We hear this award caught you by surprise...
Yes. Michelin simply asked if we’d like to be part of the virtual awards this year. My husband (Pascal, Maison Bleue’s chef) and I had no idea. It was a lovely surprise that lifted our spirits during a difficult time.
What’s your list like?
Myself and my husband are both French and Maison Bleue is a modern French restaurant but only about 50% of our 300 references are French. That said, being a French restaurant we find that a lot of our customers want to have French wine with a French meal.
Your prices are unusually accessible for a fine dining restaurant...
That’s key for us. We believe that a nice glass of wine does not need to break the bank. We’re in Bury St Edmunds. It’s not London. There are customers that want to spend a lot of money on a bottle of wine and there are some that don’t but still want to have something of good quality. We need to strike a balance. Our margins aren’t that high either. Value for money is really important to us.
How many suppliers do you use?
We use six different suppliers and they’re mostly local. We’ve been working with some of them since we opened 22 years ago so the relationship is very strong, in fact they have become friends. We do a lot of winemaker-hosted tastings and other special events with them.
How has the wine list evolved over the last two decades?
Over the last six or seven years we’ve introduced more wines that are made naturally and organically by smaller winemakers. Alongside this, the prices of big name, obvious wines such as Chablis and Sancerre have shot up so we’ve looked to move away from these areas and seek out appellations that are less well-known and far better value.
What’s the wine service style like at Maison Bleue?
We’re very relaxed. Customer experience must always come first. If people want to drink red wine with fish that’s fine, we’ll just make sure we select one that works well. It's very important to me that we don't come across as snobby.
Tell us about your background...
I’m originally from Brittany, which is funny because the region barely produces any wine at all. Things are changing though due to climate change. At some point I probably will be able to put a wine from Brittany on the menu. My husband and I met in France and came to the UK together. He was a trained chef but I’d been to university so didn’t have any experience in hospitality. We took over Maison Bleue when we were in our early 20s. I’ve built my knowledge of hospitality and wine as the restaurant has earned its reputation. The thing I love most about wine is that you never stop learning.
What have you done to get through the pandemic?
Initially we didn’t know what to do and were worried. But we decided we had to find a way to make the situation better for us so we started serving three course meals for people to takeaway and heat up at home with Pascal working alone in the kitchen. We were selling up to 200 meals every Saturday. This has now evolved into LÉA, which is inspired by and named after Pascal’s mother, a brilliant cook that grew all her own vegetables. Whenever we visited, she would pack our car boot with jars of delicious food so we’ve developed a selection of dishes served in jars that customers can pick and mix to create a three-course meal. The menu includes ham hock terrine, beef Bourguignon and crème caramel - it's far simpler than what we offer in the restaurant. We're selling up to 1,000 jars a week and are in the process of finding a separate premises for LÉA.
How confident are you about reopening?
We will be busy when were allowed to re-open our doors. We’ve been fully booked following the two previous lockdowns. People are looking forward to going back to a more normal life and meeting their friends and they’re also fed up of cooking at home. I don’t mind waiting if we can open again safely.