Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Épernay and The Grillade Gourmande

Menu du Terroir Champenois, La Grillade Gourmande
see below for the full menu in French and English!

La Grillade Gourmande, Epernay
I had an absolutely splendid meal on the Thursday night at the La Grillade Gourmande in Épernay, which is renowned as the 'Capital of Champagne', in the Champagne-Ardenne Région of France.

I'd been up since 5.30am, crossed the Channel into France and driven 285 miles from London so I was very ready for a bit of a treat.

Prior to leaving home I'd identified that Epernay had quite a few good restaurants - hence deciding to stay there.  In my Michelin Guide to hotels and restaurants in France, this particular restaurant is listed as a "Bib Gourmand" which means "good food at reasonable prices

I had the Menu Terroir Champenois.  However the only champagne I had was in the sauces.  This comprised an amuse-bouche followed by:

  • Foie Gras de Canard au Ratafia de Champagne chit en terrine et configure d'oignon au vin rouge Terrine of duck fois gras cooked in Ratafia Champagne with red wine onion marmelade
  • Filet de Bar Grille aux Asperges Verts Grilled Sea Bass with green asparagus Champagne sauce
  • Pigeonnea de Champagne dessose cuit en feuillete, jus redoit au Chardonnay Local boned young pigeon with foie gras cooked in flaky pastry case
  • Fraises au Poivre Noir au Champagne Rose Strawberries with black pepper and frozen rose champagne
I'd decided to try and see if I could sketch my meals while in France - as I hoped to be having quite a few which were likely to be more interesting than my normal fare at home.

This was the first time I tried out my new strategy. Not knowing what any of the courses were going to look like, I started at the top left hand corner and worked across and managed to get all four courses onto a double page spread of my large folio Moleskine (size A4).

The sketch at the top of the page is a wonderful memory of an absolutely delicious meal!

The sketch below is of the view from my table with Michelin Guide, pencil case and camera at the edge of my table.

The view from my table in La Grillade Gourmande.

I stayed overnight at the Hotel Campanile Epernay - which is actually located at Dizy just north of Epernay.  It's a great hotel for a one night stay when travelling north or south.  I used it again on the trip north.  Very much in the motel style with parking right next to the rooms and a separate central hub which houses reception and the restaurant.  It has wifi and also has a great view of vines right next door.

Epernay - and the Avenue de Champagne


The next morning, before I set off on the "big drive" to Lyon (c.300 miles) I went into Epernay, parked in the same place as the night before - in the car park which is right next to La Grillade Gourmande - and took a look at the Avenue de Champagne.


The Avenue de Champagne in Epernay - looking back towards the centre of town.

The Avenue de Champagne in Epernay is lined with the headquarters buildings (symbolic and otherwise) - the maisons de champagne - of a number of major "names" in the champagne world.  They're up a bit of a hill in the town - which makes sense when you realise that there are a quite a few cellars underneath!  This webpage gives you a bit of a history of the various houses - which enabled me to identify who owned the biggest doors on the street!  You could spend a week there just sketching the maisons de champagne.  I took out my sketchbook and then quickly put it away again having realised the impossibility of doing justice to the task.

Moet & Chandon is there - with the statue of Dom Perignon outside in the car park next to the entrance dates.  This is the information about a guided tour of their cellars.

Dom Perignon is the Benedictine Monk who was a cellar master at Abbey of Hautvillers near the town of Épernay.  His name is now given to a brand of vintage champagne made by Moet Chandon.  There are lots of myths about him but he didn't invent the bubbles in champagne but he did contribute significantly to the development of champagne.

I also spotted Perrier Jouët and Pol Roger. Most of the headquarter buildings appear to be in very large and very old mansions with some looking a bit more business-like than others.

Below is a display of all the different sizes of Champagne bottles which I found in the tourism office which is located at the end of the avenue closest to the centre of town


The different sizes of Champagne Bottles - in Epernay
from left to right
Nebuchanezzar, Balthazar, Salmanazar, Methusalah, Jeroboam, Magnum, Bottle,  Half-Bottle

Friday 10th June

On Friday I drove south to just east of Lyon.  I'll now "glaze over as I rush past the next hotel I stayed at on the Friday night.  Although the room was fine, it had the worst hotel restaurant I've ever eaten in despite the fact it was located on the outskirts of the gastronomic capital of France.  I'll never eat in a hotel that near an autoroute ever again!


Saturday 11th June

On Saturday I set off for Provence - along with an awful lot of other people who also wanted to go south on the A7/E15 otherwise known as the Autoroute du Soleil between Lyon and Marseilles.  Then I turned left at Avignon......

.......drove across the Vaucluse and arrived at Couguieux.


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