Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Restaurant 111

Update:  a couple of months after this review the hotel and restaurant were closed down by the French authorities because of unpaid taxes and bills.  Bailiffs turned up, made everyone leave and padlocked the front door shut.  Tablecloths and glasses were left on the tables and remain there to this day.  It is sad but actually not surprising considering the obvious costs of running the place and the obvious lack of customers.  Shame.

When you leave Carcassonne on the Narbonne road across the new bridge, with its views of the Cité and the River Aude on the right hand side, and just before you reach the roundabout that leads onto the dual carriageway, there is a new hotel that hosts a one star Michelin restaurant. The 111.

 I say new but it has in fact been open for a couple of years now and has been a source of interest for a few years more than that.

 A very grand building stood on the site for as long as I can remember, which means 2006 when I arrived here. It was empty and for sale and had a beautiful double semi spiral staircase leading up to a grand front door. It had been a hotel once but now sat on a busy road opposite some ugly franco-suburban sprawl (zone industriel) that included a Geant supermarket, a Jardiland garden centre, a FLY, some car showrooms and numerous other sales outlets of indeterminate quality and value.

 We would drive past and admire its classical lines and structure and imagine, if we had any money, what we could have achieved there. In our wildest thoughts we did not imagine what was actually done!

 It was eventually bought and developed - the classical features were bulldozed and smashed and a brand new, gleaming structure arose from the rubble. It is modern and white and if I say it has more in keeping with a pharmacy or a clinic then perhaps you will be able to form a mental picture of it.

 A very good friend asked if we had been there.

 The restaurant won a Michelin star under it's chef, Michel del Burgo.

 We should try it, we thought, and so we did - we persuaded a very good friend to accompany us on a sunny Tuesday in early May - and, despite all the above, we were all very impressed and enjoyed a most wonderful lunch. We discovered a very stylish terrace at the back of the hotel with huge sturdy umbrellas to shade the sun (and resist the wind!) and cool ambient music and attentive staff - "Ibiza come to Carcassonne" as Mrs W so aptly described it.

 The food was immaculate and faultless. I needn't say more than that - it was delicious, very well prepared and presented. We all had the fixed price lunch menu of the day at €29 which consisted of an amuse-bouche of asparagus ice (sublime) and a smoked eel muffin (surprisingly subtle), a pre starter of chilled watermelon soup with fresh raspberries and grated almond, an entree of steak tartare with mushroom, truffle and quails egg ( I could eat that every day), a main of baby lamb cutlets with the most divine mirepoix of chopped vegetables including lemon zest and chilli and a very comforting strawberry, cream and almond pastry dessert.

 It was washed back with a couple of bottles very good local red wine that wasn't overcharged.

 I wonder how they make any money. There were five waiting staff including the maitre'd and the sommelier for three lunch tables, not to mention a one star Michelin chef and his kitchen crew. But as long as they are bringing out that quality of food at that price we should continue to support them.

Lunch for two with one bottle of wine at less than €100 at this quality is outstanding.


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