In Compiègne, a culinary walk in the woods and exceptional porcelains

parisdiaArt, Restaurants & Hotels3 Comments

“Le vitrail”, the stained glass window, a tribute to the nearby Abbatiale of Saint Jean-aux-Bois at Auberge A la Bonne Idée

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 red mullet set on a fine chip of langoustines with lemon caviar, looks like a painting by Klimt

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.

The starter, Diaphane de Grenouille, a sort of very fine frog chip with herbs, is served on white lace plates from Malicorne

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.

The simple classical decor is a relief at l’Auberge de la Bonne Idée

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 of five plates from the “flowers and gold” service used in Compiègne under the first Empire, Sèvres 1808-1810

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?

Pair of Rimini vases conceived by Jules Diéterle sent to Compiègne in 1859 with Sèvres biscuit of hunters in the foreground

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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3 Comments on “In Compiègne, a culinary walk in the woods and exceptional porcelains”

  1. Laure, once again your diary has cheered up the start of a dreich day in ” Bonnie” Scotland although I have just read a very nice article on the Fife Arms at Ballater which our brilliant King and Queen have just visited- maybe worth a Diary visit !

    With very best wishes


  2. I love the idea of the letter to your best friends. You can add Cape Town to the list of all those who receive this delightful newsletter.
    Richard Risby suggested I join your mailing list. I hope to visit France next year and you are inspiring my visit.
    Best wishes, Juliet

  3. I’m going to spend the rest of the day imagining a very fine frog chip.
    An enchanting distraction for my tired brain!

    Fabulous – thank you!!!

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