It was probably the best roast Sunday roast I’ve eaten - complete with Yorkshire puddings, delicious roast potatoes and homemade horseradish sauce. But who would have guessed that I’d find it in the depths of the French countryside?
On Sunday morning, I drove with friends through narrow cross country roads to The Mad Hatter’s Kitchen - a farm restaurant near Vanzay, owned by a charming young British couple, who several times a week (or by prior arrangement) open up the dining room in their home to the public; as well as serving cream teas (also by prior booking).
My friends, Anita and Kevin, discovered The Mad Hatter’s Kitchen by accident when buying a free range turkey at the farm shop last Christmas and were very impressed by the Sunday lunch, which consists of three enormous courses, including wine and coffee - all for an incredible €18. I was warned not to eat breakfast.
Pulling up in the gravel driveway, we are all instantly charmed by the big, ramshackle house with chickens of all colours and denominations wandering around the outbuildings. Inside, the decor was just delightful and straight out of French country interiors book, with cool flagstone floors, a big wooden staircase, antique mirrors, hangings and vases of fresh garden flowers thrown together in a seemingly effortless way (the owners previously had an antiques business.)
The dining room, decorated in a style best described as rustic French boho, had three tables, including a huge wooden refectory table for our group of six. (I so love simple wooden tables - so much more friendly and relaxed than what I call ‘white table cloth’ restaurants where you're scared of knocking over the crystal and everyone speaks in hushed tones.)
This was the sort of place where you feel instantly at home. The choice of starters included an excellent homemade aubergine and goats cheese tart; while the main course, which featured a delicious array of vegetables from the garden, was too enormous for me to finish (despite only having a pear for breakfast.)
Afterwards, I wanted all of the puddings on offer, which included the full rosta of British faves: lemon meringue pie, sticky toffee pudding and a cheesecake with fresh strawberries from the garden. It was a tough call, but I would say, that having sampled all of them, the sticky toffee pudding, with a hint of ginger and served with lashings of fresh cream, was the winner. I've been dreaming of it ever since.
Part of the charm of The Mad Hatter’s Kitchen is that it feels like a secret destination - the sort of place you only find out about through word-of-mouth. The owners don't advertise and there isn't even have a website yet. But that - and the fact that they only open up on an ad hoc basis (they need a minimum of six people dining to make it worth the effort) - make it seem very special. And because of the quirky ambiance and decor, it is perfect for special occasions. (I'm already looking for reasons to go back).
The owners will also cook to a theme - Indian food, for example - and for large parties. ( The previous evening they had cooked a four course meal for the local French mayor - an endorsement in itself - and forty of his friends).
It might not have any Michelin stars but The Mad Hatter’s Kitchen is on a par with my favourite (award winning) gastro pub in London -my benchmark for English cuisine. And so, loathe though I am to give this secret away, here are the details - and don't forget to phone first:
The Mad Hatter’s Kitchen, Le Logis, Le Breuillac, 79190, Caunay. Tel 05 49 27 67 29.