Les Crayeres is a handsome chateau in 17 acres of grounds on the outskirts of Reims, built in 1902-1904 and situated next to the Pommery champagne house. This is not a coincidence since Les Crayeres was built for the Pommery family. Chef Gerard Boyer, who at that time held three Michelin stars for restaurant La Chaumerie, moved to Les Crayeres in 1983, and Michelin transferred the three stars to the new venue. Les Crayeres held three stars all the way through until he retired in 2003. Initially Thierry Voisin, previously sous chef here, took over and kept two stars for the restaurant in 2004. A difficult period followed when a new restaurant manager and chef Didier Elena were hired in 2005. According to a local expert that I spoke to, neither went down well with the regular clientele, though the two Michelin stars were retained. Finally both left in 2010, and both stars were lost.
Things got back on track with the hiring of restaurant manager Herve Fort and chef Philippe Mille, a protege of Yannick Alleno at Le Meurice in Paris. The restaurant regained a star in 2011, then a second star in 2012. Mr Mille became a MOF (Meilleur Ouvrier de France) in 2011, an extremely prestigious and difficult award to win, as can be seen in the TV documentary "Kings of Pastry". The property also has a separate, and seemingly very successful, brasserie called Le Jardin in the park grounds; I was unable to secure a reservation for it on either day we were staying at Crayeres.
The main restaurant dining room is on the ground floor and looks out over the pretty grounds. There is a gorgeous terrace on which, weather permitting, you can sip a glass of champagne before dinner. This is a particularly good plan here, as unlike at many restaurants much of the champagne here is keenly priced. Indeed the list is packed with bargains at the high end, a wine lover's delight. The lengthy selection of wines has 29 pages of champagne, with over 1,100 wines and 600 champagnes listed, though just 13 wines from outside of France, ranging in price from EUR 45 to EUR 5.300. Example wines were Famous Gate Pinot Noir 2008 at €85 for a wine that you can find in the high street for around €74, Coche Dury Mersault 2005 at €160 for a wine that retails at €364 (not a typo, it was under half retail price) and Didier Dagenau Silex 2010 at €180 for a wine that you can find in a shop for €111. For those wishing to splash out, Salon "S" 1999 was €231 for a bottle that will set you back €309 retail, Cristal 2005 was €491 compared to a shop price of €211, and Coche Dury Les Perrieres 2002 was a scarcely believable €500 for a wine that will set you back €1,800 to buy retail. There was even corkage available at €25, but why would you do that when many wines in the list were actually less than you can buy in a shop?
The dining room seats a maximum of 60 diners, and has a high ceiling and picture windows looking out on to the terrace. Tables were well-spaced, large and set with fine white linen tablecloths. There were tasting menus at €190 and €210, as well as a la carte choices with starters ranging from €58 to €86, main courses €64 to €125 and desserts €22 to €24.
The meal began with a tray of nibbles. Duck foie gras with passion fruit had rich liver flavour nicely balanced by the acidity of the fruit, artichoke mousse on a crisp had excellent flavour, local goat cheese came with mango vinegar, and best of all was Scottish salmon with herbs, which had terrific flavour (18/20 average). Next was artichoke cream with mixed vegetable crudités in white wine vinegar; this was impressive, the vegetables of exceptional quality, the artichoke mousse having superb flavour and texture (19/20).
The first official course was gamberi red prawns from Spain, prepared at the tableside and served with fennel and baby potatoes, over which was poured a haddock velouté. The latter had excellent flavour and the prawns were top of the range; the only minor issue was that the vegetables, by the time the prawns were cut and the soup poured, were no longer very hot (18/20).
The next course was wild sea bass served with crayfish, white asparagus, peas, mousseron mushrooms and a sauce of baby beans. This was the dish of the meal, the sea bass having lovely flavour and being perfectly cooked, the white asparagus remarkably tender and the peas and beans bursting with flavour. This was spring on a plate (20/20).
Brill with green asparagus and leek was another fine dish, the fish having excellent flavour, the vegetables again top drawer (19/20). Wagyu beef from Australia was carefully seasoned and tender, served with a superb demi-glacé reduction, a fine example of classic French sauce making skill; on the side was mash with leek and tapenade (18/20).
Cheese were all local, and in fine condition. A pre-dessert was white chocolate sorbet, red currant emulsion and crispy rice (17/20). The pastry chef here is Arthur Fevre, who in 2011 won the prize for best dessert in France. The dish that followed was the one that won him this award: “lemon waves", an undulating crisp with lemon cream and caramel, lemon milk mousse, lemon milk sorbet and caramel mousse. This was an original dish and lovely to eat, the caramel and lemon nicely balanced, as were the textures of the different elements (19/20).
Petit fours comprised cherry lollipop, lemon meringue pie and pistachio, all excellent. Coffee was dark and rich. The bill came to €607 for two (£249 per head) but that was with the priciest menu and some serious wine; we drank Coche Dury Rougeots 2006 at the relative bargain price of €180 for a wine that retails at around €540, plus some champagne. If you went for a lesser menu and ordered more modest wine then the all in price per head would be around £180 per head. Service was superb throughout the evening, with topping up flawless and the staff friendly and knowledgeable. Overall I thought this was a superb meal, definitely in three star territory. This combination of appealing dishes, high grade ingredients and exemplary culinary technique were hard to fault. Highly recommended.
Further reviews: 01st Jun 1996