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Michel Bras

Route de Aubrac, Laguiole, Aveyron, 12210, France

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This was my second visit to Bras (formerly Michel Bras), a restaurant that has achieved many accolades, including three Michelin stars. It is in a remarkably isolated spot, at the top of a hillside in the Aubrac area, with some farms but not a lot else anywhere near. It is a good three hour drive from Toulouse, and more from Montpelier, which are the nearest significant airports. At least the drive itself up from the south (up the A75) is impressive, including the spectacular Millau viaduct over the river Tarn, a truly remarkable engineering feat. The scenery on the drive is certainly very pretty, but bear in mind that it is chilly at this elevation even in August, so dress accordingly.

The Bras building (which includes a number of rooms at which you can stay), built in 1992, is certainly striking architecturally, and I suspect has a “love it or hate it” effect for most. It is low slung, the grey stone in some way fitting given the bleak hillside location, which is often shrouded in mist. It looks very modern even today, and the rooms are well appointed, with terraces and generous bathrooms. There is a bar area in an observation deck with fine views over the surrounding countryside, and the dining room is on the other side of the building past the reception. It looks a lot better in the sunshine, with light streaming into the dining room. The little miniature stream with flowers that separates the corridor from the dining room seems to me a very pretty effect. Tables are generously spaced with high quality linen and tableware.

The restaurant is open from April to October. Sebastian Bras was running the kitchen when we visited; I had the impression that his father Michel, who wasn’t around, was generally in a more background role these days (Michel was born in 1946, so was 64 at the time of this visit).

We ate the vegetable tasting menu at €136 per person, while the “balade” tasting menu was €179. To give a sense of a la carte prices, the gargouillou starter was €44, while prawns with orange and fennel cost €70.

The wine list was extensive, with conventional mark-up levels at the low end of the list, but some relative bargains at the top end. For example the simple Albert Mann Muscat 2009 was listed at €48 for a wine that costs about €15 in the shops, yet Cuvee Frederich Emile 2001 was listed at €118 for a wine that will set you back around €105 retail. As another example, Mersault “Charmes” Domaines des Comtes Lafon 1996 was €255 compared to a retail price of around €240.

As we looked over the menus we were offered egg flavoured with aubergine and capers, which did little for me (14/20) though a cep tart was much better, with good pastry and high quality mushrooms (18/20). Bread rolls, although made in the kitchens, did not impress me that much in terms of texture (16/20 at best) but flatbread flavoured with coriander and other spices was interesting and well made (18/20).

Nibbles presented on spoons were an oxtail consommé with vegetables, which had a very clear and well-made jelly, a pleasant small piece of freshwater fish with carrot, chive and thyme, and bulgar and cucumber (17/20). The gargouillou is the most famous dish here, a prettily presented plate with dozens of vegetables, wild herbs and flowers, each cooked optimally (many sautéed in a butter sauce) and offered with parsley oil. This was very impressive, the vegetables and herbs of the highest quality, carefully cooked, the effect light and the presentation lovely (20/20).

This was followed by a simpler but also impressive dish of haricot beans and peas, skimmed milk and a pressed nut biscuit giving a crumb-like texture contrast. Again the vegetables were impeccable (20/20). The next dish brought things down to earth: grilled aubergine with basil, an intense tomato paste and ultra-salty anchovies. I didn’t think this dish worked that well, as the aubergine was for me not particularly great and its taste was overwhelmed by the saltiness of the anchovies (15/20).

Sweet onion slow roasted and served with “liquorice” powder (actually a sweet and savoury mix of olives, Demerara sugar and ground almonds) was much better; the onions were extremely butter and sweet in texture, served alongside some excellent almonds (19/20).

Next was pumpkin with raisins steeped in vinegar, with almonds and sorrel. While again the almonds were of terrific quality, the pumpkin was rather dry (at best 16/20). A further sweet onion from Lezignan offered with truffles and olive oil cream was strangely salty (14/20). In order to be sure we were doing justice to the kitchen, we ordered a supplemental non-vegetable dish, prawns with orange and fennel. This was very good, the prawns having good flavour and being tender, the dressing working well with them (19/20).

The aligot (mash potato with cheese) was as stringy and tasteless as I recall from last time; perhaps this is a French childhood thing that it is difficult for foreigners to appreciate; it appeared to lack taste almost entirely. I find this difficult to mark at all.

A warm biscuit encasing red fruits flavoured with lemon and honey was very enjoyable, the biscuit encasing high quality mixed red fruits, topped with an ice cream made from a local flower (18/20). Finally, little ice cream cornets had assorted flavours: fig and orange, chocolate ganache and mint, blueberry sorbet and ginger, peach verbena and honey and a caramel ice cream with milk jam; these were all capably made (comfortably 18/20).

Service tonight was much warmer than I recall it on my previous visit. Staff were friendly and topping up was skilful.
Overall, while I enjoyed my meal a fraction more than my previous visit, I was surprised by the number of dishes that seemed to either have a fairly apparent problem (such as over-saltiness) or were just rather dull. In between there were some real highlights, and from these I can at least appreciate how Bras gained such a strong reputation, with some very clean flavours. Yet after this meal I see no justification for changing my original overall score, given the inconsistency we experienced.

 

Further reviews: 01st May 2004

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  • Denis Wicking

    An early autumn Sunday lunch for 8. We had been in Laguiole for 2 nights and got used to some of the local treats including varying qualities of aligot and foie gras. Maison Bras took us to a new height in all senses (culinary and physically). In spite of mild protestations from the ladies we opted for Balade, a wonderful presentation of the regional food and the skills of the team. This is one of the few places that our group is looking forward to a return visit, both to explore the region and to revisit Maison Bras

  • Steve Bartlett

    We live about an hour and a half away,and are lucky enough to have eaten there 4 times in the last ten years. The last time was about a year ago (April 2009). The food was, as always, delicious, although the lack of sauces has become a bit annoying. The oddest thing was that the menu was all but the same as the previous June. The waiter said they had been spending time doing up the rooms! We will no doubt go again sometime but not until we can be confident of some new things to try.

  • Chris McKee

    Our appetites were whetted by the spectacular drive, fabulous weather and beautiful, architectural presence of the building. Expectations running high, we loved the setting but were underwhelmed by the food. We enjoyed the egg & coriander amuse with cheese toast soldiers. The signature Gargilliou was delicious and it all went pretty well until they brought out the rubbery cheesy mash while our dirty plates from the previous course were still on the table. What was that all about? Service was perfunctory rather than engaging even though we spoke French. All in all a great experience but not a stellar dinner.

  • Lynda Larouche

    MY HUSBAND AND I DROVE FOR ABOUT 8 HOURS FROM THE WEST SIDE AND THE ROAD WAS A BIT CRAZY...WE HAD TO STAY AN EXTRA NIGHT BECAUSE WE COULDN'T GET IN ON THE EVENING OF...IT WAS WELL WORTH THE WAIT. WE MET THE WHOLE FAMILY AND WE BOUGHT SOME STEAK KNIVES HOME AS WELL...NICE PLACE TO BE...A 180 DEGREE VIEW OF AUBRAC...TOOK A SHORT VISIT INTO THE KITCHEN...WOW AT LEAST 30 MINI CHEFS...

  • Pierre

    I really did love this place. The food is really good, and the overall experience is amazing. Unlike Andy, I loved the "Aligot" and everybody that evening did. However it might have something to do with having been raised in France? Anyway, it's far from everything, but well worth the visit !

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