Sometimes you encounter those rare moments where you are just puzzled what just had happened. Stepping out in a beautiful but a bit chilly Autumn night this last November we couldn’t help but wonder whether this surrealistic theatre had been indeed real. Was there a hidden camera?
No-one came following us and uplifted the masquerade… Looking at the bill that amounted to 740€ for two 6-course meals with a more than mediocre wine pairing made me realize that this was not a dream – this was the second worst three star meal ever – only to be topped by Sant Celoni back in 2008.
To be fair, Pascal Bardot is a visionary chef – he basically was the first to break with the conventions of the great posh houses and tried to do ‘his’ thing. After years with Alain Passat at L’Arpege he opened Astrance in 2000. Less formal in a cosy setting tugged away in a quiet side-street, he served a carte blanche menu from the beginning and was an instant success – people came raving, the restaurant was constantly booked-out and indeed was awarded the third star in 2007. My first lunch there in 2009 was good and solid at three star level, but our recent dinner was merely one star level, if at all. Rightfully so, the Guide Rouge retracted the third star in his 2019 edition.
France has a rich culinary tradition – shining names like Carême, Escoffier and the protagonists of Nouvelle Cuisine (most importantly Michel Guérards und Fernand Point) have left most important marks on Haute Cuisine all around the world. Michelin and Gault-Millau are the guidebooks for any foodie… And, there are places of culinary pilgrimage with a long tradition, most notably L’Auberge de l’Ill (the third star sind 1967), Maison Troisgros (three stars since 1968) and Maison Pic (where three consecutive generations were awarded three stars). Truly impressive, given that outside of France Winkler held three stars for highest number of years…
My affection and love for these ‘great houses’ began in Alsace at the Auberge de L’Ill where the atmosphere, the pride of the culinary heritage, the dedication to the diner and, most strikingly, the implicitness of being top-notch without being arrogant was just impressive. The whole gastronomic theatre is celebrated in the best possible way. For me, the overall experience was just moving.
Being infected with this virus I planned to visit the other ‘great houses’ to see whether they can live up to their reputation and manage to create special moments. Last autumn I finally got the opportunity to do so… Somehow I feel that a report about my lunch at Maison Troisgros should come first…