On a spur of the moment in Paris - this funky restaurant on the Left Bank was a pleasant surprise. A young wait staff seemed a bit bemused by a rowdy table of antipodeans but it fitted the restaurant well. Dinner was comprehensive in quantity and competently done with great seafood let down somewhat by so-so meat dishes. Wine was priced with biggest markups in the entry level but pretty standard for Paris. Service was also a bit sporadic and considering the atmosphere, a bit pretentious. However value was good for Paris though maybe not 1 star all the way.
Now we are moving to France I better update all the starred restaurants I have visited until we start to add new ones. Without a doubt, Auberge de Vieux Puits is the best restaurant I have ever visited. 50km from Narbonne in the tiny village of Fontjoncouse which seems to consist of the restaurant and people who work in the restaurant or supply it with fresh food. Service was great with a charismatic and charming sommelier - they were appropriately casual without being too intrusive. Food was sublime, stand outs for me was the mushroom and truffle cappuccino, though Jacques Reymond has subsequently claimed it is his idea… The dessert with a spun sugar flute, dissolved with a cascade of molten chocolate was as delicious as it looked. As for the cheese, only Caprice has matched the selection and stunning presentation available. The price was fair especially compared to Paris 3 stars, and the food was consistently faultless.
Mere Brazier in Lyon. This lovely old restaurant has had Michelin stars since the 1930s and had a wonderful old French charm with pleasant and elegant food. We had a 3 course lunch that was a steal at 35 euros each. We met the chef at the door and the service was impeccable throughout. The atmosphere was a little muted though, perhaps dinner would be a bit more lively though this might be due to the terrible weather on the day…
Hostellerie de Briqueterie (Epernay) was our first Michelin starred experience. Built in the 70s in an old bricks factory (briqueterie) it has been under Gilles Goess since 2005 after he spent 10 years in the wings as a sous. The cuisine was classic with lots of jelly conserves, thick gelatinous soups, rich game and classic desserts. The service was the most unfamiliar aspect to us. Perfectly groomed waiters moved silently around the table orchestrating the meal. Flourishes such as a co-ordinated reveal from under silver domes reminded more of cuisine anglaise than classic French. The property was a funny anachronism - lots of dark wood on the outside in a 1970’s Northern French style contrasting classic XIXeme furniture and food which was very traditional. The atmosphere inside was reserved to say the least and if it wasn’t for our table imbibing more than our fair share of champagne, you would have heard a pin drop. Service was, as we came to find in starred restaurants, impeccable. Glasses were never empty, you were never wondering about the next course, the wait staff were invisible and omnipresent at the same time. Overall a slightly discordant environment but a beautiful garden and great company made it a great lunch in the heart of Champagne.
Arzak, wow. My first Michelin 3 star meal. Just the most incredible dining experience. Mind blowing stuff and that was just the bill! Service was good but I wish I spoke Spanish to understand the intricacies of what was being put in front of us. One surprising thing was the wine was amazingly cheap. A bottle of good Champagne for about 70 euros, 2nd or 3rd Grand Cru Bordeaux for about 80 - 120 euros. Not too much reliance on molecular techniques, the presentation was creative and elegant. Arzak himself came out to talk to us, his wife Elena spoke perfect English so could explain everything. It really, really was that good.