Rue Briand Stresemann, 01710 Thoiry, France
Menu Choice 7/10
Value for money 8/10
Les Cepages is located in the small village of Thoiry about 15 minutes’ drive from Geneva at the foot of the Jura mountains. It holds 1 Michelin Star and has an extensive wine cellar with over 1200 different wines, many of which are personally sourced by the chef (Jean-Pierre Delesderrier) from small independent producers.
The building dates from 1830, however the décor inside is modern and inoffensive, if slightly generic. There is a large terrace out back and for once the weather was with me so I got to enjoy it! The terrace is slightly overlooked by the neighboring apartment block, but I didn’t actually see anyone so this wasn’t a problem.
Les Cepages has an al la carte option, but the “menu de saison” is by far this more popular option. With this you get an amuse bouche, followed by your choice of between 2 and 6 main courses rounded off with dessert (and cheese if you are feeling very hungry!). The reason this is so popular? In addition to the food, you can choose to enjoy a glass of wine with each main and the dessert which has been specially selected by the chef and his sommelier wife to match the dishes!
Starting at 59€ for 2 main courses (82€ with wine) and rising to a hefty 190€ for all 6 plates together with wine (plus another 20€ if you want cheese) this is not a cheap night out, but the prices are not unreasonable when you consider the potential cost of a similar experience just over the border in Geneva.
The amuse bouche, a tartare of salmon and swordfish, was a delicate and light start to the meal. From the selection of mains the Asian marinated tuna with coeur de boeuf tomatoes was delicious. The lightly seared tuna crusted with sesame seeds was delicate yet full of flavour and the intense, salty tomato sorbet a revelation. The beef tartare, studded with lightly toasted hazelnuts and enveloped with a mustardy sauce, was deep and rich with the just cooked slice of fois gras on top adding further, almost unnecessary but very much enjoyed, richness and flavour. Red mullet fillets were well cooked and came with powerful red shallot and tarragon sauce.
It was not all quite perfect though. The duckling with peach seemed rather overcooked, there was no trace of pink left in the meat and it was tough to eat. Additionally, while the lobster of the lobster tart was soft and sweet, the small puff pastry square it sat upon felt like a miss-step. It was light, crisp and flaky but didn’t really seem an appropriate vehicle for the lobster and was it very difficult to actually eat the two together. Finally, both the tartare and the red mullet were accompanied by shoestring potatoes which were tasty but which were completely cold within in minute out on the terrace.
We didn’t try the cheese chariot on this occasion, but watching another table partake I have to say that the selection of cheeses on offer looked impressive and the portions generous! Dessert for us was a selection of five different little delicacies; a rich chocolate mousse, a just set strawberry panacotta, a creamy grilled blackberry and fig sabayon, a fruit crumble and a cherry sorbet on top of peach pieces in liquor. Apart from the peach in liquor, which just didn’t work for me, I thought these were all lovely.
The service throughout was largely okay. The water was a long time arriving initially and later on in the evening it was a little difficult to catch the attention of passing waiters, but these were fairly minor issues. Other than that service was friendly rather than formal giving a nice relaxed atmosphere to the evening. The timing of each course was well paced; I felt neither rushed not in fear of fainting from hunger between courses.
The accompanying wines arrived either just before or after the service of each course and their selection was explained to us. I have to be honest and say that my French is not quite up to scratch so some of the detail was lost on me but I could get the gist of the reasoning for most of the pairings.
Although there were some small issues, particularly with the duckling, overall I was impressed with my visit to Les Cepages. The food is classical rather than innovative, but the majority of what was presented to us was executed to a very high standard and thoroughly enjoyed. Having the option of the wine pairings is a great idea and a lovely way to explore the extensive wine collection. It also works out quite reasonable compared to buying a bottle or individual glasses. The overall cost and location means this isn’t somewhere to visit every week (as much as I would love to!), but I will keep it in mind for any future special occasions or treats.