To add to the list of restaurants that I really rate, I must write about L’Epicure, a restaurant in Corbeil-Essonne. Located in a traditional stone house that looks as if someone could be living inside it, sitting with cat on lap in front of the fire, the restaurant may be found a short distance from the Seine in Corbeil, to the south-east of Paris, and this is a place worth knowing if you happen to find yourself in the area. Having said that, you really would have to know about it, because its location in a dark street, possibly more appropriately described as an alley, makes it not the easiest of Corbeil’s eateries to track down.
Luckily, we were guided to l’Epicure with Monsieur’s mother, who’d made us a booking for a small family celebration not so long ago and a very pleasant evening ensued.
I’ve spoken French for many years now, but have never lived in France, so I find it quite a mental drain towards the end of the day when we’re across la Manche and my synapses cease to function in multiple languages. It’s like a neurological twister game. I know what I’m saying but it might just come out in the wrong language, or in more than one language, or in a blend of languages that only I comprehend. At times like these, small things have the potential to revive me and one of them was walking into l’Epicure to find a Jamie Oliver cookbook – in English – sitting on a table in the foyer. That table was a bit of a dream for this amateur gourmet. It was covered in cookbooks by the French greats and others. How I would have loved to sit down and flick through them all. But we were here to eat, so stop and read we could not.
The maitre d’ showed us to our table in a room that probably housed half-a-dozen tables, with another room containing several more just adjacent. There was a newish stone and plaster wall at one end of our room, bearing the year 1981, which had been carved deep into the plaster, and a door gave onto a terrace for use in warmer seasons.
We ordered an apero each of champagne with peach liqueur, and our drinks were presented to us by an immaculately-presented lad of about thirteen. He wore the traditional waiter’s garb of black trousers with white shirt, black waistcoat and bow-tie, and had spiked his shock of dark hair with gel. Throughout the evening, he presented drinks and collected plates without a single mishap, and when the senior waiting staff spoke to him, he listened intently. We wondered if he was being trained into his family’s metier, or if he was some sort of protege who knew he wanted to be a restaurateur already and was working his way through the ranks. Either way, he was a charming addition to the staff.
We were brought an amuse-bouche (cappuccino of mushroom, served in an espresso cup) to tickle our tastebuds into action, and I followed that with a starter of tartare and carpaccio of scallops, swordfish and salmon, marinated in spices, with cream of lime and chives. It was laudably fresh but the swordfish tasted a little bitter so I couldn’t eat it all. Also, anyone who thinks that fish carpaccio is a light dish hasn’t been travelling with me recently. This was huge!
Monsieur and Belle-Mere went for a house special of avocado and lobster, which appeared on dark plates, arranged in a beautiful display of green and orange with artistically-placed claws. It was the sort of dish that makes one sad to begin. One mouthful and the art disappears into the usual mish-mash of food on a plate.
Foie gras features regularly on the menu at l’Epicure – in papillottes, seared, with magret de canard, in ravioli, tossed through salad and as a warm accompaniment to veal. It therefore wasn’t a huge surprise to find a piece of delicate foie gras on top of a tuna steak for my main course. It was an unusual, yet successful combination. However, I was filling up fast and yet again could not finish the generous helping.
Meanwhile, Monsieur and his mother polished off steaks, served with foie gras yet again, and the room, which had been a little empty when we arrived, was filling up. There was a family with an impeccably behaved pair of young boys at one table, a pair of young lovebirds at another, and in one corner sat a chic blonde woman with her male partner, both effortlessly presented in designer jeans, tailored shirts and boxy jackets. Her grooming was expensive – perfect highlighted hair, flawless skin and a splash of natural make-up. She reminded me of a more relaxed version of Caprice, causing me to wonder if it was indeed her. Sipping away at their flutes of champagne, they ordered liberally from the menu and each of their plates was clean when removed. How on earth can it be that they remain so slim whilst Monsieur and I battle to keep our waistlines in check? For now, I’ll call it genetics.
We finished the evening with a chocolate fondant pudding… oozing calories all over our plates and into expanding tums, and waddled out just after coffee. It’s a bit of a trek if you don’t live in the area, but I can unreservedly recommend l’Epicure to anyone visiting Corbeil. Just be sure to bring an appetite.
Place de l’Hotel de ville, 5 et 7, rue du Grand Pignon, 91100 Corbeil Essonne
Tel 01 60 88 28 38