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Michel Bras, Laguiole


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I'm booked in for dinner in August and very much looking forward to it (although, slightly worried by some of the reports on here).

We won't be staying at Bras, so does anyone have anywhere else nearby that they recommend - we're looking to keep costs for that bit down as the rest of our trip is proving to be quite costly.

Having said all of that - and assuming that I can only make it to one top restaurant this year (and that I'm based in London), would any of you Bras doubters recommend an alternative restaurant? We have friends in the area there, so that was one attraction, and I love his book and recipes, but we could be tempted to go pretty much anywhere else in Europe.

I stayed at a wonderful B&B in Laguiole that had the same architect as Bras -- at night you saw the Bras spaceship on the mountain upthere and breakfast was wonderful. Can't remember the name but that's a good place to stay.

Bras is unique and exceptional. I don't care about it, would not go back, but any foodie should have a chance to make his own mind. There is no way that I can propose an alternative. Plus, those are the last years of Michel Bras in the kitchen, and you like the pics and recipes. So go.

Also let us know more about what you like and expect if you want other recs.

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Hello all. I'm taking my girlfriend to Bras for two nights, Thurs/Fri 26th/27th June. Flying to Rodez. She has no idea, so I hope she doesn't take a sudden interest in eGullet.

Question is, do I fly back Saturday, or do I drive somewhere else Saturday, stay an extra night and come back Sunday night? If the latter, where do I go?

Any suggestions open. I really don't know the area at all, and what we should do for that extra day.

Although it doesn't have to be food related, I suppose we could do the drive to Troisgros on Saturday (I did the reverse last year and it's a great drive)... but that might be crazy talk.

Help!

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Hello all. I'm taking my girlfriend to Bras for two nights, Thurs/Fri 26th/27th June. Flying to Rodez. She has no idea, so I hope she doesn't take a sudden interest in eGullet.

Question is, do I fly back Saturday, or do I drive somewhere else Saturday, stay an extra night and come back Sunday night? If the latter, where do I go?

Any suggestions open. I really don't know the area at all, and what we should do for that extra day.

Although it doesn't have to be food related, I suppose we could do the drive to Troisgros on Saturday (I did the reverse last year and it's a great drive)... but that might be crazy talk.

Help!

Andy - You could try Le Vieux Pont at Belcastel. Not too long a drive from Laguiole & not far from Rodez.

Outstanding one star food, very beautiful village and nice rooms. Pretty romantic as well.

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I had a minitature Bras experience at Domaine de Cambelong. It's a one star outside of Cong, which isn't entirely out of the way if you have a car. I had a gorgeous starter of foie gras, eggs and saffron, with duck to follow. Excellent ingredients, lovely wine list and excellent value. Stayed only the one night but great accommodation and very, very romantic.

In terms of being a minitature Bras experience, it has the excellent ingredients although averyon rather than aubrac, lots of wild herbs and plated similarly. It isn't Bras but the vision is similar. I welcome any rebuttal as I felt almost stoned from the five day hike which I finished at Cambelong.

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That looks absolutely delightful. Thanks for the tip. I'll try them tomorrow.

Ok, Andy. Had lunch there today. Up to their normal standard.

Your mission should you choose to accept it is to post your opinion of Le Vieux Pont versus Michael Bras.

Given that one is 3 stars & one is 1 star the comparison is nor entirely fair, but let us know what you think.

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Andy

Cambelong is about a 1 km outside of Cong, a pretty but very busy village over looking a densely forested valley. The hotel is on the perpendicular to the valley, the beginning or end of this beautiful Avyeron dike, leaving you to walk down steep steps to get to lowest point in the village, to the road in or out.

The hotel is part of an old mill complex with a branched interior structure so I was able to begin the meal with some vielle prune in a snug, almost hobbit like in size. I can't recall what my girlfriend had except for the trout with river herbs, which was excellent. It was simply flabby trout poached with intense peppery herbs. I had the foie gras with eggs and saffron which seems to be available in a slightly different form called L'oeuf "Louisette". It was simply beautiful with terrific foie and rich, salty eggs. To drink we had a dry white Gaillac but I don't have my notes with me and can't remember the name. Excellent bread was contiually been brought over from a selection. I had duck with courgettes for mains and thought it was the low point of the meal. The duck was a magret but very tough and the plate had been painted with a thick duck reduction which didn't help. I drank the awesome Château Tour des Gendres Bergerac Rouge Moulin des Dames 2002. It is a wine balanced so finely, with such gorgeous tannin. I was verbally reprimanded for not allowing the hotel to prepare better the wine, meaning she would have like it to have been opened longer.

For desert I had the chocolat fondant with mint and again it was the untempered mint which blew up the dish, regretfully leaving the fondant only a mere spectator.

I wish I had my notes to offer you some more on the place. The room was as big as a Four Seasons suite. The staff were very efficient although they didn't run with the love I had to offer, meaning they didn't seem impressed with my questions, probing, wading in the river etc. I have no problem recommending it, even things weren't perfect.

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  • 2 months later...

has anyone been here recently? i know that Bras closes in October for the year so there are a few months left to visit it. anyone have a reservation or have an album from this summer?

thanks!

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I stayed there at the end of June had two dinners, which were superb. I'll try to write it up fully.

But staying there... wow. It's a magical magical place. We had a room right at the front, it felt like we were the only people there, with a view that stretched for miles.

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  • 8 months later...
has anyone been here recently? i know that Bras closes in October for the year so there are a few months left to visit it. anyone have a reservation or have an album from this summer?

Sorry for this long overdue report (busy in planning a 6-month world trip starting in June!)

BRAS - We were there once already in 2007 and it was one of our best dining experiences. So we decided to go back and stay for one night this time.

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For €300+ a night, we got a reasonable size room with a walkout open garden offering a panoramic view of the countryside.

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Quick highlight from the dinner:

Of course, Gargouillou...

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Aligot was served as a side dish last time, but they made it its own course along with an intense truffle cream this time. This combination was even better!

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A modern interpretation of the 1981 Bras coulant, a pumpkin coulant!

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Next morning

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For the Fine French Breakfast (€27), it had baguette, slice of "fouace" (regional speciality), bread with milk, cake with Thubiès walnuts, croissant, and chocolatine.

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Three kinds of spread: cherry, chocolate, and local honey....

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For the Aveyronnais Breakfast (€35), it is a plate of mountain delicatessen (raw ham, dry sausage matured in ash, and liver pâté), and a bottle of Marcillac!

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Never had that much food and wine, and paid that much for a breakfast! But we enjoyed every second of our experience in Bras!

FULL REPORT HERE

Fine Dining Explorer

www.finediningexplorer.com

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  • 7 months later...

Hello,

These are my thoughts on my meal here at the end of June.

Please click here for full commentary + photography: HERE

Bras [se prononce Braz] – in Laguiole [se prononce læ-jol].

Michel Bras always found it too difficult to leave his native land of Aubrac. Born in Gabriac, he attended grammar school in Espalion before moving to Laguiole, where his parents ran a little restaurant – Lou Mazuc. He has remained there or thereabouts ever since.

That might be an understatement. Working away in this ‘isolated desert’ (his words) somewhere in France’s central massif, Michel Bras changed gastronomy. ‘His influence is massive. What he planted seeds for was a culinary revolution,’ asserts David Chang whilst Wiley Dufresne admits, ‘he has been copied by every chef in the world. We've all taken a page out of the Bras book – the smear, the spoon drag, putting food on a plate like it fell off a tree.’ Luc Dubanchet, Omnivore’s founder, goes even further: ‘he's like the godfather of cuisine...the pope. He built his own cuisine...’ To the avante-garde chefs of Spain, he is certainly the most, perhaps the only, revered Frenchman. At just twenty-five, he created a dish – le gargouillou – whose repercussions have been as profound as they have profuse. He, with few others, was the vanguard that paved the way for the New Naturals whose influence grows today.

So indeed he did stay in Aubrac, but he also gave the world a reason to come to him.

The Bras family came from humble beginnings. His father, Marcel, had found himself unable to support his family as a blacksmith so, together with Michel’s mother, Angèle, he opened a small café; ‘we served workers, that’s all.’ Although it was here he had been taught by his mother how to cook at an early age – he merits her for his sense of taste whilst ‘from my father, I get precision’ – he himself had other aspirations: ‘I dreamed of doing something with chemistry or physics. There lies my true passion.’ Nevertheless, while still studying, both his parents fell ill and, as the eldest of three children, he had to take charge and take over the kitchen. His talent soon became obvious to others as did, to himself, the pleasure he derived from cooking.

As already mentioned, Bras was always more compelled to remain at home than to leave it – he never joined the Tour de France or went to work in one of the great kitchens of Paris or elsewhere. Instead of such classique training, he taught himself. He followed his initiative, voraciously reading gastronomic literature (as well as more philosophical stuff by the likes of Saint Augustine, Lamartine and Saint-Exupéry) all the while continuing to learn the local culinary traditions from his mother. Even in those days, rambling woodland paths and strolling through the countryside, he was always gathering, collecting, nibbling and tasting. It was at this same time too that he met Ginette, his future wife and another lover of things natural.

By 1979, the couple had taken full control of Lou Mazuc with Michel as the chef and his wife, the sommelier. Their cosy restaurant with barely forty seats was immediately recognised by Michelin and awarded its first star. Eventually, in 1987, they had a second. Here, Bras’ distinctive use of herbs and flowers was already taking shape and his cooking was attracting diners and critics from all over France and even further afield. Still, the two realised that if they were to continue their ascent, they would need a larger, improved space. The place the pair decided on was le Puech de Suquet.

In 1992, Architects Eric Raffy and Philippe Villeroux were charged with the ‘realisation of [the Bras’] perfectly mad project’. ‘Wishing to get as close as possible to nature,’ the family chose a spot sitting on the crest of le Suquet’s summit, some four-thousand feet above the plateau beneath and four kilometres from the town. Slowly revealing itself as one approaches, amidst the rolling hills, the reine des prés, gentiane jaune, potentille dorée, violette des Sudètes and sixty or so other flowers and surrounded by the grazing Aubrac cattle noted for their obsidian eyes, their creation is at once a seamless extension of its surroundings whilst simultaneously in violent divergence to them. Concordant with and expressive of his culinary style, the chef wanted the structure to spring forth from the land. Thus it appears half in and half out of the hillside, seemingly embedded within it on one side whilst exploding into the ‘unexplored space, unseen and unlimited frontiers ahead’ on the other. Sculpted in slate, schist, granite and glass, the edifice is ‘in tone with [the land’s own] tones and materials’ and even resembles a traditional buron – the little cheese-making stone huts that litter the locale.

The new restaurant had been a costly endeavour however and initially it struggled, its troubles culminating in an eventual bail-out, part sponsored by the tourist board. Things turned around towards the end of the decade and, in 1999, Michelin finally bestowed Bras a third star. Subsequently, the same chef who once refused to set up in Paris, launched Michel Bras Toya Japon in Hokkaido in 2002, citing the area’s similarity to Aubrac as his motivation.

Sébastien, Michel’s son, having grown up in his father’s kitchen and after graduating from the Paul Bocuse Institute, apprenticed at Guérard, Gagnaire and the chocolatier Bernachon in Lyon before returning to his father’s side in 1995. It has been a successful, smooth partnership: ‘my values are those of my family. I am not interested about magazine covers and I am all too aware that Sébastien will never be Michel. Customer satisfaction is all that counts for me. Between my father and me there has never been conflict, break ups or a generation gap.’ Séba may indeed never be Michel, but in an interesting twist, it was him in charge of the kitchen in 1998 when, with his parents away on business, the manager of the Guide Michelin arrived ready to dine…the very next March, his father had his three stars.

In 2003, Sébastien’s increasing involvement convinced his father to rename the restaurant simply Bras (dropping his own name). The junior chef’s wife, Véronique, also joined that of the senior’s in the dining room. More recently, although he still likes to help with the gardening, Michel – now sixty-plus – has stepped into a semi-retired role.

Reached via the meandering roads that run throughout Aubrac – local farmers are said to have bribed road workers with bottles of wine not to build across their properties – a simple sign by the roadside suggests the entrance to the Bras compound.

Following on from a short ascent, a blossom-bordered footpath points to the revolving doorway and reception. To the left is the lounge. Wrapped with windows from floor-to-ceiling, the entire area is a levitating ledge over the valley beneath, balanced between earth and sky. The effect is nothing short of spectacular: a still-life of lush landscapes and verdant scenes stretching for twenty kilometres across the horizon. A ring of cream coloured chairs from Vincent Sheppard circle a long granite slab under which fresh-cut wooden logs lie and over which a small fireplace is suspended. A flight of steps between here and the entry lead down and out to the other two buildings housing the bedrooms that reside either side of an old cattle drive – draille – that used to run from the hotel’s entrance to Laguiole’s parish church.

Opposite the salon, almost anchored into the rocks is the actual restaurant. The room is long and narrow and accessed by crossing one of the bridges resting over the small stream running between the kitchen and the dining area. State-of-the-art, the former is partially visible from the latter and stands besides a humidity-controlled wine cellar.

There are two rows of large, circular tables with those abutting the panorama windows sectioned off in pairs by semi-transparent mesh screens. Every seat has an excellent view. It is ‘a place bathed in light with an uninterrupted view of infinity’. The interior is minimalist, meditative and unemotional – the intention is to not distract the diner from experiencing the food. For the same reason, resting upon mineral-slate-blue tablecloths, Bernaudaud crockery is immaculate white. Adjacent these, legendary Laguiole cutlery, custom made to Bras’ specific instructions, sits poised upon specially designed metallic stands. A small message from the family accompanies the blade.

In 1829, combining the regional, fixed-blade capuchadou with the Catalan navaja pocket-knife brought back from Spain, the son of a Laguiole innkeeper, Pierre Calmels, created this iconic instrument. It quickly became an essential tool for shepherd and peasant alike and, at the end of the century, when many migrated to Paris, those who left, left everything behind bar their blade. Thus it became a symbol of identity amongst the Aveyronnais away from home. Nowadays it is the knife of choice amongst connoisseurs and at Bras this heritage is celebrated with diners, adhering to local custom, retaining the same Laguiole throughout their meal, just as an Auvergnat peasant would.

One final mention concerns the sistre – the herb picked by Bras as his emblem. Also known as baldmoney or fenouil des Alpes, this is a local wild fennel breed that cannot survive exposure to synthetic fertilisers – the choice is a poignant and emphatically figurative example of the chef’s own principles and commitment to nature.

On this warm, late June day, we took the evasion & terre; découverte & nature menu with a supplement.

Amuse Bouche 1: coques-mouillettes. Atop a dark wooden tray lay Michel Bras’ recette du bien-être, upon which two bantam eggs, set in shining silver cups and stocked with bright yellow, bubbled yolk, stood; the corners of the inscribed card were crowned with stacked, thick-cut, three-cheese mouillettes. The little eggs’ contents had been removed, warmed, whisked and then returned to their shells with a little grassy parsley oil. Accompanying wholegrain soldiers of Laguiole, Roquefort and chèvre, were strong, seedy and crisp. The simple recipe underneath called for a slowing down, for a return to the dining table, for families to cook and to eat together again…

Amuse Bouche 2: Trio de cuillères – betterave, chou romanesco, agrumes; consommé langoustine, matignon de légumes; canard, feuille de moutarde, cornichon. A threesome of short-stemmed sterling spoons were served carrying three different, very colourful concoctions – one of vegetable, one of fish and one more of meat. Earthy-sweet beet gelée came with firm romanesco cauliflower and citrus rind; a flavourful jellied langoustine consommé was embedded with cooked-down mirepoix; and some shredded duck confit was partnered with gherkin, subtle mustard and its leaf.

Les Pains: Pain de campagne; croustillants aux épices et lavash; pain au levain et pain aux céréales. Already at the table, a loaf of braided rustic, home-baked bread rolls was bundled up in a napkin blanket; as amuses were eaten, the serveur proceeded to separate the buns into a wooden basket. Alongside these, implanted within a black basalt pebble, were savoury pain aux épices and lavash croustillants. Soon a second bin was brought about bearing slices of pain au levain and pain aux céréales. These last two offerings – fluffy sourdough and crusty, dense-crumbed seed – were significantly better than the average country-bread, cumin-spiced crisps and plain, coarse crackers. Bordier’s beurre de baratte demi-sel was delivered on ebony slabs bearing Bras’ baldmoney.

Entrée 1: aujourd’hui « classique »; le gargouillou de jeunes légumes; graines & herbes, lait de poule à la noisette. Before service began, some couple dozen different vegetables were peeled, shucked, sliced, mandolined and/or chopped. Leaves were plucked from another possible dozen plants or stems and an anonymous number of flowers, just picked that morning by the chefs themselves, were prepared and readied for plating. As required, the jeunes légumes were quickly blanched with a little salt in separate pots of water then shocked in ice water; seasoned individually, they were subsequently held apart in foil containers.

All these greens, blossoms and blades, plus some fruits, grains and seeds too, were then carefully assembled upon the plate to create Michel Bras’ masterpiece - le gargouillou. The precise produce depends not just on the season, but on the very day and today, faintly framed on all four sides by vibrant wisps, dabs and spoon drags of red and yellow pepper, pistou, sorrel and of olive, courgette, cucumber, celery, kohlrabi and runner beans mingled with Granny Smith apple, yellow peas and patty pan….edible ferns, fennel fronds, beet leaves and rocket mixed with rose petals, phlox Carolina, tajete and borage. At the table, hazelnut-infused eggnog was sparingly sprinkled over the colourful cluster.

The stunning standard of the ingredients stuck at once. Arriving mildly warm, as if just gathered and still warm from lying in the sun, the peculiar savour of each product was amplified and yet absolutely pure. The minimal saucing added a little moisture to the already succulent greens whilst niacs – according to Bras, a ‘combination of visual, smelly, tasty touches that awake our sensations for new discoveries…’ - of lait de poule à la noisette as well as sweetened dried black olive crumble added animation and unanticipated hints. As one eats, unearthing unseen elements, discovering new flavours with each forkful and new textures with every taste, what emerges is a mesmerising sense of fascination and gripping engrossment. One finds themselves eating ever slower, the whole course taking unexpectedly long to finish – the dish arrest one’s attention and literally moves you to silence.

Entrée 2: avec de la peau de lait comme nous l’aimons; le turbot poêlé au beurre demi-sel & roulé dans du vinaigre; cornichons frais et ciboule. A golden gamboge crusted fillet of pan-fried turbot from Saint Jean-de-Luz, dusted with vinegar powder, came laid in a salty butter sauce, mizzled with a little more vinegar, and surrounded with fresh gherkins, sautéed spring onions and some spinach; garlic flower buds were strewn overtop whilst a trail of immature marguerite daisy petals climbed one corner of the plate. Brought from the Bay of Biscay, this thick tranche of fish was very agreeable and nicely cooked even if it was not an especially gelatinous cut. The sauce, not as heavy as anticipated, was warm, light and gently spiked with vinegar and a little garlic. The hot vegetables were a pleasing and an interesting combination.

Entrée 3: parfum et fruits d’amande; la tranche de foie gras de canard grillée; des amandes, figues noires & fenouil; citron & reine-des-prés; sansho, carvi, para. Foie gras, slowly grilled until umber and crisp, sat in a shallow bath of meadowsweet, sansho and cresson de para the cusp of which was partly smudged with black fig compote; the broad brim of the dish was further furnished with a thicket of shaved fennel, smear of lemon, blanched almonds and caraway grains. The good portion of foie from Poitou-Charentes had pleasantly livery savour yet remained clean and not overpowering; it was well matched by the airy emulsion that was itself very herby, minty and aromatic. The meadowsweet wherein this frothy mixture – and specifically its almond-like perfume – proved a natural link to the encircling, crunchy nuts. Lemon purée provided acidity and the fig, some grainy spicy-sweetness. Caraway and fennel shared subtle hints of anise whilst the later also added another texture.

Entrée 4: sur une base de cereals; la galette; cèbe, courgette, poivron…sur un jus aux truffes de Comprégnac. A long wedge of buckwheat waffle, sandwiching oignons de Lézignan la Cèbe, courgettes and mixed peppers and barely obscured by a big blade of pak choi, balanced across the brim of a bowl bearing a dark pool of summer truffle jus from closeby Comprégnac that also circumscribed a cluster of grated chou petsai. Rich, deep and musky, at once the truffle’s scent surprised with its strength. Its earthiness married ably with the mild flavour of the galette, which was deliciously crunchy without and sweet and moist within. The faintly sweet and crispy Chinese cabbage underneath was a welcome foil.

Michel Bras is famous for finding inspiration within his native environs and the presentation of this course was unavoidably evocative of the colossal Viaduc de Millau a little south of Aubrac…

Plat Principal 1: d’origine Aveyronnaise; le carré d'agneau Allaiton rôti sur os; artichauts et boulgour à la coriandre; fleurs & huile de serpolet. Double cut rib of slow-roasted Allaiton lamb rested in its own reduced cooking juice seasoned with a touch of soy and wild thyme oil that almost concealed a very thin base of pommes mousseline; against the chop sat three segments of artichoke heart and some spinach whilst alongside came coriander-bulgur and assorted flowers. Supplied by Bernard Greffeuille, this breed of lamb is widely considered one of France’s finest. The cherry pink meat, tender and silky, was indeed tasty and had a pleasingly succulent, alabaster strip of fat attached – although this could have been a little crisper. The intense jus beneath was rich, slightly spicy and tinted with lemon, whose savour was echoed by the purple blossoms dotting the plate’s border and by the coriander in the fluffy, light cracked wheat. Very flavoursome sections of artichoke also mimicked the shape of the rib. The baby lamb’s pairing with the serpolet was an intuitive one as the former habitually roam around the same fields that these wild herbs grow – it is in fact oft said that the sheep that graze on wild thyme are the best.

As this main course was almost complete, the serveur arrived with a large bowl of aligot. This regional speciality is said to have been first a peasants’ delicacy – hungry pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela would request ‘something’ to eat from local monks who would in turn offer them this. Something being aliquid in Latin, the dish actually takes its name from this word, evolving over time into aliquot before settling as aligot. It is prepared with mashed (white pulp) potatoes (ideally Instuit de Beauvais), cream and the area’s emblematic cheese, fresh tomme de Laguiole. This last ingredient imparts a subtle nuttiness to the taste as well as an incredible texture – the serveur was able to stretch each spoonful into long, elastic threads which he then spun into a bobbin, depositing the serving as a bright, putty-like bundle upon the plate that quickly melted away once on the tongue. Michel’s elderly mother, Angèle, still comes into the kitchen some mornings to prepare the day’s aligot...

Plat Principal 2: dans l’esprit d’une salade tiède; la poitrine de pigeon poêlée au beurre de paprika; datte au cumin & pois jaune de la Planèze, la déglaçage. Three maroon smears of cumin and date purée, disconnected by fervent, freckled tenné patches of paprika-spiced, deglazed jus formed the canvas upon which burgundy-skinned magenta morsels of pigeon breast were placed amidst more slivers of mercure artichoke heart, dull amber yellow peas from Planèze and a single medjool date; tajete, rampion and agapanthus flowers plus torn date leaves were strewn across the plate. The succulent bird had beefy flavour and delicate smokiness; it was equally complemented by the sweet heat of the paprika and cumin as well as richness of the date. Artisan pois jaune, milder, a little earthier and nuttier than green peas, worked well texturally and visually whilst tying-in agreeably with the artichoke. Additionally, the blossoms brought interesting citrus and anise notes whilst the warm sauce was especially tempting and the fleshy medjool, a treat.

Fromage: les fromages de l’Aveyron & d’à côté. A considerable cheese chariot carrying many varieties from the vicinity, plus a host of Laguiole serving implements, was wheeled about. Six samples were selected and these were presented with apple, walnut and onion chutney as well as walnut and raisin breads.

Tomme de Laguiole, made from the unpasteurised milk of native Aubrac or Simmental cows according to a nineteenth century recipe created at the local monastery, reappeared aged six-months and was creamy, lightly perfumed and almost spicy. From Provence, sheep and goat’s milk Tomme de l’Ariège had crumbly rind, runny pâte and strong aftertaste. Ecir de l’Aubrac, named after the cold wind that graces the plains of this plateau and whose manufacturing methods remain a firm family secret, is a soft cow’s milk that was mild, grassy and faintly flowery. Auvergnat Chabrol, from pasteurised cow’s milk, was mildly fruity and smooth. Yielding ewe’s Lacandou, also from the same area, had yeasty sweet smell and was gentle. The potted fromage blanc en faiselle was a bland fresh cheese.

Dessert 1: sur une interprétation du coulant, originel de 81; le biscuit tiède de chocolat/rhum coolant; sorbet banane-caramélisée au beurre demi-sel. Set in the centre of the plate, a circular column of chocolate sponge supported a large scoop of banana sorbet, which was swathed in a salty caramel sauce that slowly trickled over it and down onto the dish. The warm, peanut-encrusted biscuit crust cracked open easily, issuing forth hot rum-imbued, raisin-scattered chocolate sauce. In 1981, Michel Bras made the world’s first fondant. Since then, ingredients and temperatures have constantly changed; today its composition took an exotic twist. The Weiss 68% coco sponge and its crispy coolant filling were perfectly executed even if the Martinique rhum was a little strong for my liking. Meanwhile, the molten caramel covering the icy sorbet on top was delectable.

Dessert 2: c’est le temps; des cerises confites au thym d’ici qui se mêlent de fruits sec, de canelle, d’anis, de semoule, de miel… A frilly-edged bowl bore what resembled deconstructed cherry cheese cake. Along its entire length a line of mint crème had been piped then partly enveloped by a mound of cherries – found natural, fried and confit in Aubrac thyme – upon one end and on the other by toasted chestnut crumble blended with cinnamon, honey, anis, and semolina (amongst other such stuff). The sweetness of the fruit was nicely cut by the lemony herbs and freshness of the mint; the chestnut added crunch and toasted savour.

Dessert 3: à Murat le cornet est fourré de crème; ici la corolla d’hémérocalle du jour est garnie; d’une saveur fraîche & épicée, jus de fraises, feuilles & fleurs. In nearby Murat, the cornet is an important symbol that commemorates the salt-horns its farmers once carried as they tended their cattle. The shape is now remembered in the form of the town’s famous pastry and still celebrated with the annual Fête du Cornet de Murat. Here, Bras has played with this idea, serving a sweet, crisp daylily as an edible cone crammed with gingered, citric crème fraîche and fringed with delicate strawberry coulis.

Mignardises: canailleries; billes chocolatées (chocolat noir réglisse; chocolat blanc brioche), billes glacées (fruits prunes rose; fruit abricots gingembre); canard… crunch. Two frosted vases, one filled with blue-hued, iced stone pebbles and another with grey, also held chilled spheres of fruit sorbet and cold chocolate respectively. The former, flavoured with rosy-prune and apricot-ginger were strong and distinct whilst the latter, of liquorice and brioche, had crisp skins and velvety interiors. After these, a black slate was brought with sticky cubes of overly intense grape brandy. Attended by a pot of crystallised mint, a couple of sizeable shot glasses contained creamy liqueur de lait over toothsome syrups of raspberry and of coffee. Finally, small squares of chocolate au lait and chocolat noir cashew en soufflé were both agreeable.

Alongside these dishes, we drank a 1989 Vosne-Romanée ‘Cros-Parantoux’, Henri Jayer.

Sergio Calderon, an Argentinean who has been at the restaurant for over fifteen years, simultaneously manages the dining room and acts as sommelier whilst Ginette and Véronique Bras hostess. Today, only the latter of the two ladies was on duty, but she and Sergio proved a charming, welcoming pair. Both were attentive, engaging and extremely friendly. The numerous general staff, dressed in loose-fitting shepherd’s smocks, were efficient, helpful and very obliging, even if a little reticent. In the dining area there was manifest a real tranquillity yet celebratory tone with a few tables marking special moments. In fact, the two qualities that stood out and heartened the most were the sense of being at a family-run establishment and the innate comfort that came through because of that and also the awareness of occasion that suffused the meal. Furthermore, the effect that the magical Aubrac backdrop has on one’s experience is undeniable: one is subconsciously immersed in these surroundings.

Lunch began brightly if not spectacularly with quaint coques-mouillettes and the trio of attractive spoons that were more a visual delight than anything else. The first of these two was an initial illustration of how intimately intertwined Michel Bras the man and his cuisine are. These little dainties are his nostalgic reminiscences of a childhood spent sneakily stealing neighbours’ eggs of and eating them raw.

One need not wait long at all to taste what is the restaurant’s most famous dish and one whose name has become synonymous with that of the chef - le gargouillou. This deserves more than a cursory scribble, so more will follow on this course shortly. Next came le turbot, which was nice, but not nearly as memorable as the parfum et fruits d’amande. The thoughtful and complex connections between the collected components here was most interesting; for instance, the almond’s aroma that was reiterated by the reine des prés emulsion or the caraway seeds whose anise nuances were reinforced by the fennel alongside. The foie gras (apparently an always present part of the menu dégustation) is also a second childish remembrance, this time of the very special days during the year when the delicacy was available – such as at Christmas after midnight mass. This ingredient is important to Bras as it ‘represents what I call “the flavour of Aubrac,” this intimate space in which I include all these foods of emotion: based more on love than on science, these flavours of our youth.’

Then came the galette, which was, a little surprisingly, one of the most appetising items of the carte. Its resemblance to the Millau Viaduct was also an amusing and clever nod to the chef’s region. Le carré d'agneau Allaiton was very satisfying whilst the aligot was simply gratifying. Additionally, the latter was another example of how entwined Bras and Aubrac are: it is something native to the area, that must be made with its cheese and whose identity is interknit with it. Everyone gets a taste of this. The final savoury of pigeon was a highlight too and the quality and quantity of cheeses was excellent. The already legendary coolant was not as pleasing though; its execution was faultless, but the rum was a little overpowering for my preference. The cerises confites were better, but le cornet was the best of the sweets. The meal ended with a generous array of mignardises.

The obvious dish that demonstrates best Michel Bras’ cuisine is his gargouillou. ‘This has had enormous influence on a whole generation of chefs around the world, many who took the idea and built their own theme into it,’ tells David Kinch, an influential chef and one who has (like another talent, Andoni Aduriz) his own interpretation of it.

Bras found its inspiration in June of 1978, when everything was in full bloom, and on one of his long runs (‘inner trips’) through the country: ‘it was beautiful, it was rich, it was marvellous. I decided to try to translate the fields.’ However, the ‘gargouillou’ actually already existed. An old, polysemous onomatope from gagasse (a Francoprovençal dialect) derived from the gerund, gurgling, it referred to the flowing sound of the area’s small streams, a method for cooking broth as well as the rumbling noise that the body makes when hungry. Furthermore, it was also traditionally applied to a concoction of ‘potatoes, moistened with water and flavoured with a slice of mountain ham’ that formed a staple part of the Aubrac diet. The chef took this recipe and made it his own – essentially a composition of the entire contents of the immediate countryside served up in a single course.

Le gargouillou is an excellent expression of some of the elemental themes material throughout the menu. Paramount is the chef’s commitment to home; showing off the bounty of his native land, he garnishes his achievement with an indigenous title. Just as patent is his individual touch. The idea was conceived by Bras himself and remains immensely personal to him: ‘[it] has been a milestone in my life as a chef; it reflects my symbiosis with nature. Its elegance, its movement, its colours, its odour, its explosive flavours and its sensuality; all these elements express my way of being, represent my vision of today, my own vision of the terroir.’

One other factor typified by this course is the arresting aesthetic of Bras’ creations. Natural, fresh and unfussy, plate after plate comprising outstanding produce, preserved for the most part intact and consisting of vibrant, vivid shades that mimicked the colours of the pastures outside the picture windows, was presented. Each was attractive and appetising. Moreover, their simple-seeming appearances belied the immense effort and time spent assembling them.

Dining at Bras is an experience. One’s enjoyment encompasses not only the edible, but extends beyond this to the entire event.

On this occasion, we wanted to extend our own enjoyment even further. Thus, during lunch, we decided to ask whether there was an available table at dinner that we could take. Sergio told us he was uncertain, but would return with an answer before we were ready to leave.

We waited.

Food Snob

foodsnob@hotmail.co.uk

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Great post. One of my top three favourite chef's (Passard & Roellinger been my other two). Really made me want to book tickets and fly over and eat there. The gargouillou blows me away every time I see it. The epitome of fresh seasonal produce and the same dish yet looking so different everytime. A true legend in the world of food. Ramsay. Meh.

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Bra is so highly over rated that I can hardly believe it.

Last time we went it was a carnival of unacceptable errors given that this is supposed to be a 3 star restaurant.

- Friends who arrived slightly before the rest of our party were camped in the reception area and not even offered a drink.

- They presented us with the most over priced wine list I've ever seen.

- The service was sloppy. OK for a local place, but not up to the expected standard.

- Although the food was good it was not memorable. A day later nobody in our party of 6 could remember a single dish.

Sorry guys, but this is opinion of those of us who live in France in this area. We've gone to every Michelin starred restaurant within a couple of hundred miles and, believe me, we wouldn't go back to Bra's. Its just not worth it.

PS: The ladies did think the loos were cool.

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Hello,

Maybe predictably, we returned for dinner that day.

Please click here for full commentary + photography: HERE

Perhaps we were just lucky, possibly there had been a cancellation or non-arrival…or maybe it had been the expensive bottle of wine we ordered…whatever the reason, before we had finished our lunch, we were assured that a table would be ready for us at dinner.

For our second meal, we took the second extended tasting menu - légumes & nature – which obviously focused on vegetables, whilst supplementing to it and changing dishes we had tried already. I will not dwell on repeated items that have been described elsewhere.

Amuse Bouche: coques-mouillettes.

Entrée 1: le temps de l’été; la lotte juste raidie sur une vinaigrette noire; côtes de blettes, des chicorées…; peucedanum (cadeau). An immaculate ivory morsel of Mediterranean monkfish, merely poached in black olive oil, sat in the plate’s centre fringed with ribbons of grilled red pepper and surrounded by a small pool of the ebony vinaigrette; a blanched rib of chard checked the dressing on one side whilst alabaster and blue borage blossoms, chicory and peucedanum were sprinkled overtop. One of Bras’ proudest creations is his ombre & lumière, shadow & light – this is not that dish, but there exists the same play between black and white here. The pearly piece of fish, served cool (quite fittingly it seemed, set as it was in the dark liquid – the shade), was meaty, pleasantly fibrous and suggestively sweet; it contrasted well against the bittersweet black olive. The accompanying components each added something definite. Fleshy pepper had strong veggy-sweet smokiness; crackly chicory, citric tanginess; peucedanum, touch of pungency; and the borage’s refreshing savour matched the moist, cucumber-like blette.

Entrée 2: aujourd’hui « classique »; le gargouillou de jeunes légumes; graines & herbes, lait de poule à la cistre. This was the only dish tried twice. Notice the stark difference in contents and composition from the version eaten just hours earlier. The impact was the same – thorough fixation.

Entrée 3: mûrie, comme il se doit; une bonne tomate dite steack à l’olive, des fleurs & des basilics; une touche de poutargue. Half a skinned cross-section of steack tomato, resting in olive oil and in between a bundle of shaved fennel and dried bottarga, was jestingly held straight with sprigs of baby chive; embedded via an incision along the fruit’s top was a flowery bouquet of red and regular basils, tajete, bergamot and violet. Pleasingly light local olive oil from Clermont-l'Hérault, which also featured as a mousse, was complemented by the citrus-tinged flora and crispy fennel. Basil naturally works well with tomato, but although this one was certainly succulent, it was actually quite dull, lacking any real flavour. The bottarga too offered really only crunchy texture and little else.

Entrée 4: tout le printemps; un jeune navet, des pousses de pois, des pois avec les champignons de saison; oseille & cresson alénois. Sautéed morels and both yellow and green peas were laid about and over a small baby turnip that stood in the various vegetables’ emulsified cooking juices alongside wilted water spinach, cress, pea sprouts and sorrel leaf. The morels, clumped together by the creaminess of the sauce, might admittedly not have looked especially appetising, but their taste and immediate aroma were excellent. The tender turnip beneath shared a strong nutty note with the mushrooms, as it did a sweet one with the green peas. Jaune pois from Planèze were earthier whilst the water spinach, mild and sorrel, nicely lemony.

Entrée 5: la saison des curcubitacées; une courgette fleur grillée et le pâtisson farci; amandes, anchois et huile moussée à la reine-des-près. Celebrating the cucurbitaceous season, an anchovy-chard-stuffed patty pan, topped with grilled, unripe courgette flower, came with the almost-whole actual fruit in an airy reine-des-près foam; peeled almonds and a short streak of orange powder were placed upon the plate’s lip while rau răm had been strewn over most the elements. As it was at lunch, the meadowsweet and almond’s affinity was made advantage of. The juicy, fresh courgette was accompanied by its delicate, unique-tasting blossom; the pâtisson had bite and a filling that was firmly salty yet not overpowering. The orange dust was intensely sugary, but interestingly so. Rau răm or Vietnamese coriander contributed an uplifted lemon scent as well as slightly spice.

Entrée 6: dans l’esprit d’un farçi, le poivron doux sweet-banana; sur une vinaigrette au jus de viande; huile de navette en crème, touche d’ail frais. Three bright green banana peppers, abutting the brim of the bowl and partially blanketed with mustard leaf and a mélange of anise herbs, were set in a thin bath of rapeseed oil laced with jus de veau, wherein a roulé de pomme de terre aux anchois was also found whilst a filet of the same fish rested on the rim. The first sensation was the smell of the warm coil of potato – crisply-coated, moist within, the anchovies’ flavour had infused throughout and this was quite an indulgent taster. Garlic-tinted rapeseed oil was flavourful yet smooth and subtle, allowing the sweetness of the supple peppers to come through. The sistre, dill, rocket and chervil had their own peppery-sweetness. A minor complaint was that the fishy strip adjacent had not been sufficiently deboned.

Plat Principal 1: d’eau de source; l’omble-chevalier juste raidi à la carotte & la badiane; côte & feuilles de kailan, lait de noisette. Flash-fried freshwater char, coated in carrot and star anise, was served atop kalian, with girolles in hazelnut milk and encircled by mustard and garlic flowers. The fish had nice firmness and fine flake; the liquorice-like badiane and carrot went well with its mild richness and gentle caramelisation. Kailan or Chinese broccoli had mellow, near-sweet leaves whilst the mushrooms and creamy hazelnut froth were a natural combination.

Plat Principal 2: chez nous, on l’appelle l’oreille; la pièce de Boeuf Aubrac - pure race - poêlée, une pomme de terre farcie, du jus aux truffes de Comprégnac. A (presumably) tenderloin cut of Aubrac beef, briefly pan-fried, had been butterflied to reveal a beautiful, rosy cerise centre. Sprinkled with fleur de sel, the filet skirted a dark, mottled mere of Comprégnac truffle jus as did some haricots verts and another roulé de pomme de terre, this time lined with the very thin brisket of beef. Once more, the latter is was very tasty and satisfying, its meaty middle having almost melted. The truffle sauce was earthy and just a little sweet whilst the greens, besides being a pretty touch, tendered crunch. The steak, whose cross-slicing left it resembling a pair of ears, was especially tender and had a certain charred-ness to its savour.

Dessert 1: sur une interprétation du coulant, originel de 81; le biscuit tiède de chocolat au riz coulant; riz grillé, crème glacée au thé vert Matcha. Dinner’s coulant came inspired by Japan. The chocolate fondant, filled with milky rice cream, sat inset in a rectangular pancake of grilled rice and set with a scoop of green tea ice cream. Once more, the execution was impeccable with the soft shell holding smoothly flowing contents. The herbally bitter matcha had a soothing effect on the richness of the rest whilst the orange sugar added a trace of sweet fruitiness. The rice ‘fritter’ was a delicious touch with its crisp crust encasing grains of creamy rice.

Dessert 2: comme là-bas, c’est le temps; qui se mêlent de fruits sec, de canelle, d’anis, de semoule, de miel…

Dessert 3: à grignoter, une gaufrette de pomme de terre; crème à la pomme de terre, pignon & safran. Multiple leaves of potato had been baked together into a single, coarse undulating layer; two of these brittle wafers sandwiched potato mousse spiked with pine nuts and saffron. This unconventional millefeuille had unexpected texture (given the firmer pastry) and a flavour more savoury than sweet; well-measured saffron added honey aroma.

Mignardises: canailleries; billes chocolatées (chocolat noir réglisse; chocolat blanc sureau), billes glacées (fruits prunes rose; fruit abricots gingembre); canard… crunch.

We drank a 1995 Meursault ‘les Rougeots’, JF Coche-Dury and 1997 Hermitage, JL Chave alongside the meal.

The ambience was once more superb and delightful. Dinner began with a beautiful lightshow of blended blue and rosy hues as the sun set and ended with the starry-lit stillness of an Aubrac night. The crowd was a little dressier this time and more international too with foreign voices oft overheard. The welcome we received was very warm and we were able to speak at a little length with Véronique Bras, who was even sweeter and friendlier than before. Furthermore, our young serveuse’s knowledge of what she was serving was also rather outstanding.

What was especially noticeable about these plates was the effortless way in which they followed each other and again their aesthetic strength. Each was of an excellent standard – easy to eat, full of flavour and well-constructed. The lotte juste raidie, gargouillou and jeune navet were perhaps the tastiest of the selection whilst desserts were better on the whole than at lunch with this Oriental coulant decidedly more pleasing than the Caribbean one prior. In spite of all this though, there was one course that did not do justice to the others: the bonne tomate dite steack. The tomato itself was simply dull and lifeless; this was without doubt the worst dish of the day and the only stain in two otherwise spotlessly executed meals.

It seems as if a comparison between the regular and vegetable menus is inevitable and necessary. Personally, even if Bras maybe best known for his vegetables, it was his meat preparations that remain most memorable – along with the gargouillou. The chef himself has said, ‘it hurts me when people say I am a cook of plants’, labelling that image a ‘caricature; it’s only part of what we do’. Nonetheless, the more legume-orientated recipes were still very satisfying and Bras’ ability to raise these (mostly) common greens to such a level was worthy of note.

On a larger scale, some of the strongest elements that determined Bras’ style during the first carte were of course still evident. There was the effective, colourful presentation that caught the eye with its lush greens and welcoming yellows so evocative of spring and the countryside outside. The same influence of memoria gustative that speaks so sympathetically to the modern Spanish chefs and Bras’ use of his surroundings as his muse were seen reiterated in the menu’s mainstays – coques-mouillettes, gargouillou and biscuit tiède de chocolat – whilst reinforced by the immediately local Aubrac boeuf and very personal monkfish creation. However, both of these themes have already been addressed.

What was new now, which was certainly not felt as keenly before, was the prevalence of foreign products. This whole meal was marbled with hints of the Far East, including such exotic smatterings as rau răm, poivron doux sweet-banana, badiane, kalian and thé vert Matcha. Even though Bras boasts that ‘Aubrac runs in our blood. We were born on the plateau, we spent our happy childhoods here, now we work here. [it] provides us with our inspiration, our reason for living,’ he also readily admits that ‘if we ate only what comes from the Aubrac, we’d have nothing but potatoes, pork and cabbage’. The chef has travelled the world – maybe lately increasing so – but wherever he has been, he has been reminded of his own home: ‘the stone walls of puech brûlat [recall] the architecture of the Andes. The streaks of light across the paddy fields in Indonesia bring back memories of the rows of mown hay in our meadows. In Afghanistan, chiryakh [or in the East, yuba] I liken to our own milk skin. The bentô-ya, from the land of the rising sun, fulfils the same function as our own picnic baskets.’ Bearing this in mind, it becomes easier to understand the unexpected inclusion of these ingredients.

After serious contemplation, I would go as far as to say that none of the dishes today wowed me. Probably not even the gargouillou if judged on deliciousness alone (although it was immensely remarkable, unforgettable and in no way disappointing). Although, on the other hand, all the cooking proved almost absolutely flawless and, most importantly, tasty.

Yet as I have said before, the Bras experience extends beyond what is upon the plate. There is personality and a sense of place. The cuisine, its concepts, the courses, everything down to the very design of the restaurant is a reflection of Michel Bras.

It was as if whilst eating here, I was sure of exactly where I was and I knew that I could not be enjoying this cuisine anywhere else in the world…and that did wow me.

Food Snob

foodsnob@hotmail.co.uk

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  • 2 years later...

We stayed an ate at Bras on late September 2012 and I can hardly believe that what it is supposed to be a three Michelin starred restaurant showed such lack of care and professionalism in its service. I fully coincide with Dave Hatfield review made just two posts before mine.

The sommelier, while visible attending the rest of the guests through the entire meal, only approached us at the beginning of the menu and simply dissapeared and ignored our table for the rest of the meal. The 'cold' service was really a succession of unfortunate mistakes: glasses remained unfulfilled for several minutes (on occasions for five or more minutes), the serviettes and knives though dirty remained unchanged for the entire meal (although they told you that the knive will remain unchanged, in order to keep some kind of Laguiole tradition, in one occasion I left the really dirty knive on the plate in order to be changed and the waitress simply took it and left it again on my side) and finally we repeatedly felt that our table was being neglected. The staff seems too young and too unexperienced.

No effort was also made to translate the ingredients of the plates on spanish or english language. When we asked for a translation, the waiters only repeated for only one more time and on french language the name of the plate and just dissapeared. And the 'missing' sommelier is Argentinian, but as I said before he showed a great determination to just ignore us along the entire dinner (we still do not know why he adopted such attitude).

My wife left half course and also, as me, two entire desserts and we still waiting some interest coming from the service or from the house about if something with our meal was going wrong or if something could be arranged. They simply removed the plates without any interest in knowing what was happening or why they remained partly or even completely untouched. In addition, the meal did not work well with me and I could not sleep for the entire night.

The food, while good it was not in any way memorable. I only found to be really three Michelin food, the Gargouillou and (maybe) the lamb. Lack of flavor on several dishes. Huge.., extreme disappointment with the desserts. Even the final ice creams were lacking flavor!

When we were finally leaving the restaurant, we approached the 'missing' sommelier and told him that the dinner did not meet our expectations. He showed a great indifference towards our opinion, as if our disappointment had really no interest for him or for the house.

Regretably, almost two months after the visit I can hardly believe what we experienced at Bras. It is just unbelievable!. We have eaten in so many three Michelin stars restaurants to know that no remote comparision (exceptuating the prices) can be established between any of them (Arzak, Sant Pau, the Fat Duck, el Bulli, etc.) and Bras.

We took the long tasting menu, called Balade, that cost 191 per person without wine.

Edited by Ferran Molto (log)
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