Those of you who read this blog regularly will have spotted that this restaurant is a favourite of mine. The reasons for this are numerous, and will hopefully be elucidated by this article.
The name bears that of Alain Ducasse, but those who are present, who put their everyday labour and soul into it are others. Christophe Moret, the chef, is one of the technically most brilliant and impressive chefs of our day and does deserve to get more attention. When one talks to him, one clearly sees that there is real passion behind what he is doing. Denis Courtiade, who is as good a Maitre d’Hotel as I have known in this world, leads the service effectively and charmingly. He is present, attentive to the guests’ wishes and does all he can, in order to maximise the guests’ pleasure.
To make sure that the latter will be assured, the restaurant employs more staff than it can seat customers, which (partially) explains the Parisian prices (Menu prices are at 260euro and 360euro, starters and mains are around 90, desserts 32euro). Also, the room is, as I have mentioned in the other reviews already, a most charming one. It strikes a perfect balance between the classical Parisian, grand opulent décor and the modern touches, which Patrick Jouin introduced here and there. In Paris, this is certainly my favourite dining room.
The table is well dressed, in the finest linen, cutlery, crockery and China. The effort they put into dressing the table is made clear by the absence of a pleat in the table cloth. Look at other restaurant’s tables and you’ll be surprised at how many do not care about such details.
Butter comes from Bordier and bread (4 types) is home made. The bread was better today than on previous occasions. This time it not only had perfect mie but also a fantastic crust, which I am a big fan of.
After the bread’s appearance, I was offered spinach feuilletes. These accompanied my glass of Louis Roederer Brut Premier in a most delightful way. The pastry was just better than any puff pastry I had encountered up to now. The spinach inside was creamy and well seasoned, giving it a lovely richness. Very good.
Also served were little toasts topped with shaved Lardo di Colonnata. This Italian lard is some of the finest one can find. It is rubbed with herbs, salt and pepper and then left to cure in caves for various lengths of time. The thin strips I was served here were of very fine quality (obviously!) and melted in your mouth, which is one of the great things about lardo. Very good.
The first real amuse bouche was (as I had already eaten the langoustine with caviar on a previous visit): Grenouille; cuisses en beignet, crème d’oseille. Boy, this was good. Delicious, tender, boned frog legs were housed in a perfectly crispy coating of the beignet. To go with it, a little bit of sorrel and nettle cream was served. I have never been a fan of frog’s legs, but these might have changed my mind. One could hardly start a meal in a better way. Truly fantastic.
The meal itself started with a Ducasse classic: Pates mi-sechees crèmees, cretes et rognons de coq. This description doesn’t list all of the present ingredients, as there was a bit of homard bleu, sweetbread and black truffle. The whole dish is based around the pasta, cooked al dente, and generously sauced with a rich cream. Around it are placed masterfully cooked pieces of lobster, crispy sweetbread cylinders and pieces of the coq, whose names I do not know in English. The whole is then sprinkled with a fantastic veal jus. When eating this, one can easily see, why this dish has stood the test of time: Every combination works, gives you different textures, tastes and sensations. The dish, although composed of a large number of elements is in perfect harmony. Not to forget the idea of marrying offal (cretes, rognons de coq, the sweetbread) with the most luxurious of ingredients (lobster and black truffle). This was truly stunning.
The next course was just as interesting: Bar de ligne, oronges, amandes fraiches. Now, this one didn’t feature on the normal carte and I guess the reason for that is the amanite des cesars (also known as oronge). This mushroom is extremely rare, has a short season and is not known to many. I was fortunate enough, to have been served this fantastic product here, in a dish, no less impressive than the previous ones. The sea bass was unlike any I have had before, cut from a very large fish, it was cooked to perfection, juicy and tasty. Easily the best I have ever encountered. The accompanying fresh almonds and vegetables were sauced with a vinaigrette, to which a rouille had been added. This was another example of how perfect, an apparently simple dish can be. Excellent.
The main course, a Tendron de veau glace a la Florentine, cepes de Correze was a substantial, but enormously gratifying course to eat in a 3*. Such pieces of meat are (unfortunately) rarely used in restaurants like this. This made it all the more interesting to see what they would do with it here. The result was perfect: Cooked sous-vide, the meat was meltingly tender, whilst (this is only possible by cooking at lower temperatures) it retained a bright pink colour. The glacage with the veal jus made the flavours explode and gave the crust a slightly crispy side. The creamed spinach (classical Florentine garnish) served as a very noble support for the magnificent cepes from the Correze. These mushrooms are amongst my favourite products, and to find them here in such perfect condition was a huge pleasure. The whole dish was just an utmost perfect show of how grand one can make such a simple cut of meat. Outstanding.
Cheese was next. They use four different affineurs here, among them of course the ever present Bernard Antony, who amongst other things supplies his 4 year old comte. All of the cheeses I had (8) were in outstanding condition. A nice touch was the (underseasoned) salad, that came with it and the very good types of bread. Amongst the three new types, they brought out, one in particular is noteworthy: An olive bread (in the far left on the picture) is about as good as one can make bread. This bread alone would justify ordering the cheese course.
Desserts at Ducasse restaurants are always better than most others one finds, pretty much anywhere in the world. This is even the case in the less grand restaurants like the trendy Spoon or the rustic Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle. Obviously, the desserts in his two flagships are even better, which I was about to experience yet again. Today I chose the Cerises Burlat en declinaison, crème glacee a la pistache. Deceptively simple by appearance, one had to taste it to believe how good it was. The tarte, with a crust as fragile, crunchy and buttery as it could possible be, hid a pistachio cream and the glazed cherries which crowned the whole thing. The accompanying ice cream re-defined what a pistachio ice cream should taste like and what texture it should have. Finally, the confit cherries were great, when combined with ice cream (as they were slightly warm). I just can’t think of a way to make a better dessert than this. It was utmost perfection.
In a place like, one doesn’t leave the diner with nothing to go with tea or coffee. Rather, one is treated with more delicacies. Today, a plate with a Tropezienne made its appearance. This tarte, created in St Tropez in 1955, by a Polish emigre is made of a brioche that is cut in half and then filled with a crème mousseline (half whipped cream, half crème patissiere). Here, they introduced a bitter lemon jam, which gave it a lovely acidity and a slightly bitter note. Otherwhise, it was as outstanding as the preceding elements.
Also served were a Lyonnais treat, called bugnes, some light fritters, which one dips in apricot marmalade. These are so well made, that no greasy taste, nor grease appears on their surface.
Finally, one gets a selection of some fantastic macarons. They are much simpler than Herme’s, but equally well made. The few, I got today were coffee and chocolate. Perfect.
Throughout the meal, a few things struck me. First, there was the service. It was attentive, friendly and charming. Not a single thing went wrong, rather all of them knew very well what they were talking about, were interested in cooking and seemed at ease with what they were doing. They managed to make one feel at ease too, and to make it as uncomplicated as possible. The contrast between the brigade here, and that of the next restaurant I was to visit a day later was frightening.
Also, the wines I was suggested by the sommelier went beautifully with the food. Often, I find, that the wines offered by the glass are less interesting than those one has on the rest of the list. Here that wasn’t the case at all.
Finally, the clientele itself was interesting. Most of the diners were French, with only a German diner and me being the exception. I can’t remember any restaurant in Paris (2* or 3* that is), in which the quasi-totality of the guests was French. At dinner, I was told, the picture would look a little different though.
It is often said that Ducasse’s restaurants appear to be perfectionist factories, or soul-less. I for once, can’t see this for a few reasons. The chef, be it Moret here or Cerutti and Bardet at Monte Carlo, has a lot of freedom in the composition of the menu. There will always be a few signatures (turbot, spider crab, strawberries) on it, but in the end, a large proportion of the dishes I had this time were creations that aren’t on there constantly. Also, Moret has an interesting style, which certainly isn’t anywhere near the avant garde, but which I would describe as contemporary classical cooking. He uses classical or restrained Asian elements and perfects the respectives techniques by using what modern cooking allows (e.g. vacuum cooking for long braised meats). Second, even if they are pretty close to perfection, I can’t say that there seems to be cold, soul less atmosphere here. The service and kitchen staff work as hard, if not harder, as other 3* staff. The service was much more personal, than one would imagine from such institutions. Finally, the most important element of any meal is the pleasure one takes out of it. Here, it is unequalled. I left the place as happy as I could ever be.