Thierry Coulmeau of Le Poivre d'Ane, Aix en ProvenceDozens of restaurants of every type and quality line the Forum des Cardeurs, a large open square on the edge of the Old Town. Le Poivre d'Âne looks much like its neighbours. But this is not another fly-by-night tourist trap.

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Its chef, Thierry Coulmeau, pictured top left, trained at the Relais & Châteaux luxury hotel chain and has run highly regarded and very popular restaurants in Aix for many years.

A previous incarnation of Le Poivre d'Âne was based a couple of streets away, at rue de la Couronne, after which Coulmeau presided over Le Cadran Solaire, also in the Old Town of Aix.

Both became firm favourites with Aixois and so it was a cause for local celebration when Le Poivre d'Âne reopened on the Forum des Cardeurs. In 2011 Coulmeau got a citation in the Michelin Bib Gourmand guide, signifying good value food at moderate prices.

His two three-course set menus, which change regularly with the seasons, offer a choice of six or seven starters, main courses and dessert.

You can also order the individual courses at a higher rate and there's a slightly pricier tasting menu "selon l'inspiration du chef" ("according to the chef's inspiration").

Le Poivre d'Ane restaurant, Aix en ProvenceThe line-up is a mix of traditional French cuisine and exotic influences. A complimentary amuse-bouche, or pre-starter - it was a small glass of gazpacho on the night of our visit - arrives before the main order.

Some of the dishes sound conventional, but "tomate-mozza revisitée" was not the standard Italian trattoria platter but a mozzarella chantilly on different, multi-coloured varieties of chopped tomato.

The starter of the day was another classic with a twist, a savoury profiterole stuffed with foie gras and salted chocolate, which turned out to be a little on the sweet side.

We also sampled tender veal sweetbreads and supremes of quail with spring vegetables, and a faultlessly tender ox cheek braised in cider, a dish which seems to be a regular favourite with Coulmeau.

Raspberry cheesecake at Le Poivre d'Ane, Aix en ProvenceDesserts (raspberry cheesecake, pictured, and a slightly bland green tea pannacotta with a tropical salad) were less sensational though still well executed.

All the courses were exquisitely presented and the portions are fair but not enormous, so this is not the place to come if you are ravenously hungry. The service is friendly and efficient and, though the menu is in French only, all the staff speak English and are happy to take the time to advise you.

The wine list is exclusively French too and on the short side. It includes a sprinkling of bottles from Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Loire but the main focus, very rightly, is on the wines of Southern Provence: Coteaux d'Aix, Côtes de Provence, Bandol, Cassis and the Alpilles.

The Forum itself (pictured) is conceived for outdoor dining and you will have to put up with the usual rose sellers and buskers if you eat on the terrace in summer.

In winter Le Poivre d'Âne has a small indoor dining room which is decorated in neo-1970s shades of orange and brown and can get a little noisy. Indoors and out, the tables are quite close together.

Wherever you sit, you will need to book. Le Poivre d'Âne is open in the evenings only (it's closed Wednesdays outside the high season) and the restaurant clearly aims to get in two services.

This said, on a busy evening at the height of summer, there was no pressure at all on us to vacate our table.

In case you're wondering, poivre d'âne means, literally, "donkey pepper" and refers to a local herb, summer savory, as well as to a goat's cheese perfumed with it. This whimsical name reflects the slightly playful mood and cuisine of the restaurant.

Visited July 2012

Where: Le Poivre d'Âne, 40 Forum des Cardeurs, 13100 Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 42 21 32 66. Website for Le Poivre d'Âne

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