International borders are open, flights are on sale, and European summer holidays are back on. Australians with itchy feet and empty stomachs are overdue a trip to the French countryside, where one of the country’s most-celebrated culinary families is now offering accommodation.
At first glance, Maison Troisgros might seem to be just another country retreat. Charming, to be sure, with its weathered stone frontage, its wisteria trellis and rolling gardens, but perhaps a little neglected? There is that thigh-high grass that flanks the orchard, and the trees that spring up directly from the sun-soaked stone terrace at the back of the house. This isn’t neglect you are looking at, however; it’s design. Here at the headquarters of the most celebrated culinary dynasty that France has ever produced, everything has been designed to immerse guests in the joys of the country, its seasons and its bounty.
The Troisgros family wants you to stop and smell the wisteria. To wander through the 17 hectares of gardens, pasture and forest that skirt the farmhouse, saying hello to a horse or two as you stroll past buttercup-studded paddocks. To inspect the orchard to see how the harvest is looking, and stroll the walkway around the pond, willow branches softly brushing your shoulders as you pass. All this, they believe, will give you a better appreciation for what’s on your plate when you finally sit down for your meal.
And make no mistake about it – as charming as the house is, you come here to eat. For the Troisgros clan are nothing less than legends of French gastronomy. France may have plenty of three Michelin star restaurants – 30 at last count – but no other restaurant has held onto three stars for a gobsmacking 53 years.
The first Troisgros restaurant was opened in 1930 by Jean-Baptiste and Marie Troisgros. It was their sons, Pierre and Jean, who first achieved three Michelin stars in 1968. They kept those three stars until Jean’s son Michel took over the operation in 1996. Michel is still active in the kitchen but has ceded the head chef role to his eldest son, Cesar. The Troisgros family moved from its long-time base in Roanne, near Lyon, to this lovely farmhouse in Ouches, southwest of Roanne, just three years ago.
It’s worth arriving early to spend some time drinking in the rustic surrounds, both outdoors and in. A series of spacious drawing rooms downstairs offers plenty of places to relax amid the ornate fireplaces and mid-century modern armchairs, velvet sofas, arched Norman winters and contemporary art.
We spend such a pleasant afternoon relaxing that we are almost late for dinner, which would be a big mistake. Before sitting down, we get a quick tour through the converted cowsheds that now house the extraordinary wine cellar – which makes the restaurant even more of a surprise.
The dining room is a clear glass box perched between two older buildings and carefully constructed around a stand of ancient oaks. Whichever direction you look, the trees and gardens are visible through the floor-to-ceiling glass.
The room itself has been designed as a Forest Without Leaves: slanted metal girders punctuate the space like metal trees, while copper-coloured insulation fabric draped from the roof beams resemble the canopy. The delicate lights suspended above each table are like autumn leaves lazily falling to the forest floor. It is utterly improbable and utterly enchanting.
If the setting is spectacular, the meal is even more so. The Troisgros family has always had a particular approach to food. The dishes are minimalist but nonetheless pack a punch thanks to bold flavour combinations and eye-catching plating.
The freshest local produce is teamed with exotic touches. Slivers of white asparagus are served not only with strawberry and rhubarb sauce but also a hint of Sichuan pepper. Classic French dishes like carrot salad receive a makeover, with tangles of crispy fried carrots given twin blasts of freshness and richness by being topped with piles of fresh herbs, shrimp and bottarga.
The Troisgros love affair with Japan is evident in dessert, a delicate dish made of rice ice cream, sake foam and dried cherry blossom – the latter supplied by a local farmer. It’s a brilliant end to a brilliant meal. The fact that it’s just a quick stroll to my room, with its linen-clad sleigh bed and its pop-art-inspired bathroom, is the cherry on top.
The visit doesn’t end there, though. In the morning we rise early for another stroll through the grounds and a repeat visit to our friends the horses, before heading downstairs for breakfast.
With the offer ranging from fresh-from-the-oven madeleines to the hearty pate en croute, it is impossible not to go back for seconds.
GET THERE With COVID-19 slowing down flight bookings early in 2022, there are plenty of sale prices to be found, starting at about $1200 per round trip to
Paris from Sydney. Maison Troigros is a 5-hour drive south of Paris, or a short internal flight to Roanne-Renaison airport just 7km away.
STAY THERE Rooms at Maison Troisgros start from €320 (AU$500) a night. A six-course lunch costs €120 ($AU190), while the 10-course degustation dinner is €320. See troisgros.com