Posted 29 July 2005 - 12:53 PM
Yet there also something clinical and de-personalised about the restaurant. Maybe its because its modernity features clean, hard lines and surfaces. It lacks the warmth and intimacy of other restaurants, and although service was fine, I still sensed a little whiff of the production line approach.
"Wow- loads and loads of fresh vegetables", exclaimed Fahro as she grabbed my Gargouillou Classique from under my nose and snaffled it down, happily passing over her Terroir Menu starter of Tuna (from St Jean de Luz) and Fig Compote. But then: "they just can't resist can they", she opined, as she held up a piece of salty Jambon which had been buried under the pile of jeunes legumes.
Her menu also included Eel in a kind of Teriaki/Balsamic Sauce, a Cochon Torteau and pate-like a superior pork pie, but a bit salty and one note. The Aligot was outstanding, but as it was served after our main course Beef Aubrac dishes and everything we'd had before, neither of us could eat more than a mouthful or so of this very rich, filling dish.
I admired the clear way in which Bras is trying to express the local terroir, his determination to stay close to the earth, the singing freshness of the vegetables in the Gargouillou and in the garlic and butter oozing Haricots Verts that accompanied a beef dish, the flavour and quality of the beef etc. But there were faults. Some dishes were over salty for my taste. My Beef was served as a dun coloured lump. It needed charred caramelisation on the outside. Also I'm not a fan of very thin watery jus with meat. The beef was sitting in a truffle jus liquid in which truffle was undetectable and which just made the meat wet. The Aligot, as I said, was pointless served as the sixth course of a tasting menu. The yellow peach we had for one dessert, lacked all flavour and a replacement didn't have much more-a poor example of sticking close to local product. However another dessert of Cherries in an Olive Oil Cream was scrummy.
More hits than misses, but by no means the perfect meal I was hoping for. Need to return for a second round before making a definitve judgement
Posted 30 July 2005 - 05:02 PM
I do wonder when the much overused and ambiguously used term 'jus' will become a tired trend that gets dropped. I can wait for it.
Posted 31 July 2005 - 02:53 AM
Posted 31 July 2005 - 02:59 AM
My Beef was served as a dun coloured lump. It needed charred caramelisation on the outside. Also I'm not a fan of very thin watery jus with meat.
I really admire Michel Bras. This surprises me a bit, the meat with no color or rather poor color.
Posted 31 July 2005 - 04:15 AM
Arthur Hugh Clough, 1819-1861
Arise ye prisoners of starvation
Arise ye wretched of the earth
Posted 23 August 2005 - 05:46 PM
In our room, off to the side rather than in the main room, there were two five tops, another deuce, and my table (also a deuce). As everyone had ordered the decouveture tasting menu (with what began to feel like a sort of Disney land logic), and as we were staggered to be the last table in the cycle at about 5 minutes behind the one before (a five top), we were condemned to receive the 13th and 14th repetition of each of the dishes for the whole afternoon. As a dining aesthetic, it's not more than a couple of steps above being served airline food (you see that cart rolling down the aisle? Well eventually it will get to you).
The wine and water service was prompt and satisfactory at the beginning, but by half way through we had to refill our own glasses as the staff had wondered off. As far as these things go, and this isn't something that particularly bothers me, they also failed the napkin test - on both occasions - although I did get an escort for half the distance to the loos.
To the food, it has all been described before, and well enough so that I'll just focus on a few dishes. First, and in order of it being served, the big failure. The seared foie was, I thought, a disaster of a dish. Alongside an acceptable portion of foie, now famously slow-seared, was a morass of accompanyments. A small pile of barley with a brunoise of pineapple, a smear of pesto on the plate, a fruit chutney, a few drops of of sweetish something (possibly a vinegar), and a small green salad. As far as I could taste, none of the elements really complemented each other. The barley was a poor idea, and the addition of pineapple didn't improve it. Having both the pesto and the chutney on the plate just made no sense to me. The foie itself is slow cooked (apparently) to produce a custardy interior, and then seared or blow-torched on the outside. Sure enough, the texture was there, but it felt dull to me. By half way through, there was nothing left to learn that you hadn't already in the first three bites (probably the reason there are so many accompaniments, in order to keep your interest). By the way, this is not to rail against complicated or savoury foie dishes. The roasted foie at the Fat Duck with crab tuile and seaweed and various other things, I thought was fantastic. And for an 'alternative' texture, more successful.
The first big success was the entremets of celeriac, cut almost into a thin linguini, and served with a black truffle vinaigrette. The vegetable was cooked wonderfully, still leaving the slightest of bites, and it was delicious next to the truffle - which must have been preserved, but wasn't overdone.
The second success was that we had been given the good advice to substitute the meat course for the gauloise blanche chicken. This was certainly exceptional, with far more flavour than its Bresse cousin. My only complaint is that in the cut of breast they included the tail-tip thin end, which had slightly overcooked when placed next to the thicker neck-end. This seems like a foolish mistake at such an establishment. The poaching, however, had left a wonderful flavour. The skin was perfectly crisp, salty, and delicious. The accompaniments, some small violet artichokes, was modest. The small mound of toasted sesame seeds were a very nice choice.
The desserts, which should have been bacchanalian, were prudish, overly restrained (not to mention overly-conceived), and also tired in execution.
If I was to return (on someone else's dime), I would definitely avoid the set menus at all cost. I think you would have to go ALC, if only to shock the brigade into cooking something that - at that moment - they don't have 15 other orders for. You know, I just don't want to pay 200 bucks for 14th portion of foie. Especially if it tastes like it.
Posted 31 August 2005 - 05:47 AM
I tried to book rooms for later this year; no room available during the two days I was pursuing. Where in Laguiole should I stay? I want a place where, if I get off the Bras waitlist for rooms at the very last minute, I can cancel without any penalty.
Posted 31 August 2005 - 02:40 PM
Posted 01 September 2005 - 01:01 AM
The knapsacks are still there in the rooms. I got mine in April.
I've had a Michel Bras knapsack (grey, has the fern-like motif on it, in white) for several years now. It's a gift when you stay in a room there (or at least was a gift). It's one of the nicest souvenirs I have from a restaurant.
They are great.
Posted 05 October 2006 - 02:23 PM
Bras is a restaurant first and foremost but I was very much taken by the hotel. The amount of thought that has gone into everything, not just the food, is truly amazing (and Michel is not shy about explaining his thought processes, in great detail, in long rambling essays. Quite the intellectual is our M.Bras). The bedrooms are stunning, full of natural light, airy and energising with a patio door that opens onto your own beautiful, very natural, garden.
Its a truly wonderful place, a juxtaposition between a starkly modern building incongruous from its surrounds and an establishment whose soul is as deeply rooted in the local terroir and community as can be imagined.
Unfortunately, due to the size of our group, we were limited in our choice of menu and had to stick with a tasting menu. I didn't organise the trip which limited my input into the menu and, sob sob, I left Bras without tasting the gargouillou or the chicken. Still a very fine meal however and I'll be back next year for the a la carte.
Amuse : Soft poached eggs with cream and herbs and cepe tartlets were served in the stunning lobby area (pictured above) with home made aperitifs and champagne. I had a very interesting aperitif made from local flowers. The egg was stunning as was the quality of the cepes.
We then received a tour of the huge kitchen and were introduced to Bras, father and son. A huge kitchen with 40 chefs. Very quiet and civilised. Sebastian was more than happy to spend a few minutes talking us through the stations.
Further amuse were served on spoons at our table along with spiced flatbread. The amuse have slipped from my memory, the flatbread was not much to my taste.
"Tartare style" Tuna with fruit, vegetables and spices: Marinated raw tuna belly wrapped in filo pastry and accompanied by apple, celery and spices. Excellent quality tuna and great accompaniments. I felt the filo made it a little awkward to eat however
Omble with carrot butter: A gorgeous piece of local river fish set off beautifully by the carrot butter. Topped by an almost translucent "crisp" of fish skin and served with sweet young roast fennel. Very good dish.
Duck foie gras with various accompaniments: Served with apple and saffron, green leaves and local flowers; the cylinder in the middle was made from gingerbread and contained a North African fermented milk and apricot puree. Great quality foie and the accompaniments combined wonderfully. The fermented milk, gingerbread and apricot especially. One of the best foie preparations I've had.
Roast fillet of beef with tomato and ginger flavoured barley: Fabulous quality beef. Fillet often leaves me cold, I need my beef to taste of something, but this was the most flavoursome piece of fillet I've ever tasted while still being very tender. Roasted as a whole fillet on a rotisserie until perfectly rare.
Great dish which was elevated to the heights by the addition of... the infamous aligot:
Wonderful. Lived up to all of the hype. I was oohing and ahhing so the waiter gave me a huge, huge portion. I ate every mosel and could have eaten another bucket. Amazing texture, the ultimate comfort food. The combination of aligot and beef together made for some of the best mouthfuls of food ever.
Cheese: A selection of local cheese. Served in almost obnoxious sized portions. Good but not extraordinary.
Bilberry tart with lemon and orange: Clunk. What had been a wonderful procession of dishes to this point came grinding to a halt. A bland fruit jelly topped with fromage blanc perched on a piece of dry Swedish crispbread. The worst dessert I've ever been served in a Michelin starred restaurant. Not one of the 15 of us ate more than two bites. Even more disappointingly, the staff never even commented on all of the uneaten desserts. Such a shame.
Petits four: A long litany of afters. Some served at the table, some in the lounge with after dinner drinks and coffee. There were ice cream and sorbet balls, chocolate crispies, sugar cubes soaked in crème de menthe, shot glasses of fruit and yogurt... the list goes on. Generally very good and almost made up for our disappointment with dessert.
A hugely enjoyable meal which I would rank marginally ahead of my other big meal this summer at Mugaritz - principally due to the greater consistency (dessert apart).
The following morning we had a light breakfast of coffee and excellent pastries in the sun drenched lobby.
Then we set off on a hike around the spectacular countryside accompanied by a fantastic picnic of: hard boiled eggs, cheese (hard and soft), crusty bread, saucisson, salad of local leaves and flowers, ripe peaches and lots of light red wine.
It was with with full bellies and heavy hearts that we checked out. This is a truly special place. And the best news of all is that the entire bill (accommodation, dinner, wine, breakfast, picnic) came to €300pp. The exact same as a dinner at Gordon Ramsay last year. I know which I'd rather repeat...
Posted 05 October 2006 - 03:43 PM
I thought you'd want to know.
Posted 05 October 2006 - 03:45 PM
You just keep working at it, Rani. You'll score a good one someday.
Ah, Michel Bras. How uplifting.
I thought you'd want to know.
Posted 03 December 2009 - 12:10 AM
These are my thoughts on my meal here at the end of June.
Please click here for full commentary + photography: HERE
Bras [se prononce Braz] – in Laguiole [se prononce læ-jol].
Michel Bras always found it too difficult to leave his native land of Aubrac. Born in Gabriac, he attended grammar school in Espalion before moving to Laguiole, where his parents ran a little restaurant – Lou Mazuc. He has remained there or thereabouts ever since.
That might be an understatement. Working away in this ‘isolated desert’ (his words) somewhere in France’s central massif, Michel Bras changed gastronomy. ‘His influence is massive. What he planted seeds for was a culinary revolution,’ asserts David Chang whilst Wiley Dufresne admits, ‘he has been copied by every chef in the world. We've all taken a page out of the Bras book – the smear, the spoon drag, putting food on a plate like it fell off a tree.’ Luc Dubanchet, Omnivore’s founder, goes even further: ‘he's like the godfather of cuisine...the pope. He built his own cuisine...’ To the avante-garde chefs of Spain, he is certainly the most, perhaps the only, revered Frenchman. At just twenty-five, he created a dish – le gargouillou – whose repercussions have been as profound as they have profuse. He, with few others, was the vanguard that paved the way for the New Naturals whose influence grows today.
So indeed he did stay in Aubrac, but he also gave the world a reason to come to him.
The Bras family came from humble beginnings. His father, Marcel, had found himself unable to support his family as a blacksmith so, together with Michel’s mother, Angèle, he opened a small café; ‘we served workers, that’s all.’ Although it was here he had been taught by his mother how to cook at an early age – he merits her for his sense of taste whilst ‘from my father, I get precision’ – he himself had other aspirations: ‘I dreamed of doing something with chemistry or physics. There lies my true passion.’ Nevertheless, while still studying, both his parents fell ill and, as the eldest of three children, he had to take charge and take over the kitchen. His talent soon became obvious to others as did, to himself, the pleasure he derived from cooking.
As already mentioned, Bras was always more compelled to remain at home than to leave it – he never joined the Tour de France or went to work in one of the great kitchens of Paris or elsewhere. Instead of such classique training, he taught himself. He followed his initiative, voraciously reading gastronomic literature (as well as more philosophical stuff by the likes of Saint Augustine, Lamartine and Saint-Exupéry) all the while continuing to learn the local culinary traditions from his mother. Even in those days, rambling woodland paths and strolling through the countryside, he was always gathering, collecting, nibbling and tasting. It was at this same time too that he met Ginette, his future wife and another lover of things natural.
By 1979, the couple had taken full control of Lou Mazuc with Michel as the chef and his wife, the sommelier. Their cosy restaurant with barely forty seats was immediately recognised by Michelin and awarded its first star. Eventually, in 1987, they had a second. Here, Bras’ distinctive use of herbs and flowers was already taking shape and his cooking was attracting diners and critics from all over France and even further afield. Still, the two realised that if they were to continue their ascent, they would need a larger, improved space. The place the pair decided on was le Puech de Suquet.
In 1992, Architects Eric Raffy and Philippe Villeroux were charged with the ‘realisation of [the Bras’] perfectly mad project’. ‘Wishing to get as close as possible to nature,’ the family chose a spot sitting on the crest of le Suquet’s summit, some four-thousand feet above the plateau beneath and four kilometres from the town. Slowly revealing itself as one approaches, amidst the rolling hills, the reine des prés, gentiane jaune, potentille dorée, violette des Sudètes and sixty or so other flowers and surrounded by the grazing Aubrac cattle noted for their obsidian eyes, their creation is at once a seamless extension of its surroundings whilst simultaneously in violent divergence to them. Concordant with and expressive of his culinary style, the chef wanted the structure to spring forth from the land. Thus it appears half in and half out of the hillside, seemingly embedded within it on one side whilst exploding into the ‘unexplored space, unseen and unlimited frontiers ahead’ on the other. Sculpted in slate, schist, granite and glass, the edifice is ‘in tone with [the land’s own] tones and materials’ and even resembles a traditional buron – the little cheese-making stone huts that litter the locale.
The new restaurant had been a costly endeavour however and initially it struggled, its troubles culminating in an eventual bail-out, part sponsored by the tourist board. Things turned around towards the end of the decade and, in 1999, Michelin finally bestowed Bras a third star. Subsequently, the same chef who once refused to set up in Paris, launched Michel Bras Toya Japon in Hokkaido in 2002, citing the area’s similarity to Aubrac as his motivation.
Sébastien, Michel’s son, having grown up in his father’s kitchen and after graduating from the Paul Bocuse Institute, apprenticed at Guérard, Gagnaire and the chocolatier Bernachon in Lyon before returning to his father’s side in 1995. It has been a successful, smooth partnership: ‘my values are those of my family. I am not interested about magazine covers and I am all too aware that Sébastien will never be Michel. Customer satisfaction is all that counts for me. Between my father and me there has never been conflict, break ups or a generation gap.’ Séba may indeed never be Michel, but in an interesting twist, it was him in charge of the kitchen in 1998 when, with his parents away on business, the manager of the Guide Michelin arrived ready to dine…the very next March, his father had his three stars.
In 2003, Sébastien’s increasing involvement convinced his father to rename the restaurant simply Bras (dropping his own name). The junior chef’s wife, Véronique, also joined that of the senior’s in the dining room. More recently, although he still likes to help with the gardening, Michel – now sixty-plus – has stepped into a semi-retired role.
Reached via the meandering roads that run throughout Aubrac – local farmers are said to have bribed road workers with bottles of wine not to build across their properties – a simple sign by the roadside suggests the entrance to the Bras compound.
Following on from a short ascent, a blossom-bordered footpath points to the revolving doorway and reception. To the left is the lounge. Wrapped with windows from floor-to-ceiling, the entire area is a levitating ledge over the valley beneath, balanced between earth and sky. The effect is nothing short of spectacular: a still-life of lush landscapes and verdant scenes stretching for twenty kilometres across the horizon. A ring of cream coloured chairs from Vincent Sheppard circle a long granite slab under which fresh-cut wooden logs lie and over which a small fireplace is suspended. A flight of steps between here and the entry lead down and out to the other two buildings housing the bedrooms that reside either side of an old cattle drive – draille – that used to run from the hotel’s entrance to Laguiole’s parish church.
Opposite the salon, almost anchored into the rocks is the actual restaurant. The room is long and narrow and accessed by crossing one of the bridges resting over the small stream running between the kitchen and the dining area. State-of-the-art, the former is partially visible from the latter and stands besides a humidity-controlled wine cellar.
There are two rows of large, circular tables with those abutting the panorama windows sectioned off in pairs by semi-transparent mesh screens. Every seat has an excellent view. It is ‘a place bathed in light with an uninterrupted view of infinity’. The interior is minimalist, meditative and unemotional – the intention is to not distract the diner from experiencing the food. For the same reason, resting upon mineral-slate-blue tablecloths, Bernaudaud crockery is immaculate white. Adjacent these, legendary Laguiole cutlery, custom made to Bras’ specific instructions, sits poised upon specially designed metallic stands. A small message from the family accompanies the blade.
In 1829, combining the regional, fixed-blade capuchadou with the Catalan navaja pocket-knife brought back from Spain, the son of a Laguiole innkeeper, Pierre Calmels, created this iconic instrument. It quickly became an essential tool for shepherd and peasant alike and, at the end of the century, when many migrated to Paris, those who left, left everything behind bar their blade. Thus it became a symbol of identity amongst the Aveyronnais away from home. Nowadays it is the knife of choice amongst connoisseurs and at Bras this heritage is celebrated with diners, adhering to local custom, retaining the same Laguiole throughout their meal, just as an Auvergnat peasant would.
One final mention concerns the sistre – the herb picked by Bras as his emblem. Also known as baldmoney or fenouil des Alpes, this is a local wild fennel breed that cannot survive exposure to synthetic fertilisers – the choice is a poignant and emphatically figurative example of the chef’s own principles and commitment to nature.
On this warm, late June day, we took the evasion & terre; découverte & nature menu with a supplement.
Amuse Bouche 1: coques-mouillettes. Atop a dark wooden tray lay Michel Bras’ recette du bien-être, upon which two bantam eggs, set in shining silver cups and stocked with bright yellow, bubbled yolk, stood; the corners of the inscribed card were crowned with stacked, thick-cut, three-cheese mouillettes. The little eggs’ contents had been removed, warmed, whisked and then returned to their shells with a little grassy parsley oil. Accompanying wholegrain soldiers of Laguiole, Roquefort and chèvre, were strong, seedy and crisp. The simple recipe underneath called for a slowing down, for a return to the dining table, for families to cook and to eat together again…
Amuse Bouche 2: Trio de cuillères – betterave, chou romanesco, agrumes; consommé langoustine, matignon de légumes; canard, feuille de moutarde, cornichon. A threesome of short-stemmed sterling spoons were served carrying three different, very colourful concoctions – one of vegetable, one of fish and one more of meat. Earthy-sweet beet gelée came with firm romanesco cauliflower and citrus rind; a flavourful jellied langoustine consommé was embedded with cooked-down mirepoix; and some shredded duck confit was partnered with gherkin, subtle mustard and its leaf.
Les Pains: Pain de campagne; croustillants aux épices et lavash; pain au levain et pain aux céréales. Already at the table, a loaf of braided rustic, home-baked bread rolls was bundled up in a napkin blanket; as amuses were eaten, the serveur proceeded to separate the buns into a wooden basket. Alongside these, implanted within a black basalt pebble, were savoury pain aux épices and lavash croustillants. Soon a second bin was brought about bearing slices of pain au levain and pain aux céréales. These last two offerings – fluffy sourdough and crusty, dense-crumbed seed – were significantly better than the average country-bread, cumin-spiced crisps and plain, coarse crackers. Bordier’s beurre de baratte demi-sel was delivered on ebony slabs bearing Bras’ baldmoney.
Entrée 1: aujourd’hui « classique »; le gargouillou de jeunes légumes; graines & herbes, lait de poule à la noisette. Before service began, some couple dozen different vegetables were peeled, shucked, sliced, mandolined and/or chopped. Leaves were plucked from another possible dozen plants or stems and an anonymous number of flowers, just picked that morning by the chefs themselves, were prepared and readied for plating. As required, the jeunes légumes were quickly blanched with a little salt in separate pots of water then shocked in ice water; seasoned individually, they were subsequently held apart in foil containers.
All these greens, blossoms and blades, plus some fruits, grains and seeds too, were then carefully assembled upon the plate to create Michel Bras’ masterpiece - le gargouillou. The precise produce depends not just on the season, but on the very day and today, faintly framed on all four sides by vibrant wisps, dabs and spoon drags of red and yellow pepper, pistou, sorrel and of olive, courgette, cucumber, celery, kohlrabi and runner beans mingled with Granny Smith apple, yellow peas and patty pan….edible ferns, fennel fronds, beet leaves and rocket mixed with rose petals, phlox Carolina, tajete and borage. At the table, hazelnut-infused eggnog was sparingly sprinkled over the colourful cluster.
The stunning standard of the ingredients stuck at once. Arriving mildly warm, as if just gathered and still warm from lying in the sun, the peculiar savour of each product was amplified and yet absolutely pure. The minimal saucing added a little moisture to the already succulent greens whilst niacs – according to Bras, a ‘combination of visual, smelly, tasty touches that awake our sensations for new discoveries…’ - of lait de poule à la noisette as well as sweetened dried black olive crumble added animation and unanticipated hints. As one eats, unearthing unseen elements, discovering new flavours with each forkful and new textures with every taste, what emerges is a mesmerising sense of fascination and gripping engrossment. One finds themselves eating ever slower, the whole course taking unexpectedly long to finish – the dish arrest one’s attention and literally moves you to silence.
Entrée 2: avec de la peau de lait comme nous l’aimons; le turbot poêlé au beurre demi-sel & roulé dans du vinaigre; cornichons frais et ciboule. A golden gamboge crusted fillet of pan-fried turbot from Saint Jean-de-Luz, dusted with vinegar powder, came laid in a salty butter sauce, mizzled with a little more vinegar, and surrounded with fresh gherkins, sautéed spring onions and some spinach; garlic flower buds were strewn overtop whilst a trail of immature marguerite daisy petals climbed one corner of the plate. Brought from the Bay of Biscay, this thick tranche of fish was very agreeable and nicely cooked even if it was not an especially gelatinous cut. The sauce, not as heavy as anticipated, was warm, light and gently spiked with vinegar and a little garlic. The hot vegetables were a pleasing and an interesting combination.
Entrée 3: parfum et fruits d’amande; la tranche de foie gras de canard grillée; des amandes, figues noires & fenouil; citron & reine-des-prés; sansho, carvi, para. Foie gras, slowly grilled until umber and crisp, sat in a shallow bath of meadowsweet, sansho and cresson de para the cusp of which was partly smudged with black fig compote; the broad brim of the dish was further furnished with a thicket of shaved fennel, smear of lemon, blanched almonds and caraway grains. The good portion of foie from Poitou-Charentes had pleasantly livery savour yet remained clean and not overpowering; it was well matched by the airy emulsion that was itself very herby, minty and aromatic. The meadowsweet wherein this frothy mixture – and specifically its almond-like perfume – proved a natural link to the encircling, crunchy nuts. Lemon purée provided acidity and the fig, some grainy spicy-sweetness. Caraway and fennel shared subtle hints of anise whilst the later also added another texture.
Entrée 4: sur une base de cereals; la galette; cèbe, courgette, poivron…sur un jus aux truffes de Comprégnac. A long wedge of buckwheat waffle, sandwiching oignons de Lézignan la Cèbe, courgettes and mixed peppers and barely obscured by a big blade of pak choi, balanced across the brim of a bowl bearing a dark pool of summer truffle jus from closeby Comprégnac that also circumscribed a cluster of grated chou petsai. Rich, deep and musky, at once the truffle’s scent surprised with its strength. Its earthiness married ably with the mild flavour of the galette, which was deliciously crunchy without and sweet and moist within. The faintly sweet and crispy Chinese cabbage underneath was a welcome foil.
Michel Bras is famous for finding inspiration within his native environs and the presentation of this course was unavoidably evocative of the colossal Viaduc de Millau a little south of Aubrac…
Plat Principal 1: d’origine Aveyronnaise; le carré d'agneau Allaiton rôti sur os; artichauts et boulgour à la coriandre; fleurs & huile de serpolet. Double cut rib of slow-roasted Allaiton lamb rested in its own reduced cooking juice seasoned with a touch of soy and wild thyme oil that almost concealed a very thin base of pommes mousseline; against the chop sat three segments of artichoke heart and some spinach whilst alongside came coriander-bulgur and assorted flowers. Supplied by Bernard Greffeuille, this breed of lamb is widely considered one of France’s finest. The cherry pink meat, tender and silky, was indeed tasty and had a pleasingly succulent, alabaster strip of fat attached – although this could have been a little crisper. The intense jus beneath was rich, slightly spicy and tinted with lemon, whose savour was echoed by the purple blossoms dotting the plate’s border and by the coriander in the fluffy, light cracked wheat. Very flavoursome sections of artichoke also mimicked the shape of the rib. The baby lamb’s pairing with the serpolet was an intuitive one as the former habitually roam around the same fields that these wild herbs grow – it is in fact oft said that the sheep that graze on wild thyme are the best.
As this main course was almost complete, the serveur arrived with a large bowl of aligot. This regional speciality is said to have been first a peasants’ delicacy – hungry pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela would request ‘something’ to eat from local monks who would in turn offer them this. Something being aliquid in Latin, the dish actually takes its name from this word, evolving over time into aliquot before settling as aligot. It is prepared with mashed (white pulp) potatoes (ideally Instuit de Beauvais), cream and the area’s emblematic cheese, fresh tomme de Laguiole. This last ingredient imparts a subtle nuttiness to the taste as well as an incredible texture – the serveur was able to stretch each spoonful into long, elastic threads which he then spun into a bobbin, depositing the serving as a bright, putty-like bundle upon the plate that quickly melted away once on the tongue. Michel’s elderly mother, Angèle, still comes into the kitchen some mornings to prepare the day’s aligot...
Plat Principal 2: dans l’esprit d’une salade tiède; la poitrine de pigeon poêlée au beurre de paprika; datte au cumin & pois jaune de la Planèze, la déglaçage. Three maroon smears of cumin and date purée, disconnected by fervent, freckled tenné patches of paprika-spiced, deglazed jus formed the canvas upon which burgundy-skinned magenta morsels of pigeon breast were placed amidst more slivers of mercure artichoke heart, dull amber yellow peas from Planèze and a single medjool date; tajete, rampion and agapanthus flowers plus torn date leaves were strewn across the plate. The succulent bird had beefy flavour and delicate smokiness; it was equally complemented by the sweet heat of the paprika and cumin as well as richness of the date. Artisan pois jaune, milder, a little earthier and nuttier than green peas, worked well texturally and visually whilst tying-in agreeably with the artichoke. Additionally, the blossoms brought interesting citrus and anise notes whilst the warm sauce was especially tempting and the fleshy medjool, a treat.
Fromage: les fromages de l’Aveyron & d’à côté. A considerable cheese chariot carrying many varieties from the vicinity, plus a host of Laguiole serving implements, was wheeled about. Six samples were selected and these were presented with apple, walnut and onion chutney as well as walnut and raisin breads.
Tomme de Laguiole, made from the unpasteurised milk of native Aubrac or Simmental cows according to a nineteenth century recipe created at the local monastery, reappeared aged six-months and was creamy, lightly perfumed and almost spicy. From Provence, sheep and goat’s milk Tomme de l’Ariège had crumbly rind, runny pâte and strong aftertaste. Ecir de l’Aubrac, named after the cold wind that graces the plains of this plateau and whose manufacturing methods remain a firm family secret, is a soft cow’s milk that was mild, grassy and faintly flowery. Auvergnat Chabrol, from pasteurised cow’s milk, was mildly fruity and smooth. Yielding ewe’s Lacandou, also from the same area, had yeasty sweet smell and was gentle. The potted fromage blanc en faiselle was a bland fresh cheese.
Dessert 1: sur une interprétation du coulant, originel de 81; le biscuit tiède de chocolat/rhum coolant; sorbet banane-caramélisée au beurre demi-sel. Set in the centre of the plate, a circular column of chocolate sponge supported a large scoop of banana sorbet, which was swathed in a salty caramel sauce that slowly trickled over it and down onto the dish. The warm, peanut-encrusted biscuit crust cracked open easily, issuing forth hot rum-imbued, raisin-scattered chocolate sauce. In 1981, Michel Bras made the world’s first fondant. Since then, ingredients and temperatures have constantly changed; today its composition took an exotic twist. The Weiss 68% coco sponge and its crispy coolant filling were perfectly executed even if the Martinique rhum was a little strong for my liking. Meanwhile, the molten caramel covering the icy sorbet on top was delectable.
Dessert 2: c’est le temps; des cerises confites au thym d’ici qui se mêlent de fruits sec, de canelle, d’anis, de semoule, de miel… A frilly-edged bowl bore what resembled deconstructed cherry cheese cake. Along its entire length a line of mint crème had been piped then partly enveloped by a mound of cherries – found natural, fried and confit in Aubrac thyme – upon one end and on the other by toasted chestnut crumble blended with cinnamon, honey, anis, and semolina (amongst other such stuff). The sweetness of the fruit was nicely cut by the lemony herbs and freshness of the mint; the chestnut added crunch and toasted savour.
Dessert 3: à Murat le cornet est fourré de crème; ici la corolla d’hémérocalle du jour est garnie; d’une saveur fraîche & épicée, jus de fraises, feuilles & fleurs. In nearby Murat, the cornet is an important symbol that commemorates the salt-horns its farmers once carried as they tended their cattle. The shape is now remembered in the form of the town’s famous pastry and still celebrated with the annual Fête du Cornet de Murat. Here, Bras has played with this idea, serving a sweet, crisp daylily as an edible cone crammed with gingered, citric crème fraîche and fringed with delicate strawberry coulis.
Mignardises: canailleries; billes chocolatées (chocolat noir réglisse; chocolat blanc brioche), billes glacées (fruits prunes rose; fruit abricots gingembre); canard… crunch. Two frosted vases, one filled with blue-hued, iced stone pebbles and another with grey, also held chilled spheres of fruit sorbet and cold chocolate respectively. The former, flavoured with rosy-prune and apricot-ginger were strong and distinct whilst the latter, of liquorice and brioche, had crisp skins and velvety interiors. After these, a black slate was brought with sticky cubes of overly intense grape brandy. Attended by a pot of crystallised mint, a couple of sizeable shot glasses contained creamy liqueur de lait over toothsome syrups of raspberry and of coffee. Finally, small squares of chocolate au lait and chocolat noir cashew en soufflé were both agreeable.
Alongside these dishes, we drank a 1989 Vosne-Romanée ‘Cros-Parantoux’, Henri Jayer.
Sergio Calderon, an Argentinean who has been at the restaurant for over fifteen years, simultaneously manages the dining room and acts as sommelier whilst Ginette and Véronique Bras hostess. Today, only the latter of the two ladies was on duty, but she and Sergio proved a charming, welcoming pair. Both were attentive, engaging and extremely friendly. The numerous general staff, dressed in loose-fitting shepherd’s smocks, were efficient, helpful and very obliging, even if a little reticent. In the dining area there was manifest a real tranquillity yet celebratory tone with a few tables marking special moments. In fact, the two qualities that stood out and heartened the most were the sense of being at a family-run establishment and the innate comfort that came through because of that and also the awareness of occasion that suffused the meal. Furthermore, the effect that the magical Aubrac backdrop has on one’s experience is undeniable: one is subconsciously immersed in these surroundings.
Lunch began brightly if not spectacularly with quaint coques-mouillettes and the trio of attractive spoons that were more a visual delight than anything else. The first of these two was an initial illustration of how intimately intertwined Michel Bras the man and his cuisine are. These little dainties are his nostalgic reminiscences of a childhood spent sneakily stealing neighbours’ eggs of and eating them raw.
One need not wait long at all to taste what is the restaurant’s most famous dish and one whose name has become synonymous with that of the chef - le gargouillou. This deserves more than a cursory scribble, so more will follow on this course shortly. Next came le turbot, which was nice, but not nearly as memorable as the parfum et fruits d’amande. The thoughtful and complex connections between the collected components here was most interesting; for instance, the almond’s aroma that was reiterated by the reine des prés emulsion or the caraway seeds whose anise nuances were reinforced by the fennel alongside. The foie gras (apparently an always present part of the menu dégustation) is also a second childish remembrance, this time of the very special days during the year when the delicacy was available – such as at Christmas after midnight mass. This ingredient is important to Bras as it ‘represents what I call “the flavour of Aubrac,” this intimate space in which I include all these foods of emotion: based more on love than on science, these flavours of our youth.’
Then came the galette, which was, a little surprisingly, one of the most appetising items of the carte. Its resemblance to the Millau Viaduct was also an amusing and clever nod to the chef’s region. Le carré d'agneau Allaiton was very satisfying whilst the aligot was simply gratifying. Additionally, the latter was another example of how entwined Bras and Aubrac are: it is something native to the area, that must be made with its cheese and whose identity is interknit with it. Everyone gets a taste of this. The final savoury of pigeon was a highlight too and the quality and quantity of cheeses was excellent. The already legendary coolant was not as pleasing though; its execution was faultless, but the rum was a little overpowering for my preference. The cerises confites were better, but le cornet was the best of the sweets. The meal ended with a generous array of mignardises.
The obvious dish that demonstrates best Michel Bras’ cuisine is his gargouillou. ‘This has had enormous influence on a whole generation of chefs around the world, many who took the idea and built their own theme into it,’ tells David Kinch, an influential chef and one who has (like another talent, Andoni Aduriz) his own interpretation of it.
Bras found its inspiration in June of 1978, when everything was in full bloom, and on one of his long runs (‘inner trips’) through the country: ‘it was beautiful, it was rich, it was marvellous. I decided to try to translate the fields.’ However, the ‘gargouillou’ actually already existed. An old, polysemous onomatope from gagasse (a Francoprovençal dialect) derived from the gerund, gurgling, it referred to the flowing sound of the area’s small streams, a method for cooking broth as well as the rumbling noise that the body makes when hungry. Furthermore, it was also traditionally applied to a concoction of ‘potatoes, moistened with water and flavoured with a slice of mountain ham’ that formed a staple part of the Aubrac diet. The chef took this recipe and made it his own – essentially a composition of the entire contents of the immediate countryside served up in a single course.
Le gargouillou is an excellent expression of some of the elemental themes material throughout the menu. Paramount is the chef’s commitment to home; showing off the bounty of his native land, he garnishes his achievement with an indigenous title. Just as patent is his individual touch. The idea was conceived by Bras himself and remains immensely personal to him: ‘[it] has been a milestone in my life as a chef; it reflects my symbiosis with nature. Its elegance, its movement, its colours, its odour, its explosive flavours and its sensuality; all these elements express my way of being, represent my vision of today, my own vision of the terroir.’
One other factor typified by this course is the arresting aesthetic of Bras’ creations. Natural, fresh and unfussy, plate after plate comprising outstanding produce, preserved for the most part intact and consisting of vibrant, vivid shades that mimicked the colours of the pastures outside the picture windows, was presented. Each was attractive and appetising. Moreover, their simple-seeming appearances belied the immense effort and time spent assembling them.
Dining at Bras is an experience. One’s enjoyment encompasses not only the edible, but extends beyond this to the entire event.
On this occasion, we wanted to extend our own enjoyment even further. Thus, during lunch, we decided to ask whether there was an available table at dinner that we could take. Sergio told us he was uncertain, but would return with an answer before we were ready to leave.