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My year in France - Paris part 2 (Ledoyen, Le Cinq, Pierre Gagnaire, L'Arpege)

I went for dinner, but I'm positive they have a reasonably priced lunch menu, and I'm sure it wouldn't be a problem to add the spaghetti dish. It is a surprisingly small (but incredibly rich) serving though, so I'm not sure its appropriate to share. (It's also possible that you won't want to share given how good it is!). The price of this dish is more that the full lunch menu though...

Aug 02, 2012
ggow_12 in France

My year in France - Paris part 2 (Ledoyen, Le Cinq, Pierre Gagnaire, L'Arpege)

Haha! No she lives in the UK so I sneaked over to Ledoyen one evening when she wasn't in Paris. She wasn't impressed.

Aug 02, 2012
ggow_12 in France

My year in France - Paris part 2 (Ledoyen, Le Cinq, Pierre Gagnaire, L'Arpege)

The strange thing about this meal was that there were not really any 'stand-out' dishes, that is, each course maintained an exceptional standard. If pushed, I would perhaps say the gazpacho, which was deeply flavoursome and wonderfully refreshing on a hot summer's day.

The service was, of course, outstanding. I was made to feel very welcome and, as I said, I was allowed multiple changes to the menu with no additional cost.

In comparison to Ledoyen, I preferred L'Arpege, and if I was to go back to Paris and I could choose only one restaurant, it would be L'Arpege. But, if you have never been to Ledoyen I would suggest you go and taste some of their signature dishes. Service is very professional but a bit 'stiff', and the restaurant has a 'faded grandeur' interior (I imagine this would be even more apparent during lunch when the room is filled with light). It is a completely different experience to L'Arpege, but it was an exceptional meal nonetheless.

Aug 02, 2012
ggow_12 in France

My year in France - Paris part 2 (Ledoyen, Le Cinq, Pierre Gagnaire, L'Arpege)

L’Apège 10/10

My lunch at L’Arpège was a wonderful, enlightening experience that restored my faith in French cuisine and reminded me just how good food, and in particular vegetables, can taste.

Often criticised for its high costs, it is worth noting that my 12 course lunch with two glasses of wine cost me EUR 147 and it was one of the best meals of my life. For comparison, my à la carte lunch at Pierre Gagnaire cost me EUR 327 (excluding two glasses of wine that were removed from my bill) and, well, you can read what I thought of that experience above.

There were four things that really struck me about the food at L’Apège:
- Simplicity: Most dishes involved just a few key ingredients, but these ingredients were of the highest quality.
- Purity: The cuisine was fresh and light, bordering on healthy at times.
- Taste: Each vegetable, whether beetroot or potato or tomato, had an intensely deep flavour.
- Texture: The texture of every element on every plate was superb due to the natural quality of the ingredients and exceptional cooking/preparation.

I ordered the lunch degustation menu, but was able to substitute in a few dishes from the EUR 320 menu that I was keen to try (at no extra cost). Each vegetable-only dish was flawless, with dish after dish of the most flavoursome vegetables I have ever tasted in various preparations (the most memorable being the ravioli in consommé).

I was then offered a fish and a meat dish (roast monkfish and chicken respectively) and I came to two conclusions, either:
(i) The flavour of the meat is deliberately kept very, very subtle to ensure that it does not dominate the vegetables (For example, in my dish of roast monkfish with smoked potatoes, it was the potatoes that stood out); Or
(ii) The meat could perhaps be accused of lacking in that deep flavour that the vegetables are blessed with.
I suspect the former is true. Both the monkfish and the chicken were cooked to perfection, but it was the vegetables that stood out.

The only slight disappointment was not being offered the famous compté, despite offering to pay a supplement for it. Either they didn’t have it, or they just didn’t want to give it to me. The cheese course was just fine though.

A dessert of tarte aux pommes carried on the themes of the preceding savoury courses with the main elements being a wonderful light pastry, pureed apple, powdered sugar, some raw almonds and a touch of caramel sauce. Nothing else was needed. A highly satisfying and light end to the meal.

So often I have come away from long tasting menus feeling overly full and uncomfortable. Today I strolled out of the restaurant feeling satisfied and relatively healthy (and astonished that I had managed to keep my bill at the most expensive restaurant in Paris under EUR 150). This meal completely changed my attitude to food, and vegetables in particular, in the most positive way possible. During a brief chat with M. Passard after my lunch, he referred to his style of cooking as ‘la plus belle cuisine’. I couldn’t agree more.

[mini diced-vegetable tartlets: beetroot, yellow carrot and parsley puree; lightly poached egg served in the shell with crème fraiche, vinegar, maple syrup, salt and chives; sliced red and yellow tomatoes with raspberry puree, balsamic vinegar and parmesan; vegetarian ‘sushi’ (thin slices of raw beetroot wrapped around rice with horseradish and soy sauce); gazpacho of yellow tomato with light mustard ice-cream; ravioli filled with diced and pureed vegetables (beetroot, parsley, sorrel, and yellow carrot) in vegetable consommé; vegetable mix (orange and yellow carrot, courgette, broccoli, peppers, beetroot, radish) with red vegetable ‘sausage’, semolina and argan nut oil; cream of courgette soup with whipped Chantilly cream of smoked herring; slow roasted monkfish with butter and white wine sauce, smoked potatoes and chives; chicken roasted in hay with roasting juices, roasted courgette stuffed with diced vegetables, spinach marinated in lemon and garlic, carrot and roast tomato; cheese selection; tarte aux pommes with almonds, powdered sugar and caramel sauce]

Jul 31, 2012
ggow_12 in France

My year in France - Paris part 2 (Ledoyen, Le Cinq, Pierre Gagnaire, L'Arpege)

I will be going for lunch. Is the carte blanche lunch you refer to different to the lunch degustation menu listed on the website? I'm rather anxious about this meal, I'll be terribly disappointed if I have another Pierre Gagnaire experience.

Unfortunately I simply cannot afford another expensive meal in Paris, and I will be leaving towards the end of July anyway, so l'Ambroisie will have to wait for another time. I probably shouldn't even be going to l'Arpege to be honest, but I know I'll regret it if I don't. Fingers crossed.

Jul 21, 2012
ggow_12 in France

My reviews of Tickets and Gelonch

It is perhaps worth mentioning here that I did go to Cal Pep too. I waited in a queue inside the restaurant for around 15 mins and found the atmosphere unbearable, so I left. It was eerily quiet, with diners looking noticeably awkward, having both the chefs and the people waiting in the queue staring at them as they ate their food. I was surpised no drinks were offered to those waiting in the queue to lighten the mood, and distract their attention from the diners who were trying to enjoy their meal. I can't comment on the food, but seeing what was being produced didn't make me want to stick around for very long. We went and ate in a random tapas bar instead, which was enjoyable and relaxing, rather than tense and rushed, as I suspect it would have been at Cal Pep.

Jul 20, 2012
ggow_12 in Spain/Portugal

My year in France - Paris part 1 (Chateaubriand, Spring, Frenchie, Septime, Rino, L'Ami Jean & others)

I wouldn't write it off based on my review alone mangeur. Plenty of people appear to love this place. Food is a very subjective thing. I learnt that the hard way at Pierre Gagnaire.

Jul 20, 2012
ggow_12 in France

My year in France - Paris part 1 (Chateaubriand, Spring, Frenchie, Septime, Rino, L'Ami Jean & others)

I am disappointed to say that I did not visit many other notable restaurants during my year in France. This was due to a combination of living alone in Paris, not making many friends that enjoyed dining out and working very hard at my job. I tended to wait until my girlfriend, or other friends and family, visited me; then I would go to a restaurant of my choice. I also consciously put money away so I could visit the likes of Ledoyen and Le Cinq, and therefore sacrificed eating out more often for this purpose.

Perhaps it is worth posting the review below for anyone thinking of visiting the Loire Valley, but I don't have any more for France. Sorry.

Auberge du Bon Labourer, Chenonceaux 4/10

This meal was rather disappointing, and for me confirmed my distrust of the Michelin star system. The restaurant has one Michelin star, but when I compare the food to, say, the Kitchin in Edinburgh, or Chez Bruce in London (both of which also have one Michelin star), the dishes were vastly inferior. I suspect the food served at this restaurant has not changed in many years. It was old-fashioned cuisine, and everything that’s bad about French gastronomy: heavy sauces, fatty meat, and old-school presentation, desperately trying to be modern.

In hindsight I should have sent the shoulder of lamb back to the kitchen, with there being more fat on the plate than meat. A garnish of diced potatos and carrots was rather amateur. The dessert was average, in that it presented the most basic of sweet ingredients (e.g. chocolate, caramel, vanilla) in various shapes and textures, and that was it. Perhaps this would have impressed diners in the 70s, but in 2012 it seemed rather dull. Quite a pleasant dining room with an older clientele who perhaps eat there to reminisce about the 70s.

[broccoli velouté, shrimps, shrimp jelly, diced carrot; cream of mushroom veloute with milk foam, salad of chestnuts and walnuts and cured beef; confit shoulder of lamb, diced carrot and potato, baked garlic sauce; baked ferme d’auberne cheese with diced pear and apricot, roquefort sorbet and toasted bread; vanilla pannacotta with diced pear; vanilla, caramel and chocolate mousse, chocolate biscuit, vanilla cream in wafer, coconut ice cream, mint tea]

Jul 20, 2012
ggow_12 in France

My year in France - Paris part 2 (Ledoyen, Le Cinq, Pierre Gagnaire, L'Arpege)

The service at Ledoyen was good, with my main waiter being professional and friendly and the maitre d' taking a significant amount of time to chat to me towards the end of the meal, even offering a complimentary glass of dessert wine with my desserts. As I said,the service was rather 'stiff', but this is to be expected in such an 'old school' establishment. It is worth mentioning that I was dining alone (I simply could not afford to take my girlfriend!). I find that this can go either of two ways: either the staff think you are weird, a loner, and treat you as such. Otherwise they pay a lot of attention to you, thinking you are someone important, perhaps a critic (I am neither). I always take hand written notes during my meals, which perhaps adds to this illusion.

Jul 20, 2012
ggow_12 in France

My reviews of Tickets and Gelonch

Thank you for your kind words on both boards Parigi. Several months of Chowhound 'lurking' have led me to believe that you are the outstanding contributer to the boards, keeping them alive at times. If I remember correctly, it was your La Bartavelle recommendation that convinced me to go there. What a wonderful experience it was. Thank you.
Mikey, both restaurants were a 7/10 on my scale, although I avoided grading them on the Spain/Portugal board to avoid controversy!

I have many, many unpublished London/UK restaurant reviews and am now debating whether to post them to the UK/Ireland board after the positive response so far. We shall see...

Cheers.

Jul 20, 2012
ggow_12 in Spain/Portugal

My reviews of Tickets and Gelonch

Tickets
This is a fun, busy, bustling restaurant with a great atmosphere that just happens to serve some brilliant dishes. As I was waiting for my table to free up I sat and watched with amusement a grown man (who was somewhat reluctantly dressed like a circus master) turning away group after group trying to get a walk-in table. On one occasion two young men confidently strolled in and said ‘two people’, to which the man said ‘we’re fully booked’. The boys then replied ‘that’s ok, we’ll wait by the bar’, to which the man said ‘you’ll be waiting for 3 months’. I suppose a 3 month waiting list is a bit silly when you think about it.

We sat on stools watching the dishes being prepared, which was entertaining, and selected a number of tapas from an extensive menu. There was an element of molecular gastronomy to only a couple of dishes, to my relief. These worked well with both the olive and the cheese bubbles being deeply flavoursome. One dish in particular stood out as one of the best I have ever eaten: thin sliced tuna belly ‘painted’ with iberico ham dripping, olive oil, black pepper and pine nuts. Simple, fresh and stunningly good.

Desserts were also exceptional with an intensely creamy ‘cheesecake’ in the shape of a Satsuma and a warm, oozing almond fondant. Both were definite smile-inducers.

There were a few dishes that disappointed, surprisingly being the more traditional tapas towards the end of the meal: the roasted red peppers, the confit tuna and the chickpea stew were all somewhat let down by rather poor sauces (overly reduced, too salty, with a slightly gelatinous texture). These were not bad or unpleasant, they just did not live up to the other inventive and flawless dishes I tried. This was a great meal, very enjoyable, although you are clearly paying a premium for the names behind the restaurant.

[olive bubbles marinated in olive oil, star anise and cloves; grilled bread with tomato, olive oil and sea salt; bread puffs with manchego cheese, salmon roe, hazelnut powder and manchego mousse; manchego cheese bubble with ginger and lemon and bread tuile; pulled pork neck with melted mozzarella, mustard and toasted brioche; jamon iberico de ballota gran reserva ham and bread; raw thin sliced tuna belly painted with iberico ham dripping, olive oil, black pepper and pine nuts; crab wrapped in slithers of avocado with dill gel and crème fraiche; streamed prawns with seaweed and seaweed mayonnaise; roasted and skinned red peppers in sweet pepper sauce; confit tuna belly in reduced tuna stock; confit potatoes wrapped in iberian boiled ham, olive oil, paprika and smokey pork rib sauce; chickpea stew with diced octopus and ham; almond fondant with crumble and raspberry ice cream; satsuma ‘cheesecake’ with hazelnut cookie, diced pear and lemongrass ice cream]

Gelonch
This is a small restaurant that appears to be rather unfortunately located in one of the quieter parts of Barcelona, and consequently does not appear to have reached its potential in terms of popularity. There were only a few tables taken on the night I visited, which is a great shame as I thought this was an outstanding restaurant, particularly given the reasonable prices. I elected not to take the standard tasting menu, which I felt looked rather gimmicky with various molecular elements included that did not appeal to me. Instead I created my own tasting menu from the tapas section hidden at the back of the menu.

It is worth saying from the beginning that this was pretty much a flawless meal, with all dishes working very well. I would say however that there were no outstanding dishes. Rather, all the dishes were very enjoyable, which is unusual when so many are served up. The cuttlefish in particular was fantastic. The meat had been thinly sliced to resemble a plate of taglierini pasta accompanied by a flavoursome basil pesto. The wagyu beef tartare was simply stunning. To my surprise, a garnish of wasabi ice-cream took this dish to a higher level. Better than any beef tartare I have eaten in France.

Desserts kept up the high standard, with some unusual flavours (e.g. avocado ice-cream) working very well. I could go on describing each dish, but so as not to become repetitive, I’ll just say that each was innovative, tasty and highly enjoyable in its own way.

It is worth mentioning that the one waiter who was dealing with the whole restaurant that night was the best waiter I have ever had. He was rather insulted at first when I asked if I could keep a copy of the menu by my side (I do this, particularly in restaurants that give detailed descriptions of the ingredients in each dish, to ensure that all ingredients actually appear on my plate). He correctly protested that it was his job to explain to me what I was eating. The rapport rapidly improved though and he passionately explained each dish to us, explaining how it was cooked, why the flavours were being combined, the logic behind it and so on. I highly recommend giving this restaurant a try if you are in Barcelona.

[toasted bread with tomato and olive oil; veal tongue salad with diced confit potatoes, grilled artichokes and wholegrain mustard vinaigrette; cuttlefish taglierini with basil pesto and olive oil; grilled prawns with purple and green cabbage and reduced pisco sauce; wagyu beef tartare with wasabi ice cream, thin bread cracker, thinly sliced mango and iberica ham fat; 24 hours sous-vide iberica pancetta, grilled octopus, baked garlic sauce, honey and beech smoke; veal sweetbreads with beetroot gnocchi, codfish tripe, carrot cream and passion fruit drops; 36 hour sous-vide ‘secreto iberico’ with porcini mushrooms, mushroom powder, yucca cream sauce, Jerusalem artichoke sauce and ham reduction; avocado and pistachio ice cream, coriander crumble, sweet tomato slithers and lemon meringue cream; caramelised Catalan cream, diced cooked apple, crumble, apple sorbet and toffee sauce]

Jul 19, 2012
ggow_12 in Spain/Portugal

My year in France - Paris part 1 (Chateaubriand, Spring, Frenchie, Septime, Rino, L'Ami Jean & others)

Thank you all for the comments and feedback.

Maximilien, I know what you mean, but how does one then distinguish between restaurants in the Ami Jean category and those in the Leodyen category? It is difficult to grade two such restaurants on the same scale as they are in different leagues, but one has to do so for the sake of comparison. The grading system is roughly in line with the UK Good Food guide (which in turn is in line with perhaps the world's best food blogger Andy Hayler, who in fact states that a 1 out of 10 mark is perfectably acceptable. The assumption is that anything below that would not even be worth rating). Cheers.

Jul 19, 2012
ggow_12 in France

My year in France - Paris part 2 (Ledoyen, Le Cinq, Pierre Gagnaire, L'Arpege)

Pierre Gagnaire - see below

It appears one has to accept that it is a risk to dine at Pierre Gagnaire and those that have read the reviews will know that this is very much a ‘love it or hate it’ kind of place. With this in mind, I went. I hated it. I’m bitterly disappointed to say it was the worst, and most expensive, fine dining experience of my life.

The main dishes of lobster to start followed by duck were just about adequate. They were not unpleasant, but neither were they particularly good. The real problem was with the 'satellite' dishes (as I will refer to them) that are presented alongside the main plats. First of all, I strongly disliked this concept, although others clearly love it. For me, it was just too much at one time. I found the other dishes distracting and I often didn’t feel there was any connection between the main and its satellites.

My heart thudded with panic and disappointment on both occasions as I explored my lobster starter and then duck main. I tasted each side dish and did not find one that I enjoyed. I would go as far as describing some of these satellite dishes as unpleasant and a few as inedible (e.g. I really didn’t like a cold, gloopy lobster bisque with a peach sorbet, or pieces of crisp duck skin smeared with a tar-like sauce).

I strongly disliked the sweet sorbets, heavy mousses and unusual jellies that were prevalent throughout the savoury courses. For the first time in my life, I left several dishes uneaten after a couple of bites, to the clear bemusement of the waiters. The atmosphere began to turn quite cold when it became clear that I was not enjoying my meal.

A chocolate soufflé for dessert was good but not exceptional. I do like a chocolate soufflé, but at this point of the meal I was not in the mood. Again, the side dishes with the dessert were not to my taste.

One of the front of house suggested, in a rather patronising manner, that the cuisine was perhaps too complex for me and that I simply didn't understand it. Maybe, but I disagree. I got the impression that the staff had been indoctrinated, with one in particular talking of M. Gagnaire like he was some sort of deity and incapable of any wrong. It was suggested by another member of the front of house that M. Gagnaire was ahead of his time and that in 10 years other chefs will be attempting to cook like him. Perhaps this was the case many years ago, but surely not anymore. This was tired, old French cuisine that, in my opinion, can no longer compete with the new wave of world class chefs emerging throughout the world. Personally I think things are heading in the opposite direction i.e. to clean, simple, light, fresh tastes, rather than heavy, complex, over-engineered cuisine.

I’m devastated about the way this meal turned out, largely due to the cost involved. But I can’t leave Paris on a bad note, will Arpege save me?! I’ve just secured a table, I’ll find out next week.

For the dishes, I have stripped out all of the satellites, leaving just the main elements. For these alone I would give a 5/10.

[sliced lobster tail in emulsion of cider and butter with orange and purple carrots; slices of roast duck coated in blackcurrant liqueur with sea buckthorn sauce, cherries, sugar snap peas, and potatoes with citrus marmalade; chocolate soufflé with chocolate sauce and pistachio ice cream]

Jul 18, 2012
ggow_12 in France

My year in France - Paris part 2 (Ledoyen, Le Cinq, Pierre Gagnaire, L'Arpege)

Le Cinq 7/10
I chose the lunch menu at this restaurant and therefore I cannot comment on the a la carte or tasting menus. The restaurant has an elegant interior and a lovely, genuinely classy atmosphere, somewhat spoiled by a few of the usual suspects obsessively photographing their food and sitting with large cameras on their tables.

My fregola sarda starter was in fact a bit too large and filled me up for the rest of the meal. It was unusual to see such a rustic dish in such grand surroundings. If this dish had been cooked for me by an old lady in a lazy Sardinian fishing town, I would have proclaimed it to be one of the best dishes I had ever eaten. The fact that I was eating it in one of the world’s pre-eminent fine dining establishments reduced the romance of it a bit, but it was still a superb dish.

My main of pigeon en croute was an exceptional piece of cooking, the pastry remaining crisp whilst the pigeon was pink and tender. The juices had been prevented from making the pastry soggy by a layer of spinach. The garnishes were not to my taste (e.g. red cabbage jelly, swiss chard with olive tapenade), but these were relatively small and did not really distract attention from the main event.

The dessert was a bit messy and for some inexplicable reason presented in a cocktail glass. This would have been a lovely dessert if served simply on a plate. The chocolate fondant was wonderful, there was no need to hide it inside a mound of ice-cream.

Overall this was a great experience. For me this is the place to go if you want a safe, but highly impressive luxury lunch in Paris.

[soft country and cereal rolls, brioche and seaweed butter; crisp with avocado and radish, parmesan crisp, pickled mackerel and cucumber; fried prawn, butterflied curried prawn, pea soup with almond mousse; cuttlefish with chorizo and squid ink crisps, creamy fregola sarda and fava beans; pigeon breast and foie gras en croute with sesame seeds, cherry, red cabbage jelly, swiss chard and olive tapenade; goats milk sorbet, cucumber jelly, olive oil and citrus crisp; chocolate fondant with white coffee ice cream and whisky cream; petit fours: marshmallow lollipop, honey madeleines]

Jul 18, 2012
ggow_12 in France

My year in France - Paris part 2 (Ledoyen, Le Cinq, Pierre Gagnaire, L'Arpege)

Ledoyen 9/10
This was initially to be my one and only splurge (although see below…). I had researched thoroughly and deemed this to be my type of place. It was an excellent, almost perfect meal. I chose four dishes a la carte and each of these were outstanding. The only thing that prevented this from being ‘the’ elusive perfect meal were the amuse bouche and mignardises served before and after my main a la carte dishes. For me, these were unremarkable, and in fact there were a few that I didn't like.

It is worth going into a little detail plate by plate here. If one is going to serve two pieces of asparagus and charge a significant amount of money for it, they better be the best asparagus I’ve ever tasted. They were. Served with a hollandaise sauce and a wonderful ‘bubble’ of creamy black truffle sauce. This was an outstanding, simple dish that made me smile, but not as much as the next two dishes…

Biting into the langoustine from my second course was what I imagine it would be like to eat a cloud, in terms of texture. They had a slight natural sweetness brought out perfectly by the citrusy mousse that accompanied them. As with the asparagus dish above, this is ingredient sourcing of the highest quality and, rightly, the chef let the ingredients shine without adding any unecessary complications.

Enough has been said about the infamous spaghetti box, which formed my main plat. This one dish was the principal reason I chose Ledoyen for my splurge meal, and it exceeded my expectations. It was one of the best, if not the best thing I have ever eaten.

The 36 month compté was simply the best hard cheese I have ever tasted.

Desserts did not quite live up to the preceding savoury courses, but were still of a high standard. I went for the tasting of desserts as there wasn’t one on the menu that really stood out for me. I’m not a big fan of grapefruit, but the grapefruit 'millefeuille' was probably the most refreshing dessert I have ever eaten. Again, there are online bloggers who have described this dessert in detail better than I could.

The restaurant has a faded grandeur interior and rather stiff service, but I was made to feel very welcome despite dining alone. Exceptional.

[seeded brioche and olive bread; amuse bouche: ginger ‘bubble’, mushroom and parmesan puff, foie gras with raspberry, marinated vegetable spring roll, assorted crackers; razor clams with butter, ginger and coriander; asparagus spears with ‘egg’ (cream of black truffle sauce encased within egg white ‘bubble’) and hollandaise sauce; butterflied langoustine tail, ball of langoustine tail encased within light, crispy strings of pastry, mousse of lemon, coriander and olive oil; spaghetti ‘box’ with chunks of ham, creamy mushroom sauce, parmesan, morels, and black truffle; compte aged for 36 months, livarot, fig and raison bread and nut bread; yeast ice cream on sugarless marshmallow of whipped egg white covered in shavings of coconut, shards of white chocolate; grapefruit ‘millefeuille’: layer of candied grapefruit, raw marinated grapefruit, grapefruit sorbet, shard of sugared grapefruit, grapefruit zest and lime; mini strawberries with coriander sorbet, crème anglaise with vanilla, milk cream and strawberry meringue; soft meringue on soup of coffee and vanilla, crushed nuts; fingers of rich Valrhona chocolate and caramel, crushed chocolate and cream; petit fours: mini strawberry tart, basil truffle, caramel rice, dehydrated mango with raspberry jam and lime; fudge, chocolates and pastries]

Jul 18, 2012
ggow_12 in France

My year in France - Provence (Cafe Veranda, Le Fournil, Le Gourmet, L'Arome, La Bartavelle)

Cafe Veranda, Menerbes 6/10
This is a great little restaurant with friendly waiters, a fun atmosphere and wonderful, simple food. It's nice to sit outside if you can. The lamb main course was one of the best I have ever tasted, as good as lamb gets. We went back here a second time, when the food was less successful, but again we received a very friendly welcome and it was an enjoyable night regardless. The chef emerged from the kitchen to greet his customers both nights.

['spring roll' stuffed with diced shrimp, scallop and fine beans, confit tomato sauce; slow-cooked, de-boned lamb shank with red wine reduction, mashed potato and roast tomato; millefeuille with raspberries and vanilla cream]

[courgette flower stuffed with salmon soufflé, mushroom soup; calf sweetbreads with red wine reduction, mashed potato, roast tomato and asparagus; rum baba with whipped cream and raspberry jelly]

Le Fournil, Bonnieux 5/10
This meal was fine, but a little disappointing as the restaurant comes highly recommended. The setting is beautiful and it’s a lovely way to pass a warm evening, drinking a chilled local rosé and watching the sun set. As for the food, the vegetable starter was a little bland, and the duck main was rather small, a bit chewy and paired with turnips that had no taste. Dessert was very good though, with a honey and lavender madeleine that was exceptional.

[tomato gazpacho; sauteed ceps wrapped in grilled aubergine; duck breast with cherry chutney and confit turnip; honey parfait with cream, raspberry sauce and honey and lavender madeleine] (5/10)

Le Gourmet, Gargas 6/10
This restaurant is situated in a very fine hotel (at which we did not stay), and we spent a lovely moment pre-dinner sipping an aperitif looking out over the beautiful scenery. We dined outside on the terrace, from which this view was still visible, which created a lovely atmosphere as the sun set. For me the food was just fine, with some little glimpses of brilliance (e.g. the mackerel, parmesan biscuit and ratatouille). There were a couple of missteps though (e.g. the cherry sorbet with the white asparagus melted into the warm maltese sauce and the result was a rather unpleasant and confused half-warm, half-cold, half-sweet, half-savoury soup). The price was pretty reasonable for such an expensive hotel.

[garlic waffle; beetroot mousse with cured salmon; white asparagus in maltese sauce with diced cherries and cherry sorbet; langoustine carpaccio marinated in apricot juice with diced apricot and shot of apricot and ceylan tea; parmesan biscuit with mini ratatouille, mi-cuit mackerel and basil; saddle of rabbit stuffed with sage, grilled Mediterranean vegetables (courgette, spring onion, garlic and potato) in red wine jus sauce with fresh rosemary; dessert selection: rum baba with raspberry jelly and vanilla mousse; chocolate moelleux with vanilla ice-cream; mint ice cream with lavender biscuit]

L’Arome, Bonnieux 5/10
This was another satisfactory meal, with good, simple food. My slow cooked pork could have been heavenly, but somehow managed to be a little dry. The crème brulee dessert was wonderful. There are only a small number of tables outside, but there is not really any view to speak of when sitting on the terrace.

[cucumber gazpacho with feta cheese; diced tomato on parmesan biscuit, mozzarella paste, shot of cold tomato soup, basil pesto; slow cooked confit pork in red wine sauce with mashed potato, carrot, figs poached in red wine and cinnamon, roast tomato; crème brulee with shot of honey milkshake]

La Bartavelle, Goult 7/10
For me, this was the meal of the trip. This is exactly the type of food I love: simple, fresh, clean and light. My starter was pretty much a range of cold vegetables on a plate, which sounds unremarkable, but I still think about this dish and how good it was. It takes real confidence and excellent produce to serve up something like this successfully. Similarly, my dessert was just some fresh peach with ice cream, but again the most wonderful sweet peach made this a lovely, refreshing and memorable dessert. The black olives served with my veal main were the best I have ever tasted, although for me the veal was the slightest touch overcooked, and the accompanying aubergine and tomato was a little bland. The only slight bloth on an otherwise excellent meal. Service was good and prices were very reasonable. I would go back here in an instant.

[crème fraiche with chives, smoked haddock and diced mushroom; cold vegetable salad with green and yellow courgettes, artichoke, pear, asparagus, fine beans, tomato, basil pesto and parmesan and tomato puree; veal with confit black olives in reduced cooking jus, roasted aubergine with diced tomato; peach salad marinated in raspberry juice with raspberry ripple ice cream]

Jul 18, 2012
ggow_12 in France

My year in France - Paris part 1 (Chateaubriand, Spring, Frenchie, Septime, Rino, L'Ami Jean & others)

Table D’Eugene 5/10
This is a nice restaurant and a good way to see another side of Paris for dinner. It appears to be the most highly recommended restaurant in Montmartre. The meal was good and staff were polite. A solid and good value meal.

[foie gras with madeira jelly, pear chutney and toasted bread; roast pigeon breast with almond crust, confit leg, cooked foie gras, cepe puree, enoki mushrooms, coconut foam and caramel; ‘Mont Blanc’: meringue, chantilly cream and chestnut puree with crumble, raisins and rum ice cream]

Fines Gueles 4/10
This is a nice place for a glass of wine and a light meal. The burrata dish and the steak tartare were both very good, in fact two of my favourite dishes in Paris, although dessert was highly disappointing and appeared to have been bought in and heated in a microwave.

[mozzarella and creamy burrata with crushed toasted almonds, San Daniele ham and olive oil; steak tartare with basil, parmesan and sun dried tomato, potatoes and salad; tarte tatin aux pommes with double cream]

Verre Volé 4/10
This place was fine, although I advise you ask to be seated in the ‘upstairs’ section, rather than ‘downstairs’, which is cramped even by Paris standards and does not have the charm of the ‘upstairs’ area with its wine racks on the walls. Food was unremarkable but satisfactory. My dessert confirmed for me that I do not enjoy French cheesecake.

[razor clams served in shell with sun dried tomatoes and coriander; escabeche of quail with walnuts, figs and black peppercorns; grilled black pudding with mashed potato; stewed rabbit with Chinese artichokes and pied blue mushrooms; baked lemon and ginger cheesecake]

Le Gaigne 4/10
I was rather disappointed by this restaurant. The food was very average. A partridge pie to start tasted like it could have been bought from a local pub in the UK, and a chewy breast of duck for main was rather poor and totally overpowered by the taste of juniper berries. Dessert was better, probably because it had been pre-prepared. I looked into the kitchen to see one chef alone trying to service a packed restaurant. Perhaps he had an off night as other reviews suggest this is a good restaurant.

[shot of cep velouté; partridge pie with cabbage and smoked bacon; breast of duckling roasted with juniper berry spice, red wine confit leg, root vegetables; mille feuille with diced pineapple flambéed in rum, whipped cream, coconut shavings]

Papilles 5/10
This appears to be a pretty safe bet for tourists. I cannot fault its simple but enjoyable formula. Food that has clearly been pre-prepared is simply heated up in the kitchen. The soup starter and beef stew main were hearty and delicious. The bistro interior is also pleasant and the owner warm and welcoming. Very touristy, but so what. Good honest food and a nice atmosphere.

[leek and potato soup with bacon, leek, burnt onion, croutons, crème fraiche and chive; slow cooked beef stew with red wine, potatoes, carrots and mange tout; fig and blue cheese; pineapple pannacotta with diced pineapple and caramel foam]

Paul Bert 4/10
This meal was somewhat disappointing. Ordinary steak frites and an overly-eggy soufflé. Service was not particularly friendly either.

[fillet of beef with Sarawak pepper, béarnaise sauce and French fries; Grand Marnier soufflé]

Le Severo 5/10
A rather cold reception, don’t expect to be greeted with a smile. The meat was high quality and the fries were very tasty. Dessert was simple and presumably bought-in. I enjoyed seeing a young loudmouth sitting at the opposite table being told that he could not have tomato ketchup for his steak by the owner (although admittedly I did think it could have done with just a touch of sauce, but not ketchup).

[cote de boeuf with fries; crème caramel]

Jul 18, 2012
ggow_12 in France

My year in France - Paris part 1 (Chateaubriand, Spring, Frenchie, Septime, Rino, L'Ami Jean & others)

Hello all,

I will be typing up all the reviews of my most notable dining experiences in France over the past year for those of you who are interested. My scoring system is completely subjective but in general: 4 = average, 5 = good, 6 = very good, 7 = impressive, 8 = very impressive, 9 = outstanding, 10 would be a flawless meal, of which there are none unfortunately. Note that when I list the dishes I ate, a semi-colon (;) indicates the end of a course. I am concentrating primarily on the food aspect of the meal, as opposed to wine.

Chateaubriand 5/10

I found this to be a enjoyable restaurant with a good atmosphere, if a little hectic and disorganised. I advise that you don’t take it too seriously, I would describe it more as an experience rather than a satisfying meal. The food was interesting and fun, but a little strange at times. There were some unusual flavour and texture combinations, some of which were more successful than others. The central piece of meat/fish was always cooked well, but the garnishes may not be to everybody’s taste (e.g. raw fruit and vegetables in savory courses and herbs in sweet courses). 5/10

[amuse bouche: parmesan puff, ceviche shot, duck heart rolled in spices, deep fried shrimp, bouillabaisse; octopus, white radish, ink, frozen raspberries; sea bass, raw mushrooms, cockles, pickled cucumber; lamb fillet with belly, kidney and brain, watercress, onion, burnt leek; dessert selection: frozen fermented milk with salted hazelnut caramel and herbs, chocolate mousse with beetroot and seeds, pineapple coated in fennel and mint]

Spring 5/10

This is a nice restaurant, if a little overpriced for what you actually get. Whilst cooked and presented well, I found the dishes in the no-choice tasting menu to be somewhat unimaginative (e.g. teaming scallops and apple, or venison with beetroot). There weren’t any dishes that made me think that this is an outstanding restaurant worthy of high praise. Regrettably I never tried the ‘old’ Spring for comparison. I also found the desserts to be overly simple (I like simple food, but frozen yoghurt with chocolate shavings is perhaps too simple). Not the innovative cooking I was expecting but a solid meal and a welcoming and friendly atmosphere.

[amuse bouche: raw radish, jamon iberico, curried chicken broth, crème fraiche with caviar and Roquefort shavings; scallops with shredded ham, grated granny smith apple, buckwheat crisp, butter and cider sauce; sea bass, oyster, seared cabbage, vinaigrette; venison, beetroot, girolles, watercress, red wine reduction; cheese selection; selection: pear rolled in nougatine with soft white cheese, frozen yoghurt with chocolate shavings, hazelnut cream with whipped cream, hazelnut crisps and clementine jelly; petit fours: lemon pie and walnut caramel]

Frenchie 5/10

This meal was fine, although I do not really feel the restaurant is worthy of the extraordinary hype surrounding it. I cannot understand why it would be so difficult to get a table here. I found the waiting staff to be rather unengaged (e.g. not describing the dish when it was placed on the table). The food was simple and good and the cooking competent, although both the bread and the pastry on my dessert were slightly burnt. Perhaps the oven was on too high. The head chef did not appear to be particularly involved with the cooking going on behind him. Bizarrely, there were a number of empty tables on a Saturday night.

[salted foie gras, poached pear and syrup, quince, toasted bread; baked pappardelle pasta with beef ragu, creamy white sauce, parsnip, swish chard and cubes of spiced marinated beetroot; roast wild duck with confit leg and cooking jus, compressed celery root, celery root puree, kumquat puree, aniseed and fresh herbs; tarte au chocolate with cream and diced bacon, caramel and passion fruit sauce]

Septime 6/10

This was one of my favourite meals in Paris. The five course menu flowed very well. A lot of thought had clearly been put into the menu’s composition and there was something very ‘Autumny’ about it (I visited during Autumn). It also provided me with one of my favourite dishes during my stay in Paris: baked potato gnocchi with parmesan, a butternut squash veloute and toasted walnts. This was a wonderful and comforting dish. I particularly liked the main and dessert, which were essentially refined versions of what I would each for Sunday lunch when I was a boy (roast chicken and apple crumble!). The wait staff spent time explaining the food and wine and I liked the open plan kitchen.

[raw scallop, sea urchin, diced clementine and grapefruit foam; baked potato gnocchi with parmesan shavings, butternut squash veloute and toasted walnuts; cod with green mustard, grilled spring onion, celery and cabbage; roast breast of volaille with cooking jus, roast Jerusalem artichoke, Chinese artichoke, thinly sliced artichoke, carrots and artichoke veloute; ‘apple crumble’: caramelised diced apple, caramel, apple puree, crumble and thyme ice cream]

Rino 5/10

This restaurant was fine, but again a little overpriced for what you get. One dish in particular was memorable: a ravioli of pecorino cheese with petit pois, lime and coriander. Very fresh and ‘Springy’ (I visited during Spring). The second dessert dish however was poor, involving a few misguided elements. I don’t know whose idea this was, and why the chef let it leave the kitchen. A solid meal nonetheless. The restaurant itself is rather cramped and the interior dull, but staff were very friendly and welcoming.

[tortellini of smoked fish with radish, porcini mushrooms, consommé, and cooked foie gras; monkfish with white asparagus and pine nut sauce; ravioli of pecorino cheese, petit pois, lime and coriander; pigeon breast and leg with cherries, fava beans, mange tout, mustard leaves; baba au rhum with diced strawberries, rhubarb, ricotta sorbet and rum; cashew nut ice cream with crushed cookie, fromage frais, satsuma, grapefruit and endive]

Chez L’Ami Jean 6/10

A hyped-up restaurant that does appear to live up to the hype. I went a la carte to avoid what I presumed to be the tourist menu being produced on a conveyor belt for the camera wielding maniacs surrounding me. My wild boar (during game season) was outstanding although at around €50 I felt it was a little overpriced. The infamous rice pudding was also rich and comforting. This is one restaurant that does exceptionally well to live up to the hype. As others have recommended, I suggest going with the specials, which will reflect the seasons.

[wild boar with herb butter, roast foie gras, wild boar lardons, cooking juices with diced ceps, pomme puree; rice pudding with vanilla, crème caramel, caramelised nuts and mini meringues]

Jul 18, 2012
ggow_12 in France