If you are looking for a Sunday visit outside of Paris, Château de Compiègne is a little known destination. Favorite hunting estate of Louis XV th and Louis XVI th, then of the court of Napoleon I and III, it holds beautiful apartments which are being progressively refurbished. At the moment, an exhibition of large vases and Sèvres plates is the occasion to rediscover fabulous china in the Imperial apartments. And to reward you for the very special cultural effort, an outstanding restaurant “A la Bonne Idée” awaits you in Saint Jean-aux-Bois, fifteen minutes away. There, the red mullet on langoustine chips and green sherbet with parsley, coriander verbena and mint will remain forever in our mind… The succession of six plates was light and entertaining and we had fun discovering new flavors from the woods.
The chef Sébastien Tantot, who was born in Coye la Foret, thirty miles away, wants us to travel very far while tasting his unique flavors and this is exactly what we felt like on a rainy Sunday lunch near Compiègne. Two menus (at 110€ and 195€) offer an incredible variety of crispy vegetable and fruit mixed with fish (red mullet, giant Danish scallops and pike at the moment), sherbet of the forest with a taste of earth, served on lichen, and fascinating flavors which are sometimes difficult to track but never uninteresting. Inspired by the nearby forest where the 1918 Armistice was signed in a train car in Rethondes, the more expensive menu also offers paté, deer and even caviar. Most products come from very close except for fish.
At first we laughed a lot when the young waiter welcomed us (twice) with “Bonjour Madame, Monsieur” (we were two ladies) and I wondered which one of us looked more like a man? But it was part of the naiveté and charm of the place which is decorated in a simple way with beams and a confortable fireplace. Lunch was totally delicious and the refinement of Malicorne white plates and very fine glasses, an extra luxury. There were two things I disliked: the uniforms of the waiters and waitresses which are really horrible (old fashioned red and beige), and the disgusting vegan cheese made with coconut milk in the nearby La Croix Saint Ouen. The kindness of the staff and the delicious wines made up for it.
In the Château de Compiègne, the exhibition “Fabulous porcelains” was conceived by Rodolphe Rapetti to unearth the treasures kept in the reserves. There are multiple Imperial vases and statues in the ballroom but unfortunately, the way they are set together is so poor that one has difficulties seeing them properly. There are no cartels in the apartments where you literally have to discover a tea set in the dark or an inkwell in blue Sèvres far away. The vases grouped together like a forest of porcelain are difficult to study. But if you treat this as a detective visit, you will enjoy it immensely. The Neo-classical architecture is elegant and the space gives you a sense of forgotten luxury.
One can wander around the apartments and discover here and there some Sèvres chamber pots, plates or vases in the Empress Marie Louise’s bedroom. A dining room table is set with the wonderful Sèvres “biscuit” hunting scenes which are also kept in Chantilly. But the disappointment comes from the ballroom where the sumptuous vases look like they belong to a flea market. Objects of all sizes are mixed and piled on a central podium. And it is hard to look at them from close up. If the budget did not allow for individual modern glass show cases why not improvise with old ones?
The double bill makes for a perfect Sunday visit. Compiègne is one hour from Paris on the A1 motorway. Auberge de la Bonne Idée needs to be booked ahead. There are special Christmas and New Year’s Eve menus. The exhibition of porcelains at the château is until September 18, 2023.
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