Small sum­mits but big flavours – this east­ern re­gion is sure to please ev­ery gourmet, says So­phie Gard­ner-roberts

France - - Contnets -

En­joy big flavours in our guide to this moun­tain­ous re­gion of east­ern France.

1 Restau­rant Le Lac

Spread across the three dé­parte­ments of Doubs, Jura and Ain, the Jura Moun­tains make an idyl­lic green get­away with a strong gas­tro­nomic her­itage. Famed for its cheese, ab­sinthe and cured meats, the area can­not be fully dis­cov­ered with­out sam­pling its de­li­cious lo­cal pro­duce.

Why not en­joy the re­gion’s gas­tro­nomic de­lights while ad­mir­ing the view over one of the many lakes that dot the val­leys? Hô­tel Le Lac of­fers just that in its main restau­rant. The build­ing dates from the early 20th cen­tury when it was run as a fam­ily restau­rant. Dur­ing the war it was req­ui­si­tioned by Ger­man sol­diers, and af­ter­wards housed refugees.

En­ter­ing the grand Louis Xiv-in­spired din­ing room was like step­ping into the past. Although I was un­aware of the build­ing’s his­tory at the time, I felt a sense of awe while tak­ing in the large win­dows, draped cur­tains, chan­de­liers, white table­cloths and plush chairs.

The ex­cel­lent lunch be­gan with ‘ ravi­o­les’– a type of small ravi­oli, of­ten served in broth – with cray­fish, fol­lowed by fresh pol­lock served with a basil sauce ( pic­tured in­set). Hav­ing just vis­ited Fort Saint-an­toine, where Comté is aged, I could not refuse the cheese course. A huge se­lec­tion was brought on a wheeled ta­ble; I chose Comté, ob­vi­ously, Mor­bier and Bleu de Gex, three of the four cheese AOCS of the re­gion.

I ab­sorbed the beau­ti­ful views over Lac Saint-point while sneak­ing peeks at my fel­low din­ers; so­phis­ti­cated cou­ples en­joy­ing a week­end din­ner out, and groups of friends who were ob­vi­ously reg­u­lars, as they greeted staff by name.

Open daily (an­nual leave 12 Novem­ber to 8 De­cem­ber 2017). Three-course menu from €19. 65 Grande Rue, 25160 Mal­buis­son Tel: (Fr) 3 81 69 34 80 ho­

2 La Mainaz

You don’t have to go all the way to the French Alps to see Mont Blanc. In­stead, se­cure a ta­ble at Brasserie Le Panorama and pre­pare to be en­chanted by the un­fold­ing view, which takes in Lac Lé­man and the city of Geneva as well as France’s high­est peak in the dis­tance.

The brasserie is part of the Hô­tel la Mainaz and is lo­cated in the Fau­cille moun­tain pass near the bor­der with Switzer­land. On a clear day, like the one we en­joyed dur­ing our meal, you can watch as the set­ting sun catches the sum­mit of Mont Blanc and turns the snow a fiery or­ange and pink.

The food is as breath­tak­ing as the scenery. Although chef Mathieu Sa­gar­doytho works his magic in the gas­tro­nomic and high-end La Ta­ble de la Mainaz, the ho­tel’s main restau­rant, he also over­sees dishes served at the brasserie.

My fam­ily and I en­joyed a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence, en­hanced by the ser­vice from the owner and staff. I started with an ‘ oeuf Floren­tine’ ( pic­tured in­set) which was re­vis­ited in a way I had never seen be­fore: a tasty foam cov­ered the soft-boiled egg on toast, which was topped with spinach and

3 Au­berge de l’ab­baye

In the heart of the Bugey wine-pro­duc­ing coun­try, this Miche­lin-star restau­rant serves only fish and sea­sonal veg­eta­bles. Chef Ivan Lavaux chooses not to write a menu, pre­fer­ring to see what he finds in the mar­kets to en­sure his dishes use the fresh­est pro­duce, while som­me­lier Jérôme Bus­set finds the best wines to match.

We ar­rived dur­ing a busy lunch ser­vice, and yet Jérôme was im­me­di­ately by our side of­fer­ing a glass of the lo­cal Cer­don sparkling rosé as an aper­i­tif. As he poured our drinks, he an­nounced the day’s two-course lunch menu.

A beau­ti­fully pre­sented dish ar­rived: del­i­cate monk­fish placed atop wellsea­soned green veg­eta­bles and herbs, and served with a basil foam; it was matched with a re­fresh­ing chardon­nay. Dessert ( pic­tured in­set) was a feast for the senses: basil ice cream served with dried Comté cheese, and fin­ished with a de­li­cious ham ‘ mouil­lette’ – the equiv­a­lent of the English ‘sol­diers’ toast sticks.

My brother and I car­ried on the feast with a shared côte de co­chon, which was bar­be­cued with teriyaki sauce and was to die for. Though com­ing close to loos­en­ing our trousers, we dared not refuse dessert and en­joyed a sur­pris­ingly light cre­ation that re­sem­bled a gi­ant choco­late bis­cuit. With the win­dow open on to the val­ley, we saw Mont Blanc shin­ing like a bea­con as the sun dipped be­hind the moun­tain pass, but con­tin­ued to catch the snow on the far­away sum­mit.

Open Wed­nes­day evening to Sun­day lunchtime. Mains from €23. Route du Col de la Fau­cille, Le Creux de la Mainaz, 01170 Gex Tel: (Fr) 4 50 41 31 10 rasp­ber­ries, rasp­berry ‘tu­ile’ bis­cuit, pink praline, crushed gra­nola mix and, most im­pres­sively, a con­fit hibis­cus flower, which melted in the mouth. Cof­fee and tea were served with a se­lec­tion of bite-size sweet treats.

As ex­pected from a Miche­lin-starred es­tab­lish­ment, ser­vice was im­pec­ca­ble and flavours were ex­act. Lavaux’s cui­sine may be con­tem­po­rary, but it is a won­der­ful tribute to the area in which he grew up and to the whole­some food that it pro­duces.

Open Tues­day to Sun­day lunchtime. Two-course menu in­clud­ing a glass of wine and cof­fee from €38. 47 Place des An­ciens Com­bat­tants, 01500 Am­bronay Tel: (Fr) 4 74 46 42 54 aubergede­lab­baye-am­

ABOVE: The rolling land­scape of the Cer­don Val­ley in Pays de Bugey, in the south­ern part of the Jura Moun­tains area

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