A meal at the balcony in the forest

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Nicolas Koussa

Member for 3 years 6 months

An adventurer in the Ardennes

the taste of food from the old days carries me back to my childhood and my grandmother's kitchen.

The Little Balcony in the forest

5 mins of indulgence

 

High in the little hamlet of Hauts-Buttés, the "Balcon en Forêt", or balcony in the forest, seems to be in another space and time. It takes us back to our childhood, on a journey to places where the mountains are higher than the hills of the Ardennes.

 

“The balcony in the forest”

 

The Balcony in the Forest is, first and foremost, a novel by Julien Gracq, published in 1958, in which four soldiers take refuge in a fortified house in the Ardennes during the Second World War. In 1978, it was adapted for the cinema screen and later, in 2013, a restaurant was named after it.

 

The soldiers went there for protection, but to me it feels like a journey. Firstly, a journey in space. Lost on its plateau in the middle of a clearing in the beautifully dense and legendary Ardennes forest, the building resembles an Alpine chalet, with its timber walls and two balconies. Housing an old workshop and furniture store, the building has retained its rustic appearance. We find this rural, antique characteristic on the inside too. Here in this restaurant is where my second journey begins, a journey through time.

At grandma's house


On entering the restaurant, I didn't expect to be thrown back into my childhood, imagining those Sundays when we went to grandma's to enjoy a hearty meal. Old wooden tables, check tablecloths, pieces of carved furniture so massive that, once in position, they were never moved. And those saucepans that have contained countless soups, stews and sauces, and all the utensils, some of which we don't even recognise.

A set meal that changes nearly every day, depending on what's available at the market

Yet it isn't my grandmother standing at the stove. Here, the mistress of the house is Geneviève, who greets us with a huge smile, as if she's been expecting us. We make ourselves comfortable and, just like at grandma's, we don't get to choose what we're going to eat. There's no à-la-carte menu, just a set meal that changes nearly every day, depending on what's available at the market, and the vast culinary imagination of Geneviève, the chef. Chalked up today: goat's cheese and spinach puff, mixed salad with Ardennes bacon and a delicious meringue and speculoos dessert.

le balcon en foret

But first of all, an aperitif! We can't resist trying a "Marquisette", a house beverage made from white wine, orange, lemon, vanilla and rum, which we enjoy with a selection of terrine bites. We soon understand that every single thing we taste comes complete with an explanation from Geneviève. She's constantly in and out of the room, revealing every recipe and details of the various ingredients and spices used. Our host for the day places the emphasis on serving a local, family cuisine, with wines and charcuterie from the region. Some of the vegetables actually come straight from her own garden. Yet nothing had predestined Geneviève for this way of life. Before opening this restaurant, she was an agrifood engineer. An amazing career change which, as far as we're concerned, is a great success.

From garden to plate

Our starter is served, a delicious balance of goat's cheese and spinach in puff pastry, with a crunchy salad accompaniment. A wonderful combination that I really enjoy. Next comes the main dish, a salad with Ardennes bacon. I came here to taste some local specialities and I'm not disappointed! I've never tried this dish before, but it seems to be a real institution in the Ardennes, where each family have their own secret recipe. The basic ingredients are always more or less the same: lettuce (hot!), potatoes and bacon. The subtleties lie in the proportions of herbs. Geneviève's version really seems authentic, with the simplicity of a dish that she has put all her heart and enthusiasm into, not to mention the time it took. Once again, the taste of food from the old days carries me back to my childhood and my grandmother's kitchen. Comforting cuisine all the way through to dessert which, this time, has the more familiar flavours of speculoos biscuit and meringue.

 

One last coffee and it's already time for me to leave this balcony in the forest that seems to be lost in time. The warmth of this place gives me the courage to confront the autumn rain which exalts even more the beautiful colours of the Ardennes forest, where the memory of Julien Gracq lingers on.

Try this experience
Le balcon en forêt
14 Les Hauts Buttes, 08800 Monthermé, France
+33 3 24 41 43 39
Le balcon en forêt website 
Contact and reservations