La Bastide de Moustiers ★ // Alpes-de-Haute-Provence // France

Alain Ducasse definitely knows what makes a great restaurant. Precision in technique, a blend of creativity and tradition, the best ingredients and superb front-of-house staff. Though a glitzy setting (like at the ***3 star Dorchester) is not always a key component. His *1 star Bastide de Moustiers, is set in an old limestone Shepard’s retreat. Its rustic charm (admittedly high-end rustic) blends in perfectly to the Moustiers-Sainte-Marie countryside, where the fields of Haute-Provence collide with the impressive cliffs that mark the beginning of the French Alps.

At La Bastide, Ducasse entertains his diners with a show of simplicity, though achieving this perfection across all of the required components is anything but simple.

To start your experience, firm, home-grown cucumber batons and two dips appear on the table to accompany your apéritif. First, a classic tapenade, made with finely chopped black olives and a hint of anchovy, is salty and deep against the fresh cucumber. Even better, is what can only be described as a guacamole, made with roasted aubergine flesh, which is slightly nutty with a hint of smoke. The ingredients of Provence are already making an impression in simple dips.

The showcase of Provencal produce continues with a tian of vegetables. Served chilled, are layers of beefsteak tomatoes, aubergines, roasted red onions, scattered capers and a magic tomato concassé dotted with grains of Parmesan. Strangely, the effect of the different textures gives you a feeling that there is meat in the dish, when there isn’t. The tian then sits in a gazpacho-style blitz of tomato and streaks of basil pistou. Certainly cooked the day before, this dish is simple but magnificent.

The simplicity continues with a meltingly-good rib of pork. So confident is Ducasse of his farm-sourced produce that the meat is cooked rosé, on the bone, over a charcoal fire. Even after the briefest time cooking, the fat renders down, while the flesh remains moist. Alongside the outstanding meat are yet more flavoursome vegetables. Courgette slices, sweet baby carrots, earthy turnip and celeriac, with crunchy French beans. A great mix of light vegetables beside the rich meat, which makes this a perfect summertime lunch.

Desserts also showcase summer produce. Strawberries are macerated and served on a delicate sablé biscuit with a dollop of blancmange-style cream. Cherries and raspberries decorate a Bordalou tart, with its almond frangipane filling. Sharp flavours against a sweet, rich background. What more could you ask for?

Throughout the meal, Ducasse shows how simplicity can create an excellent *1 star meal. The outstanding service and beautiful setting only make the whole experience more special. While La Bastide might be a bit far for a day trip, it is definitely a gastronomic destination that deserves a visit if you happen to be travelling down the scenic Verdon river.