Ever since this luxurious 19-room townhouse hotel opened in the lively and culturally rich northern French city of Lille a few months ago, it has been the talk of the town. The stunningly renovated 1736 vintage mansion with a handsome bar and a garden where drinks are served in good weather has become the chicest address in the city, and the provocatively bold contemporary French cooking of chef Nicolas Pourcheresse has set many tongues wagging, too. Pourcheresse previously ran the restaurant at Meert, the local patisserie famous for its waffles, and had a table of his own in the Jura.
Now he has won a Michelin star for his very personal and intentionally brutal style of cooking. Pourcheresse’s tasting menus change all the time, but after a pleasantly traditional entrée of foie gras with spiced quince and a sprig of watercress, a recent dinner in the elegant, high-ceilinged dining room with beautiful mouldings that contrast with contemporary art became a wilder and generally satisfying gastronomic experience. Rouget filets, rouget liver and rouget bouillon, a pleasantly primal preparation, followed.
“I like to look for danger when I’m cooking,” Pourcheresse explained when he arrived tableside with a whole baked codfish head. A waiter subsequently prised the cheeks and jaw from the head and served them alongside a piece of fish that had been garnished with crispy fish scales. If the neighbouring table looked on with a mixture of shock and fascination, this fish course was excellent, as was the strip of Galician steak with sautéed squid that came next. And a dessert of salted meringue, preserved lemon and pear sorbet was off-beat and flirtatiously ferocious.
Service is outstanding, and there’s a very good wine list here as well. Definitely recommended for anyone who likes bold cooking that both pushes and ignores the boundaries of culinary convention.
Clarance Hotel, 32 rue de la Barre, Lille. Tel: +33 59 59 36 35 59. Lunch menu €39; Sunday lunch menu €49; prix-fixe menus €59, €79.
From France Today magazine