Just outside Reims in the Champagne-Ardennes region, you’ll find a countryside chateau that has been converted into a chic five-star hotel. Proprietors, the Lallement family, have also been running an exquisite restaurant at the location since 1976. Once managed by the father, the kitchen is now led by son Arnaud, who has developed his own style to take l’Assiette Champenoise to the pinnacle of gastronomy.
There is something fantastic about the menu at l’Assiette, as it tells a real story. Though, this story is not fake or a gimmick, it’s a serious education of the palate that follows a single direction. When we visited, a theme of citrus ran across the dishes to give each one a fresh background.
With hand-dived scallops from Brittany, this meant a light paste of lemon zest, kumquat slices and segments of mandarin, sitting alongside a rich beurre Nantais and the sweet shellfish themselves. The citrus elements conjured-up thoughts of a Moroccan confit fruit, which when teamed-up with the savoury components, created the flavours of a lemon tart. Stunning.
With the main course, a perfectly tender leg and breast of rosé quail is served on a disc of spices – cardamom, pepper, curry, mint, coriander, lavender seeds – which created a different flavour in every mouthful. One takes you to North Africa, the next to India. The idea is quite simple but the result is extraordinary. Alongside the quail is an artichoke, which is stuffed with a truffle duxelle and then delicately battered and fried. The artichoke is firm but buttery and melted in a divine combination with the quail jus. This is a dish that needs to be eaten slowly, so that you can savour every single morsel. A veritable “tour de force”.
For dessert, Lallement pushes the boundaries of acidity. The first taste of the kaffir lime sorbet is a “killer”. Sharp, strong and tangy to a level you might not expect, though the flavour is still delicate and does not leave any bitterness on the palate. The centre of the dessert is a lemon and lime crêpe, which has been filled with an incredible brunoise of cubed mango, to create a perfect balance of sweet and sour. Little pastries dot the plate, covered with a mango crème on a Brittany cake. They are good enough to eat a full box by themselves.
In the dining room, the setting is luxurious and the service is as formal as you will find. Though while the environment is high-end, you shouldn’t be scared as the team is very welcoming and also can provide advice on wines for every budget.
At l’Assiette Champenoise there are no gimmicks, and why should there be when the chef tells a story and treats the best products with the respect they deserve. A very special day trip, one that we highly recommend.