After jostling with the crowds in the Louvre (themajority of whom wanted to take photographs of their wives, husbands, lovers orfriends right in front of the art they had supposedly come to see) and to alesser extent the Musée d’Orsay, I fled the bustle of Paris for thecountryside at Ville d’Avray, near Versailles. So picturesqueis the forested hamlet of Les Etangs de Corot that it has been the subject ofmany a landscape painting. The best known of these are by Jean-BaptiseCamille Corot, the 19th-century artist of the Barbizon School,whose parents had a house near the water, where he often gathered with his artist friends.
Today, Les Etangs de Corot is a heritage site and, ifthe 21st-century landscape is compared with the 19th-centurycanvas renditions, little seems to have changed. Hidden between the treesstands a hotel – a cluster of old timbered buildings roofed with thatch, somefacing the lake (first picture), others further back, set between fountains and ramblingroses. Bucolic and charming, the hotel is the work of Alice andJérôme Tourbier, who cut their teeth on the development of Les Sources deCaudalie hotel on the Château Smith Haut Lafitte estate in Bordeaux.
Into this idyll stepped 29-year-old Rémi Chambard,arriving late last year to take over as head chef of the restaurant Le Corot (third picture), aswell as overseeing the Café des Artistes and the outdoor hotspot LesPaillotes. Having toiled in the great and good of France’s kitchens,including the Grand Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, he worked his way up the culinaryhierarchy, and his last position was as sous chef of Les Sources de Caudaliebefore he took this, his first chef’s role.
Chambard is both talented and passionate. His menusbrim with zesty exuberance, and even the way he moves indicates that he is a manon a mission. His dishes are confident, and while the selection may belimited, the presentation and taste hit exactly the right notes, straight fromthe amuse-bouche of fresh pea soup topped with a goat’s cheesefroth. I chose his signature dish: smoked salmon and caviar ofAquitaine (second picture), which arrived as moist cubes of salmon supporting quails’egg yolks and caviar. The flavours were sensational and intense(compliments that do not come easily – me being half Polish and dubious of theFrench ability to make either caviar or vodka). Next up was a fillet of JohnDory, pan fried, crisp and partnered with earthy artichokes andcreamy potatoes. It was excellent, as was the LarredyaJurançon Sec that the sommelier paired it with.
With the warm night breeze from the flower-filledgarden coming in through the open doors, large reproductions of Corot paintings hanging around us on the walls, and food and wine of such magnificence, I reallyunderstood how Les Etangs de Corot inspired those 19th-centuryartists. Its charm most definitely remains for the 21st-centuryvisitor.