Le Bistro des Damnés
Sancerre was my first Loire ‘discovery’, and it was the wine that first induced me to visit the Loire Valley more than two decades ago. I spent two days of that visit based in Sancerre (twice as long as most other appellations!), an attractive hill-top town, visiting and tasting at a number of domaines which were within walking distance of my hotel. On a recent return to the region, however, I stayed in Chavignol, which many Sancerre fans would consider the true ‘heart’ of the appellation. This very pretty little village sits nestled in a dale, and the vines planted on the slopes all around it, which include Les Monts Damnés, Les Culs de Beaujeu and La Grand Côte, are justly famous for their wines.
The Bistro des Damnés is one of several dining options in the village; this smartly presented and very modern bistro can be found on the ground floor of La Côte des Monts Damnés, which is equally well presented, and having stayed there for two days I can certainly recommend it. Both the hotel, and the associated restaurant and bistro, are owned by the Bourgeois family, who of course have a huge presence in the village.
A recent meal here kicked off with a terrine of chicken with girolle mushrooms, served with a little green salad. A very light terrine, the little mouthfuls of chicken and tiny mushrooms held together by a delicate yet richly coloured and deliciously flavoured jelly, this was an excellent starter. It stood up very well to a glass of the 2011 Sancerre Les Culs de Beaujeu, from Pierre Martin, which showed nicely. This was my first chance to drink (rather than taste) this wine since my encounter with it at the Salon des Vins de Loire earlier this year.
Next up was a brochette de poire, which despite initial thoughts that I was about to eat a pear kebab turned out to be beef. Poire (I have since learnt) is one section of a French cut known as tendre de tranche, which after investigation appears to roughly correspond with topside, although I am only too willing to be corrected by suitably qualified butchers. Certainly the beef had the look of topside, and I suspect it had been very sensitively matured as after a light grilling, which left it handsomely pink at its core, its tenderness surpassed my expectations. The seasoning, a few flakes of sea salt and thyme leaves, was spot on, and the obligatory platter of frites and bowl of sauce poivre made this simple dish a joy. I stayed with Sancerre for my drinking, moving on to a 2010 Sancerre à Nicolas from Pascal Reverdy, which possessed a slightly surprising concentration and was thus a good foil for the beef.
I finished up with a crème brûlée and then coffee, and despite this the bill remained a very small one indeed. This is a great choice for an unfussy dining experience when in the region, and I will certainly eat here again.
Prices: For the quality offered, this was great value in my opinion. I ate from the three-course Menu des Damnés, which offers three choices of starter, three for main course and a range of desserts for a meagre €17.60, or €21.60 with cheese as well. The two wines were €28.00 and €37.00 respectively per bottle, very reasonable mark-ups I thought, and this is true of the entire wine list. The coffee was from Illy, and was €1.30 per espresso. (9/11/13)