What was called Auberge de Clos des Cimes and is now known as Regis et Jacques Marcon is a restaurant and hotel in the remote Haute Loire region. It is at the top of a fairly bleak hill near the town of St Bonnet le Froid, and as the receptionist drily pointed out, there is a reason why it is called “froid”. On this September day when it was 27C earlier in Lyon, it was just 10C up here, and on the following morning the hotel was wreathed in cold mist which hugged the top of the hill (just a little lower down the hill, beneath the mist level, was perfectly decent weather). The architecture of the hotel is stark modern, with some fairly eccentric touches, such as a corridor barely lit but with a video display of images of the area. The dining room itself has picture windows looking out on to the hillside, which must present a lovely view on a sunny day. It has a wooden floor, generously spaced tables and effective modern lighting. A wooden ceiling has tiny embedded lights that actually sparkle.
Chef Regis Marcon specialises in mushrooms, which feature heavily on the menu. We had a tasting menu (EUR 165) that reflected this. The wine list is entirely French, with plenty of Rhone and Loire choices. Guigal Condrieu 2005 was listed at EUR 135 for a wine that costs around EUR 45 in the shops, while Guigal’s sublime La Mouline 2002 costs EUR 450 on the list for a wine which, if you could find it, costs around EUR 150. Trimbach Cuvee Frederich Emile 2000 was priced at EUR 62 for a wine that costs around EUR 30. The female sommelier knew her wines and was helpful (though she did later forget to bring a previously ordered dessert wine in a rare service blemish).
Bread consisted of slices of either traditional cereal or walnut bread, and even a lentil bread (the town of Puy, home of the famous green lentils, is not far) all very well made (18/20). We began with assorted nibbles: a smooth duck liver pâté, cottage cheese and herbs (16/20), excellent marinaded trout (19/20), poached oyster (17/20), tomato and strawberry candy with lovely tomato flavour (17/20) and a less successful cornet of hummus of walnuts, which had a grainy texture (14/20). An amuse-bouche of cream of mushroom soup made with ceps and girolles had considerable intensity, topped with a piece of almond and olive toast (19/20).
Green bean salad with three superb tasting varieties of tomatoes was next, together with a tender langoustine and a strange addition of a sweet tuile with “sparkling sugar” (space dust to the English), which seemed to me a really bad idea (18/20 if I try and forget the space dust). Courgette filled with girolles and a single slice of cep was served with a light sabayon of cep and a garnish of courgette flower, a simple dish that worked well (18/20). The exotically named l’omble chevalier (Arctic chard in less romantic English) was poached with fresh mushrooms and served with an artichoke puree and almond cream, a garnish of mushrooms and some crispy potatoes wrapped inside the fish skin, giving an interesting texture contrast (19/20).
Salmon was slow cooked (sous-vide) but this gave a rather slimy texture effect, cooked with herbs and a sauce made from red mullet, with a very good raviolo of herbs (16/20). The best dish of the night was a warm duck liver topped with peanuts and pistachio, served with peach in three styles: as a sorbet, roasted and mashed with verbena. This dish may read oddly but it worked remarkably well, the nuts giving a welcome hard texture contrast to the silky liver, the peaches giving acidity to balance the richness of the liver. This was an original and really well executed dish (20/20). A granite of rosé champagne had good texture but for me had an on off note reminding me of cough mixture, which I found quite unpleasant.
Turbot with bulgar wheat and assorted vegetables was very well cooked (17/20) while I had superb lamb with cep granita (roasted and caramelised in butter) a butternut puree, lamb liver and vegetables, with a garnish of rosemary. The meat had fine flavour and the dish was both pretty and had good taste (19/20). Next was a simple fricassee of mushrooms, very well seasoned, the assorted wild mushrooms perfectly cooked in a little butter with just a hint of herbs. For me this was as enjoyable as anything, and hard to see how it could be improved (20/20).
The cheese board was unusual in that it was entirely made of local cheeses, such as artisan goat cheeses, sheep milk cheeses from the nearby farms and a Saint Nectaire (18/20). Raspberry baba was a well made dessert, using raspberry juice instead of rum, the base fluffy but just a little drier than ideal (18/20). A chocolate ganache and sorbet with chocolate granite was pretty and well made without being dazzling (18/20). Service was friendly and generally very capable. I found this meal very enjoyable, a strong 18/20 but not quite a 19/20, with a few touches of real class, but also a few dishes that didn’t seem to be quite at the same level.
Further reviews: 23rd Jun 2017