I first came to Troisgros in 1996, which seems a long time ago and yet it has been running since 1930, with three generations of the family as chef. The kitchen is now in the safe hands of Michel Troisgros, who had 17 chefs working at this lunch sitting, which had barely more than 20 diners. It is situated in the unlikely setting of Roanne, a town with considerable history as a trading centre due to its situation on the Loire, but now a rather sleepy, unappealing place. The restaurant (which also has rooms) is an oasis amongst such blandness, situated almost opposite the main train station, which is a leisurely one hour train ride from Lyon. The décor uses a lot of grey in the building, and the dining room itself looks out onto the pretty garden, where we sat to look at the menu.
The wine list is vast, and the wine cellar impressive. It is all temperature and humidity controlled, with 40,000 bottles and 2,000 separate wines stored. Unlike so many three- star places, the wine list is affordable. Etienne Sauzet Batard Montrachet 2003 was listed at EUR 290, yet this wine will cost you around EUR 178 in the shops. There are some non-French wines, such as Kistler Dutton Ranch 1997 at EUR 152 for a wine that will cost you at least EUR 80, and Diel Spatlese Trocken Dorsheimer 1992 at EUR 41 for a wine that you will struggle to find for less than EUR 25. The bargain of the list was the Coche Dury Puligny Les Enseigneres 1999. At EUR 130 this would appear to be well below the level of its retail price (around EUR 200), so that is what we drank (hat tip to SG for the recommendation).
Nibbles were little tomato fritters with sesame seeds and ginger, which featured beautiful tomatoes, semolina and lime with lovely texture, and crackers with coriander chutney, rather like an ultra-light poori (20/20). Bread was served warm and was a choice of classic baguette, cereal bread and, my favourite of the three, a remarkably light corn bread (19/20 average). The first dish was a pair of small pieces of mackerel in cassis jelly with sweet onion, and just a hint of mustard. This was an unusual idea, but the acidic balance of the dish was sound, and the little bite of spice lifted the dish (19/20).
Gnocchi made with artichokes with slivers of sardine was a technical triumph (20/20). A “pillow” of mousserons was made from milk skin; the mushrooms themselves were excellent, with a little of the mushroom cooking juices inside the pillow, but although this was all very clever I would have preferred a wrapping of, say, pasta (18/20). Better were discs of potato containing truffles, resting in a mushroom veloute and garnished with peas and a few additional mushrooms. This dish had lovely balance, the vegetables again having the finest flavour (20/20).
A little piece of cod with tomato essence was a fine piece of cooking, the cod flaking perfectly, the tomato essence having great flavour concentration. Cod is not my favourite fish, so for me to get excited by this shows real culinary talent (20/20). I most enjoyed the next dish, blue lobster on a bed of perfect spinach, the lobster lightly spiced and having little slices of redcurrant skin to provide acidity, plus a little fennel. This dish worked really well, and the lobster itself was magnificent, with great flavour and tender as could be (20/20).
A pair of pieces of lamb were served simply with some cooking juices, a few sliced broad beans, a red pepper sauce and garlic, with red pepper slices garnishing the top of the lamb; a fine aubergine was served on the side. The meat was cooked beautifully, seasoning was just right, and again the purity of flavour of the vegetables was striking (20/20). Cheese is from the affineur Herve Mons in Lyon, and was in excellent condition e.g. ultra-creamy Brillat Savarin, excellent Munster, lovely St Marcellin, which is fairly local to this area (20/20).
Afterwards the desserts began with a verveine sabayon with a dusting of chocolate. I am not going to score this, as I personally find verveine something that simply should not appear on a plate. Ironically the excellent soap used in the bathrooms here are scented with verveine, so to me this was like tasting soap sabayon. Of all the wonderful flavours in the world to create sweets, why chefs in recent years insist on going out of their way to find odder and odder ingredients simply eludes me. I am sure it was a well made verveine sabayon, but that does not mean that I want to eat it. Pear sorbet with meringue, a hint of ginger with wild strawberries was back on track (19/20). Rhubarb soufflé was very well made, with fluffy texture and the natural acidity of the rhubarb making it an ideal constituent for a soufflé; I am not sure it needed the addition of mint which it seemed to have (19/20). Petit fours included an excellent almond biscuit and superb raspberries, as well as a fine tuile (19/20). The bill was EUR 281, which included an EUR 130 bottle of wine. Service, with the exception of one rather curt elderly waiter, was superb, with the staff helpful and attentive. I have to say that, despite the technical perfection of the cooking here, I preferred my meal here a dozen years ago; I think this must just be a sign of me getting old.