Michel Guerard is one of the icons of French cooking (a founder of nouvelle cuisine, which later in far less talented imitator’s hands gained a mixed reputation), and has been based in the Bordeaux region, in the sleepy village of Eugenie-les-Bains, since 1974. He gained three Michelin stars in 1977 and has retained them ever since. The premises house a spa, various rooms, and a simple but most enjoyable country restaurant called Fermes aux Grives. The grounds are extensive and most attractive, with various outhouses and gardens. The dining room itself is very simple, as befits a restaurant whose chef is noted for his simplicity of cooking and emphasis on superb ingredients and technique. Michel Guerard is the chef-patron, with joint head chefs Xavier Franquet del Rey and Stephane Mack.
What follows are notes from two recent meals.
While we were here there was a special offer on certain wines. Apparently Mr Guerard has two daughters, born in 1983 and 1986, and he laid down a wine cellar for them. They asked if the wine could be donated to the restaurant customers at “convivial” prices, and convivial prices they are. Examples were Haut Brion 1986 at EUR 270, pretty much exactly its retail price, Margaux 1983 and 1986 also at retail price, and Lafite Rotshcild 1983 at a bargain EUR 220 (retail price EUR 559). Bread is a choice of two – slices of country bread either with or without olives, and is magnificent bread. The crust is superb, the texture of the bread wonderful, the taste as good as one could hope for from a piece of bread (20/20).
Nibbles consisted of balls of very enjoyable deep-fried Roquefort and remarkably delicate tempura of asparagus. Even better was a tart of red pepper and lime topped with herb leaves: the pastry was dazzling, the red peppers had wonderful flavour, and the herbs leaves were very aromatic (20/20). I began with a much better rendition of the drunken lobster that I had eaten six months ago; in this case there alcohol was carefully under control, and enhanced but did not overwhelm the lobster (easily 18/20 this time). My wife began with a salad of scallops and herbs with a Thai-style mayonnaise. This was a spectacular dish, the scallops perfect, the herbs (along with some of the vegetables used here these are grown in the garden at the back of the house) beautifully aromatic, the mayonnaise subtly blending in Asian spices, managing to combine very well with the more traditional herbs – a real fusion dish (20/20).
A dish of mousserons and morels with asparagus was delightful, the mushrooms carefully selected and perfectly cooked in a rich mushroom stock (20/20). Atlantic sea bass was faultless, served with a seaweed sauce and a magnificent side-dish of roughly cut “Agria” potatoes which had been cooked in a cast iron casserole in duck fat with garlic (20/20). My wife's main course of red mullet was served with a saffron sauce and topped with a thin potato crisp (19/20). I had the pigeon pithivier, which was every bit as dazzling as I remember it from my previous visit. The pigeon and sweetbreads combined beautifully, the pastry case was perfect and the rich demi-glace sauce was utterly superb, fabulously rich yet not over-reduced. This is a world-class dish.
A coffee galette with chocolate sorbet featured deep coffee flavour and simply stunning puff pastry (20/20). My dessert of gateau mollet (a cold soufflé , sweet and brioche-like) with rhubarb ice cream was a fine balance of textures and tastes (19/20). This meal began with a salad of ginger and spicy crab with herb leaves on perfect pastry (20/20). Alongside this were crisps from the waffle iron described on the previous visit (20/20). I had the Thai scallop dish tonight, while my wife had potato soup with truffles, served in a potato shell. This was certainly taking things back to basic, though plenty of black truffles were used to enhance the potato flavour. Seasoning was strong, and certainly this managed to get as much flavour out of a potato soup as can easily be imagined (18/20).
Lobster was roasted and then lightly smoked over the wood fire in the kitchen, removed from its shell and then placed back for presentation. It is hard to imagine a much simpler dish, the lobster served on its own, and yet the flavour of the lobster, the perfect cooking of the flesh and the gentle hint of smokiness made this a remarkable dish; I have not had better lobster (20/20).
My main course was chicken that was wrapped in bacon for flavour, cooked over wood smoke and served with sweetbreads, a sliver of perfect bacon and roasting juices (19/20). Cheese is a less grand affair than at many three star restaurants, with a relatively small board of mostly local cheeses in excellent condition. Roquefort, as one might expect, was the highlight, but also good were local goat cheeses, a pair of ewe milk cheeses and excellent young Comte (18/20).
Warm apple soufflé was paired with tropical fruit ice cream, and had lovely flavour and texture (19/20). Even better was a pain perdu of grapefruit, with a fluffy grapefruit mousse a refreshing contrast to the pain perdu, with grapefruit zest as garnish (20/20). This time a series of fruit tarts for petit fours featured more of the stunning pastry and very high quality fruit (20/20). The standard of the cooking here is simply remarkable. I was also impressed that the kitchen could pull off such as successful modern dish as the scallop and herb salad with Thai flavours – a fusion dish that worked really well, refreshing and delightful, with an original yet logical flavour combination.