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Flocons de Sel - France's new three-star restaurant

Rating: 98.
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France currently has 26 three-star restaurants. The latest addition to the list (in the 2012 guide) was Emmanuel Renaut's Flocons de Sel in Mégève in the French Alps. Emmanuel Renaut has trained in some of the best kitchens in Europe. After some time at Le Crillon in Paris he started working for the world-famous three-star chef Marc Veyrat at his restaurant Auberge de l'Eridan and stayed on for seven years. After a brief stint at Claridge's in London, Renaut moved back to France and in 1996 he opened his own restaurant in the centre of the beautiful ski village of Mégève and a first star was awarded to the restaurant in 2001 (Renaut was 33 at the time) and a second star followed in 2006. In 2010 the restaurant moved to a chalet in the mountains surrounding the village of Mégève. The charming chalet also houses a hotel with luxurious rooms and a spa (it is a Relais & Châteaux property). The restaurant in the village that offers more traditional fare is still owned by Renaut too.

Flocons de Sel is open for lunch and dinner Monday till Sunday (closed on Wednesdays). Once a year the hotel and restaurant are closed for a period of 1 month. Do check their website for the latest details. The restaurant offers an a la carte menu and a 10-course La Randonnée menu (€149) and during lunch there are two more options, a 3-course lunch menu (only served during weekdays - €42) and a 6-course La Promenade menu (€79). I had lunch with my husband at Flocons de Sel on Monday 4 June 2012 and we both had the La Randonnée menu.

While we were looking at the menu in the lounge area of the restaurant we were served some appetizers: Juniper beignet, a perfectly made beignet with an ultra-thin crispy casing and a delicious creamy and airy juniper filling (i) - Black rice tartlet with radish and chervil, really nice and crisp flavours (ii) - Crispy toast with fera (a local fish (related to trout) that is found in Lake Geneva), lovely fresh and pure flavours (iii) - Crispy toast with with cream and herb mousse, perfect crisp toast and delicious mousse (iv). 

Before the first course of the tasting menu we were served one laste 'bite' at the table. A sugary cep crisp made from ceps, sugar, salt and spices which had intense, earthy cep flavours.

First course, Noires de Crimée tomatoes with marigold with a thin ice disc made from tomato skins - serving temperature: cold). Wonderful sweet and fresh chopped tomatoes. The tomato flavours in the ice disc were too subtle however. Perfectly judged use of marigold, loved the hint of aniseed and the marigold also added some warmth to the tomatoes. A lovely pure and elegant start of this tasting menu.

Second course, Selection of wild mushrooms (among which Caesar's mushrooms), lemon balm jelly, chives and iced wood sorrel - serving temperature: lukewarm. Fantastic mushrooms with incredible nutty flavours, especially impressed with the Caesar's mushrooms. Fantastic clear and flavoursome lemon balm jelly and the iced wood sorrel was lovely and pure. The tasty finely chopped chives played a significant part in this dish. An absolutely wonderful and vibrant vegetarian dish which didn't have a single raw note.

Next was the third course, Ravioli shaped polenta (or as the restaurant calls it: 2mm polenta) with a carrot, celery, ceps and red wine 'filling', a chicken and juniper jus and summer truffle - serving temperature: warm. Terrific polenta which had a perfect consistency. The 'filling' was amazing, even though they only used vegetables and red wine, the ceps made the filling taste as if it were a Boeuf Bourguignonne, extraordinary. Lovely well-reduced chicken jus. A beautifully presented and very comforting dish.

On to the fourth course, Fresh peas, pea puree, dumplings of rapunzel root and fresh peas, juice from pea shells and mountain flowers and herbs - serving temperature: lukewarm. A dish with very pure and fresh flavours. These days the rapunzel (or rampion) root is considered a 'forgotten' vegetable and I had never tasted it before but this root turned to be a perfect combination with the peas and gave the dish a wonderful fresh sweetness. The juice was lovely and pure and had the most beautiful floral notes, such elegance. Lovely textures too.

Fifth course, Langoustine, nasturtium stock infused with violet - serving temperature: lukewarm. Lightly poached succulent and beautifully translucent langoustines and a lovely stock with subtle nasturtium flavours and bitters. With the dish came a glass of sparkling water. The glass had been rinsed in gentian schnapps and this really gave an extra dimension to the dish.

Sixth course, the fish course. My husband and I were each served a different fish course with fish from Lake Geneva. Two beautifully cooked pieces of fish, I had a fillet of char and hubby had a fillet of fera (see appetizers) - serving temperature: warm. Both fishes were served with a delicious carrot and lemon puree, lemon meringue discs and some Matcha green tea powder. The char was cooked à la meunière with the rolled skin served on top and served with a light vegetable stock and creme fraiche sauce. 

Seventh course, Crayfish, crayfish stock, pike flan, turnips marinated in Campari and almonds. A terrific dish with delicious juicy crayfish and a fantastic crayfish stock made from the crayfish shells which had a wonderful depth of flavour. Lovely creamy and pure pike flan. A dish with great texures and some subtle bitters from the Campari.

Eight and main course,  Bavette and fillet steak wrapped in bacon, beef jus, mushrooms, roasted onion, pommes soufflés. Glorious succulent beef and lovely saltiness from the bacon. Wonderful rich jus and perfect pommes souffles. A relatively simple dish but perfectly executed and full of flavour.

On to the desserts. First the cheese (ninth course). As you can see in the photograph a wonderful selection of local mountain cheeses. 

Next the pre-dessert, Beignets sucrés, a selection of white chocolates flavoured with cinnamon, star anise and nutmeg and liqueur bonbons. Delicious beignets and fantastic white chocolates, terrific and very well-balanced use of these quite outspoken spices. The liqueur bonbons were filled with Alpine schnapps and had a crunchy sugary coating.

Followed by the last and tenth course, Blanc Manger, fresh raspberries, raspberry puree, marigold and conifer puree, wild strawberries, violet meringues and conifer spongecake. Excellent creamy blanc manger which had a lovely consistency. Beautifully moist and flavoursome conifer spongecake. Both the spongecake and the puree provided a nice savoury and herby touch to this dish. Lovely sweetness and sharpness from the strawberries. A wonderful dessert with powerful but very precise flavours and a stunning presentation.

At the other side of the table a different dessert was served: chocolate tart with smoked cedar wood and wood flavoured ice cream. I only got to taste a few bites of this dessert but the chocolate tart was absolutely glorious and the smoky wood flavours in this dessert were very well-balanced.

Are we living in the Golden Age of foraging? It does seem to be popular among a number of chefs who speak loudly of their efforts. It does help however if there actually are flavoursome ingredients around to forage for. In the Savoie they are plentiful so foraging makes sense and unsurprisingly foraging is a time-honoured tradition as old as the hills in these parts. How could one not harvest the natural riches of these Western Alps? Emmanuel Renaut does not only have access to the natural and rich Savoie larder however; he also has his own vegetable and herb garden to add to his repertoire. For the ingredients that he does not forage or grow himself, he has a small army of fabulous local suppliers and producers who provide him with beautiful seasonal produce. Suppliers and producers whom he has known for years and with whom he has developed personal relationships. A list of his suppliers is on every table in the restaurant. 

Emmanuel Renaut's cooking is about terroir, seasonality and locality; it is the ultimate and haute cuisine expression of what is and always has been a way of life around here. His food is very refined, with clean and precise flavours that display great originality and skill. I do not think that I had ever encountered a chef before, for whom the temperature of his dishes was such a carefully considered part of his cooking. Service by Andrew Kirkby and his team was very attentive and relaxed and not even the local community of flies who had sent numerous representatives to keep us company during lunch could detract from our dining experience. Flocons de Sel is as individualistic and authentic a restaurant as I have encountered at this exalted level.

Posted 16-07-2012


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