Pont de Vaux is a very pretty small town on the edge of Burgundy, near the great Saône river and connected to it by a 4km canal it has its own little “port de plaisance” with artistically-moored little boats tempting you to jump aboard and sail away. (We didn’t – the boat owners might have objected.)
It is beautifully kept, with a large park and flowers everywhere, and we had chosen it because a friend had recommended the restaurant in a hotel called Le Raisin, which has one Michelin star.
Having come from a hotel the previous night with a room that looked like Laurence Llewellyn Bowen’s brown period after a heavy night out, we were relieved to find the rooms were fresh and airy, plus there was a private car park for Hercules the Hatchback Skoda to sleep safely. We had had a long day, and we were looking forward to our meal.
We had had a discussion in the car as we approached about “the curse of Michelin” and how your expectations of a place immediately shoot up when you know it has a star, but since our own experience of Michelin starred restaurants is very limited because they are usually way beyond our budget, we had no particular preconceptions.
We dressed up in honour of the star, and sat excitedly at our table, making our choices from the (very reasonable, given the quality of the food) €30 menu, and when asked if we wanted an apéritif we did what we always do and said we’d choose a bottle of white from the wine list to be apéritif and first wine. We also wanted a local wine, Macon being the local appellation.
This is where we started to run in to problems. The staff were attentive, clearly also dressed up for their star, all in black suits and brandishing food with the sort of flourish that staff in more expensive restaurants must spend years learning how to do. There was a wine waiter (clearly not really a sommelier, but perhaps one in training) and he brought the wine, a Macon white, showed us the label and poured some for approval – and it was room temperature, which in the French heatwave was practically tepid. What?? Perhaps he thought since we weren’t French we wouldn’t notice, but he counted without Sabrina and Julia who both tried it and told him it was warm and therefore unacceptable. “Shall I put it on ice?” he asked. Here we should have been more forceful than our polite English upbringing allows, and insisted on being given a bottle of white that actually was at the correct temperature, and without it costing us any more. However we went with the ice option, and asked for water in the meantime. We were served half a glass of water each, then the jug was whisked away (because in a Michelin starred restaurant the customers must not be allowed to pour their own water).
10 minutes later, we were not worried about our chosen food not having arrived because we expected to wait for it to be prepared, but we had been looking forward to an apéritif while we waited, or at least SOMETHING to slake our thirst and despite Sabrina asking for more water – “Oui oui, j’arrive”, thrown over his shoulder as he whizzed to another table, presumably to try and get away with offering them more tepid wine – none was forthcoming. Two requests later, he returned with a jug, flourished it flashily, filled 3 glasses half-full and swept away (there were four of us at this meal). So ridiculous we actually laughed – well, three of us did. I pointed out to a waitress that since we couldn’t drink the wine we had ordered, we might at least be allowed enough water to remain hydrated in the interim; she looked embarrassed and shot off. The waiter bounded up shortly after, grabbed the wine and started pouring it; I stopped him and tried it, and no it was still not right. Back in to the ice bucket (the wine, not the waiter, though by now he was lucky not to have been stuffed in to it himself), and we sipped our half rations of water and tried not to spend the time moaning.
Finally, 35 minutes after our wine had first arrived, and at the same time as the first course arrived, the wine was ready to drink. Not really an apéritif, although it was a truly delicious Macon Villages from a hamlet called Uchizy. (I’ll review it separately.)
Anyway, the food. Two of us had « Dans l’Esprit d’une Tarte Fine, les Légumes Méditerranéens et l’Œuf de Poule Bio » (another Michelin feature, perhaps, to give your dishes silly names). The beautifully poached organic egg had fallen off the tart on one plate, but the whole thing was delicious, with thinly sliced aubergine, courgette and tomato that must have been marinated.
Two of us had « Le Saumon Label Rouge d’Ecosse, en Mi-Cuit, Fenouil, Avocat et Crème Glacée au Mâconnais » and both Sabrina and Domingo said it was the most delicious salmon they had ever eaten.
We were feeling distinctly more positive about the restaurant now, and while the warm Macon Villages still rankled, we looked forward to our main dish – we had all chosen the quail, “La Caille Fermière « Miéral », Pêche, Pommes Rattes et Moutarde Fallot, Jus Infusé à la Lavande”.
It was served, then with a flourish…..
….. the jus was poured on to it; the quail was delicious, as was the fruit with it, but none of us could taste the lavender.
We had seen the massively-populated cheese trolley, so greedily we all opted for cheese as well as pudding, pushing the price for each meal up to €37.
The cheese was all excellent, then two of us had a beautifully constructed chocolate dessert (one of which arrived slightly deconstructed -the waitress asked if Sabrina would like her to put it back together and return with it, to which the answer was a forceful yes)
and two of us had poached apricot with basil and coconut ice cream, and a rather odd gelatine blanket over the top of it.
The chocolate was delicious, but despite the obvious skill in assembling it, the apricot dessert did not have a lot of flavour.
Overall, the skill and labour that had gone in to the food were evident. The techniques and artistry of the chef are undeniable, and the presentation (when it hadn’t fallen apart between kitchen and dining room) is superb. In my personal opinion – which of course won’t be shared by everyone – I prefer flavours to technique, but it was a fascinating glimpse into the world of Michelin stars, and we all came away with respect for the chef.
The one huge and overwhelming flaw in this establishment is the service – very poor wine curating and sloppy service. What a shame.