The culinary world lost a legend in 2003 when one of France’s most respected chefs took his own life, possibly influenced by rumours that he was about to lose his third Michelin star. Setting aside this controversial matter, Loiseau’s contribution to the culinary world is echoed through the practices still observed today at most fine dining restaurants. Ahead of his time, he departed from the french standard of using butter and cream, instead substituting fish and meat stock to provide flavour. He even thickened his sauce through reduction, something inconceivable in the 1970’s. He was only the second person in the culinary world after Paul Bocuse to be awarded the Légion d’Honneur by the French President, François Mitterrand. Quite an honour indeed!
From humble beginnings of a rundown 18th century coaching inn, the building transformed into a culinary destination and luxury accommodation that is now part of the Relais and Chateaux network. Now under the management of Loiseau’s wife Dominique Brunet and the culinary direction of Loiseau’s second in command, Patrick Bertron, the restaurant has managed to maintain their third Michelin star to date. As we were driving through the region en route to Italy, we thought we’d make the most by stopping by for their unbelievably well priced four-course Nationale 6 Lunch (70 euro).
The menu, rightly for the price, did not have any options so it was a very easy choice. Our starter was a rather classic Œuf cassé et pointes d’asperges gourmandes au coulis saveur tonka (poached egg with a gourmand asparagus and a tonka flavoured coulis). A simple dish but executed perfectly; runny yolk, asparagus with a bite, salty ham for seasoning the dish and a rather interestingly intense and spicy tonka infused sauce that brought a new dimension to the dish.
For our fish courses we had the Filet de Féra du lac Léman cuit façon meunière, champignon rosé de Paris en royale et beurre blanc à l’origan. A fillet of the Broad Whitefish (Féra) from Lake Léman was prepared with a buttery meuniere sauce, accompanied by three preparations of mushrooms including a tower of sautéed and puréed mushrooms encased in a thin layer of toasted bread. This highly prized fish, which is a close relative to salmon and trout, is particularly sought after from this lake. It was very fresh, subtle and absent of any less favourable ‘fishiness flavours’ you can occasionally get with fish.
We had some mixed feelings on our meat course of the Pavé de porc du Limousin, cannelloni de légumes à la moutarde d’estragon et rognonnade à la bourguignonne, jus infusé au boldo. The vegetable cannelloni with the tarragon infused mustard was the star component of the dish with a lovely crispy exterior texture and soft juicy flesh of the vegetable. Unfortunately, I found the pork fillets a touch on the dry side, though the kidney cooked in Burgundy style was delicious and absent from any of that pungent smell and aftertaste one can sometimes encounter with kidney.
Dessert was perhaps the least imaginative with the Fraicheur de fruits rouges et melon à l’estragon, but then again what could we expect for such a bargain price? The melon sorbet was remarkably creamy and had some zing from the hints of tarragon that had been blended in. The strawberry purée and watermelon foam complemented to the dish with their natural sweetness.
Some pastries to finish the meal starting with apple, followed by lemon, and finished with rhubarb. If there’s one thing the French did well it was their pastry. I was hoping to have some coffee with it but the waiter indicated there would be a separate plate of petit fours to go with that and made the suggestion to have it in their garden. An excellent suggestion!
Perhaps the menu we opted for was not a fair representation of what Bertran was capable of delivering. As expected from a three-Michelin starred restaurant, the execution here was flawless and there were no slip ups from the front of house. I did however feel that the food had not entirely departed from the era of ‘nouvelle cuisine’ despite some futile attempts in introducing some modern elements. Fundamentally, I felt there was a lack of excitement and creativity in the dishes. At a time where new generations of chefs continue to push the culinary boundary, I suspect, without continued innovation, it will probably be a matter of time before they lose that third twinkle.