The Champagne region has recently emerged as one of the great gastronomic destinations in France, with an impressive constellation of some of the country’s best restaurants. Many of them also offer Champagne-pairing prix fixe menus. Since Champagne is made principally with three grape varieties — Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier — different producers create different cuvées (blends of grapes), plus mono-cépage (single-grape variety) wines, which pair well with a range of foods.
The Champagne region also has a variety of regional gastronomic specialties. Chaource and Langres, creamy cow’s milk cheeses, are produced here, and Reims is famous for its jambon de Reims, ham poached in an aromatic bouillon and usually served cold or chopped up in terrines. Troyes is well-known for its andouillette, a chitterling sausage, and Reims also produces mustard, which is made with marc de Champagne, a liqueur, and mustard seeds. Biscuits rose de Reims are pink ladyfinger-like cookies flavored with vanilla that are best nibbled with a flute of Champagne.
Here are the restaurants we most enjoyed on our recent trip through this celebrated region of France.
Chef Arnaud Lallement won his third Michelin star in 2014 at this family-owned and -run restaurant in Tinqueux, a suburb of Reims. Service is impeccable in dining rooms overlooking a pretty garden. The best way to enjoy a meal here is to opt for one of the prix fixe tasting menus. At a recent Sunday lunch, the six-course Saveur menu ($220 per person) was outstanding. It began with green asparagus garnished with egg yolk in pastry cartridges, baby peas in shellfish bouillon with sumac, and roasted sole with baby leeks. These treats were followed by duckling with spring vegetables; a cheese trolley from Philippe Olivier in Boulogne-sur-Mer, one of the great cheesemongers of France; and a variety of desserts. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
40 Avenue Paul Vaillant-Couturier, Tinqueux. Tel. (33) 3-26-84-64-64
On a visit to Reims, not every meal can be an haute cuisine experience, so this historic, recently renovated art nouveau brasserie in the heart of town is a good choice for a simple relaxed lunch. We enjoyed some oysters, and then jambon de Rennes (ham terrine with locally made mustard and whipped cream spiked with horseradish), followed by grilled cod with mushroom lasagna and sole meunière. The service was prompt and friendly.
96 Place Drouet d’Erlon, Reims. Tel. (33) 3-26-91-40-50
Nestled away in an atmospheric lane of medieval half-timbered houses in the heart of Troyes, this lively brasserie is a local favorite. The menu changes often, but the owner is committed to working with the best-quality seasonal produce. Start with the house-smoked salmon, or maybe some foie gras, and then tuck into the honey-lacquered lamb shank, or the tête de veau served with either sauce gribiche (a mayonnaise-style cold egg sauce) or sauce ravigote (seasoned with chives, parsley, shallots and capers). There is an excellent cheese plate of local raw-milk cheeses. And the selection of regional wines is notable.
5 Ruelle des Chats, Troyes. Tel. (33) 3-10-94-03-03
Japanese chef Kazuyuki Tanaka is the most celebrated chef in Champagne right now, thanks to his exquisitely light, fresh and inventive Japanese-influenced contemporary French cuisine. The $95 lunch menu represents outstanding value and begins with four hors d’oeuvres; we particularly enjoyed the finely grated beetroot with smoked eel and smoked-eel bouillon. These were followed by marinated salmon with kiwi and rutabaga, and John Dory with a trio of sauces; a dessert of white chocolate, lime and meadowsweet; and mignardises (pastries) with coffee. The excellent selection of wines by the glass included a 2014 Chevreux-Bournazel La Parcelle, a richly flavored still wine from vineyards just outside Reims. Closed Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday lunch.
6 Place Godinot, Reims. Tel. (33) 3-26-35-16-95
Chef Jean-Denis Rieubland, who formerly worked at the Michelin two-star Le Chantecler in Nice, oversees the two restaurants at the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa. Le Bellevue, a contemporary bistro with a seasonal menu, offers dishes like roasted asparagus and Parmesan-crusted sea bream with artichokes. At the Michelin one-star Le Royal, the gastronomic table, we opted for the five-course Signature Menu, which began with crabmeat dressed with makrut lime and garnished with caviar, followed by turbot with seaweed butter, artichokes and baby carrots, and veal sweetbreads with chorizo and a fricassee of girolle mushrooms. Our meal was delicious, and we very much enjoyed the wine suggestions of the amiable sommelier, Daniel Pires, especially a white 2016 Domaine de Trévallon from the Alpilles in Provence. The distinctive Champagne bar offers more than 200 vintages in an atmospheric lounge area.
Le Royal at the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa
9 Rue de la République, Champillon. Tel. (33) 3-26-52-87-11