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Maison Pic, three Michelin stars in Valence

Rating: 96.
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Just like the iconic three-star restaurants Georges Blanc, Maison Troisgros and Paul Bocuse do in their respective communes, Maison Pic prominently takes its time-honoured place in the town of Valence. Maison Pic is a family run hotel and restaurant and Anne-Sophie Pic is already the fourth generation of this family to be the executive chef at the restaurant. Anne-Sophie's great-grandmother Sophie founded the restaurant in 1891, at the time a cafe called l'Auberge du Pin located above the village of Saint-Péray. In 1920 Anne Sophie's grandfather André Pic took over and under his aegis the restaurant was awarded three Michelin stars in 1934.

Soon after the restaurant was relocated to nearby Valence. In the following two decades the restaurant lost 2 Michelin stars but under the reign of André's son Jacques the restaurant regained its three stars in 1973. In 1992 Jacques tragically died of a heart-attack behind the stove - it was in that same year that Anne-Sophie had started working in the kitchens of Maison Pic. A few years later the restaurant lost its third star but in 2007, at the age of 37, Anne-Sophie reclaimed it, making her France's only female chef to hold three Michelin stars and she is so to this day.

Maison Pic is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday till Saturday. The restaurant offers a seasonal a la carte menu, a 7-course 'Pic Collection' menu (€330), a 6-course 'Actualités' menu (€220) and there's a 3-course weekday lunch menu (€90). I had lunch with my husband at Maison Pic on Sunday 3 June 2012 and we both had the 'Actualités' menu (or 'News' as it is called on the English menu). The restaurant was open on a Sunday because it was 'La Fête des Mères' (mother's day) in France.

With our aperitifs were served four appetizers: (i) Pea and horseradish jelly cube, very nice but the horseradish jelly could have been a bit more intense - (ii) Foie gras bonbon with lemon jelly, delicious creamy foie gras with a beautiful thin layer of lemon jelly, nice balance between sweetness and tartness - (iii) Peanut marshmallow, lovely sweet marshmallow with nice peanut flavours - (iv) Tea-smoked mackerel macaron, a well-made macaron with a fantastic creamy mackerel filling.

Next we were served an amuse bouche, Duck foie gras crême brulée with a green apple foam. Lovely creamy, velvety even, foie gras which had a beautiful airy consistency. Perfectly caramelised and thin brulée layer. The apple foam was lovely, nice crisp and sharp apple flavours which cut through the richness of the crême brulée.

First course 'La Betterave Plurielle' - different varieties and textures of beetroot (sliced or whole) with a beetroot and Blue Mountain coffee foam and semi-dried highbush cranberries. Gorgeous sweet beetroot in different textures, some pieces were soft while others still had a bite to them. Absolutely stunning beetroot and coffee foam, wonderful sweetness from the beetroot and lovely warmth and depth of flavour from the coffee. Nice touch of acidity from the highbush cranberries. A fantastic dish that focuses on the sweetness of the beetroot rather than on the earthiness, which I like. Obviously there was a hint of earthiness from the beetroot too, but it was very subtle. A dish with multi-dimensional flavours and great textures that fascinated with every single bite.

Second course 'Les Langoustines de Bretagne' - Langoustines, rhubarb, celery jus and Tasmanian pepper. Top-quality juicy langoustines cooked a la plancha. The celery jus was lovely and pure and had wonderful intense celery flavours. Light floral peppery notes from the Tasmanian pepper and the rhubarb added a nice touch to the dish.

On to the third course 'Le Turbot Cotier' - Turbot, wakame, cauliflower crème, Jasmine foam. A beautiful translucent piece of turbot served with a foam that was very lightly flavoured with Jasmine - light to the point of being untraceable. The cauliflower crème had a nice smooth texture and the chopped cauliflower provided the necessary crunch. A perfectly executed dish with a well-judged touch of wakame but also a dish whose flavours lacked some intensity and depth - a bit too bland for my taste.

Before the main course we were served a palate cleanser: Lemon jelly served with a lemon and hazelnut foam. Lovely and refreshing but quite powerful flavours.

Fourth course 'Le Pigeon Fermier' - Free-range pigeon (poached and roasted), lightly smoked consommé, fresh peas, celery, green aniseed. A glorious pigeon dish. The breast was beautifully cooked 'bleu' and was served with the roasted leg and the liver. Immaculate clear consommé that was delicious and had an incredible depth of flavour, loved the lightly smoky flavours. Lovely subtle green aniseed flavours too. A sublime, elegant dish - a triumph.

Fifth course 'Le Brie de Meaux a la Vanille Bourbon' - Brie de Meaux mousse with Bourbon vanilla. An absolutely stunning dish with beautifully balanced flavours. Indulgent and rich yet so light and elegant at the same time.

Although we didn't have an extra cheese course the cheese selection at Maison Pic is pretty impressive. Have a look:

As a pre-dessert we were served Cherry 'juice' with green aniseed foam. Terrific sharp and fresh cherry juice which had a somewhat gelatinous consistency. A lovely and refreshing pre-dessert.

Last and sixth course 'La Framboise et la Cannelle' - Raspberries (fresh and coulis) served with cinnamon meringue discs. A beautifully presented and refined dessert. The fresh and tart raspberry flavours combined nicely with the warmth of the cinnamon.

It was up to Anne Sophie Pic to lead her family's restaurant into the 21st century. She has held the reigns of the family's culinary empire for fourteen years now and has been very successful at doing so. Not only did she regain the third star in 2007 for Maison Pic but she also holds two stars at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland. As far as I'm aware, this is highest number of Michelin stars to be held by a female chef in the world.

Anne Sophie's food at Maison Pic is classically based and clearly has a feminine touch. The same can be said about the restaurant. Her cooking is about precision, finesse and subtlety. The hallmarks of her dishes are beautiful presentation, flawless execution and a complete harmony of flavours. Every now and then however, for my palate at least, the flavours can be almost too light and delicate, always well-balanced but perhaps also slightly on the safe side and lacking a bit of power. Still, this is unquestionably very sophisticated cooking and Maison Pic is entirely worthy of its accolades.

Posted 29-08-2012


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