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Tasty Side to Life Tours Website

Saturday, April 16, 2011

One of the Best Michelin Star Restaurants in Champagne- Hostellerie La Briqueterie

Pan fried John Dory, carrot puree, artichoke and liquorice from 1 Michelin Star Restaurant Le Briqueterie

This last week I went to the Champagne area for a research trip and I was so excited to be back in the old countryside and out of the hustle and bustle of Paris. A few days off from being smashed inside the metro like a sardine, being forced to inhale second hand cigarette smoke on every corner and stepping over surprisingly purposely flooded drains that clean the trash. Ok, ok Paris isn't THAT bad but I was excited to get into the quiet country. I mean who wouldn't be?

I couldn't wait to see some new hotels, taste at some new small champagne producers and above all eat at some local restaurants that I was D.Y.I.N.G to try. I had heard a lot about the Hotel La Briqueterie and was looking forward to seeing the property and doing a tour of the grounds. Little did I know the best part of the hotel would be the fact that a new chef who was managing 30 chefs and working at a 3 star Michelin Hotel just outside London (The Waterside Inn, Berkshire) had transplanted himself to the little town of Vinay in the Champagne region and had revamped their 12 year old menu with a fresh twist and new ideas.

I met the new chef Michael quickly after I did a tour of the rooms and he proposed that my friend and I join him for dinner. If we could make it he would prepare a few of his favorite dishes and even show us how to make a dish if he had time. I think I almost stopped breathing. Sounded amazing. My friend and I went back to my friends Chateau/hotel we were staying in, the beautiful Chateau Aulnois and decided to head to La Briqueterie for dinner.

We arrived at 8ish to a completely packed restaurant. Mainly suited men and a few big tables of Chinese journalists. The restaurant was big, nicely lit and beautifully decorated. They had reserved a table for us in the front, right by the window. We reminded the waiter we had met the chef earlier in the day and he quickly took our menu's back and said that our "special" menu would be coming. Lauren and I were a bit excited to say the least. In the menu there are options of numbers of courses with prices ranging from a 49 euro lunch to 80 or 110 euro dinner. 

Our waiter placed the first amuse bouche on our table. It was a verrine filled with mousse of avocado, pieces of carpaccio of salmon and a nice bite of lemon. A great, light and bright first course.

Following this was the first course of shellfish which came as a tartare of langoustine with citrus, melba toasts and aquitaine caviar. The thin slices of langoustine were delicately layered on top of one another. Covering the raw langoustine was bright colored small dices of red and green bell peppers, lemon, olive oil, micro-greens, and lastly the caviar.The flavor was crisp, smooth and so bright and flavorful. The dish tasted so fresh it could have jumped off the table.

If a perfect fish dish could be embodied in a single plate it would be the next; Pan fried John dory with carrot puree, artichokes and licorice. The minimalistic presentation allowed each and every flavor to be tasted separately, from the ocean fresh John Dorry to the sweet and bright puree of carrot. The dish was brought together by the soft dollop of white wine and celery foam. The John Dorry was lightly seasoned on both sides seared on one side and then finished quickly with quick spoonfuls of butter while cooking. The dish was delicious and had a great spectrum of flavor.

This was followed by pigeon, I know it sounds scary but it was ohh so good. I had to convince Lauren it was a different type of bird because I knew she would never eat it if she thought it was a Parisian street pigeon :) The pigeon was slow roasted leaving it full of flavor and perfect lightly gamey taste which was superb. The dish was cooked perfectly, just the right amount of pinkness. The pigeon sat atop savory shredded cauliflower, and was paired with a nice rich reduction sauce which the chef described as a compilation of pigeon stock, caramel sec, and finished with a hint of lime which softly alerted the senses.

At this point I realized we had both probably eaten enough yet I looked to my left and there was the cheese man rolling a huge table of utter goodness towards us. I mean, how could we resist this? There were over 30 cheeses to choose from. We kinda had to make room and room I made. 

Impressively this young boy knew everything about these 30 cheeses. He knew the different types of milk they came from, the consistencies, the production processes, everything! After a long convo we chose the tomme de savoie (my favorite because of its perfect sweetness from the French alps), a few regional cheese the chaource made in Champagne ardenne from cows milk which was soft and creamy, a chevre and another Champagne Ardenne regional cheese the langre which was soft and crumbly yet pretty strong.

Our pre-dessert was a shot of whipped cream, topped with fudge and a nutty sweet sesame cracker. This was pretty simple but I knew more was coming.

The first official dessert was a coconut corolle, passion fruit panna cotta, gingerbread apple and fennel tart and slices of oranges and grapefruit. The flavors of dessert were nice and full of citrus and acid yet there was a little something missing. I'm not sure what it was. The creativity was there but I think it was the textures. I loved the citron pairings but did't love the fennel and apple dish.

Before we had time to even talk about everything we had just ingested next thing I knew the manager was walking over with bags of presents for us (Champagne and a booklet) and we were being whisked to the kitchen to watch the Chef cook one of the dishes in front of us and have a quick chat. This was almost like a dream. Like I wanted to pinch myself.  

Next thing we knew Michael was preparing the John Dorry in front of us and explaining every part of the preparation process. He offered for me to spend a day in the kitchen learning some new techniques and I can't wait to take him up on his offer.

It is official, this is a great Michelin star restaurant with an up and coming star chef who treats his customers like real people and is certainly a 28 year old to watch and a restaurant to visit while you're in the land of bubbly.

There is phenomenal Champagne tasting just a stones throw from this property. Stopping for lunch during a day of tasting at 3 or 4 small producers with a Mercedes driven Chauffeur is my kind of day. 

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