Friday, 13 July 2012

The Potless Budget Restaurant Review #5: A la Porte Haute Brasserie, Kaysersberg, Alsace Region, France

Being Potless isn't all about cooking at home - it's about having a fabulous value-for-money eating experience, wherever you are.

So, I present to you my series entitled: 'The Potless Budget Restaurant Reviews'!

Having trawled the globe looking for the best of the cheapest eating out establishments, I can now share my findings. 

'Cheap' is, of course, subjective. But what makes a restaurant qualify for this list is a sense of extremely good value. A greasy spoon cafe might be cheap (and delicious too, come to that) but it won't make it onto the list, unless the eating experience it provides is of the very highest quality in proportion to the price it charges.

Fresh from our lunch in Langres, Mrs Ribeye and I hotfooted it over to Alsace, close to the German border, for a scenic trip along the Route des Vins and a night's stay in Kaysersberg.

Despite being a confirmed Francophile, I had never been to Alsace before, and it certainly didn't disappoint. The countryside, with its regimented (a bit of the Germanic influence, perhaps? - Alsace suffers the notoriety of having housed the only Nazi concentration camp on French soil) Reisling and Gewurtztraminer vines readying themselves for the harvest in a couple of months time. The villages in this region, including the nearby larger town of Colmar, are all absolutely picturesque, with fairytale architecture dotted among the rolling hills and valleys. The weather was a bit damp and overcast, but that didn't stop us craning our heads out of the car windows to take photographs of the Brothers Grimm-esque views. Simply stunning.

I parked the car in Kaysersberg's municipal square and we walked a few yards down the winding street to our timber-beamed, rickety looking bed and breakfast, Hassenforder. After being shown to our room to dump our PJ's and toothbrushes, we headed off for a quick circuit of the village and scouted for a likely place for dinner.

This town takes 'twee' to a whole new level. Every shuttered house seemed to belong to an artisan. Honey, candles, books, paintings, sculptures, pottery and other objets d'art were being flogged by the local residents from their ground floor windows. Miniature rivers and springs with little waterwheels and other functional waterway devices coursed underneath between and around the narrow residential streets. Flowers and hanging baskets were dotted haphazardly everywhere. There was a husband and wife team of accordion players regaling the town's various restaurant's al fresco diners with oompah tunes. We loved it, but as a hard-nosed cynical Londoner, I realised that after a couple of nights of this kind of saccharine-laced treatment I was likely to go effing nuts. It's a bit like 'Alsace-World' at a Disney theme park. One night's stay would certainly suffice.

On the food front; A la Porte Haute, a pretty brasserie specialising in home-cooked local fare, seemed like a safe choice and was actually located right across the road from our lodgings. Perfect. We sat on the front terrace of our B & B and ordered our usual pitcher of rose, and spent a couple of happy hours unwinding from the roadtrip and wiling away the afternoon in preparation for our evening dinner.

After dinner we popped in to the local pub, L'Arbre Vert, to drink pastis and watch Italy beat England on penalties in the quarter-finals of the Euro 2012 championships - how very predictable. The barman was charming and the bar was full of local patrons, who in the main actually seemed to support the crappy English team over the dominant Azzuri of Italy. How very lovely for us. Didn't make much difference to the scoreline though...

The next morning, we ate a delicious breakfast of croissants with homemade jam. After an enquiry to the manageress, I was told that the incredible amber jam was made of local quinces, and I was presented with a large jar to take home. I was absolutely touched at her generosity. While Mrs Ribeye wandered off to take some last photographs of the village in the bright morning sunshine, I made my way back to the town square to get the car. To my horror, the municipal square was now the site of the village market, and my car was parked in the middle of it, surrounded by stalls! From a distance, it looked as if my only means of transport was about to become the star prize in the local raffle.

I feverishly ran over to the market and scanned the layout. I reckoned that with some effort and a bit of re-arranging of a few displays, I might be able to make it out of the maze after all. I got into the car, did a 27-point turn to extricate myself from the parking space, and then slowly drove through the gaps between the 25-30 stalls to make it out to the nearest exit. The stall owners, in full knowledge that the English imbecile would likely attempt this, did not bat an eyelid. Rails of dresses and counters of cheese and ham were shoved here and there to allow me to pass safely by. No doubt that if this was an English market, we would have definitely have been forced to have stayed another night in town.

As if the drama wasn't enough, I found our room key in my pocket when we got to our next destination at Annecy in the French Alps. It cost me 8 Euros to send it back to Kaysersberg by recorded delivery. I don't know what the rules on Karma are, but does this qualify?

A la Porte Haute Brasserie
118 Rue General de Gaulle

Tel: 03 89 78 21 49


A pretty window-shuttered brasserie with a pleasant al fresco-fronted dining area, and a menu filled with regional specialities. Out of the 6-7 restaurants in the locality, this was easily the busiest. Always a good sign. However, getting a table was fairly easy, and space was found for us between a mature couple who seemed like they had eaten here every week for the past 60 years, and a younger couple, who like us were delighted to have stumbled upon such gems as Kaysersberg and the A la Porte Haute brasserie.


As with almost all brasseries and restaurants in France, the prix fixe reigns supreme. Since neither of us fancied a huge four-course dinner, we decided to order three entrees and share them all 'a la meme temps, s'il vous plait' (gotta make an effort with the lingo, you know). We ordered from across the menu; a plate of crudites, a cheese platter, and the local speciality mysteriously called Assiette d'Alsacienne. The latter was a plate of porky delights accompanied by choucroute - or the French version of the German sauerkraut.

The crudites were a lovely combination of dressed salads, while the speciality platter was a huge plate of different sausages (including the celebrated local Morteau), hams and salamis with a pile of spiced cabbage. Delightful. The cheese platter contained among its 4-5 varieties, a fresh white goats cheese crotin, and the smelliest cheese in the world: Munster, from the eponymously-named town a few kilometres away. What a whiffy treat. I don't know why, but the smellier the cheese, the mellower and more delicious it seems to taste. This applies to the stinky Perigord cheese Chaumes too, another personal favourite.

Together with a basket of delicious bread and a pitcher of gewurtztraminer, our meal was incredible and looked amazing. Our fellow diners exclaimed loudly when our dishes were presented to us and covered our table, that perhaps their own choices of chicken leg in a cream sauce with pasta was perhaps not as inviting to the eye as our avant garde selections. Perhaps our '3-entrees-for-2-people-delivered-in-1-go' ordering system might catch on in France one day, and finally lay to rest the current French fad of ordering huge lumps of meat in sauce as part of a heavy four course set meal. Who knows?


The whole lot came to 34 Euros (about £14 per head in English money) for the two of us. Had we ordered the suggested 17 Euro prix fixe, we couldn't have eaten better, and it would have been dearer once the wine was factored in. Long live the '3-2-1' ordering system!


Kaysersberg will definitely feature in my future. I loved it there and Mrs Ribeye and I decided that out of all the villages we stayed in or visited, this one was the prettiest. Was it the BEST though? Not sure. There are still plenty of towns on our tour left to consider. I'll keep you updated with my views on Annecy, Aix, Nice, Lyon, Auxerre, Amiens...

On our inevitable return, we definitely would stay at the guest house again. As for the restaurant; we would certainly eat there again. The service was smooth and friendly. The wine was excellent, and the cuisine gave us a wonderful introduction to the delights of the region. Plus, it's only a short stagger back to the lodgings. Hopefully next time I won't forget to hand our room key back at reception.

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