Like Châteauneuf–du-Pape, another world-famous French wine town, Chablis is depressingly short of good restaurants. Until recently, you could eat better in Calais or Dunkirk. But things changed for the better last year when an entrepreneurial Frenchman called Fabien Espana took over the old Laroche wine bar on a narrow street overlooking the River Serein and renamed it Au Fil du Zinc. Espana is only 27, but has form in the catering game, having opened Le Soufflot nearby in Irancy in 2007. Suddenly, Chablis has a great place in which to eat.
Espana’s smartest move was to employ Ryo Nagahama – a Japanese chef who worked with Joël Robuchon in Paris – and his patîssière wife, Vanessa Chang. Their food is subtle yet satisfying, combining oriental and Mediterranean flavours. Stolid, artery-clogging Burgundian cuisine it is not; in fact, the only thing that’s remotely traditional about the menu here is the cheese board.
Showing a sense of humour that’s rare among top-flight French restaurant-owners, Espana describes himself as an “apprentice waiter” on his business card. In fact, he’s a combination of maître d’ and sommelier, moving nimbly between the tables in this stylishly decorated, bare-beamed room.
The wine list is his domain, and he clearly has a good relationship with the local growers, several of whom can often be spotted at neighbouring tables. The prices are as mouth-watering as the wines. Is there another restaurant in the world, let alone Chablis, where you can drink the amazing 2010 Vincent Dauvissat Grand Cru Les Clos for only €66?
As you’d expect, local wines dominate the selection, divided by vineyard origin rather than producer. Given that the restaurant is only a year old, the list is understandably short on older bottles. Nonetheless, if you want to sample the best that Chablis has to offer, all of the top names are here, from François Raveneau to Benoît Droin, Thomas Pico to William Fèvre. The rest of Burgundy, especially Irancy, is also well represented; as are the Loire, the Rhône, the Jura and Champagne. It’s a (French) wine-lovers’ list.
What to choose with the food? With a scented, summery gazpacho, we had a bottle of the taut, tangy, yet richly textured 2012 Thomas Pico Premier Cru Beauregards (€38). With a delicious slow-cooked lamb, and the cheese that followed, Espana recommended something richer from the Côte Chalonnaise: the sweetly oaked, plum and black cherry-like 2010 Givry Premier Cru Petite Marolle from Domaine François Lumpp (€46), one of the best growers in southern Burgundy.
My only criticism of the list is the short selection of just six wines by the glass and carafe. But given the price of the bottles, it’s no hardship to buy one or more of those. Chablis is lucky to have Au Fil du Zinc. Monsieur Espana should open his next restaurant in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
restaurant-chablis.fr; from €26pp for two courses
Where else to go and what to drink
HOSTELLERIE DES CLOS
Formal restaurant with an extensive, somewhat pricey list.
Best white: 2014 Chablis Vieilles Vignes, La Chablisienne The local Chablisienne co-operative offers this unoaked Chablis from the excellent 2014 vintage, with classic citrus and oyster-shell notes and a zesty finish. €33
Best red: 2013 Rully Premier Cru Mazières, Vincent Dureuil-Janthial Dureuil is the best young grower in the village of Rully, just south of the more prestigious Chassagne-Montrachet. Try his supple, fragrant, gently oaked Pinot Noir lightly chilled. €55
hostellerie-des-clos.fr; from €45pp for four courses
Fine dining in Vincelottes, with an outstanding Burgundy list.
Best white: 2002 Chablis Premier Cru, Les Lys, Daniel-Etienne Defaix Les Lys is one of the coolest Premier Cru sites in Chablis, making wines that age beautifully. This mature, toasty, complex white from Defaix has honeyed richness balanced by pithy, mineral-edged acidity. €48
Best red: 2007 Chambolle-Musigny, Domaine Georges Roumier Christophe Roumier is one of the stars of Chambolle-Musigny. Even in more forward vintages such as 2007, he produces wines of sublime poise. This is classic Chambolle: all delicacy, perfume and palate-caressing finesse. €75