Continuing the Roberson ‘Hedonists Gazette’ part of the blog, it was with some excitement I sat down to lunch at L’Astrance, one of the most talked-about restaurants in France. Receiving its third Michelin star in 2006, this is a three star restaurant like no other, a fact that becomes clear very quickly. The dining room is smart but relaxed, with 8 tables on ground floor level and a small mezzanine level with another 3 tables. In total, only 25 covers are served in a single setting and bookings are consequently hard to come by, especially considering it opens only four days a week.
The service is relaxed, waiters don’t follow you to the toilet, refold your napkin, or hover around you keen to replace your glasses or provide some unspecified service.
So what is it that makes the place so special? Well, the food and the philosophy. In the recent book ‘Au Revoir To All That’, a history of French cuisine is unfolded by Michael Steinberger where he makes a compelling case that restaurants like this are the future of fine dining.
Stripping away the conventions of the ‘ego restaurant’ where diners are ushered in to worship at the alter of famous chefs, the joyfully unpretentious Pascal Barbot at L’Astrance has a simple mission, to cook the best food he can in his environment, with no concessions to staid tradition, Michelin stars, or any outside influence. This is cooking with real integrity, intelligence and a commitment to quality of ingredient that is really, genuinely inspiring.
A working day in the restaurant starts with Pascal arriving at the wholesale market outside Paris to source ingredients for the days menu, of which there is only one ten course choice. Around two hours are spent discussing the ingredients with suppliers, including in some cases tasting through dozens of lots before making his selection.
The food is at once complex and simple. His style is for light food with citrus flavours, no doubt influenced by his time cooking in Australia and as the meal progresses, there is still a feeling of freshness, right to the end where proceedings came to an end with fresh fruit (this may sound odd but worked very well in context), chestnut honey madeleines, and a fantastic eggnog, or “lait de poule”, served in an eggshell.
Brioche tiède, beurre à la sauge et citron
Cuiller de Parmesan crémeux
2004 Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Combettes Carillon
2004 Andre Ostertag Pinot Gris 3504
Both wines showed beautifully, the Combettes was still quite primary but quite superb, with great underlying acidity and minerality. For me, a little young but will be quite outstanding in a couple of years. The Ostertag was a lovely contrast, quite Condrieu like in character, ripe and hedonistic with floral notes.
Velouté de potiron, yaourt au gingembre, lait à la fève Tonka
Langoustines pochées, Salade d’herbes à l’huile d’olive et citron confit
Saint-Pierre, pâte de noix de coco épicée, chou au pamplemousse
Filet mignon de cochon cuisiné aux cèpes, parmesan fondu
2001 Gevrey Chambertin Lavaux St Jaques Armand Rousseau
1990 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Chateau Beaucastel
So different in style, the Beaucastel was showing beautifully, such an elegant CNDP, with an almost Bordeaux nose on. At its peak.
Canard cuit au sautoir, pâte de curry noir, légumes d’automne, jus de cuisson
Compote de Lièvre
Piment et citronnelle en sorbet
Palet au chocolat noir, sauce caramel
Cappuccino amande, feuille de riz grillé, noix et pruneau mariné
1978 Sercial Barbeito
Tiramisu à notre façon
Lait de poule au jasmin
Mignardises, Fruits frais