At last, this central grand cru village of Champagne’s Côte des Blancs has the delightful and original restaurant it deserves, complete with ten sumptuous bedrooms. It’s quite fitting that the driver of Les Avisés should be Anselme Selosse, Avize’s - even Champagne’s - most celebrated vigneron: a visionary who has inspired a whole generation of younger growers by taking Champagne back to its roots in, to use his own phrase, “the essence of earth”. Selosse’s leadership by example has staked a claim to a place at the top tables for the smaller Champagne producer-winemaker. That 1980s’ ambition is now a reality in the best restaurants and cafés of New York, Paris, London, Milan and Tokyo, causing the middling négoce some sleepless nights. Ironically, the white neo-classical mansion of what is now Les Avisés has always been a house of distinguished wine since 1805 – until recently it was the chateau d’accueil of Champagne Bricout, a far from middling maison.
Christophe & Stephane share a glass
Despite the grandeur of its setting, with lovely views of the Côte and the Montagne in the distance, there’s nothing formal or chi-chi about the place. It’s all about conviviality, conversation and friendship. You’re invited (but not obliged) to sit at a communal table, rather like London’s Garrick Club, where lunch is served, Wednesday to Sunday. There’s no or little choice, the menu is chalked on a blackboard and changes daily. But don’t worry, Chef Stéphane Rossillon and his wife, Nathalie, at front of house, have the confidence to keep it simple and imaginative in natural dishes that major on top –class ingredients full of flavour and finesse. Last month, I was lucky to be invited here by Christophe Constant of J-L Vergnon, a friend of Anselme’s and rising star in nearby Le Mesnil . We kicked off with oeuf confit, ecrassé de patates douces à la coriandre, hareng fumé, (a fine assembly of poached egg, mashed sweet potato, coriander and smoked herring), the flavours subtly merged to avoid upstaging a delicate mineral Mesnil blanc de blancs. Then a terrific cuisine de grand’mère entrée - tendons of veal, braised with capers, and poelée of spring vegetables, which drank perfectly with an intense but poised Saumur Champigny from the best producer. His name, which I scribbled on a piece of paper is illegible in my spidery scrawl; I’ll let you know next time. The wines from the board also sport some intriguing white burgundies, known to insiders (St Bris from Goiset, Philippe Charlopin’s Chablis Fourchaumes.) On such a sunny day, we ate out in the garden by a lawn that would not disgrace an Englishman’s home, closely watched by the Selosses’ Jack Russell, Ugo.
Le menu du jour
Anselme’s wife, Corinne, has masterminded the project in general and the décor of the lovely bedrooms in particular: each is different and individual, some traditional and plush, others modern, elegantly airy, all luxurious and cosseting. The showers all work on high pressure. As an old hotel inspector, I was immensely impressed by the attention to detail, with one device that passed my acid test, a short-wave/FM radio that could be adjusted minutely on a wheel insert-tuner – play it again, Wolfgang! None of these comforts come cheap but are certainly worth the asking price for two, from €235-00. I can’t think of a better place for a romantic weekend.
Hotel-Restaurant Les Avisés 59 rue du Cramant, 51190 Avize en Champagne
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday
Tel +33 (0)3 26. 57.70. 06