Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

GUEST COLUMN: MUBARIZ HUSSAIN ON LA MÈRE BRAZIER, LYON

October 2015. Everybody eats. And all but a few actively enjoy eating. Most recognize excellent cooking when it comes their way; but few probe deeply into the ins and outs of gastronomy, into the countless nuances that make it one of the most complex – and enjoyable – activities in life.

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One person whose judgment on restaurants I greatly rely on is my friend Mubariz Hussain, a dental surgeon whose palate is as sharp and penetrating as the precision tools he uses in his surgery. He has eaten in virtually all of the top restaurants of Europe and beyond, and is also a first-rate cook in his own right. In addition, he has a gift for communicating with the chefs whose dishes he eats with such gusto, and often gets them to open their hearts to him. Such is my regard for his recommendations that when I read the following report on his recent visit to La Mère Brazier in Lyon, I instantly resolved to go there myself at the earliest opportunity!

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LA MÈRE BRAZIER, LYON

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Mubariz Hussain

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Mère Brazier was the most famous of the “Lyon mothers”. Her eponymous restaurant stands in the heart of vieux Lyon and is modest in both size and appearance.

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It was the training ground for a young Paul Bocuse, among others, and constitutes one of the great ingredients (along with Carême, Escoffier, & Fernand Point to name a few) of the dish that is French haute cuisine.

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The indecently trim, charismatic and handsome Mathieu Viannay is now guardian of this temple and what a fine and noble job he makes of it too.

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They say, ‘never trust a thin chef’ … I’d trust this chef with my life.

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He is wise enough to keep some of the classics of Mère Brazier on the menu, among them:

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Artichauts et foie gras,
The foie served 2 ways: cooked to perfection, soft not flabby and a tranche of pâté, silky smooth and tasty, the artichaut provided a vegetal balance, firm but not hard.

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Ris de veau : crystalline outer flesh giving way to indecently unctuous and yielding sweetbread …it was so sinfully ‘ding dong’ en bouche’ … it felt almost illegal. A corrective, however, was at hand in the form of a sheeny and pleasingly tart sauce Grenobloise which saved this diner from passing out with excessive pleasure.

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Poulet de Bresse with lobster and morels naped in a pitch perfect Vin Jaune/ cream sauce was deemed superb.

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Mathieu Viannay’s superb ris de veau dish “so sinfully ‘ding-dong’ it felt almost illegal”.

But Viannay’s own dishes are just as enticing:

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Bosky mushrooms served with œufs à la coque and a cleansing bouillon.

A woodland feast for the eyes, executed with the greatest of care and flare.

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Pigeon poché / grillé served with a pomegranate sauce,

The tangy/sweet sauce cutting through the richness of the exquisitely handled bird.

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Fresh & warm langoustines served with baby vegetables in a ‘ravioli’ of romain lettuce – as intricate as it was delicious.

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My own starter of spider crab served tiède with a fruit de mer sauce (it managed to be both unctuous and acidulous at the same time) and a scoop of oscietre caviar was probably King Neptune’s favourite way of starting his din dins too….

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I ate it in reverential silence, unwilling even to think about sharing it with my co-diners.

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The Paris Brest dessert was, quite simply, astounding.

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Great cooking requires only two things: great ingredients and a great chef.

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To be a great chef you must have:

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An educated, sensitive and judicious palate

A sound and well-honed armamentarium of techniques

The confidence and self-possession to pull off 80 covers a night yet enough humility to grasp that even a genius has to have the finest of ingredients in the best of condition.

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It strikes me that M. Viannay has all of the above, with massive knobs on, and an almost unnerving sense of balance. Every dish, nay every mouthful of food had been executed with such an incredible gustatory poise & accuracy it left one speechless. A true revelation.

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The wines to a accompany this feast were a floral, slightly blowsy off-dry 2010 Condrieu from Gangloff served (for my taste) a degree warmer than was good for it; and a beauteous 2010 Cornas from Clape … Dark, ruby hued, red berry scented, with a touch of Parma violet and a patrician mineral backbone that made it that rarest of things: a perfect glass of wine.

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I’ve now exhausted all of my superlatives for the cooking at this restaurant. So what about the service?

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The waiters were efficient and polite but what makes a good meal great (or in this case turns a great dinner into an unforgettable experience) is that the staff engage with their client (NOT to be confused with the faux bonhomie so beloved of new style burger restaurant chains) and have a sense of joyousness at your sense of joyousness.

I have to say that most undertakers would have been jollier than this lot; and while they did nothing actively wrong, their inability to transmit the brilliance and exuberance of the food they were serving made a chap feel as gleeful as if on a hike on a wet bank holiday.

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However, my latter reservation must not be allowed to detract from my overall adulation, namely what a culinary tour de force this was……. Definitely worth a detour !

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@ Copyright Mubariz Hussain

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