Restaurant review, Maison Bleue: “This place is in a class of its own”
- Credit: Archant
Our food and drink editor put the award-winning spot in Bury St Edmunds to the test.
Can someone please explain to me why, oh why, oh why this place doesn't have a Michelin star yet? I really cannot fathom it. When I rocked up last week with my hubby for dinner I justifiably expected good things - chef patron Pascal was named the best chef in the country earlier this year, the eatery won the Eat Suffolk Food and Drink Awards Best Restaurant category in spring, and there are too many other accolades to mention.
And let me tell you…they did not disappoint, the front of house and kitchen team working together fluidly to create masterful dishes, and an ambiance not of stuffy stiff collars, airs and graces, but of warmth and generosity.
Let's begin with the bread. Lots of establishments of this ilk will arrive to the table with a paltry little platter (often three pieces which you - well I - have to fight over). The selection at MB really did set the scene for what was to come. Nutty, crackly-edged poppyseed, a sourdough which didn't threaten to break the teeth with its crust, with a rounded, softer flavour, and a potato bread which was a little on the dry side but had an undercurrent of allium. They'd even taken care with the butter - a dandelion yellow cone of soft, really salty proper farmhouse stuff. We were offered more bread (yes please) but were so full we declined a third batch!
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Afterwards, a cloud of milky, slightly lactic mozzarella foam - an amuse bouche that tickled the tongue with its heart of basil sorbet and hidden jewels of sweet, sweet, sweet ripe tomatoes at the bottom.
To start I'd had my beady eye on an interesting sounding stuffed courgette flower but other diners had beat me to it. But how could I fail to appreciate my second choice? Arriving in a space aged glass dome, a layer of sweet-salty Avruga caviar unveiled a wibbly gel of lemongrass, ginger and soy, which when broken unleashed the freshest, most delicate white crab meat, bound in a light dressing with sharp niblets of Granny Smith apple. I couldn't, if I'm honest, taste the lemongrass. However the soy and ginger came through, levelling the flavour of the shellfish and caviar and making this a balanced, clean-tasting bowl.
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On the other side of the table a single hand-dived king scallop, with a charred, caramelised crown, was complemented by saline samphire, Granny Smith, and buckwheat, which brought a warm, toasted, slightly bitter flavour to the party.
The smell of my organic thyme and rosemary stuffed saddle of Shimpling Park lamb had me as soon as the waitress carried it into the room. Cooked to a melting medium rare, the lamb was shielded by a blanket of grass-sweet fat, golden at the edge and expertly seasoned. Griddled leeks and Jersey royals brought texture. While an anchovy and sage butter added depth, taking the lamb (and its sticky, dark jus) to the next level without whacking you with medicinal or, fishy twangs.
Mr Jarvis didn't stop raving about the Isle of Gigha halibut fillet for the rest of the night. One of the most unforgiving of seafoods to cook, halibut is ruined if you give it too much heat, but in the capable hands of the team at MB, it was tender and light, and not overshadowed by a succulent savoury shellfish foam, cockles, delicate garlic emulsion and vivid garden pea veloute. The fish was, undoubtedly, allowed to be the star.
Cheese course? Yes please - I couldn't resist the chance to try the stuff of legend that is the MB cheeseboard. Owner Karine (someone who loves cheese as much if not more so than I) led me to the trolley of some 30 or so pieces, explaining each one before serving them up onto a (beautiful Oyster shell like) plate with a handful of grapes, red onion marmalade and drizzle of honey truffle for a final flourish of decadence - why not?
Kept at room temperature to allow the fromages to breathe and showcase their true complexity, every piece was heavenly but the stand outs were a triple cream brie with a layer of truffle which cut and spread like butter, a salty, biting Forme D'Ambert (one of the most underrated blue cheeses in my opinion) and (my favourite) the Camembert washed in Calvados and coated in a fine crumb. Wow. This one smacks you in the chops with spice and an almost meaty, beefy power you'd usually associate with a blue. With a trickle of the honey on a fig biscuit it was as near to cheese perfection as I think I'll ever get.
There was room for dessert. A tiramisu which looked like a cross between a hedgehog and an acorn…beautifully judged between creaminess, sweetness and smoky coffee. I was only allowed a smidgeon of that from Mr J's plate.
Over on my side I couldn't help but smile at the playfulness of the apricot pudding which, on the stark white platter, looked like a freshly cracked egg yolk. Set desserts are often disappointing because too many chefs are afraid to use the correct amount of gelling agent. Not here. Aside from the fact the tarragon mousse tasted wonderful, making the apricot gel inside somehow sweeter, more sunshiney, the texture was bang-on. My spoon slid into the pud effortlessly. Almond sponge and fresh apricots brought body to the plate too.
Pure perfection. And I bumped into Brendan Padfield, owner of last year's Best Restaurant, The Unruly Pig, while there, who had the same dishes as I did and declared it "amazing - the best meal I've had in the last 12 months easily". Praise indeed. But absolutely deserved.
The drinks list is so comprehensive you get a bicep workout simply picking up the folder! I was happy to see you could go for 125ml glasses -which meant I could sample a few. The Rose Cinsault Grenache Syrah, Les Enfants Terribles had on the nose those typical Provence rose nuances - strawberry, vanilla. In the mouth it was off-dry, giving over lush watermelon with a hint of pink peppercorn.
Organic Tempranillo/Monastrell, El Abuelo, brought out the gaminess of my lamb, with a touch of spice and liquorice bitterness, rounded off by jammy plum.
But the star really was the Pinot Gris, Remy Haeffelin my husband had with his halibut (and which I stole after he'd finished eating). On the pricier side of the wines by the glass, it was so worth it for this outstanding Alsatian. On the nose were those pear drop, almost varnishy essences you get with a Sauternes. But in the mouth it was silky smooth, buttery and mouth-filling with a minerally backbone. Just gorgeous.
A latte and Americano were served at just the right temperature, with lovely petit fours of dainty chocolate cake, lemon macaron and choux buns filled with a praline cream.
Delivered with absolute finesse. Nothing was too much trouble. They had excellent menu knowledge and seemed as excited about the food as we were. Napkins were refolded mysteriously if we left the table. And whenever one of us got up, someone was always there to push our chairs back in behind us. Lots of little touches you wouldn't expect, but you nonetheless appreciate and remember.
Low lighting. Proper candles (you know, the ones you have to cap off and trim). Pressed linens. Soft music. The overall feeling was of tranquillity.
Clean, fresh, simple and elegant. Like the food.
It is mostly flat inside with plenty of room to manoeuvre, but there are a couple of small steps. I'd recommend asking for a table to the right hand side if you have a wheelchair, which is step free.
For three glasses of wine, two large bottles of water, an alcohol-free beer, three courses for two, a cheese plate, and coffee for two with petit fours it was just shy of £150.
There are too many, but we will say the halibut which was masterfully cooked.
It's not cheap. Let's lay that out on the table. But if you are a devout foodie and dining out for you is all about the experience, and taking your time to relish every moment, you cannot go another minute without visiting.