The third article in my Arbois Week highlights my favourite restaurant in the town, La Balance Mets et Vins. There’s a fascinating section about Arbois gastronomy in Wink Lorch’s Jura Wine, telling the story of how Arbois was once a major stop on the old Paris to Geneva route. It already boasted two restaurants with a Michelin Star before the Jeunet family renovated the former Hotel de Paris. Jean-Paul Jeunet is now, and has long been Arbois’ most famous restaurant. The food and service are exemplary, and it holds two Michelin Stars.
La Balance, at 47 rue de Courcelles, is a bit further out on the edge of town, towards the Maison Pasteur. It took me a few years to dine there, partly because of its location (though it is in fact a mere five minute walk from the centre of Arbois, the casual visitor might not pass it unless they were heading to the Pasteur Museum), and partly because we began staying in Arbois with small children, before they were old enough to be successfully introduced to the delights of eating out in Europe.
Back when Jeunet obtained their first Star, La Balance was one of the two Arbois establishments that already had one, but the restaurant appears to have disappeared from the culinary map, and with that its Star, until its revival as a restaurant in the late 1990s. Today, Thierry Moyne is in charge, and oversees the most innovative and exciting menus in the region, with a wine list which attempts to match the finest as well. This won’t surprise anyone when told that the restaurant has received considerable backing from some of the local winemakers. Arbois’ restaurants, with the exception of Jeunet, have not always provided a spotlight on the region’s best wines, though thankfully this is changing fast.
The difficulty at La Balance is the choice of direction to take. The Carte is always good, with specialities like cuisse de pintade, filet de truite et sauce au comté and, of course, coq au vin jaune et aux morilles, all also available as choices on the Delices de Saison and Menu Gourmand options. The coq au vin jaune comes in a casserole dish with a rich sauce, two large pieces of chicken of a colour and firmness of texture far removed from most British fare. Served with rice, it’s very filling, though when I ate it last week I’d started with the very good, but thankfully small, tartare de carpe.
tartare de carpe coq au vin jaune
The classic choice at a restaurant which, unusually, draws attention to its wine list is the “L’Improvisation Mets et Vins”. It’s a degustation menu of eight courses from amuse bouche to dessert for €65, each accompanied by a small glass of wine (an extra €26 at the time of writing). The menu itself is (like all the food at La Balance) based on local ingredients in season. The wines are exceptionally well matched and, in addition to Crémant or red/white selections, you can expect a little Vin Jaune and/or Vin de Paille. It’s always a treat to be presented with something like Stéphane Tissot’s Spirale “non-vin-de-paille”, and the specific matches may differ around the table depending on what course options each diner has chosen – it means that in generous company you can taste even more wines.
Last week I chose the Delices de Saison menu and, after a Crémant from the biodynamic Domaine de la Pinte, we drank a rare bottle of Tissot 2009 Amphore Savagnin, an orange wine, the colour of Lucozade with serene scents of citrus, a texture of skin contact and a very well hidden punch of 15% alcohol which you only notice as you try to leave the table. A fabulous wine, at €54 only about €20 above domaine prices (and, as you all know by now having read my previous Arbois posts, it is only available in tiny quantities for a few months every year). Before coffee we were served a single berry of Tissot Poulsard macerated in Macvin.
The food at La Balance is very well presented. The sourcing policy, which if they were in a large metropolis would be called “locavore”, of using local ingredients, in season, really shows in their flavour. Arbois finds itself with new restaurants every year, with an exciting prospect due to open soon on the Place de la Liberté in the centre of town (wine list compiled by Wink Lorch so I can’t wait to try it). Gourmets will also want to try Jean-Paul Jeunet for that more formal Michelin experience. But I can’t imagine I’d miss a meal at La Balance when staying in Arbois. They even have that rare thing, a vegetarian menu, which I’m told really highlights the freshness of the produce.
La Balance Mets et Vins, 47 rue de Coucelles, 03 84 37 45 00, http://www.labalance.fr
Closed Monday in July/August, but closed on Sunday too for the rest of the year (festivals such as the Biou excepted). They close for a well earned break between early December and early February annually. They always recommend booking.
A vegetarian menu, crikey. Last time was there it was trout or nowt
Yes, went to Normandy for a weekend with vegetarian friends back in the early 90s and it was omelette all the way. The French, love them as I do, really do seem to think that if you don’t eat meat there’s something seriously wrong with you. And there is a prevailing idea that fish is a vegetable, which is mildly amusing (less so when they assume a vegetarian will eat chicken). Of course, you do see things changing in Paris, but also Franche-Comté too. I think the popularity of natural wines has gone hand-in-hand with a more enlightened attitude to food choices (and allergies).
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