So it’s time for the welcome return of guest blogger Jan Orchard who has been experiencing the joys of Beaune. My mouth is watering as I read…thoughts of the best cheese shop in the world (I may never get out if I walked into that)…wine lists with over 800 choices and the rotisserie van that’s always present in the markets of Europe and impossible to walk past without purchasing…Wow, Beaune is some foodie destination. Here’s what Jan has to say
The home of some of the most famous wines in the world – think Romanee Conti, Puligny Montrachet, Givry and St Aubin – Burgundy is famous for traditional, rustic food and great produce. The wine capital is Beaune, a walled town of immense charm where eating and drinking well are the most important things in life. If you are heading south, it’s a natural halfway stop – but also well worth a three or four day holiday. Just forget the diet.
If you are planning to visit Beaune, Ma Cuisine is a must – but only on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and not in August or February. This small restaurant is a favourite with locals in the wine trade and with visitors – so booking well ahead is vital. We once sat next to the most riveting wine merchant, rumpled and devastatingly attractive in that French way, who taught us more about wine by explaining our choices than you could learn in a a year. His advice – buy by the man – famous winemakers don’t make bad wines. Our Bouchard and Hubert Lamy choices met with approval.
So, what makes Ma Cuisine special? Fabienne Escoffier cooks traditional Burgundian food in the Elizabeth David tradition while knowledgeable Pierre presides over a wine list with 800 amazing choices. It is food a Frenchman from 100 years ago would recognise, firmly based in the culinary history of the region – and yes, they are Escoffiers from the famous chef’s family.
There is a set three course menu priced at around 25 euros and an a la carte. Both are displayed on blackboards and vary depending on what is good in the market. Three of us had beef carpaccio – which was wafer thin and excellent. I had plump griddled scallops, wonderfully fresh and tasting of the sea. All four of us had the demi coquelet – a little free range chicken, roasted and subtly spiced (there is ah istory of spices in this area with spice biscuits a tradition in nearby Dijon). We shared cheese – local pungent washed rind Espoisses served with Ma Cuisine’s rustic bread.
Loiseau des Vignes couldn’t be more different. Run by Dominique Loiseau, the widow of Bernard Loiseau who shot himself fearing he ws about to lose a Michelin star, this one-starred restaurant is next door to elegant Le Cep. The bar there is lovely for a pre-dinner drink and for people watching the clientele of very well-heeled Americans.
Loiseau des Vignes does a 25 euro lunch – there’s no choice but every course is outstanding. The waiters are the sort who know what you want before you know you want it – and materialise silently by your side. There are over 100 Premier Cru wines by the glass – a chance to try some top vintages at an approachable price.
Lunch starts with a complimentary gougere – the cheese choux pastry that is a favourite nibble in Burgundy. On the day we went the starter was an amazing crab soup with white crab meat on a tiny croute, surrounded by a rich crab bisque and finished with a cream of sweetcorn soup poured by the waiter. It sounds odd – but it was fabulous.
The main was a beautifully cooked sous vide cylinder of Bresse appellation controlee chicken with tiny vegetables. For dessert there was a mille feuille that combined very crisp, very thin layers of pastry with a chestnut cream filling – or you could choose a selection fo cheese. Coffee comes with the best macarons I have ever tasted – they’re blackcurrant because Burgundy is big on blackcurrants, crisp on the outside, melting within.
Beaune is packed with restaurants. Food does tend to be hearty – it’s designed for those who work hard on the land. Typical dishes are boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, jambon persillade (a terrine of ham set in parsley jelly), oeufs meurette (paoched eggs in a wine sauce – sounds awful but is actually delicious – and of course escargots awash with garlic butter.
Hearty was certainly the word for the plat de jour myself and Chris had at Au Raison. Tired after a very long drive from Calais in the rain, we went into a cafe advertising a 12 euro plat de jour. It was packed with truckers and builders, concentrating on putting away a very large amount of food. There was absolutely no other choice than the plat. Madame (at least 6 foot tall and built like a rugger player) plonked a large bowl of dressed lettuce, some bread and a puff pastry rectangle with a cheese filling on our table – this was the starter. The main was a choice of pork or lamb – two thick slices of beautifully cooked meat sitting on a mountain of potato puree. Cheese – one huge plate with several different cheeses on it that circulated from table to table followed, and pudding was a banana. It was an experience and great to see that this sort of food still exists.
Food and wine are central to the Burgundian way of life. Beaune is packed with wine shops and with the head offices of some of the biggest and most famous names in wine (Bouchard, Drouhin, Louis Latour) where you can taste and buy. Shops include the fabulous Alain Hess, the best cheese shop I have ever seen, offering over 100 varieties plus pates, traiteur (ready made to take away) dishes, olive oils, spices – and of course, wine.
Saturday is market day where the whole of the square opposite the Hospice de Beaune is packed with stalls selling whatever fresh vegetables are in season (it was asparagus and artichokes when we were there), honey, charcuterie, roasted chicken and pork (the rotisserie van appears at every French market), pizza from a wood fired oven, flower and vegetable plants, local cheeses, artisan breads, apple juice, spices, soaps – all incredibly tempting.
The market finishes at lunchtime when you can go and relax over something nice. Our favourite is Le Chevalier, a cafe with outdoor tables in the Petit Place Colbert. Top choices are grilled goats cheese salad, coq au vin, morel mushroom omelette – and Chris swears by the Andouilette – a rather grisly sausage made from offal.
How fabulous that all sounds! Wine and food to delight and so much of it…Another destination on my list. Thanks Jan for transporting us into the foodie heaven of Beaune.