Restaurant Review – Art by the Yard and a Vegetarian Menu

This review first appeared in Frogsiders Magazine section in 2009

According to the Michelin Guide there are a number of good restaurants in Montreuil. Curiously, though we’ve tried several, we’ve never had a really satisfactory meal in the town. We were once treated by friends to a meal in one of the more highly rated Michelin listed places. We’ve never gone there again. The place was scruffy and uncomfortable, the service was sloppy, and the food was dull.

We’ve heard good things about the Chateau, and of Jeroboam’s at the Hermitage hotel, but on this occasion we wanted to try out the vegetarian menu at Les Hauts de Montreuil, a hotel and restaurant, not Michelin listed, in what is claimed to be the oldest building in the old town. The hotel is a member of Logis de France, a label that we’ve often found to be a reliable guide where there’s an absence of Michelin, Gault Millau or other recommendations. Hotels in the Logis de France guide are required to meet high standards, including having a decent restaurant.

Beams, bricks and large oil paintings characterize the comfortable dining room

First impressions were good. We were greeted at a reception desk and shown to our table on the upper of the two floors in the split-level restaurant. The tables are large and there’s plenty of room between them so you feel comfortably private. The room is in the oldest part of the building with old beams and exposed brickwork. There are also some impressively large oil paintings which lend an air of expensive luxury – if art were valued by the square metre these would be priceless. Without delay aperitifs were served accompanied by some truly delicious olives and a few dainty bite-size savoury pastries. By now, with a Kir and a Coupe de Champagne in hand, there was a palpable feel-good factor in the air.

I have often eaten totally vegetarian meals and enjoyed them, but this time I chose from the normal 32 euro menu, while my wife Sue, who eats no meat, took the vegetarian menu at 29 euros. Worried about the drive home, and at the suggestion of the maitre d’hotel we ordered a 50cl pichet of very decent house red instead of a bottle from the extensive wine list, which includes a number of rare classics. So far, so good

‘Aioli du Maraicher à la Provencale’ - a vegetarian dish here served with an optional portion of fish for non-vegetarians

There was nothing wrong with either of our starters. My “Flamiche Montreuilloise”, a cheesy tart with leeks and smoked duck’s breast, a speciality of the house was a tad oily, but the sharp dressing on the accompanying salad counterbalanced it well. The vegetarian choice of “Mousse de Betterave au Crusty de Patate Douce, Sorbet Betterave” certainly looked good, but my wife, a great fan of beetroot, hinted that it was just a little short on flavour. As I hate the taste of beetroot I would have praised the chef for subtlety and given him an extra mark.

Our main courses and the desserts that followed were less good. My generous “Roulade de Mignon de Porc”, stuffed with prunes and lardons, was nicely cooked but not particularly well presented and its ‘speculoos’ flavoured sauce was overpowering and too sweet for me.

Roulade de Mignon de Porc, stuffed with prunes and bacon, and a “speculoos” sauce

My cabbage, too, was laced over-lavishly with strongly flavoured lardons, and looked as if it had been prepared too far in advance and re-heated once too often. Sue thought her “Aioli du Maraicher à la Provencale” was far too oily and strong. These disappointments were not made up for by the desserts. My ‘Soupe de Fraises’, apparently a speciality, was too sweet and its decorative dobs of chantilly came, rather obviously, from an aerosol can. Sue’s ‘Pudding Maison sauce chocolat’ looked unappetising even to me, and she could manage very little of the stodgy lump.

So, unlucky again, we left Montreuil a little disappointed. Although we dined in comfort and style and received excellent service, we felt let down by the chef’s unbalanced flavours. The bill was about 90 euros including aperitifs. We won’t be rushing back there, but would probably give it another try on another day. Go there for comfort, ambiance, and generous helpings rather than a gourmet experience.