Thoiry, France —It’s a gastronomic experience. And a mystical one as well. And it is directly out of Africa but actually just outside of Paris in the lovely and wild setting of Thoiry, which was first a Renaissance castle and grounds of one of the very old and very aristocratic families in France (the 12th generation of the de La Panouse family still lives in the castle) who back in the 1960s introduced the safari park concept to France. But this concept has gone one gastronomic step further and taken the matter of an exclusive evening out to new heights. The Thoiry dinners — held only eight times this summer — offer up a superb South African barbecue replete with that country’s famous wines— in the midst of the African savanna portion of the safari park.
As the sun just begins to set, an authentic safari truck-bush bus takes you on a guided journey through the African plain where you will meet up with Ben, the elephant, zebras, antilopes, wildebeests, ostriches, elegant giraffes and more. As you round the final bend a startling site emerges in the savanna, a gigantic somewhat eclectic, eccentric barbecue replete with a chimney and known as a braais, and at the helm the great South African chef Kobus Botha, who grew up on a farm in South Africa, and who created the concept Kobus Braam, the African barbecue, entirely authentic, entirely home made. This is generous food, lovingly cooked and the good fire cooking and great outdoors impart an unforgettable taste on the ample amounts of ribs, pulled beef, salmon, grilled vegetables and cheeses and more, so much more. More because you enjoy cocktail time and then the meal facing the animals of the African savanna. That is where the mystical part steps in. It is a complete out of Paris experience, but just 40 minutes by car from the French capital.
The meal starts out with a Finger Food cocktail hour where just like in the bush eating with one’s fingers is authorized. Here smoked Halloumi cheese, spicy Boerewors (a type of South African sausage), fresh grilled vegetables and melt in your mouth pork ribs are served, amply, all accompanied by delicious South African wines; soda and mineral waters are served as well, if you must. After a refreshing hot towel as a finger bowl, diners head over to the tables aligned right next to the animals, who remain calm as statues, except they aren’t statues. The mystical becomes somewhat a surreal, sensational setting. And one that invites one to grasp the importance of protecting nature and our natural world.
Then each table of six is called up to the barbecue line-up of main courses and ever so many sides. Allegaartjie (a South African mixed grill), tender very tender pulled beef, salmon —Red Label salmon grilled whole in the barbecue and a highlight of the evening comes when the chef opens one up —barbecued cheese, barbecued root vegetables lightly curried (chakalaka), marinated cucumber salad and barbecued butternut squash accompany the meal which also includes plenty of South African wines and mineral waters and is topped off by a Malva, a homemade dessert, rich and creamy, a recipe from the mother of Chef Kobus who recreates it here for us. Rooibos tea is served as you head back to your bush bus and when night has fallen.
This is not only an exclusive experience but an unforgettable one as well. And the meal is beyond delicious. But you only have eight dates: June 25, July 15, July 22, August 5, August 12, August 19, August 26 and September 2. And in terms of good value, it is hard to beat: 125 euros for adults and 95 euros for children. Children 12 and over only. Reservations are obligatory at https://www.thoiry.net/en
©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette
Additional Reporting: Sylvain Loire
Categories: Everything Gourmet, Gourmet Fare
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