L’Espace PH3 Bistrot/La Pyramide

14 Bd Fernand Point

38200 Vienne, France

Phone: +33 (4 74) 53 01 96



The Food:

Dinner – L’Espace PH3

Trout gravlax au Limoncello with courgettes and bitter jelly

Rabbit with mustard sauce, braised parsnips and tagliatelle of carrots

Chocolate douceur and seasonal fruit with croustillant

Lunch – La Pyramide

Les Becs à Sel

Foie gras poached in lightly smoked consommé, cocoa nibs and Shimeji and Shiitake mushrooms

Saint Pierre cod in Genièvre butter, leeks coussin with garden herbs

Veal fillet cooked in Limousin milk, pan-fried colonnata bacon, green asparagus, savoury gnocchi

Sautéed fillet of pigeon, petit pois, confit onions and reduced Syrah sauce

Strawberries in a meringue shell, rose petals, cocoa bean sorbet

Dinner – La Pyramide

Mushroom risotto

The Wines:

First Night – Evening Dinner

2013 Domaine François Raveneau Chablis Valmur Grand Cru 94
2016 Domaine Hubert Lamy Puligny-Montrachet Les Tremblots Haute Densité   93
2016 Domaine Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet Les Ruchottes 1er Cru 89?
2016 Domaine Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru 95
2017 Domaine Guy Amiot Puligny-Montrachet Demoiselle 1er Cru 93
2010 Domaine Jean-François Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 99+
2012 Domaine Comte du Liger-Belair Echézeaux Grand Cru 96
2012 Domaine Comte du Liger-Belair Vosne-Romanée Clos du Château 89
1940 Louis Latour Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru 87
1943 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands Echézeaux Grand Cru 94
1942 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg Grand Cru 91

Second Day – Lunch

1955 Gilette Doux  93

Second Night – Evening Dinner

2010 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave L’Hermitage   98
2010 Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie 97

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a heathen when it comes to food and wine matching, adhering to three or four basic rules, the first being the higher the pedigree of wine then the simpler the cuisine.

The onslaught of serious, complex wines that demand contemplation and elaborate dishes with their constellation of textures, aromas and flavours can be distracting to the point where the chef’s culinary skills become moot. Senses get overwhelmed trying to process everything all at once, akin to listening to your favourite albums simultaneously. If sheer hedonism were the objective, then why not, but these days I am seeking an equilibrium between food and wine, not a blitz. Whereas countries like Italy, and particularly Japan, have no truck against simplicity if dishes are built around meticulously-sourced ingredients; French chefs seem to be inculcated to dazzle on the plate. Thankfully, this is changing with the cadre of new chefs that realize you don’t have to constantly show off in order to impress. Nouvelle cuisine pioneer Michel Guérard always seems to deliver deceptively simple dishes that hit the gustatory bullseye without prancing around shouting “Look at me!”. You hardly notice their complexity, the genius behind their creation, until you are mopping your plate in the realisation that what you just devoured has just redefined deliciousness.

This brings me to La Pyramide in Vienne, just south of Lyon and a galet’s throw from Hermitage. I resided there for a weekend since it served as the venue for a recent Rousseau vertical. The hotel boasts two restaurants, the two Michelin-starred La Pyramide and a bistro, L’Espace PH3. On the first night, attendees convened at the bistro in order to mine its eye-boggling wine lists, and the following day, the second part of the Chambertin tasting was accompanied by a specially prepared menu in the flagship restaurant.

La Pyramide is a French gastronomic institution that traces its history back to 1822. It was given its name by Fernand Point after he took over the establishment in 1925, inspired by the nearby Roman obelisk. Point trained alongside the father of Paul Bocuse. Eight years later he became the first chef awarded three Michelin stars and prepared both Paul Bocuse and the Troisgros brothers. Point passed away in 1955, and the hotel/restaurant was sold to a development group in 1987. They invested in the property and appointed Pierre Henriroux as head chef, winning his first Michelin star in 1990 and a second one two years later. Henriroux and his wife become proprietors of La Pyramide in 1998.

The trout and rabbit dishes served at the bistro.

In this Vinous Table, I am not going to drill down every dish. Instead, I thought it would be more useful to compare the three meals. The first was on Friday night at the bistro. We opted for three courses, the trout gravlax exquisitely executed, the fish imparting refreshing salinity that worked perfectly with the bitter jelly. The rabbit with mustard sauce was a little fussy for my liking, though the chocolate douceur was absolutely delicious. Considering the prestige of the establishment, the bistro represents good value, the main courses up to €24 and the desserts around the €12 mark. It gives diners an introduction to Henriroux’s culinary skills without the frills and without breaking the bank.

The following afternoon we dined at La Pyramide, with a specially designed menu to accompany the Rousseaus. This was French gastronomy with all the bells and whistles, the highlights being the veal fillet, sautéed pigeon and the strawberries in a meringue shell. It was thoroughly enjoyable, and the skill in the kitchen was on full display. At the same time, I felt that some combinations did not gel, especially the foie gras that seemed to sing from a different hymn sheet than the accompanying fungi. Likewise, the leeks seemed estranged from the cod. Overall, the courses were a bit like an album where the running order of the songs has not been thought through.

The most successful dishes at La Pyramide: pigeon, veal and the strawberries.

Strangely, after all that food, that evening we needed some kind of sustenance to soak up all that Chambertin. The restaurant was full, so chef kindly parked us in the corner and served mushroom risotto. It was sensational. Heavenly. Seasoned to perfection, it was the ideal foil to the two heavyweight Rhônes, and I could have eaten a second bowl.

If you asked which of those meals I would like to repeat, it would be the risotto. That reflects how my personal tastes have changed, a desire to consume simpler dishes utilising well-sourced ingredients instead of dishes that present themselves like a cryptic crossword. Maybe that is a failing on my part. It’s like someone telling me as a writer to write every sentence as a subject, verb, object and restrict myself to a limited vocabulary. I would be offended. Yet, there is clearly a trend towards simpler dining as epitomized by restaurants like Brat, Noble Rot and The Sportsman. Moreover, it vindicates my assertion that simple dishes make better canvases for wines that demand attention. The specially designed menu was well-intentioned. However, the dishes were distracting, and I had to keep pushing them aside for a few moments as I examined and wrote about the wines. I know that is not orthodox. Not everyone is scribbling copious notes at a meal. But I maintain that there is a more harmonious marriage, a more satisfying experience when the complexities of both the cuisine and the wine is matched and not both dialled up to eleven (using the Spinal Tap scale.)

As I mentioned, this establishment is famed for its wine list, not years but decades of prudently putting bottles away in their cellar. Don’t think you can roll up with your diamond credit card and demand all the pre-war Burgundy. Quite rightly in my opinion, it is the restaurant’s discretion what they will open and naturally favour regular customers and those they feel genuinely appreciate such wines, lest the precious cellar is ransacked by the next billionaire who rolls into town. The bottles opened on this evening were agreed upon in advance, which is the way it should be done not least because it allows the sommeliers the time to decant properly.

May I point out that these were consumed by a group of oenophiles, not just myself.

The 2013 Chablis Valmur Grand Cru from Domaine Raveneau sports lucid green tints in the glass. It has what you might describe as a “mean” nose, hints of fresh limes, gooseberry and petrichor. Plenty of mineralité here. Moderate intensity, tight at first, this Valmur requires a few minutes to find its groove, delivering stem ginger-tinged citric peel with a slightly oiliness towards the finish that is surprising given the growing season. Quite penetrating on the close. This is excellent, yet it deserves more bottle age. The 2016 Puligny-Montrachet Les Tremblots Haute Densité from Domaine Hubert Lamy rivets you to the spot with intense lemon, crushed stone and subtle spicy notes, leaping from the glass with vim and vigour. The palate is beautifully balanced, achingly young, sharp and brilliantly defined on the finish. Broaching this now, you feel like you are only on the first pages of a gripping novel. Superb. The 2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Les Ruchottes 1er Cru from Domaine Jean-Claude Ramonet has a menthol-tinged bouquet, fine definition even if it is over-shadowed by the accompanying Bâtard-Montrachet. The palate offers sour lemon, hints of white peach and yet it misses some tension on the finish, like a schoolkid losing interest in the lesson. I must admit that I was expecting more from this. Ramonet’s 2016 Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru is wonderful. Scintillating delineation and focus on the nose, then builds in intensity in the glass with its mineral-driven malic fruit and petrichor notes. The palate is powerful, quite spicy with lip-smacking salinity. Great depth and grip, this fans out beautifully on the finish. The 2017 Puligny-Montrachet Demoiselle 1er Cru from Domaine Guy Amiot & Fils is a pleasant surprise. Menthol scents on the nose, this builds nicely and becomes very Montrachet-like in style. The palate is dense and powerful with touches of orange rind and lemongrass, vivacious and displaying a light oily texture on the finish. This has a lot of potential. The 2010 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru from Domaine Jean-François Coche-Dury is the third bottle that I have encountered. I’m spoiled. It flirts perfectly with a heavenly bouquet that just shimmers with energy, the palate ideally balanced with incredible, ineffable depth and concentration, yet that acidity slices through it with effortless ease. I suspect a score with three figures instead of two is just a matter of time.

The 2012 Echézeaux Grand Cru courtesy of Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair has a wonderful nose with vibrant red fruit, tomato vine and hints of lavender. This is understated for Louis-Michel’s wines, but that plays to its advantage. The palate displays exquisite balance, building in intensity with aeration, pristine and chiselled to the finest detail on the finish. This is an outstanding wine at a decade old. The 2012 Vosne-Romanée Clos du Château again from Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair offers Morello cherries and damp loamy scents on the nose, perhaps just missing a little delineation. The palate is well-balanced with a slightly candied opening, moderate length and density yet it just pulls up a tad short on the finish. Drinking perfectly now.

Three extremely rare red Burgundies from the forties followed. What made them special is provenance, as La Pyramide has cellared them from release. The 1940 Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru from Louis Latour displayed wide bricking on the rim. It has a mothball-tinged nose, evincing a challenging growing season even without war raging around winemakers. The palate is light with tart red cherries and a hint of orange rind, vestiges of some vigour but dry and rather decayed on the finish. I have had magnificent old bottles from Louis Latour, but unfortunately this is more of a curiosity. The 1943 Grands Echézeaux Grand Cru from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti shows a wide bricked rim. This has an entrancing bouquet with burning embers, cigar humidor, a touch of menthol and subtle Provençal herb aromas. The palate is medium bodied with light tannins, fine acidity, notes of sour cherry and even a suggestion of honey. Pretty, quite flattering in style, it displays remarkable persistence on the finish. What a divine wartime veteran. The 1942 Richebourg Grand Cru from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti appears slightly more fatigued than the 1943 Grands Echézeaux, forgivable given age and circumstances. Vestiges of light red fruit, roasted chestnuts and a rather incongruous adhesive scent, disjointed initially yet cohering beautifully within five minutes of pouring. The palate is medium bodied with sour cherry and quite noticeable acidity that lends this Richebourg nerve. Nicely focused with the weight that you probably would not find in say, its Romanée-Saint-Vivant equivalent this was a very respectable showing, even if the Vigne Originelle Française tasted a couple of years ago was certainly superior (what I would give to compare them alongside.)

That was sufficient for one evening, although the sommelier vanished as a few people drifted off to bed and return with a wartime claret that I have earmarked for a Cellar Favourite.

The following evening, we had a simple dinner as we were recovering after the Rousseau marathon at lunch, which actually finished with a rarely seen Sauternes, a 1955 Gillette Doux. This comes from an unorthodox era for Sauternes, traditionally aged for two decades in concrete, when the wines were labelled according to sweetness: dry, demi-sec, demi-doux, doux, and crême de tête, which last until 1962. It has a light adhesive scent on the nose, a trait that I find is more common within coeval Barsacs. Dried honey, melted candle wax, tangerine and mandarin emerge, with a touch of Seville orange marmalade. The palate is well balanced with a tangy, slightly bitter entry, notes of quince and desiccated orange peel, fine depth with a harmonious finish that belies its age. It develops an almost mature Vouvray-like quality with time. Excellent.

We compared a magnum of 2010 L’Hermitage from Domaine J.L. Chave that was consistent with the magnum poured at Medlar just a few weeks earlier. It was twinned with a 2010 Côte-Rôtie from Domaine Jean-Paul, Corinne & Loïc Jamet that is exquisite. Black fruit, piped tobacco, smoke, incense and black olives unfold with seemingly each swirl of the glass. Not as powerful as the Chave, yet perhaps even more complex. The palate is intense, beautifully defined and focused, slightly ferrous on the entry. A garrigues-tinged middle with finely chiselled tannins and a voluminous, but detailed finish, this is an awesome Côte-Rôtie.

Would I return to La Pyramide? Without a doubt, yes. It is a well-run establishment with lots of character, pretty location and a wine list worth hopping on a plane for. Exactly where I would choose to eat there, given the choice, is another matter entirely. I’d still be thinking about that delicious risotto!

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