Never go back. As me and the wife presented ourselves at the Château de Bouesse last Saturday evening those words were running through my mind with a steadily increasing insistence. My last visit had been so perfect in every way that I knew there was no prospect of the second having the slightest chance of equalling it. That might have been bearable if I’d been on my own, but having bigged the place up so much to my wife I knew that anything short of a stunning meal and a wonderfully romantic, and fully mediaeval, room would be a disaster. Just as when, after weeks of practice (I was never good at anything requiring even a modicum of coordination) I announced, “Mummy, I can ride my bike!” micro-seconds before coming an arm-flailing and knee-scraping cropper at the foot of the apple tree, things have a habit of coming right off the rails when you decide to show something to someone else. Especially if it’s a someone else you’re trying to impress.
But I dismissed the demons with a curt reminder to myself that there was no reason to suppose that childhood biking mishaps would reappear as adult château embarrassments, and that what was required was a positive attitude and none of this defeatist nonsense. And so by the time I approached the check-in desk equanimity had returned and confidence was on the up. That lasted fully as long as had my maiden bicycle ride, and with a similarly crushing finale. For whilst sir had most certainly reserved a chambre classique, it was soon apparent that sir had failed to reserve a table for dinner. With the kind of matter-of-fact hauteur that only the poshest of French hotel maîtres-d can deliver, Madame was désolée to report that the restaurant was complet ce soir and that was that. No, they could not squeeze us in, and no, it was not their problem. If we cared to hang around until 8pm, perhaps an existing guest might cancel. But then they might not. In the meantime, perhaps sir would like to inspect the room.
At that moment there was frankly very little that sir wanted to do that did not involve a nervous breakdown or a large hole opening up in the floor. We wandered upstairs, I in despair and disbelief, my wife in supportive defiance and what seemed to me to be a touching faith in the indecision of the average French diner. When we got to the room, as if to rub salt in my wounds, it was every bit as wonderful, romantic, and mediaeval as one could have wished. But its charms were ashes in my mouth. Disconsolately I began to unpack a few bits and pieces, but my heart was not in it. I went downstairs to receive the inevitable news that every diner was present and correct.
But unbeknown to me, Madame had had a personality transplant in the 15 minutes I’d been away. The frosty hauteur was banished, to be replaced by something almost jolly. She had spoken to the chef de cuisine. The chef de cuisine had declared his enthusiasm for cooking for us so long as we didn’t mind waiting until perhaps half past nine. Furthermore, Madame assured me with a conspiratorial sweeping gesture, she was even at that moment poised to usher two hapless existing diners out with unseemly haste if they did not vacate their table after the two generous hours they would have enjoyed by 9.30. We were to have our meal after all.
And damned fine it was too. My starter was a positively orgasmic trio of foie gras prepared with first a merely tepid and entirely liquid egg, and served in its shell, along with a seemingly disgusting, but in fact utterly delicious, foie gras crème brûlée complete with sugar crust, and finally a thick slab of the unadulterated liver. My wife enjoyed the perfection of the langoustines that I’d had at my original visit. I won’t detain you with the details of everything we gorged ourselves on, since that would be cruel. Just two small criticisms. The rack of lamb, although perfectly cooked, was encased in what looked like startlingly green marzipan and which included cheese for no apparent reason, and to no benefit of the dish. And last visit’s wonderful and generous cheeseboard had been ditched in favour of three desultory slices of mountain cheeses already lying on a pre-prepared and sad-looking plate. Doubtless this is a cost-cutting move, and one which seems increasingly common in otherwise blameless restaurants. It’s an economy which good restaurants should resist since it damages the diner’s pleasure much more than it saves the hotel money.
But all-in-all, after that morale-sapping beginning, my second visit to the Château de Bouesse was just about as good as it could have been, and I needed have had no fear about “never going back”. Plus I got to sleep in this superb room
and hang out of the top left of this tower’s windows like some princess waiting to be rescued.
It doesn’t come much better than this.