At one of the most famous buildings in Colmar sits an equally famous restaurant. The Maison des Tetes restaurant came to light back in the late 80’s when bon viveur Keith Floyd strode into the kitchen. On that occasion Floyd succeeded in welding a traditional liver dumpling recipe to a spoon and outing the head chef’s rather unusual method of disciplining his staff with a walking stick.
The restaurant is actually part of a very swish hotel right in the centre of Colmar. Across the attractive courtyard from the restaurant is the historic brasserie – which features a menu more traditional of the region, we decided to make a reservation.
The entrance to the brasserie is somewhat strange as you go through a normal door and then through a velvet curtain, kind of like entering a fortune teller’s room. The brasserie is a beautiful space with tables spread a fair distance apart with intimate lighting and a real Alsacian feel to it.
Staff speak a good level of English and were both friendly and welcoming – something that does get criticised across the town’s eating establishments. It felt a little unusual being in a restaurant in France surrounded by French people. With Paris being such a tourist mecca it’s tricky to come across any 100% French populated dining room but here it’s very different.
Prices here are very reasonable given that you are in a 5-star hotel’s grounds. Starters go for around €12-24 (£10.45 – 20.91) with mains around €21-32 (£18.29 – 27.88). We did see a couple on the next table choose from a daily menu with three courses coming in at a reduced price. This menu featured mainly regional dishes with a very good selection to pick from.
We began with snails (when in France, of course!) with garlic, butter and parsley at €12 (£10.45) for half a dozen. Going with the snails we chose another starter native to Alsace – Foie gras. A slice of this buttery goose liver terrine comes with a fruit chutney at a price of €21 (£18.29), one of the higher ticket items.
Having never tried proper snails in France before, we ended up wondering why it had taken this long. They were delicious. Packed with garlic, rich with the parsley and butter – it’s a classic for a reason. The snails themselves tasted almost like porcini mushrooms with an earthy flavour that goes perfectly with the garlic, butter and parsley. We loved it, even if it did make us stink for the next two days.
The foie gras on the other hand was silky, rich and melt in the mouth good. I have had cooked foie with fruit-based sauces and chutneys but I much prefer the terrine version. It’s a huge wedge on the plate but thoroughly indulgent. A really apparent introduction to the cuisine of Alsace. A reminder that this is not only tasty food but designed to fill you up.
For mains we opted for Duck Breast with Cauliflower and Pickled Vegetables at €27 (£23.52) and a Ballotine of Cod wrapped in Smoked Ham served with Artichokes, Capers and a Crayfish Butter Sauce at €26 (£22.65). The Alsace tradition of giving the customer a heaving plate of food showed no signs of letting up. Although to be fair this was generosity but with an elegance about the presentation.
The cod was beautifully flakey with smokey ham encasing each fillet. The puree, which I believe was artichoke, was smooth but not quite as rich perhaps as it could be, unusual for France. Artichokes are a tricky vegetable to get right but these were the product of a skilled hand in the kitchen, very tasty and no hint of citrus.
Crayfish butter sauce and capers provide that rich and salty kick to the dish and round everything off nicely. I really enjoyed it, although the rice on the side seemed a strange and unwelcome addition. Possibly the Alsacian thought process of filling up the diner in the direction of a new pant size.
The duck was served beautifully medium-rare with a pretty garnish of assorted pickled veg along with a far better puree, this time cauliflower. Everything on the plate was delicious with the slight exception being a less than crispy skin on the duck, yet again a pointless addition on the side in the shape of a bowl of fries.
Maybe you would like to know what we’re drinking at this fine establishment? Well the good news for fans of Alsace Riesling or Gewurztraminer wines is that they are abundant on the drinks menu and at very good prices. We bagged a half bottle of Alsace Crottin Riesling for €11 (£9.58), a beautiful wine.
Getting pretty full at this point, we decided to be brave and take a look at the dessert menu. The classic pud’s on offer were too much to resist so we ordered a Rum Baba and an Apple Tart Tatin with Calvados Cream both at €12 (£10.45).
The Rum Baba strangely arrived without any trace of rum, that was until one of the staff came over with a bottle of aged rum to pour over rather generously. The Tarte Tatin didn’t quite resemble the circular mound of bubbling caramelised apples that I’m more familiar with. This was more of a flat pastry slice with lightly caramelised apples. The Tatin aside, the garnish of Calvados Cream and broken Caramel Shards added a smart finish.
The Baba was just amazing. Underneath the booze-soaked sponge sat a small arrangement of citrus fruits, both orange segments and pink grapefruit to take the edge off the overall sweetness. It’s probably not a good idea to get behind the wheel of a car after this pudding.
The Tatin, by comparison, was a little disappointing. The pastry underneath was borderline raw. The apples were sweet and tasty but lacking that caramelised edge. The cream was typically laced with an alcoholic kick, maybe not as severe as the Baba but still reminding me of its presence.
That didn’t do anything to take away from what was a quality experience at a place that I had wanted to visit ever since seeing Keith Floyd strolling around Colmar on ‘Floyd on France’ reruns. We loved Maison des Tetes and would highly recommend stopping by to sample a real taste of Alsace. Bookings can be easily made online wherever you are in the world. Come and try a slice of history.
Maison des Tetes, 19 Rue des Tetes, Colmar