A hype or persisting quality?
Everyone in Basel with some passion for good restaurants loves Auberge Saint-Laurent. We have been trying to get a reservation for a year. I must have phoned and emailed them a dozen times, but even three, four weeks ahead of time, they were always fully booked. It has to be Basel’s most beloved restaurant. Except that it is in Sierentz, twenty minutes away in the Alsace, France. We finally managed to get a table, lucky coincidence, on my birthday. The expectations were high. Could the team at the Auberge match or even exceed them? Or was it a mere hype?
Bien sûre, monsieur!
Having been born at the end of the summer, you never know what the weather will do on your birthday in our Western-European temperate and unpredictable climate. But as in most years, I was fortunate. It was still a balmy 20+ degrees when we arrived at the ochre-painted, half-timbered building that Auberge Saint-Laurent occupies; a perfect temperature to get seated with our aperitif (a crisp and dry Cremant d’Alsace from Schaller) in a beech-shaded corner of the intimate garden.
We chose one of the set menus. The waiting staff didn’t blink an eye when I asked if I could swap my starter for a starter from one of the other set menus. “Bien sure, monsieur!” My friend stuck to the omble chevalier (arctic char) from Lake Geneva prepared with Melfor, an Alsatian honey and herbs infused vinegar. I was attracted by a confiture de choucroute that came as an accompaniment to a paté de foie gras. The sweet acidity of the sauerkraut jam was a beautiful compliment to the full flavors of the paté. Instead of serving it with a brioche, the chef had picked another Alsatian specialty, a kougelhopf, a small cake-like bread. Both dishes were beautiful expressions of locally inspired classics.
Appetizers at Auberge Saint-Laurent
Pods for ice cream
At exactly the right time the second dish was brought to our table. It turned out to be one of those evenings where the waiting staff was always present when you needed them. You could call it coincidence, but it struck me rather as proof of the excellent service throughout the evening. The perfectly grilled lobster with fresh peas and a drop of mint oil was probably my favorite dish. It didn’t have any of the chewiness a lobster can have, while the hint of sweetness from the peas and the freshness from the mint oil gave the dish undeniable complexity. Perhaps the most interesting part was the ice cream made from the pea pods.
The main attraction of the menu was the piece of wild turbot. The fish was cooked to perfection (not too long), but the subtle taste of turbot got unfortunately somewhat lost in the added duck liver. The artichoke and the cèpes (king bolete) aggravated this, but, what contradiction, also saved the combination.
Poached and honey-glazed apricots with verbena crème, rosemary jelly and lavender infused crunchy nougatine rounded off my meal. Rich in flavor, light and fresh on the stomach. Exactly what I needed. Visually more spectacular was the Vacherin glacé my friend had picked. Although the roots of this dessert don’t lie in the Alsace, the name does originate from here. The brittle meringue filled with ice cream apparently has some resemblance to the local cheese with the same name. I didn’t see it, but that could have been caused by the berries topping the dessert and red coulis dripping down its sides.
When we walked back to the car, the night still warm, we agreed this was an evening where all things came together. The chef created exemplary dishes with tasty regional touches, we were taken care of by an ever present but never pushy and always friendly group of maître d’s and the atmosphere in the fully occupied lovely garden was buzzy. The restaurant is family-owned and the chef, since five years in charge behind the stove, is the third generation. Such a longstanding tradition can hardly be a hype. If Basel’s favorite restaurant happens to be in France, so be it. With some imagination you could call Sierentz part of the Basel agglomeration. We’ll be back!
Restaurant Auberge Saint-Laurent
1 rue de la Fontaine, Sierentz (Alsace)
T: +33 3 8981 5281