Having originally intended to go for lunch at Bissoh, a Japanese restaurant in Beaune that we enjoyed dinner at this summer, it’s safe to say that where we ended up – the Auberge du Pot d’Etain near the city of Auxerre – is totally different. Bissoh is modern and innovative, whereas the Auberge epitomises the traditional French hostel thanks to its wooden beams and soft furnishings. However, the food certainly doesn’t suffer for this, and we were certainly glad that poor traffic conditions took us there on December 22nd.

The first thing to impress (after host Catherine Péchery’s warm welcome, of course) was the chunky wine list, which must have contained over two thousand wines from which to choose. Its main focus is Burgundy, with very rare domains such as Coche-Dury on offer at a reasonable price. The food itself, though, deserves equally to be ranked this highly. We both plumped for the menu offering 4 courses for €35, which changes seasonally. After the delicious avant-propos, I had a starter of rabbit terrine, while my husband chose the slightly more innovative snail tart, reflecting the auberge’s traditional-with-a-twist philosophy. The only difficulty I had with this was that there were not two hot starters available at this time of year: on a rainy afternoon in the dead of December, do I really want a cold course? It was flavourful and well-prepared, but nonetheless…

Things improved sharply with the main course of doe, which was slow-cooked to perfection. So soft that you could almost cut it with a fork or spoon, it was succulent, tender, and enrobed in a rich red wine sauce. This came with mashed potato, a small glass filled with a leek and cream velouté, and a large potato crisp, and was accompanied by a velvety 2005 Pommard 1er cru from Jean-Marc Boillot (which, at about €35 for a half bottle, was excellent value).

This was followed by an array of cheeses; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a packed cheese board, and I felt a bit sorry for the chap having to lift it up and carry it to the table each time (he could have done with a trolley). There was something there for everyone: whether you’re into pasteurised or unpasteurised, hard or soft, goats’ or cows’ milk cheese, you wouldn’t go away unsatisfied. We enjoyed excellent Epoisses, among others.

Then came what was arguably the most creative dish of the lot: we both chose a warm apple crêpe, which came with a cider granita, playing on the notion of traditional French apple desserts and fizzing with intense, genuine flavours. And the cherry on the cake was the delicately fragranced Christmas biscuits, which helped to spice up the somewhat mediocre coffee.

This all brought the total bill to about €117, so definitely not a cheap lunch, but this is racked up by the extras you opt in to and the calibre of the wine that you choose. Plus, with rooms at the auberge costing from a mere €60 a night, this could still amount to a reasonable weekend away.

24 rue Bouchardat, 89440 L’Isle Sur Serein, France

00 33 3 86 33 88 10

http://www.potdetain.com/pot-d-etain.htm

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