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La Cote Saint Jacques in Joigny, France (3 Michelin stars)

Rating: 96.
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La Côte Saint Jacques is a third generation family restaurant, located on the banks of the Yonne river in Joigny, Burgundy and it has been a Relais & Chateaux member since 1977. The building in which the restaurant is located also houses 32 rooms and suites, a boutique and a spa. The restaurant was originally established as an inn in 1945 by Marie Lorain, current chef-patron Jean Michel Lorain's grandmother. In 1958 Michel Lorain (b. 1934) and his wife Jacqueline took over from Michel's mother Marie.

Under the reign of Michel Lorain the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in 1971; a second star followed in 1976. Around the same time Jean Michel Lorain (b. 1959) started his training as a chef, starting with an apprenticeship at Pierre and Jean Troisgros 3-star restaurant in Roanne and later on at the then 3-star Taillevent in Paris. Before returning to the family restaurant in 1983, Jean Michel worked in the kitchens of 3-star Frédy Girardet in Crissier, Switzerland. Three years later, in 1986, La Côte Saint Jacques was awarded a third Michelin star; Jean Michel was 27 at the time. In 2001 the restaurant lost its third star due to an extensive refurbishment of the restaurant/hotel, but Jean Michel managed to regain the third star in 2004.

La Côte Saint Jacques is open for dinner daily and for lunch Wednesday till Sunday. The restaurant offers an a la carte menu, a menu Découverte (5 courses, including cheese, €138), a menu Gourmand (5 courses, including cheese and 2 desserts, €185) and there is a Suprise menu (8 courses, including cheese and 2 desserts, €240). I had lunch at La Côte Saint Jacques with my husband on Friday 30 August and we both had the 5-course menu Découverte.

To start there were four terrific canapés, served on the terrace with our aperifs (from right to left): polenta with a nutty girolle cream - baby pattypan squash with a fresh cheese filling - carrot cannelloni with a light lemon mousse filling - nori crisp with pea cream and marinated anchovy.

They were followed by quail's egg à la meurette, served amuse-bouche size. An intense and rich onion mousse, covered with a concentrated beef jelly and topped with a deliciously soft quail's egg and a small piece of crispy bacon. A very attractive amuse bouche with gorgeous, rich flavours.

Gillardeau oysters were next. A cocktail glass with, at the bottom, a tartare of sour cream and oyster that had spectacular, clean and fresh flavours; elegant creaminess and a gorgeous salty finish from the oysters. This was topped with a well-seasoned and creamy vichyssoise with the perfect temperature. Finally a light oyster foam. On top of the cocktail glass was a crisp cracker with three small but juicy oysters. The different oyster flavour intensities were fantastic and the combination of all the ingredients created a true synergy.

Second course was a tomato 'galette' with a lightly smoked mozzarella cream, balsamic and basil oil and plentiful 'petit-gris' escargots. Incredibly sweet and meaty tomatoes (sprinkled with some polenta), soothed by the sublime mozzarella cream that had a wonderful, light consistency. The snails were tender and had a lovely earthy flavour. Nice sweet acidity from the balsamic vinegar and the mozarella cream delivered a silky, round finish. This dish stimulated all the senses. A bundle of excitement and energy. Every element was great on its own but when combined in this dish, they became absolutely magical.

Main course was rabbit. Beautifully cooked, tender and moist loin of rabbit and jellied leg meat, served with a brilliant, creamy, mangetout 'risotto' and a few dots of cucumber foam. Also on the plate was a rabbit jus reduction that had a nice, sticky glaze to it. The rabbit jus was flavoured with Chinese chives, resulting in lovely hints of garlic. A marvellous dish that truly captured the unique and delicate flavour of rabbit. The mangetout 'risotto' was a clever and original touch; it provided texture and it balanced this dish perfectly.

La Cotes Saint Jacques' wonderful display of cheeses.
A selection of sweet delicacies such as madeleines with an apricot filling, white chocolate and raspberry sorbet lollipops and strawberry puree with a vanilla cream, were served right before dessert.

Dessert was one of La Côte Saint-Jacques signature dishes; a superb flaky and buttery millefeuille with layers of cream that had been lightly flavoured with vanilla and covered with crisp almonds all around.

A meal at La Côte Saint Jacques is all about gastronomic enjoyment and pleasure. Seemingly effortless excellence, seemingly simple and visually striking dishes, all right on the money. Exquisite modern cooking with old-world “savoir faire” and top quality produce results in impeccable, clean and comforting flavours. Jean Michel Lorain is an incredibly skilled and experienced chef, a true craftsman who has the confidence to present the diner with dishes that display elegance and allure rather than play to the gallery. In their own way they are quite spectacular however; the tomato, mozzarella and snail dish was a real showstopper. La Côte Saint-Jacques belongs to that rare breed of almost exclusively French three-star restaurants  that continue to build in this post-modern day and age on a great heritage of gastronomic excellence.

Posted 24-11-2013


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