Posts Tagged ‘Alain Ducasse’

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee, Paris

février 9, 2010



I last ate at ADPA in July 2009. It was the third meal, of which I can say that it was absolutely spectacular. Every single time I eat here, I leave dazzled, unbelievably happy, like floating on a very quiet, relaxed, charming cloud… It’s a very amazing feeling, that makes forget everything else. But, don’t think of all that, I was back, and waited for a little food. The glorious food of Christophe Moret, who delivers the most consistently perfect meals I’ve come across. This is a guy, who knows what he is doing. Someone, who really knows it!

Denis Courtiade, one of the best Maitre d’hotel’s, greeted me and I was seated immediately. A glass of Roederer 2003 was very welcome as I perused the menu, although I did not have to make any choices. The chef is cooking, and one better lets him choose here. He really knows my taste by now, and I never interfere with his plans. The sommelier, Laurent Roucayrol, proposed to serve me a few glasses of wine, and I drank very well as usually today. I started off with a couple of glasses of 2007, Puligny Montrachet, Francois Carillon (the brother of the more famous other Carillon, who just started with his first vintage in 2007), which were followed by another very enjoyable wine: A 2004, Chateauneuf du Pape, Domaine de Marcoux. For the dessert, I was served the 2008, Dolc Mataro, Alta Alella-Catalunya. The latter wine is quite interesting as it works beautifully with cherries (both nose and taste are incredibly cherry-like), figs and chocolates (the three things I drank it with so far).  Whilst looking through the wine list, I was quite astonished at the incredibly reasonable prices, considering one is in a Parisian 3*.

With the Champagne came a few nibbles. There was a feuillete filled with spinach and truffles, a tomato/truffle sandwich and a little toast with some lardo di Colonnata. They were all delightful. The puff pastry was heavenly, crunchy, airy, light, a pure delight, and the spinach/truffle combination complemented it only too well. The tomato/truffle mix was incredibly good too. A combination I would not have served, this worked, and was a perfect partner for the very enjoyable Roederer. Finally, a crunchy piece of bread and some very, very good lardo aren’t something I will turn down neither. Excellent.

Amuse-I

Amuse-II

I was, more or less, on the menu collection, with a few changes from Christophe Moret, to which I will come shortly. Bread and butter were as good as always, which means excellent, and were refilled directly when needed.

The mise en bouche was a rather substantial adaptation of an Alain Chapel recipe: Langoustines de casier a la nage de Chardonnay. Three medium-sized langoustines came with a few vegetables and a Chardonnay nage. A deceptively simple dish, which looked very old fashioned, this was a truly stunning intro. Let’s start with the quality of the langoustines. These were amazing in every sense of the word. Perfectly cooked and seasoned, they had great flavour and a stunning texture. They matched those, one gets at the Square, which remain the best I’ve eaten so far. The nage was highly interesting, as it had a clear taste of Chardonnay, which was much more present than I would have imagined, but which which went very well with the other elements. An excellent start, I was looking forward to the rest…

Amuse-III

Two very big scallops came in their shells, atop a crème de laitue, and were topped with Beluga caviar. Can it get much more decadent? Certainly, but certainly not much better. The beasts were again of terrific quality (which will be the case during the whole meal), and cooked as well as I have not seen it anywhere else. The caviar here nearly played a supporting role only, as it gave the scallops a very particular, highly enjoyable seasoning. This was very fine caviar, which is always the case here, as far as I can remember. Summing up, this was a stunning, divine dish.

St Jacques

Next up was another decadent, and simple dish: Homard Breton, gnocchi Parmentier truffees. Simple then, a lobster, some gnocchi, and a bit of black truffle, for good measure… The lobster was as perfect as it gets, and worth a trip for only that, but what really struck me here was the incredible fluffiness of the gnocchi. These were so airy, and nearly creamy, that I couldn’t see how one could shape them so precisely. Wow. The truffles cut through the lobster’s very robust taste, where some of the best I’ve come across and simply brilliant too! I didn’t expect, anything of such stunning quality, but was stunned again! A DIVINE dish.

Homard

Volaille de Bresse, sauce Albufera, primeurs de Didier Pil, Tartufi di Alba. The name alone is a legend. A dish created by Alain Chapel, if I’m not mistaken, which Ducasse modernized a little, this must be one of the finest dishes in world. A Bresse chicken’s breast is poached (on the bateau) in a rich chicken stock, then glased in the sauce Albufera, and served with the garnish of a poule au pot and, of course, white truffles. I have already thad this once before, in the kitchen of this same restaurant, but this time, it was even better. The chicken was juicy, tender, incredibly tasty, and just unbelievable with that sauce. It hardly gets any better than this I can assure you, only if one takes a few slivers of truffle on the same fork. The vegetables with that sauce would make a dish on their own, as the sauce is divine. Made with chicken stock, Madeira, Porto, foie gras and cream, it’s rich, decadent, luscious and purely delicious. A legendary dish, that everyone who is seriously interested in food should have tried. At least once. DIVINE.

Poularde

Poularde

After this incredible meal, it was time for cheese. Today the cheese board was in incredible condition, and the comte was stunning, with this incredible texture it has, when it is more than 4 years old, and has been looked after very well. I haven’t had better comte at this restaurant before, and I can’t even say I’ ve had better comte at the Greenhouse before. Otherwise, I was served a little truffled salad, and the fantastic olive bread, which I adore. Excellent, with the Greenhouse the best cheeseboard I know.

salade avec le fromage

Fines feuilles de Chocolat et café crousti/fondants. A long rectangular bar of chocolate in various textures, and temperatures is served with a martini glass filled with coffee granitee, chocolate sorbet and a milk foam, to resemble a cappuccino. This dessert was the fifth I have eaten here, and showed once more, how good the patisserie here is. A dessert can not be better in terms of balance, as the coffee was just strong enough to give the chocolate a slightly stronger outline, but didn’t overdo it. Stunning.

Dessert-I

Dessert II

Petit-fours here always come in great variety and quantity, and are on the same incredibly high level as the desserts. Hence, they are among the finest in the world, and outright fantastic. Today, there were the classic chocolate and coffee macarons, the bugnes, and sugar tartlets. All of them were excellent, period.

La fin, ou presque

Wow. I have eaten here four times now, and every single one of them has been mind-blowing. Products always get completely re-defined here, as I have written in an earlier post, and I must stick to that. Moret sources the absolutely finest, France has to offer (or Iran in the case of the caviar), and serves it in a way, that lets the product shine. The four hours I spent here were brilliant, and the service was as relaxed as it could be in a Parisian 3*, with a friend joining me for dessert on very short notice. I have eaten very well these holidays, and this was the best meal of all of them, without doubt. A truly memorable experience, one that I hope to repeat sooner than later!

Publicités

Le Louis XV, II, Monte-Carlo

novembre 1, 2009
La Salle

La Salle

I have rarely eaten at the same restaurant more than once in no more than 4 days. At Le Louis XV, I did this for the first time in my life. After the stunning meal I had eaten a few days earlier, I returned to Monte Carlo for the second time for another lunch.

La Table

La Table

The room was fully booked, unlike on my visit a few days earlier, where only 3 tables were taken. Despite this, the service was as great, perfect and charming as ever, and even Michel Lang, the Maitre d’hotel came for the lunch service (he often spends only dinner services in the restaurant).

 

Quel temps fait il?

Quel temps fait il?

After a word with the chef in the kitchen I started with Lanson rose Champagne (they only have the tete de cuvee by the glass for dinner), which was surprisingly good. The amuse bouches were pretty much the same as a few days earlier and were equally tasty and enjoyable.

Amuses

Amuses

Butter here is quite entertainingly served from a little mountain. They both come from Normandy, and were of very good quality. Bread was also on top form, even though it is always on the slightly softer side, good for cleaning plates, less so for people who like a good crust.

Le beurre

Le beurre

The meal itself started with Foie gras de canard de Chalosse au naturel, pain de campagne toaste. A slice of foie gras was simply paired with three preparations of figs and fresh almonds. Never on earth would I have imagined myself to be eating foie gras on a late summer day on the Riviera. Least of all places in this restaurant. However, Pascal Bardet did chose the menu and I completely understand his choice. It was a stunning piece of foie. The quality of the liver was of the highest order. I would challenge anyone to get me better livers than this one. Technically, it must have been the most perfect cold foie gras I have come across (I thought that I had eaten my fair share of good foie during my short life). It had the most amazing texture, somewhere between creamy, slightly firm and meltingly tender. It’s hard to describe that kind of very unique texture that a fine foie gras terrine has, but this was really a mind-changing experience. Obviously, the seasoning was spot on too, as was the combination with the meaty, slightly sweet figs and the crunchy country bread. I doubt that I will ever eat a better piece of duck liver in my life, as it was absolutely divine.

Foie Gras

Foie Gras

 

Next up was a highly seasonal dish: Ravioli croustillants et moelleux aux champignons des bois, un veloute pour saucer. A cepe cream served as base for three glased mushroom ravioli, a few pan-fried girolles and shavings of raw cepes bouchon. The intensity of the farce (made up of cepe puree and duxelle) and cream was remarkable. Despite them not being crunchy, the ravioli were little parcels of distilled joy. The cream, which was lusciously spooned on the ravioli boosted the flavours even more, and made this an absolutely outstanding dish. The quality of the pasta was nearly as good as that of ADPA, where I have found the best pasta so far, but had a little less bite to it. I am not sure how many Italian restaurants can produce better pasta, but many they certainly are not. Not only is the pasta as thin as paper, but it also is cooked al dente (as far as it is possible with such a kind of pasta at least). Excellent.

 

DSCN1423

Ravioli de cepes

 

 

On to the main course then: Canette mi-sauvage poudree d’epices a la broche, betteraves et figues marinees, sauce dolce forte. This is another one of the great dishes, that comes straight out of one of Ducasse’s books and is indeed most impressive. The canard colvert (half-wild duck) from the Bresse is rubbed with spices and then spit-roasted (in the old-fashioned style). Paired with two different servings of figs and small glased beetroots, the dish is a most simple, but powerful affair, which is unbelievably tasty. It is great to see a chef use whole birds and serve them in a traditional way, not only boiling them in a bag (sous-vide) and then reheating them. Not only is it most interesting to watch, but it also is a tradition that is both worth preserving, and benefits the diner. This meat stays much jucier, due to the fact that it is cooked on the bone and is wrapped with the protective skin. Also, it will reach your table warm, as it is only taken of the bone, seconds before one eats it. Crispy skin, intense taste and tender meat are all one can expect of a perfect duck breast. This one had it all, even though it wasn’t the most tender I have had. Taste-wise it was absolutely mind-blowing, as it the spice crust worked perfectly with the duck’s flavour. It was absolutely grandiose. The dolce forte sauce is basically a duck jus flavoured with miel d’arbousier, which is a little bitter and a little pepper. It is thus not only a slightly sweet duck jus, but rather a most complex concentrate of flavours. Together with the gamey, spiced duck it created a fantastic combination, that was unbelievably coherent, Excellent.

 

DSCN1424

Decoupe de la canette

DSCN1426

Canette

The second service of the little bird was a little less succesful. The thigh returned to the kitchen to be finished, but when it came back, it was very tough and nearly inedible. The pairing with the raw beets was great, but the tough meet (I believe that my particular bird must have had a « problem » of some sorts, as I can’t see them using anything that isn’t of the finest order) made it pretty forgettable. Mediocre.

 

DSCN1428

cuisse de canette/betteraves

 

 

 

The cheeses were equally good as those I tried on my previous visit, and featured a very good Munster, whom I greatly enjoyed. These are really some of the finest cheeses in France. The only drawback is the somewhat moist comte. Compared to other 4 year-old comtes, it doesn’t have as many crystalised salt crystals, which I so much adore. Apart from that, it is a pretty fantastic cheese board.

 

DSCN1429

fromages

 

 

The first dessert was the Feuillet de fruits rouges et noirs en gelee d’ete, crème mousseline. On a rectangle of red berry puree sat a tower consisting of arlettes, crème mousseline and various summer fruits. This delicate structure was simply accompanied by a quenelle of strawberry sorbet. Arlettes are thin disks of puff pastry that are rolled out with icing sugar, and thus caramelise beautifully when being baked. This creates a very thin, crisp and rich biscuit that worked beautifully with the fresh berries and the crème mousseline (half crème patissiere, half whipped cream). The strawberry sorbet had the perfect temperature and texture and thus was a most welcome addition to this very fresh, only slightly sweet dessert. Excellent.

 

DSCN1431

Feuillet

 

 

Up next was a relatively new dessert: Peches en vinaigrette huile d’olive/citron, sorbet, Tatin de brugnons. This is a dessert that featured in the latest edition of Ducasse’s Grand Livre de cuisine, but has evolved over the time. A salad of peeled, raw peaches is seasoned with a sweet vinaigrette, made from olive oil, sugar and lemon juice. This is then topped with a milk-mousse and peach sorbet. The left side of the plate sees a tarte tatin of peches brugnons, a particular variety of peaches, that I have only seen in different parts of France. What makes this dessert interesting is undoubtedly the vinaigrette, a sauce usually used to dress savoury salads, and not desserts. Here, the use of sugar instead of salt gives the dessert much more depth and a whole new dimension. In combination with the very fresh, slightly sweeter sorbet and the airy milk foam, it makes for a multi-textural mouthful, that is most harmonious. It certainly isn’t a novelty to eat olive oil in a dessert, after all one often eats it with ice cream in Italy, but in this dessert, it plays a totally different role. The tarte tatin on the side should be mentioned, as it was phenomenal. The pastry was crumbly, buttery, fragile and slightly salted, and the peaches beautifully caramelised and bursting with flavour. This was a delicate, much more refined tarte tatin than most others, due to the subtle peaches and the separate preparation of each element. This was, with the Monte Carlo and one other dessert my favourite of all I have tried here so far. Outstanding.

Peches

The mignardises were slightly different in that I had a tarte au sucre and a raspberry financier instead of a wild strawberry one and a tarte tropezienne. All of them were, again, of outstanding technical perfection, and disappeared fairly rapidly.

 

DSCN1430

MIgnardises

 

 

 

Looking back, this meal was as good as the one a few days earlier. Products were remarkable, cooking was incredibly precise, the dishes very much reduced to the essentials and the composition as successful as possible. The only slight problem was the duck’s tenderness. It could indeed have been a little more tender (the breast), and in the case of the thigh, it would have been better not to have served it in the first place. But, with such overwhelming flavour coming from it, I really did not mind at all, that it wasn’t the most tender piece of duck I have eaten so far, it was by far the most powerful one, which is more interesting than simple tenderness. In combination with the outstanding service, the most charming welcome and the absolutely crazy décor, a meal here is a memorable experience. In fact, it is one, that will not be forgotten any time soon. I for once, can’t wait for my return…although that won’t be before next year.

 

DSCN1373

la salle

 

 

It is quite astonishing how my view on this restaurant has evolved. The first time I came, I wasn’t stunned at all. I even found it a little disappointing, but three meals later, it is pretty close to being my favourite restaurant in the world.

Le Mirazur, Menton

octobre 23, 2009
La Salle

La Salle

My week on the Riviera was nearing its end, and I had made arrangements to return to Le Mirazur, a restaurant my family and I hugely enjoyed two years ago. Amongst the things that struck me back then was the fantastic bread, the very interesting cooking, great service and the stunning view over Menton and the sea. So, when I came back, I had some rather high expectations, which were further raised by Mauro Colagreco’s entrance into to 50 best list, and his nomination as chef of the year by the French Gault Millau guide.

La Table

La Table

The restaurant itself lies a few meters away from the Italian border and benefits of stunning views of the ocean. In addition to this, it does not only have huge windows that let you gaze at the sea, but those who don’t face the sea can still see it, thanks to some equally big mirrors. Crockery and glasses are rather simple, but the chairs have changed from simple beach restaurant-style chairs to something a little more elaborate. Despite a few more changes, the room will not figure among the most beautiful restaurant dining rooms I have seen so far. But, who cares really? We’re all here for the food, no?

La Salle II

La Salle II

Price-wise the menu is on the upper end of 1* restaurants (menus go from about 55 to 100 euro, with a lunch deal for 35 or so). To give you an idea: Tasting menus at a few 2* in Luxembourg and Belgium will not cost you more. But, let’s not complain about prices, in most cases they are a fairly accurate, and these places don’t make a lot of money. The wine list is not really that interesting, but will certainly grow over the years.

To accompany the obligatory glass of Champagne, one is offered a little selection of nibbles. From right to left, there was a cornet of carrots, celery and sesame, a tartelette mentonnaise (a Pissaladiere, with a little Parmesan basically), a spoonful of foie gras with lemon confit and a lemon cream. These were all very good and left me with a desire to find out more. The tarte had very well made pastry and was well seasoned, the foie of very good quality and the cream most interesting. The only rather dull and boring part was the cornet, which didn’t have an interest in the least. Very good.

Canapes

Canapes

The bread made its appearance, and I was eagerly awaiting the stunning almond and cinnamon bread and a very good fougasse, both of which I had still in my memory as being most amazing little creatures. However, the bread this time wasn’t quite as great as I had remembered: First of all, it was stone cold, the country style bread gave the impression to have been a little old and dull (no crust on this one), the fougasse tasted like some American style toast-bread drenched in olive oil and the almond/cinnamon roll was devoid of any buttery crispiness that I had so much anticipated. When I asked, if it was possible to have my bread warmed, I got no real answer and must thus say that this bread was a little disappointing.

Les pains

Les pains

Having seen a number of tables ordering a la carte, I had seen their amuse bouches, I knew what those would be and was rather surprised when they were sold to me as part of the menu carte blanche, the longest (and most expensive) tasting menu, the chef offered that night. I have no problem with paying for more dishes, but when one sells a good number of amuse bouches as regular dishes, I do not enjoy it at all. Anyways, restaurants, who cut short their pre-dinner greetings for tasting menu eaters should state that on the menu, it feels a little odd. In the end, three or four of the courses (out of eleven) would have come with the normal a la carte menu too…

The first course was a shot glass filled with green apple, celery, seaweed and a slightly acidic foam. This was an interesting combination that didn’t particularly impress, nor amaze. It was a palate cleanser and acceptable as such. Good.

Shot

Shot

Next up was a much more interesting combination. A parsnip veloute was served with pistachio oil, pistachios and a coffee flan. This was a most interesting combination, as the bitterness of the coffee complemented the natural sweetness of the parsnips and the richness of the pistachios. A little more of it would not have been pleasant though, as it was a rather singular taste mix. Good.

Panais/cafe

Panais/cafe

Colagreco prides himself with his own garden. In the menu, he explains the great amount of love his gardeners put in to it, in a very nice way (there is also an introduction, a preface of sorts, written by his sister). Like his mentor Alain Passard he employs someone who produces various types of vegetables. This can and often has some pretty positive effects on the product’s quality and the variety, but a rather negative effect on the restaurant’s pricing (after all, economies of scale aren’t really favourable in that context). The next course was based around heirloom beets and balsamic vinegar. Now, this is something one gets in many restaurants all over the world these days, and it seems a little overstretched by now. The beets were fine, but there wasn’t any particularly interesting seasoning, nor was there any other extraordinary feature in this collection of beautiful colours. The only sliver of raw beetroot was cut much too thickly, without seasoning and thus in stark contrast to the overcooked, slightly-mushy, under-seasoned other beets. This dish was beautiful, but didn’t quite deliver taste-wise.

Betteraves

Betteraves

Next up was a very good one, luckily. A simple combination of raw gamberoni di San Remo, finger lime and radishes proved to be most rewarding. The highly regarded gamberoni really are special in both taste and texture, and when presented in such a natural, untouched way, this quality is even more apparent. With the finger lime and slightly crunchy radish, the dish was not only very light, but also highly refreshing and summery. One could argue that it lacked punch, but then, the dish wasn’t going in that direction at all. It was one of the most simple dishes of the menu, and one of the best. Very good.

Gamberoni

Gamberoni

Following this came a dish that was more or less in the same idea as the beetroot one. A  few pieces of (cooked) courgettes were served with murex snails and a broth made out of grilled vegetables. The idea sure is good, but when seasoning isn’t spot on, the dish loses all credibility and attraction. In this case, salt seemed to have been used with great restriction and thus made the whole combination a little bland. In terms of product quality there wasn’t anything to discuss, it was very good food, but the rather dull broth didn’t quite lift the dish to new heights. Furthermore, the murex snails aren’t something that particularly fascinates me: tough, chewy, nearly devoid of any significant taste, they don’t really add anything (positive) to the dish. Another rather mediocre dish.

Courgettes

Courgettes

After having been served frog’s legs beignets a couple of times now, Colagreco served me some poached in butter. Paired with a few different tomato and nettle preparations, this dish took the classic French frog’s leg out of its comfort zone. The legs were great, creamy, tasty and well cooked, as they should be. The accompanying tomato marmelade was fine too, but a few confit cherry tomatoes were a little too acidic and the nettle puree had a overly dominant power, unpleasant flavour, that did overwhelm the subtle frog’s legs. Apart from this (rather big problem), it was a good dish.

Grenouilles

Grenouilles

Next up was a piece of duck foie gras, pan-fried and served with duck/verbena consommé, figs and fresh almonds. This was great dish, with the exception of a under-seasoned broth. The flavours were there, but needed a little strength or kick to live things up. Subtle flavours might have been involved here, but there must at least be enough punch to make these noticeable. The foie was cooked very well, although it was a little « sweaty » (usually a sign for not the freshest or lower quality livers). In combination with the fig and the two almonds it was a most pleasing dish. Very good.

Foie

Foie

Usually, Colagreco serves his fish with a smoked emulsion and a few leaves. This time, I was served a piece of blue-fin tuna with an haricot coco foam. The fillet of tuna was cooked throughout (horribly overcooked), and thus a little tough and less tasty. It was cut from a rather sinewy part of the fillet, which was from ordinary quality. Drowned in a massive pool of very good bean emulsion, the proportions seemed to have gotten out of hand a little on this one. If one had imagined a very nice piece of tuna belly (which was the day’s special) or at least a less cooked fillet with about a third of the foam, it would have made for a very successful dish, but like this it just seemed a little odd. Mediocre. Again, one felt a little ripped-off here, after all tuna didn’t figure on the menu at all, so to send those who let the chef decide what they eat the nastiest piece there is, is a rather bizarre thing.

Thon

Thon

Luckily enough, the next dish nearly saved the evening. A piece of Sisteron lamb, with a nice crunchy fat crust came with Miso-glased aubergines and a date condiment. If one takes away the fact that Pascal Barbot’s Miso-glased aubergine is being copied pretty much all over the place, this was a wonderful dish. The rack of lamb still had the panoufle attached to it and was beautifully crispy on top, with a creamy fatty centre and most tender meat. This really was a fine piece of lamb. In combination with the dates or the black sesame oil, it was a most happy pairing. Conceptually, it was very similar to a dish I had eaten two years earlier and remembered from then. If only a few more of this night’s dishes could have been like this… Excellent.

Agneau

Agneau

After a quick chat to Colagreco (who is about to open a steak house in Beirut, and who was implicated in a beach restaurant this summer!?) I was served my first dessert. A tube of frozen almond mousse was served in a fennel soup with orange sorbet, The combination isn’t unusual in cooking, but it was certainly the first time I stumbled across it in a dessert. I certainly do hope it won’t happen that often anymore, as it was not much more than good (if one is generous). The individual parts (with exception of the great sorbet) were only very lightly sweetened and didn’t really have pleasing tastes. If eaten together, the story looked very different and it seemed much better indeed. Still, it is interesting for a one time experience, but not really something I would travel for again. Good.

Orange sorbet

Orange sorbet

The second dessert was another strange one. A few popcorn pieces were mixed with chocolate truffles, some “chocolate snow” and mate ice cream. I hate writing anything too negative, but this really seemed like someone had thrown all there was left over from the week in a bowl: A bit of popcorn, some truffles, a little ice cream,… The individual parts were good, but this wasn’t a particularly interesting dessert. The “snow” was miles away from what I was served elsewhere (during my Amador internship, they made a fantastic version of this), as it was melting when the plate hit my table and was no more than a rather liquid cream by the time I was ready to start it. The textural combinations were rather odd too, to cut a long story short: Mediocre.

Chocolat

Chocolat

The mignardises were all very good (only the tapioca in the glass a little less so), but nothing worth spending much time with.

Mignardises

Mignardises

Looking back, this meal felt a little weird. I had had very good memories and would have hoped to at least get what I had two years ago both in terms of product quality and cooking. Rather, I got a mix of good and pretty uninspiring dishes, that left me with a puzzled mind. The lamb dish surely was great, but apart from that there was hardly one dish, which was more than good. In a total of about 11, that is not the best of ratios. Some of them seemed bizarre, odd and the products’ quality was not what it could have been, considering the area, and acclaim of the restaurant. The tuna was very poor, the beautiful frog’s legs killed by those overpowering flavours and bizarre tomatoes, the bread was really bad, and various other dishes grossly under-seasoned. Now, that is a list of errors, that is too long for a restaurant, that clearly strives for more than the 1* it holds. The fact that service was rather hectic, overwhelmed and much less charming than last time didn’t help neither. I was also quite astonished at the fact, that they serve three or four courses (out of 11) of the big tasting menu as extras for people on the carte. This is not a way to run a serious restaurant, and I hope for Colagreco that he stops that right away, as one feels a little ripped-off afterwards. He might have more luck with his beach restaurant or the steak house in Beirut?

Le Louis XV, Monte Carlo

octobre 13, 2009

I first came to Monte Carlo and the Louis XV two years ago. Back then, it was the first big 3* meal I paid for with my own pocket money. I saved up for half a year and was a little disappointed afterwards. I just wasn’t ready for this restaurant. The grand ambience proved to be the first problem. I bought my very first suit, just to go there. However, what really struck me, was the way, in which my appreciation of the food changed in the weeks following that dinner. From feeling a little disappointed to beginning to understand, what this was all about, it was quite a long way. However, when I was back in the region, last summer, I went back. This time for lunch, my meal cost me about a third of the dinner the year before and was mind-blowing. Never before had I eaten a sea bass of such quality, or a dessert this accomplished (although the desserts I tried on my first visit were on the same level). I had found what I had hoped for: Outstanding, regional products, relatively simple dishes, great service and of course, that slightly blasé room. During my week on the French Riviera in late September, I had planned a return to one of my 3 favourite restaurants in the world.

Mon compagnon

Mon compagnon

The restaurant was the first in which Alain Ducasse received 3*. This was a few years ago, and now he has not that much time for preparing stocks and sauces here anymore. That is why he delegates the work to his protégés, Franck Cerutti, who now runs all of the Hotel de Paris’ kitchens and Pascal Bardet, head chef of the Louis XV. Both of them are incredibly nice, passionate chefs, who seem to really love what they do. This kitchen is equally impressive as that of the Plaza Athenee in Paris, as it has roughly the same amount of cooks toiling in it. They are no less than 25 here, including 2 boulangers and 4 patissiers .

On the other side of the piano, one finds the same amount of people, in Georges Feghaly designed suits (which have a very stylish tab collar, a rare thing these days). This Monegasque designer is also the creator of the Parisian services’ « uniforms ». The cellar, one of the most impressive in the world, is in the very capable hands of Gerard Margeon (head sommelier of the Goupe Alain Ducasse and Noel Bajor, sommelier of the Louis XV), whilst the service brigade is directed by Michel Lang. This famous cellar has a whole history of its own, briefly portrayed in the wine list, which has some incredible prices (few bottles cost less than 60).

La salle

La salle

This time I found the brigade to be much more smiling, personal and approachable, the only flaw I had remarked during my previous visits. I wouldn’t go too far, if I would say that they really know how to pamper their diners. You are in most capable hands when dining here.

The room is one of the most impressive I have seen so far. The different (there were quite a few) maitresses of Louis XV look down on the guests, from their gold-framed portraits, the central flower bouquet is always huge and the amount of gold used in this one, gigantic room must amount to an obscene weight. Over the years, one has changed the chairs, and given the room a much friendlier, warmer, brighter lighting. Some hate such décor, but I must say that in this case it doesn’t bother me in the least.

La table

La table

My meal started with the first few nibbles: Barbajuans and bread crisps. Barbajuans are small, deep-fried ravioli from Monaco, which are filled (in summer at least) with ricotta, herbs and blettes. Biting in to one of these little treats is a pure delight. It is pure, because every single flavour is there, distinguishable, yet harmonious. But, don’t kid yourself, technique is close to perfection here too. Not a hint of greasiness is apparent on these parcels and the paper-thin pasta dough is as crisp as it gets. This is as perfect and refined as local, peasant cooking gets. The bread crisps bid your Champagne some very enjoyable company, that proves pleasant enough, whilst going through the menu. A most amusing, enjoyable start.

Barbaguan, croutes de pain

Barbaguan, croutes de pain

The classic, ever-present amuse bouche here is a mix of raw vegetables with a herb and parmesan sauce: Legumes de nos paysans a cru, sauce aux herbes pilees. It is no wonder that this amuse is often causing quite some irritation. Not only does it shock any first time diner with the disarming simplicity, but it also opposes the highly complex creations other chefs serve before meals. I must say that I am starting to like this more and more, for a few reasons. First, it is very regional. A bagna cauda is a classical Nicois dish, which is very similar and traditionally starts a meal in the area. Second, this plate is something you will always be able to come back to, even if the composition changes with the seasons. Furthermore, it features only vegetables, that come from the Riviera itself. Finally, it is a distillation of the philosophy behind the restaurant’s cooking. The predominance of the vegetables in haute cuisine has not begun in Alain Passard’s Arpege during the BSE-crisis, but here more or less 10 years earlier. Ducasse was the first to serve a fully vegetable-based tasting menu in a 3* restaurant, and the first chef to win 3* in a hotel restaurant. Very good.

Legumes

Legumes

Bread here is more impressive than anywhere else in this world (at least as far as I have seen pictures or experienced it myself so far). The two bakers produce at least 15 types of bread, twice a day. Even if there are only a couple of tables, the same amount of work is put into it. Obviously, there is not only a huge selection in terms of quantity, but it is also some of the finer bread this world has to offer these days. Among the best varieties were fig and nuts, tomato, fougasse aux lardons and a semolina flour « book ».

Les pains

Les pains

The actual meal started with a dish, which is contantly changing, but can be seen as a signature of the house: Salade tiede de cocos de l’arriere-pays, vongole, gamberoni et soupions, jus a l’encre de seiche. On a coco bean (small white beans that grow in the area and in Paimpol, where they even benefit from an AOC) puree and salad is mounted a mix of gamberoni from San Remo, vongole, small squid and poulpe. The whole is then served with a black sauce, made from the cooking juices of the different shellfish and squid ink. Looking at this dish, it is rather simple in preparation and not very inventive. The reasons for its success are mainly the fantastic quality of the produce, the precision of the cooking of every single element and the composition of the dish. The gamberoni, caught nearby and pristinely fresh, had amazingly clean, refined taste and a delightful texture. These are miles away from the stuff one is served in most restaurants anywhere in the world. The rest of the seafood does not fail to impress neither. The poulpe for instance, is caught by the last fisherman in Monaco, who supplies some of the restaurant’s fish and seafood and comes from the rocky coast off Monaco. The preparation is much more time-consuming than one is inclined to think: It is frozen, to tenderise it, cooked, and then marinated for 48h, the perfect length for the marinade, at least if one trusts Ducasse. The beans shall not be forgotten, as they are, just like everything else in this restaurant, of truly memorable quality. Along with the iodine flavours of the seafood, they make for a perfect match. Outstanding.

Haricots cocos

Haricots cocos

I have been making risotto from Ducasse’s recipe for years now, and it is the best I have encountered up to this day, so when I was approached with this dish, I was somehow interested to see what it would be like: Riso aux tomates de pays, pimenton et persil plat, jeunes oignons caramelises, Parmigiano Reggiano. You might have noticed that this is not a risotto, but a riso. Since Bardet took over, he changed the variety of rice to arroz bomba (which is used for paella) and changed the cooking method. The latter too, now resembles that of the paella, and thus gives it a completely different outcome. Apart from the perfect (al dente) cooking of the rice, I was most amazed by the incredibly strong, pungent tomato flavour. This was like eating a distillate of pure tomato, enriched by the gourmandise of the riso. The caramelised onions gave it a nice variation, both in terms of flavour and texture and the parmesan crisp provided a much welcome crunch. The difference from this cooking method to that of a classic risotto is the much lighter finishing. Whereas a risotto is traditionally finished with butter and/or parmesan and/or mascarpone and/or olive oil, this is simply bound with a little olive oil. It thus has a slightly more fine texture, that is really quite special. Another simple, but excellent dish.

Riso

Riso

Lapin de ferme mijote en cocotte aux amandes et truffe d’ete, des panisses. A rather generous serving of rabbit, glased in its jus was served with fresh almonds, summer truffles, a mesclun and panisses. Now this was another clin d’oeil to the area, as panisses are a local chickpea fry, that only consists of chickpea flour, water and a little olive oil. Here they were simply outstanding. Crisp on the outside, creamy, nearly like mashed potatoes on the inside, they would have sufficed by themselves. However, it would have been a pitty not to eat the rabbit, as it too, was a rather fine specimen. The various parts (rack, saddle, liver, kidney and leg) were all cooked and seasoned perfectly and were as tender as it could possibly get. The summer truffles were incredibly tasty for such a thing, I do despise, and added a nice earthy note. The trick here was the heating of them. By heating black or summer truffles in  some brown butter, or jus, one will maximise their flavour, and get a totally different effect from simply cold, sliced truffles.Again, this dish was disarmingly simple by appearance, but redefined completely what rabbit should taste like. Outstanding.

Lapin

Lapin

On to cheese, The various types here come from Bernard Antony, Alleosse and a regional goat’s cheese producer, who all supply their finest pieces.  I tried around six varieties and found all of them to be excellent. The comte, from 2005, is no less good than that of Arpege and is obviously quite impressive. A difference I believe to have remarked the moisture. Whilst Arpege’s and Les Ambassadeurs’ comte is much drier, with more clearly apparent salt crystals, this one was more moist, and slightly different. The local goat’s cheeses were of great quality too. Outstanding cheeses.

Les fromages

Les fromages

Desserts here are easily among the best in the world. Very few patissiers can match the work of Olivier Berger, who is probably one of the most important people in Ducasse’s empire.

My first dessert wer the Figues belones fourrees de crème au miel d’arbousier, d’autres poelees et refroidies, glace au lait. A seasonal, regional dessert, that I served the diners at the guesthouse the day before, made its appearance. The two preparations of belone figs, a variety that grows in the arriere-pays nicois and is particularly tasty and juicy, were accompanied by incredibly powerful milk ice cream and a puff pastry stick. One fig was simply  filled with a arbousier honey cream, whilst the other was roasted, then cooled. Both preparations bring out two completely different flavours in the figs, as the baked one has a highly complex, full and rich flavour, whilst the other is given a slightly bitter note from the honey and a much more natural, direct flavour. This really is a dessert anyone can make at home (although the ice cream might be a little more challenging, due to a very particular preparation) and never fails to impress. Excellent

Figues

Figues

One more highlight was to come: Monte-Carlo au Gianduja, glace aux noisettes du Piemont. An ice cream, made with the renowned nocciole delle Langhe is paired with a coco tuile and an entremets consisting of a crumble, gianduja mousse and crumchy base (praline feuillantine, dark chocolate, praline noisette). The delicate composition was mind-blowing. One didn’t feel this to be a heavy dessert or one that overpowers the diner. The incredibly strong, rich flavours were given a very light repackaging, that felt unreal. It was a pure delight, one that will not be forgotten. It was much more impressive than the (excellent) Louis XV, and should be tried by anyone who is seriously interested in cooking, or patisserie for that matter. One of the best desserts of the last few years for me. Divine.

Monte-Carlo

Monte-Carlo

The mignardises are easily as good as the desserts and were simply outstanding. The tarte tropezienne is much better than the original in St Tropez, and the other parts are far better than any versions I have had before.

Mignardises

Mignardises

This meal was a shock. Not only did it exceed my expectations (based on my previous visits), but it also made me realise how local a restaurant’s cooking can be. Not many were the products that came from further than a few kilometers away (the arroz bomba obviously though). Here was cooking that, isn’t inventive, but that doesn’t claim to be neither. It is an extremely pure, product-based, powerful style, which will not necessarily please someone, who doesn’t know a lot about cooking and products, but that will blow anyone with a serious interest away. Every product, be it a bean or a lobster comes from small producers, fishermen, …, who in some cases only supply only this restaurant. Despite it being a Ducasse restaurant, there is an incredibly personal, individual approach to the producers and guests here.  Furthermore, the purity of the flavours and cleanliness of them was most impressive. I have rarely had products of better quality that are given the chance to stand for themselves. This meal did, once more prove that it is often the less great chefs who tend to overcomplicate things and overload their plates with sauces, gels, jellies, airs, emulsions, foams, and whatever you want. In the end my most memorable meals were all in places that have a rather straightforward style (with the exception of Schloss Berg maybe): Louis XV, ADPA, In de Wulf, Schloss Berg, Sportsman.

DSCN1371

I enjoyed my meal that much, that I immediately booked a return, just a few days later. I have never done that anywhere else, so this is the greatest compliment I can possibly give a restaurant.

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee – III, Paris

juillet 12, 2009

 

La salle I

La salle I

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.

 

La salle II

La salle II

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. 

La table

La table

 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. 

 

Les beurres

Les beurres

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.

 

Les feuilletes

Les feuilletes

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.

 

Lardo

Lardo

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.   

 

Les grenouilles

Les grenouilles

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.

 

Coq

Coq

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.

 

Bar

Bar

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.

 

Veau

Veau

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.

 

Fromages

Fromages

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.

 

Cerises

Cerises

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.

 

Tropezienne

Tropezienne

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.

Bugnes

Bugnes

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.

macarons

macarons

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.

 

La salle III

La salle III

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester-III, London

mai 15, 2009

 

 

La Salle

La Salle

 

 

Jocelyn Herland doesn’t have an easy job. Since he joined Alain Ducasse’s restaurant at the Dorchester not too long ago, he had to live with some vile, mostly unjust criticism from the British press. Of course, a restaurant doesn’t serve the most stunning food right after its opening, but considering that this particular restaurant bore the name of Alain Ducasse, expectations were,rightfully so, very high. When the critics ate their way through the menu they made it a sport to criticise every possible element of the restaurant. To be honest, one must say that he wasn’t the only one who was criticised without much reason. His compatriots Helene Darroze and Jean Christophe Ansanay-Alex had similarly negative reviews from most of the major British newspapers. In the latter’s case, it went as far as being very personal, the reason of which escapes me. But, Herland tries his best to deliver well-made, product focused food of the highest order, as far as it is possible. Being realistic, he acknowledges that  the comparatively low price they charge here limit his creativity. In Paris, the cheapest menu is a mere 260euro, in Monaco, you can expect to pay similar prices. This being said, one thing has to be mentioned. For prices as low as these, one can simply not expect the same products, amount of work or perfection than you have in these other places. Therefore, it would be wrong to judge Parisian restaurants on the same standard as those in London. Although, there are always sparks here and there, not many but they do exist. 

 

La Salle 2

La Salle 2

 

 

When one sets foot in the Patrick Jouin-designed room, one immediately sees how successful this refurbishment was. Jouin has created a light, warm, modern and welcoming room, where one feels more than well. This young designer is quite talented, as his various projects around the world show (amongst them are the famous Auberge de l’Ill and ADPA). For those of you, who want to spend a bit of extra money, there is the so-called table lumiere, a table for 6 or 7 people, completely cut-off from the rest of the restaurant by a wall of some fancy light sticks. In this little cocoon, you will see the (Hermes) crockery change according to the season and can expect to pay 1300£ for your meal (drinks exclusive).

DSCN0601

La table lumiere

 

 

The rest of us sits equally well in the normal room of the restaurant. At lunch, the sun (if it does shine) shines through the windows, and you have a lovely view on Hyde Park, which lies vis-a-vis the restaurant on the other side of Park Lane. The tables are widely spaced, which is a rare pleasure but the background music really isn’t necessary in a restaurant of that standard. However, they don’t have it running for dinner, which would not fit with the ambience that reigns here.

la table

la table

 

 

The service is as good as always and is remarkably knowledgeable which is always good. The sommelier presides over a nice selection of wines, that aren’t that crazy, in terms of price. Bottles start at 30£ and for 45£ you have a decent selection of interesting wines. Those who want to celebrate can decide to have various vintages of Yquem (up to the 1930’s), or any of the other big Burgundy or Bordeaux producers. I let the sommelier choose the wines for me today, and must say that he did a very good job.

A meal here always starts with very good gougeres. They are light, slightly crunchy and go very well with a glass of champagne. It’s just a classical combination that is hard to beat. Of course. this is nothing that you don’t find elsewhere but very well-made and very pleasing.

 

gougeres

gougeres

 

 

A few words about the bread. It came in four different varieties: Baguette, sourdough, olive and some kind of epi. It is baked in the house, which as we know, is a rare thing in London. The bread is probably the best you can find in any London restaurant and shows, once again, that it makes a difference if you do your job properly. With it came very good salted butter and Fontainebleau, which is very light, both in texture and seasoning.

Les pains

Les pains

 

 

After this, I got some barbajuans, little Monegasque ravioli, stuffed with squash and ricotta. These are then deep-fried and served piping hot. They always blow me away at the Louis XV, in Monte Carlo, and here they weren’t  in the worst of shapes neither. The little ravioli are unbelievably light, well seasoned and most importantly, extremely comforting to eat. Also, the squash/ricotta filling worked even better than the spinach/herb/ricotta version I had at my last meals in Monte Carlo. Excellent.

 

Barbajuans

Barbajuans

 

 

Following this comes the amuse-bouche. Today, it was a brunoise of courgettes, a cream of artichokes, an artichoke a la barigoule and a tomatoe emulsion. All flavours were there, and the elements were well cooked, but I didn’t understand, why they served this cold. It just tasted a little empty at this cool temperature, not as rich as it would have when served slightly hotter or at least lukewarm. Good not more.

Amuse

Amuse

 

 

The first course today was a guinea fowl consommé, guinea fowl and foie gras ravioli and crispy thighs of the same bird. All in all, the dish could have been great. The ravioli were of stunning quality, cooked perfectly, the crispy thigh was equally well cooked and the consommé had very clean flavour. It shows how much work is put into these dishes. Take the thighs for instance, they are slowly cooked, boned, de-nerved and then pressed. The skin is then pressed on top of these pieces and the whole thing is pan-fried until crispy. The only problem I had with the dish, was that the whole thing lacked  seasoning. Once sprinkled with a (rather substantial) bit of fleur de sel, the whole dish seemed much better and was very good.  I don’t know if the whole collection of herbs were needed, but they didn’t disturb neither. Very good if relatively uninspiring (with exception of the crispy thighs, which were lovely).

consomme de pintade

consomme de pintade

 

The second dish brought the meal back on track. Two very big scallops, left whole – thank god – came with grilled squid, primavera jus, black and white pasta and confit tomatoes. All in all, it was a stunning dish. The scallops were, as always here, of exceptional quality and cooked to the very best. The squid too, were very good and tender. The accompanying pasta and jus (made out of asparagus, peas and broad beans) gave it a bit of a fresh backbone, which justified the title. This truly was a fantastic dish, that shows, how satisfying such a relatively simple composition can be, if made well and based on the best products that is. Excellent. This is one tip I can give anyone who goes to dine here: Get a dish with (cooked) scallops! Over the last few months I tasted various preparations around them and all of them were stunning.

 

Les saint Jacques

Les saint Jacques

 

 

The main toady was another fantastic dish. Especially in London where you don’t necessarily expect to get such divine products. Turbot was coated in Champagne-sabayon served with green asparagus and crayfish. Now this is a classical dish, that never fails to impress if it is made from such amazing products. The turbot, cut from a huge beast, was delightfully firm and tasty, which I missed with the turbot I had here in January. Also, it was cooked in a way, that let it retain its « fatty », gelatinous side, which normally only comes after having cooked it on the bone. The accompanying crayfish and asparagus were equally fantastic. Note that the asparagus were pan-fried after having been blanched, which lets their flavour come out fantastically. Combined with the lovely sabayon, which still had the slight sparkle of the Champagne, this was one rewarding, perfectly executed dish. Outstanding.

Turbot

Turbot

 

 

Desserts here are easily the best in London. Even those who don’t particularly like the restaurant do acknowledge that fact. In general, I find desserts at Ducasse restaurants to be among the best you’ll find anywhere. Even in some of his less bombastic restaurants like Spoon at Marignan or the Abbaye de la Celle, they serve perfect desserts (the rest is less spectacular in those places). It always puzzles me, when you get served some mediocre dessert after a fantastic meal. After all, a dessert only needs a good recipe that is followed meticulously. Today, I had a lemon and strawberry dessert, that showed, once more, how good the patisserie here is. Sandwiched between layers of arlettes (thinly cut, caramelised puff pastry) came a lemon crème chiboust (a creme patissiere to which one adds some Italian meringue), marinated strawberries and a strawberry sorbet. This was just a perfect dessert. I couldn’t see why you would not go to this restaurant, be it only to try the desserts. In fact, one should sit down there and eat the whole dessert carte. Outstanding!

Fraises/citron

Fraises/citron

 

 

Seeing that I’m a bit too gourmand, I asked for a second dessert, which was directly obliged, with this little chocolate triangle. A tender chocolate mousse came with a thin soft biscuit and a crunchy coating. Very good, strong chocolate flavors in pleasantly different textures. A bit ordinary, but very well made. Very good.

 

chocolat

chocolat

 

 

The mignardises are equally good here. Macarons, the best you’ll find anywhere in London come along with piemontesi, little gianduja filled cookies, caramelised almonds, a few caramels and chocolates. At dinner, they also have a lovely cart carrying huge numbers of different sweet treats. All of them were perfect, as is quite a lot of stuff here.

 

Mignardises-1

Mignardises-1

 

Mignardises-2

Mignardises-2

 

 

 

I can’t really see, as I have written many times, why some people despise this restaurant as much as they do. You get some of the finest food in London here,  that goes without a doubt. Also, the service, wine (the list isn’t any more expensive than that of Ramsay, Darroze or any other restaurant of that class) and décor all add up to deliver something close to a complete experience. There is, of course, the odd dish, which will be a bit less good than the rest but I’d rather have one that isn’t as great and a few others that really work. The 2 stars are completely justified by now. If Pied a Terre has two, this easily deserves them as well. I can even see why you would give it an espoir for the third, provided you choose well.

Upon leaving, you always have one desire: Come back, as soon as possible! (Although, I will try a few different places in the meantime and give them some time to develop).

 

 

le lustre

le lustre

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester-II, London

mars 17, 2009

I had another very good lunch here today. 

As the weather was a little more friendly today, the sun shone through the large (but dirty) windows, which illuminated the room beautifully. Service was pretty much perfect as usual. 

Amuse was a royale of broccoli with a few raw vegetables, and a olive sauce. Very well made, tasty little amuse, that sets the palate up nicely. Very good.

This was followed by a dish that quite simply blew me away: Scallops with Jerusalem Artichokes, Endives and Black Truffles. Now scallops can be good. They can be very good even, if they’re fresh and treated with enough respect. These on the other hand, were simply amazing. Huge pieces, cooked perfectly with the intensive truffled jus, the slightly sweet Jerusalem Artichoke and the very discrete bitterness of the Endive/Truffle poelee. I simply haven’t come across such an accomplished dish in quite a while. Everything was right here. You simply could not find anything wrong with this dish. The Truffles were very strong taste-wise and the whole was just very harmonious and sooooooooo pleasing to eat. Truly divine.

Main was a Braised Halibut with a Vin Jaune sauce, Shrimps and blettes. The tastes here were again very strong, perfectly balanced and very comforting to eat. The shrimps were quite simply delicious (slightly crunchy texture). The only problem I had was that the Halibut, due to the fact that the very tasty Shrimp/Nut crust was gratinated on top of it, was slightly dry on the edges. Now, for some this might have still been ok, but I found that it was slightly over-cooked. Apart from that it had lovely frim flesh and was very well seasoned. In general this is another very mature, tasty, gratifying dish to eat. Even if the fish was a little over-cooked, I would say it was very good, excellent if the fish were cooked to perfection.

The dessert was interesting. Having been to Monte Carlo (Le Louis XV) twice during the last 2 years, I tried to of their signature desserts, the Louis XV au croustilant praline and the glace au lait entier et a la fleur de sel. Both of these are amongst the best desserts I’ve encountered on my travels across Europe and are worth the trip to the Riviera on themselves. What Herland did in his version of the Louis XV is give it a much more beautiful presentation and adding the Milk/Salt ice cream a part. This was as perfect as the Scallop dish, simply unbeatable, even if the combination of both isn’t necessarily needed (I don’t complain though, as this ice cream is about as good as it gets). Amazing.

A few words about coffee and petit-fours: They are both of top-quality. The macarons are the best I’ve found in London (correct me if I’m wrong), the chocolates too, are very well made and tasty. 

In conclusion I can only say, that this is a very good restaurant indeed. After some starting problems Herland seems to find his way. Even if not every dish is on the level of these Scallops, the bar is slowly but steadily raised. If I had to look for one restaurant that could deserve three stars pretty soon I would point to this one. It just represents all you want from a 3*: Great food, very good service, luxurious room. 

The only thing Herland could maybe stop doing is doing dishes they do in Paris or Monte Carlo in a more elaborate version. This just doesn’t do him justice, as he definitely is one of the very best chefs in London, one who has the ability to produce perfectly executed, very mature dishes, who might be classical, but in the best sense of the word.

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, London

janvier 21, 2009

 

After having tried a few dishes at Ducasses’s restaurant at the Dorchester in October, I decided to go back to celebrate my birthday. Just a few days before my visit I came across the new Michelin rating: Jocelyn Herland (chef de cuisine) was awarded two stars and marked as a rising three star! Amongst the foodie world a hefty discussion broke out immediately. Most have visited the restaurant directly after the opening 14 months ago. Back then Herland told me, the dishes they sent were not at all what he expected and the constant improvement is clear today. But let us not rush things…

The most friendly staff welcome you very warmly and champagne is offered to accompany those extraordinary Barbajuans, little fried ravioli from Monaco, and Gougeres. The Barbajuans are just as good as at the Louis XV, the legendary 3-star in Monte-Carlo. The Gougeres are also very pleasan, if a little mildly spiced for my taste.

Next up, we were offered bread, all three types were excellent accompanied by very good butter and Fontainebleau. The latter didn’t really excite me, but my companion enjoyed it.

When we finished our champagne the first part of our menu arrived: Delicate royale de foie gras et potiron, emulsion fumee. A wonderfully rich royale of foie gras which interacted beautifully with the diced pumpkin and the smoked tea emulsion. A great way to start a meal.

 

emulsion de foie gras

emulsion de foie gras

 The first « real » course of the menu were the grosses langoustines d’Ecosse en salade tiede, jus coraille. Lovely, crunchy langoustines with (considering that it was January) fully flavoured tomatoes, chicken strips, a anchovy/parmesan mayonnaise and a langoustine jus. A very pleasing, refreshing dish, that portrays the kitchen’s understatement perfectly: These chicken strips are in fact the legs, which are cooked, boned, de-veined, pressed and then covered with the skin. This little package is then pan-fried until crisp. This immense amount of work behind the different components doesn’t show, unless you know it, or have some knowledge of the cuisine here.

 

langoustines

langoustines

 

To continue, we were served a stunning adaption of a classic from ADPA:  Noix de Saint-Jacques dorees, pommes et coings en beaux morceaux rotis au beurre demi-sel. The scallops replaced the lobster here, and the dish was simply one of the best scallop dishes I had in a very long time. Perfect quality of the products, extremely precise cooking and great combination with the sauce and the garniture. Along with the Barbajuans the best dish so far.

 

Saint-Jacques

Saint-Jacques

After such a strong dish, the following one had a big problem: I had tasted the « original » version of it in Paris in September. At ADPA it was probably the best dish of my life, but here the dish was slightly less complex. Also the turbot wasn’t of the outrageously good quality as the one I had in Paris. However, it was still very good, with a lovely sauce and delicious gnocchi. Would I have not had the original, I would have loved this dish right away.

 

Turbot

Turbot

As you probably noticed, the lighting suddenly became much darker. It seems to be trendy in London to make restaurants so dark that you barely see what you have in front of you. 

The meat for me was another star of the night: Filet de chevreuil roti, potiron et chataigne, sauce Grand Veneur. Perfect venison in another great sauce. The only slight fault here was the mildly seasoned punpkin, but that is an affaire de gout. Excellent, nothing that will change your life, just comforting enjoyable food on the highest level.

 

Chevreuil

Chevreuil

 After the four (plated) cheese, which in general were fine. We came to the best part of the meal, that is the sweet stuff.

I had the Barre coco-caramel, sorbet citron-vanille. Ducasse restaurants are sure to deliver some of the best desserts around, if you go to the trendy Spoon, the not quite so brilliant Abbaye de la Celle or any haute cuisine restaurant, you can be sure that the desserts will be better than many you’ll get in some 2 or 3-star places. Here this doesn’t really change. Perfect execution, very well thought out tastes, all you need.

 

Coco-caramel

Coco-caramel

 

My companion was served the dessert I had at my last visit: Carre gourmand framboise et rose. This is an outstanding dessert. If there is one dish to be tried here it is this one. It is really on the level of the best restaurants in the world, that should be enough.

 

Framboise

Framboise

 

 

 

The petit-fours are on the same very high level. Macarons are simply irresistible and only Pierre Herme makes better ones. 

What can one say overall?

The evening was a real pleasure. This is partially due to my friend, but the food certainly played a role too. It was perfect throughout: excellent quality products, extraordinarily execution, mature, well constructed dishes and reassuring combinations. It is clear that you won’t find the most inventive, crazy cuisine here, but that should not be what you expect of Ducasse (or in this case Herland). It might not be able to deliver one oustanding dish after the other, but there are more than enough excellent ones (desserts, scallops, foie gras, barbajuans). What you get here is simple cooking somewhat between the simplicity and strong flavours of the Louis XV and the refined neo-baroque of ADPA. Herland’s brigade is running like a watch by now and really deserves the two stars. Overall this was much better than Ramsay for instance, or any restaurant in London I’ve tried.

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee-II

janvier 8, 2009

Ma premiere visite de ce temple de la haute cuisine s’est faite en septembre et pour commencer l’annee rien de mieux qu’un passage a Paris pour (re)-decouvrir quelques grandes tables.

Lundi soir, j’entre encore une fois dans ce restaurant, qui je dois le dire est maintenant mon restaurant prefere! La cuisine de Christophe Moret est tout simplement magnifique. Les traditions sont bien presentes, mais aucun plat ne semble demode. Un diner ici peut commencer avec les fameuses langoustines au caviar, qui sont toujours sublimes. Ce soir la, j’ai commence avec une coupe d’araignee de mer qui m’a coupee le souffle. Une royale d’araignee surmontee d’un delicieux ragout de ce meme crustace et de legumes. Le tout recouvert d’un onctueux sabayon; c’etait DIVIN. C’etait encore meilleur que la version que j’ai mange en entree lors de mon dernier passage car le sabayon est bien plus riche en gout que l’emulsion. 

Si l’on enchaine avec les St Jacques a la Grenobloise on peut se dire que c’est un tres bon choix car ce plat est tout simplement extraordinaire. Il combine de facon exemplaire la tradition et la precision et technicite de nos jours. Les elements de la classique Grenobloise accompagnent la St Jacques a merveille avec le croustillant des croutons, l’acidite du citron, l’onctueux de la creme de choux-fleur et la vivacite des capres. Seul remarque ici, si l’on est vraiment tres, tres attenftif: Il y avait peut etre quelques capres en trop sur mon plat. Tout de meme un plat d’exception.

En plat une volaille de Bresse, sauce Albufera, tartufi d’Alba peut definitivement vous emporter vers le paradis. Une poitrine de volaille cuite a perfection est genereusement nappee de sauce Albufera et accompagnee de legumes glaces et d’une petite quenelle a base de foie gras et de cuisse de volaille (divine!). Sur le tout est rapee une belle portion de ces magnifiques truffes blanches d’Alba qui completent ce plat legendaire. On ne peut pas s’imaginer quelque chose qui peut etre meilleur que ce que l’on vous sert ici! C’est tout simplement hors de classification.

Apres un festin pareil, servi par la brigade acceuillante et parfaite (encore une fois) de Denis Courtiade, une barre chocolat/framboise, souffle fort en chocolat peut cloturer la fete merveilleusement. un souffle d’anthologie, un vacherin a mourrir et une « barre » choco/framboise qui vous laisse bouche b.

Que peut on dire apres un deuxieme repas si parfait, extraordinaire dans cette maison?Ici tout est parfait, sans etre froid, il y a une vrai generosite on se sent bien tout simplement. Peut-etre que l’univers de Monsieur Ducasse est un peu a part du reste des autres, car ici la perfection semble bien exister…

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenée

septembre 17, 2008

11 Septembre, Paris Avenue de Montaigne il est 13h quand j’entre au restaurant d’Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenée. Ayant mangé deux fois au Louis XV lors des deux dérnières années, je m’attendai à quelque chose d’au moins aussi parfait et génial que ce que l’on trouve à Monte Carlo.

La salle du restaurant est très différente du faste que l’on trouve au Louis XV. Le style régence est réhaussé de quelques détails que Patrick

 

Je commence mon déjeuner par une coupe de Gosset « Grand Millésime 1999 » qui est très beau .

 La carte est très courte (quelques spécialités, 3 entrées,3 poissons et 3 viandes) ce que je trouve très bon, car cela permét d’assurer une grande qualité et fraicheur des produits.  Les pains qui me sont apportés sont très bons et tout frais. Les beurres (demi-sel et doux) le sont aussi. 

Pour accompagner ma première entrée le sommelier (Laurent Roucayrol) me propose un Crozes Hermitage Domaine Raymond Roure, Paul Jaboulet Ainé,2003 qui lui aussi est très bon.

L’amuse bouche sont le Caviar Osciètre d’Iran, langoustine rafraîchie, nage réduite, bouillon parfumé. Un des plats signature de la maison, qui met la barre haute: la langoustine est de toute première qualité et le caviar la rend sublime. Seul bémol: le buillon parfumé a la citronelle et gingembre aurait peut-être pu être un peu plus corsé.

L’entrée est l’Araignée de Mer décortiquée en chaud et froid, emulsion coraillée. (la partie froide est sur la photo). Sur la première assiette l’araignée est chaude et servie avec ses parties cremeuses et quelques légumes légerement croquants, le tout est recouvert d’une émulsion qui est très stable. La deuxième partie est un verre de Martini où l’on trouve de l’avocat une gelée au citron et les pattes de l’araignée. C’est un début magnifique: cuisson, assaisonnement et présentation parfaites.   

Pour accompagner mon poisson on me sert un Gevrey CHambertin « En jouise », Domaine Harmand-Geoffroy,2003. Qui crée un accord très réussit avec le plat suivant.

 

Turbot de Bretagne en matelote. C’était peut-être LE plate du déjeuner et certainnement un des meilleurs plats que j’ai mangé (comme d’ailleurs tout ici). On a changé quelques éléments par rapport a la recette que l’on trouve dans le Grand Livre de Cuisine-Tour du monde. Ici le turbot est accompagné d’anguilles meunières,champignons,échalottes,lardons, croutons et une sauce au vin rouge qui était tout simplement extraordinaire. Chaque élément sur l’assiette est d’une qualité incroyable et est cuit et assaisoné plus que parfaitement . 

Foie Gras de Canard des Landes en fins ravioli, consommé aromatique. Un plat qui ne se trouvait pas sur la carte m’est envoyé et je dois dire que c’était vraiment quelque chose d’extra. Du foie gras dans ces ravioli, accompagné de cèpes crus,d’une gelée de truffe noire et d’un consommé d’anthologie. J’amais je n’ai mangé des pâtes d’une telle qualité (même pas dans quelques restaurants italiens doublement étoilés). Avec chaque plat que l’on me sert, c’est un nouveau monde qui s’ouvre. Sublime!

Pigeonneau rôti, garniture d’une diable, pommes gaufrettes. Et ca continue sur un niveau que peut d’autres restaurants n’attaignent. Dans ce plat encore chaque élément est de qualité extraordinaire. Le pigeonneau cuit rosé, fondant avec une croute de chapelure/moutarde. Un jus agrémenté de truffes hachées, c’est tout simplement encore un plat plus que parfait, exécuté on ne peut mieux, les mots me manquent…

Monsieur Courtiade m’accompagne en cuisine où je rencontre Christophe Moret, qui comme Franck Cerutti est un homme extrémement généreux et gentil. En passant dans les cuisines il y a bien sur « l’aquarium » où Alain Ducasse déjeunait.

De retour en salle on me propose les fromages qui sont tous très bons. Une petite salade accompagne ma sélection ainsi qu’un pain brioché aux olives qui est un des meilleures pains que j’ai pu déguster. Le seul restaurant qui offre des fromages encore meilleurs est celui de Jean Francois Piège.

Pour le déssert on me propose le chariot des vins de déssert. Je choisis un Muscat de Frontignan Cuvée Belle Etoile, Domaine Peyronnet, 2006. Excéllent comme tous les autres vins que j’ai pu déguster.

                                                                              

Fraises des Bois en coupe glacée, sablée coco. Ce déssert est comme tous les autres désserts que j’ai  mangés dans les restaurants d’Alain Ducasse absolument parfait. La coupe est tout simplement magique et l’accord avec le vin est comme chez le turbot sublime. Dans le grand livre de cuisine le sablé est aussi recouvert d’un sabayon, ce qui aurait rendu ce sablé encore meilleur.

                    

Baba au Rhum comme à Monte-Carlo. Juste avant que je commence mon déssert on pose ce Baba sur ma table avec la remarque: « On s’est permis de rajouter un petit Baba. » La je ne dis pas non car c’est un encore un déssert extraordinairement bon, car simple, pas trop sucré et tout simplement parfaitement exécuté. Un petit mot sur le choix du rhum car on vous déguster quelques rhums (vieux) pour que vous trouvez celui qui vous convient. Même si la sélection n’est pas aussi immense qu’à Monte-Carlo, il y quand même plus ou moins une dizaine de flacons.

Dans ce restaurant, comme d’ailleurs aux Ambassadeurs du Crillon il faut prendre une infusion et non pas un café, car les herbes sont fraichement coupées et vous avez une sélection de quelques 15-20 herbes (citronelle, romarin, thym, verveine,…).

Pour finir mon repas des mignardises qui maintiennent le niveau du repas avec facilité (macarons café/chocolat, moeulleux rose et framboises,chocolats et bugnes avec marmelade passion/abricot).

Il est environ 16h30 quand je quitte le restaurant. C’est avec Oud Sluis, Le Louis XV et Les Ambassadeurs surement le meilleur restaurant que j’ai éssayé, car tout est plus que parfait: le service (qui est vraiment excéllent), le cadre et bien-sûr la cuisine qui a produit sur moi un éffet incroyable.

le seul désir que j’ai est d’y retourner le plus vite possible, car on s’y sent bon, tellement bon….