Madonna in Rose Garden, Martin Schongauer, 1473.
LONDON - The pursuit of pleasure, and a splash of business, led me to a couple of pre-Christmas weekends in Alsace and Paris, a recipe for true bliss that comes highly recommended. Colmar combines food, wine and art to a delicious degree and, during December, it also has its highly picturesque Christmas markets that take one back centuries. The town of Martin Schongauer oozes atmosphere – you almost feel this extraordinary 15th-century engraver and artist will emerge from his house and give you a lecture on his painting and engraving techniques. I hung around in hope, still glowing from the experience of seeing again his radiant painting of the Madonna in the Rose Garden, an immensely moving, and joyous, work that uplifts all who gaze at it.
Recovery came in the form of oysters and Zind Humbrecht’s tempting Terroir Riesling at the lovely little Cave L’Un des Sens, leaving room for a stunning dinner at L’Atelier du Peintre in (guess what!) the rue Schongauer. This is one of those (rare) perfectly pitched small restaurants, more than deserving of its one Michelin star, where everything moves along at the right pace and each dish is enchanting. We had coquilles St. Jacques with more Zind Humbrecht and hare with a marvellous Cornas from Gérard, a Northern Rhône that has to be chosen carefully to hit the spot. This did.
And so to Paris, happily ensconced on the Left Bank which I much prefer to the Right – but I adore both banks in Bordeaux! This time, my only excursion to the Right Bank was to Taillevent, which is reason enough for any sane person. Owned by the Gardinier family (which also has Les Crayères in Reims and Château Phélan Ségur), Taillevent retains the elegant excellence it always had under the late, great owner, Jean-Claude Vrinat, but now the food has gone into orbit. We started with a delicate boudin de homard, then came more coquilles St. Jacques and, surprise, surprise, a magnificent Tourte de Lièvre – it is the season for hare, after all. We drank Taillevent’s seductive Champagne, Meursault from Roulot, Chassagne Montrachet from Niellon and Phélan Ségur 2000. And the service purrs…
As it does at The Waterside Inn by the Thames in England, where we were treated to a heavenly dinner that included…an extraordinary concoction of warm oysters with lobster mousse, black truffle and oscietra caviar and then mallard and partridge. We drank Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne 1990, Bienvenues Bâtard Montrachet 2002 from Leflaive and the best bottle of Latour 1975 I have ever encountered. And the service runs on oiled wheels.
What do both these dream restaurants have in common, apart from harbouring superb cooks in the kitchen? The two best maîtres d’hôtel in the business, Jean-Marie Ancher at Taillevent and Diego Masciaga at The Waterside. I wish they could come and run my home.
So, I have given you my Sotheby’s Diet to prepare for the holidays. Have a lovely time and don’t blame me for any excess!