Clos des Sens is in the hills above Lake Annecy. Its head chef is Lauren Petit, who has been cooking here since he opened the restaurant in July 1992. He was inspired to make cooking his career by a stage at the age of twenty at Michel Guerard’s Les Pres des Eugenie, and by 24 he opened his first restaurant in Briançon in the Haute-Alpes. In the 2019 Michelin guide it received the ultimate third star, and if you want to travel here then it is just 46km (29 miles) from Geneva airport. There is an attractive terrace where you can sit outside, and a further terrace directly next to the dining room that has a natural canopy made from two trees that are the centrepiece, with tables nestling underneath their branches. The dining room itself had widely spaced tables covered in crisp white linen.
Tasting menus were available at either five courses at €128 (lunch only), seven courses at €168 or ten courses at €198. The extensive wine list, put together by Thomas Lorival, had 1,200 references. It ranged from €30 to €2,500 in price, with a quite decent selection around the €60 price point before heading upwards to grander territory, with particular strength in Burgundy. There was a separate and lengthy list of wines from the local region in addition to the main list. Sample labels were Jo Landon Fiefs du Breuil Muscadet 2014 €60 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €25, Paul Pillot Les Charmois St Aubin 2015 at €90 compared to its retail price of €49, and Domaine de Trevallon 2009 at €130 for a wine that will set you back €86 in a shop. For those with the means, there were grander offerings such as at Etienne Guigal La Turque 1998 at €350 compared to its retail price of €567, and Etienne Guigal La Landonne 1995 at €550 for a wine whose current market value is €514. In the upper reaches of the list were some serious relative bargains, such as Coche Dury Genevriers 2011 at €625 for a bottle that retails at €1,835. We went all in on the wine front and drank the gorgeous Coche Dury Meursault 2013 at the bargain price of €315 compared to its current market value of €584, and the glorious Etienne Guigal La Landonne 1998 at €350 compared to its retail price of €625.
Not all the grander wines were so kindly priced by any means, with some of the posh Bordeaux bottles marked up quite heavily, so some care and attention is needed when ordering in order to find good value bottles. However you can only do this in person as they will not send you the wine list in advance as they regard it as “confidential”, which is a fairly bizarre idea for something that is essentially a sales brochure. The sommelier spoke excellent English and clearly knew his wines very well indeed when we chatted. He said that he preferred to talk to clients about their individual needs and advise on wine rather than letting them see the list ahead of time, the logic being that if they had a chance to study it then this would be doing him out of a job. A very French explanation, it seems to me, and not something that I really agree with. Anyway, once you get a chance to look at the sacred list then you can see that there are some genuine bargains tucked away in its depths.
The meal began with a sequence of nibbles. Perch was marinated in salt and wild garlic and served with a sliver of delicate, crisp fish skin. Cream of fera (lake fish) was topped with smoked cream eggs. A Saumur mushroom crisp was followed by cream of polenta with aromatic herb salad, and finally a smoked and then fried baby perch. The herb salad was oddly bitter, though the fried perch was lightly cooked and nicely seasoned. The other canapés were pleasant and enjoyable rather than thrilling (16/20 average). Sourdough was from a local bakery in Annecy and was excellent, with a lovely crust and airy texture. The first formal dish was a pretty display of very finely sliced raw Saumur mushrooms heaped over a central bed of caramelised shallots, with a little cup of mushroom soup to one side. This worked really well, the sweetness of the shallots working really well with the deviate earthiness of the mushrooms, and the soup was lovely, having very deep flavour (19/20).
Next was crayfish from Lake Annecy, served in several forms, rather in the style of Pierre Gagnaire, who often produces courses made of four or five little dishes made from a single ingredient. There was a delicate disc flavoured with crayfish over a crayfish tartare with horseradish and celeriac. A hemisphere-shaped cream of crayfish was made with the head contents of the shellfish and had an almost livery flavour, and there was also an overly dry, powdery disc made from crayfish shell. There was also a dish of cooked crayfish tails on a two level serving dish, with a section underneath revealing crayfish royale, essentially a crayfish bisque with a savoury custard, rather like the Japanese chawanmushi savoury custard, though here in a a more liquid form rather than fully set. The tartare showed that the crayfish had good natural sweetness, though the horseradish flavour was very subdued. The cream of shellfish certainly had an interesting flavour and the cooked tails were very good. However the crayfish disc would have been better omitted, though the bisque had plenty of depth of flavour, so it was a slightly mixed dish with some elements a lot more successful than others (17/20).
This was followed by tomato roasted with vinegar, topped with a cloud of beaten egg whites, like a very soft meringue, which had been steamed. The final effect was reminiscent of a savoury ile flottante. This worked well, the tomatoes having excellent flavour, grown locally, and combining nicely with the airy egg whites (18/20). L’Omble Chevalier, or Arctic char, was cooked lightly and seasoned with roasted buckwheat, citrus and a form of bottarga made from fera roe rather than the traditional grey mullet. The fish was nicely cooked and had good flavour, though I could not help casting my mind back a couple of decades to the glory days of Marc Veyrat, who cooked a stunning fera dish in his lake Annecy premises and which is seared into my memory. This dish was very pleasant, but not remotely in the league of the Veyrat version (17/20).
Next was poached kohlrabi flavoured with saffron grown at a local farm, with a kind of bouillabaisse made from local lakefish. This is a tricky dish to score, since the fish soup was lovely, with deep, rich flavour, but the kohlrabi had become soggy and was quite disappointing. Overall maybe 15/20, though if they had just served the soup on its own I would have scored this higher. Salmon trout from Lake Geneva came with a snail condiment, onion pickle and a sauce of local white wine, with flowers and some lemon verbena. This was the least successful dish of the meal, the trout flabby and lacking a great deal of flavour, the various condiments unable to make up for the rather ordinary trout (barely 14/20). This turned out to be the final savoury course, which was a shame, as at this stage some meat dish, perhaps made with a local duck would have made the meal more balanced in terms of progression.
Instead we had a sorbet of tomme blanche cheese, a local cheese made from skimmed milk, which was combined with walnut vinegar and rosehip granita and jam. This was pleasant, with a mild flavour (17/20). Dessert itself was a rhubarb confit with rose flavoured jus. The rhubarb was grown locally and had very nice flavour, but was overly sharp, so it needed a little more sugar for balance (just about 16/20). This was followed by chicory root in various forms: granita, mousse and powder as well as meringue, which was pleasant enough (16/20). Coffee was from a local roaster called Fabien Rouget, and in this case was made from Nicaraguan beans. This was very enjoyable, the coffee quite mild but fully flavoured.
Service was excellent, the staff being friendly and patient as well as very attentive. The bill came to €673 (£598) but that was with a lot of serious wine. If you ordered the shorter menu and shared a modest bottle of wine then a more typical cost per person might be around £195. Overall this meal was on the border of 16/20 to 17/20 territory, though I found it to be quite a mixed meal. Only the mushroom dish was really thrilling, and perhaps the strict local ingredient theme constrains things somewhat, though that never stopped Marc Veyrat from producing extraordinary dishes based on the same raw material back in his pomp. Clos des Sens is certainly in a lovely location and definitely focuses on the local produce. Whether it really amounts to true three star cooking is more debatable.