Restaurant Michel Chabran ★ // La Drôme // France

Lyon has long been touted as the French capital of gastronomy, and with nine ***3 star, 25 **2 star and over 140 *1 star restaurants within 100kms, it’s clear that food is taken very seriously across the Rhône-Alpes region. Travel south of Lyon to Pont de l’Isère and you’ll find a restaurant in a beautiful garden setting, run by Michel Chabran. There, he matches his classic training with clever modern touches.

In a starter, raw razor clams are marinated in olive oil and a touch of vinegar, to give them a surprisingly different taste and texture to the cooked version. Light, crisp, tempura snails follow the same fresh theme along with fennel, carrots and courgettes as crudités. Vegetables that actually have a real taste, grown under the strong French sunshine. An unexpected yet intriguing start to the meal.

Snails are also part of a second dish, pan-fried, with a much more pronounced irony taste. They sit alongside heavenly melting sweetbreads, served in a rich nettle velouté, balanced by the light flavour of tender cauliflower spouts. This is the kind of plate that makes you look forward to what’s coming next.

For mains, a simple looking dish of lamb saddle and a tian of summer vegetables surprises with an incredible concentration of flavours. The meat, almost more mutton-like in flavour is served in silky smooth slices from the chop, and more fatty pieces which are rendered down to delectably crisp morsels. Aubergines, tomatoes and courgettes are cooked separately to deepen their individual flavours, then layered like a mille-feuille to create a dainty taste explosion. A lemon jus creates a fresh balance to make such a seemingly simple dish outstanding.

Desserts are excellent too. A summery tube of strawberry bavarois is delicious, with a centre of yuzu and popping candy, topped with white and milk chocolate decoration – petits-fours, and friandes follow.

Chef Chabran’s great mix of classic, traditional recipes, with his own touch of personal flair make this meal very memorable indeed. Better still, the garden location is exceptional and the service heart-felt. Well worth a day trip from Lyon.