Dining on the Wine Trail: Au Bon Manger, Reims
As simple as it is refined, Aline and Eric Serva's tiny cave-à-manger is a refuge from the Marne's fusty tasting menus - and a destination for the crème de la crème of natural-style champagne.
A counterfactual: imagine I’d been better-informed, when I last visited Reims back in 2010, and not been some mush-mouthed greenhorn fresh-off-the-boat from the USA. Perhaps, instead of yawning through a Taittinger tour and returning to Paris on an earlier train, I would have found my way to Au Bon Manger, the crisp and tasteful cave-à-manger former Parisians Eric and Aline Serva founded in 2008. Perhaps it would have been a life-altering event ?
I certainly would have returned to Reims more often.
Au Bon Manger isn’t an ambitious place. Its épicerie cuisine is not really intended to excite or tantalize. If the address is still inspiring to me, it’s because the Servas illustrate such an elegant template for the lifestyle of small-scale restaurateurs.
They open for dinner twice a week. They close when they wish to travel. They enjoy the friendship of many of the Marne’s most celebrated vignerons. And they run a natural wine import and distribution company on the side, specializing in excellent selections from Central Europe.
Facilitating this freedom to pursue other interests is Au Bon Manger’s limited menu, which consists mostly of excellent products furnished by Landes fumeur-charcutier Maison Barthouil, who specialize in cured salmon and foie gras.
The fois gras in particular is downright majestic, of an enveloping, nuanced quality that puts others I’ve tasted in the past few years to shame.
A heavily-spiced, somewhat salty salmon filet lived up to its sobriquet of fondant, while an oven-crisped splat of cassoulet was precisely what we needed after a day of spitting out vin clair in the January chill of the region’s cellars.
Fine products, heated and plated with care and attention. I rarely desire any more than this when traveling through wine regions. But what makes Au Bon Manger a destination is Aline Serva’s smashing selection of cult champagne.
The shelves might not possess the sheer vintage breadth of say, Serralunga’s Vinoteca Centro Storica. But the offering is astutely contemporary and boldly natural-leaning. (It’s easy to overlook the guts this takes in a city like Reims, where the social pressure to accept some form of malign sponsorship from big négociant houses must be immense.)
For those sick of champagne, as I was by dinnertime, Au Bon Manger’s rear shelves contain a wealth of radical natural selections from other regions, primarily estates the Servas represent. I went with Styrian vigneron Franz Strohmeier’s “Lys Rød,” a diaphanous, gooseberry-toned blauer wildbacher from minimally pruned vines that seems to represent, for me, what I often vaguely wish Côteaux Champenois reds would taste like, but which they never do. Another counterfactual.
Au Bon Manger
7 Rue Courmeaux
It feels like there might be a veiled critique of the service at Au Bon Manger in Le Fooding’s 2017 review. Of note only because Le Fooding rarely criticize anything at all.
A mention of Au Bon Manger in Eater’s December 2021 round-up of where to eat in Champagne.
Sébastien Lepaque mentions Au Bon Manger in his December 2021 round-up of good news in Champagne in Le Figaro.
Dining on the Wine Trail: Le Garde Champêtre, Gyé-sur-Seine
An interview with Jean-Michel Wilmès, co-founder of Aux Crieurs de Vin, the Champagne region’s first natural wine cave-à-manger.