It’s official: Europe is shrinking, and it’s all down to high-speed trains. Madrileños used to joke that Córdoba was halfway to Africa; now the AVE puts that wonderful Andalusian city within dining distance of Madrid. Britain? Well, the Flying Scotsman and the APT were ground-breaking too in their time (I still remember the excitement when we could get from Darlington to London in 2.5 hours against the usual 4), but it doesn’t look like Londoners are going to be speeding up to Birmingham or Manchester on HS2 for a meal any time soon. More to the point (well, my point): France’s TGV has just put Dijon within lunching distance of Mulhouse or Basel.
We hopped on to the 10.37 one day this week and by midday we were in beautiful downtown Dijon, capital of Burgundy. First priority: lunch, which I’d taken the precaution of booking, at DZ’Envies on the market square. (DZ stands for David Zuddas, the chef, and if you say the name really fast and slur it a bit, you get something that sounds like des envies, i.e. desires or wishes, as in ‘j’ai envie de manger…’). Zuddas used to have a country inn outside Dijon at Prenois. When I last saw him (9 years ago, ouff), he was talking about an upcoming move to the market square in the centre of town and a total change of style and pace: simpler, more of a bistro (he calls it his Bistro-Resto-Sur le Marché). The cooking is still Burgundian combined with a touch of Japan (which he loves and visits often), more Michelin-red-bib than starry-eyed. “How’s it going?” I asked. “Super,” he beamed, “we’re busy!”(indicating the chockfull dining room) – “I’m happy!”
We were happy too. There’s a daily changing lunch menu which is posted up on their Facebook page every morning at 10.30, and on the blackboard in the restaurant – it’s a snip at €17 for 2 courses, €21 for 3. Recently this featured a leek vinaigrette with ibérico ham and a tiny pillow of hake poached at low temperature, a piece of cod (past understanding?) with courgettes and piquillo peppers and a light mousse with a berry coulis beneath, strawberries and crunchy crumbly bits on top.
The I Love Dijon menu has a slablet of the chef’s jambon persillé with a nest of salad, beef cheeks braised in red wine with crushed spuds (not mashed, please – there’s a crucial difference between purée and écrasée and it’s all down to texture) and panna cotta with gingerbread spices. There are also à la carte options, including the classic oeufs en meurette which looks quite un-fetching – a bit brownish-purple – but makes up for its looks with its rich Burgundian flavours, combining onions and bacon bits stewed in red wine with a poached egg lurking in its winey depths.
And on wines, there are a few by the glass and some regularly changing coups de coeur (heart-stoppers). The Rully, a Chardonnay from the Cote Chalonnaise, was full of fruit, lively and shapely all at once. Other choices included a finely bubbled Crémant de Bourgogne, a reminder that Burgundy can make decent everyday sparklers too, and a Bourgeuil, a crunchy-delish Cab. Franc from the Loire that worked well with all those winey stews.
We waddled off afterwards to the Musée des Beaux Arts to see what the Ducs de Bourgogne had got up to in their time (a lot), and wandered around the town following little owls etched on brass plaques on the pavement, which guide you to the best and most interesting sights and monuments (gargoyles on the facade of the church of Notre Dame; the tiny 11th century wooden statue of Notre Dame de l’Espoir). There was just time for a little retail therapy (Galeries Lafayette) before we clambered back on our train again, content with our delicious lunch in Dijon, blessing the TGV and giving thanks for an ever-shrinking Europe.