80 Chemin des Anglais, 11000, Carcassonne, France
Tel: +33 468 71 8080
Ninety minutes drive north from the Spanish border through the Pyrenees is the awe-inspiring fortified city of Carcassonne. An ancient fortified city with a storied past, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is also known as the largest intact castle in Europe. Throughout its history, it has been occupied by the Celts, the Romans, the Visigoths among others, and has been the centre of the Cathar legends in the Aude region. Its seemingly impregnable walls has made it a highly strategic city in the heart of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, as its capital and the defensive lynchpin at the border with Spain. The restorations which were started by the famous architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century thoroughly rebuilt the city walls and towers (which had fallen into disrepair), and according to some critics, brought a very gothic look to the castle (which was fashionable at that time), with its pointy towers. Apparently, the Carcassonne castle was the inspiration behind the original Disney castle. And in fact, many similarities can be found between the two (and not just from the crowd of tourists which inhabit both). Carcassonne is now one of the most visited landmarks in France.
A stone's throw from the city walls of the old Carcassonne Castle is the compound of Le Parc Franck Putelat, a french restaurant which was only this year awarded its second Michelin star. It also has several guest rooms at the back, and we stayed in one for two nights when we were here. The rooms were very new and comfortable, and it was a sensible decision on our part to base ourselves here as it was literally walking distance to the old city yet far from the noisy and dense crowds.
We had booked ourselves a table for lunch on the day we arrived. Interestingly, due to the lovely mid-summer weather outside, they got us a table outside in the garden, where every other guest was seated as well. Despite the outside temperature hitting 30 degrees Celsius, under the shade it was cool and breezy. Sitting out in the open with the fresh air and quiet of the French countryside was truly therapeutic, and we were feeling very relaxed after our long drive from Barcelona.
They had a very good value set lunch, but being hungry as we were, we went for the tasting menu instead. First up came a selection of amuse bouche, which included foie gras macarons, turnips, sundried tomatoes, dark and white chocolate grissinis, and a gazpacho.
The Japanese-inspired small bowl of edamame with sesame cream and bonito flakes was very addictive.
Piemontaise - Frogs legs, potatoes, yuzu: Despite this sounding like something from Northern Italy, this was a classic french salad dish made of peas, carrots and potatoes. This was a more luxurious version with frogs legs and black truffles, with a touch of tanginess from the Japanese citrus.
Meuniere - Arctic char, vanilla butter, red wine of Corbieres: This was a perfectly cooked fillet of fish with a rich red wine sauce and pan-fried in butter.
Pan Con Tomate - Red mullet, tomatoes, Bellota ham: Despite the name of this dish referring to tomato bread (the type we have been used to eating in Spain), this was two fillets of red mullet (which were grilled to look like tomato bread) accompanied by a side of sautéed potatoes, onions, ham and carrots. This was excellent.
Chaud-Froid - Rack of veal, scampies, eggplants: French cuisine is ultimately defined by the sauces and this dish provided us with a reminder of all that is good in French food. The sauce was so brilliant that they could have served us anything else with the sauce and it still would have tasted good.
Cheeses - Fresh and matured from Aude area and from elsewhere: Another thing which others try to follow but cannot fully replicate is the excellence of French cheeses. All our usual favourites were here and it was a challenge to pick the ones to eat amongst such a wide variety.
Linzer Torte - Raspberries, hazelnut, cinnamon: This was a very light and refreshing summer dessert.
Ile Flottante - Nyangbo chocolate, salty toffees, freeze coriander: We loved this dessert. It was gorgeous and innovative. The coriander ice cream was clever and the chocolate sauce brought together all the flavours on the plate.
We finished our excellent lunch with a leisurely coffee, enjoying the relaxed ambience and perfect outdoor temperature of the patio.
The next day, we were back here for dinner. We had intended to pop down for a short while to have a very quick and light dinner (after having quite a heavy lunch at Le Vieux Puits), but couldn't resist the breads and butter presented to us. We decided to skip the appetisers and go straight for the main courses (from the a la carte menu).
Sweetbread - artichokes: This was a special of the day and off the menu. It was a perfectly deep-fried sweetbread with an excellent sauce. No one does sweetbreads like the French.
Beef filet served Bocuse Gold January 29, 2003: On the menu was the highly recommended steak. This was the version which won chef Franck Putelat the gold medal at the 2003 Bocuse D'Or Contest, where he also won the silver overall award. The sauce blew us away. It was a stunning dish.
Vacherin revisited in strawberries and seaweeds, vinegar of Savagnin ice cream: The a la carte desserts here were also very impressive. Prepared by Remi Touja, France's 2013 dessert champion (according to the description in the menu), they were more elaborate than the usual desserts. The strawberry dessert was unexpectedly complex, and was a mix of textures and an appropriate balance between sweet and tart.
Satin pineapple, lime, juniper berries sherbet: The pineapple dessert was no less enjoyable. Again the combination of the well-matched sweet and sour flavours produced a refreshing yet substantial dish.
Another wonderful meal ended with some petit four enjoyed with the remnants of our wines and some tea in the cool night air of French countryside.
Final Thoughts: Le Parc is a beautiful establishment in the idyllic French countryside. Moreover, its location (walking distance to the Carcassonne castle) makes it ideal as a base to explore the region of Languedoc. We had a most memorable two nights stay there. The accommodation was luxurious, the service superb and the cuisine superlative. Throughout our meals there, we were also very surprised by the quality of the local wines which were recommended for our meals by the sommelier. Our meals there really reminded us of the impossibly high standards set and maintained by the top French restaurants in France.