Sunday, 23 January 2011

Boo in Paris - The Rest

Other meals in Paris were a mixed bag, the okay - Le Coq, Bouillon Racine and the bad - Le Castiglione.

One thing you can always count on in Paris (apart from places you really want to visit being closed for Christmas/summer) is quality bread and butter. Everywhere offers lovely dinner rolls and the most amazing creamy butter to start your meal. Obviously there are plenty of superb red wines too!

Our visit to Le Coq came about following a last minute request to our hotel's concierge so we had no idea what to expect. The decor was a tad gauche but the food was mostly solid and the service was lovely.

Fois gras to start, lobster spaghetti for me and steak for Thomas, were all good. Dessert was a disaster, a sweet omelette hiding some warm flat champagne with a couple of raspberries thrown in for good measure. Absolutely foul and overpriced at €14.

A chance lunch at Le Castiglione was disappointing. Great frites and peppercorn sauce but one massively undercooked piece of steak for me, and a second smaller overcooked piece, though Thomas' was correctly cooked to medium rare. A stop off at the conveniently located Pierre Hermes on Avenue Paul Doumer, close to our hotel in the 16th, just about made up for our dining disappointments. Well, that and more red wine.

Dinner on our final night was at the quaint Bouillon Racine in the 6th. A lovely little brasserie with Art Nouveau decor. It feels very grand upon entering but it's actually very relaxed and casual. We fared well here with the food , until I wanted cheese for afters and they didn't have any. Grr. And the wine (beaujolais) was far too cold.

Decent onion soup, scallops and dauphinoise potatoes but sadly none of that amazing butter with the bread. We were sat by the door and it was freezing each time the door opened and slowly closed.

So, in all, we didn't have much luck eating out on this trip. As I mentioned, many of the recommended restaurants we'd hoped to visit were closed for Christmas and it was too cold to explore much on foot. Thankfully our hotel was excellent and we had a near constant supply of macarons and nutella crepes.

Le Coq
2 place du Trocadéro
75016 Paris 16er

Le Castiglione
235, rue Saint-Honoré
75001 Paris 1er

Bouillon Racine
3, rue Racine
75006 Paris 6er

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Boo in Paris - L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

I spent Christmas in Paris last year. Having previously visited the city in August 2009 I was disappointed to find many of the places I would like to have eaten at were closed for the holiday period, as many also are during the entire 8th month of the year.

Gladly L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon was open and I booked us in for lunch on Christmas day at 2pm. Having never dined at a Robuchon restaurant before, I really had little idea of what to expect. I'd attempted to browse their website but it's one of those annoying restaurant flash sites so I found the email address I needed to book a table and left it at that. Fortunately the UK website for the London venue is infinitely less irritating than Joël

So unlike most meals out, I had not read any blog posts or viewed the menu in advance of this one, as it was Christmas I wanted it to be a relaxed occasion, whilst being almost certain that we would surely love the food of a chef whose global empire has amassed a total of 26 Michelin stars.

This turned out to be true and the food was exceptional. The lasting memories I have of the meal however were more to so with the service. Having arrived 5 minutes early we were told to wait in the lobby of the adjoining hotel, at a small bar. This is not unusual and we were actually glad of the time to enjoy an aperitif. But the guy who welcomed us ushered us through and then back out of the restaurant without giving an estimate of how long we might be left there and without taking our coats. We received and finished a glass of champagne, whilst sat at an unmanned bar, for 25 minutes when we finally went to find the chap who had welcomed us. He came to take our coats just as the barman returned so he couldn't see what our issue was.

We ordered another glass which after 5 minutes did not materialise and then we were led to our seat. Comparing this to the service we experienced at The Ledbury a month before, it's difficult to believe they have the same Michelin classification. What made it more difficult to swallow was the fact that the absent barman tracked us down inside the restaurant and handed us a bill for the drinks. We refused to pay (well Thomas did, I of course, would have just paid despite my dissatisfaction) and a discussion ensued with 2 waiters and eventually the manager who reluctantly agreed to settle the drinks tab whilst arrogantly proclaiming that we would no doubt love the food and explaining that it is their policy to not hurry diners to leave (or indeed state upon booking that the seats must be vacated within a given amount of time, something which I appreciate and actually admire) especially on Christmas day. I totally understand that but we would merely like to have been informed that this was the case when we arrived. As it was we felt quite negelcted.

Bad start aside, the manager was right, the food was some of the best I had in 2010 and having not researched Robuchon's L'Atelier concept I was perhaps unprepared for the more casual style of Michelin dining offered here. Still, as has been discussed elsewhere recently, service is a major factor in deciding whether you will or will not be likely to make a return visit.

Back to the food, we opted for the €150 tasting menu and a bottle of rosé.

L'amuse-bouche - Jerusalem artichoke soup served cold with artichoke crisp. I really liked this, Thomas found the consistency a bit 'sick like' (his words).

La saint Jacques - scallop ceviche with sea urchin. This was my first try of sea urchin, I was surprised by it's vibrant colour and soft texture. Very good.

Le caviar with smoked mackerel, potato and horseradish cream

Le foie gras with white beans was my favourite dish

L'œuf - Poached egg in a mushroom broth with girolles. The perfectly runny egg made for an interesting mouthful once the yolk was pierced. Again, Thomas thought texturally this was a little sickly.

The lady dining next to us found a hair in her egg dish. She sent it back, there was no apology and she was presented with an entirely different plate of food (which she took with good humour) 10 minutes later when she enquired where her replacement L'œuf had got to, by which time her companion had finished this course.

Le rouget - red mullet with olives, tomato and capers. I adored this too, unusual I thought to combine such strong flavours with fish but the mullet was more than a match for the trio.

La Caille - my main course (from a choice of three) was the quail stuffed with foie gras with truffle mash. Brilliantly cooked and very decadent.

La joue de boeuf - Thomas' main. Beef bourguignonne with mini carrots and onions and the creamiest mash.

Les Parfum des Iles - passionfruit granita with lime, refreshing and pretty.

La Pomme - royal gala apple with caramel sauce and salted caramel ice cream.

We also had a starter of oysters to share from the specials which were excellent. Good rye bread was served as well as the typical bread basket and creamy butter which is visible in the picture at the head of the post.

Seating is very compact, we were in a corner so were granted some privacy but to our right there was (before the hair in the egg lady arrived) a diner who was all elbows.

That said, it's always a joy to watch chefs at work, here from the bar style seating circling the kitchen and in all this was a great special occasion meal let down somewhat by the careless front of house service. Were it not for this blip, I would likely be raving about the place and eagerly anticipating a trip to the Covent Garden site.

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon
5 Rue de Montalembert
75007 Paris, France


Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Ledbury - my meal of 2010

A special occasion meal in 2010, the venue surely a no brainer. The Ledbury, awarded 2 stars in Michelin's annual guide, was raved about by everyone who dined there. I was beyond excited it goes without saying.

We decided to go for the tasting menu and rather than babble on about each dish I'll keep it brief as I'm sure by now most people are aware that Brett Graham and his team are dishing up some of the most consistent and exciting food in the city at the moment.

To begin, bread, a choice of three, I tried each throughout the evening, bacon and onion, chestnut and wholemeal. A canape, fois gras parfait then the amuse bouche, deep fried quails egg on a chestnut puree with truffle shavings.

Next up was the now legendary scallop ceviche with kohlrabi and horseradish 'snow'. Followed by the signature dish flame grilled mackerel with cucumber, mustard and shiso. A fine dish, perfectly representative of Graham's adventurous use of ingredients and exemplary cooking skills.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the vegetable course, a plate of baked root vegetables which in lesser talented hands might have been a low point of the menu but was actually quite the opposite.

Moving onto another fish dish, poached skate with Parmesan gnocchi was one of the highlights of the meal for me. Hints of truffle and more wonderfully cooked vegetables elevating the dish without distracting from the delicacy of the fish. Perfect. For me the least successful part of the menu was the lamb that followed. So divine had the fish courses been, I don't think any meat could quite have lived up to the preceding excellence.

Next to the sweet courses. The pre-dessert passion fruit jelly with Sauternes mousse was lovely, enabling the diner to seamlessly transition from the savoury courses, with the tang of the passion fruit. Then another sensational dish, the crème caramel with orange sorbet and green tea ice cream. The combinations here were so delicious that I forgot entirely how full I was and could not have stopped eating this had my life depended on it. A lovely gesture next in an extra dessert to share, a pear tart and sorbet with a message for us!

We somehow managed to find room for cheese with yet more bread, a walnut loaf served warm. We left without petit fours which I was glad of not being able to accept another morsel.

One final note to add that never before have I experienced such exceptional service. We were given a glass of champagne on the house, an extra dessert and a visit to the kitchen to meet the chef. When asked what our favourite dish of the evening was, we both responded that the vegetable dish was a revelation and Brett presented us with some veggies they had just taken delivery of, instructing us how he cooks them and had them wrapped up for us to take home and attempt to recreate.

The time was gone 11 and the kitchen was still a hive of activity, I was surprised by how small it was and so inspired by Brett's passion and knowledge for what he does and the amazing generosity. I felt so spoiled. We were uncomfortably full due to our inability to know when enough is enough but we left with the biggest smiles on our faces.

I urge you to visit if you haven't already.

The Ledbury
127 Ledbury Road
Notting Hill


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