Mere Brazier is a restaurant with considerable history. Established in 1921, it was awarded three Michelin stars in 1933 with its female chef Eugenie Brazier, retaining three stars until 1968. She was the first ever woman chef to be awarded three stars. Indeed she managed six in total, as her restaurant of the same name in Le Col de la Luere near Lyon also earned three stars that year. You can find her original recipes in a book “La Mere Brazier: the Mother of Modern French Cooking” which in 2014 was translated into English by Drew Smith.
After decades of success, eventually the restaurant’s reputation dwindled and the stars went away. In 2008 Mathieu Viannay took over the kitchen, and has regained two Michelin stars for the restaurant in 2009, which it has kept ever since. Mr Viannay is a recipient of the prestigious MOF award (Meilleurs Ouvrier de France). To get an idea of just how hard that is to earn, watch the film documentary “Kings of Pastry”.
In the bar area is a cabinet with the 1933 Michelin guide on display, a reminder of the three star entry that the restaurant gained in the first edition of the Michelin to switch fully to the one/two/three star system still in use today. The simple dining area has two main sections, with a couple of private rooms upstairs. The main room is compact and peaceful, carpeted and with no music to distract from the food. As well as the à la carte menu there was a set menu at €70, and various tasting menus at €95, €115 and €140.
The wine list offered plenty of choice from the nearby Rhone area, as well as from the classic regions of France. Domaine Schlumberger Spiegel Pinot Gris 2007 was €56 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €32, Domaine Bachelet-Monnot Puligny Montrachet 2011 was €86 for a label that retails at €60, and the aromatic and lovely Guigal Condrieu La Doriane was €150 for a wine that will set you back €110 in a shop. As can be seen, these are very reasonable markup levels.
The meal began with superb pate en croute, which not only had beautifully delicate pastry but wonderful rich pate made with Bresse chicken and foie gras, which had gloriously deep meaty flavour (19/20). Alongside this was a veal liver cake, a local delicacy, served with a very impressive dip of onion and chives, which nicely cut through the richness of the veal; I have no idea how a simple dip can be made to have such superb flavour (18/20). A final amuse-bouche was spider crab with a citrus sauce and a garnish of caviar, the shellfish having lovely sweet flavour, balanced by the acidity of the sauce and the briny caviar (19/20).
Risotto of cereal with marscapone cream was topped with a generous shaving of white truffle from Alba. The rice had excellent texture, having absorbed a fine chicken stock, the truffles a nice contrast to the humble cereal (18/20). Even better was a large langoustine with lardo di colonnata, raviolii of langoustine and girolle jus. The langoustine was one of the finest I have ever eaten, perfectly tender and with superbly delicate, sweet flavour. The accompanying ravioli had faultless texture, and the mushroom jus and Tuscan lardo were a lovely complement to the shellfish (20/20).
Wild sea bass came with a mousseline sauce and a garnish of goose barnacles, alongside bak choi. The fish was perfectly cooked and had good flavour, and the richness of the sauce was nicely balanced by slivers of apple; the bak choi was a further foil to the rich sauce, though the goose barnacles seemed to me one flavour too many (18/20). Lobster came with confit potatoes, a bed of mixed wild mushrooms and a white wine sauce. The shellfish was again of the highest standard, beautifully tender, with excellent mushrooms and perfectly cooked potato (19/20).
A pre-dessert of Madeleine with cottage cheese ice cream had an impressively delicate Madeleine, the ice cream a good complement (18/20). A dessert of Venezuelan chocolate tarte fine with grapefruit and cassis sorbet had lovely rich chocolate and superb sorbet, though for me a little more grapefruit would have been beneficial (18/20). Grand Marnier soufflé was as perfect as I remember it from my last visit, the mixture cooked through beautifully evenly and as light in texture as you could wish, with a pleasing kick of Grand Marnier (20/20).
Coffee was excellent, served with a tray of petit fours: a cherry coated in chocolate, lemon meringue tart, and a delicate Paris-Brest with fine choux pastry, praline and cream. Service was terrific throughout the meal, with flawless topping up and friendly staff, including a wine waitress who had worked at Tom Kitchin in Edinburgh. The bill, with pre-dinner drinks and some excellent wine, came to €241 (£192) per person. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical bill per head might be around £135 a head. This seems to me entirely fair when you consider the lovely ingredients and the high level of technical skill on display. Mere Brazier provides a delightful dining experience, with cooking at a level in keeping for a restaurant with such fine culinary history.
Further reviews: 01st Jun 2009