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I visit Anne-Sophie Pic and Regis et Jacques Marcon

Saturday, September 13th , 2008

 regis-et-jacques-marcon 1024 mushrooms-crop-v2.JPG
Gidleigh Park has long been a favourite place of mine to escape to the country. It is in a spectacular setting on the edge of Dartmoor, the food is 2 star Michelin level and the atmosphere was unusually relaxed. A couple of years ago the owners, Paul and Kay Henderson, decided to retire and sold the business to the group that own the Bath Priory, amongst others businesses. A major refurbishment of the hotel took place, and it reopened 18 months ago.  I was particularly worried that the atmosphere might have been lost, as the “old” Gidleigh Park had an exceptional front of house manager (Catherine Endicott) and a homely feel. The new owners have done a good job with the refit, building an extra section on the house and updating the décor. I was very impressed with the new staff members, who were charming and managed to create a very friendly environment reminiscent of old times. 
The food experience was not quite what I was expecting, as the chef had not changed, though Michael Caines now has other properties in his mini-empire in the West Country.  The team in the kitchen is now slightly larger (18 compared to 14) and this seems to have improved desserts in particular, while presentation was of a very high standard. Somehow, though, the savoury dishes did not quite have the spark of the old days, when Michael was actually in the kitchen full time. This was still very good food, and I think it is fair that it retains its second Michelin star, but although it is now possibly more polished I felt the food was a little less exciting than it used to be.   I think it is easy to be naïve about just how much of the actual cooking is done by the head chef of a kitchen, but I did feel that a little of the edge had gone from the kitchen with Michael not present at either of the two dinners we had (though he did pop in mid morning on one day).
The restaurant Regis et Jaccques Marcon (aka Clos des Cimes) is, like Michel Bras, a very modern building set against the elements on a desolate hillside. The cooking features mushrooms heavily, and I enjoyed it most when it stuck to either simple dishes or combinations that appeared to me to logically work, even if they were unexpected. At times the cooking was superb, but it did go off the rails at times in terms of taste combinations. If you ever decide to visit, wrap up warm. The mushrooms there (pictured) were magnificent.

Anne-Sophie Pic was voted the best chef in France in 2007 by other chefs (those featuring in the Michelin Guide) and her 3rd Michelin star means she is the third generation of Pic family chefs to win the coveted three stars. We had the “generations” tasting menu, which featured updated versions of classic dishes from her predecessors. Now I admit that I am generally fonder of this kind of classical French food than the wackier end of molecular gastronomy, but even allowing for this, the meal was sublime. There was so little to fault about the meal, from the appealing classical dishes, the fine ingredients, the flawless technique, the pretty presentation. It was a master-class in high end French cooking. 

These were the only two 3 star places in France I had not visited. Ms Pic's place is up there with the best of them based on this meal.

The quarter final of Masterchef the Professionals this week featured me as one of three restaurant critics being cooked for by the four contenders. Michel Roux Junior and Gregg Wallace definitely picked the correct two finalists based on what I had; there was quite a gap in standard between the two cooks that went through and the two that did not. If you are interested and missed the episode, you can view it via the BBC I-Player in the next seven days.
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@G00dKai I have been to them both, though not recently for French Laundry. They are all good restaurants so there is no poor choice there.