Flocons de Sel (Flakes of Salt) is a 3 Michelin star restaurant located in the mountains above the ski resort of Megeve, in the Haut Savoie. It is owned by Emmanuel and Kristine Renaut. Chef Renaut is also a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, a distinction that is bestowed on artisans only after passing a rigorous and exacting competition. The cuisine here is a highly refined version of the type of cooking one finds in the mountains of the Haut Savoie. Two friends living outside of Montpellier and I traveled to Flocons de Sel two weeks ago to have lunch.
We arrived some 40 minutes early to have a drink and to study the wine list. We were warmly greeted at the entrance by a staff member, who took the time to chat with us about the restaurant and the hotel, which is a Relais & Chateau property. First impressions do matter, and hers was as gracious and genuine as any I have experienced in a three star. The restaurant is in a large chalet, designed in a contemporary manner with lots of wood and modern touches that give the impression of spaciousness and elegance. We were taken upstairs to the lounge, and given the choice to sit near the fireplace or in a separate room with a view of the mountains. We chose to sit in plush sofas in front of the fireplace, and to say it was cozy is an understatement.
The sommelier came by to present us with the wine list, and offered us glasses of the Vilmart “Grand Cellier” NV. Tiny bubbles, fresh and crisp, with notes of flowers, brioche, nuts and apples. Good structure and finely balanced. A series of small bites were served with the Vilmart. The list covers all of the main regions of France, and pride of place goes to the wines of the Savoie, most of which are priced in the 70-90 euros range. This is where the bargains are, and the two sommeliers on duty can guide one through the Savoie if that is what one is interested in drinking. The Rhone Valley and Bordeaux are well represented, but also are the most expensive. I spent my time perusing Burgundy, and much to my surprise, most of the wines, white and red, are reasonably priced!
Raveneau Valmur '09 and '10 are 169 euros; Raveneau Blanchot '08, '09 and '10 are 165 euros; PVCM Corton Charlemagne '14 is 340 euros; BdM Corton Charlemagne '08 is 250 euros; PVCM Meursault Perrieres '14 is 245 euros; Francois Carillon Puligny Folatieres '14 is 235 euros; and if you must drink DRC Montrachet '04, the tariff is 3450 euros. The Esmonin Gevrey Clos St. Jacques '14 is 195 euros; Ligier-Belair Charmes '13 is 329 euros; Clavelier Vosne Beaumonts '13 is 195 euros; Hudelot Noellat RSV '10 is 495 euros; de Montille Volnay Tallepieds '97 is 259 euros; DRC, Comte Liger Belair, Clos de Tart and Meo Camuzet are well represented, and priced accordingly. Most of the Burgundies, white and red, are of recent vintages. The sommelier told me that once upon a time the list had a good selection of older vintages, but these were drunk long ago.
As we finished our champagne, the sommelier came by and asked if we had chosen our wine. I asked her what Burgundy she would drink, and she steered me to the most reasonably priced bottles from the Marsannay and St. Aubin. She said that the Arlaud Chambolle Villages '12 at 105 euros was drinking beautifully. No up selling here. I chose the '13 Mugneret Gibourg Chambolle Feusselottes at 189 euros, a wine the sommelier said was her favorite.
Having settled on the wine, it was time to have lunch. We were lead downstairs to a bright and airy room, with white walls given a slightly rustic feel by the ubiquitous blond wood. The floor to ceiling windows provided a view of the restaurant’s gardens, and further, of the mountains. There were only two tables in the room.
Two menus are on offer, at 120 euros and 230 euros, in addition to a la carte offerings. The 120 euros menu is a bargain for a 3 star, composed of 5 amuse-bouches, 4 plates, cheese and dessert. It is available only at lunch. The 230 euros menu has 5 amuse-bouches, 9 plates, cheese and dessert. The restaurant is vegan and vegetarian friendly, and either menu can be accommodated for vegetarians. After putting in our orders, the sommelier appeared with the wine. Poured into Zalto Burgundy stems, the Mugneret Gibourg is medium ruby and has an intense nose of red fruits and spice. Elegant and silky with a long finish. Drinking beautifully now.
Chef Renaut is fond of using ingredients foraged from the mountains and incorporating them into his dishes. Mushrooms, herbs, edible flowers, etc., all make their appearance in his food. A local herb bursts with incredible flavor, enhancing the delicacy of the fera caught in local waters. A sliver resembling a grilled cheese sandwich appears, but this version has the local beaufort cheese studded with the season’s last black truffles and grilled between thin rectangular slices of bread. The flavor was absolutely astounding, contrasting the buttery texture of the bread with the creamy beaufort and crunchy truffles. A mold of raw langoustines beneath a disk of caviar sourced from the east coast of China tasted of the sea, briny and ever so slightly salty. The only meat dish appears as the classic Civet de Lievre a la Royale. Foie gras is incorporated with wild hare and cooked slowly. Whereas the classic preparation can be heavy, this was light but rich, and intense in flavor. The cheese trolley groans with some thirty varieties, most of them mountain cheeses sourced from the Savoie, and served at precisely the correct temperature. I don’t have a sweet tooth, and usually eschew dessert, but when I tasted the chocolate tart infused with the flavor of wood smoke and accompanied by a dollop of ice cream infused with wood smoke, I thought to myself that this could only be something from the mountains.
At the beginning of the meal, a round of warm country bread is brought to the table along with a plate of butter the likes of which I have never tasted before. Creamy and intense, and silky smooth. With this, a bowl of salt flakes was set on the table, the only reference to the restaurant’s namesake (although I think “flakes of salt” is really a metaphor for “flakes of snow”).
Service at Flocons de Sel is gracious and relaxed, never intrusive. The staff is flexible and informal enough to engage in conversation and banter with the client, and flexible enough to adhere to a more formal service if that is what the client communicates. Kristine Renaut oversees the dining rooms with a polished and professional demeanor, and comes by to every table to chat. Over the five hours we were there, we had fun. Lots of it. The cellar has an impressive collection of Chartreuse spanning many decades, and some diners repair to the lounge after a meal to enjoy a glass. As the restaurant is in proximity to a ski resort, dress is informal, almost come-as-you-are. On this afternoon, the restaurant was full, and no one was dressed up.
Top to bottom, soup to nuts, this was the most complete and enjoyable experience I have had of the seven 3 star restaurants I have been to in France. Next up in October - Restaurant Pic in Valence.