It’s tricky, frankly, to imagine any restaurant, let alone a Michelin-starred one, as being located next to a busy dual carriageway and with only a modest public car park for extra company. But that is where La Cachette is, bordering one of the few free car parks in France on one side and the busy road leading to such gastronomic epicentres as Tain l’Hermitage and Montélimar on the other.
Thankfully, they have very good windows, with the restaurant inside being a haven of serenity and general noiselessness (apart from, of course, the usual ‘good restaurant’ sounds of civilised conversation, clinking glasses, and the footsteps of discreet serving staff). The effective air-conditioning system would also normally be appreciated on a Friday in June, were it not for the fact that the day we went was in the midst of one of the coldest, wettest, crappiest Junes on record (although saying that, it did brighten up after lunch).
From the moment you sit down, even though the surroundings are quite conventional, you are made aware that the Japanese chef, Masashi Ijichi, will be doing things a little differently, thanks to the round, sun-like sweet biscuit served as an aperitif on a stick coming out of a small glass, complete with cocktail umbrellas. This was also served with more traditional crudités and amuse-bouches (caramelised cherry tomatoes, radishes, raw red cabbage leaves and carrots with anchovy cream, and Parma ham on toast), but the cracker/biscuit hybrid was easily the most intriguing for its sweet start and slightly salty finish on the tongue, leaving the diner not quite sure what this was supposed to be.
The set lunch menu then kicked off for real, beginning with a crab risotto, served with split peas and crab foam. This packed a powerful punch of flavour, bringing the saltiness and meatiness of the crab alive on the plate, contrasting with the quiet background of the al dente risotto and split peas.
This was neatly followed by a progression into veal steak, served with roasted Mediterranean vegetables (aubergines and round yellow courgettes), potato cakes, and a red wine reduction. This representation of France on a plate was a pleasure to eat thanks to the contrasting textures and flavours, and the quantities were right too, perhaps proving the age-old myth and stereotype that the French are prepared to eat little and well (although the glut of processed food seen at your average French supermarket checkout sadly quickly disproves it again). Well-seasoned and flavourful, diners are left excited by what is to come.
Thankfully, disappointment does not come to dine with you and share your dessert: the sweet course, for us, consisted of roasted apricots with pistachio cream, strawberries, coconut cream, small honey biscuits, and a quenelle of vanilla ice cream. If the main course was France on a plate, this had to be heaven.
All of this was accompanied by a white Crozes-Hermitage (keeping things local) from the extensive and slightly expensive wine list, and finished with coffee. The expensive wine list, however, was balanced by the overall price of the meal: €28 a person for all food (cheese was also available, but at a supplement), €8 per glass of wine, and €3 per cup of coffee. All very reasonable for a restaurant with one Michelin star.
Afterwards, you feel full (but not stuffed), relaxed, happy, rested, and as if new taste buds that you weren’t sure you had before have just woken up. An experience to be repeated over and over.
16 rue de Cévennes
26000 Valence, France
04 75 55 24 13