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Megeve: Flocon de Sel

1775 route du Leutaz , Phone: 4 50 21 49 99
Closing day: Tuesday, Wednesday

Reviewed by: Charles Saumarez from France, review #3950

When: 2012

Reassuringly expensive, although if you ever get the chance, you will have crossed a true milestone in a fine dining pilgrimage.

The Autumn sunset on the terrace, photo by Charles Saumarez

The Flocon de Sel achieved its third Michelin star only in February this year, albeit being the only restaurant in the whole of France to be awarded a third. Being perceived as being understated, the chef patron Emmanuel Renaut’s reputation has always preceded him, having held Michelin stars at various other establishments. The Flocon de Sel focuses primarily on local mountain produce and influences. The approach to the cuisine is both innovative and adventurous, whilst still playing homage to the French classics.

Emmanuel Renaut is a true artist in sense of food and the appreciation for the Alpine setting. I think the reasons for his success lie not only in his attention to detail in food, service and surroundings, or to his immense energy and passion for the craft, but due to the fact that he has often looked back at the history and innovation of food and cuisine, but has always moved forward.

My parents and I took the four mile taxi ride along the isolated mountain road out of Megeve to the restaurant itself. Set in the style of a winter chalet (the Flocon de Sel also has rooms) we were immediately greeted by the friendly sommelier and receptionist who were at the door. Prior to sitting down, we were led up to the mezzanine level where one could enjoy aperitifs and canapes, either in a cozy chalet setting in front of the open fire, or on the terrace where we sat in the autumn sunset, surrounded by mountains, the sound of cowbells and the herb and vegetable garden.

Our canapes consisted of beignets of yaks milk, with a perfect tempura batter, a ceviche of fera on foccacia toast and local creamed goats cheese mixed with local mountain herbs from the garden. These were perfect enough to tickle the palate with our kir royales. The brusque maitre d’hotel went through the menus in rapid french, where I just about managed to understand about 80%, although he was taking no prisoners! My father and myself were going for starter, with an intermediate before main, whilst my mother was sticking with just starter and main.

The dining room was set out in true winter chalet style, being both warm and cozy, yet very spacious with ample amount of room between tables. Our unique decor next to our table was a collection of cuckoo clocks, which noticeable, yet strangely unobtrusive. Later on in the meal, the charming Madame Kristine Renaut was going round the tables greeting the customers, and revealed the cuckoo clocks were her own growing collection.

Our amuse bouche was a signature of Emmanuel Renaut, called “deux milimetre de polenta en ravioli.” This was a warm ravioli made out of polenta, filled with Girolle mushrooms, finished with a very light juniper scented chicken consommé and a generous grating of black truffle. The taste with very warm and filling, with the rich consomme going very well with the earthy mushrooms. The texture of the polenta was tantamount to that of fresh pasta. Our white wine was a 2007 Alsace, with a nose of very ripe Reblouchon, yet a taste being very crisp and citrusy.

My mothers starter of "ecrevisses du lac, jus des carcasses et Reine des prés" was well recieved. My fathers starter was another signuture classic of Monsieur Renaut: "millefeuille de légumes tiède « sans pâte », saveurs des prés et des jardins" - a very colourful medley of root vegetables, with a base of wild mushrooms, served with a small jug of warm caraway infused olive oil. My starter of "tomates noires de Crimée, rose de berne, tagète et agastache, eaux des peaux glacées" was ring of a very fine brunois of dark tomatoes, topped with a disc of water ice. The tomatoes tasted exceptional. I’m unsure where it was the variety, any marinading or the mix of mountain herbs, but the taste was that of an “ideal” tomato: the perfect balance of sweetness, acidity and juiciness. The water ice on top provided a slight dilution to the intensity below. It was like biting into a fresh picked tomato.

The maitre d’hotel then approached our table with a folding tray stand. Next came “un surprise du le chef.” Next came a slate containing a sprig of decorative pine and a couple of small shapes in puff pastry. They were meticulously carved in half to reveal “ceps en croute” served with a chicken consomme lightly infused with pine. I wanted to laugh! No only were these ceps huge and perfectly steamed with a the buttery crisp puff pastry, I thought the sheer simplicity and genius was second to none! Whilst serving us, our maitre d’hotel was making a bit of small talk with us, whilst my father was commenting on the local accent, comparing it with regional accents in the U.K.

Our next big surprise came when the maitre d’hotel obviously understood and added “actuellment, je suis Anglais....” With our total amazement, he then slid into perfect English, revealing he had in fact been in France for twenty years and had become far removed from his original Cornish roots. At this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised if our other servers would have revealed themselves as Martians.

The fish course my father and I were having was "langoustines: juste poché capucine, gentiane des Aravis et croustillante crème fumée." This was true high point, considering its €60 price tag! The bowl contained about five pieces of fresh uncooked langoustine with a selection of mountain herbs. Our server then poured over a broth, which was a cross between jasmine tea and oregano. The addition to this was a small chilled glass of l’eau de Alsace, which was chilled water with a tiny amount of Schnapps added. It had a very musky edge, which when consumed with the langoustine and broth, one could immediately picture a flowing river the fresh langoustines within. The penny had dropped!

Upon clearing, it was only a few moments before the second part of the course arrived: a Dublin Bay prawn tail the size of a small lobster, perfectly panned and deep fried, served with smoked yoghurt.

Our next surprise, which we hadn’t anticipated was "biscuit de brochet et lotte du Léman, bouillon d'oignon et champignons." The onion broth was very light and foamy, with the biscuit had the sensation of a very soft pain perdue, topped with wild mushrooms, smaller than my little fingernail.

My mothers main course of "pigeon fermier légèrement fumé au genièvre, oxalis et légumes nouveaux" was very clean and simple, yet when I tried a bit of the pigeon, it was extremely tender, almost akin to the texture of calves liver. I later learned that the pigeons were farmed especially for the Flocon de Sel locally.

My fathers main course of "filet de bœuf et bavette, morceaux choisis dans une tranche de lard, pommes soufflées cumin cannelle" was served two ways, with the filet being both larded and smoked. He commented it was a very different way of serving beef but in by no means a bad way! My main course of "agneau d'Aveyron cuit en cocottes d'herbes, champignons sauvages" was a suckling lamb served two ways. The fillet had been wrapped in oregano and roasted and the five accompanying cutlets were so small, they would have been better suited to a toy action man. However, the taste was truly outstanding, with perfectly crisped puffed up pomme souffle and the fricassee of wild mushrooms. I had been warned that Emmanuel was very fond of his wild mushrooms which appeared evident throughout the menu. Our 2009 Cote de Rhone was a subtle accompaniment to our respective mains.

After these truly sensational plates, the cheese trolley was wheeling it’s way towards our table. The charming waitress explained all the cheeses in perfect English. I selected a goats cheese local to Megeve, a smoked Tomme de Savoie and Forme D’Ambert. The cheese trolley had good choice, although I felt it lacked slightly in condiments and accompaniments.

After being presented with the extensive dessert menu, I couldn’t pass up a souffle, with choice of several different flavorings, paying homage to the locality. Wild mushrooms weren’t an option!

After choosing a chocolate souffle, I was anticipating to see how it would come out and how long, considering from my own experience of cooking at altitude, chocolate fondants and souffles are always risky due to the increased air pressure, and we were at about 1400m. The souffle was simply the best I’d ever had. Seriously chocolatey, yet with the right amount of softness in the center, almost bringing a tear to my eye. My father’s vanilla souffle also failed to disappoint.

The petit fours were extensive and innovative, playing homage to the flavors. The cinnamon chocolates were molded into the shapes of cinnamon sticks, as were the star anise chocolates also shaped like their flavour source. The orange beignets were very soft and light, reminding one strongly of a doughnut you’d get from the fairground.

Despite it being past 11 pm, we were invited to meet the chef and say thank you. Emmanuel was as I expected him to be, being reserved and with a brooding energy. He was pleased to see us though and signed a copy of the Flocon de Sel cookbook. To add to the service, the kind receptionist drove us back down to the town center as taxis at that time of night were a little bit impossible.

Despite being the fact I’ll be eating beans on toast for the next month, the Flocon de Sel was a true once in a lifetime meal which will be etched into my memory for life.

This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.

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