The Key(s) to Sunday Lunch in France

We often think of eating out on a Sunday here in Alsace. Trouble is, we usually think of it too late and after an unseemly telephone scramble and finding that all our favourite spots are booked out, we have to fall back on leftovers, or bread and cheese, or something rescued from the freezer. Sunday lunch out in France is a serious business and needs proper forward planning.

Last Sunday – as usual – we thought of going out to lunch at about 11 a.m. Eyes were rolled and we resigned ourselves in advance to the customary fruitless search. There were hoots of delight and collective astonishment when it turned out the inn of our choice – Aux Deux Clés aka The Two Keys, in Moernach (near Ferrette) had a table for two.

There are places (aren’t there?) where the minute you walk in the door, you just know everything’s going to be all right. Aux Deux Clés (also spelt Clefs – the website gives both options), a traditional timbered house in the depths of the Sundgau (southern Alsace), is one of them. Madame Enderlin (“My name is Andrée”) welcomes you on arrival and presides over her dining room like a proper, old-world – and warmly welcoming – French patronne, peering over her specs at the table orders set on a kind of revolving lectern. The dining room is small, low-ceilinged, soberly decorated (dark beams relieved by lots of white paint) but full of light from the many windows. There are round tables of varying sizes, small square ones and (this weekend) one huge long one for a big family celebration. The space is divided up cleverly with plenty of cosy corners, so you get privacy without feeling claustrophobic.

There are several prix-fixe menus ranging in price and scope from around €25 to €56. (Plus on weekdays there’s a 3-course lunch menu at €12 or €13.50.) From the (regularly changing) à la carte menu we went with butternut soup with croutons, and foie gras. The soup was a piping hot bowl of golden happiness topped with what were clearly home-made croutons. A generous slice of foie (billed as ‘small’, which made you wonder what a large portion must be like) was smooth, unctuous and perfectly seasoned.

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Mains included a succulent piece of quasi de veau (see my PS for an explanation) with romanesco florets, radishes and coin-sized potato pieces sprawled over a kaffir limeleaf-infused risotto (must try that at home) and an equally juicy piece of pluma ibérique from a juicy rare-breed pig with olive-speckled polenta. You can tell the chef loves his veg. by the way he cuts and cooks them: his carrots come in nice, bias-cut pieces, some with the vestiges of the stalk still intact. These are carrots that believe in themselves, light-years away from school carrots (which were always cut in rounds and boiled to bits).

Puddings are Alsace classics, re-worked: meringue glacée, normally a towering round of dusty-dry meringue with bought ice cream and whirls of whipped cream was a sort of deconstruction featuring home-made ice creams, craggy pieces of broken up meringue and modest swirls of cream. There’s also a chocolate bomb on offer or sorbets sluiced with eau-de-vie. 

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The Franco-centric wine list has plenty of choice, taking a trawl from Alsace (Trimbach, Jean Sipp et al) through Burgundy, Rhone (north and south), Bordeaux and Languedoc-Roussillon (Mas Jullien). Many, such as a fine Muscat from Jean Sipp and a sunbaked Cairanne from the newly-promoted southern Rhone appellation, are available by the glass – and freshly opened and poured (rare, that). Lunch for 2 set us back €115.70. This time we got lucky; next time we’ll plan even further ahead.

Auberge-Restaurant Aux Deux Clés 
218 rue Hennin Blenner (i.e. the main street of Moernach metropolis)
69480 Moernach, Alsace
Tel. 03 89 40 80 56

PS: if, like us, you were curious about quasi de veau and which part of the animal it comes from, here’s a great website showing the geography of the calf and how the carcasse is butchered in France. Quasi de veau is No. 8, that triangular joint at the end of the spine close to the tail.

PPS: and pluma ibérique is a succulent cut marbled with fat that comes from the end of the loin from a free-range Iberian pig. Not to be confused with secreto, that secret bit the butchers traditionally kept stumm about as it was too good to share/sell – a kind of porky equivalent of onglet; or with presa, another juicy porky piece. You may have met any of these 3 in Spain on your recent travels…

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