Challenging the French at this game takes nerve but in 2010 a British couple took the plunge and set up their own restaurant. It's now one of the most popular eateries in town.
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The simple winning formula: good, affordable food served in a small but stylish venue with a warm personal touch.
Antonia Pyemont-Coughlan and Russell Coughlan (pictured) were experienced in the catering business - working for other people. Their new entrepreneurial venture is a self-owned family business: a "mom and pop shop", as Americans call it.
Russell cooks alone in the kitchen, while Antonia looks after the diners, also single-handedly. Despite the restaurant’s success, they insist they aren’t tempted to expand or take on new staff.
One suspects that this might lead to rather slow service at peak times (we visited on a midweek evening in November), but Antonia’s gracious and relaxed style makes you feel that there’s no need to hurry.
Behind Fou de Fafa’s modest, narrow façade in the walled city, just round the corner from the Musée Angladon, the dining room (pictured below) is long and deep, so there’s plenty of room for 26 covers without cramming the tables together.
Advance reservation is strongly recommended, though since - most unusually for France - the kitchen opens at 6.30pm, you may have more chance of squeezing in if you arrive early (the restaurant doesn't serve lunches).
At the back is a little seating area with a sofa where you can wait for your table. The modern décor, in shades of red and white, is plain but tasteful; the plates, glasses and cutlery are also simple but of good quality. Jazz or classical music plays unobtrusively in the background. The only downside is the lack of an outdoor terrace.
The set menu – you can have either two or three courses – is in English and French (Antonia also speaks Italian and German). On our visit the diners were almost all Anglophones, though the restaurant does also attract locals and in fact several avignonnais had recommended it.
There’s a choice of five or six starters, mains and desserts. One secret of how a tiny staff can produce this range might be that the menu cunningly mixes and matches certain elements: for instance, on the evening of our visit, several mains came with crushed (aka mashed) potato).
Fou de Fafa doesn’t claim to offer a revelatory or revolutionary cuisine, just very well-executed French dishes based on local produce, with a slight international twist. An oriental salmon tartare was marinated in honey and soy sauce and garnished with coriander while a soft goat’s cheese mousse was rolled in Italian-style ham.
Perfectly cooked sea-bream came with salsa verde; a filet mignon of pork had a classic apple accompaniment. Rhubarb and ginger went wonderfully well with the cheesecake. Both starters and mains included one vegetarian option.
The wine list features some of the excellent local vineyards and the house wine (Côtes du Rhône red and white and Côtes du Ventoux rosé when we visited) is available by the half litre.
By the way, in case you’re wondering, the whimsical name is inspired (with a small spelling change) by Foux de Fafa by the New Zealand music and comedy duo Flight of the Conchords.
Visited November 2011