Sunday, 7 June 2015

Bloody Good Chap goes to France: Dinner with the Baron [Restaurant Review]

33 Rue de Rieux, 44000 Nantes, France
+33 2 40 89 20 20

As promised, I am producing a few extra posts which are designed to dwell on a few of the exceptional meals I had on my French adventure. 

I chose Le restaurant Baron-Lefèvre having read some very glittering reviews of the establishment on Trip Advisor and, having taken a look at the website, I was captivated by the modern, airy look of the restaurant. Plenty of exposed brickwork, steel railings, a playful green house on one wall and an open kitchen on the other, it looked inviting and contemporary. I then read their philosophy of staying true to local Nantaise cuisine, taking advantage home grown vegetables (for which the area is renowned), the abundance of the  sea and river, lamb reared on the salty marshes and time-honoured techniques of classical French cuisine. I made an advance booking. 

I arrived at Le restaurant Baron-Lefèvre and was ushered to my table for one. The nice thing about France is there were a couple of other lone diners and I was not made to feel unwelcome or a spectacle as so often happens in UK restaurants. Nor was I given a reduced level of service which also seems to typify dining solo. 

The menu was full of interesting preparations, a few classics, a couple twists on classics and some house originals. What I immediately noticed was the simplicity of the preparations and an emphasis on 2-3 core ingredients, proudly stamped with local provenance. There were plenty of mouth watering plates from a simple platter of langoustine (Dublin Bay Prawns) served on crushed ice to a traditional salt marsh rack of lamb with spring vegetables. However, there were a few things that leaped out at me. Here’s what I went for: 

White Asparagus with Sauce Mousseline 
Loire Valley Cremant (sparkling wine) 

White asparagus is not nearly as popular in the UK as it is on the continent where it takes precedence over the green variety. It has a subtler flavour, with a faint taste of oysters. Perfectly cooked, each part of the vegetables was tender and accompanied by a foaming, decadent sauce Mousseline, which is essentially a Hollandaise with the addition of whipped cream. Deliciously decadent, but judiciously portioned, it whetted my appetite for my main course. The dry, sparkling cremant was a light counterpoint which worked well. 


Eels in a parsley and garlic butter sauce with Nantes spring vegetables
A Carafe of Muscadet

Eels and apprehension go hand in hand in the mind of the Englishman and I do think this a sad state of affairs, as there are few greater pleasures that the taste of eel flesh with its tender, oily flesh offset by a reassuringly organic earthiness found in river fish. The Loire abounds with Eels so this really is the place to eat it. This time, I had it prepared in a very classic style in a parsley, garlic and butter sauce surrounded by tiny new potatoes. It’s a winning combination and made even more special with a small cocotte of turned carrots, fresh peas and green asparagus tips. Wanting to drink the local tipple, I went for a carafe of Muscadet, where its fresh, slightly acidic taste worked well with rich food. A truly stunning dish. 


Rum Baba with Tropical Fruits
Cafe Noir

Given the richness of the main course, I was tempted to pass on pudding until I saw that one of the specials for the evening was a traditionally made Rum Baba. Although a speciality of Lorraine (where I visit later in the trip) I could not resist - it’s one of my favourite puddings, a sure way to my heart. I was presented with a  light doughnut type pastry on a bed of pineapple carpaccio and raspberries, topped with a generous portion of Chantilly cream then liberally doused with white rum (which soaked into the pastry). With each mouthful I felt my stomach agreeably expanding! It’s highly alcoholic so there was no need for a digestif but I a well made black coffee cut through the richness! 

The total bill was €57, which, given the amount I had consumed was not to bad at all. It was a superb meal, if you are in Nantes, I thoroughly recommend making the time to visit. 

Coming Up: I head to Angers to explore the seat of the Dukes of Anjou, sip on Cointreau and enjoy an andouilette. 

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