Christian Achaud has enjoyed a reputation as one of the region's best chefs for many years, and his new restaurant is a complete winner. Just off the Alès ring road and easy to find from our base in Anduze, L'Esprit belied its unprepossessing surroundings from the moment we walked in. Simple, tasteful design gives both the interior and the large terrace an atmosphere of clubbable repose, and the young front-of-house team provided a smiling welcome that lived right up to the best local traditions of warm hospitality. On a busy night, the service was great – friendly, efficient and informed – while the wine list, relatively small but carefully chosen, delivered excellent champagne and rosé at reasonable prices. So far, so fine, and a lively mix of other customers (mostly locals, it was mid-June) made for good people watching, but the real delight was the food. Largely regional but spiced with the occasional exotic invention, the menu promises proper cuisine and doesn't disappoint. From a scrummy amuse-bouche, through a goat's cheese ravioli to die for and succulent, perfectly cooked veal, to a mi-cuit chocolate gateau that managed to be both rich and light, my meal was gorgeous and, at a menu price of 29 euros, ridiculously good value. Impressed, my wife and I went back twice more during the next couple of weeks and – with special mention for an awesome foie gras – loved every dish we tried. In an area crammed with restaurants nothing we have found comes close to l'Esprit's combination of fine cuisine and relaxed informality, let alone at such a nice price. Gushingly recommended, but be aware that the restaurant is already very popular with local people and that even out of season you need to book in advance for weekends.
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