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Image 1: So, here I am, arriving with Andy in St Bonnet Le Froid at the beginning of an intense "Michelin 3-star eating" weekend. It’s a 2-hour drive from Lyon and, as we approached it, we’d already begun to feel a drop in temperature, just as the name implies (Froid = Cold). It’s an area that’s known to have a colder climate than the surroundings area.
Image 2: This restaurant has been on my "hit list" for more than a decade, ever since it achieved the Michelin 3-star in 2005. But, as it’s pretty much on the road to nowhere, it’s been hard to find time to visit. Regis Marcon is well-known for using wild mushrooms in his cuisine, though these days it’s a father and son team, with Jacque heading up the kitchen in recent years.
Image 3: This Relais & Châteaux hotel and restaurant boasts beautiful natural surroundings, and we arrived in time to spend a few minutes strolling around before sunset. It reminded me very much of another Michelin 3-star restaurant, called Michel & Sebastien Bras – which, coincidentally, is also a father-and-son team. Strangely enough, it’s also a Relais & Châteaux hotel and also in the middle of nowhere!
Image 4: I have to admit that we were a little surprised by the indifferent service. As we walked into the reception area, it seemed that no-one cared in the least. There were no staff to greet us or help with our luggage. We even had to prompt them to check us in – as if it wasn’t completely obvious from our suitcases that we had just arrived and needed a room! Strange.
Image 5: The hotel’s rooms are located one floor down. After a quick change and a sip of water…
Image 6: … we went back upstairs and had a peek at the dining room before it got dark.
Image 7: It was at this point that the service levels of the restaurant suddenly ratcheted up a few notches, and we were made to feel much more welcome. After a quick tour of the dining room, we were invited to relax in the lounge before the restaurant opened – and that's where we met up with the other "extreme foodies" Mijune and Jeff who had flown over from Vancouver and from LA!
Image 8: Before long, the manager introduced himself and gave us some background material on their cuisine. Plus, of course, the most important document – the menu! As there was five of us, we decided against the tasting menu and opted for an assortment of dishes from the a-la-carte menu.
Image 9: Shortly after this, a "tree" of amuse bouche arrived, bearing fruit of caramelised almond, together with. . .
Image 10: . . . mushrooms made from foie and cep mousse encased in cocoa shell.
Image 11: Then came green lentil and hummus on a cracker, followed by . . .
Image 12: . . . a thin cheese pastry to accompany our pre-dinner drinks. It didn't take long for five of us to polish off a bottle of champagne and a bottle of white before progressing to the dining room.
Image 13: This wasn’t huge, but it was long, containing a few large tables with some smaller tables for two or four next to the floor-to-ceiling window.
Image 14: Even the place settings had a nature theme.
Image 15: Impressive attention to detail.
Image 16: We were pampered with yet more nibbles before the meal began. There was beetroot bonbon, pickled radish, crab with apricot and beef tartare with foie. No complaints so far – every bite was great!
Image 17: And the small treats kept on coming. Here we see a small and warm cup of pea velouté, infused with mint and covered with a layer of mousseron mushroom cream. Very comforting!
Image 18: Deep fried balls stuffed with wild mushroom. I’m a fan of mushroom, so everything so far worked for me!
Image 19: With the bread, in addition to butter, we were served with an emulsified olive dip made with olive oil and egg yolk. And then . . .
Image 20: . . . The first course arrived. I loved the colour coordination between the dish and the food, which was courgette bavarois garnished with girolles and almonds.
Image 21: This was finished off with a cold broth of mushroom and peach consommé. The combination of courgette custard and the cold earthiness of the broth was very refreshing, and the crunchiness of girolles and almonds was fun too. But I confess that I wasn’t convinced about the peach flavour that carried through the dish.
Image 22: As sweetbread is among my favourites, it wasn't a surprise that I loved this sweetbread served corn dog style. In fact, I thought it was one of the best courses of the evening. Inside the breadcrumb shell was a mixture of morels, ham, mushroom mousse and wild mushrooms. The whole thing was thin and crispy on the outside but soft and rich on the inside. Great flavours with a fun mix of textures. In short, fabulous!
Image 23: This is poached egg surrounded by puy lentils and black truffle. Very homey and comforting. The meal was excellent so far!
Image 24: But Life has a habit of kicking you in the ribs, just when you’re beginning to feel good. And here was an example, because now arrived the worst dish of the night. It was lobster on puy lentils, served with an Americaine sauce (white wine, tomatoes, brandy, fish stock). Not only was the portion size way too small (hardly even a quarter a tail), but it was quite dry inside. It definitely wasn’t fresh, though my definition of ‘fresh’ is live immediately before being cooked. Still, this is a Michelin 3-star restaurant.
Image 25: This whole John Dory was roasted. . .
Image 26: . . . and came with green asparagus, chanterelles, rosemary flowers, and sabayon sauce.
Image 27: The best main dish was quail pithivier - a pie filled with quail and crayfish sauce.
Image 28: The pastry was excellent, and the quail meat was moist and soft. But the best part was the sauce, which had a great depth of flavour. I loved the buttery richness of this course – it’s what, to my mind, classic French flavour is all about.
Image 29: When it came to the meat courses, both the lamb and the beef dishes were rather mediocre. The lamb was decent enough, cooked pink and very tender. . .
Image 30: . . . but the beef - well, we were warned that the cows here are very lean, which described this dish exactly!
Image 31: The cheese cart didn't disappointed in the slightest – there was a huge variety from various regions in France.
Image 32: Before moving onto dessert, a pot of cherries arrived. This was a bit of a surprise, and there was nothing Wow! about them – but they made a pleasant and refreshing interlude for the mouth before the sweet.
Image 33: For dessert, we basically ordered the whole menu (six dishes), so that we could sample a bite of each. This one is apricot clafoutis with roasted apricot and sorbet.
Image 34: And here’s an orange and carrot combo. It’s orange sponge cake with a layer of orange jelly and (orange) cream, garnished with confit carrot, and a sorbet (orange, carrot) on the side.
Image 35: There was also a strawberry dessert - strawberry coulis, pear and banana, all on a piece of cake made with spices and mushroom!
Image 36: This one’s their signature dessert. It’s crispy cannelloni, filled with cream of milk chocolate and cep, and served on a bed of chocolate and cep crumbs with (cep) ice cream and carpaccio of mushroom.
Image 37: Rhubarb parfait wrapped in frozen rhubarb. There was also a disk of French toast topped with peach confit, together with peach sorbet.
Image 38: Finally . . . chocolate and raspberry. This was a . . .
Image 39: …very enticing dessert, beautifully stacked layers of chocolate pave, raspberry puree, chocolate mousse and actual raspberries. But, delicious though it looked, it had been a long dinner and everyone was quite tired as we’d all flown in just a few hours ago. We decided to ask for the petits fours immediately, as some of us had already gone down to their room.
Image 40: I stayed, though. For me, a meal isn’t complete until I’ve had my petits fours. Plus, we still had half a bottle of red and an almost-full bottle of dessert wine left! While those of use who remained finished the wine, an unusual petits fours arrived . . . sweet lentil. It was like a sweet version of Indian dal.
Image 41: Biscuit curls. Not especially different or unusual, but crispy and tasty.
Image 42: Talk about mushroom-mad! Even the sugar for tea/coffee was in a mushroom shape!
Image 43: This petits fours tree is an echo of the start of the meal!
Image 44: An elaborate set of treats, ranging from nougats to mini tarts. Sadly, I had to leave most of them untouched, as even I have my limits. And, by then, only two of us were left.
Image 45: Pieces of thin ‘mushroom’ chocolate . . . they looked good, but I was forced to waste them, I’m afraid. I’d shot my bolt.
Image 46: Finally. . . cherry liquor. Sadly, this went to waste as well.
Image 47: Verdict? A high-quality meal without a doubt. Maybe we weren’t experiencing it at the peak mushroom season (Autumn), the mushroom flavours didn't really shine through in most dishes. Having said that, the first half of the meal was simply superb – every bite was a winner, while the second half – the meat and fish courses – was a bit of a disappointment. The service was smooth, and every member of staff was very patient, tolerating our many questions and photo-taking (of courses) with excellent good humour.