13 Nov 2010

Pit Stop at The Stag

‘But itd be cold!’ remarked my friend of the Champagne bath which Kate Moss and Johnny Depp were reputed to indulge in at The Portobello hotels Round Room a decade ago. Denied the prospect of one fluid ounce of ABV on account of a long drive ahead, we had booze on the brain. Any feelings of dessication were exacerbated by the depth of Le Grand Cerf’s reasonably priced wine list which, referencing nearby Epernay, includes eight pages of Champagne.
Fortunately, warm cheesy gougere puffs provided distraction, as did our sweet waitress, or more specifcally, our sweet waitress’s commendable legs. And, as we waited for the €33 no choice lunch to unravel, I wondered why the dining room should be so poorly attended. But peering to the garden, rustling with lately departed leaves, I clocked a crack in the window whose sill was erratically adorned with dusty cacti. Glancing back to our table’s rose, it did look as if someone had decided it could go another day a day or two ago. Bienvenue à single Michelin starred provincial France?
Possibly making the most of Halloween’s hangover, an amuse bouche of sweet, frothed pumpkin innards flecked with flaked almonds was so welcome and nurturing that it came as a sadness to see that its liquid imitated the bowl’s bottom in colour. The promise of more actually less, I cracked my warm gros pain and eagerly swabbed the easyJet orange residue.
On account of its bounty of butter and eggs, our starter proper signalled that chef, Dominique Giraudeau harbours nil fear of cholestorol. In appearance, the excavated seafood soufflé spooned with sweet onions and (thankfully) Champagne sauce evoked a cross between a mutant outsize scallop and jaundiced crème brûlée. Its frigid pannacotta texture proved a wobbly match with obese but tenderly cooked, butter lacquered curried prawns. Rather ugly overall, as it set in the stomach I began to dread the next 300 miles to Geneva.
In welcome contrast, veal onglet (a first for me) was perfectly seasoned delivering a satisfyingly chewy texture. This came with a cursory braised shallot and celery and gutsy black trompettes pepped with micro diced chives. Alas, four potato pats (or ‘pat-atoes’) were hideously sloppy. How I craved a flute of Brut to scythe through.
Cheeses, Reblochon, Maroilles and Comte were consummately kept and served brazenly naked (as in accompaniment free, rather than by open-minded wait-staff).
Finally, a generous helping of lukewarm raspberries became teeth chatteringly intense in such quantity, although a vanilla ice cream blob helped calm their acidity.
Sectioned in a style disaster of a taupe cup, espresso packed a painful punch, from first sip to pounding headache in a matter of seconds. The sludge tasted as if over-brewed with water from a limescale crusted bathroom tap (I am yet to taste acceptable coffee in France). The cost, including stale petit fours: €6. A means, perhaps of clawing back a fraction of the Euros absent from our meal of temperance?
Although a lunch with levity would have been my preference, Le Grand Cerf delivered reasonable value. A justifiable alternative to a dispiriting service station. But is that enough of an endorsement to sustain the rating of protectionist Michelin? We left, Godspeed, for Geneva and the promise of a rich glass of mind altering Champagne to be taken, ironically, many miles from the centre of production amidst which we sat.
Incidentally, the alleged, sticky bathing ritual of Depp and Moss (made from 36 bottles of £32 house Champagne) was accidentally emptied by The Portobello’s maid...
Le Grand Cerf: 50, Route Nationale 51, Montchenot, 51500, France