Where to eat out in... Puy-de-Dôme

En­joy ro­bust and tasty au­vergnat dishes in this land of dor­mant vol­ca­noes and charm­ing vil­lages, says Sophie Gardner-roberts

France - - Classic Cuisine -

1 Au­berge la Croix de Fer

If you want to sam­ple the best of au­vergnat gas­tron­omy, the Au­berge la Croix de Fer over­look­ing Riom, just north of Cler­mont-fer­rand, is the place to go. The inn opened in 1955 and was given a makeover in 2014 by the cur­rent own­ers Sandra and Philippe, who wanted to com­bine a tra­di­tional and homely at­mos­phere with con­tem­po­rary dec­o­ra­tion. The re­sult is a wel­com­ing place with charm­ing de­tails such as ex­posed wooden beams and hang­ing plants fit­ted into the wall-like paint­ings.

On the night we ar­rived, the din­ing room was buzzing and packed with lo­cals, but we were quickly shown to our ta­ble and given an ap­ple and ch­est­nut kir as an aper­i­tif. It was a Thurs­day, when the au­berge of­fers frogs’ legs à volonté (as much as you can eat), which had at­tracted many hun­gry din­ers, in­clud­ing a merry ta­ble of ten sit­ting be­hind us.

Al­though I do en­joy frogs’ legs, I chose in­stead to try lo­cal spe­cial­i­ties, and Sandra rec­om­mended a ‘ falette’ – rolled-up veal breast stuffed with chard leaves – as a co­pi­ous and tasty starter. Dishes in Au­vergne are rich and hearty, so I dis­missed any thoughts of a diet as I chose as a main the beau­ti­fully cooked pork ribs served with sea­sonal veg­eta­bles.

Af­ter sam­pling some fine morsels of cheese in­clud­ing Fourme d’am­bert, Can­tal and a pow­er­ful, gar­lic-in­fused va­ri­ety, I ended with a fun dessert con­sist­ing of a cookie served with ap­ple sor­bet, ap­ple jelly and ch­est­nut whipped cream. The diet was ru­ined but I was de­lighted.

With ex­tremely friendly staff and an out­door ter­race pro­vid­ing views of Riom and the Puy vol­ca­noes, La Croix de Fer is an oblig­a­tory gourmet stop if you are in the area. Menus from €15.90. 16 Rue de la Croix de Fer, 63200 Riom Tel: (Fr) 4 73 86 09 96 lacroixde­fer.fr

2 La Chau­mière

Set in the cute town of Am­bert, home to the epony­mous blue cheese that is the pride of Au­vergne, La Chau­mière is a charm­ing fam­ily-run ho­tel and restau­rant of­fer­ing a wel­com­ing and con­tem­po­rary at­mos­phere.

The huge din­ing room is stylishly laid out and full of light thanks to the large win­dows. Crisp white table­cloths con­trast with the deep pur­ple walls, an old stone fire­place oc­cu­pies al­most an en­tire wall, and pot­ted plants are scat­tered around. The over­all at­mos­phere is com­fort­able and re­fined while the smil­ing staff make sure you have ev­ery­thing you need.

Af­ter sip­ping a sweet kir aper­i­tif, we tucked into a sat­is­fy­ing foie gras served with brioche and chut­ney. The starter was served on a slated plate and nicely ar­ranged, show­ing an at­ten­tion to

de­tail present in all the dishes. For my main course, I chose the fil­let of sea bream, which was cooked to per­fec­tion.

We were of­fered an ex­tended ver­sion of the café gour­mand for dessert and sam­pled sev­eral sweet treats off the menu in­clud­ing a re­fresh­ing ap­ple sor­bet, a creamy vanilla flan, and an in­trigu­ing green cake that turned out to be a kind of pis­ta­chio pud­ding. I par­tic­u­larly ap­pre­ci­ated the wide se­lec­tion of teas and in­fu­sions, and hap­pily sat back to sip mine while watch­ing the flames dance in the fire­place. Menus from €22. 41 Av­enue Maréchal Foch, 63600 Am­bert Tel: (Fr) 4 73 82 14 94 chau­miere-am­bert.fr

The vol­canic land­scape of Au­vergne

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