Les Ambassadeurs benefits of a location that is absolutely unique in this world. Right on the place de la Concorder, facing the famous Obelisque, a stone’s throw away from pretty much anything that is in relation with luxury or power in Paris. Since a couple of years, Jean Francois Piege, formerly chef at Alain Ducasse’s Paris restaurant, is in charge of the cooking for the restaurant, and the rest of the hotel. In the gastronomic restaurant, which holds 2* (MIchelin) and 18/20p in the Gault Millau, he proposes old recipes done with a modern twist. After all, he titles his carte: Histoire de cuisine.
The restaurant is located in the old ball room of the Hotel de Crillon, and as the pictures might suggest, has a bit of an austere atmosphere. Not to say that it isn’t interesting, it certainly is quite spectacular, but it doesn’t have any warmth, nor does it create the feeling of intimacy (due to the countless mirrors on the walls). Compared to equally, if not more opulent rooms like those of Louis XV, ADPA or Ledoyen, one doesn’t feel as good or comfortable here. However, the decor can be as charming or cold as it wants, I came for the food, which I remembered to be fantastic.
The service somehow managed to be nearly as cold as the room. It was a big difference to that of ADPA, where I had dined the day before. Someone was always there, when needed, but there was no interaction, no warm welcome nor did a relaxed atmosphere reign. It was a pretty stiff affair, one that doesn’t make you feel more at ease in that room.
The table is elegantly dressed, with the glasses being Riedel and Baccarat, the China mostly from Bernardaud and the cutlery from Christofle. A funny little thing is the menu holder. A little socket holds the menu, which is attached to a plexiglass stick. Also, the wine list is the best-designed I have seen so far. It is light, compact and lists an impressive number of nearly exclusively French wines. Prices are equally impressive, but in Paris, one doesn’t expect anything else anymorre these days.
Bread is made in house (2 types) and butter comes from Bordier. The bread has fantastic crust and is absolutely delicious.
The meal starts, and this hasn’t changed since my visit a year and a half ago, with the famous sur l’idee d’un plateau tele. This amuse bouche is certainly good fun, but a little seasonal change wouldn’t hurt. The first part is a carrot salad, which comes as a lemonade. I do not think that this is a particularly clever idea, as it tasted a little odd. The salad was too acidic, and tasted a little thin. The second part was, something, that I wouldn’t prepare if I was making a TV platter, a royale de foie blonds, ecrevisses with an emulsion of Parmesan. To be fair though, this was a winner, with strong tastes and a delightfully creamy royale. A fantastic combination of flavours that worked beautifully. Following it, the best part of the composition was the cromesquis d’une brandade de morue. A little ball filled with a soup made out of a brandade if then deep-fried and really explodes in your mouth. This is absolute perfection, and was as good as I had remembered it. Moving on, a tube filled with a mousse jambon/cornichons. Fine, but a little under-seasoned for my taste. The last part was much better than last year (in February): A truffle bonbon. This time the truffle had real power and was delicious if spread on the toasted baguette. The whole was a little inconsistent, but generally pretty strong.
The meal started with a spider crab dish. The hot part was based around a royale, a little crab meat and was sauced with a pretty light bisque. On top of it, was thrown a croustillant of peanuts. The royale was certainly very good, as was the crab meat, but the bisque could have been a little stronger. It tasted a little diluted, not to say thin. However it was well seasoned. The only problem with this hot part was the croustillant, which became soggy just after the having touched the bisque. The other, cold, part featured a crab salad with wild fennel and a little salad leaves. This could have been great, if it had not come straight from the fridge. It always startles me how a restaurant as serious as this can’t think of tempering such a vital part of a dish. Overall it was much weaker a dish than Moret’s araignee de mer en chaud et froid. Very good, but could have been excellent if the croustillant would have stayed that way and the cold part wouldn’t have been that cold.
Second course was a Foie gras de canard des Landes en feuille de chou/lard fume; En bouillon coriandre/gingembre. On my previous visit here, the foie was one of the better ones I have eaten. This time however, the story wasn’t quite as rosy as that. The two soups (!?) were radically different, but remained two soups. I can’t see why one would serve foie in two soups, but well. The bacon cream, which came with the mi-cuit foie was delicious. It is just the kind of stuff you long for on a cold winter day, when coming back from the slopes. Considering that it was pretty hot outside, I wasn’t too sure, if this is what people want to eat in summer. The foie in that soup was very good, creamy, with a little resistance to it, well seasoned- all one expects from it. The other version, which contained poached foie gras was a little less successful. The foie was dry on the outside, had no distinct flavour and didn’t really do much. The accompanying bouillon was equally forgettable. It was hardly seasoned, and it must have been the first time in a very long time that I had to reach for the salt on the table. This seemed an odd dish both in terms of construction and in terms of execution (it might have been a bad day or something). Very good for the bacon half, pretty mediocre for the other.
The main course came as quickly as the other courses (after a good 45mins I was already at the 3rd course, not counting the amuse. That is much too quick for a place like this one). Ris de veau moelleux/croustillant/carottes/citron vert/coriandre was most certainly the stand out dish of the day. This was a serious 3* dish. The sweetbreads were fantastically cooked, of very good quality and worked beautifully with the few garnishes. What struck me most was the absolutely perfect jus. This was packed full of flavour, with a lovely consistency and simply put: fantastic. The carrot emulsion served on the side was very nice, well-seasoned, airy and creamy. One could argue that Piege uses too little vegetables in his cooking, but I guess it’s a matter of personal taste. Excellent.
Strangely enough, the cheese here was to be the absolute highlight of the meal, It is all supplied by Bernard Antony and is in pristine condition. The 7 cheeses I tried were absolutely beautiful. The comte was « only » aged for 36 months, but already had those crunchy salt crystals, which make these old specimens so special. The camembert was easily the best I have had so far, and will be remembered for a long time. Unlike ADPA, the bread for the cheese course was a little dull. The one type, they offered, had a chewy crust and didn’t really impress me. Outstanding cheese.
Dessert is often my favourite part of the meal and I was hoping for a highlight here, as the patissier (Jerome Chaucesse) is a bit of a shooting star in France. The first one was Cerises de pays en foret noire a notre facon. What this really was, was a pretty classical black forest cake, with a new wrapping. The base was a soft chocolate cake filled with a mascarpone cream and studded with poached cherries. The outside was then covered in different “feuilles”. It was very pretty, tasty, well made, but hardly mind-blowing. In a place like this, one could expect a little more innovation or new ideas. Very good.
The second one was already much more interesting: Riz Carnaroli facon Imperatrice/ gelee de framboise. A base of milk rice was topped with raspberry jelly, caramel, popped rice and star anise ice cream. This was fantastic. The mix of textures and flavours was expertly balanced and every single item had a distinct role. Excellent.
The mignardises. Were equally good. Macarons, Chamonix, palmiers, rochers and other goodies were fantastic and disappeared quickly.
I left this place with a strange feeling. It must have been the first time that I left a restaurant thinking, I had better not gone in the first place. Why?
The meal had some highlights: The sweetbreads, the rice dessert and cheese. Those were all very good to excellent. However, the rest was pretty forgettable (with the exception of the spider crab). Also, the service got on my nerves. You felt being watched constantly, as those who weren’t doing anything at the moment gathered behind the tables and stood there like a couple of policemen guarding the Elysee palace. Furthermore, they served the meal way too quickly. I had left the place only 2 hours after having come there. At ADPA, where I had eaten one course less, I spent the double of that. It might be question of personal taste, but I like to enjoy my meal, if I go to a place like this. I felt rushed, which doesn’t work in a « temple », where one should forget all notion of time.
The thing is that in a place like this, the whole experience should be considered as a Gesamtkunstwerk. One should leave a restaurant like this feeling as happy as one possibly can. Today, that certainly wasn’t the case.
These things taken aside, what I found really frustrating was the fact, that Piege, who is one of my favourite chefs doesn’t seem to progress at all. All of the dishes I had today (the desserts taken aside) were pretty much the same construction as those one could find a year ago, and even longer ago. The garnishes or condiments changed a little, but it was the exact same pattern. It might be that he is frustrated by not getting the third star, but unlike last time, this meal did not deserve it at all.
If one judges the food alone, I would say that the 2* are a realistic measure of the cooking here. The foie and black forest dishes just seemed a little lazy, not really worth a third one. The sweetbread, rice dessert and possibly spider crab (if it had been served at the correct temperature) could have merited a third, but the overall was just too inconsistent.