Midsummer nights' dreams

Avenus outside Le Soleil in Savigny

In a follow-on from From Paris to the Med Nick recommends a simple but satisfying restaurant in Burgundy and one of the greatest stars in the French gastronomic firmament.

Le Soleil

Two recent meals in France have reconfirmed my opinion that, in the right situation, modern French chefs are now as exciting, as capable of handling spice, and of offering just what today’s customers expect from a restaurant menu, as any chefs elsewhere. (In the old days, a tiny pinch of curry powder in a sauce was deemed exotic.)

The first meal was dinner on a Friday night in Savigny-lès-Beaune, just outside Beaune, at the ambitiously named Le Soleil whose location almost felt like a stage set. It had been hot during the day but it was just cooling as we arrived at 7.45 pm. There was a feeling of a warm welcome, of fun, in the air.

Le Soleil exterior

My friend pointed out that the first thing to notice about this place is its address: 1 allée des Tilleuls (1 Avenue of the Lindens). Twin double rows of these towering linden (basswood) trees march outside this restaurant and impart, as well as a sense of history, a sense of protection. They form a kind of prelude to the restaurant’s entrance: wide gates which give way on to a peaceful courtyard dotted with tables, and behind this a large building which has been fully redeployed. Inside is the open kitchen and seating for when temperatures drop, and above these there are bedrooms for those who want to spend some time in the area.

This long-established setting belongs to the Bize family who since 1880 have been synonymous with the Savigny appellation, one of the most reliable in the region. As Jasper Morris explains in his book Inside Burgundy, ‘In the 1980s the Savigny cuvées used to sell for more than those of Beaune itself at the Hospices de Beaune. That is no longer the case today – Savigny seems to have fallen back again in the pecking order.’

We were seated and handed the wine list which made for unexpected reading. The family have put their contacts and friendships with winemakers from all over the world to good use. They have also scoured France for the best winemakers and the lesser-known grape varieties. We began with a refreshing bottle of white Savigny-lès-Beaune 2020 from Domaine Simon Bize (45) and followed it with a Gamay 2021 (55) from Théo Dancer, son of Vincent of Chassagne-Montrachet, who runs his own négociant business. This was pure Gamay fruit juice and it went well with the very different flavours of the various dishes we ordered. It also comes with an intriguing front and back label.

Le Soleil blackboard

We were keen to order our food ­– we had left London at 6.30 am – but here we ran into an obstacle. Le Soleil offers its changing menu via a single small blackboard that is transported from table to table. We had to take our place behind two tables of men on their own; a table of four; and a table of seven (six women and one man!). Since there was only one person, a charming young woman, taking and delivering orders and possibly discussing the wines (this is Burgundy, after all), this took quite a while. And this system overlooks the fact that most customers arrive hungry. Doubling the number of blackboards or providing something to nibble on as diners wait their turn would solve this issue.

Le Soleil courgettes

The menu is simple but stimulating and, happily, its execution is swift. Sharing is recommended. Half an extremely fresh goat’s cheese was enlivened with honey and a spoonful of a chestnut purée. A dish of labneh was mixed colourfully with red beetroot and slices of yellow peach. A plate of coarsely chopped beef tartare was well spiced with pimento and cooled by cucumber. All these made for appetising first courses. They were followed by a great combination of mozzarella bound with lard (the French not British sort) served alongside ribbons of refreshingly seasoned green and yellow courgettes (above) and, perhaps best of all, a chicken pastilla given extra crunch by the addition of copious chopped almonds (below). We had no appetite for dessert and I paid €216 for the four of us.

Le Soleil pastilla

It was almost dark as we left. The trees were still murmuring something to somebody. Le Soleil occupies a magical location and offers food and wine to match.


Magical is also the correct adjective to describe the setting of the Troisgros restaurant and hotel to which Michel and Marie-Pierre Troisgros moved in Ouches outside Roanne five years ago. A significant changeover has recently occurred.

In February 2023 it was announced that Michel would be relinquishing control of the kitchen to his elder son César (in the foreground below), who has worked alongside him (as has younger brother Léo, who is currently in charge of the restaurant at La Colline du Colombier nearby). This, big news in French restauration, is the fourth generation of the Troisgros family at the stoves. Jean-Baptiste and his wife Marie handed over to Jean and Pierre. Pierre handed over to Michel, and now Michel to César.

Cesar in Troisgros kitchen

What this means in practice is not quite obvious. Michel was still there, smartly dressed in his white chef’s jacket, but not chef’s trousers. So too was the eagle-eyed Marie-Pierre. The minute I inadvertently knocked one of their stunning amuse-bouches onto the floor, she was down on her hands and knees, sweeping the debris onto a paper napkin.

Cesar Troisgros at our table

The dining room is as delightful as ever; the swivelling dining chairs especially comfortable; the lighting as targeted and sensitive as it always has been; and the braziers are still lit in the garden shortly after 9 pm by a member of the waiting team. The entrance cleverly takes you past the wine cellar, then into a dark room where the more expensive bottles are displayed in temperature-controlled cabinets as if to tempt you to extravagance.*

This room has a heady atmosphere thanks to the proximity of the kitchen, a vast array of freshly baked bread (a separate bakery just behind the kitchen will be ready by December 2023) and an even bigger display of cheeses.

The eight-page menu is as intriguing as it has always been, and still includes a touching thanks to the 55 named employees who ‘font vivre notre maison [bring life to our house]’. The only other change I noticed, other than the dishes themselves, is the addition of a sentence offering not only a children’s menu for €50 but also one for teenagers priced at €100. Clever.

This is the average price for almost all the savoury courses, with the desserts at €40 – potentially very scary. But, as I have come to appreciate, having had the opportunity of eating here several times in the past, there is an overwhelming sense of generosity as well as of adventure in the Troisgros style of cooking.

Troisgros eel

Having enjoyed several amuse-bouches with a bottle of 2020 Savennières Clos du Papillon from Domaine du Closel, I had to restrain myself over the bread course before an unordered dish of a variety of vegetable mousses wrapped in kohlrabi with a sharp sauce based on olive oil arrived. Then came my first course: a dish described as a consommé of eel which comprised eight pieces of eel (above) with a cool beef consommé poured over them. This was perfect for a hot evening and it was wonderful to see a highly respected chef still brave and confident enough to offer soup – an otherwise neglected dishas one of his three choices of first courses.

Troisgros sweetbreads

In the past I have chosen fish as my main course at Troisgros but this time I hesitated. Was I to choose the frogs legs with saffron and mint; the brill with bone marrow; or the John Dory with la plante sacrée (the sacred plant, as sage is referred to in these circles)? In the end I chose the dish of sweetbreads à la Siam. Siam of course became Thailand as long ago as 1939 but I appreciate that Siam sounds more exotic, and Asian cuisine in general has long fascinated the Troisgros. The dish, two pieces of sweetbreads coated with a thin layer of Asian spices on a spicy vegetable sauce (shown above) was absolutely delicious.

My dessert of the Troisgros classic almond soufflé was followed by a completely unnecessary panoply of petits fours.

Troisgros wine list

From a wine list that kept two Masters of Wine (Jancis, above, with Anthony Hanson MW) quiet for at least 10 minutes we drank a 2017 Montlouis, Les Bournais from François Chidaine (€90) and a velvety 2015 St-Joseph from Domaine Jean-Louis Chave (€120).

Without coffee, the bill for six came to €1,630, including impeccable service.

Le Soleil 1 allée des Tilleuls, Savigny-lès-Beaune, France; tel +33 03 80 20 21 02. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Troisgros 728 route de Villerest, 42155 Ouches, France; tel +33 04 77 71 66 97. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

*Jancis adds In fact the Troisgros family is so interested in wine and has been assembling their cellar for so long thanks to long-standing allocations, that the list includes many difficult-to-find wines, at prices below retail in some cases. The Troisgros have agreed with their most famous wine suppliers that if a customer asks for a bottle to be delivered to their room, that bottle will be opened by the restaurant staff beforehand. And, because there is now a trade in empty bottles of the finest wines, they apply a special stamp to the label that says the bottle was opened at Troisgros. O tempora, o mores!