Posts Tagged ‘Bernard Antony’

The Greenhouse, II, London

novembre 6, 2009
La salle

La salle

This post destroys the blog’s chronological order a little, but as the grouse’s season isn’t that long anymore, I thought it might be useful to publish it first.

The Greenhouse is real gem. Nestled in Hay’s Mews in Mayfair, its slick, very chic interior goes well with the clientele that dines here. The room is really well designed, and is probably as good as a basement, with low a ceiling, gets. It is both elegant, and comfortable, even if it does get loud, due to the parquet on the floor, it has unquestionable charm. Design-wise, I love absolutely love it.

La table

La table

On a Wednesday night, we weren’t the only table who wanted to try Antonin Bonnet’s cooking it seemed. The place was packed. Next to us sat Jancis Robinson with Nick Lander, on the other side, Marlon Abela, the owner of the place, who also owns Umu and a few other restaurants in London. Apart from the décor, three things make the Greenhouse special: The absolutely stunning wine list, the cooking and the cheeses. The wine list is easily the most extensive in London, and one of the most impressive in the world. The 3350 wines are mostly highly regarded nectars from the world’s most renowned producers and feature some vintages that not many restaurants sell anyomore. For people who enjoy a wine that is mature, there will be plenty of choice here, and prices aren’t outrageous neither (considering the standard of the restaurant). Krug’s Grande Cuvee is less expensive here than at most other London restaurants, not to mention Paris. At a mere 180 (until recently it was 155 pounds) the mark-up seems very good indeed. A glass of this godly wine is sold at 30 pounds, which is a fair price for coming one step closer to heaven. Things like Bollinger’s Vieilles Vignes Francaises cost less than in some shops here, but unfortunately my student budget, doesn’t allow me to go for such highly tempting diamonds. The sommelier Ronan Sayburn really knows his wine, and is best left carte blanche, trust me, you won’t be let down. We were served a selection of drinkable wines, and one treat, that was outrageous.

La Salle

La Salle

Service was great: Attentive, friendly, charming and knowledgeable. I found the gentleman in charge of the cheeseboard especially impressive. This was someone (his name escapes me) who has a real passion, who travels to the regions in which his cheeses originate, and who keeps close contact with Bernard Antony, who supplies all of the restaurant’s French cheeses. More about that later though. The only concern I had with the service was the fact that bread and butter were never refilled. One had to ask every single time, which is a little tiring. Especially if you ask for the fourth or fifth time, being a gready bastard like myself. However, any wish was directly obliged, which is all one needs.

Food-wise, we went for the tasting menu (80 pounds), which is very fairly priced for what is offered. I don’t want to suggest them to raise the prices or anything, but I sometimes wonder how places like this can survive on such pricing-schemes. Having experienced a number of 3 and 2* kitchens in action, I know how low prices in London are. A 2* chef in London recently told me that if it weren’t for the hotel that backed his restaurant, he would have been out of business a long time ago. This isn’t a a business in which one makes money, and people who complain should go and work in a starred kitchen for a good month. I wonder how many make it through the first week. To start us off with our Champagne, we were offered a rhubarb and apple sphere, and cheese crackers, filled with a cream, whose contents I forgot to note. The sphere had a rather acidic, tart taste, and was a good set-up for the palate. The crisps were much more pleasant though, as they went beautifully with the drink. A good start.

Pour grignoter

Pour grignoter

The amuse bouche was a spider crab/apple/celery salad, which came atop crab/dashi jelly. This had very clean, subtle flavours, and could have used a little more punch from the pretty neutral jelly. Nonetheless, it was already very much in the line of Antonin’s cooking: Incredibly clean, natural, perfectly executed and light. This was very precise in every respect, and the addition of tamed Asian elements (dashi) made it only more interesting. Good, although it was no where near as good as what was to come up…

Amuse

Amuse

Bread was great. The four types offered were warm and crunchy, and had nice, airy mie. All are made in the restaurant, as are the oatcakes served with the cheese (very good too). I couldn’t specify, which one I prefered, as all had their USPs, but generally speaking the level was very high. Butter too, was very tasty, especially the salted one. With the bread at ADAD, I would rate this as the best in London (as far as I can tell). Excellent.

Les pains

Les pains

I swapped the tasting menu’s beef carpaccio for something of a bit more interest: Terrine of Foie Gras and Bresse Chicken. With this I was served a 2005 Pinot Gris from Bruno Hunold, which went very well with the dish. A small rectangle of foie gras/Bresse chicken and fig terrine came with a pickled quince and some quince puree. Simple, very pretty and most importantly perfect from a technical point of view. This was precise, exact, simple and delicious. A classical combination and presentation, which was dressed in a most modern way. This combination is just made in heaven, it is fantastic and should be eaten by everyone at least once. Be it here or in other great restaurants.  The foie was of very good quality, and went beautifully with the chicken and quince. This evening promised to be rather good! Excellent. (The Simmental beef carpaccio was faultless too, if less interesting as this dish)

Terrine

Terrine

The second course read like a wild list of products, randomly paired: Scottish scallop in seaweed butter, caviar, goats’ cheese mozzarella, cucumber and rock samphire. This was served with 2007 Albarino de Ferrerio, Bodegas Mendes, Rias Baixas, which was most enjoyable. The huge scallop (not butchered to resemble slices of paper) was steamed and then gently roasted with seaweed butter. It was topped with salmon roe, which was marinated in sake, a goats’ cheese mozzarella foam, some cucumber, rock samphire and a dashi broth. What really struck me, was the huge scallop and the perfect cooking of it. This was again, most precisely timed and contrasted beautifully with the popping texture of the salmon roe and the other elements. The dish was harmonious as such, and the dashi broth’s flavour gave it a strong backbone, which I really enjoyed. Although it seemed a little hyperactive at first, it came out as a fantastic dish. The outstanding factor here was the scallop and the very precise cooking of it. Very good.

St Jacques

St Jacques

Moving on,  here came the fish course: Steamed brill with coconut broth, peanut tamarind and French beans. Paired with 2007 Neudorf Chardonnay, Nelson, it was a very happy couple indeed. The dish really was a study in reductionism and brought things down to the essentials. There was no more than what was really needed on this plate. The brill was covered with a peanut-crust and served with French bean cream and a coconut jus. A dish as minimalistic as this really relies on exact flavours, great execution and most importantly: Stunning products. What really was striking was the way, in which the flavour combination evolved. This wasn’t just an ordinary Asian-influenced coconut-milk based sauce, which often taste rather one-dimensional, and vulgar, but a most complex, fascinating concoction. Together with the perfectly cooked brill, it was a pretty perfect match. Besides the fact, that the fish was a little less firm than I like it (not caught that same day I suppose), this dish was a great thing. It really was one of the very few Asian (although not Japanese)-influenced dishes that worked in a “French” restaurant. Excellent.

Barbue

Barbue

Just before things got serious came the Pan-fried duck foie gras, spicy carrots, honey-glazed confit medlar and tamarind sultanas jus. The wine poured was a 2006 Torcolato, Maculan from the Veneto. A niece slab of foie gras was surrounded by a collection of carrot cream, a carrot piece and medlar. The sauce, which was rather sweet (given its main ingredients), finished things off in a beautiful way. From reading the course’s description, one might be inclined to think that this would be an overly sweet affair, but luckily enough it was a great game that balanced a subtle acidity with slightly restrained, muted sweetness (coming mainly from the sauce). The vegetables and fruit were cooked al dente, and were very gently spiced. The star of the show however, was the foie gras. This was a very fine piece of cooked foie indeed. In fact, a very knowledgeable diner, whom I was having dinner with was rather impressed by it. The outstanding thing about this piece of liver was the texture. It was unlike most warm pieces, which are stringy, feel heavy, full of veines and break into some kind of disgusting mash, when cut. Luckily enough, this was all the opposite. Most of the time, the foie gras isn’t choosen very carefully, and of pretty poor quality. Here however, Antonin Bonnet explained that they go through a good number of lobes a week (all of which is done by himself) and select only the best. Out of these, they then pick the big lobe, and use only the centre-piece. The cooking process resembles that, which Blumenthal uses on his foie dish, and really does give an amazing result. This was one of the rare pieces of warm foie gras that I absolutely loved. Exceptional.

Foie gras

Foie gras

Now, the initial reason for this dinner was what followed. I had missed eating a grouse last year, during my first year at LSE, so I felt obliged to rectify that. Having asked Antonin if he could prepare me one, he accepted, and so the magical moment came: Roast Grouse, coffee mashed potato. To go with this, we had a glass of 2002 Volnay from Nicolas Rossignol, which was very good, but probably the pairing I found the least convincing. In this case, I really didn’t mind. I was here to meet that Scottish bird for the first time. It really was a beauty lying in front of me. Again, the dish looked deceptively simple: the grouse, a crepinette of the thighs, some leaves and the jus. On the side there was a little cocotte with some coffee mashed potato. The grouse was a particular fine one, I was told by my dining companion, who has eaten his fair share of these fine little creatures. It was as tender as pigeon (and cooked in a similar fashion), with a much more powerful, potent taste. I know quite a few people who find grouse too powerful, but this one really was a stunning piece. It was absolutely outstanding. But there was more than just an exquisite breast, there was also that crepinette lying on the far side of the plate. Often these braised thighs of pigeon, wood pigeon, or whatever bird it may be, are delicious, but rarely are they as powerful and rich as this. It was a piece of heaven, and blew me away. Topped with the same coffee or cocoa emulsion as the breast, it had it all. An absolute stunning piece of cooking. The second round disappeared as quickly as it came, and will be warmly remembered. Before I forget, Antonin deserves some praise for serving a game dish without any sweet components! How often do you have that? This dish really was absolutely divine. (I have now eaten a few grouse based dishes, and must say that this one remains my benchmark, alongside one, I had at ADAD)

Grouse

Grouse

They wanted to skip cheese, which would be fine in any other restaurant in London, as cheese boards aren’t what they are in France over here. The Greenhouse has a little more, or shall we say something more interesting to offer. Another blogger has written about it before, but knowing that he hadn’t been to the great places for cheese in France, I didn’t really expect anything great. But, being here, I asked if we couldn’t at least have a look at the selection. One of the waiters is in charge of looking after the carefully selected Bernard Antony (for French cheese) and Neal’s Yard cheeses. This man really inspired me with his passion and love for cheese, and his immense knowledge. He likes his Camembert nicely runny, a treat, only seen to rarely nowadays and enjoys his other cheeses nicely matured too. That’s the way it should be, and if it puts some ignorants off, forget them. We had a few cheeses, notably that fabulous 4 year old comte, which was more like those I have had at Les Ambassadeurs and L’Arpege, than the one at Louis XV. This one was much more crumbly, with the crystallised salt pockets. A divine treat. The rest was at least as good as the best cheeses I have eaten in French 3*,  a thing I really did not expect here at all. Each and every single one of the 8 cheeses we tried was in perfect shape and among the finest specimens I have had. There was not a single cheese, which wasn’t fantastic. One should go here just for a grouse and some cheese afterwards. With a good bottle of wine to accompany that, it’s pretty much all one needs. To go with these terrific cheeses, we were served some 1999, Castello di Fonterutoli, Siepi, which was beautiful. Divine.

Fromages

Fromages

Pre-dessert was a banana sorbet with lime foam (at least if my memory serves me correctly). This was a very good sorbet, and in combination with the foam, it was an excellent first step into the sweeter part of life. Excellent.

Pre-dessert

Pre-dessert

The real dessert (yes there only was one, times are tough) were Black figs and honey, dried fruit jam, hazelnuts, bronze fennel and fig leaf ice cream. To go with that, we had a wine, I once was served at ADPA with a cherry dessert: 2006 Mataro, Alta Allela. This was a very happy marriage, which worked beautifully. The patisserie here is in stark contrast to that of ADAD and the Square (whom I consider to make the best desserts in town), in that it is much more delicate, in line with the kitchen’s style. The constructions are more delicate, which is one way of putting it, and a little more inventive, than at the aforementioned places. The individual elements in this dessert were each perfectly executed and created a real symphony, rather than a cacophony. The most enjoyable parts were the fruit jam and the ice cream, which was great. The fennel was interesting, but not really noticeable, which might not have been a bad thing. Very good.

Figues

Figues

Coffee and mignardises are very good here. Not only do they taste very well, but most of them are a little different from the usual suspects. There is the odd macaron here too, but there is at least one constantly changing part too. Very good.

Mignardises

Mignardises

The whole meal was just what I had hoped for. I had remembered the cooking to be great here from the last time. Today it was by no means short of that, being absolutely outstanding in some parts (grouse, cheese, both foie gras dishes) and mostly very good to excellent. The weakest part was the scallop, but even there, it was a tough call, as the only thing “wrong” with that was the dashi, which one could consider as being a little overpowering. Apart from that this was an absolutely faultless meal, which really was worth every penny. The cooking is clearly influenced by Michel Bras, as Bonnet worked with him before going here, but there is definitely a distinct style, that shines through. Dishes like the scallop or brill would not have seen the day in Laguiole I suppose. The amount of work that went into getting the best products available is quite astonishing here, and really makes all the difference, as we saw that night. If you plan to go to London, do it during the grouse season and eat here. You will be pleased with what you get, very much so….

Legumes comme le garguillou

Legumes comme le garguillou

Wines were very good too, seeing budget limit we had set. Service too, as mentioned before, did not make a single mistake and was great. Whenever it is grouse season, make the trip to Mayfair, eat one of them and forget about everything around you. It really is fantastic.

Publicités

Les Ambassadeurs, Paris

juillet 21, 2009

 

La Salle I

La Salle I

Les Ambassadeurs benefits of a location that is absolutely unique in this world. Right on the place de la Concorder, facing the famous Obelisque, a stone’s throw away from pretty much anything that is in relation with luxury or power in Paris. Since a couple of years, Jean Francois Piege, formerly chef at Alain Ducasse’s Paris restaurant, is in charge of the cooking for  the restaurant, and the rest of the hotel. In the gastronomic restaurant, which holds 2* (MIchelin) and 18/20p in the Gault Millau, he proposes old recipes done with a modern twist. After all, he titles his carte: Histoire de cuisine

 The restaurant is located in the old ball room of the Hotel de Crillon, and as the pictures might suggest, has a bit of an austere atmosphere. Not to say that it isn’t interesting, it certainly is quite spectacular, but it doesn’t have any warmth, nor does it create the feeling of intimacy (due to the countless mirrors on the walls). Compared to equally, if not more opulent rooms like those of Louis XV, ADPA or Ledoyen, one doesn’t feel as good or comfortable here. However, the decor can be as charming or cold as it wants, I came for the food, which I remembered to be fantastic.

 

La salle II

La salle II

The service somehow managed to be nearly as cold as the room. It was a big difference to that of ADPA, where I had dined the day before. Someone was always there, when needed, but there was no interaction, no warm welcome nor did a relaxed atmosphere reign. It was a pretty stiff affair, one that doesn’t make you feel more at ease in that room. 

 

La salle III

La salle III

The table is elegantly dressed, with the glasses being Riedel and Baccarat, the China mostly from Bernardaud and the cutlery from Christofle. A funny little thing is the menu holder. A little socket holds the menu, which is attached to a plexiglass stick. Also, the wine list is the best-designed I have seen so far. It is light, compact and lists an impressive number of nearly exclusively French wines. Prices are equally impressive, but in Paris, one doesn’t expect anything else anymorre these days. 

 

La table

La table

Bread is made in house (2 types) and butter comes from Bordier. The bread has fantastic crust and is absolutely delicious. 

 

les beurres

les beurres

The meal starts, and this hasn’t changed since my visit a year and a half ago, with the famous sur l’idee d’un plateau tele. This amuse bouche is certainly good fun, but a little seasonal change wouldn’t hurt. The first part is a carrot salad, which comes as a lemonade. I do not think that this is a particularly clever idea, as it tasted a little odd. The salad was too acidic, and tasted a little thin. The second part was, something, that I wouldn’t prepare if I was making a TV platter, a royale de foie blonds, ecrevisses with an emulsion of Parmesan. To be fair though, this was a winner, with strong tastes and a delightfully creamy royale. A fantastic combination of flavours that worked beautifully. Following it, the best part of the composition was the cromesquis d’une brandade de morue. A little ball filled with a soup made out of a brandade if then deep-fried and really explodes in your mouth. This is absolute perfection, and was as good as I had remembered it. Moving on, a tube filled with a mousse jambon/cornichons. Fine, but a little under-seasoned for my taste. The last part was much better than last year (in February): A truffle bonbon. This time the truffle had real power and was delicious if spread on the toasted baguette. The whole was a little inconsistent, but generally pretty strong.

 

Plateau

Plateau

The meal started with a spider crab dish. The hot part was based around a royale, a little crab meat and was sauced with a pretty light bisque. On top of it, was thrown a croustillant of peanuts. The royale was certainly very good, as was the crab meat, but the bisque could have been a little stronger. It tasted a little diluted, not to say thin. However it was well seasoned. The only problem with this hot part was the croustillant, which became soggy just after the having touched the bisque. The other, cold, part featured a crab salad with wild fennel and a little salad leaves. This could have been great, if it had not come straight from the fridge. It always startles me how a restaurant as serious as this can’t think of tempering such a vital part of a dish. Overall it was much weaker a dish than Moret’s araignee de mer en chaud et froid. Very good, but could have been excellent if the croustillant would have stayed that way and the cold part wouldn’t have been that cold.

 

Araignee

Araignee

Second course was a Foie gras de canard des Landes en feuille de chou/lard fume; En bouillon coriandre/gingembre. On my previous visit here, the foie was one of the better ones I have eaten. This time however, the story wasn’t quite as rosy as that. The two soups (!?) were radically different, but remained two soups. I can’t see why one would serve foie in two soups, but well. The bacon cream, which came with the mi-cuit foie was delicious. It is just the kind of stuff you long for on a cold winter day, when coming back from the slopes. Considering that it was pretty hot outside, I wasn’t too sure, if this is what people want to eat in summer. The foie in that soup was very good, creamy, with a little resistance to it, well seasoned- all one expects from it. The other version, which contained poached foie gras was a little less successful. The foie was dry on the outside, had no distinct flavour and didn’t really do much. The accompanying bouillon was equally forgettable. It was hardly seasoned, and it must have been the first time in a very long time that I had to reach for the salt on the table. This seemed an odd dish both in terms of construction and in terms of execution (it might have been a bad day or something). Very good for the bacon half, pretty mediocre for the other.

 

Foie (pre saucing)

Foie (pre saucing)

The main course came as quickly as the other courses (after a good 45mins I was already at the 3rd course, not counting the amuse. That is much too quick for a place like this one). Ris de veau moelleux/croustillant/carottes/citron vert/coriandre was  most certainly the stand out dish of the day. This was a serious 3* dish. The sweetbreads were fantastically cooked, of very good quality and worked beautifully with the few garnishes. What struck me most was the absolutely perfect jus. This was packed full of flavour, with a lovely consistency and simply put: fantastic. The carrot emulsion served on the side was very nice, well-seasoned, airy and creamy. One could argue that Piege uses too little vegetables in his cooking, but I guess it’s a matter of personal taste. Excellent.

 

Ris de veau

Ris de veau

Strangely enough, the cheese here was to be the absolute highlight of the meal, It is all supplied by Bernard Antony and is in pristine condition. The 7 cheeses I tried were absolutely beautiful. The comte was « only » aged for 36 months, but already had those crunchy salt crystals, which make these old specimens so special. The camembert was easily the best I have had so far, and will be remembered for a long time. Unlike ADPA, the bread for the cheese course was a little dull. The one type, they offered, had a chewy crust and didn’t really impress me. Outstanding cheese.

 

fromages I

fromages I

 

Fromages II

Fromages II

Dessert is often my favourite part of the meal and I was hoping for a highlight here, as the patissier (Jerome Chaucesse) is a bit of a shooting star in France. The first one was Cerises de pays en foret noire a notre facon. What this really was, was a pretty classical black forest cake, with a new wrapping. The base was a soft chocolate cake filled with a mascarpone cream and studded with poached cherries. The outside was then covered in different “feuilles”. It was very pretty, tasty, well made, but hardly mind-blowing. In a place like this, one could expect a little more innovation or new ideas. Very good.

 

Foret noire

Foret noire

The second one was already much more interesting: Riz Carnaroli facon Imperatrice/ gelee de framboise. A base of milk rice was topped with raspberry jelly, caramel, popped rice and star anise ice cream. This was fantastic. The mix of textures and flavours was expertly balanced and every single item had a distinct role. Excellent.

 

RIz

RIz

The mignardises. Were equally good. Macarons, Chamonix, palmiers, rochers and other goodies were fantastic and disappeared quickly.

 

Eskimo coco

Eskimo coco

 

Mignardises

Mignardises

 

Mikado

Mikado

 

I left this place with a strange feeling. It must have been the first time that I left a restaurant thinking, I had better not gone in the first place. Why?

The meal had some highlights: The sweetbreads, the rice dessert and cheese. Those were all very good to excellent. However, the rest was pretty forgettable (with the exception of the spider crab). Also, the service got on my nerves. You felt being watched constantly, as those who weren’t doing anything at the moment gathered behind the tables and stood there like a couple of policemen guarding the Elysee palace. Furthermore, they served the meal way too quickly. I had left the place only 2 hours after having come there. At ADPA, where I had eaten one course less, I spent the double of that. It might be question of personal taste, but I like to enjoy my meal, if I go to a place like this. I felt rushed, which doesn’t work in a « temple », where one should forget all notion of time.

The thing is that in a place like this, the whole experience should be considered as a Gesamtkunstwerk. One should leave a restaurant like this feeling as happy as one possibly can. Today, that certainly wasn’t the case.

These things taken aside, what I found really frustrating was the fact, that Piege, who is one of my favourite chefs doesn’t seem to progress at all. All of the dishes I had today (the desserts taken aside) were pretty much the same construction as those one could find a year ago, and even longer ago. The garnishes or condiments changed a little, but it was the exact same pattern. It might be that he is frustrated by not getting the third star, but unlike last time, this meal did not deserve it at all.   

If one judges the food alone, I would say that the 2* are a realistic measure of the cooking here. The foie and black forest dishes just seemed a little lazy, not really worth a third one. The sweetbread, rice dessert and possibly spider crab (if it had been served at the correct temperature) could have merited a third, but the overall was just too inconsistent.

 

La salle IV

La salle IV

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