For as long as I’ve owned a property in the Aravis mountain area above the beautiful lake town of Annecy, I’ve always wanted to eat at Marc Veyrat’s restaurant in Veyrier on the shores of the lake, elevated to three Michelin stars at least a decade ago. I remember about 15 years ago discussing a visit seriously with the owner of a mountain auberge reachable only by foot or snow-shoes – a man who enjoyed the good things in life, but was far from wealthy. He served simple wholesome food and wine, but confessed to me that when he closed up his auberge out of season, he enjoyed eating chez Veyrat at least once a year. “It’s worth it”, he said, when I gasped at the 1,000 French Francs price tag per head (approximately £100 or $160 – remember this was 15 years ago) and that was without wine – “it’s really special, unlike any other eating experience.” Over the next few years, I hesitated, periodically checked the prices and reluctantly decided I had to wait to be invited by some rich friend or win the lottery (unlikely since I never purchase a lottery ticket).
Then last year, I met Veyrat’s ex-sommelier, Bruno Bozzer who has established an excellent wine shop down the road from the restaurant, just outside Annecy, called La Java des Flacons. He’s married to Marc’s daughter Carine, who recently opened a patisserie-café-restaurant a few hundred metres away in the building where Marc Veyrat’s restaurant was originally based. So Bruno is biased, but he too urged me to go soon and said a meal there was a really special event. I checked the price again – now €368 for the one fixed-price 18-course menu. Hmmmm … still no sign of anyone inviting me. But, I went to Carine Veyrat’s restaurant La Reine des Près for lunch one day and enjoyed an unpretentious meal of soup and a vast sandwich, served with a great attention to detail. I even had a chat with her and was impressed. That’ll have to do, I thought.
Then yesterday, finally, I was invited by Brett to eat chez Marc Veyrat and what’s more the chef himself was right there wandering up and down anxiously between the kitchen, the serving area and where we were eating. Our meal for two was just over €30, my kind partner told me as he cleared the table before taking the tray over to the kitchen. Yes, you guessed it this wasn’t Veyrat’s three star restaurant which is temporarily closed following the chef’s accident a couple of years back from which he hasn’t fully recovered. Instead it was at his latest venture, next door to his daughter, called Cozna Vera (a play on words of the chef’s name apparently, but also from the Italian for ‘real food’), serving ‘Le Fast-Food Bio’ – organic fast food.
Veyrat has always revelled in publicity (you should have seen him pose right away for Brett’s photograph above, even though he had no idea who we were). He has also been one for breaking the mould and has certainly done it here. This is a restaurant and take-away shop, and the kitchen also prepares meals for outside catering events. There are sandwiches, salads, soups, and some standard hot dishes (including hamburgers), along with fantastic bread from daughter Carine’s kitchen next door. Everything is said to be organic, well everything except the Provence rosé (could Bruno not supply an organic one?). Brett had a delicious slice of mushroom quiche with melt-in-the-mouth pastry; I had a sandwich on a brioche-style roll with cooked vegetables and algae of some sort (strange, but delicious) and we shared some equally weird but tasty green-looking quinoa tabouleh from a Kilner jar. You select your food and drink as in a self-service and place it on huge, green metal trays. The eating area has high stools on springs at high tables or bars; you can see through to the kitchen where they heat up the hot food that’s in Kilner jars in large bains-marie, or watch a video screen showing an interview with the man himself. Cutlery and condiments (including excellent organic olive oil) are on the tables and there’s a big covered terrace too.
Well, I’ve done it now, it’s out of my system. It was good in its contrived way and certainly thought-provoking (which is what Veyrat wants, I suspect), but I think that next time I go down to Lake Annecy I’ll call in on Carine again, rather than Marc, for a somewhat more civilised experience. But, thanks for lunch anyway Brett, and for the pictures.
UPDATE DECEMBER 2010: Marc Veyrat has closed Cozna Vera, though apparently it may reappear in major cities around the world. La Reine des Près remains open and thriving. And there is a new restaurant in the building of Marc Veyrat’s Michelin starred restaurant, run by a protegé chef of his, Yoann Conte and named La Nouvelle Maison du Marc Veyrat.