Scores: 3 M*
As a treat on our way to meet some friends in southern France my friend and I decided to stop off and dine at the 3 Michelin starred Pic, at the Maison Pic hotel in Valence. Valence is a small town in the Rhône valley; the centre of the town seemed pleasant enough. However, Maison Pic (around 15 rooms) is a boutique hotel which is situated on a road on the outskirts of town in an area which is not that great. The hotel on the other hand was lovely, being well designed around a couple of internal courtyards containing lots of outside seating and some attractive gardens. Unfortunately due to the monsoon-like rain (what happened; it was 33 and sunny the day before?) we did not get to sit outside at any point. A cool feature of the hotel was the display table containing all of the French Michelin Guides from 1900 to the present.
Anne-Sophie Pic is the third generation of her family to have won 3 Michelin stars, which shows that food clearly must be in her blood! Because of this, one of the restaurants tasting menus, ‘the Collection’ menu is a tribute to all three generations of Pic families cooking. There also is a cheaper tasting menu with more modern dishes and one can also order a la carte. We decided to try the collection menu.
4 canapés were presented while we were having a drink in the bar area. One was green pea based; there was a peanut marshmallow, which was very good, and a tea macaron. Possibly the best one, which was a really weird combination, I think was goat’s cheese, melon and coffee! This had an exploding texture and surprisingly was very tasty. There were 4 types of bread on offer including sesame, olive and olive oil rolls.
The amuse bouche was a foie gras crème brulée with apple cream. The texture was perfect and I really liked the combination, although I will admit that it is a rather unusual. The apple helped by adding a bit of bite to cut though the sweetness and fattiness of the dish. I think EMP in New York sometimes offers a similar dish…
The first dish was called the berlingots, this refers to a tetrahedron shaped French boiled sweet. These were similarly shaped parcels containing slightly smoked Banon, a goat’s cheese from Provence, served with a green broth of cress infused with ginger and bergamot. It was a good looking dish with the little parcels sitting in the green soup. The smoky and rich flavour of the cheese here was excellently complemented by the sour fruit taste of the broth. A great combination, although on its own the broth was perhaps a touch sharp. This was followed by blue lobster, with sweet and sour tomato, and a lightly spiced tomato broth flavoured with coffee and saffron. I loved this dish, the lobster was excellent and the tomato really worked well with it; the tomato jellies had a real depth of favour. The broth was also excellent with a richness of flavour but without tasting too heavy.
The next dish to follow was line caught sea bass with alverta caviar; this was one of the chef’s father’s creations and also the signature dish of the restaurant. On the a la carte menu, this dish alone was listed at towards 200e! I am not a massive fan of caviar on its own but I do enjoy it served this way with fish to add saltiness to a dish. Here the Californian caviar produced saltiness while quite a lot of champagne foam added richness to the perfectly cooked sea bass. Another great dish but I personally preferred the lobster.
The meat course was veal sweetbreads with lavender carrots in a rich meet jus. This dish was excellent, with perfectly cooked sweetbreads and a jus with piles of flavour. It was very rich and also huge! For me this was a bit of a problem as, in my opinion, this dish would have worked better as a starter at a quarter of the size. Although it was fabulous, I think that it was too much.
There was a cheese taster of Meaux brie with vanilla, was decent enough. The first dessert was lemon and juniper berries with lemon jus and sorbet, this was a perfect biscuit base topped with two types of lemon. It was a perfect balance of sweetness with the sourness of the lemon. It was probably the best lemon dessert I have ever had. On the other hand the final course: strawberries and sake with crispy leaf and rice ice cream, caramelised sake emulsion and light Japanese biscuit with wild strawberry, was a let-down. The strawberries themselves were lovely, they tasted like wild strawberries but the rest of the dish was a bit of a flavourless creamy mess, disappointing…
During the meal we had 4 glasses of sommelier picked wine, including both a white and red Hermitage, the wines were decent but none were that memorable. This was a first class meal; however, I think it could have been improved slightly with a different menu structure and also the final dessert was very disappointing. Unsurprisingly it was also very expensive. It definitely deserves it 3 M stars although it was not a perfect meal for me.