This is a modern hotel, just opposite the railway station in Roanne, a grim little town with no obvious redeeming features. When asked what there was to do in Roanne, the hotel staff looked at each other thoughtfully and then said “Have you been to Lyon?”. The hotel itself was excellent, very modern and luxurious, with lots of glass and mirrors. Service was friendly and competent, and there was valet parking, a useful bonus as parking looked problematic otherwise. The main dining room continued the modern style, with panels of wood and stone, beige blinds, modern prints and irregularly spaced tables. The room overlooked an attractive garden yet small and informal, with elegant wooden chairs and huge umbrellas. Beyond that were tastefully placed herbs in pots in between large trees to screen out the concrete wasteland beyond the garden walls.
The menu presented to my wife was without prices, which is still common in France presumably to protect frail female diners from the sheer scale of the prices. Amuse-bouche was snails in a tomato and garlic sauce with creme fraiche (13/20). The other nibble was smoked salmon with rock salt, freshly ground black pepper and lemon (16/20). I tried the menu gourmand. This meal proper began with crustaceans in aspic on a mint puree, which was not entirely to my taste but was hard to fault in execution (16/20). Next was a magnificent dish of warm foie gras with mange tout and cabbage, dressed with a well-balanced vinaigrette (20/20).
My wife's starter was a tender lobster salad, with julienne of carrot, turnip, red cabbage, scented with mustard and cress, dill and chervil (18/20). The menu gourmand continued with sandre (pike) roast with a herb crust, served with saffron potatoes - the fish was competently cooked but a little flavourless (16/20). This was followed by perhaps the best lobster I have tasted, pan fried and served in its shell with a herb and butter sauce (20/20). The main course was a pigeon, roasted and served very pink, with a reduction of red wine sauce, with garlic. My wife's main course was a truly divine turbot, baked and filleted, served with a beurre blanc and finely diced vegetables, including green beans, tomatoes and orange and grapefruit segments, which sounds odd but actually worked fine (20/20). On the side were some perfect caramelised onions and petit pois puree (20/20).
Breads were: country bread, white, rye with sesame seeds, pistachio and a raisin bread to go with the cheese (17/20 overall). A vast selection of cheese was brought, of which we tried: a magnificent local fresh goat cheese (20/20), Camembert (16/20), Epoisses (20/20), Brie de Meaux (16/20), a Brillat-Savarin like cheese (17/20), a local ewes milk cheese (18/20) and a garlic and pepper cheese (19/20). Overall 18/20 for the cheese.
Next was a lovely idea - a trolley of summer fruits rather like a cheeseboard., but with fruits instead. We tried prunes, dried apricots, pear, banana, strawberry, kiwi fruit, cherries, pineapple, oranges, melon, sultanas, all served with a strawberry coulis prettily interwoven with cream. This was all truly magnificent, the fruits in perfect condition (20/20).
The dessert chariot was a fine affair. We tried a chocolate mousse cake with sponge, a little vanilla custard and chocolate mousse (20/20), a bitter chocolate tart (20/20), a strawberry tart with puff pastry (19/20), bread and butter pudding with a burnt sugar top (20/20) and a raspberry cake with layers of sponge, raspberry and chocolate (20/20). A grapefruit sorbet as a breath freshener was truly remarkable, with utterly perfect texture and fabulous balanced flavour (20/20).
Coffee was very good (18/20), offered with crystallised orange peel, and a whole plate of tuiles - almond, spiral almond biscuit and glazed puff pastry (20/20). With the meal we drank Puligny Montrachet Etienne Sauzet 1988 at a very fair 340 FF, and a glass of excellent 1990 Justice (second wine of Gillette) dessert wine. The set menu was 690 FF, the restaurant bill overall 1,928 FF for two, the room a modest 1000 FF (list price 1200FF).