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Olivier Roellinger's Les Maisons de Bricourt


eugenezuckoff
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Coming to this one late and although I have not eaten here in several years, in total I ate at Maison Bricourt about 6 times over a period of a few years as well as staying at the small hotel on the cliffs (not Richeux). It is still our favourite restaurant in France and ticks all the boxes for service, ambience, unpretensiousness and of course food. I have had some courses I liked less than others - the classic John Dory with spices for example. But my last meal which took in the full tasting menu was outstanding. A pity the prices have gone up so much. We need to visit again very soon.

Gav

"A man tired of London..should move to Essex!"

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  • 4 months later...
  • 1 month later...
La Liberation hints today the Roellinger will, in fact, gain this third star this coming March.  Most deserving and about time...

Yes by now the "leaks" to the papers (not just Libe), that ironically has cut its food news to the bone, probably indicate it's a sure thing.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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  • 10 months later...

I have held off commenting on our late November visit to Roellinger because he has been so much in the press lately. But in fairness, his little empire deserves every accolade it receives.

We stayed in Les Rimains, his guesthouse on the northwest coast of Cancale. Our room was enormous, light and airy. Huge French doors accessed the garden which overlooked the sea. A fire was laid in the fireplace, and a good supply of wood was just outside on the steps to the garden. The weather was damp and chilly and an after dinner fire was cheerful, as it was again during the breakfast that was served in our room.

Lunch at the restaurant was superb. Every dish was delicious and those that were less so than others were at a minimum intreguing and well worth experiencing. I had read much about his use of seasonings, but his is a subtle cuisine. Service was perfect: generous and sweet. Wine was readily affordable and the wine service was absolutely perfect: never rushed, never a needy glass. We were treated as highly valued guests. His is totally professional hospitality.

Roellinger was a delightful 22 hour experience that we will repeat. Lovely food and generous hospitality.

eGullet member #80.

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  • 11 months later...

I celebrated my birthday recently at Roellinger and I am proud to confirm that this is probably my favorite restaurant.

Everything is absolutely perfect while at the same time innovative, interesting and smart. The whole meal is delicious, from one end to the other, and offers consistency unlike many tasting menus I know. There's plenty of food yet not too much. What's more, prices at the restaurant are extremly reasonable (but staying for the night is the cost of several meals).

The only precaution, as I often wrote, is to come relaxed, stay in the area at least one day in advance, get some rest and a sense of what the area feels like. People jumping off the plane to the train to the car to the restaurant usually find it pointless. Another point is that wines are not important in the experience, while there are indeed good and not überexpensive (and also well advised by the brother of Bras' sommelier).

Click here for more detailed review and pics.

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  • 11 months later...

I just got this in my email:

A DIFFERENT WAY OF SHARING MY COOKING

If I’ve spent 26 happy years at the helm of my kitchen, a desire to share my cooking differently and the ever-increasing difficulty of meeting the physical demands of our daily services have led me, with my wife Jane, to take the decision to close the restaurant Olivier Roellinger. This “relais gourmand”, the restaurant that allowed us to win a third Michelin star, will close its doors on 15 December 2008.

This is not the end of my career as a cook but rather an opportunity to practice this profession and passion in a different way, one that will be more in harmony from now on with my deep wish to share my vision and knowledge with the teams of the Maisons de Bricourt and each one of you.

Le Coquillage, the restaurant of Château Richeux, will maintain its simple and convivial spirit but will also offer an O. Roellinger menu based on my classic dishes as well as new creations that I will bring back from my travels around the world. Indeed, I will continue on my route in search of flavours and people in order to share with the largest possible audience the rich variety of the world of spices. In the warehouse Epices Roellinger, I will create new blends of spices, herbs and aromatics, which anyone can use to make their cooking more flavourful.

For, if the gastronomic restaurant is closing its doors, Jane and I will continue to work with the teams of all the Maisons de Bricourt to realise exciting new projects. This decision will allow us to bring new life to this house where I was born.

We would like express all our gratitude to our clients whose high standards and love of good food accompanied us on this adventure. Whether you joined us at the beginning or anywhere along the way, we will always be delighted to see you at the Maisons de Bricourt.

Jane and Olivier Roellinge

Sad news.

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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It's sad news indeed

Was there any indication before that he's going to do this?

I was lucky enough to eat at his 3-star place before ... once

He's a very kind and friendly chef, even among the top chefs - he shines brighter

Julot, any comments on this?

I think Roellinger is your favorite chef, right?

Many great French chefs gave up their top accolades

Robuchon, Senderens, Westermann, and now Roellinger

Why isn't there such trends at other countries?

Lighter pressure from Michelin?

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I'm looking forward to knowing what Roellinger will do, how he will "continue being a cook in the same house". As usual, François Simon has nothing smart to say and is actually trying to make us believe that he has information he does not. Roellinger always said, and is saying again, that he can only cook in his house. But that's too puzzling for this journalist to understand, obviously, so he says Roellinger will cook at Richeux, the dream of all those who never understood his cooking and deplored that his restaurant was not in the castle.

I don't think it's a Michelin story. I think it's just about a very contemporary problem -- doing the best possible food, cooking in a moving, artful way, requires an incredible amount of skills and manpower, and the model of the restaurant makes life extraordinary difficult for cooks (we had that fight somewhere else, with lawyers pretending that they were having a harder work because of the long hours -- let's cook them!).

So you have the Ducasse-the-enemy-of-civilization response: make it industrial, processed, mastered, clean and soulless, optimise it big time, and it becomes a suitable business, assuming you already have the prestige to leverage your savoir-faire. But the others, the ones who won't renounce great food but are not necesarily ready to entirely give up their life for the sake of it, are looking for other ways with various successes-- e.g. Senderens, Spring, Hegia, Constant, Le Jeu de Quilles, and now Roellinger.

Some , like Westermann, Girardet, Robuchon and, dramatically, Loiseau, just give up.

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As usual, François Simon has nothing smart to say and is actually trying to make us believe that he has information he does not. Roellinger always said, and is saying again, that he can only cook in his house. But that's too puzzling for this journalist to understand, obviously, so he says Roellinger will cook at Richeux, the dream of all those who never understood his cooking and deplored that his restaurant was not in the castle.

For the very reasons you're mentioning in the rest of your post, Julot, I still do think it is a Michelin problem, though perhaps not directly. Your — quite pertinent — mention of Ducasse brings water to my mill, IMO. Would you ever expect Ducasse to say that "he's tired" (of being in his kitchen)? Of course not, because he'd have to be in a kitchen in the first place. Loiseau's "giving up", since you're hinting to it, was definitely a Michelin problem, though again an indirect one. It's all about pressure and power. What exerts the pressure? The stars do. And who gives the stars?

As for Simon, though I have noticed that he wrote this article in a more subdued and self-effacing style than usual (praise him for that), I agree with you entirely. I smiled at "la cuisine bretonne" being described as "songeuse et ailleurs" ('dreamy and absent-minded'), which has absolutely no meaning at all regarding cooking and particularly Breton cooking. (Have you ever had a kig ha farz, François?)

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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Well, I think bashing Michelin is shooting the messenger. I'm not saying they're perfect judges, but it's not their fault, nor is it a bad thing, that chefs want to be "simply the best" (tune). It's true that the Michelin tends to put too much emphasis on a traditional way of dining which is not only about the food (see Briffard in his Les Elysées years), and that in this sense they are part of some absurd pressure on the shoulders of the chefs and restaurant owners. But, as I argued somewhere else, the fine dining experience -- the space, the ambiance, the nice China, etc, is not entirely irrelevant to extraordinary food, or rather to a certain kind of extraordinary food that demands attention and respect.

Edited by julot-les-pinceaux (log)
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You're right about 'shooting the messenger', but I wouldn't dream of doing such a thing.

To the contrary I think Michelin has been putting too much emphasis not on 'a traditional way of dining' but on systematic innovation and 'creativity' to the detriment of food, and on redoing the whole décor of a restaurant at a generous expense, again to the detriment of food; and finally their political agenda on "bestarring" regions more than restaurants should not be overlooked, as was quite clear with the Pourcels and the choice of Passédat's Petit Nice once the Pourcels had lost the third macaron. And other political refinements which I will not mention here (remember "Ostend Queen"?).

To be fairer with them, though, I do not think they are directly responsible for all spectacular chef wreckages. Michelin was not instrumental in Loiseau's 'giving up' but their name was used to spread a false rumor. They had nothing to do with it. But their importance was high enough to create such a situation.

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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Why look for a subplot? From his message it sounds that he simply wants a change and is going to travel more and explore different options and broaden his understanding of his passion - food. Good for him.

Psychologists often talk about three career stages, the first is usually a false start, the second where you find your vocation and your success, and the third where you explore areas which interest you. The second stage is often become a compromise, whilst you do something you enjoy, the success can become a constraint. A change often renews energy and renews passions.

I am intrigued by the view a lot critics take of Michelin i.e. it isn't good for chefs. I have just read the introduction to Heston Blumenthal's new book "The Big Fat Duck Cookbook", his sheer joy, excitement and happiness of winning his first, second and third stars really comes through. I also remember watching Gordon Ramsay's first TV series "Boiling Point" which documents his quest for his third star. It is obvious that both these chefs view Michelin recognition as something to strive for, and as recognition of their cooking ability (rather than an opportunity to make more money).

Putting the two ideas together, isn't it entirely possible that the Michelin represents the "success" in terms of independent recognition of what a chef has achieved in the kitchen? But, that really only satisfies the second stage of a career. After a couple of decades at the pass very successful chefs do go off at tangents in order to explore other ideas and directions. Roellinger travels, Ducasse grows an empire and perfects high quality, highly consistent food (Juliot derides it as industrial, but I think that misses the point), Senderens goes back to simpler cooking, others move into TV etc etc. There is nothing wrong with this, nor is there anything especially surprising.

I am also puzzled by the binary debate. Does Michelin simply assess the food on the plate or takes other factors into account. I feel this is far to simplistic an argument. Food is a sensory experience and our enjoyment of food utilises all our senses. Lots and lots of subliminal factors and many overt factors influence our perception of food (including memory, mood, expectation, etc - Heston's book is good on this). I really believe that good food needs the correct setting, presentation to be good. That doesn't mean opulence and extravagance but it does mean all the elements need to come together to reinforce our psychological experience of food.

Wine tastes better from a Riedal glass than a plastic cup: is the glass simply a better material? Does the plastic interact with the flavour of the wine? Or are we physiologically conditioned to expect it to be better? I suspect all three are important elements, and as a result none can be ignored. The same is true of a restaurant. My experience of the food (the proxy measure being taste) is determined by lots and lots of factors. Whilst Michelin may swear that they don't take these into account when awarding stars, they really do, because these elements all contribute to the psychological experience food. In fact we all do, we can't get away from it.

Three star food tastes like three star food, because of all the elements that go together to deliver a three star experience. Every element has to match our physiological expectation of a three star experience, as a result three star restaurants need to look and feel like three star restaurants (and no that doesn't mean gilded palaces, or traditional versus contemporary, it simply means lots of attention to detail). So, in my opinion, Michelin clearly has to take these factors into account as they are intrinsic to the experience.

A better question may be to ask whether the inspectors taste is sufficiently broad in terms or architecture, decor, music etc to be able to appreciate quality in what ever form it comes? For example if they hate the "Philippe Stark" contemporary decor of a restaurant will they enjoy the food....?

Edited by PhilD (log)
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Well let's agree to disagree, especially since I don't think we're referring to the same arguments. When I write about the 'politics' of Michelin as not being particularly related to food, I do not mean the cutlery, the settings and the atmosphere. I am of the mind that the Michelin system, which perhaps had some meaning a few years or decades ago, is now deeply perverted and gradually showing its obsolescence, while also reaching its cultural and social limits.

However caricatural the 'Ostend Queen' episode was, it summed up the situation quite well. (reminder: Michelin printed the review before the restaurant opened; the publisher hastily sent for all the copies to be removed from bookstores, but collectors had already grabbed some of them).

There was no way I could take the Michelin seriously after that.

I am always skeptical about classifications when it comes to food, and the macaron system is not one I acknowledge as significant in my appreciation of restaurants. I feel just as skeptical about the 0-20/high-school system of the Gault-Millau type.

I consider the restaurant experience as a whole far too complex and nuanced to be content with "One star = good meal; Two stars = great meal; Three stars = outstanding meal". It cannot be that simple. My enjoyment of food and restaurants is clearly outside of that evaluation system. That is why I find it interesting when some chefs give up their stars or did not race for them while they had their chances — generally they're the ones who deserve them the most. I see a logic there.

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I have read all of the eGullet entries about Roellinger's retreat from the Michelin 3 star demands. I am disappointed but I think I understand his personal dilemma.

He is a major talent that will continue to produce great food regardless of the venue. We have been his faithful followers over the years. We have all his superb spices; we have duplicated his wonderful compounded spices: like the Grande caravane. His contribution to us as cooks is invaluable. Every visit to Les Remains has been a cherished event. Our dining experience has always been extraordinary. His restaurant will be missed. We believe his cooking skills will be forever available to the diner. We will return to this chef who has made a superbly creative footprint in Frances' culinary history. He is still an extrordinary contributor to the current French culinary scene. Judith Gebhart

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Roellinger holds a special place in my heart because, approximately 10 years ago, his was the first serious restaurant my wife and I visited in France as adults. We flew in to Paris, spent the night somewhere along the way to Cancale, had breakfast at our cheap hotel, then arrived at Bricourt. These are my notes from the end of that trip, after we'd also visited several other two- and three-star places.

Our first serious meal in France was at Olivier Roellinger's Restaurant de Bricourt, in the Breton village of Cancale. Chef Roellinger has turned his boyhood home into an 18-table storybook restaurant overlooking a stone courtyard and a pond filled with diverse species of ducks imported from around the world. Keeping with Brittany's maritime tradition, exotic spices generously applied are the backbone of this restaurant's cuisine.

Chef Roellinger's eclectic and exotic preparations are wonderful, but it is the restaurant's attention to every little detail that I find most inspirational. Each element of the dining experience evidences deep thought and effort. The theme is seafood, and a house-baked seaweed bread (along with three other wonderful selections) carries the theme, as do the real cockle shells in which the Chef presents one of the appetizers. Butter is churned on the premises, the salt dish on the table contains distinctly flavored gray Breton sea salt, the cheese cart contains nearly forty varieties (dwarfing the selection at some restaurants ten times the size) and there are ten choices of coffee (not mixed coffee drinks--these are actual varieties of beans). Even the simplest acts, like clearing the crumbs from the table before dessert, are performed with great care and creativity, to wit, with a miniature enameled broom and tray curved to match the table's edge. Lest you get the wrong impression, this attention to detail is not at all precious or pretentious--it is low-key and barely registers at a conscious level. It is only the combination of so many nice little touches that makes any one of them noticeable. Even the finest New York restaurants can learn a few things from Restaurant de Bricourt.

The staff is engaging and polite. All speak English, and they have no problem fulfilling several special requests--happily substituting items even on the prix fixe menu. Fanatical about the Chef's cuisine, the staff makes every effort to shed the best possible light on everything (literally as well as figuratively, e.g., as the sun moves along its arc, the waitstaff constantly adjusts the awnings outside the atrium dining room to minimize glare.) Our waiter brings the bread basket for the eighth time. "Another piece of the seaweed bread, Monsieur?" I refuse. "Is Monsieur certain? We bake it here ourselves, you know." I cannot eat another slice. "I think I have a smaller slice in here if you like." I give in. The slice, of course, is the same size as all the others. This cycle continues for the next hour, until finally I point out that not even they could make me eat bread with dessert.

The allegedly four-course menu (410 FF, approx. $75) turns out to be about eight, depending on how you count the petit fours and little appetizers. Suffice it to say, before your "first" course arrives, you have done a lot of eating. Eight tiny grilled bay scallops arrive on a black stone within moments of our arrival. After we order, a trio of small appetizers in exotic sea shells demonstrates the Chef's facility with snails, mussels and anchovies. The "first" course is thin strips of glistening, fresh bass tartare with a fragrant Calvados sauce. Next, a mixture of tiny white fish fillets with morels in a spiced broth (poured at the table). The "main" course, where the Chef shows his true brilliance, is thick filets of John Dory with "14 spice" sauce. Asian, Indian and Mid-Eastern aromas waft up from the mustard-colored sauce and the fish itself is perfection.

The presentation of the cheeses can go on all day if you like. Tired of struggling with our limited French cheese vocabulary, we ask the waiter to make a selection. Intent on having us try everything, the selection turns out to be a grand tour of French cheese regions. Although you can now get a few raw-milk cheeses at New York's better gourmet stores and restaurants (the difference between raw and pasteurized is remarkable), I have never seen these precious commodities in such quantity. Each cheese (14 in all for us, including Bricourt's buttery crème fraiche) sang with its aromas and tastes.

The official dessert, a two-tiered apple tart, is followed by the unofficial dessert, a rhubarb compote with vanilla ice cream. The petit fours are not an afterthought--they are another dessert altogether.

I would not take the initiative to tackle the even larger tasting menu (660 FF, with the number of courses ominously left blank), but I have no doubt that when I return to Restaurant de Bricourt I will be convinced.

The wine list is not one of those mega-atlases of overpriced bottles. It is, rather, an appropriately sized and well-priced collection chosen with the cuisine in mind. There are many excellent bottles for around $20, including wonderful Muscadet selections from nearby Nantes and some surprisingly delicious Loire reds (the Loire Valley is the closest serious wine region to Brittany).

As we leave, Madame and Chef Roellinger chat with us and give an impromptu tour of the grounds, showing us the ducks, the ancient stone well, the lobster tank and the garden. The Chef is shockingly humble and quiet, clearly a deep thinker (only later do I learn from the chef at a restaurant in Burgundy that Olivier Roellinger started life as a physicist), and Madame is the quintessential Breton hostess--loving and unpretentious. On the way out, we see the waiters ironing the tablecloths right onto the tables for dinner.

Of all the restaurants we visited in France, this is the one place I would most like to return. It is, to me, the perfect restaurant, even though intellectually I know that Les Crayeres and a couple of others serve slightly better food. There is something magical about that atrium and duck pond, and the people of Bricourt, that no other restaurant we tried in France was able to reproduce.

At the time, the restaurant had two stars. I never did make it back, but I'll always remember.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Very sad about the news. As Roellinger's style and perfection are positively unique, I decided to post a few impressions from a truly spectacular tasting menu I had there last month. Very rare that menus like this consist of highlights only -

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