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Georges Blanc in Vonnas - 3 Michelin stars

Rating: 95.
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Georges Blanc is a family restaurant in the pretty village of Vonnas, that has held three Michelin stars since 1981. The restaurant started out as an inn in 1872 and after three generations of female chefs, Georges Blanc is the first male chef to be at the helm of the Blancs' kitchens. Georges Blanc took over from his mother Paulette in 1968. Under the reign of Georges Blanc's legendary grandmother Elisa Gervais (also known as 'La Mère Blanc') the restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star in 1929 and a second followed in 1931. Curnonsky, the "Prince of Gastronomes" wrote in 1933 that La Mère Blanc was the finest cook in the world. The crowning glory of her cuisine was no doubt the iconic Bresse chicken for which the restaurant is still famous today. Nowadays the Blanc name doesn't just represent a restaurant in Vonnas; there's also a bistro, a shop, no fewer than three hotels, a spa and gardens. The Blanc empire has become a village within a village - think Padstein squared.

The restaurant Georges Blanc is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday till Sunday (no lunch on Wednesday or Thursday). Each year the restaurant closes for one month. Do check the website for the latest information. The restaurant offers an a la carte menu and several tasting menus. There's the 'Images de Vonnas' menu (7 courses, €225), the 'Clin d'Oeil Gourmand' menu (4 courses, €135) and the 'Saveurs en Fête' menu (5 course menu based on signature dishes, €185). I had lunch at Georges Blanc with my husband on Friday 1 June 2012 and we both chose the Saveurs en Fête menu.

With our aperitifs we were served three appetizers, Foie gras bonbon with dried orange zest powder, a delicious combination (i) - 'Croustillant' with anchovy and lard, lovely fresh anchovy and nice richness from the lard but the croustillant wasn't particularly crispy (ii) - Curried crab with tempura, nice and subtle curry flavours (iii).

Next an amuse bouche, Snails (from burgundy) and sorrel sauce. Lovely succulent snails with a wonderful creamy and elegant sorrel sauce.

First course of the tasting menu, Frog's legs, purple basil, celeriac, saffron. Gorgeous moist and succulent frog's leg morsels served in a crispy pastry case with a stunning and very elegant lemon and basil sauce. Lovely hint of sweetness from the pastry case. The saffron marinated celeriac was lovely. A wonderful dish with great textures and lovely pure flavours.

Second course, Lobster confit, Vin Jaune, sorrel ravioli, mushrooms, green and white asparagus tips. A generous portion of fantastic sweet and succulent lobster served with a wonderful rich and buttery sauce which had a hint of curry. Nice light acidic notes from the Vin Jaune vinegar. Lovely well-made ravioli with a delicious creamy sorrel filling. A fantastic fish course that was very high on flavour - explosive even.

Third course, Breast of Bresse chicken, chicken liver parfait,  foie gras, champagne, artichoke puree, sweet garlic puree and crêpes de Vonnas. A wonderfully moist chicken breast served with a divine but very rich foie gras, champagne and cream sauce. Excellent chicken liver parfait which had a lovely light and airy texture. The Crêpes de Vonnas (potato pancakes) were nice and buttery and wonderfully fluffy. You can see why Président Edouard Herriot would have been a fan some 80 years ago already. Lovely artichoke puree. Chicken in all its unadulterated glory, substance over form.

On to the cheeses (fourth course). A very impressive selection of cheeses of which I had four.

Next up were the pre-desserts. Cherry crumble, lovely cherries and cream, nice texture from the crumble (i) - Chocolate with dark chocolate ganache and coffee (ii) - Lemon verbena ice cream, nice creamy and citrussy ice cream (iii).

Fifth course, Fresh strawberries, vanilla, honey, ginger and lemon grass. A truly impressive blown sugar sphere as thin as glass - quite sensational. The sphere was filled with a delicious and airy strawberry foam filling and placed on a cream and cake base. Lovely fresh ginger and lemongrass ice cream, very subtle ginger flavours. Nice intense vanilla flavours too. A wonderful, fresh and light dessert.

Chocolates, macarons and other sweet delicacies served with our coffees.

Restaurant Georges Blanc in Vonnas is one of the standard-bearers, one of the pillars of French haute cuisine and it has been in active service for 140 years now. It is everything you might expect of a grand, traditional restaurant in the French countryside. The best produce available, staunchly classical cooking, a fabulous wine cellar (a mere 130,000 bottles) and flawlessly prepared local Bresse chicken as its symbol and ultimate raison d'être. All this is worthy of high praise indeed but it also defines the restaurant's limitations. I do realise that what I had was effectively the signature dishes menu which focuses on tradition, but the other dishes on the menu do not speak of iconoclastic tendencies either. This being said, they do not eschew the occasional modern touch and the execution of the dishes is flawless. Elaborate cooking in a grand but relaxed atmosphere makes for an outstanding overall culinary experience.

Posted 22-07-2012


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