The Simple Pleasures of Eugenie Les Bains
Saturday, June 13th , 2015
I have had some dazzling meals at Michel Guerard’s restaurant Pres des Eugenie over the years. With three stars since 1977 the sprightly Mr Guerard can still be found in the kitchen, overseeing things at the tender age of eighty-two. There is great confidence in the cooking here, with terrific technique but no modern culinary trickery. Chefs here are judged on more than setting a water-bath to the right temperature and their skill in placing a few edible flowers on to a plate with tweezers. Dishes here have few elements and are designed to showcase the finest produce that France can offer. The quality of the sauces is terrific, and they make simply the best pastry I have ever tasted in a restaurant. We had four separate meals here in our stay, and so were able to try most of the items on the menu this week. Some dishes seemed almost magical, such as a luxurious take on vichyssoise with truffles. Attention to detail was impressive, with one of the best things of the week being a little nibble of boudin blanc sausages lifted out of the ordinary by the quality of the meat and a little black truffle. Dish after dish was delightful, from stunning chicken Rothschild to perfect lobster cooked in the hearth, through to an exquisite apricot millefeuile dessert. As a bonus, the wine list has some excellent bottles listed below their retail price.
The hidden gem of the property is the rustic Ferme aux Grives, a casual restaurant in an old barn. The room is dominated by a vast hearth with a rotating spit over which assorted animals slowly roast, and there is a short seasonal menu that changes based on what produce is particularly good. Mr Guerard apparently wishes to mark out a clear line between his main restaurant and this, so there are just a few basic wines, simple cheap plates and a casual atmosphere. What cannot be hidden is the quality of the produce used, from the superb Landes chicken to the excellent vegetables, nor the skill of the chefs working here. Salmon smoked in the kitchen was superb, as was suckling pig, and the desserts were dazzling, such as with a magnificent éclair with perfect choux pastry. At just £35 for three courses and nibbles this is one of the world’s great dining bargains.
If you have never been here then I urge you to try this little haven of tranquillity in the French countryside. The property has pretty gardens, spacious rooms and a spa, and they even offer a low calorie menu if you are feeling guilty after all that foie gras. The only drawback is actually getting to this slightly remote location. If planning a trip to Pres des Eugenie then the nearest international airports are Bordeaux (177 km = 109 miles), Toulouse (166km = 103 miles) and Biarritz (133km = 83 miles).If you are already in Paris, there are flights from there to a little airport called Pau, 52km away from the property. Michel Guerard is one of the iconic chefs of France, and both restaurants here are superb in their very different ways. Go on: you are worth it.