If the main reason glamorous Courchevel is such a sought-after winter destination is the excellence of the skiing at this Alpine resort, it’s also a superb choice for anyone whose idea of a good workout is several hours of using a knife and fork. This is because it’s emerged as one of the most avidly gastronomic towns in France, with five Michelin one-star restaurants, three two-stars and two three-stars.
Many of the most vaunted tables here bear the names of famous consulting chefs, rather than the one who’s actually in the kitchen cooking your meal, however. This is because French gastronomy has now become as much a purview for luxury branding as perfume, luggage and eyewear. For my part, I continue to have a real soft spot for those chefs
who are still working cooks, and this is why I very much enjoyed the cooking of Jean-Rémi Caillon, the chef at Le Kintessence, the gastronomic restaurant of the K2 Palace Hotel.
I discovered this place just after it had reopened for the season last year (it’s closed from April 16 to December 14, as are many hotels and restaurants in Courchevel, which is a very seasonal place, even by regional standards), when I went to visit a childhood friend who bought a flat in Courchevel. I let her be my Sherpa, and this is how we ended up at Kintessence. “Don’t let the unfortunate name put you off, dear. We’re going to eat very well indeed,” she promised me, and we did.
The pearl-grey chalet-style dining room had a dramatic chic and the sort of hushed atmosphere that wordlessly announces that a meal here will be very expensive, and it was. Happily, it was worth every centime, too, since the food was spectacular.
After two Fabergé-like amuse-bouches – an oyster with riced cauliflower, caviar and woodruff, and a miniature vol au vent – we had beetroot served two ways: baby beets with borscht and Imperial beluga caviar; and then cooked in a crust of salt and garnished with smoked eel and an acidulated beet juice (two very sophisticated preparations).
Next came scallops, cockles, and mussels with peppery baby watercress napped with a silky, lemon-spiked purée of Ratte potatoes from Le Touquet. This was followed by opulent Breton lobster served three ways: the shelled claws with gnocchi in sauce homardine, the shelled tail with a tarragon-brightened potato velouté and crispy shallots, and the cracked knuckles smoked over pine needles. Sea bass with endives cooked with Alpine saffron had a minimalist elegance.
The single cheese, a local chèvre, was accurately described by the waiter as a sort of “goat’s cheese Parmesan”. The dessert was a deeply refreshing and rather Zen-like preparation of laser-fine slices of candied cedrat, the Corsican citrus fruit, with mozzarella ice cream and a verbena tisane. Dinner only.