I have a soft spot for the Michelin red bib or bib gourmand. The symbol, a small, chubby, bug-eyed face licking its lips in anticipation of a good meal, indicates a restaurant that offers careful cooking at sensible prices – cuisine soignée à prix modéré in French. (I always thought the ‘bib’ bit indicated the kind of thing a child has around its neck to keep things clean, and that a bib gourmand was a version for greedy grownups. Turns out that bib is short for bibendum, aka the Michelin Man.) Many people regard it as a stepping stone to a star.
Restaurants in Alsace that are close to the Swiss border aren’t generally known for offering good value for money (or even for aspirational food), so when I learnt that Au Lion d’Or (the Golden Lion) in Rosenau had been awarded the coveted bib, I had to check it out. (Okay, I know I must be the last to ‘discover’ this place, but there you go.)
Théo Baumlin is the fourth generation to cook here in the family restaurant, which was founded by his great-grandfather. Rosenau is close to the Rhine and to Village-Neuf, capital of asparagus-growing in the Haut-Rhin, so traditionally this was a place where you’d come and eat asparagus. You still can, though chef Théo is doing a bit more with it these days than just boiling it to death and serving it with the regulation ham and three sauces. (He’s aspirational, remember.)
The Michelin rule is strict on pricing: a red bib resto in the provinces must offer at least one set-price menu at not more than €33 (or €37 in Paris). The Lion d’Or’s squeaks in at €32.90. There are 2 different firsts and mains to choose from and you get either cheese or pudding to finish. If you go à deux you can split the menu and pinch a bit from each other just to try.
A recent lunch offered a choice between sea trout cooked in beetroot salt and lightly smoked, with a horseradish mousse and some herby, waffly things (gaufrettes), or a Martini glass containing layers of sweet onion jam, Pompadour potato puree (only the French could have a potato named Pompadour) and a foam of buttermilk perfumed with caraway with slivers of crisp smoky bacon on top for a bit of crunch. In its deepest recesses lurked a 64-degree egg – like a soft-boiled or lightly poached egg – which, when broached with the spoon, splurged out and wrapped itself around the rest (and my tongue).
For mains it was either fish (a chunk of roast hake in a meat jus sparked with cider with sweetly buttered leeks draped in more foam and a crunchy tuile on top) or pork (tenderloin lacquered in sherry and soy sauce with spuds and shallots). In each case, the accompanying veg (infant carrots, leeks the size of calçots) hit just that sweet spot between underdone and overcooked. You either get veg cooking or you don’t – it’s my preferred chef test – and chef Théo nails it.
For afters there was a baba confection entitled La Rose de Damas but I’m not crazy about babas so went for the tarte aux pommes – the only slight disappointment as the apples were dreary (more Golden Deli than Braeburn) and the crust was tough, not a piece of short, buttery, crumbly delight.
The wine list is full of fun and merits more than a few moments of your attention – loads of good stuff from Alsace, of course, but also Burgundy, Bordeaux and the occasional foreign intrusion. I chose a Pinot Gris from Domaine Agapé in Riquewihr and was mighty happy with my choice: floral and full-bodied but with a deliciously crisp finish, light-years away from yer’ average PG from Alsace – and it worked a treat with all that smoked and roasted fish, eggy stuff and perkily spiced pork.
To me, the Lion d’Or does exactly what it says on the [red bib] tin: good food, carefully cooked and delivered at a decent price. The bill for lunch with 2 menus, a juice, a mineral water and half a bottle of PG from Domaine Agapé, was €87.50.
5, Rue de Village Neuf, 68128 Rosenau
Tél : +33 (0)3 89 68 21 97
Closed Monday and Tuesday