August 12, 2021

You may already be familiar with Paris and its twenty arrondissements, but how about the medieval city of Loches tucked away in the heart of Loire Valley? This historic royal city is built on a rocky outcrop, and has a sundry past dramatised by France’s most fascinating characters: Joan of Arc, King Charles VII and his “favourite” mistress, Agnes Sorel. With its shadowy cobblestone streets, heraldic flags hanging off gleaming white buildings and sweeping views of the verdant forest landscape; Loches is packed with enough history to fire everyone’s imagination.

If you’re looking to fill your stomach after the tour of the scenic landmarks, a trip to Arbore & Sens will not disappoint. Bearing in mind that this mid-sized joint is almost impossible to book last minute, you might want to factor in the Wednesday and Saturday markets into your itinerary as well.

As you traverse the wisteria-decked courtyard upon entry, you leave the medieval town behind for a drastic change of scenery—a blur of bark textured walls melds into sombre sea green, the room bursting to life with the help of fiery orange and marigold velvet armchairs. There’s a tree that sits at the centre of the dining room and the sound of summer cicadas in a pine forest tickle the air. 

The young chef Clement Dumont serves fashionable food inspired by the seasons as well as the harmonious relationship between humans and nature. In short, a celebration of the rich vegetation, regional produce and local wines from Southern Touraine. 

The amuse bouche takes you places. Swollen morsels of chickpea hummus tartlets are flanked by minuscule flower pots of black olive soil to be swooped up with baby radish. Despite the initial awkward halt in service, due to the arrival of larger tables comprising much older folks struggling to decide on a common menu for the table, the kitchen is quick to pick up the pace with the ensuing courses.

The local trout gravlax hidden under a veil of cucumber water jelly appears to have an undeniable similarity to Odette’s horsehair crab with apple and celery jelly dish, but slicing through the pile reveals a pleasant medley of courgettes and fresh goats cheese.

The next dish of langoustine from Croisic presents a lot of textures on a plate. Dressed with confit celery with cockles tartare and vanilla oil, neither clash with one another nor feel overpowering—still allowing you to taste the richness of the langoustine. I’m most enamoured by the tomatoes done two ways; one cold and the other warm to unlock the diverse flavours of the humble fruit. The wondrous cold iteration, a nippy tomato sorbet perched on local sheep’s cheese and festooned with a buttery herbed crumble showcases Dumont’s fidelity of letting the produce shine. 

The savoury mains are breathtaking. Pollock killed the ike jime way, (apparently resulting in purer tasting flesh) sits on a bed of brunoise potato—imitating risotto, jolted with saffron. The Mediterranean flavours of chorizo and aubergine incite wanderlust. Swiftly after, a glorious Bourgogne from Fanny Sabre, seasoned with a profound slap of fresh strawberries, cream and buttery brioche is poured to pair with the final chicken dish. Wine pairing is bold and a must here. Sourced from La Mangrière, a local poultry farm that is a 15-minute drive from where I live, the chicken supreme proved to be moist and firm after the knife work. It’s an assertive little number that combines girolle mushrooms and spelt risotto layered over with a velvety golden orange jus made from carrots and turmeric at the table.

Desserts are not forgotten here. They are presented the same; beautifully, dramatic and faintly experimental. Baba infused with tilleul and thyme drapes itself over yellow peach slices, Mexican vanilla mousse and peach sorbet. All parts are lick-the-plate-clean good.

Talking to the Dumont, it’s clear that he has got on a good head on his shoulders despite the Covid frenzy. “My only goal now is to take Arbore & Sens to the highest level I can,” he says. “I intend to devote 200% of myself to improving this restaurant every day.” Based on today’s performance, they are on the right track. Overall, Arbore & Sens has found its footing with earnest cuisine and reasonable prices that do not sacrifice the quality of the experience.