I think the key thing to bear in mind when visiting L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges is that the last time anything new happened here was in 1975. It's a complete timewarp, and some things that were perhaps acceptable back then still go on today, even though forty years later they might cause one to raise an eyebrow. For example, the taxi door was opened for me by a man dressed in traditional bellboy costume, who seemed to be of North African origin. There were at least two of these bellboy chaps, which I knew about already from perusing the interwebs, but in this day and age it does cause one to wince a little, especially as all the other staff seemed to be white.
However, soon our minds were on other things. Going through the little arch, this is the sight that greets you. Once inside, we were welcomed by about a hundred maitre d's and waiters ("Bon soir, madame" etc.etc.) and shown through a dining room and up a staircase to the first floor. The room we were in contained six well-spaced tables, a mixture of couples and foursomes. It was quite cosy, with paintings of the restaurant on the wall. Our table wasn't close to any of the others, so we didn't spend the evening listening to other people's conversation, and we had plenty of room. Also, we were facing each other, which I found more comfortable than the bus-stop seating arrangement at Taillevent.
On this occasion, we were having the Menu Classique which is the one for cheapskates, at a mere 160 euros. Almost everyone else seemed to be having the Menu Grande Tradition, which we had when we went back on the Sunday night, and which I'll write about in another post. Last year, when we went to Taillevent, I didn't take photos, but at Paul Bocuse everyone was merrily snapping away so it seemed acceptable.
First up was this very pretty amuse-gueule which consisted of a fishy thing, a sort of guacamole, and a gazpacho or possibly cream of tomato soup. They were all wonderful in their own way, like a Platonic ideal of each.
To drink, we started with this Pommery Cuvee Louise 2002 which provided good age and richness as a foil for what came next. We were impressed at how youthful it seemed, suggesting that the cellars here are very good. One of the main purposes of the trip had been to view the wine list, which isn't on the website, to see what goodies were on offer. It turned out to be substantial but we didn't find any undiscovered bargains lurking and there was no exciting bin end list. G thought that since it's such a big restaurant, and open twice a day every day of the year, they have to offer wine which they can get in quantity, although we speculated that maybe if you go often enough, you get to see the special secret list.
For our starter, vegetarians look away now - we both had a duck terrine with foie gras. This was served with a slice of sourdough and a slice of brioche. The sourdough worked especially well with the terrine, and we guzzled away happily.
With our main course, G ordered a half bottle of Puligny-Montrachet 2008 from Domaine Leflaive. We had a few words with the sommelier about Madame Leflaive who died a few weeks ago. She was a visionary wine-maker and I have particularly fond memories of her Bourgogne Blanc 2002. The Puligny was delicious, as good as you'd expect, and went very well with our next course.
Which was one G had been talking about for months beforehand, the loup en croûte feuilletée, sauce Choron. Sea bass in pastry, in other words. This came as a giant pastry fish and was then dished up. It all happened so fast, and I was too shy to stand up and get a good view, so I missed the chance to take a picture of the whole fish. However, you can see the scales and little fin that I ended up with! This was really excellent - the fish, which G noted with pleasure was properly cooked - none of this half-raw stuff here - the amazing buttery pastry, and the sauce, which is like a bearnaise with extra tomato. The only problem with it was that I for one ate too much which impeded progress later, but it was too delicious not to.
With our cheese, we had this half of Chateau de la Gardine Chateauneuf-du-Pape, in the spirit of trying to drink at least one local wine. As Chateauneuf goes, this was a good one, but I confess that the southern Rhone isn't my favourite, and I think G maybe liked it more than I did. It was a decent choice under the circumstances.
The cheese trolley arrived, but no Epoisses was in evidence - dommage! Saint-Marcellin is all the rage in Lyon, so I had some of that, some Comte, some Roquefort and something which looked the closest thing to Epoisses which we were told was "winemaker's cheese" whatever that is. It was enjoyably pungent.
A tray of petits fours appeared, but we were too full to make much of a go of them, as we were trying to save space for pudding. We'd heard that there was basically an unlimited pudding selection. I'm sure this is true, if you have the space and the inclination by this stage of the evening. I only managed two.
I'd thought this was summer fruits in jelly, but they turned out to be in Beaujolais instead, and I suspect that a hefty dose of sugar had been added. They were very good and something one might be able to make at home, if one had access to fruit of this quality.
Also, this creme brulee which was excellent.
Proceedings were interrupted by the sound of a hurdy-gurdy coming from the next room playing Happy Birthday to a lucky recipient. Again, I was glad I'd done my homework, so this was not entirely unexpected, but it was rather hilarious and charming.
To round off, we had coffee and a glass of Calvados, served in a generous portion. Indeed, this is not one of those places where, to quote my father, you need to stop off for a bag of chips on the way home. At the very least, the bread roll offered at the start should certainly be avoided, a lesson we implemented when we went back on Sunday.
We spent a few minutes outside looking at the tableaux of chefs through the ages, before getting a taxi back to our hotel. It had been quite an experience, and I was looking forward to going back!