Troisgros is one of the great restaurants of France. Situated near the railway station of Roanne, a sleepy town 90km west of Lyon, it has kept three Michelin stars for 48 years so far. The restaurant originally opened in 1930, but really came to prominence in the late 1950s and 1960s when brothers Pierre and Jean Troisgros took over the kitchen from their parents. Both trained at Lucas Carton in Paris, Pyramide in Vienne and also at Maxims and the Crillon in Paris before taking the helm at the family restaurant. The first Michelin star was awarded to Troisgros in 1955, the second in 1965 and the ultimate third star in 1968, a level that has been maintained ever since. Pierre’s son Michel followed in the tradition, training at Hotel de Ville under Fredy Girardet, and at Taillevent in Paris, amongst others. He has run the kitchen since the 1980s, smoothly transitioning the restaurant to a new generation of the family. Michel’s son Cesar was in charge of the kitchen at this visit, the fourth generation of the family to run this legendary kitchen. The restaurant has nurtured some very talented chefs over the years, including Bernard Loiseau, Marc Haeberlin, Guy Savoy, Elena Arzak, Pascal Barbot and Gualtiero Marchesi, all of whom went on to earn three Michelin stars in their own right.
In March 2017 the plan is to move the location of the main restaurant to a 17 hectare countryside location a few miles away near Ouche. For now the building remains as it has done for decades, the dining room looking out over a pretty garden. The well-spaced tables these days are unadorned by tablecloths.
There was a tasting menu at €240 (£188) and a slightly shorter one at €195, as well as a full carte choice. The wine list was particularly strong in its choice of Burgundies, but ventured outside France to feature some well-known producers from elsewhere. Example references were Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2012 at €75 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for around €35, Macchiole Paleo 2008 at €150 compared to a retail price of €65, and Lafon Mersault Charmes 2007 at €250 for a wine that will set you back €205 in a shop. For those with the means there were grander wines too, such as Ramonet Le Montrachet 1999 at €1,700 for a bottle that actually has a current market price of €1,943. If you look carefully there were some striking (relative) bargains. For example the sublime Coche Dury Meursault Les Perrieres 2008 was a steal at €600 given that it costs around €1,848 retail.
The meal began with some nibbles. A signature here is a cherry tomato with sesame seeds and ginger on a cocktail stick. The tomatoes had been marinated for two days and had dazzlingly intense flavour, the gentle spice of the ginger and sesame adding an extra dimension (20/20). This was followed by crisp rice enlivened with a hint of lime and lemon, Comte cheese pastry with onion and mustard and a fritter of orange and pumpkin. These were a class above most restaurant nibbles, which can all too often seem like an afterthought (19/20). There was a single sourdough bread offered, but it was superb.
The final amuse-bouche was tender crayfish, served cold with assorted vegetables, with a vinegar and white wine sauce and black pepper. The overall effect was very refreshing, the slight sour note of vinegar a counterpoint to the inherent sweetness of the crayfish. The shellfish was great but I was even more impressed by the sheer quality of the vegetables, of a different league to those we get used to in UK restaurants (20/20).
“Caviar and mushroom origami” comprised little pouches of a mousse of caviar and almonds with a wild mushroom sauce. The caviar was exceptionally high quality, the sauce adding a slight smoky note that worked well with the excellent almonds (19/20). I should mention that my companion’s tripe with tomato and orange ravioli with coriander celery and hazelnuts was very impressive too, and I am far from a fan of tripe.
My next dish was white asparagus with chives, walnut and saffron with zest of lemon. The asparagus had glorious flavour, the walnuts adding a different texture and the lemon bringing a refreshing touch of acidity. Anyone who thinks vegetable dishes are less interesting than meat never tasted this dish (20/20). If possible, the next dish was even better. John Dory was cut into little rings, each filled with black truffle. The fish was fabulous and the truffle remarkable, its distinctive earthy aroma a lovely match for the fish (20/20).
Slices of veal ear had sweetbread inside and was then fried, served with red pepper, a reduction of vinegar and a fennel and almond puree. The richness of the sweetbread was beautifully balanced by the vinegar reduction, the red pepper going well with the meat (19/20). Even better was my companion’s lamb with endives and garlic with gentle Indian spices, the lamb of dazzling quality.
Pre dessert was rhubarb poached with a pair of mousses, one of mint and the other of coconut. This came with rhubarb marmalade and lemon and orange crumble. This was gorgeous, the rhubarb not too sharp, the coconut and mint bringing aromatic notes to the dish (20/20). Apple baba was similarly glorious. This is a deceptively simple dish that is very hard to get right it being extremely easy to dry out. Not here; the texture of the baba was glorious, moist and with the acidity of the apple cutting through (20/20). Another dish that can easily go wrong is hazelnut soufflé, but this was a perfect rendition. It was cooked evenly, gossamer light, with very high quality hazelnuts whose flavour permeated the airy soufflé (20/20).
Some excellent petit fours concluded the meal. I was being taken by a friend so did not see the bill tonight, which was probably just as well given the quality and volume of wine that we consumed. If you shared a modest bottle then a typical cost per head might be around €260 or so (£204). The prices here are considerably less than equivalent restaurants in Paris, and the wine list is very fairly priced, almost absurdly so in places. The technical skills on display here are considerable, and the quality of ingredients is top notch. The best dishes here are simply world class, and Troisgros thoroughly deserves its considerable reputation as one of the iconic fine dining restaurants of France.