In case you are unaware, French cuisine has notions and values which have been entrenched for hundreds of years. Don’t look for innovations, as no good chef will dare deviate from ‘the norm’ and overall this is a good thing. And as you will see, sauces dominate the House dishes, another great French tradition.
So let’s go and eat. The hotel describes itself as boutique, and as befits a small hotel the dining room is equally small, holding around 40 covers. The tables are adorned with a floral display resting resplendently on a white tablecloth, both of which you will pay for. This style is so outdated and far too serious. Contemporary top restaurants ‘lighten up’ the dining experience with fine tables sans the pristine cloths. Frankly, the cool, open-neck, 30-something diners looked out of place in this oh-so-serious dining room.
There were six starters. One, with a nod to Japan, caught my eye – duck liver tempura (a frying batter made with flour, iced water and egg yolks) together with miso (fermented soya beans and salt), orange sauce and Japanese enoki mushroom salad.
On a simple note, there was salmon marinated in soy and lime with a garlic sauce and a celery remoulade (mayo, herbs and capers).
But quelle horreur, imagine my surprise when I saw the first page of the menu listing Romanian dishes. The House ‘Frenched them up’, but there is little you can do to excite Romanian food as it is so crude and unsophisticated. So they had saramale in a salt crust, polenta in a Perigeux sauce (Madeira wine and truffles), pork neck in a gribiche sauce (emulsified hardboiled egg yolks)… and many more. But enough of this. I turned the page to reveal the French dishes, which were a delight.
Blondie loved the fish section and dived into a sea bass with glazed turnips and morels (one of the finest mushrooms in the world) and a pesto sauce. We reluctantly passed on maccheroncini pasta with clams in a white wine sauce and scallops in a zingara sauce (chopped ham, tongue, mushrooms truffle and tomato).
She was far too full to order her next favorite choice of grilled scallops glazed with salsify vegetable with a zingara sauce and a soubise (milk, flour butter and sautéed onions) and truffle broth.
I, too, missed out on a pacceri (a tubed short pasta from Campania, not to be confused with the long cannelloni tubed soft pasta) which was accompanied by grilled octopus, olives and pesto.
But back to meat. I desperately wanted the beef tenderloin cooked in red wine and finished with a grand vineur sauce (duck trimmings, bullion and red currant jelly). But instead I opted for a Black Angus beef pie in a sauce made from Burgundy wine and truffles.
There were four vegetarian dishes, which, as a committed carnivore, I refuse to describe further. Veggie food is a politically correct fad, and it misses punch. The people who eat it are all odd and generally humorless, which is hardly surprising as they masochistically deny themselves humanity’s greatest pleasure – eating meat. We are genetically programmed to eat the stuff so abstainers suffer mentally and socially.
The chef is a fine fellow – a Frenchman with the grand name Samuel le Torriellec, who has mastered his métier. He must love his sauces, which accompany every dish, and I marveled at the number of sauces on offer. He has added a liberal amount of truffles to many of them, again an authentic French touch.
The wine list is comprehensive to say the least, with 145 wines to choose from. But I was surprised to note that there was no cheese board. It was a minor sin and I forgave the House There was one genuinely Gallic item missing – the notoriously rude French waiters. By a welcome comparison, the House staff were charming and well informed.
There are three top French restaurants in town, and Epoque may well be the best. Go there and decide for yourself!