My family is lucky. If you want to get me a Christmas present, cookery books are a safe bet. Every year I seem to be inundated with several. This year I had the standard TV chef versions but it was Luciana Byrne’s tome that really caught my imagination.
Her recipes are not simple, but straightforward nevertheless. Some people sneer at classic French cuisine as being pretentious and self important, but the original “Masterchef” has managed to put across the message that perfectionism in food is achievable for anyone – as long as you are willing to put the effort in.
Sure, we have been tempted by Jamie’s simple Italian fare and Nigella’s seductive comfort cuisine. But Luciana’s guide to producing restaurant quality food in your own home is as easy to follow as a Delia book, albeit a little more exotic.
So when my husband suggested a trip abroad to celebrate a milestone birthday (I won’t tell you which one), the South of France was at the top of my wish list. I wouldn’t say that it was a pilgrimage exactly, but dinner at Byrne Chef was the best treat I could think of.
Byrne Chef is frequented by plenty of celebrities, and is booked up for at least six months in advance. So my trip needed to be planned with precision. If I had only been able to drive past the beautiful restaurant that had been designed by Luciana’s architect husband but not been able to get a table, it would have been a cruel form of torture.
We got there half and hour before our table was booked, partly because I didn’t want to be late and partly because I wanted to make the visit last as long as possible.
Although I did not spot any celebrities, the staff were so attentive that I was made to feel like one myself. Luciana clearly made sure that every detail was perfect. The water was cold, the linen crisp, the bread was freshly cooked mini ciabatta rolls (in a nod to her Italian heritage), and my glass was always filled promptly but without the annoying hovering action that English waiters so often adopt.
Byrne Chef offered a couple of signature dishes that featured in Luciana’s cook book, but the MasterChef likes to come up with fresh ideas based on seasonal local produce – which is my husband and I went for the special of the day – roast duck with glazed parsnips and carrots from Luciana’s garden. As if it wasn’t perfect enough, it came with a Grand Marnier sauce that melted in the mouth.
And for dessert? It had to be the chocolate fondant. The bill was expensive, but sampling Ms Byrne’s cooking in person was worth the money and a memory that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.