In the shadow of Le Puy-en-Velay's magnificent cathedral, high in the narrow streets of the city's old town, is Comme a la Maison, originally founded as one of Guillaume Fourcade's gastronomic restaurants in Auvergne. Fourcade is something of a local food hero, inventive and dynamic and the 'Menu Tour de France' that was created by the team at Comme a la Maison, specially to mark the 48 hours spent in the city by the 2017 Tour, reflected that.
Yes, this is gastronomy but it is unfussy, unstuffy and informal. On such a hot evening, there was no dress code — in fact most of the customers were in shorts and sandals — and the service was friendly, efficient and informed. Of course, this being the home of the Puy lentils, the ubiquitous pulses were on the menu, but there was far more than lentils to the cuisine Comme a la Maison served up on it's busy terrace on a warm July evening. A young passionate chef, fresh local produce and a charming setting in the heart of Le Puy all create a great first impression.
But what about the food? Well, the Menu Tour de France combined regular favourites — a salad of lentils and haddock with frisee and cress, or a veloute of courgettes with local ham, or jambon de Pays for starters — followed by unusual combinations for the main attraction.
A cod risotto, with lemongrass and vervaine (or verbena) was delicate, creamy and hearty, while the Volaille — or chicken — cooked at low temperature, with a mushroom sauce and sautéed potatoes, was juicy and firm.
We chose a bottle of the pale and light Chateau de Jau Cotes du Roussillon rose, from the extensive wine list, which on such a hot July evening turned out to be a very good choice. But there was still one final flourish, a nod to French cycling's colourful history, when it came to the dessert menu.
There was a choice: a soup of red fruits, with mint, orange essence and a Verbena ice cream or, the 'Paris-Brest' choux pastry with mandarin sorbet, named after a famous Classic cycling race. As this was the Menu Tour de France we felt we had no choice, so it was Paris-Brests all round.
Replete, we strolled out into the warm night air and joined the crowds gathered on the steep cathedral steps. Le Puy-en-Velay isn't easy to get to — in fact it's something of a hidden gem, but it's well worth the trip, much like the delightful cuisine and ambiance of Comme a la Maison.
Comme à la Maison, 7 rue Seguret, 43000 Le Puy-en-Velay
+33 4 71 02 94 73
Words: Jeremy Whittle
Photography: Pete Goding