When I bought Yannick Alleno’s book a few years ago, I had but one wish: Eat at the Meurice. This wish finally materialised, but the outcome wasn’t exactly the revelation I had expected or hoped for.
The first thing that undoubtedly strikes the diners’ eyes in this marble and gold orgy is the grandeur of the room. It is probably Paris’ most impressive dining room. However, Starck’s make-over doesn’t go unnoticed and makes the affair much more friendly, light and hospitable. I must say, that I did enjoy this royal cocoon.
The service brigade was worthy of such a house. I got all I wanted, with tons of smiles and effectiveness. However, the use of the cloche does seem a little out-dated for someone who claims to be as innovative as Alleno.
This brings us to Alleno who played a big part in the re-decoration process, as he designed the China, presentation plates rings and tableaux, on which the service delivers the dishes. These are now made of some high-tech carbon fibre construction that only weighs a few houndred grams.
On your table, you find the chef’s above mentioned own Coquet China, very good glasses and a little flower bouquet.
The meal started with a coupe of Bollinger Special Cuvee and a few nibbles. There was a sardine cream with a lemon bavarois in the little spoon, goat’s cheese with tomatoes on the top-left and a ham mousse on the lower part of the slate. The spoon was quite delicious, with rich, creamy sardine taste and a bright, zingy touch, coming through the lemon. This was a very promising first bite, and I thought that I might have more luck with my meal than a few others. However, the next two weren’t quite that good. The goat’s cheese sandwich was hardly worth mentioning, as it was rather forgettable. There wasn’t any noteworthy taste, combination nor texture. Not really great to kick off a meal in a 3*. The ham mousse sandwich (yes, they used crisped bread twice on that little first plate) was good, but not really interesting neither. Excellent for the sardine, mediocre for the rest.
The amuse bouche was very good. It was a tomato jelly with a few cubes of heirloom tomatoes, a parmesan cream and a deep-fried langoustine. I started with the langoustine, which had spent too much time waiting somewhere before it was delivered to me, and thus was not crunchy anymore. This was merely alright, but I didn’t need it, as the tomato/parmesan combo was very good. Certainly nothing new, but in this case, it was executed in a most convincing way. The flavours were balanced beautifully and the intensity of each element was quite amazing. Very good.
Bread was very good. A selection of five types (olive; tomato; son (a cereal); mixed grains and bacon) all had good crust, very airy mie and strong flavour. The butter was excellent, especially the “Parisian” version with a ham/butter mix. This was a very good idea and was greatly appreciated.
With the first course, I was served a rather poor and uninspiring Jurançon Sec – Cuvée marie – C. Hours, 2007.
The COURGETTE JAUNE DE LA VALLéE D’ ORGEVAL Confite au four et garnie de moules au safran du Gâtinais arrived promptly and seemed quite promising. After all, mussels can be a most delectable thing and a good courgette isn’t anything I despise neither. Here, unfortunately, the dish had a few major problems. First of all, it was not seasoned enough. I had to give it a few healthy pinches of salt, before I tasted something. Then, I found the courgette to be an average specimen, in terms of quality. This wasn’t a particularly tasty courgette, as it was pretty watery. Rather it was one, which you and I can find pretty much anywhere. Thirdly, the proportions did not work for me. There was too much courgette for way too little mussels (which were delicious by the way). The concept of the dish would have been great, had it been done with smaller courgettes and/or more mussels and a little more salt. This was definitely not a 3* dish. The wine didn’t really work for that dish neither, at least not for me.
The wine for the second course was much more interesting already. I really enjoyed it, despite its young age: Puligny Montrachet – J.M Boillot, 2007.
BOUDINS NOIRS DE HOMARD AUX POMMES Jus de carcasse relevé à la moutarde. This sounded promising and I thought it looked good when I saw it arrive too. Lobster meat was mixed with squid ink and eggs to make a marine-black pudding. With it came a little lobster jus and a bit of apple. The dish worked beautifully with the wine. This really was a fine match, but the dish itself wasn’t half as nice as that match. Taste-wise it was good. The lobster flavour was present and made even more interesting by the apples, but the texture of the thing was another story. The lobster meat was mixed so fine that it was more like a Wiener Würstchen rather than a boudin noir (which has bits and pieces in it, as far as I can recall). This made it very similar to your everyday sausage ( in terms of texture that is). With this dish I had the feeling that someone really liked that concept of taking a French classic (boudin noir aux pommes) to another level, but didn’t really get there. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really see that third star shine.
But, things finally started looking up.
For the main course, I was served a glass of Saint Joseph – Cuvée du Papy – Dom. Du Monteillet, 2006.
morceau d’entrecôte de boeuf* rôtie Jus et condiments d’une sauce Bercy, pomme Anna. Now, this dish was the first real three star dish so far. It took them a little time, but here the wait did pay off. The centre of an entrecote was topped with a onion and bone marrow ragout and came with a gratin made out of parmesan, tomatoes and a few other things. On the side was served a portion of pommes Anna. The most stunning part of this whole meal were, believe it or not, potatoes. This millefeuille of crunchy and creamy potatoes was absolutely mind-blowing. It might not have been worth the price of the meal (objectively at least not), but I will remember this thing if not much more. The jus was another winner. I absolutely loved it and ate every little drop of it. The beef itself was very good. It had great flavour and was nicely cooked. However, it had rested a little too long or wasn’t reheated properly, as the ends were completely dry and lukewarm. It didn’t really matter, as I really loved this dish. It was finally a successful version of a Bistro classic, one that made sense, tasted well and was executed superbly. Excellent.
To prepare the diner for the dessert, one is served a plate of mignardises. Today, there was a glass with a verveine mousse, a strawberry, rolled in apricot jelly and, on the plate, a macaron, a marshmallow and a chocolate filled with red berries. These were all very good and well executed.
To not leave me with an empty (wine) glass, the sommelier poured me a Tokaji – Sargà Muskotàly – Château de Sarospatak, 2007. Despite the fact that it was a pitty to drink such a wine at such a tender age, it was quite good and accompanied the dessert very well.
Conversation feuilletée à la confiture de mûre Marmelade glacée en coque de chocolat blanc. A lukewarm case of puff pastry served as a pillow for an almond cream, enriched with blackberry jam. Next to it sat a few white-chocolate balls, garnished with crushed blackberries. This was divine. The puff pastry was nearly as good as Pierre Herme’s and made this an absolutely stunning dessert. The fact that it was still lukewarm, as was the delicious filling only made it better and more succulent. The accompanying balls were very good and provided a little tart note, which balanced with the rich pastry and cream. Outstanding.
A second dessert was as successful as the first. A chocolate ganache sandwiched a lemon cream and was topped with a lemon-meringue and a few hazelnut crumbles. This was another masterpiece of the very, very talented Camille Lesecq, who really does deserve his mention on the menu. Everything in this plate worked and created a beautiful piece of art, that was yet again excellent.
With coffee, I was served a pain de Genes, which was very nice, but nothing spectacular neither.
After this meal I didn’t quite know what to make of it.Yes, it did have some strong moments, after all the desserts, beef, bread, service and decor were unquestionably on 3*-level, but there were some problems too. The two starters really didn’t work and were miles away from what you expect in such a temple of gastronomy. They really seemed a little ridiculous and more l’art pour l’art than anything else.
Also, the service, however great it was, had barely cleared my table after the first course, when the second was already waiting to be placed in front of me. That just was way too fast for me, and I guess for others too. I’m not a particularly slow eater, but I do enjoy my fifteen minutes or more between courses, after all I can go to Mc donald’s if I want to be in and out in a few minutes.
However, I will return at some stage, as I am sure that Alleno will get better, once he is over all the prizes he won recently.