The UnProfessional Chef

A girl's commentary on food, cooking and all things delicious!

Location: Singapore

A closet food critic and wannabe chef who loves the art of cooking and enjoying great cuisine in the company of great friends!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Of Champagne Wishes and Foie Gras Dreams....

I’m just back from a delightfully decadent vacation in France! Needless to say, we (Mr UnProfessional Chef and a couple of other friends of mine) ate till we dropped. Far too well and far too much. Anyway, we ate much too much for me to recount everything but I really must tell the story of two fabulous meals that we had in the Champagne region (back to back, I might add). The rest of the trip was spent trying to recover from these excesses. In any case, the reason for my title will become apparent soon enough ….

First stop – A. Lallement. This was the name of a restaurant run by a youngish chap whose family operates a great little hotel L’Assiette Champenoise in the tiny town of Tinqueux near Reims. The misleadingly simple dégustation menu which comprised five or six courses on paper opened up like a Russian doll when plate after plate arrived for only apparently one course each! On average, each course consisted of 2 or more distinct portions of food! I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Mr UnProfessional Chef and I had different dégustation menus in order that our greedy palates would get to sample alternatives. We started with an amuse bouche of a smooth cucumber-y purée topped with a lightly creamy froth – just the thing to tickle our palate with. Doesn’t it look gorgeous?

Next up was a simple sounding platter of Green Asparagus with Balsamic Jelly and Bacon Granité. What resulted were three gorgeous interpretations of the asparagus which was clearly in season. The first of these was a pair of simply poached asparagus tips with bacon granité. Fun and delicious! This was followed by asparagus mash of some sort sitting stop a thin layer of divine balsamic flavoured jelly. Finally, it was the asparagus in creamy form with froth on top and slivers of parmesan cheese. Again, sublime.

The other set’s first course was simply referred to as Leek with Foie Gras, Potatoes and Ham. Again, this came in three forms. The pyramid-shaped slab of foie gras – untainted by pan frying of any sort was smoothly satisfying, though sadly, I was only allowed to taste a teensy portion given my status as expectant mother. There was then a dishful of leek with a tiny portion of mash potatoes with more jelly and a separate platter of leek mosse atop which was layered tiny slivers of ham and chorizo sausage. All lip-smackingly delicious!

We were of course stunned. Not to mention that at this point, about six types of bread arrived on our table which we just had to sample with the freshest French butter possible. We were seriously worried about how we were going to make it through dinner.

Our (only) second course was just as bad. For one menu, it was Foie Gras with Hot Bouillon, Ice-cream, Mousse and Coulant (sorry, I have no idea what this translates into). This was cooked so I was allowed a bit more of it. What arrived was a simple glass of the most flavourful foie gras stock with foie gras mousse, cream and deep fried foie gras balls out of which oozed the most decadent-tasting foie gras cream. Utterly superb.

The other menu had a break at this point so we moved onto the next round together. I was served a portion of John Dory fish with Champagne froth and little bits of bacon and vegetables. Delicious, and just the allegedly slightly more healthy thing to have after the wickedly sinful foie gras in many interpretations. A little green portion of vegetable cream in a martini glass complemented the fish wonderfully. You will have to forgive the beginning here of a breakdown in blog quality and photos because I was getting delightfully high on the great food despite the lack of alcohol on my part!

The other menu dished up something called Bar de Ligne, Betterave, île flottante au raifort in another little martini glass, which I had no clue about but it was pink, frothy and delicious. This was also accompanied by Monkfish with round discs of jelly. All of this disappeared down everyone’s throat very quickly indeed.

Arriving finally at my main course of Veal cooked in a Hot Pot and Vegetables. This perfectly cooked portion of veal was again gorgeously done (the photo totally doesn’t do it justice but I was working with candlelight only, so forgive me) but just a little bit too pink for me to eat it all. Mr UnProfessional Chef benefited a great deal!

The other menu served up a Pigeon encrusted in a Tart alongside (more!) Foie Gras and Young Spinach. This received rave reviews round the table. Simply the best possible tart-like game dish anyone could have prepared and which we were privileged to try.

We thought we were near the end when the cheese platter arrived, but just look at that cheese platter! I’m not sure what we ate in the end but my hard cheeses (the only ones I’m allowed too) were fabulous. French cheese just seems to taste best in France.

The simple promise of dessert was a little Russian doll of its own. First up, before the actual desserts arrived, came the sweet tray. This seemed to be a staple in all fine French dining establishments and is said to be the chef’s answer to reminding his guests of their childhood sweets. There was hardly any space on the table for the selection of cotton candy, the marshmallow strip (complete with hefty scissors to cut it up with), mini lemon tarts, chocolates, pâte de fruits, caramels, nougat and lollipops. I don’t think I can show it all, but don’t these just look lovely?

Finally reaching dessert, we were given the choice of chocolate or fruit interpretations. Both were anything but light. The fruit choices comprised Mango cubes on a Biscuit and topped with Coconut ice cream, Passionfruit ice cream/mousse in a rounded Ginger Snap cone and Sushi of Pineapple and ‘Wasabi’ ice cream. Fresh, familiar yet fabulously original at the same time. I'll just show the first.

The chocolate dessert came in four forms, each equally sinful. Rum Baba with Chocolate Mousse, Hot Chocolate with a Hot Chocolate Ball and Chocolate ‘stirrer’, a Chocolatey Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and a White, Dark and Milk Chocolate Terrine. It was just utterly fantastically decadent. Let’s just not think about the calories that were added on in just that one course.

We thought at that point that this had been the meal to end all meals, but there was still the following day’s lunch, more of which I will describe in my next post. The evening’s meal left us totally sated, such that we had to take a walk out in the cold spring evening and do several rounds around the pretty chateau before staggering back into our rooms to rest our full bellies. A top-class meal indeed and a must-visit if you are ever near Reims, France.

A. Lallement
L’Assiette Champenoise – Chateau de la Muire
40, Avenue Paul-Vaillant-Couturier
51430 Tinqueux (Reims)
Tel: 03 26 84 64 64