My Best French Meal in 2022
Our food writer, Alexander Lobrano, is still not over the meal he enjoyed at Restaurant Lalique, of Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, near Bordeaux
A week after I had dinner in the beautiful dining room of Restaurant Lalique at an intimate château in the Sauternes area of Bordeaux, I learned that chef Jérôme Schilling had just become a M.O.F. (Meilleur Ouvrier de France, the highest award that Gaul bestows on its craftsmen and women). This came as absolutely no surprise whatsoever, since my meal had been absolutely spectacular from start to finish.
Before sitting down at the table, I’d had a chat with Schilling, who previously cooked with an impressive selection of the greatest French chefs, including Joël Robuchon, Roger Vergé and Jean-Georges Klein, and he explained the brief that had been given to him by Silvio Denz, the owner of the luxury group which includes Lalique, the Villa Lalique hotel, six vineyards in the Bordelais, and the Glenturret malt whisky distillery. “It was simple, and it was also hugely complicated and challenging. In a word, Sauternes – he wanted to me to create a cuisine that would explore and celebrate Sauternes, one of the world’s great wines.”
All afternoon, I wondered what this might mean at dinner, since Sauternes, that lush golden sweet wine, would be a very specific ingredient, and one, it seemed to me, that would be extremely difficult to elaborate on across a tasting menu.
If a sumptuous first course of smoked scallops, parsnip and white truffle in three declensions did not include Sauternes, the famous wine made a number of brilliantly subtle appearances throughout the rest of the meal. Hake confit in grapeseed oil made from grapes grown on the estate came with prawn tails under a veil of seawater and Sauternes-infused anise hyssop leaves, while one of the four different preparations of ceps that composed another course was a mousse of vieux (aged) Sauternes with a sauté of ceps and pecans, a sublime combination of tastes and textures.
Of all of the dishes in which Sauternes played a role, perhaps the most intriguing were the pigeon breasts that had been marinated in crushed Sauternes grape pips for two days before being roasted and served with smoked beetroot and nectarines in a pigeon jus.
What astonished here was the way the polyphenols in the pips had not only made the meat of the fowl so tender but also very distantly infused it with a sublime viniferousness. The grand finale of this meal was just that: a stunningly good baba (sponge biscuit) imbibed with Glenturret whisky and accompanied by chestnut cream, smoked chestnut ice cream, a verjus condiment made with Sauternes grapes and a gel of whisky. I deeply enjoyed this profoundly satisfying and exultantly creative meal, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Part of a new generation of gastronomic talent, Jérôme Schilling, who already has two Michelin stars, has become one of the great chefs of France, and though hardly inexpensive, the prix-fixe menus he serves represent remarkable value for money relative to the shimmering excellence of his cooking.
Lieu-dit Peyraguey, Bommes
Prix-fixe menus €115, €150, €165, €195, €205
Tel. +33 (0)5 24 22 80 11
From France Today Magazine
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Lead photo credit : Restaurant Lalique is located in the Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey ©AgiSimoes-RetoGuntli
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