Assiette Champenoise – Arnaud Lallement

At the gates of Reims, in the heart of Champagne, we found the L’Assiette Champenoise, a classic French hotel-restaurant, open for more than 40 years, nowadays in the hands of the second generation of the Lallement family.

Arnaud Lallement early traced his future, without any family pressures, from an early age he knew he would become a cook, growing up inside all the magic of a kitchen. He studied, graduated and before joining his fathers brigade, he made sure to learn with some of the main names of the French cuisine of that time, Roger Vergé, Michel Guérard and Alain Chapel – no big deal!

The stars kept coming since 2001 when he fully assumed the leadership of the restaurant, up to 2014, the year he got the so desired third star of the red guide. Arnauld, on his hand, doesn’t wear the title of star-chef at all, it’s easier to find him in the kitchen or in the middle of a champagne vineyard, than in books, tv or magazines. He feels the best in his kitchen, with his clients, and that’s what you expect from a starred chef…

But on with our experience, after being surprised by the modern decoration and the quality of the bedrooms (see here), it was the time to be surprised by the restaurant, at the arrival we are surprised by an entire service brigade, accompanying us to our table, like in a state ceremony, but always with sympathy, smiles and kindness, that many times is a miss in the classic French service.

Immaculate tables, noble materials, a room full of details and a classic Baccarat chandelier, contrasting with the more modern details of the decoration.

After installed, the show starts right away, first with the champagne, Caillez-Lemaire Caillez Reflets Brut – elegant and well-balanced to start the tasting. And secondly, for a series of small snacks arriving at the table.

Crunchy leaves, small tartlets, falafels, beetroot mousse, among others. All very well accomplished, showcasing the technical accuracy and quality of the produce, however, not surprising!

But the surprise was soon to arrive, artisanal bread, prepared with beer and semi-salted Finistere butter, from Brittany. So good, I couldn’t stop eating it along with the entire meal.

The tradition – Potée Champenoise
The potée champenoise is for this region, what the “cozido” is for us Portuguese, a nice stew of pork meats, potato and vegetables. Here Arnauld opens the meal with a homage to his homeland, in a super high standard dish. Pork, cabbage and carrot as the rules dictate, a flawless broth and full of flavour, transformed into an immaculate consomé, a crunch detail. All perfect and comforting, with the pickle and mustard notes bringing a vibrant lightness to the dish. A great start!

Scallops and endives 
These days, scallops are almost mandatory in every restaurant, unfortunately with the majority of them lacking quality! Not the case here though, big, fresh and perfectly cooked, accompanied by the earthy notes of the roasted endives with a crust of spices and paprika tiles. The connecting elements of the dish were a nice scallop mousse and an elegant champagne white wine sauce.  A dish of contrasts, flavour and textures, where France seems to have drunk a bit of inspiration from Morocco.

Harmonizing was a Julien Chopin Blanc de Blancs 2012 Premier Cru Les Originelles, with classic aromatic notes of chardonnay champagne, nice acidity, and a great combination with the notes of the dish.

Benoît Deloffre Beetroot, seaweed and vermouth
When the name of the farmer gets the spotlight in the name of the dish, we know we are before a special product, and so it was! Balance, fat (given by an excellent lardo di colonnata and seaweed butter), sea and earth notes in a perfect marriage, where the product shines.

On the glass, an old acquaintance of ours, the Legras Rosé, with a major structure and complexity of flavours and aromas that went very well with this “earth” dish.

Shrimp and Mushrooms
A small dish once again matching sea and earth notes, with perfectly cooked shrimp, crunchy heads and small mushrooms, all paired with a red wine sauce and freshened by the lime zest. Good, but a few points below the previous dishes.

Accompanying was a Devaux 2008, an excellent millésimé of a great year in the region, still very young, but powerful, balanced and elegant. It will have a great future!

Blue Lobster, a tribute to my father
As a good homage, the lobster dish was the highest moment of dinner, perfect meat and unforgettable sauce! There’s not much more to say, superb!

On the glass there was a Janisson Blanc de Noir Grand Cru, a complex 100% pinot noir, full of aroma richness, from red fruits to citrus. A beautiful champagne!

Squab Pithivier, spinach caillette and pidgeon jus

Technique, technique, technique! Everything was perfect on this classic French cuisine dish, a dreamlike puff pastry, expected given the work the chef did alongside the master Michel Guérard, meat on point, high-quality foie gras, delicate sauce and all the elements in harmony. Needless to say that by this time my 10th slice of bread was soaking the sauce out of the dish…

To step aside from the champagnes, but remain in the region, we got a red, the Ormes Bérêche et Fils Coteaux Champenois Les Montées 2015, a pinot from champagne, that could easily be a beautiful wine from Burgundy, still very young, but with huge potential and giving much pleasure at the table already.

Cheese selection by Philippe Olivier
A huge cheese selection carefully picked up by Philippe Olivier, for a moment of pure and simple pleasure. And more bread of course…

The dessert was Passion fruit and pistachio that between the well-rehearsed parade of the team and the desire to eat ended up not being photographed… A combination of passion fruit textures, sablé breton, dark meringue and different textures of pistachio. A proposal a bit below the previous dishes, yet, still with a great combo of texture and flavour, with highlight to the passion fruit ice cream.

petit fours

As if we hadn’t eaten enough already, the petit fours arrive at the table, here at the highest level and in great quantity – yes, what you see in the photo was for two – delicious cannelés, marshmallows, bonbons, lemon tart, pâte de fruit and florentines. I just wanted to eat everything…

Harmonizing, as mandatory, was a Ratafia from Champagne, a liquor produced in the region. A great ending!

The service? There aren’t many words to describe it, a very well-rehearsed theatre, with all details meticulously being taken care of. From the time between dishes, the water and wine refills, without forgetting a very important detail, the bread service… Always attentive to my needs!

Final remarks
The L’Assiette Champenoise is nowadays the only three stars of the Champagne region, and one of the greatest visiting cards of the region. For its fantastic hotel, and obviously for the cuisine. Arnaud Lallement has the same target of the great French cuisine masters, excellent product, lots of technique, and of course, unforgettable sauces. This, allied with one of the best cellars in the world, Champagne wise, and the possibility of harmonizing the tasting menus with different champagnes, thus making the best of a trip around the region.
A chef that actually is in his kitchen, a great restaurant, great wines and beautiful service, that’s how you describe L’Assiette Champenoise.

Ps – To captivate the visit of the younger generation to gastronomic restaurants, the chef proposes his menu with harmonization at a special price for people under 35. A remarkable idea!

Assiete Champenoise
Menus from 105€ (Lunch)
40, Avenue Paul Vaillant-Couturier, Tinqueux – Reims
+33 (0) 3 26 84 64 64

Versão Portuguesa 

Photos: Flavors & Senses

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