, in a refined atmosphere of sublime quietude. The Zen like character of the atmosphere is inescapable. If there ever was a temple to the culinary arts we have found it here.
At the entrance to the restaurant is a garden area where meals are served in the summer. Lanterns hang from the trees, illuminating the sides of the stone walls of the farmhouse on a crisp spring evening.
Chef Bruno Oger: a humble, passionate man with a vision
Chef Oger is affable and humble as he greets guests at the entrance before service. A charming man with a raspy voice, he exudes the passion of a lifetime in the kitchen in pursuit of culinary perfection.
Asked if he would like to reach a third Michelin star, he laughs softly. “What do you think”, he replies. It is the holy grail, of course, but in many ways he has already achieved mythic status.
Here is a master Chef who is in the kitchen every day, creating wonders of cuisine. A third star may indeed be in his future, but tonight he produces a stirring and unique culinary experience, as he has done for these last 8 years.
La Villa Archange: the team
It is a canvas of his own design with which to explore the true art of Haute Cuisine, unencumbered by anything but his own passion.
Of course, it requires a team, and Chef Oger has assembled a collection of colleagues who are as passionate about the restaurant as he is.
The Sommellier, Axel Dervieux, has been at La Villa Archange for the last two years. Just 39 years old, he takes us on an excursion through the greatest regions of France, pairing wines with each course.
His choices are precise, daring, innovative. They give the diner a greater perspective and appreciation for the complexities of wine and food.
He helps push them to explore regions and wines that may be outside of their comfort zone or previous knowledge. This is what a great Sommelier does.
La Villa Archange: The evening begins
The Matre’d tonight, Claire Simonet, may be only 28 years old but has been working with Bruno Oger for the last 6 years. The principle Matre’d Eric Descazaux is off tonight, but he has left us in more than capable hands.
As the evening progresses Claire leads each dinner party through a progression of courses steeped in the joys of the culinary arts.
The adventure begins with an apertif of Leclerc Briant pink champagne. A blend of 95% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Noir. It is crisply beautiful, dry with a fruit forward taste, a fantastic balance, and a creamy texture.
La Villa Archange: Bruno Oger and the Oysters from heaven
Gillardeau #2 oysters wrapped in cucumber, set on a mint jellee, and topped with Petrossian caviar, is singularly phenomenal. A completely unique take on oysters, they are otherworldly, exploding with complex flavor in the mouth.
Beautifully chilled, and a visual delight, they exemplify what Chef Oger describes as a simple approach. Keep the components limited. Bring out the flavor of the main ingredient.
An amazing taste treat, oyster lovers like myself will uniformly declare that they have never had anything like this. A tour de force, a beautiful opening course, and a good sign for the rest of the evening.
The oysters are paired with a Predilection Pouilly-Fume Sauvignon Blanc 2015 from the Loire Valley. Sommelier Dervieux has picked a wine that is light and refreshing. It enhances the opening dish with subtle flavor, while not overpowering the freshness of the oysters.
La Villa Archange: Bruno Oger and his Abalone wonderland
Pan fried abalones from Groix Island off of Brittany with artichokes redefines the meaning of exhillerating cuisine. Abalone is rare to find on menus.
When it is served it is usually in quantities that resemble minute snowflakes of white truffle. Especially in the United States.
Here are three meaty, tender portions of thickly cut baby abalone paired with small slices of artichoke heart in a light creamy foam. The taste is otherworldly.
It is a transcendent moment. Tasting real abalone in sufficient quantity, for the first time. It is a revelation to finally get a feel of what abalone actually tastes like.
It is like having fresh sea urchin for the first time. A world of wonder opens before the eyes. Transformed by the experience, new vistas emerge.
The abalone is paired with a Le Roc des Anges 2016, a Catalan white wine from the Pyranees. Bright, dry, and fully refreshing, it adds to the experience of the abalone without getting in the way of the epic moment.
Bruno Oger: a legacy of Brittany in the hills above Canne
Its interesting that like Christian Le Squer, the notable three star Michelin Chef from Le Cinq in Paris, Chef Oger is from Brittany. It shows in his food choices. In the emphasis on the variety of seafood. In the search for the briny nature of flavor profiles. In the use of Normandy butter for the bread.
He brings the cuisine and flavors of the North to the South of France, and humbly invites the diner to come to his farmhouse and let him cook for you. It is a recipe for an enthralling adventure.
To emphasize the point, a beautiful simple languistine is served in the shell with a fennel Riviera mariniere and a side of languistine boulion. The boullion broth is for sipping before and after each morsel, not for pouring on the dish.
La Villa Archange: Bruno Oger and the perfect Langoustine
Here again, the taste of the languistine, perfectly cooked, is paramount. Nothing overpowers, but merely complements.
Having been served lagouistine hundreds of times, in untold numbers of fine restaurants, it is said with confidence that this is the best this writer has ever had.
The portion is perfect, tenderly beautiful, full of rich flavor. With the trifecta succession of oyster, abalone, and langoustine, it is as if we are on a seacoast resort along the Normandy coast of Brittany and not the south of France.
The languistine is paired with a Domaine Merlin Francois Condrieu Terroirs 2015 from the Rhone Valley. It is a full bodied white wine made from the Viognier grape.
Distinctly different from the previous two white wines, it adds to the taste of the langoustine without competing with the flavor profiles. Moreover, it allows another delightful insight into yet another wine region of France.
La Villa Archange: Sea Bass ala Bruno Oger
Sea bass served on risotto with a lemon and lemongrass sauce is absolutely heavenly. The sea bass is a fever dream of softly gentle tastes and tender fish. Firm morsels melting into the palette like a symbiotic transfusion of cuisine.
Again, sea bass is a frequent staple of fine dining restaurants in France, but Chef Oger transcends the ordinary to emphasize the exceptional. Like the langoustine, it is a triumph of letting the food speak for itself.
Perfection on a plate. Sumptuously delicious.
La Villa Archange: The wine pairings
The wine pairings throughout the evening are impeccable. The wine is subservient to the dish being served. Distinctly delicious in its own right, it properly serves to enhance the dish without overemphasizing the wine.
The sea bass is served with an astounding Guy Amiot et Fils 2014 Chassagne Montrachet 1st Cru 2014. made from the Chardonnay grape.
This area in the Cote d’Beaune is known for its vigorous white wine with a hint of mineral nature and a bountiful full-bodied flavor. The wine is as enthralling as the sea bass. A beautiful accompaniment, and a sensational combination.
La Villa Archange: Sweetbreads and Bruno Oger
The meal reaches a climax with an incredible Ris de Veau of calf sweetbreads and roasted asparagus in a light veal sauce. The sweetbreads are perfect.
Lightly coated with seasoning three separate times. Grilled momentarily between each seasoning. They are thin, crisp and an absolute wonder.
Sweetbreads are notoriously difficult to cook correctly, but tonight they are, again, tenderly beautiful. Subtly subversive. Crisply revelatory. The finest preparation of sweetbreads this writer has ever had.
It is a transcendent experience, savoring each morsel of a such beautiful preparation. The asparagus providing a separate crunchiness in contrast to the crispness of each bite of sweetbread.
La Villa Archange: a parade of Haute Cuisine and fine wine
After 4 courses of seafood and matching white wines, the sweetbreads are paired with a phenomenal Chateau d’ Amailhac 2007 Grand Cru Paulliac from near the Mouton Rothschild estate.
The wine is richly explosive, a soft but powerful cabernet blend with touches of merlot, a beautiful full bodied taste, poured from an open magnum.
This is the meaning of Haute Cuisine. A succession of grand preparations. Paired perfectly with a range of wines. Building to a peak experience like the climax of a classic novel.
The final bites are savored with claret as the wine is an inseparable ingredient to the experience of the sweetbread. It is the eternal pas de deux of exquisitely creative cuisine and exceptionally fine wine.
La Villa Archange: Dessert and Basque apple wine
Dessert is a kouign amann served with a caramel ice cream. Essentially a form of warm apple tart, it is far more complex in design. A firm red cake underlying crisp thin baked apple, it is a celebration of subtle flavor, rich texture and unique presentation.
It is paired, surprisingly, but appropriately, with a Makofin MK 2016 Petit Basque apple wine from the Basque region of France, south of Bordeaux.
The combination is an ecstatic crosspollination of dessert and the unique corners of French culture. Like the meal itself, the wine pairings have been a virtual and actual journey across France.
La Villa Archange: A journey through France with Bruno Oger
From the Loire Valley, to the Rhone, to the Catalan mountains, to the vineyards of Burgundy, the Grand Crus of Bordeaux, and the apple wine of the Basque region.
Three hours later the meal comes to an end. Chef Oger joins the table for coffee and expresso, and graciously discusses his history and approach to cuisine.
Later in May he will prepare the opening banquet for the Cannes film festival for 600 people. The next day he will be back in his kitchen here at La Villa Archange Living his passion. Creating cuisine the way he likes.
Two star Michelin Chef Bruno Oger: A genuine culinary artist
With no one to answer for but his own passionate conscience, he is the very definition of a culinary artist. Devoted to his creative endeavor he has achieved something beyond any accolade or acclaim, or Relais & Chateaux status. Beyond even the exemplary badge of two Michelin stars.
He has given himself the gift of free expression. He does what he wants to. He answers only to the muse inside his head, and the freshest of food ingredients.
At La Villa Archange he takes the diner on a journey that can be found nowhere else in France. That he knows this is fundamentally true is worthy enough.
It is anyone’s good fortune to have this singular moment to share with him. This is a journey through the artistry of Haute Cuisine worth seeking out. Worth making the pilgrimage to Le Cannet, in the hills above Canne.
He will be there, at the old stone farmhouse. Like an old friend. Waiting to cook dinner and share his culinary passion with the world.
Relais & Chateaux www.relaischateaux.com @RelaisChateaux
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Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal