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Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Caveau des Arches

The day: 31st January 2007, Dinner
The place: 10, Boulevard Perpreuil, Beaune, France 21200 (03 80 22 10 37)
The venue: Caveau des Arches
The food: French tradition in Burgundy
The drinks: Very extensive list, mostly Burgundy, but plenty of others, all prices

As anticipated, we stopped in Burgundy about half way in our trip to Italy. In the middle of the legendary Cote d'Or...we love Pinot not to feel a little emotional in its home for the first time?

Unfortunately time pressure did not allow for a longer exploration of the area, we only had one evening.

The manageress of our lovely hotel suggested this place. It is in the historic centre of the city, and it has two Michelin forks.

On a very chilly night, we were looking forward to some comfort food (and wine!) from the Bourguignonne tradition. The impressive dining room is a downstairs cellar that welcomes you in a warm embrace of some elegance.

The menu has various ‘prix-fix’ proposals, as well as a reasonable selection of a la carte choices:

On top of that, there is also a board with the specials of the day:

Plenty of choice, then - and in fact it took us a good quarter of an our to negotiate a final settlement…

This left Man wading disconsolately through the wine list encyclopaedia with hundreds of Burgundy wines of which he had no idea. It's hard to face the extent of one's own ignorance. More on this story later…

In the meantime, though, we got the bread:

Rather solitary it looked (not our beloved Italian basket), but it was good. And, we discovered when finishing our main courses, there was no point in saving it, as the dish was bottomless, thanksgodforthat!

At last, we ordered. We could not have started in a more traditional way: (Poelon de 12) Burgundy Escargots, at €11.20, and Burgundy Parsley Ham (Jambon Persille de Bourgogne), at €8.90.

The Escargots were a true classic: each of them comfortably resting in its own individual bath of butter, showered in parsley and garlic. The nice touch were the crushed hazelnuts, which elevated both taste and consistency. They were excellent, fat, and soft, and juicy and wonderful. But it was clear already that this dinner would not help lower our cholesterol levels…

Woman thought that the Jambon was as reserved as the Escargot were expansive: it came as two slabs of (cold) meat, on a cold plate. Man found it as luscious as the Escargots in a more restrained way. We agreed that the quality of the meat was first rate; the poignancy of the parsley, emphasised by the mustard cream, complemented the fat in the ham terrine beautifully.

Next, the mains: Free range chicken breast with morel mushrooms (from the blackboard), at €15.00, and Breast fillet of duck with black, at €16.00.

The chicken was succulent: an extremely generous serving of mushrooms lent their flavour to a rich, creamy sauce. More cholesterol quickly on its way But it was so good. The French definitely know how to make sauces. They definitely do not know how to make pasta: the twirl which accompanied the dish was a little sorry overcooked thing, totally lacking in bite. Sorry mates, it’s very hard to please us with pasta.

The duck was satisfying, this one in a powerful delicious peppery reduction. The meat was flavoursome but a little tough. The potato mash which came with it however was stratospheric.

To finish, we went for broke cholesterolwise: a selection of cheeses (from a very impressive trolley that we were too gobsmacked to take a picture of), and a strawberry millefeuille, at €6.90 and €6.80, respectively.

We know, we know, it was foolish to ask for strawberries in January. In fact the millefeuille was rather ordinary, and the fruit tasteless. Let’s pass this one over.

The cheeses were for Man the highlight of the dinner. Epoisses, Soumaintrain and Delice de pommard (goat). They were all worth the cholesterol high, and in particular the sumptuous, creamy Epoisses was to die for (well let’s hope not). The chevre had a nice acidity, while the Soumaintrain was rich but surprisingly very delicate.

The meal was accompanied by a 1lt bottle of Evian (€4.70), and a bottle of red St. Aubin 1re Cru Le Castets 2005 Domaine Billard Pere et Fils, at €27. We were a little disappointed by the wine, rather harsh, which would probably have benefitted from more time spent in the bottle. Did Man manage to pick the only bad Burgundy on the list?

The total bill came at €96.50 which included VAT at 19.6%, but no service. Including that, we still managed to remain well within our £100 rule (we are not THAT generous).

Was this place (and the brief visit to Beaune) worth the detour? We thought so. The service was cheerful, efficient and attentive, friendly in spite of the language barrier. This restaurant offers plainly presented dishes in the rich Bourguignonne tradition, cooked to a high standard, with some occasional imperfections. It is superior comfort food that makes you look forward to a brisk walk in the wintry night (and to a few days on a diet).


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