It is a challenge finding a ‘perfect’ restaurant when you are barging along the canals. For me, this means a charming, pretty restaurant with a pleasant ambience and décor, with good quality, flavoursome, well-presented food, with a focus on the region; a small, quality wine list with a variety of price ranges; if you are lucky, a good sommelier who has selected the wines, or a waiter with some good knowledge of their local wine; and best of all, a restaurant patronised by local French people and away from the everyday tourists. This ‘perfect’ restaurant also needs to be within walking or taxi distance of our mooring.
So, when you often do not know where and when you will be mooring, it can prove to be quite difficult. With John’s ‘special’ birthday a few days away, we do have a town and arrival date organised, but to our great are surprise, when we call to make a reservation, it is already booked out. This caused significant disappointment to our guest, John’s sister Maggie, and there was a slight ‘tension’ in the air about the success of this quest.
We enlisted the help of the Office de Tourisme in Tonnere and they suggested the top of the Trip Advisor list, Hôtel de l’Est in Saint-Florentin in the Department of the Yonne. A small, family owned hotel restaurant with two stars and a pretty outside flowered entrance and some attractive food photos of their dishes. Fingers crossed! It is perched high up in the heart of the town and in 35°C heat, the decision was easily made and a taxi was ordered.
Before we left we had in afternoon tea of the most beautifully made strawberry and crème patissière ‘sponge’ cake with vanilla icing and our favourite Château de Boursault 2002 Millésime champagne, followed by a rest, showers and hair, and just before leaving one of our new purchases from Chablis, a Premier Cru Domaine Long-Depaquit Les Lys 2013. Superb, an excellent Chablis, fruity, crisp, flinty, fresh pure flavour and long lasting on the palate.
Full of anticipation we head off in the taxi, driven by the Capitaine from the Port Capitannerie, Vincent. Such a lovely gesture on his part and arranged by the Office de Tourisme in St Florentin.
The outside of Hôtel de l’Est looks lovely with white painted brickwork, colourful flower pots and quite a grand entrance door. It is built in a former, eighteenth century, coaching inn. The hotel consists of 19 rooms, has a large dining room.
We are warmly welcomed and ushered into the restaurant, where chef, Jany Warburton, is waiting to greet us as well; we are seated in a quiet, alcove corner of the restaurant, which actually seats a lot of people. Tonight, Saturday, there are ten or so tables booked, a few couples and three larger groups of 4 and 6; all local French, one group arrived with their large dog which quietly nestled under their table for the night!
We learn the restaurant has been awarded many honours and focuses on traditional, regional, specialities of Burgundian cuisine, with dishes such as ‘oeufs meurette’, eggs poached in a red wine sauce, duck fillet with cider ‘of the forest’, the famous Beef Bourguignon, depending on the seasons.
All dishes are made from local, fresh, quality produce, selected by the chef himself; the wine list has been chosen to accompany the dishes perfectly.
Chablis sole fillet or the fillet of Charolais beef with morels.
There were various menu choices and, of course, an a la carte menu, we decided on Le Marché du Chef, with an excellent selection of dishes and at 39.90 euro for entrée, main course, cheese and dessert was excellent value.
From the extensive and good selection of the ten-page wine list, John selected a Chablis Premier Cru Grand Regnard 2014, 50 euros, for our fish entrées and a Santenay Premier Cru Verglesses 2011, 56 euros, for the main and cheese courses.
We order our dinner and are soon presented with baguettes and the ‘mise en bouche’, something even the smallest French restaurants do so well. Tonight ours is a flavoursome, creamy avocado mousse and a small slice of homemade gravlax topped with a delicate vinaigrette and tiny tomato. For my entrée I ordered the filet de sole a la chablisienne, followed by the main course of tournedos aux morilles.
The flavoursome sole fillets were sweet flavoured and perfectly cooked, served in a Chablis sauce with superb flavour and a couple of green steamed asparagus and a small langoustine, or cigalas, as garnish. Tournedos aux morilles for my main course was perfectly medium rare and the morilles sauce with crème fraîche, superb; there were Puy lentils served on the side, a halved tomato, cooked like my mother used to do with breadcrumbs and finely minced garlic and herbs, a tiny broccoli floret, green beans and potato dauphinoise.
We were all delighted our dinner, so far, which was very pleasing and a great relief for Maggie, given the special occasion!
The assiette de fromages et sa salade followed with some époisse, sou… and chaorce and salad or a soft curd cheese with ground peppercorn, finely chopped chives and eschallots to be added as desired. That was most unusual and although I enjoyed it, I would not order it again!
The choice for dessert was either various glaces or a poached poivre in white wine with home-made vanilla ice cream, red currants, strawberries, raspberries and melon, truly superb with the pear poached to perfection. I loved the presentation of the pear, sliced and kept in the pear shape along the plate.
Maggie ordered café noir; we were all fine and very well satisfied with the dinner which exceeded all our expectations.
We had anticipated a longish walk home down the hill to the barge, but no! Our lovely, friendly maître de, the daughter of the chef, drove us back to the barge in her car, and another young man in a second car.
Many thank yous and a tip as a gift was given which she said she would give to her children.
7 et 9 rue du Faubourg St Martin, 89600 Saint Florentin, Burgundy, France