16 Sep 2008

Bare Bresse

‘Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are…’
[Brillat-Savarin, Eater]
'IF PARIS is the head of France and Champagne its soul, then Burgundy is its stomach’. A very evocative quote. But I wonder about the English equivalent… Substituting some cities, how about putting London as the nation’s head, Leeds the soul, and then (being especially provocative) Norwich as our grumbling tummy?
Anyway, poisoned before departure by a wicked tray of ‘Itsu’ sushi, my appetite was below par for a brief jaunt in our neighbour’s belly.
Armed with the crumbs of knowledge gleaned from foodie forums, I had selected a seventeenth century Château, slumbering in parkland and vaunted for its vaulted restaurant.
Our group was four strong, although just two craved the nine course ‘Menu Gastronomique’ (only available for the whole table). That was perhaps fortunate considering my flimsy condition, although in retrospect it might have made sense to seek an additional generously spaced table from the Maitre’d. The lean loners could nibble lettuce there whilst the wastrel gastronaughts got stuck in. Regardless, the six course ‘Menu Dégustation’ was inspirational appeasement, and the bill (41€ p.p. excluding wine, water and service) was unleavened.
Amidst even, tender lighting and elegant modern art, we were delivered two rectangular trays of delicious brioche bites. This was followed by an amuse bouche of moussed compte and bright saucisson toasts, lacquered with hazelnut oil. Charred spaghetti javelins rose out.
A slate of lightly roasted, portly langoustine tails pampered with Jordanian olive oil (home to some of the world’s oldest olive trees) was served with a ‘petite fraîcheur’ of cold white peppers (almost ice cream) and a tiara of diced peppers. An airy bundle of bright vegetables balanced the dish. A line of saffron bisected.
A bottle of red Marsannay ’02 (Rougeot) was elegant, uplifting and refreshing: a little cocoa, slightly unripe raspberries, with a trace of bitterness in the finish. In my opinion, Marsannay offers reasonable value in restaurants. Its rosés are also delectable. This version was light enough to chaperone pan-fried monkfish cheek with Corsican fennel and a little tomato 'fondue’.
An automatic sliding door led to the rather smart loos, where a very realistic picture of a fly had been printed into porcelain. However the plush, whooshing partition soon drove itself into a frenzy, bleeping as it malfunctioned.
Next, little chicken breasts landed, although these were no ordinary fowl, but (according to the Poulet de Bresse website): the ‘Queen of Poultry, the Poultry of Kings’. The well exercised specimens are apparently the ‘only poultry, in France, in Europe, throughout the world in fact, which, like all good wines dear to our hearts, has the benefit of an A.O.C. (Guaranteed Origin Appellation)’. My bird was succulent: juicy and richly fatty like duck and lavishly prepared. Well within the P.d.B.'s guidelines in fact, which state: ‘any method of preparation which might result in most of the water and the intra-muscular fat seeping out of the bird would be a “culinary heresy”’. -It would be a braver man then me to disagree.
The bird, unflapped by such bureaucracy was seated on a creamy fricassee of girolles amidst a deeply glossy reduction of Morteau sausage. This, I later read, is smoked with sawdust of conifer and juniper and vin jaune (similar to dry sherry, but less user friendly in its youth).
To again quote Brillat-Savarin, ‘a dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.’ The cheese course, obligatory in France, was smelt before it was dealt. We were treated to a seemingly unlimited selection in trim condition, including Époisses de Bourgogne, the Durian of the cheese world. These were served from a scalped barrel top by a nervous waitress. Obviously in training, her mentor vigilantly shadowed. Even in stress she smiled constantly.
A pre-dessert, cleansing and minty was followed by a warm cookie with piped mascarpone, brittle baked offshoots (like wings), raspberries and raspberry sorbet.
Vintage Marc de Bourgogne (a little like grappa, although several degrees tougher to befriend) followed, poured from an enormous bottle into big balloons.
Sometimes an actor’s zeal really marks their performance. Think of Albert Finney in Tom Jones and that infamous lusty scene involving all manner of crustacea. Whilst the setting is clearly different, it does seem like the team at Château Salon had fun putting together this rather sexy menu. And the pleasure, even from the perspective of a slightly unwell individual, was contagious...

Also pictured, zander with rigatoni (and more spaghetti spikes). Château Saulon - Route de Seurre, 21910 Saulon-la-Rue, Burgundy, France. T. 33 (0)380792525
FURTHER LINK: ‘How to be a Foodie’