The town of Tain l’Hermitage, arguably the oenological epicentre of the Northern Rhone valley, was our choice of destination for our first wedding anniversary lunch, with the restaurant selection – Le Mangevins – having caught our eye from the pages of the magazine Revue de Vins de France. Truth be told, the venue makes an excellent location not just for special occasion meals like this one, but also proves a regular haunt for locals’ weekday lunches. It’s not hard to see why: you get luxury and authenticity combined with affordability (there are no lunchtime deals, but two courses cost around €25). And the town itself is also quite a catch – you could easily spend a whole day here, not because it’s a raving metropolis (it isn’t) but more due to its wealth of wine-tasting activities at producers such as Chapoutier, shops selling foie gras, and proximity to the Valrhona chocolate factory.

Le Mangevins itself is not set in the most scenic of territories thanks to its roadside location, which also makes parking a bit of a gamble. However, once inside there is no danger of being bothered in the least by this. The fact that the restaurant has a mere 22 covers makes for an intimate and sociable feel without the impression of others invading your personal space, and while the red and black colour scheme is a bit populist, this is compensated for by the wine barrels and wooden cladding, which add individuality and rusticity to the decoration. Barstools, padded benches and cushioned chairs make for modern yet sumptuous seating that many Parisian restaurants could learn a lot from.

Equal emphasis is placed on food and wine at Le Mangevins. A pared-down menu with just a few choices implies that quality, not quantity, is concentrated on, and there is a range of carefully-selected affordable local wines available by the bottle and by the glass. We initially chose a 2008 Cornas from Courbis. Its vintage makes for a lighter wine, but it was nonetheless smoky, authentic and rich – making a perfect match for the complimentary charcuterie and crusty bread that preceded our main course.

Service was surprisingly friendly and attentive for France and the food also not only met but exceeded our expectations. The slow-roasted lamb proved tender and flavourful, and was accompanied by plenty of vegetables and potatoes (more in fact than we could eat). Following this was the cheese, a platter of high-quality selections from the Auvergne (we were surprised that they weren’t local, but they tasted fabulous nonetheless) – a St-Nectaire, a Reblochon-like cheese with a charcoaly and Cheddar-like flavour, and a blue cheese that came with chutney. With this, we drank a Crozes-Hermitage white from Vincent Jaboulet, which was herbal and not in the least overpowering.

Where the restaurant didn’t go local with the cheese, they did with the dessert – a Valrhona chocolate fondant ticked all the right boxes and would go the distance in any setting, whether you’re there for romance or to party. Finally, Nespresso coffee was served accompanied by Valrhona chocolate (total bill for the two of us: €78), and by this time the social yet civilised atmosphere was winding down into near-total silence as customers began to leave their long and relaxing lunches (it’s good to see that the 2-hour weekday lunch still survives in some areas of France). Everyone seemed satisfied; Le Mangevins’ passionate and knowledgeable approach to its food, wine and ingredients is clear for all to see, and it was a perfect way to celebrate our first wedding anniversary before heading to the Valrhona factory around the corner for the obligatory chocolate-based stupor.

6 Avenue Docteur Paul Durand, 26600 Tain l’Hermitage

00 33 4 75 07 73 85