A genie came out of a lamp and said: ‘I am going to whisk you to Burgundy where you will be allowed to choose one dish, one single dish, that you have had before in a restaurant there. You have 30 seconds.’ Ooh…
Bending the one-single-dish diktat I now declare a dead-heat between two of my favourites, ordered and eaten on repeat whenever my wife and I visit the respective restaurants. The first is a radical reinterpretation of the classic Burgundian Oeufs en Meurette – poached eggs in a rich red wine sauce – which sees the eggs bathed in a satin-smooth, unctuous sauce made from Epoisses cheese. It appears on the menu at Le Terroir Restaurant in Santenay as: Les œufs de poule Bio élevés en plein air, pochés, crème chaude à l’époisses Berthaut, quelques champignons, pain grille. Words struggle to do it justice for, while the primary flavours are easily noted, it is the amalgam of sub-flavours, scents and textures that beguiles the diner, prompting eye-rolling delight. And to drink? A regular choice is Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey’s Saint-Aubin.
Moving north from Santenay to Beaune takes us to Ma Cuisine whose stated mission since 1996 is to provide ‘Food for Wine Lovers’. Simplicity is the watchword here and nothing comes simpler than the signature classic, Ris de Veau – veal sweetbreads, almost unadorned save for a ‘necklace’ of mashed potato and some frothing sauce. Sweetbreads sit at the interface between texture and taste and at Ma Cuisine they are always cooked to perfection: lightly crisped on the outside, yieldingly tender on the inside. For years, Jean-François Coche-Dury’s Bourgogne Blanc was the default wine pick but that is increasingly difficult to find. One of Olivier Lamy’s precision-flavoured whites is no mean substitute.
Further north again we come to Gevrey-Chambertin, source of Burgundy’s heartiest reds. Restaurant Chez Guy is my favoured stop here – always to order the 12-hour braised beef cheeks that need only a nudge from knife or fork to subside into tender delight. On my most recent visit I paired the dish with a Gevrey from Pierre Duroché, a recently risen star in the village whose winery is but a couple of hundred metres from the restaurant. It matched with hand-in-glove precision – and writing this reminds me that Chez Guy’s beef cheeks came within a whisker of the genie’s top spot. Note: Sadly, since this article was written, we have received word that Chez Guy is now permanently closed.
A broader overview of Burgundian dining throws up evidence of a trend that has been gaining traction in recent years, namely, a move towards a less structured dining experience. Time was when strictures that were almost written-in-stone governed every aspect of restaurant eating. Dining hours were fixed, as were menus, and wine came by the full bottle. Tales abounded of hungry tourists meeting a blank refusal if seeking to dine mid-afternoon. Heaven forfend!
Granted, set hours and set menus are still the norm in many places but the old straight jacket of three courses and a full bottle has been loosened, especially in Burgundy’s wine capital, Beaune. Here, in places such as La Maison de Maurice and La Dilettante, charcuterie and cheese plates, along with wines by the glass, is the norm, with more substantial fare at the latter, and some well-appointed accommodation upstairs at the former. The message needs to be got through: you can now dine more imaginatively and more flexibly in Burgundy than ever before.
Casting the net wider takes in two other favourites: Maison Paillot in Noyers-sur-Serein, with Chablis just up the road, and Le Vendangerot in Rully, venue for a serendipitous outdoor lunch in early September 2020 that easily banished the Covid clouds of uncertainty swirling about then. The welcome in both establishments is commendably at variance with the snooty Gallic stereotype that lives on and on despite so many examples to the contrary.
In all the above I am painfully, nay, hungrily aware that I have only scratched the surface of what is available, so will finish by varying the message slightly. When you’ve had your fill of hearty, waistband-stretching cuisine go to Bissoh in Beaune for exemplary Japanese food allied to a brilliant wine list. There’s more to Burgundy than boeuf Bourguignon.
Le Terroir: 19 Place du Jet d’Eau, 21590 Santenay.
Ma Cuisine: Passage Saint-Hélène, 21200 Beaune.
Chez Guy: 3 Place de la Mairie, 21220 Gevrey-Chambertin. (Permanently closed)
La Maison de Maurice: 8 Rue Edouard Fraysse, 21200 Beaune.
La Dilettante: 11 Rue du Faubourg Bretonnière, 21200 Beaune.
Maison Paillot: 14 Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, 89310 Noyers-sur-Serein.
Le Vendangerot: 6 Place Sainte-Marie, 71150 Rully.
Bissoh: 42 Rue Maufoux, 21200 Beaune.
Raymond Blake has been writing about wine for 25 years and has been published across the globe. He is a regular contributor to 67 Pall Mall TV. His latest book, Wine Talk, has been published by Skyhorse, New York.