Plenty of people in Alsace – myself included – have a sort of emotional investment in the Auberge de l’Ill. It’s there, within easy reach, for when we feel a birthday or an anniversary celebration coming on, or just for a classy, companionable lunch. It’s a bit like having a much-loved Granny nearby. She lives in a magic place with a secret garden by a river, with fleets of faithful staff and delicious food – the kind of place where all the extended family loves to gather.
But then things sort of slipped. Forty years of uninterrupted three year Michelin stardom came and went, and the Auberge began to feel a bit jaded, past her best, just not getting it any more. All who cared about this great grand’mère of high-class French provincial auberges began to fret she might be losing the plot.
Fret no more. We were guests at lunch there recently (thank you Jean-Louis and Grace!) and can happily report that Granny is back on top of her game. The lunch menu, ever remarkable for its rapport qualité-prix/value for money at a kick under 100 euros, offers a selection of starters – succulent scallops on a bed of tinily diced beets with an A1 beetroot sorbet/a lascivious portion of foie gras scooped straight from its Strasbourg pottery terrine with a warmed spoon/the classic souffléd salmon which manages to combine salmon succulence with ethereal soufflé-ness,
and several mains (pinkly roasted côte de veau resting on organ pipes of stuffed pasta, or lamb, or – the one I fall for every time – a plump thigh of boned pigeon stuffed with foie gras and truffles, enveloped in spinach and wrapped in crépine).
Serge Dubs steered us in the direction of a typically classy, aromatic-yet-firm Pinot Gris Josmeyer 04 and an impressive Pinot Noir Weid 05 from Lucien Albrecht to go with the feast. And at the conclusion, we were graced with a visit from Hansala, the house stork, who flew over the river, landed on the bank, plodded solemnly up the lawn onto the terrace, raised one leg, stork-style and studied us unblinkingly through the window. Only in Alsace…