On the day of our arrival, we had reservations for dinner at the hotel at 7:45. The restaurant offered a la carte, degustation menu (with wine pairings), or a gourmand menu. We chose the gourmand menu which consisted of five courses: appetizer, fish, main, cheese, and dessert. The wine menu was two inches think. We didn’t even open it. We just asked our waiter to bring something that would work with fish and a variety of mains. He brought a lovely, medium Chinon red–smooth and supple with playful but not overwhelming fruit. We had to ask for a few clarifications on the French menu, but were able to order without any huge surprises.
Our meal started with a trio of tastes: a shot of gazpacho, a bite of cheese and a mini bacon tarte. The gazpacho was particularly tasty. We thought the trio was the amuse bouche, but our bouches were to be further amused by rillon (similar to bacon) and caramelized shallots. Our appetizers were generous with an entire slice of stuffed fois gras for Bill and a healthy portion of smoked salmon with salmon mousse for Andrea. I had crab and langoustine (mini lobster) and Kevin had white asparagus and ham-on-a-stick (it sounds more elegant in French).
For our fish course Bill and Kevin had pike, I had sea bass with olives and pine nuts and Andrea had turbot. I didn’t enjoy the Mediterranean preparation of my fish as much as some Asian versions I’ve had. Bill enjoyed his first pike, especially the crispy skin, although his favorite part may have been the fresh spring peas.
Our hosts did not skimp on our main portions either. Andrea and I had veal, Kevin lamb, and Bill pork. The veal was Andrea’s and my favorite course. The morel sauce was delish. I think Kevin’s lamb was also his favorite. Bill preferred his pike over the pork; he found the tenderloin a bit overcooked and the sauce a little salty.
Then came the cheese! We are huge fans of the cheese cart. (I was tempted to roll one out of the restaurant on Tuesday night.) We tried a number of cheeses and found a few new favorites. In particular, Maroilles, a buttery, rich cow cheese. The local chevre was also nice. I was intrigued by a red, cone-shaped cheese. “Ah, Madame! Very Strong!” the waiter said when I pointed to it. I was not deterred. He said he would have to throw away the knife after cutting it and expressed sorrow to my dining companions. I took his advice and tried the scary cheese last. It didn’t stink too much, but it was boldly flavored. For a second I thought it was bubbling on my tongue. It tasted like a strong blue to me. The waiter disagreed with my assessment. “Oh no, blue cheese is good. That is not even cheese!” Turns out the cone cheese, Boulette d’Avesnes, is made from the remnants of Maroilles, which are mixed with spices and typically rolled in paprika. Recent research has revealed that the cheese is known as suppositoire du diable. Yes, that’s the devil’s suppository. Nice.
As with any meal event, we were exhausted by the time dessert arrived. Andrea and I decided to trade our chocolate bombe and orange souffle (but not until I had tasted the bombe, coffee ice cream and vanilla custard–really good). The souffle was warm and airy and huge. I think it was my first souffle and I liked it. Bill also had the bombe with accompaniment. Kevin had strawberry something (details possibly lost to history).
After such a hearty meal, we were dismayed when the waiter brought four shots of passion fruit mousse with orange cookies. We surely gave it a go, and it was lovely, and then our dinner was truly complete.
Our waiter was a lot of fun. We think he was one of the owners of the lovely hotel. We were the last party to leave the dining room that evening. The gourmand menu was €49 per person. So 5+ courses for four, 200 quid with a €26 bottle of wine (not bad!). When you think that burgers and pints for four at a Dub pub can be €80, our meal was wonderfully affordable. It was a great start to our French adventure.