Two 3 star Michelin meals in France

Saturday, August 21st , 2010

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This week I revisited Languedoc in the south west of France, an area known for its attractive countryside and well preserved monuments, such as the mediaeval walled town of Carcassonne (pictured). The main reason for the visit was to try Auberge du Vieux Puts, which is the solitary new 3 star restaurant in France in the 2010 Michelin Guide. The dining room is quite rustic, a far cry from the formality of, for example, many of Parisian 3 star places. However the food is sophisticated, dish after dish showing high class technique, combined with superb ingredients and attractive presentation. It is so nice to see original dishes, such as the red mullet with fish soup, without needing to resort to chemical trickery or outlandish flavour combinations. The depth of flavour of this fish soup was remarkable, as was the quality of flavour in a deceptively simple “tomato cocktail”. The food prices are very fair (though the wine list is unforgiving) and indeed the tasting menu is cheaper than some places in London. Yet the quality of the dishes here leaves UK restaurants trailing in the dust.

While broadly speaking in the area (well, within a couple of hundred miles), I took the opportunity to revisit Michel Bras, which is perhaps the most remotely located of all 3 star restaurants. Perched on a bleak hillside high up on the Massif Central and open only during the summer (in the winter the area is covered in snow), the Bras building is a striking grey structure that looks ultra-modern almost 20 years after its construction. The emphasis here is on vegetables and local herbs and flowers, with his most famous dish a collection of dozens of these served artistically. Just as on my previous visit, though, I struggled to really engage with much of the cooking here. Ingredients are top class and the best dishes were very good indeed, yet this time there were some very ordinary tasting dishes, which surprised me. These days Michel’s son Sebastian leads the cooking team (with 20 chefs at any one sitting) and although it has retained its 3 stars for many years I again had reservations about its consistency.

Sushi of Shiori is the kind of place that you expect to see in Tokyo rather than London, a simple and tiny set of premises seating less than ten people. The pedigree of the chef is high, having worked at Umu after training in Kyoto. The presentation was very pretty and the quality of the fish high (the same supplier as Umu), and although I had one disappointing dish the meal was generally very enjoyable.

Tinello had promise, with a chef who used to be at Locatelli and his brother running the front of house, who had worked at both Zafferano and Locatelli. The wine list is worth noting, having as it does some of the fairest mark-ups to be found in London. If they don’t get greedy then you could consider coming here just to drink the wine. Sadly the food was wildly erratic in standard, ranging from a genuinely classy tiramisu down to a prawn risotto that was borderline inedible, with other dishes in between. The restaurant has not been open long, but even so too many dishes are leaving the kitchen that should not.

I am pleased to add a new chef interview to the site: Dominic Chapman is head chef of the Royal Oak, a pub with a Michelin star near Maidenhead, where I have enjoyed some excellent meals recently. His interview is here.

In other news, the latest Hardens Guide notes that the restaurant scene in London appears to be booming, whatever the newspapers tell you about the economy. Their guide, which has been running since 1991, has noted 140 new restaurant openings (the third highest ever in their survey) and only 72 closures (a moderate rate compared to previous surveys).