Burgundian restaurants are some of the most traditional in France but Jérôme Bigot’s charming, original Les Grès wouldn’t disgrace Paris’s fashionable 10th arrondissement.
It’s in the depths of the country in a tiny village outside Auxerre* yet managed to pick up an award for best ‘bistrodidacte’ this year from the influential restaurant guide Le Fooding
The evening menu - no choice 7 course tasting menu - ticks all the contemporary boxes - local sourcing, smoking and pickling (there are, unusually for France, well-thumbed copies of the Noma, Faviken and Mugaritz cookbooks on the bar)
While we were waiting for the meal to begin they brought a pretty-as-a-picture amuse of pickled vegetables, fruits (including the local Yonne cherries) and (surprisingly delicious) pickled elderflowers. The chef used to be an painter and it shows.
There was a superb dish of incredibly tender squid and mealy fresh coco beans in a natural, sweet tomato broth, a cumin-spiked sardine with a bold slash of smoky aubergine purée and a perfectly cooked piece of rare duck (sous-vided, I’m sure) served with pickled cucumber and mushrooms about which my husband raved. And he doesn’t like his duck rare.
Then a fantastic dish of bavette with miso and a smoked red onion purée, a startling combination of almost raw meat, smoke and umami. The cheese dish too was brilliant - a scoop of ivory-white fromage blanc floating in an emerald green soup of basil and coriander topped with oregano flowers.
Inevitably with food this experimental a couple of the dishes didn't come off. Snails, in my view, need a more robust accompaniment than cucumber and capucines (nasturtiums) and a dessert of finely sliced peaches, apricots, confited black olives and chibouste had a bit too much going on but then I can remember eating dishes that didn't work at El Bulli.
Two other things might put you off. They obviously like to serve everyone at the same time so if you arrive early, as we did having skipped lunch, you may find yourself waiting for a good three quarters of an hour for the first course to arrive.
And the short, carefully chosen wine list, which has been put together by Jerome’s wife Marie Hélène according to this blogpost, is made up of natural wines - but that’s a plus in our book. And no, that doesn’t mean they’re all ‘cidery’ or funky - there’s plenty to please more conventional palates including Thomas Pico’s pristine Domaine Pattes Loup Chablis ‘Vent d’ange’ which we tasted at the domaine the following day and the bottle we ordered, Fanny Sabre’s fresh, elegant Bourgogne Passetoutgrains, which suited the food very well.
You can also opt for the ‘menu carafe’ which has four well-chosen matching wines but which adds another 30€ each to the bill.
You wonder at first how they can survive in such a remote spot but they’re well within reach for Paris weekenders and holidaymakers a large party of whom were in the restaurant with their very sweet, well-behaved kids, all tucking into this crazy colourful food.
If you’re after traditional Burgundian cuisine, Les Grès won’t be for you but we loved it. One of the best meals of the year.
Our meal cost 49€ for 7 courses plus 25€ for wine. There's a lunchtime option of 29€ for 4 courses though it's closed on Mondays. It’s a small restaurant so you’ll need to book, especially at weekends.
Restaurant Les Grès, 9, rue du 14-Juillet, Lindry (89240 ) Tel: +33 9 52 31 64 10
* yet just off the A6 motorway