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Restaurant Review: Le Garde Champêtre

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Just a few miles outside Troyes, one of the most charming and under-the-radar art cities in France, this enchanting auberge was created from a former train station by a group of friends who share the same good taste in food, wine and everything else. Notable among them are Miami native Juan Sanchez, who runs the excellent wine shop, La Dernière Goutte, and three restaurants – Fish, Freddy’s and Semilla – in Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris; Peter Lippmann, a photographer; and winemakers Émilie and Cédric Bouchard, and Jean-Pierre and Véronique Josselin.

The name of the restaurant is the French term for a guardian of the countryside, or someone officially charged with observing and protecting a swathe of rural land, a job that’s a combination of a forest ranger, game warden and code enforcement officer. The last garde champêtre for Gyé-sur- Seine was a certain Monsieur Droze, who receives an affectionate and respectful tip of the hat on the restaurant’s website.

The produce comes straight from the restaurant garden © Le Garde Champêtre

“I was sort of craving the country,” says Juan Sanchez about the genesis of this project, “and I was dreaming about having a big vegetable garden.” This pastoral yearning has now been accomplished with a two-and-a-half acre organic vegetable and herb garden just down a path from the restaurant’s kitchen. This allows head chefs Sayaka Sawaguchi and Gil Nogueira to offer seed-to-plate menus that change almost daily according to what’s ripe and in season.

Their proximity to a source of such spectacular produce informed one of the dishes I ate here when I stopped for lunch with friends last October. It was a yellow squash – almost laser fine vertical slices of raw squash – sauced with a superb tonnato. Its simplicity, with a wick of brilliant inspiration, was what made it so good, and this continued throughout our meal, which was truly delightful.

“This is the sort of place one just dreams of finding in the French countryside,” said one of my friends from Bristol, and she was right.

All of us liked it as soon as we stepped in the door, too, since it titillated for being both Gallic rustic and mid-century modern at the same time, a space with a vaulted ceiling of exposed wooden beams and a sleek terrazzo floor, the likes of which you might expect to find in a 1960s coffee shop in Miami’s Little Havana.

The young staff were warm, welcoming and multilingual, and the lunch menu was outstanding. After the yellow squash tonnato, which was served with a basket of house-baked and very moreish sourdough bread, we tucked into steamed cod with grilled leeks and candied garden tomatoes in a caldeirada sauce, and finally a floating panna cotta flavoured with an infusion of freshly-mown hay paired with poached peaches. An excellent selection of wines by the glass was on offer, too, and on a chilly day, the crackling fire in the huge fireplace brought on a deep sense of well-being.

The French couple at the table next to us told us we had to come back for the grilled citrus-marinated artichokes with an almond purée, salsa verde and wild oregano, and seared squid with tonkotsu, sorrel and mustard flowers. If we do, next time round we’ll book a night or two at the River House, the restaurant’s beautifully decorated three-bedroom guesthouse, so that we can eat both lunch and dinner and explore the vegetable garden between meals, and enjoy the excellent wine list, including many small grower Champagnes, with abandon.

20a Rue de la Gare, Gyé-sur-Seine. Tel. (33) 03 52 96 00 06,

Wednesday to Friday lunch: €25, three- course fixed menu.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday dinner and Sunday lunch: a choice of sharing dishes between €6 and €19 or Menu Gallopant €42.

Sunday lunch: Menu Gallopant only.

legardechampetre.fr

From France Today Magazine

Love French food and wine? Head to Taste of France for recipes, dinner inspiration, chef interviews and food-and-wine pairing ideas!

Lead photo credit : © Le Garde Champêtre

Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine from 1999 until its closing, and has written about food and travel for Saveur, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Travel & Leisure, Departures, Conde Nast Traveler, and many other publications in the United States and the United Kingdom. He is the author of HUNGRY FOR PARIS, 2nd Edition (Random House, 4/2014), HUNGRY FOR FRANCE (Rizzoli, 4/2014), and MY PLACE AT THE TABLE, newly published in June 2021.

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