Vonnas is 50 miles from Lyon airport, a small village where George Blanc shops and restaurants seem to dominate the town. Near the village of Bresse, this region is home to the famous appellation chicken “Poulet Bresse”, the only chicken with an appellation. The rooms (we stayed in room 27) are spacious and well appointed. However, rather like Paul Bocuse, Georges Blanc is an institution, and sadly it is living off its past reputation. The food is really only 1 star Michelin while the service was remarkably inept for a top French restaurant.
Wine was barely topped up, water hardly ever, bread even more rarely, waiters did not always know who had ordered what, and getting attention was far from easy. Service would have been about 12/20, if I scored service. The cooking across two meals here was consistently competent, but always around the 16/20 or so level e.g. fillets of red mullet with mushrooms and sorrel, or salad of lobster with quite ordinary leaves. Poulet Bresse itself was of very good quality, but I have had it cooked much better at Au Crocodile in Strasbourg, for example. Here it was served three ways, though two of them seemed virtually identical, just roasted and served with a cream sauce. Indeed the cooking style is quite heavy, with a lot of use of butter and cream; this is traditional in the area, but surely the odd bit of green vegetable would not hurt?
The cheese trolleys (there were three) clearly have a high turnover, and yet cheese was by no means of the highest order e.g. Brie de Meaux that was not ripe, Reblochon also not ready. Desserts were again capable but unexciting e.g. pineapple grapefruit served with a chocolate ice cream. One was actively bad – a very poor apple millefeuille, which I hardly touched but was whisked away without inquiry. The wine list is huge, with 2,500 different selections, and the mark-ups are not too outrageous. Still, with a price of about £150 a head with fairly modest wine, this is a lot of money for what is really one Michelin star food. The place is huge, with over 100 covers, and you get the firm impression of a slightly cynical milking of past glories. One highlight was the little bistro nearby also owned by George Blanc, where we had an excellent 15/20 lunch for just £30 each, with a more appealing menu (and better bread) than the main restaurant.