Anyone who has explored rural France must surely have noticed the apparent desertion of many towns and villages, especially during lunch time, even more so once the sun has set. Genillé, a little village some 50 kilometres south-east of Tours and surrounded in all directions by gently rolling farmland punctuated only by the occasional copse of trees, is no exception to this rule. Arriving here long after night had thrown its dusky cloak over the countryside, the only sign that this was not some ghost town from the pen of Maurice Level was the tasteful illumination of the Église Sainte-Eulalie, a well-kept church boasting an impressive array of tall stained glass windows, on the Place Agnès Sorel.
French historians would have a field day here. Yes, it might feel isolated today, but Genillé was once a town of royal affairs, intrigue and deceit, and is thus of some historical significance. Despite its small size, it is one of France's oldest villages, named on coins minted by the Mérovingians during the 7th century. More recently the Fumée family resided here; in the 15th century Adam Fumée was physician to King Charles VII and then King Louis XI; he was clearly a wealthy man, contributing significantly to the ongoing building of the aforementioned church. Charles VII would often use a visit to his doctor as a cover for trysts with a local woman, history's first officially recognised royal mistress. The woman in question went by the name of Agnès Sorel.
Named in her honour, the restaurant which sits facing the church is run by Nicolas and Estelle Petit, who returned to France having spent many years working in the UK (at the Hotel du Vin, if memory serves me correctly). The emphasis here is on local produce, dishes with a seasonal theme, and of course the wines of the Loire Valley. Estelle works out front, Nicolas in the kitchen; it sounds homespun but the setting has an undeniable elegance and their commitment to what they do is palpable.
I kicked off by checking out the wine list, which features many names familiar to those of use who enjoy drinking from the vineyards of the Loire and her tributaries. First though, to the menu, on which there are some set-priced options as well as the à la carte choice, naturally. Opting for a €23 set menu I started with a handsome slice of terrine maison, which had a fine, slightly crumbly texture and plenty of flavour. With this I drank the 2009 Montlouis Choisilles from François Chidaine, which had the vibrant minerality you would expect from this terroir (choisille is black flint), but it also showed the fine textural depth of this warmer vintage. Next up was Géline de Touraine, a breed of chicken peculiar to the region around Tours and once declared extinct in 1977. Remarkably, in the 1980s, a few birds that conformed to the description of the breed were identified on a farm not far from Genillé; from these birds eggs were taken and the breed reconstituted. Genillé thus became a Géline de Touraine hot-spot. I should point out that I have read a different version of the story, indicating that the breed was reborn from a cross between a Croad Langshan and a Poule de Bresse, but it is not a story I want to propagate. Not only is it less romantic, I also don't want to raise the ire of the Confrérie des Chevaliers de la Géline de Touraine (founded 1988) for fear that they might ban me from eating the bird.
It is perhaps no surprise that the species was once forgotten in favour of more 'industrial' birds, as it is slow-growing, individuals taking much longer to reach maturity than is the case with species more favoured by the industry. And it appears to have a browner meat, also less appealing to modern consumers. But the flavour was good, I found, not gamey, and yet there was certainly more here than the blandness of modern chicken. I enjoyed it, served quite simply, a thigh and a leg accompanied by a light gravy and a selection of seasonal vegetables. And my choice of wine was the 2010 Bourgueil Les Quartiers, from Yannick Amirault. Les Quartiers is a limestone terroir, and this certainly came through in the firmness of this wine's tannic structure. It worked very well with the chicken.
I kept some of the Montlouis back for a small cheese board in lieu of dessert, and rounded the meal off with a very good espresso. This was a very enjoyable evening, and great value too in my opinion. I would certainly return here, given half a chance.
Price: There were three of us dining, and the total bill came to €154, so the cost was a little over €50 per head. This included three set menus at €23 each, the Montlouis was €37, and the Bourgueil €33, all extraordinarily good prices in my opinion. A bottle of sparkling mineral water added €6, and the espressos were €3 each. (9/3/14)