Dining on the Wine Trail: Le Garde Champêtre, Gyé-sur-Seine
A handsome destination restaurant-auberge in the Aube, by Paris restaurateur Juan Sanchez, Aube vignerons Cédric and Emilie Bouchard, and photographer Peter Lippman.
For a few years in the early half of the last decade, I passed often through the Aube, visiting my then-girlfriend’s parents in Troyes. It never ceased to surprise me, whenever I considered appending wine travel to these journeys, quite how far the Côte des Bar is from Troyes: almost an hour’s drive. As a result, we tended to stick around Troyes, with occasional forays to nearby Montgueux.
For wine travelers, the 2019 opening of farm-to-table restaurant and auberge Le Garde Champêtre effectively changes the landscape of the Aube, something like how the Auberge de Chassignolles changed Auvergne.
As Aube vigneron Emmanual Leroy noted, when I saw him in January, “For us, it’s frankly very good. Because before they opened, there was nothing here.”
Le Garde Champêtre offers a place to dine well in the region outside the company of a vigneron. If one has planned well in advance, there’s a pleasant place to stay, at the same owners’ nearby guesthouse, The River House.
Back in July, the native companion and I spent two nights at The River House, and visited Le Garde Champêtre for dinner. Both proved very enjoyable, if slightly impersonal experiences, reflecting, perhaps, the delegation of management inherent in an enterprise with such accomplished owners. The establishments are a collaboration between veteran expat Paris restaurateur Juan Sanchez (of Semilla, La Dernière Goutte, etc.), celebrated Aube vignerons Cédric and Emilie Bouchard, and the photographer Peter Lippman. You can’t expect all four to be standing at the door to greet you or anything.
At The River House, in fact, no one greets you. It’s a let-yourself-in sort of place, tastefully furnished, with a delightfully serene garden in the back, and the Seine river burbling just beyond the garden gates. Guests are told to help themselves to various lettuces, herbs, and courgette flowers. The rooms have a heartwarming luxury sheen, betrayed only by certain maintenance oversights. (Part of a shower head nearly fell on my head, and the bath plug dangled on a broken chain.)
Given the guesthouse’s garden conceit, and given there are few other dining options in the area on the days when Le Garde Champêtre is closed or fully booked, it was perturbing to find the River House’s shared kitchen peculiarly ill-equipped. Previous guests had used, or made off with, all the olive oil and black pepper. The salad spinner was broken. I texted the site manager to ask where the paper towels were, only to be told, via text, that there were no paper towels.
Le Garde Champêtre’s more amply stocked kitchen is ably run by chefs Sayaka Sawaguchi and Gil Nogueira (both formerly of Paris’ Le Grand Bain), who source much of their produce from the restaurant’s own adjacent garden.
Appetizers, on the early evening we visited, were dazzling: a coiled tuft of tender courgette, topped with succulent fromage blanc; an exquisite terrine garnished with great pearls of mustard seed.
The dark, inconsistent fry coverage on a pile of squid did nothing to detract from its harmony with a bottle of fragrant, marzipan-toned “11, 12, 13…” by Champagne Ruppert-Leroy.
Le Garde Champêtre’s wine list tracks the selection available at Sanchez’ lauded Paris establishments, which is to say it contains many excellent, well-crafted natural wines and natural-style champagnes, without being a natural wine list, per se. The pricing is laudably sensitive to the restaurant’s need to appeal to thrifty locals as well as traveling wine lovers.
Upon reflection, the slightly advanced age of the restaurant’s general clientele might explain the sashimi-like portion size of my main course of wood-fired duck. In the moment, it felt like a comical error - like perhaps a directeur de salle ought to have simply informed me there was no more duck, if that’s all there was left. Only very begrudgingly did I let my dog have a taste of my precious molecules of duck.
We nevertheless wandered back along the river to the guesthouse in high spirits. The ensemble was, after all, a tremendous improvement over what the region previously had to offer.
Le Garde Champêtre
Rte des Riceys
+33 3 52 96 00 06
An August 2021 review of Le Garde Champêtre by Marie Aline in Le Monde. Curiously, the author mentions no one involved in the project - not the owners, not the chefs - by name, giving the odd impression that she perhaps passed through, took no notes, and didn’t bother to Google anything. It’s like there is literally no distinction between blogging and being a critic for a major French newspaper these days.
A March 2021 review of Le Garde Champêtre in Le Fooding.
An October 2020 feature on Le Garde Champêtre in La Ruche Qui Dit Oui, including many marvelous photos.
A thorough 2019 review of Le Garde Champêtre in regional paper L’Est Eclair, in which the author takes issue with the dry menu wording and feels compelled to explain what it means, in French, to call something fooding. (Incorrectly, for as far I as know, the use of this “neologism” is limited to the gastronomic publication of same name. No one uses it as an adjective, except perhaps in reference to a general service style associated with places favored by Le Fooding. In any case it’s weird to discuss fooding as if it were a real word, without reference to a business called Le Fooding. The word has certainly not attained the condition of Kleenex or Xerox.)
The only other destination restaurant in the Aube: Aux Crieurs de Vin in Troyes.