An interesting contemporary take on the French bistro with great service and champagne.
A mini-break in the Champagne region. Hotels were booked up in Eparnay so here we are in Reims. A quick survey of Tripadvisor a few days in advance had most of the top-ranked restaurants booked out. It’s possibly because Tuesday is a holiday, Armistice Day, and people are taking off Monday and doing the ‘pont’ (bridge).
Tripadvisor in France partners with the Fork, and it seems a pretty canny business, to be able to tell me on any given night which restaurant will take my reservation. I worry about them shutting out the restaurants that don’t work with them, but in general, I have terrible trouble trying to make reservations in France. Places are always booked up, and I still need to train myself to try to organise at least a week in advance…
In any case, Au Cul de Poule was free to take our Saturday reservation and I was amused by the name. I didn’t look it up to find that the bottom or tail end of a hen is somehow the name for a mixing bowl. We had an interesting walk through Reims, about 25 minutes from the train station, to find ‘At the mixing bowl’. I much preferred our own previous translation: Chicken Butt.
The restaurant is bright yet cosy, with a theme of almost electric blue. The marvelous thing right off is they have a huge selection of champagne from the region, big names and small names. I was completely lost but asked for a suggestion for a cheaper one, somewhere around 50 euros, and the very efficient waitress suggested this one for 43 euros. It was dry as a champagne should be, and we loved it.
We opted for the three course formula which at 30 euros is really, truly a great deal. The menu is a twist on the bistro: familiar items but with a twist. We found each dish not too heavy and quite interesting. My started was a buttery stew of escargot and mushrooms; S’s was a clam risotto which he liked a lot.
His main was ‘dos de lieu’ which I think is hake, in a foie gras sauce. A nice texture, but he felt it was a little bland. It was served with a serving of chopped endives, pleasantly sweet. I adored my main: ‘poitrine de cochon’ sounded to me like the chest of pork… but is actually pork belly, cooked for 24 hours. With an absolutely delicious mash and thick sauce, it was dee-licious.
Desserts were impressive. Mine was a mille-feuille, which they called instead 500 feuille. Freshly baked pastry with a very light pistachio cream, raspberries and berry (or plum?) sorbet. Visually appealing, light and not too sweet.
S’s dessert, something like Paris-Ile de Ré, was also a pastry filled with crème anglaise, salted caramel ice cream. Oh and more cream.
Oh, and I do need to comment on the service, exceptionally efficient, and also friendly and welcoming. Tip top.
All in all, a very pleasant meal. Cheers to champagne!