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La Brasserie de la Gare

5-7 place de la Gare, 49100 Angers, France
Tel: +33 (0) 2 41 88 48 57

February 2012

We squeezed into our booth in the already-crowded back room at the Brasserie de la Gare, just round the corner from Le Relais. The restaurant was heaving; it is a popular venue, and this being the week of the Salon des Vins de la Loire it was busier than ever. This did allow for an immediate game of Loire star-spotting. Look, two booths away; that's Noël Pinguet of Domaine Huet and his wife Marie-Françoise. And over there, by the far wall - is that Jo Landron's moustache I can see twitching in the distance? Possibly. One of our party went off to investigate (it has to be done) while the rest of us stuck our noses into our menus, large brightly-coloured cards, laminated yet well-worn, each corner rolled up, allowing the layers to peel and separate.

"I think I'll have the oysters," says one.

"Me too," says another. "We could share a dozen."

"Well they come in sixes," added our companion, returned from his starry-eyed adventures. "I'll join you."

"Sounds good," I chipped in, "but I had oysters yesterday. And also for lunch. I haven't had moules marinières for years. I might go for that."

This is when the teasing began; the oysters were particularly good, I was told. You'll feel left out. You'll be the only one not having oysters. Are you sure you won't change your mind, and make it two dozen between us? Come on, have the oysters!! But even against such an onslaught of oystery bias, I couldn't be swayed. Even when as a group we opted for a wine from Jo Landron, his Amphibolite cuvée, which I thought would probably work better with les huîtres than les moules, I stuck to my original choice. I mean, moules marinières is a classic bistro dish, and I haven't tasted it for sooo long. And the Brasserie de la Gare does have a good reputation for seafood and shellfish - so this seemed as good a place as anywhere to revisit it. Nope, I'm definitely having the moules. The waitress arrived, busy and yet with a classically disinterested air, to take our order.

"Moules are off."

"Fine, I'll have the oysters."

Happily, fate sometimes works in our favour. The oysters, when they arrived, were certainly very good. They had all the clean, bright-and-briny, taste-of-the-sea character that they should bring, which for me always works best with a gentle squirt of lemon juice and nothing else. No salt, no chilli, no onion, no bread, nothing else is required. Except a glass of Muscadet of course. The oysters did show the Amphibolite to have its usual softness of character, and so I can think of some much firmer wines that would have worked better on the palate with this dish, but all in all it was a good start to the dinner.

Next up, onglet rôti, a handsome roll of onglet, all trussed up with multiple loops and layers of string. Particularly resilient string in fact, as the deconstruction of this dish turned out to be a pretty challenge. My attempts to simply cut the string with what was a reasonably sharp steak knife failed, and resisting the temptation to ask the waitress for some scissors I eventually managed to free one end of the meat, and pull the contents out from one end of their twiny cage. The deliverance of the meat was a significant achievement, and I slumped, exhausted, into my chair. So this is what an obstetrician feels like after having seen through a particularly challenging delivery, I thought.

As it turned out the effort was worth it. OK, to be honest, it wasn't the most convincing slab of onglet I've ever tasted. It's the classic steak for steak frites (more so than entrecôte in my opinion), commonly encountered both in restaurants and la boucherie in France, much less easy to source elsewhere. It seems to respond well to gentle cooking, and yet has a much richer flavour than more pricy cuts such as filet. This one, however, seemed slightly more resistant to the knife than hoped for. An older animal? The cooking wasn't ideal, and I felt it would probably have benefited from a few more minutes of heat in the kitchen, and maybe fifteen-or-so more minutes of resting time. Having said that, I would rather have something more on the overly saignant side than bien cuit, and ten minutes later I had cleared my plate, leaving not a hint of the frites and onglet that had once been there. Apart from the latter's bondage gear, of course.

Pudding was avoided (either that or I forgot to write down what I ate), but we did spend a long time perusing the list of sweet wines, featuring an admirable array of older vintages, back to the 1950s. Not bad for a town-centre, cheap-and-cheerful bistro! Ultimately, though, uncertain about provenance and the actual vintages themselves (there was something of a focus on lesser, wetter vintages), we decided against a sweet finish to our meal. This is not to say the wine list does not have more tempting offerings, however, and during the course of the evening we chose these three bottles from the list:

Domaine Richou Crémant de Loire Dom Nature 2007: Tasted without any inkling to the blend I reasoned that there was some Chardonnay alongside the Chenin Blanc in this, but I would never have guessed such a seductive wine could be fashioned using 90% Chardonnay (with just 10% Chenin Blanc), as is the case here. The aromatics are clean, floral, bright and fresh. On the palate there is a fine pétillance to it, precise and prickly, but underneath a creamy richness to it, a truly crémant feel in other words. This sits atop yet another layer, of good grip and a stony bite to the fruit. A stylish and impressive wine; this is a domaine I would like to become better acquainted with. 17/20 (February 2012)

Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Amphibolite Nature 2010: A gentle and appealing character on the nose here, lightly rich, with scents of thyme and also a little hint of bitter bite. The palate displays a soft and unassuming character which I find typical for this cuvée, but it has an appealing grip, and underneath this soft and chalky substance there is in fact a firmer acid backbone than I was expecting. I find this a touch on the soft side for the oysters, which demand something firmer, but it is certainly a very decent wine. 15/20 (February 2012)

Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon 2009: This cuvée has a limestone feel to it, both aromatically and on the palate. The fruit is ripe, clean and not green but still fresh, vibrant and really quite stylish too. It has a supple start on the palate, with some good grip, the tannins only really showing through in the finish. The overall composition feels very gentle, classically restrained, giving that limestone feel I mentioned and yet it is combined with good depth and texture, a vintage effect perhaps. An attractive wine which probably has more to give if it were appropriately cellared for a few years. 15.5/20 (February 2012)

Three good choices, and the Brasserie de la Gare would certainly be somewhere I would return to.

And next time, I'm having the moules. OK?

Price: for the above meal, including three bottles of wine split four ways, and coffee, we paid €49 per head. (13/2/12)