On Sunday evening, we revisited L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges. This time we had a better idea of what to expect. Rather delightfully, they put us at the same table we'd been at before. I immediately felt at home.
This time, we were having the serious Grande Tradition menu, which we'd seen most people having on the Friday night. A sign of the attention to detail in this place is that instead of the guacamole etc. amuse-gueule which we'd been given on Friday, and which most people were getting this evening, we were presented with this little lobster delicacy instead. It was wonderful. Some have apparently questioned why the lobster comes from Maine, but G told me that American lobster is sweeter and that certainly seemed to be the case here. It was one of the highlights of the meal.
Next up was this duck foie gras, which came with a particularly delicious crisp on top. They ought to sell these in packets and I could start an import business.
To drink, with the first few courses we had this Meursault 1er cru Les Boucheres from Deux Montille, the brother/sister operation consisting of Alix and Etienne de Montille. We thought this was maybe a premier cru we hadn't had before, but consulting my trusty spreadsheet just now I see we did have one from the 2000 vintage but with a strangely-unspecified producer, six years ago, which received a 7. This one was from a much better vintage and was very enjoyable.
The next course was this truffle soup with a pastry lid. It seemed to be the same pastry as the sea bass the other night, which pleased us. This time I was determined not to eat it all (and we'd resisted bread rolls at the start) in order to save space for later.
The soup was very fine, almost like a consommé with small chunks of beef and big pieces of truffle. I thought it would go very well with some Sercial.
Then it was the fish course, this sole on a bed of noodles in the most amazing cheesy sauce. I absolutely loved this, it was my favourite thing out of everything we ate. Again, the fish was cooked how we like it - not semi-raw - and that sauce! Once again, the only challenge was to leave some on the plate. But I didn't want to end up completely stuffed like I was on the Friday, so discretion prevailed.
A Beaujolais sorbet acted as a palate-cleanser halfway through.
On to the red wine - G picked this Chambolle-Musigny 1er cru les Feusselottes 2007 from the Meo-Camuzet negotiant operation. We're both fans of the Feusselottes from Domaine Felettig and this had a distinct similarity, being very elegant and mature. The sommelier told us it was their penultimate bottle.
As there was a little pause at this point, I entertained myself taking a photo of this thing on the sideboard in the corner. I thought maybe it was a duck press like the one at Otto's, but G thought it was more likely to be a citrus press. If anyone actually knows what it is, I'd be very interested.
Finally, our main course arrived. Check it out! It was a chicken cooked in a pig's bladder, which is the sort of thing I can never tell my mother about. The American couple across the room had also been quite horrified by the concept until the waiter told them "you don't actually eat the bladder". I'm guessing that the balloon-like nature of it means that the moisture stays inside.
This was what we actually got to eat. Note large quantities of morels. It was as good a piece of chicken as you could hope to eat in your life. We idly wondered what they did with all the leftover legs and bits and pieces - you can come back for a second serving, but I doubt whether many people do. We assume the staff meals here must be pretty enjoyable.
On to the cheese course. I was delighted by this Roquefort guillotine. Every establishment worth its salt should surely have one of these! That reminds me - on several occasions the hurdy-gurdy in the room next door swang into action and played a jaunty little tune. We think it may have been some sort of Happy Mother's Day song, as although Mother's Day was the following weekend, some parties seemed to be celebrating it early.
G managed these cheeses. I just went for Comte and Roquefort on this occasion. If I'm brutally honest, the cheese at L'Auberge was a slight disappointment. I've had better elsewhere. But it's a small complaint coming after all those amazing courses.
As a pre-dessert we were given this little chocolate mousse. When I saw them coming out, I thought "that's what I want for pudding" and then we all got one anyway! It was the Platonic ideal of chocolate mousse, and the perfect size. For pudding I did in fact manage another of those red fruits in Beaujolais numbers that I'd had on Friday. Then I was done.
So, the verdict on this restaurant... it's a truly special, surreal experience. I've never been anywhere quite like it. They do what they do, they've been doing it for years, and they do it very well. If chicken served in a pig's bladder isn't your kind of thing, don't go there. I certainly got the impression that for at least one couple, it wasn't their kind of thing - they sat there being grumpy all evening. Also, it's not the sort of place where you're going to find fashionable food, or lots of vegetables. But who cares when there is the most amazing pastry, properly-cooked fish and divine cheese sauce?
Paul Bocuse himself is now 89 and no longer cooks here himself nor was he doing the rounds saying Bon Appetit to everyone. In some ways I prefer it like that, as I'm there for the food, not the cult of personality. But this restaurant is a monument to a particular style of cooking, and it doesn't depend on the great man being in the kitchen. They have a lot of talented people, and I understand that many of the staff have been there a long time. The place runs like a well-oiled machine. Sometimes it's easy to take consistent excellence for granted.
G and I were discussing it the other night and he made a remark about how the food wasn't as good as Taillevent which I could not allow to pass. The food at Taillevent was very good (the spelt risotto being the highlight, weirdly) but looking back on it a year later, for me the highlight of Taillevent was getting to drink some Coche-Dury Meursault. It's hard to say what was the highlight of L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges as so much of it was amazing, particularly the fish, the pastry, and the sauces. And the lobster. And the chocolate mousse. And that crisp thing. Our second visit was even more fun than the first and I can't wait to go back.