This was the highlight of our four day stopover in Lyon this time. We went for Sunday lunch, taking the local train to Roanne, a one hour trip each way. It was a delightful way to spend a Sunday, with a long lunch that pretty much encompassed the entire day, with the travelling involved. Forget about having breakfast or dinner, this is all you will need. In fact, on reflection, I think because we hadn't eaten beforehand, our taste buds and all of our senses, for that matter, were more acute, and so we appreciated the aromas, tastes, and even the visuals more than if we had come for dinner, after drinking and eating during the day. Much like the principles of wine tasting in the morning, when your taste buds are clean.
This meal caused me the most angst upon reflection however, as it challenged me to think more critically about classical French cuisine, and especially three star cuisine, as Troisgros is, and where it sits with me today. I am still reflecting on this.
Troigros is celebrating it's 45th year and third generation Michel Troigros' cuisine is modern and elegant, if somewhat restrained. With a Japanese sensibility, his plates are clean and unencumbered of any superfluous ingredients or garnish, which appeals to me. We chose to have the ten course menu, at 210e each, which is the only tasting menu available on Sunday lunch and dinner. During specific week days, a shorter, less expensive tasting menu is offered. The carte menu is always available, and looks enticing with Saint Pierre, Rouget, langoustines, sweetbreads, lamb, Challans duck, beef and lobster listed. I also read that if you want the Troisgros salmon with sorrel, a blast from the past, you can order this ahead.
We arrived in Roanne at 12:45, and so we were a bit early for our 1 pm reservation, as Troisgros is across from the train station. As we crossed the threshold of the restaurant, it looked like we had walked into a board meeting, what with the reception line of mature men in suits, all Troisgros staff, waiting to whisk us into the dining room. We were thrilled with our corner table which had a private window looking into the kitchen. Loved the swivel chairs - so comfortable, especially for a long meal. The décor in the dining room is elegant, but minimalist, much the same sensibility of the food. How I wished for a little drama, a bit of whimsy, yes, I am referring to both the décor and the food. It really doesn't need to be so serious! The best memories of dinners eaten, including starred meals, are those that were not so restrained, but were those that injected some wit and passion or romance into the experience, through food, service and décor. As for the service, it was professional and efficient and somewhat perfunctory. With so many courses and settings, there was a constant dance of the suits on the floor. There were several other couples, food tourists like ourselves, there for lunch, and many locals (barons and countesses, no doubt) celebrating an occasion, or just having Sunday lunch with the family. There was also one sole female diner, enjoying her time there, which I loved to see. Between courses, we went into the kitchen with the maître d', to see it in full service with Michel at his station.
Michel's ability to build a classical menu considering taste, texture and balance is genius. In fact, he has refined it to such an art, that you may not even see this, so subtle it is. The first five courses were fish or shellfish, each one building upon the last. The quality and freshness of the fish and shellfish were pristine, as one would expect for a 3*. Then came the venison, which was the most "delicious" eating of all courses, and a good portion, extremely tender and flavourful, on a flawless sauce.
Two desserts, both brilliant. The current pastry chef came from Japan, two years ago, if I remember correctly. I was surprised to see rhubarb, as I associate it only with Spring, not Autumn. But, once I tasted it, I understood - long thin strips were dried, and surrounded rhubarb granite, a combination of crispy and sweet, and then topped with tarragon ice cream, it was a hit of sweet, tart, and herbal - absolute heaven in the mouth after a long session of eating. The next dessert was equally light and uplifting - a Chartreuse sabayon, with blackberries and yogurt. This is another example of how brilliantly the menu has been composed.
Here was the menu "Un jour en Octobre" on that day:
To begin, many creative starters, including his trademark crunchy caramelized cherry tomatoes. Wonderful breads and sweet butter.
*Mackerel with apple and basil gelee.
When this dish was set down the aroma of basil was incredible. The fish was raw and pristine - I am ruined forever.
*Oysters and cepes in a very umami broth. This dish had the most Asian taste.
*Mussels and girolles with saffron, under a milk-skin ravioli. One of his most inventive dishes, I thought, and the milk-skin is one of his signature recipes.
*Saint-Pierre with muscat grapes, sauce of Ranfio-Cino. With aigre-doux acidity, this is another signature flavour.
*Saint-Jacques with a tooth-some caramelized bottom. Perfectly cooked, with wonderful contrast of textures.
*Noisettes of venison with gremolata. Again, some acidity to balance richness.
* Bon fromages. Excellent selection and choices, of course. Served with a sweet-tart tomato jam and nut bread.
* Rhubarb and tarragon dessert.
* Chartreuse sabayon, blackberries and yogurt.
The mignardises were six large decadent perfect creations of pastry, chocolate, fruit. This last impression was wickedly good - but we had to eat them fast, as our train was arriving! They have this lunch timed to within minutes of the 4:17 train back to Lyon!
We were pleasantly full afterwards, but not in distress. I thought the portion sizes were perfect, and I did love the clarity of each dish - each one was so well constructed, there was no confusion of tastes or flavours, and each one built upon the last and the next to come.
Total cost : 2 flutes of Champagne, 13 e each; 2 menus, 210 each; 1 bottle white Saint Joseph 2009 paradis de St. Pierre Coursdon; I mineral water; 2 cafes....................531 e.
This was a once-in-a- lifetime experience. No regrets, but much to contemplate, food for thought, so to speak. Which is always a good thing.
oooh thanks for such a wonderful (and thorough) review. It's been more than 20 years since I was there (Jean was the chef then) and it was spectacular. I need to go back.
My experience in 3-star restaurants is that they all are pretty serious. All except La Cote d'Or. Bernard Loiseau was like a little French imp, and couldn't help some whimsy. That never took away from the perfection nor the deliciousness of the meals I've been lucky enough to experience.
Or mine...any longer. I do appreciate the labour and talent that is required to produce a starred menu/dinner, but sometimes it is at the expense of a joyful experience, which is, after all, the goal, is it not? There is a huge leap from 2* to 3*, as the stakes are so much higher, and this seems to introduce a rigid formality to the dining room. We have dined at many more 1* and 2* than 3* ( the previous was Anne Sophie Pic), and have usually found the best balance of food, service and ambience at the 1*or 2* level., not to mention a better value/cost.
The other consideration is that with age, experience and exposure, our values change, and as you have stated, what was once idealized, is no longer.
Thanks for your excellent report.
I would add that if you would like to experience Michel's less formal food, you might sometime enjoy staying at his country digs some 20km north in Iguerande. Interesting private accommodations either in a tower or in individual ultra-modern structures in the garden and field. Delicious and solid dishes in the converted barn dining room.
re: John Talbott
This is exciting news. We absolutely adore his Iguerande venue. www.troisgros.fr/english/colline.php It will be interesting to see what the same architect does in Ouches.
DH wonders what will happen to the expensive installation in Roanne. Ouches must be some dream to allow them to walk away from that.