The contrasts that constitute the experience of coming to the Grenouillère are evident in the design. Gauthier partially kept the traditional building with its hatched roof, fireplace, and the cosy feeling of an old farmhouse. On the other side of the property, he built a radically modernist set of huts, and the restaurant itself, housed in a curious tippy-like building. Here, the design is just as bare and rough as the cooking. The fireplace, the lights, chairs, and tables all are as bare as possible.
Gauthier’s cuisine really can be described as pure, rough and raw. He calls it a “cuisine brute”, and indeed, that is just what it is. The dishes are mostly very simple, featuring no more than three or four ingredients. They are mostly presented on the edge of the plates rather than on the centre, and the flavour combinations can be provocative. The results can be impressive, but can equally be a bit too much for some diners.
A first course combines green asparagus, raw monkfish and vinaigrette of monkfish liver. This dish embodies Gauthier’s style of cuisine. Most of the elements are raw, and the flavours are beautiful, harmonious, but completely unique. This is no ordinary starter; this is food that really stands out.
Equally good is dish of morels with turnips. Juicy, richly flavoured morels are simply served with slivers of marinated turnips, and a light sauce. The result is a dish that combines the crunch and freshness of the turnip with the rich, earthy morel. The accompanying jus brings it all together and tames the raw turnip, over which it is poured. Again, this is food that is bare, unadorned, and yet remarkably compelling.
A herbal dessert, featuring a sugar-ball which encloses various garden herbs could be a remarkable dish. The combination of the herbs’ freshness, bitterness and acidity works remarkably well with the sweetness. The only issue here is that the sugar-ball is slightly too thick to make it appear as effortless and light as the other dishes.
Alexandre Gauthier’s cuisine is one of the most idiosyncratic in Europe at the moment. In a little hamlet in northern France he cooks food that no one else has copied yet. Certainly, the hipster-foodies have hyped him, but there is more substance here than you might initially think. The cuisine is one that will not please everyone, but when you get dishes such as the morels or the monkfish with asparagus, you see where people come from when they praise him.
A word that should be added is that the whole experience here is particularly captivating. The rooms, the service, a very good wine list, the design, and food all make it a place with unprecedented coherence. A bit like Kobe Desramaults’ In de Wulf, this is a place that should be experienced with a stay in one of the rooms, as you will rarely find a restaurant cum hotel that are so well-matched in their approach.
La Grenouillère is a restaurant that constantly walks the fine line of overdoing it. It is a place that does its very own thing, without making any concessions. Not every dish in a menu here is stunning, but the sheer energy of the place make it one of the few restaurants in Europe that can truly claim to cook what the French call a cuisine d’auteur. Thus, the open-minded and curious should make it their goal to visit Gauthier’s small creative enclave in a country that modernists have written-off long ago.