Father and son Eric and Tristan Martin are passionate about food, wine and the region they live in. It is therefore no wonder that they work together in an idyllic setting in Lavaux-Ste-Anne in the Belgian Ardennes where they run a hotel and restaurant which has been open for 10 years.
Eric has been cooking for more than 25 years while his son Tristan who studied at the Paul Bocuse Institute joined him in Maison Lemonnier in spring 2008.
The father studied law but had already made his decision that he would be cooking. In his words, his love for nature and the region was such that cooking was the only obvious choice.
You can see that passion in the philosophy of their cooking, the love for the region and its ingredients, the need to try and make their gastronomic restaurant accessible to young people (but not only) through a ‘subsidised’ menu on the chef’s table and their hospitality.
It was on a sunny Saturday morning that I drove to Maison Lemonnier in Lavaux-Ste-Anne in the heart of the Belgian Ardennes for a bloggers lunch on their invitation. What strikes you when you arrive at Maison Lemonnier, just one hour away from Brussels, is the oasis of tranquility.
As Eric himself tells us on one of the many times he came to speak to us at table, he prefers his guests to come here with time on their hands and not to be rushed. After all, for the chef’s table, you need to reserve at least a week in advance because they will start to prepare the food slowly (salting the pork for example) days before.
“To prepare food and to eat food you should not be in a rush,” Eric says, and you have to agree with him.
That was pretty evident after the lunch was over. Someone at the table asked Eric about the source of his meat. He says it’s a butcher close to the restaurant. His son Tristan quickly walks to the kitchen and came back with slices of this mouthwatering ham even though we had just finished a dessert, two splendid tarts (one chocolate and one with a trappist beer) and petit fours.
They then came with two cheeses, one from the region (an aged and delicious goat’s cheese) and one which they got with them from a recent trip to France.
But it was not over, Eric asked if I wanted to stay for a drink and I told him that I had to drive back to Brussels and he replied that I could always join him for a glass of water with Jehan from Le Verre et L’Assiette. We then sat with him for over an hour as he recalled one anecdote after another about his experience with cooking, his food discoveries and also the current difficult situation that restaurants are facing among others.
We complimented him about his wine-list which is a dream for wine-lovers with many old vintages which he sells at very reasonable prices.
It turned out to be a very interesting and inspiring afternoon.
Maison Lemonnier has been open for 10 years. Before that Eric used to work in the restaurant of the Chateaux of Lavaux-Ste-Anne. Tristan studied in France. The dining room has a view on the hotel’s garden where Eric and Tristan also grow some of the vegetables they use in the garden.
The cooking is classic but there is also a modern and innovative touch which was evident throughout the menu they served.
Their love of their region is clear and it starts with the choice of their plates. They have entrusted Coraly Sepulchre to design and make the plates. She comes from the region though she went to study in Spain and the United States. The process is laborious, she works alone and can only make up to 40 plates a week out of which only 30 can be used because some come out of the oven damaged.
Tristan tells me that when the plates were being designed they went into a lot of detail to ensure that a spoon or fork would not fall into the bowl by ensuring that the rim was just smaller.
The chef’s table
The chef’s table is a new creation at the restaurant. It is in the centre, just off the main dining area and very close to the kitchen.
The concept behind this chef’s table is that of making gastronomy approachable to the young (and not so young) by offering a tasting menu on a communal table, including wines at a reduced price.
Eric and Tristan told Food and Wine Gazette that when they came up with the concept they wanted to make going to a gastronomic restaurant approachable for people who might otherwise think twice before going to such a restaurant because of the cost. At the chef’s table they serve a menu for eight people which includes their signature dishes as well as improvised dishes which are paired with wines chosen by sommelier Frederic Cabut.
The showcase of this table is the cooking which requires a very long time to prepare and that is the reason why they ask for a reservation at least a week in advance.
The lunch we were served started with a number of amuses bouches prepared by Eric and Tristan. They included their take on the vitello tonnato followed by salmon with cabbage. This was followed by pork cheeks and a perfect consommé. The last amuse bouche was a ragu of beef cheeks served wrapped in a carrot with parmesan.
The first starter was a tartare of sea bream, spider crab and an iced fish stock.
Roasted asparagus in butter were served with a mousseline sauce of clementine and juniper berries. The asparagus was garnished with clementine leave powder and finished with a local Ardenne cheese which Eric called ‘our parmesan’.
The main course was a ‘ham’ from Bertrand, the butcher in Pondrôme close to Maison Lemonnier (which is really worth a detour). The butcher shop is called Boucherie de la Ferme. The ham was cooked in a ‘loaf of bread with hay inside to give it a ‘barny’ flavour. It was served accompanied by vegetables in a ‘cocotte’ and a sauce made from the collagen of the cooked pork.
Dessert consisted of white chocolate, pineapple, passion fruit and almonds.
We were then served two tarts. One was made with trappist beer and another with chocolate. Both were excellent.
82, rue Baronne Lemonnier, 5580 Lavaux-Ste-Anne, Tel: 084388883, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The restaurant is open from Thursday lunchtime to Monday evening and has a garden and terrace.
The hotel has 9 rooms. Prices vary from Eur 130 to 155.
The menu prices range from 38 euros (for lunch excluding Sundays and public holidays) to 82 euros. The menu at the chef’s table is 69 euros per person and includes amuses bouches, a three-course menu, coffee, wines and water included.
Tristan carves the bread to reveal the roasted pork