Lameloise and Troisgros compared. Quite honestly, these Lameloise rolls alone are worth a detour to Chagny. A version of this article is published by the Financial Times.
I recently spent €1,946 in total on two dinners for four people and I did not begrudge either restaurant one cent. (Okay, we were celebrating.)
A little more than half, €1,037, was spent on dinner at Troisgros restaurant in Ouches in the countryside outside Roanne, the balance at Lameloise in the small town of Chagny in Burgundy, a three-hour drive away.
Both restaurants have been haut de gamme for a long, long time: Troisgros for more than 80 years, having been opened by Michel Troisgros’s grandfather, while Lameloise is in the process of celebrating its 100th birthday under Eric Pras, who took over from the Lameloise family in 2009.
The most obvious point to make, looking at both my bills, is that each could easily have been higher if we had not chosen relatively modest bottles from the wine list. We did not go thirsty but steered clear of the more expensive wines of Bordeaux, Rhône and Burgundy. At Troisgros our wines included a slightly disappointing 2010 red Sancerre (€135) and a surprisingly successful 2018 Pinot Noir from Domaine des Berioles in the Auvergne (€125). The wine list at Lameloise yielded two beauties: a 2012 Josmeyer Riesling Les Pierrets (€80) and Jamet’s 2016 Equivoque Côtes du Rhône (€95).
The second similarity between the two meals concerns what was served to us in addition to what we chose from the menu: almost as much food as is included in the three or four dishes one chooses.
Both menus arrive as folded pieces of paper that include several choices and lots of information (Troisgros lists the Christian names of all the members of staff, Lameloise the names of its principal suppliers and farmers). But your choices merely serve as an inspiration or a warning to the kitchen.
And while food intolerance played no part chez Troisgros, the gluten intolerance of a friend posed a threat chez Lameloise, a challenge to which the kitchen rose seemingly effortlessly. One series of amuse bouches was served ‘sans gluten’; the second bread course was replaced by a series of three small rolls made respectively from maize, chestnut and rice; and throughout our dinner the waiting staff could not have been more scrupulous in their descriptions.
Then there are all the seemingly peripheral offerings which add up. At Troisgros our meal began with the tart of Szechuan pepper: the solidified liquid from a ‘pot au feu’ with a touch of sherry vinegar, shown above, along with something spicy, in the crispest pastry case. At both restaurants the pastry sections excelled themselves. At Lameloise, the salty biscuit on top of an assemblage of peaches that was offered, as shown below, as a ‘pre-dessert’, was so moreish that the dish should be sold separately as a commercial venture.
The menus are, however, radically different in their content and approach.
While at Troisgros there are a few safe options – turbot, lamb and beef – the emphasis is more heavily on experimentation, on pushing the customer to order a dish slightly outside his or her comfort zone. And to reward them accordingly.
I struck lucky with both my choices. The dish above described as ‘crunchy frogs legs with mint’ was a bowl of thin slices of courgette covered in crisp frogs' legs, whose sweetness had been preserved by the adoption of a Chinese technique, as César (Michel’s son) explained. This was highly adventurous cooking and not a dish one finds easily.
So too with my main course pictured below, a double consommé with bone marrow, eel and crayfish. This was a life-affirming soup, enriched even further with thin slices of mushrooms, in which the three major ingredients all played their part: the richness of the bone marrow; the saltiness of the eel; and the sweet flesh of the crayfish. However, another first course of a dish described as a spicy curry with coques (tiny clams) and grapefruit didn’t work quite as well.
By contrast, the smaller, more constrained menu at Lameloise offers less opportunity for disappointment as it features only two choices at each of the three savoury courses. But here, too, there were surprises.
The menu opens with the choice of fera as one of the first courses. Found in Lake Geneva and the Savoie, this freshwater fish appears here in a work of art: it is served in strips on the top of a thin tart of green beans and a confit egg yolk that came topped with thinly sliced mirabelles (see below). Equally impressive was the alternative: a crisp langoustine tail covered in quinoa alongside a marinated version with mustard and caviar.
A piece of monkfish with a lemon sabayon was delightfully light before our main courses: pigeon with corn and artichokes; and two, slightly too thick, slices of Charolais beef served, questionably perhaps, with a plate containing thin pieces of red tuna. Desserts were stunning, particularly a combination of mint and chocolate at Troisgros and the combination of blackberries, lemon and almonds (shown below) at Lameloise.
Comparisons between these two restaurants can only be made at the level of the cooking. Physically, the restaurants are completely different.
Troisgros moved out of Roanne in 2017 into a modern, glass dining room (where we witnessed a fantastic lightning display) and redesigned its method of service completely.
Lameloise remains in its burgundian setting of thick-walled, small rooms with white tablecloths and its waiting staff besuited and in black. But for technique, great food, and above all, a memorable evening, my advice would be to experience them both if you possibly can.
Troisgros Ouches, 42155 France
Maison Lameloise 36 Place d’Armes, Chagny-en-Bourgogne, 71150 France