French Restaurant Review: Fleur de Loire, Blois

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Ambitious chef Christophe Hay is the new king of the Loire Valley. He previously held two Michelin stars at his restaurant La Maison d’à Côté in Montlivault, 10km from Blois, which opened in 2014. On the heels of its success he dreamed of a project that would be centred on his own vegetable garden and which would allow him to express his locavore Ligérien cooking in both haute cuisine and casual versions.

Now he’s opened Fleur de Loire, a 44-room hotel with two restaurants and a spa on the banks of the Loire River in Blois. These are the first new bona-fide  luxury accommodations in the Loire River valley for many years, and this Relais & Châteaux property also underlines the emergence of this magnificent region of France as an exciting gastronomic destination on par with Burgundy or Provence.

Hay, a native of Vendôme and the son of a butcher, first learned to cook at the hotel school in Blois and went on to spend five years working for Paul Bocuse at his restaurant at the Epcot Centre in Florida before returning to France. After several jobs in Paris, he yearned to return to the Loire Valley: “It’s one of the
most beautiful places in the world and the local produce is spectacular, especially the fish from the Loire River and the valley’s fruits and vegetables.”

The hotel has two restaurants. At Fleur de Loire, the gastronomic table, the ton-sur-ton dining room offers a serene contemporary setting in which to discover the chef’s lyrically creative and very personal expression of the terroir of the Loire, as shown in tasting menus of three, nine, six or four courses. The first offering on the nine-course menu recently served here was an elegant cameo composed of oscietra caviar from the Sologne with sturgeon cooked in bouillon, baby haricots verts and elderflower. This delicate dish was effectively an edible homage to the mighty Loire, the longest river in France, which can be seen through the dining room windows.

Two other superb dishes included carp à la Chambord – grilled carp in a sauce of red wine with crayfish, truffles and bacon, and a spectacularly light crêpe soufflé of pike-perch with vegetables from the chef’s organic garden. A stunningly good raspberry soufflé garnished with pomelos from Hay’s greenhouses and spiked by Timut pepper concluded this remarkable meal.

Lunch the following day at Amour Blanc, the hotel’s more informal restaurant, was similarly excellent, with inventive dishes impeccably prepared from the freshest local ingredients. Memorable dishes from the regularly evolving menu here include a steak tartare starter garnished with pickled vegetables from Hay’s own garden; quenelles de brochet (pike-perch dumplings) with crayfish and mushrooms; and roasted Mirabelle plums with almond ice cream and pannacotta dressed with grilled colza-seed oil.

The hotel and its two restaurants occupy a U-shaped 17th-century former hospice on the banks of the Loire that was originally built by Gaston d’Orléans, the brother of French king Louis XIII. Converting the hospice into a hotel was a €30m project that not only included a complete restoration of the original buildings but the construction of a 15m indoor pool set beneath the spa wing’s original vaulted ceilings. This Sisley spa also contains five treatment rooms, a sauna and hammam, a herbal tearoom and an outdoor pool.

Designed by interior architect Caroline Tissier, bedrooms here are impressively spacious and filled with light. Inspired by the Loire River itself, Tissier decorated them in restful scheme of soft grey tones, with sleek contemporary furniture and gold accent pieces. Bath products come from the Savonnerie des Muids, a local company producing all-natural soaps, bath gels and shampoos.

26 Quai Villebois Mareuil, Blois, France
Tel. (33) 02 46 68 01 20,
Rooms from €309
Christophe Hay restaurant – prix-fixe menus: €218, €158, €98
Amour Blanc restaurant – average à la carte meal for two, €150

From France Today magazine