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Alain Chapel

, Mionnay, France

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Sadly, the Alain Chapel restaurant closed in 2012. His son, Romain, is currently head chef of Sketch in London. The notes below are of historical interest only.

Mionnay is a tiny, unprepossessing town, somewhat hard to find. To get there, come off the motorway A46, take the exit marked “les Echets”, then take the N83 towards Villars-les-Dombes, and follow the signs to Mionnay. The hotel is in an old coaching inn, where the former stables are now the garages, which I thought rather sweet. The setting is most attractive, the tables being spread out along two sides of a sheltered courtyard, reminiscent of cloisters and overlooking the garden, dominated by a spectacular weeping willow. There is also an indoor dining room and a private room for 12-16 people, both of these also overlooking the garden. The rooms are small and dowdy, furnished with traditional French furniture and decor. The bed was tiny, with a solid wooden headboard and footboard. There was no air-conditioning and the window shutters were difficult to open. These factors, combined with the seemingly incessant (and very nearby) church bells, made for a very poor night’s sleep. When we drove into the courtyard no-one appeared for several minutes, and on the way out the fairly waif-like maid was dispatched to lug our heavy cases, which she did for a short while only to abandon them (can’t say I blame her). Overall, hotel service was pretty mediocre.

The meal itself started with a glass of champagne, together with a huge Campari and soda which would have finished off Hurricane Higgins. Canapes arrived: a tasteless chicken mousse, good herrings and well-cooked mussels, all served on a deep fried bread base (which was poor and chewy). These were collectively only 13/20. Bread was a no-choice set of rolls which were rather chewy and distantly reminiscent of sourdough, but only distantly (11/20). I tried a starter of pan-fried foie gras, served on a bed of puy lentils, with a salad including herbs and lardons (17/20). My wife had turbot, served with asparagus and morels (which were beautiful and plentiful), in a rich mushroom stock. This was 18/20 (originally a main course, adapted since there were essentially no vegetarian or fish starters). For main course we both had langoustines served with ravioli containing soft cheese and tomato, with a sauce of coriander and lemon. The langoustines were very tender and the sauce a good match (18/20).

Cheese included Epoisses way past its best, practically a soup (13/20), St Marcellin (18/20), Beaufort (17/20), Camembert (20/20), Fourme d’Ambert (18/20), Livarot (16/20), St Nectaire (13/20) - overall 16/20 for the cheese.  For desserts, there were a selection of strawberries (13/20), pineapple (18/20), caramel ice cream (a tasteless 13/20), pistachio (16/20), chocolate (18/20) and a wafer tuile (18/20).  In addition, from a trolley we sampled: strawberry mousse cake (16/20), pineapple gateau (18/20), chocolate cake with uneven icing (18/20), fresh fruit tart with strawberries, cherries and raspberries (18/20), cherry clafoutis - easily the best dish (19/20), though the cherries were not pitted, an odd omission.

For petit fours, we had a soggy tuile (12/20), strawberry tart (16/20), an eclair (16/20), meringues with vanilla ice cream, sugared almonds (16/20), crystallised orange peel (11/20) and a Madeleine (17/20). Overall these were around 16/20. Coffee was good (18/20). For wine we had a Tokay Pinot Gris from Grossmann at 390 francs, while the prices for the set menu were FF 595, room FF 800, while our total restaurant bill came to FF 1793. The wine list was expensive - much costlier than Troisgros, for example.

Overall, we found this a difficult menu, with many choices only for two people, and no flexibility for vegetarians. The service was patchy and veered between occasional errors and difficulty in getting attention to completely over the top grovelling. The food was generally a fairly solid performance, but with some slips and very much lacking in any excitement.  Really this wa only a 17/20 level meal. Its glory days seem to have passed.

 

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