For a number of years this site has been suffering from a lack of recent reviews and consequently there is a lack of depth. For various reasons we eat out less when in the region these days and when we do we frequent our usual nearby haunts, hence the shrinking area of coverage.
Nevertheless, I am putting off winding it up completely as I still receive positive and informed feedback and support.
I first started making notes of dining experiences in early 1994 and regard myself as a pioneer blogger in early 1996 with a website that initially reviewed London restaurants.
Why? Since the early '80s we have dined at restaurants that seek to be more than just every day establishments - as Michelin would say places worthy of a detour, even a journey. Even the most memorable meals from those early years have been reduced to a few hazy recollections and a receipt. Fine dining is expensive and a branch of art that, like wine, has to be consumed to be appreciated. So for future reference and to help preserve memories I maintain this site. These days we dine mostly in the Languedoc with a focus on the central Hérault department.
These are personal reviews. A disadvantage is that you may have different tastes, likes and dislikes and, of course, coverage is limited. A big advantage is that I can give a more consistent perspective than a team of reviewers.
To help, I would summarise our three top restaurant priorities as the quality and interest of the dishes; enthusiasm and attitude of the staff; and the value for money, at whatever price level. Behind these comes physical ambience, service mechanics (within reason) and factors such as the space you rent. For wine we can be nearly as content with a carefully chosen selection of, say, 20 local wines to one that lists 100's - as long as they are local wines of character.
I deliberately keep factual information, such as details of opening times, to a minimum as keeping this stuff up to date is a nightmare. Prices are for two for a middleing menu, bottle of wine and coffee and obviously prices usually increase. Most establishments have sites with such details and I have provided links, otherwise consult a Guide Book. Either way, do always book ahead to avoid disappointment as most are seasonal and many have limited covers. If you have to cancel let the restaurant know. Most are small family concerns the loss of income from no shows is significant.
A word on photographing dishes. I tried this and found it detracts from our dining experience and probably that of other diners - it does for me when others do it. I appreciate it could greatly enrich this site, but the good news is that most restaurants provide professional images on their websites.
Reflections on 18 years of Languedoc dining
We discovered the Languedoc by accident on 3rd April 1993, renting a converted manger of a village house in Soubes (near Lodève) through friends of a friend. Despite chilly weather and little evidence of spring we fell in love with the varied countryside, the light, the wine and the amazing Le Mimosa (which sadly closed in 2012 after 29 years). This was also the age when the likes of Michel Bras (way up in the Auvergne) and Le Jardin de Sens (Montpellier) were relatively undiscovered, not too stuffy, and affordable. Wine stars such as Mas Jullien actually had wine to sell at the cellar door. We holidayed regularly for several years before eventually buying in the area - see our village at www.aspiran.com. This is why entries consolidate in the central Hérault area.
So what's changed on the dining front over those years? My observation is that until the millennium relatively little. Le Jardin de Sens may have single handedly put the Languedoc on the gastronomic map at the highest level, but the knock on effect of improving local standards has been painfully gradual. The economic reality is that a certain degree of prosperity is needed. Back in 1993 property seemed to be for sale everywhere with no apparent buyers. Today the growth of Montpellier, the completion of the A75 autoroute, the TGV line to Nîmes, the explosion in quality wine production and an influx of home owners from outside the region have all contributed to an improving dining scene. Understandably the past few years have seen few new openings, at least at the high end. Less understandable is the dramatic fall in Michelin's eyes of Le Jardin de Sens.
The opening of Chez Philippe in Marseillan in the mid-90s was a milestone. Contemporary cooking, keen pricing, sensible portions, quality wines at all price points and exuberant energy led to a healthy occupancy at every sitting. Others slowly followed in their own way, a current example being O-Bontemps Magalas.
A great favorite of the more traditional restaurants was Jean-Claude Fabre's family run Leonce in Florensac. The great local chef was recently involved with setting up the Bistro d'Alex in the Florensac winery. Other fine dining arrived in the shape of Cellier-Morel in Montpellier and Le Relais de Pigasse Ouveillan (sadly long closed), L'Ambassade Beziers, Octopus Beziers, L'Ocre Rouge Hérépian and, most recently, de Lauzun, Gignac.
A special mention goes to the unique Auberge du Cedre. Nowhere tries to be so many things and succeeds. As for venturing out of the region, Vieux Pont, Belcastel continues to delight and be worthy of a journey.