- Rating: 16.5/20
- Address: 80 Chemin des Anglais, 11000 Carcassonne, France
- Phone: +33 4 68 71 80 80
- Price per pax (after tax + tip, some cocktails and wine): €100 ($136 at 1 EUR = 1.36 USD)
- Course Progression (for me): cocktail – snacks – bread service – 1 amuse – 1 main – 2 desserts – mignardises.
- I ordered a la carte. 5 course, 7 course, and grand tasting options also exist
- Value: 3.5/5
- Dining Time: 210 minutes
- Chef: Franck Putelat [wiki-biography]
- Style: Classical with modernist touches
- Michelin Stars: 2
Carcassonne is a beautiful city. Home to a medieval castle that was besieged during the Albigensian Crusades (to root out the Cathar heretics) in 1209, and annexed to the kingdom of France in 1226, today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (thanks to the 19th century restorer Viollet-Le-Duc, and an encyclopedia of medieval defences:
For example, there is your textbook moat, probably filled with fetid sewage from the castle’s inhabitants. Then the Narbonne Gate “castle entrance on the town side has an effective defense system with two portcullises […] The portcullises were operated from control rooms on different floors, with no communication between them, to guard against possible treachery by soldiers.” (A sign in the castle). “The roadway between the outer gate and the inner gate at the Narbonne towers twists first to the right and then to the left. This is not the result of a drunken engineer but is another deliberate defensive device, used at the gates of most fortified castles to make it more difficult for the enemy to charge the gate with any momentum” (Ina Caro, The Road from the Past, p82)
Then, there is the wooden hoarding, “a projecting wooden gallery installed on top of the ramparts as an additional defence during sieges. The beams supporting the hoarding slid into holes in the masonry made for the purpose during construction. Openings in the floor allowed arrows to be fired and stones to be dropped from above. [No, boys and girls, they didn’t drop hot oil! It was expensive and precious, not to mention a fire hazard to the wooden hoardings] The exterior wall also had loopholes for firing arrows” (A sign in the castle)
“The top of the wall consists of embrasures (indentations or openings enabling the defending archers to shoot) and merlons (raised portions behind which the defending archers could stand for protection); together, they are called battlements. You will notice that the battlements are only on the wall’s outer face, thereby providing protection only for archers facing outward. Therefore if this outer wall was captured, besiegers would not be shielded from fire from the inner wall.” (Ina Caro, The Road from the Past, p80)
“These thirteenth-century towers do not go straight up and down; rather, they were made thicker at the base so that tunneling or mining through them was more difficult. One tower, for example, has walls six feet thick at the top and thirteen feet thick at the base. the slant also prevented movable assault towers from getting close to the wall”(Ina Caro, The Road from the Past, p82)
Ina Caro also contends that the moat, was a dry moat – a trench, which functioned as a no-man’s-land without protection from arrow fire from the towers and battlements. Was the moat wet or dry? – This is a job for the professional medieval historian to settle.
So why did they lose to the crusaders sent by Pope Innocent III in 1209? Because within 2 weeks the city ran out of water. The nearby river doesn’t pass through the old city.
Chef Franck Putelat, a second-place winner at 2003’s Bocuse d’Or, became Chef of the Hotel de la Cite in Carcassonne (the only hotel within the medieval old city) in 1998, and set up his own restaurant in 2005, Le Parc. He was awarded his second Michelin star only two years ago, in 2012, and a good friend of Gilles Goujon, owner of L’Auberge du Vieux Puits in 45-minutes-away Fontjoncouse (subject of my next report). The restaurant also gained a 7 room boutique hotel in 2013.
We actually came to Le Parc first to stay. I was recommended this place by the bloggers at Smiling Lion Eats (highly recommended to read), since it was a 10 minute walk away from the Old City (the medieval castle), and the hustle and bustle of the tourist crowd. It was a very nice place to stay, full of chic furnishings, good for couples. At 7pm, after a good half-day exploring the medieval castle, we were hungry and decided to eat at our hotel restaurant.
Some general comments: I enjoyed the ingredient referencing. Chef Putelat really knows how to emphasise the commonalities and qualities of ingredients. To bring out the silken qualities of young foie gras, he uses it like silken tofu in a tom yum soup. To emphasise the meatiness of Tarbouriech oyster, he pairs it with beef tartare and a re-imagined frites. He visually plays with smoked haddock, makes it seem like white asparagus, which is the other passenger on the plate. And there is a Bocuse d’Or competition dish on the a la carte menu which studs springy lard into a classic beef filet, enriched with a perfect jus. It is classical cooking at its finest (it could have only been improved in one way – if truffles were in season, and thus more richly perfumed the dish).
He is also creative in presentation. To joke about his location in the most medieval of castles, he serves his bread on chain-mail “plates”. He serves his olive oil in test tubes. And he serves his alcohol in liquid droppers.
Yet there are points of improvement. My strawberry cocktail is served between lukewarm and cold, an insipid start to my meal. The desserts, while impressive to look at, can be dominated by a single taste (The pineapple strongly dominated the last dessert). And mea culpa, I had a string of misses with the local cheeses. I tried some dishes of the other set menus. They were very good, and probably were a more cohesive meal than my own selections. If I return, I would put myself in the hands of Chef Putelat completely.
- Cocktail: Strawberry liqueur, lemon (3.25/5)
- Served between warm and cool, watery, and when it wasn’t watery, it hit a one-dimensional sweetness. an insipid start to the meal. I think most cocktails should be served ice cold
- Bread, served with Picholine olive oil
- The chain mail was cool, but that meant that crumbs hit the table all the time, seeping through the cracks.
- Snacks –
- lemon olive madeleine (3.5/5)
- salmon gravlax with lemon cream (3.5/5) [gravlax == cured in sugar, salt, dill]
- pistachio macaron with duck liver (4.25/5)
- worked surprisingly well, the creaminess of the duck liver
- beef croquette (3.5/5)
- Amuse: Red Pepper-Tomato Veloute “Gazpacho”, quail egg, squid ink crouton (3.75/5)
- Main: Beef Filet “Bocuse D’Or”. Served on January 29, 2003 in Lyon (4.75/5)
- submitted by Chef Putelat as a competition dish in the 2003 Bocuse D’Or. A memory-intense dish, beef filets studded with cubes of truffle, and salty springy lard. Perfectly done. Accompanied with jus de boeuf, and stuffed artichoke with truffle. I was really impressed by this, a rolling symphony of salting that flirted with the variant porkiness of lard, springy to the chew, and the perfume of truffles. The beef was cooked perfectly, and the vegetables carefully sculpted in the classical tradition
- the only imperfection came that the truffles were out of season, and thus the dish, relying on the intensity of truffle to complement the beef, fell short of its full potential. However there is nothing that the kitchen can be faulted with. I was especially excited to tuck into this competition dish as it captured a lot of hard thinking.
- The classical flavors of beef, jus, truffle were rationalised into geometric shapes, the only concession to modernist taste. The pork was a surprising and completely successful combination with the beef.
- this won Chef Putelat second place [Bocuse d’Argent] at the Bocuse d’Or in 2003.
- Cheese. Fresh and Matured from Aude Area and from Elsewhere. (3.25/5)
- Clockwise from 11 o’clock: Bethmale cheese, Cantal cheese 24 months, Ecu Cathare
- All a bit dry and salty, harsh to the tongue, not really to my taste.
- Dessert 1: Pistachio Meringue, Cherry-Orange Sorbet, Lime Spiral (4.25/5)
- Dessert 2: Satin Pineapple, Lime, Juniper Berries Sherbet (4.25/5)
- A green hollow cuboid tunnel of lime sugar, in it a traffic buildup of pineapple-stuffed-meringues. precariously perched on the edge of a square pistachio cake in the hollow of which is filled with pineapple, topped with juniper berry sherbet. The tension of the eye rests on the thin biscuit stick forming an X with the lime cuboid. Puree dots.
- This dish looked very pretty. It was however a bit too sweet, the candying of pineapple going a bit far. The look was sophisticated, the taste less so, more like some pretty pineapple candy.
- White Asparagus from Mr Cardoso at Saint Couat. Smoked Haddock, Yellow of Crystallized Egg, Squid Ink Bread (4.75/5)
- a really playful dish, where the ring of smoked haddock was cut to look like white asparagus. I always enjoy these surrealist contraposition of ingredients when they arise (atera – razor clams, garlic, almond; restaurant andre – squid and rice). but this was no slouch on the taste front. a very good cream of white asparagus accompanied the juicy spear
- Shell, Razor Clams and Coriander, Albedo of Lemon. Short Lived Foie Gras, Citrus Broth From Bachès (4.5/5)
- Tom yum soup, coriander, and seared foie gras. I don’t know what the foie was, but this was supremely sweet and springy, like the most silken tofu (and was even slightly more silken than the Fat Duck version. was the goose very young?). no doubt the Thai preparation was meant to evoke its tofu-ish qualities. A very good dish.
- John Dory, Almond Cream, Girolle, Olive Emulsion
- Raw Milk Reblochon From Savoie Leeks (4.75/5)
- a really addictive reblochon espuma. sweet and milky, in a satisfying adult cheese-candy experience.
- Poached Rhubarb in the Vanilla and Anis. Blood Orange Sherbet with “Sapon”
CLASSIQUE… FICTION… MENU
- Tartare-Frite. Tarbouriech Oyster, Beef Tenderloin, Monalisa (4.5/5)
- two meaty things, the fleshy Tarbouriech “Pink Diamond” oyster, and the dense beef tartare, were well-paired together. the “frites” were represented by a potato pillow.
- Argenteuil. Green Asparagus, Frogs Off the Bones, Crust. (4/5)
- green curry. Chef Putelat in a Thai mood.
- Barigoule. Boneless Red Mullet, Purple Artichoke, Orange Powder.
- A La Française. Veal Chop, Hay From Ruis, Green Peas.
- Cheese. Fresh and Matured from Aude Area and from Elsewhere.
- Banana-Split. Gariguette Strawberries, Chocolate from Peru, Almond Ice Cream.
- Eclair. Choux Pastry, Meyer lemon, Micheline Sherbet
- Micheline liqueur, we were told, similar to green chartreuse.