Regis et Jacques Marcon is situated on a hillside about two hours drive west of Lyon, near a little village called St Bonnet Le Froid. The microclimate here lives up to the name, as it is often cold and wet up here, which is ideal for mushrooms. Not surprisingly, this is the speciality of the restaurant, and autumn is probably the ideal time to visit, when the widest variety of mushrooms are available. Regis Marcon’s parents owned a small hotel, and in 1979 he took this over and built the current restaurant up on the hillside. His son Jacques followed him into the trade, and trained at the famous Paris pastry school Lenotre, followed by stints at some of the top kitchens around, working with luminaries such as Philippe Rochat at Hotel de Ville, Gilles Goujon at Auberge du Vieux Puits, and with Bernard Pacaud at Ambroise. He returned to the family restaurant in 2005, and is now the head chef. The property has ten large rooms in which you can stay overnight, which is useful given the rather isolated nature of the restaurant. It was awarded its first Michelin star in 1990, its second in 1997 and its third in 2005, which it has retained ever since.
The dining room has a lovely view out on to the surrounding countryside, with picture windows along the length of the room. Tables are large and well spaced, with impeccably ironed linen tablecloths. As well as a full a la carte choice, there were two tasting menus, at €157 (£138) and €207 (£182) respectively. The wine list had a lengthy selection of top French labels, with for example Domaine de la Citadelle Gouverneur Saint Auban 2010 at €55 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €37, Domaine de la Bouissiere Gigondas 2012 at €75 compared to its retail price of €30, and Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf du Pape 2012 at €109 for a wine that will set you back €43 in a shop. At the prestige end of the list there were bargains galore. The lovely Coche Dury Meursault 2011 was a steal at €298 compared to its current retail price of €451, and the sublime Guigal La Mouline 1998 was a kindly €585 for a label whose current market price is €522. For those used to London markups this list is a joy.
There was no shortage of nibbles, with a small tree appearing on which were little “mushrooms”, actually a cocoa shell containing cep mushroom cream. This was followed by four canapés each presented on a spoon. There was a beetroot bonbon, pickled radish with mustard leaves, crab with apricot and finally tartare of local beef flavoured with foie gras (18/20 nibbles, the tartare a notch better). After this was a pea soup with mint and mousseron cream. This was superb, the peas having dazzling flavour (19/20). Bread was made in a nearby bakery owned by the restaurant and had excellent texture and a fine crust (19/20).
We ordered from the carte menu. A courgette bavarois was topped with girolles and garnished with almonds, along with a cold broth of mushrooms flavoured with peaches, with a little courgette beignet on the side. This was very enjoyable, the mushroom broth in particular excellent, as were the girolles themselves (18/20).
Next was a dish of Puy lentils on top of which was a poached egg, given a luxurious lift by the use of (dried) black truffles and an extremely delicate little cheese straw. What was particularly impressive was the flavour of the egg, which was a world apart from the supermarket versions we are all used to. The town of Le Puy is less than 60km from here and the lentils were unsurprisingly superb. It is one thing to take a luxury ingredient like langoustine or turbot and cook it well, but it always impresses me when a chef can take humble ingredients like lentils and an egg and make them taste special (19/20). Sweetbreads were fried in breadcrumbs with dried morels, ham, mushroom mousse and served with wild mushrooms and a little herb salad. These were superb, the earthy flavour of the morels going really well with the delicate sweetbreads (19/20).
Lobster came on a bed of more puy lentils, cep “sausage”, more girolles and sauce Americaine (made from white wine, butter, tomatoes, brandy, onions and fish stock) lightly flavoured with tonka beans. This was good thought not one of the best dishes of the meal. The lobster itself was reasonable but the sauce was more impressive than the shellfish (18/20).
A whole John Dory was roasted and served at the table with green asparagus, chanterelles and rosemary flowers along with sabayon sauce. The fish was flawlessly cooked and had great flavour, the chanterelles excellent once again and the sauce complementing the fish well. This was a relatively simple dish but one where the quality of the core ingredients, and the accuracy of the cooking, really stood out (20/20).
Quail pithivier came with a sauce of the cooking juices, alongside a warm vegetable salad with crayfish sauce. This was divine, the pastry fabulous, the quail tender, and the sauces rich and deeply flavoured, with the vegetables exactly what was needed to balance the richness of the quail. This was top of the range French cooking (20/20).
The large cheese board was filled with local cheeses rather than the usual selection of famous cheeses of France normal in Michelin starred restaurants. Clearly they want to reflect the local produce, which is a good thing in principle, though there is a reason why some cheeses have become famous around the world, so not all of these local ones were quite as interesting as the best known French cheeses. There was some particularly good goat cheese, but also a selection of cow and sheep milk cheeses from the area, with local blue cheeses too. The only real issue was that they were served a bit too cold.
Pre dessert was apricot clafoutis with roasted apricot and an apricot sorbet. This was seasonal and certainly was enjoyable, but was very good rather than remarkable (17/20). The main dessert was rhubarb parfait served with peach in a sugar crust along with peach sorbet. The sharpness of the rhubarb was nicely balanced by the sugar coating, and the peach had excellent flavour (17/20). Finally there was lovely, rich coffee, and a few mignardises. The desserts seemed to be a notch below the level of the savoury courses.
Service was superb, friendly, patient and attentive. The bill came to €600 (£528) a head, but that involved serious over indulgence on the food ordering and multiple forays into the upper reaches of this glorious wine list. If you went for the cheaper tasting menu and shared a modest bottle of wine then you could escape for around €190 (£167). This was a lovely overall experience, with an attractive setting, top notch cooking and a wine list with genuine bargains in its upper reaches. The cooking has improved in consistency since my last visit, and the best dishes here are simply magnificent.
Further reviews: 01st Sep 2008