When driving to Le Prieuré Saint-Géry, you could easily forget that you are on the way to visit a Michelin starred restaurant. The environment is very quiet and feels partially in sleep mode. When you finally arrive in Solre-Saint-Géry, a very small village near the French border, it is easy to find the restaurant of Chef Vincent Gardinal as it is the only place in town were many cars are parked during lunch or dinner service.
The history of Le Prieuré goes back a long time. The restaurant was opened at this location in the sixties as a small Relais & Chateaux, by another chef who originated from the Alsace region. This was reflected in the kind of dishes that were on the menu, with the obligatory ‘’choucroute’’ being the signature dish of the house. During that time, the restaurant already earned a Michelin star for the first time. However, Le Prieuré closed at the end of the eighties to finally reopen again in 1991. Gardinal joined the restaurant as a chef in 1993.
As a child, the young Vincent spent quite some time in the house of his grand-parents watching TV programs of famous French chefs. The idea that being a chef could lead to a career on TV triggered the interest of Gardinal for a life in a professional kitchen. The visits to fine dining restaurants with his parents, and also the fact that his father had a very nice wine cellar, inspired him to join culinary school in La Louvière at the age of fourteen. After he finished culinary school, he had the chance to work with Chef Eddie Van Maele for five years. This was a unique experience that had a significant influence on him.
Rather by coincidence, he got in touch with the owner of Le Prieuré Saint-Géry, where he got the opportunity to start working as a chef. Initially he did not plan to stay long in the restaurant as it was not really aligned with the style he wanted to develop for himself. However, step by step, he changed the cooking style and the concept of the restaurant and quite fast this was recognized by the press who gave him positive reviews. This was something that encouraged him to continue his efforts. In 1996, Chef Gardinal decided to take over the restaurant. Exactly on same the day as he signed the agreement, he received his Michelin star.
The chef gets his inspiration to create new dishes from the seasons and from specific products he likes to work with. He starts drawing on an empty piece of paper and builds the dish step by step. Every two months the menu of Le Prieuré changes, but it does not happen overnight. It is rather a process were dish after dish is replaced until the entire menu is new.
Gardinal believes that chefs should have a strong environmental awareness and as such he prefers to source his products in the region around the restaurant. However, he also believes that it should not be an obligation to only work with those local products. In the region of Beaumont he cannot find lobster, langoustine or many other products that he likes to incorporate in his menu. If he needs to source products from abroad, France seems to be his favourite country, but in his continuous search to find the best ingredients in every season, he also visits local farmers and producers as much as he can and that shows in what you discover on your plate when you dine in Le Prieuré.
The chef describes his cooking style as ‘’du beau classique’’, what means that he sticks to rather classic food pairings and preparations. Modern cooking techniques are used if they have a significant impact on the taste of a product, but the focus is more on serving a delicious piece of fish or meat cooked perfectly in a traditional way. Chef Gardinal does not try to surprise his guests by unusual food pairings. He rather aims to do that by paying quite a lot of attention to the plating style of his dishes. You recognize the esthetic effort of the chef in creations such as his salmon dish or his galantine of duck.
In the main dining room, that can cater for about 30 covers, the general atmosphere is rather dark, even though white and grey are the dominant colours. However, once the candles are lit, a more warm and cosy environment is created. The interior design is classic and fits perfectly in the style of the building and its location. Maitre d’hotel Astrid Picazo is focussed and attentive. Together with her team, she guarantees a service which is formal without being stiff. Picazo is also in charge of the wine cellar, which consists mainly of European wines. The past years they have experienced that the majority of their customers have less preference for Bordeaux wines and are not willing to pay the high prices for Bourgogne wines anymore. They have adapted to that trend by searching for less well known labels that can surprise their diners. With the salmon dish for instance, they served the Belgian white wine Citadelle vintage 2017 of Philippe Grafé’s Domaine Vinicole du Chenoy, which paired very well with the creation of Gardinal.
Gardinal is a true craftsman and you taste this in each of his creations. Perfectly aligned with the location and the style of the restaurant, you can expect a traditional fine dining experience, with a lot of focus on the taste of the products and on the beautiful but classic presentation of the dishes. The chef aims at creating a moment of happiness for his customers and succeeds. With the consistent level of quality he is serving, he has been able to build a loyal clientele during the past 25 years. Chef Gardinal expects his cooking style to further evolve in a way where even more focus will go to what is really essential, simple dishes with strong emphasis on the product and on the taste. For now, combine a visit to the restaurant with an overnight stay in the hostellerie in the same building and indulge in ‘’le beau classique’’.
Interior / Exterior
The Chef And The Team
Written by Johan