«Les Prés d’Eugénie» Michel Guérard

September 18, 2008

Of all the world’s great restaurants, the one I have wanted to go to for the longest time is Les Prés d’Eugénie in Eugénie-les-Bains, a spa out in the country in the southwest corner of France. Michel Guérard was revolutionizing French cuisine there long before anyone had heard of Pierre Gagnaire, Marc Veyrat or Ferran Adrià.  He invented techniques to bind and thicken sauces without butter, flour or cream. He emphasized lightness without sacrificing substance, but enhancing the taste of good products. He also invented Cuisine Minceur, tasty diet cooking, but that is not to be confused with his updated Cuisine Gourmand. Establishing Les Prés in 1972 at the age of 39, he received his third Michelin star in 1977 and still has it. Strangely, a Google blogsearch shows no blogposts on his restaurant (before this one,) just a few on using his recipe books. So it was with great anticipation that Linda and I entered the large gates to his garden on September 14, 2008. Having given our name to the guardian at the gate, we were welcomed at the rustic pagoda which joins the front walkway to the driveway through the garden.

We were escorted down a path to our room, Belle Nonnette, in the outlying building Le Couvent des Herbes. The bells on top of Le Couvent chimed a bit of Mozart at 11:00 am and 7:00 pm.

Our room was spacious, quiet and charming.

We took a short walk and saw the cutting and kitchen gardens. The rooms and salons are filled with cut flowers. The old farm building houses part of the hotel’s spa. The second photo is from our room.

The dining room is in the main building; we were seated at a corner table in an elegant small room with glass doors looking onto the terrace where meals are served in nice weather.

We ordered glasses of the good house Champagne. The first amuse-gueules arrived: a tomato-basil tartelette, a small anchovy croissant and two other puff pastry goodies. Excellent.
There are three menus in addition to à la carte:  four courses with meat at 145 €, four courses with fish at 170 € and, our choice, the five-course Jour de Fete au Pays at 190 €. We ordered a bottle of 1995 Château Magdelene, a Saint Emilion which was delicious.
Another amuse-gueule arrived, an oyster with green coffee foam and caviar. Terrific.

Two flat loaves of bread just out of the wood-burning oven were presented on a wooden paddle. They were a yeast bread and an olive bread. We were shortly given a warm slice of each. Then the menu courses started. There were choices for the first, main and dessert. This was not a “tasting menu.”  Each course was substantial; there was plenty on the plate to let you enjoy it fully. Fortunately we had skipped lunch.
Linda’s first course was
Le Hareng Royal en Couronne, à la Crème de Caviar
sur un Tartare de Pommes de Terre Nouvelles aux Zestes.

It was a fabulous combination of herring and caviar on top of a potato salad.
My first course was
La Vichyssoise au Caviar, façon Christian Dior,
Relevée d’une Moscovite Glacée, Blinis en Surprise

This was the most onctuous vichyssoise I have ever had. The taste of the leeks was evident. There was a glob of sour cream ice cream in the middle and caviar mixed in. On the side was a caviar and cream filled blini. The caviar is all local. Sturgeon farming in the Aquitaine has become substantial; the quality is very good.
Our second course was
L’Oreiller Moelleux de Mousserons et de Morilles aux Asperges de Pays
Une Symphonie Soyeuse, Imaginée en 1978, Retour d’un Voyage en Chine.

Wild mushrooms flavored the plentiful cream sauce which covered a large raviolo filled with finely chopped mushrooms. The Chinese influence referred to in the title was not evident to me, but the dish was excellent.
Our third course was
Le Demi-Homard Rôti et Légèrement Fumé au Feu de Bois
Un Grand Classique Maison Créé en 1979.

A lobster had been lightly roasted. It was split down the middle and emptied. The tail meat was sliced into medallions, sauced and put back in the tail. The claw meat, which was still almost raw was placed in the head cavity. It was then all smoked in a wood-burning oven and served topped with chervil alongside a root puree with small apple chunks in it. Michel Guérard has been serving this dish for thirty years and so it is a classic for him, but it is completely modern. If it were served today by a Danish chef, the food writers would be gushing over its discovery.
Linda’s main course was
La Poitrine de Volaille des Landes à la Cheminée, Petite Paume de Ris de Veau
Quelques Légumes Nouveaux et un Fritto-Misto de Feuilles d’Oseille à la Confiture de Citron

The uncarved, beautifully cooked local half-chicken was brought to the table to be admired, then taken away to be carved and served with the fresh green vegetables, an excellent combination.
My main course was
Un « Mano à Mano » de Bœuf de Race
L’unPoêlé en Fines Tranches, Beurre d’Herbes, l’autre Piquant en Tartare sur Galettes Croquantes.

It is a mystery to me how the great chefs find such flavorful beef. Beautifully caramelized on the outside and almost raw in the middle, it is delicious by itself and even better with its herb garnish Alongside were two little spicy steak tartare sandwiches, which made the whole dish sparkle.
Linda’s dessert was
La Candide Tarte Feuilletine aux Fraises d’Eugénie
Chantilly Onctueuse au Citron Râpé.

It is hard to describe why this little tarte was so terrific when it looks so ordinary. The pastry was lacy and crisp; the strawberries were concentrated, but not cloying. The coarse sugar on top was just right.
My dessert was
Le Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel et la Glace Fondue à la Rhubarbe.
Un Compromis Sensuel entre Soufflée et Crème  Renversée.

This is also hard to describe. It combined traditional dessert textures and flavours in a way that was unusual and rich without being heavy.
The Mignardises were puff pastry with hazelnut and pistachio creams.
The entire meal had been absolutely sensational with no weak points. The products were first rate and the portions generous. The preparation and presentation were done with loving care. The service and ambience were superb. We can only wonder what took us so long to get here if Michel Guérard has been doing this for the last thirty years.
The following morning we lit the fire in our charming room as there was an early fall nip in the morning air. Our two breakfast trays arrived shortly; we took our time enjoying them as we were in no hurry to move on.


4 Responses to “«Les Prés d’Eugénie» Michel Guérard”

  1. George Rusznak Says:

    With all the other postings of wonderful places, meals and discoveries notwithstanding, this is precisely the experience we treasured when we were parttaking and sorely miss now that we no longer do, George

  2. Susie Ward Says:

    I have been following your gustations with interest for some time, and really appreciate the detail with which you cover your meals. My husband and I have experienced some the restaurants ourselves, though not most. But I have to say that this soiree at Michel Guerard’s is the first in a long time that has actually had me vicariously enjoying it. Not fussed about, like so many others, not overdone with cubes of gelee or nitrogen clouds. The courses were recognisable and very appetising. It great to know that real *** cuisine, without the hype and trite fashion, still exists.

  3. Richard Lawton Says:

    It is a wonderful place to be. It is also nice to see that what is old is now new again. Like Christine and Michel I have been cooking this way since the 70’s. I hope some day to work there. But, as an American it has now become all but impossible to work in France.

    Perhaps some day. Until then I will smell the flowers,herbs and mostly the kitchen in my heart.

    Thank you Chef Michel Guerard for your reply to my letter.

  4. foodmiles Says:

    I’ve only recently found this blog and have been enjoying the many posts, written with great enthusiasm and showing an eye for what really makes enjoyable dining experiences.

    My wife and I are heading to San Sebastian this winter and we’ve just booked lunch at Michel Guerard along the way. Very much looking forward to it on the basis of this post.

    TC Miles

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