Whether you’re a Londoner, a New Yorker, a Parisian, or from some other point on the compass, tiny Chantilly in the Val-d’Oise, 45 minutes north of Paris, is the perfect autumn weekend in the country. Not only does the Château de Chantilly house one of the finest small museums in France and the surrounding forest offer wonderful long walks with the winey smell of leaf meal in your nostrils, but the town and the château constitute one of the greatest equestrian destinations in Europe. (Riding horses can be hired at the Chantilly Pony Club.)
The place to stay in these parts is the Auberge du Jeu de Paume, where La Table du Connétable, the hotel’s gastronomic restaurant (it also has a bistro), has just hired a very talented new chef. Clément Leroy arrives from Guy Savoy’s L’Étoile de Mer seafood table in Paris, which is where I first discovered his cooking, and has previously worked at several other Savoy tables, and with Michel Chabran at his one-Michelin-star table in Pont-de-l’Isère in the Drôme, which is where Leroy is originally from.
Nodding at the historically high bar for sumptuously good food that was originally established locally by the great chef Vatel when he ran the kitchens of the Château de Chantilly during the 17th century, Leroy is a disciplined classicist with a witty culinary imagination. This means that he avoids the wearisome mistake so often made by chefs at country-house hotels in France, which is to serve an overcomplicated menu, when what most city dwellers want is fresh, flavourful food with a judicious touch of originality.
Two superb examples of Leroy’s style from his first menu were starters of ‘burnt’ (seared) mackerel with pink radishes, which was bright and bracing, and an elegant ‘Bellini’-style lobster salad with peaches, a soft sensual and very luxurious dish. Turbot roasted on the bone in green curry juice was appealing as well, but the star dish of our dinner was roasted veal for two with linden-tree juice and chanterelle mushrooms, a dish as pastoral but sophisticated as the tapestries of countryside scenes that hang on the walls of the Château de Chantilly. Try the apricot refreshed with locally made beer for dessert, if it’s still on the menu – the acidity of the fruit pairs unexpectedly well with the hoppy ferments in the brew, or conclude with the excellent cheese tray.
Auberge du Jeu de Paume, 4 rue du Connétable, Chantilly. Tel: +33 3 44 65 50 00. Web: www.aubergedujeudepaumechantilly.fr. Average dinner for two €250.
From France Today magazine