August 09 2010
It is not nearly as easy as it used to be to eat well in Paris. Not because of a lack of good restaurants: indeed, there are signs that a small revolution is underway. In Restaurant magazine’s “World’s 50 Best” survey this year, France’s top offering was Le Chateaubriand, its classic name and décor belying the avant-garde cooking of Basque chef Iñaki Aizpitarte.
No, the problem is that many of Paris’s best restaurants are shut at the weekend – Le Chateaubriand is open for dinner on Saturday, but closed for the rest of the weekend and on Mondays – while in August, when le tout Paris heads to countryside or beach, they may well be closed altogether.
Thank heavens, then, for the Restaurant Gastronomique at the consummately elegant Hôtel Le Bristol, alone among Parisian three-star restaurants in offering lunch and dinner every day of the year, even when the bigwigs from the nearby Elysée Palace (the Sarkozys are regulars) and the Ministère de l’Intérieur are off on their hols.
Chef Eric Frechon ministers to interiors with the best of them. His haute cuisine has a freshness of approach and a lightness of touch perfectly pitched to Le Bristol’s soigné clientele, one of whom – in early May – was wearing sunglasses so huge she could have been Vanessa Paradis, Catherine Deneuve or, indeed, Jean Paul Gaultier in drag.
Film stars and plutocrats treat the summer dining room, plush as a pasha’s tent, as their playroom, occasionally strolling onto the terrace to frolic among the magnolias, but generally contenting themselves with the champagne and excellent cuisine. The green tomato jelly, for example, cleverly laced with delicate crab meat and scented with tarragon; or the amuse-bouche of foie gras wrapped in candyfloss; or rabbit served three ways – ballottine, sausage and offal brochette – paired with smoky octopus.
Or, indeed, Frechon’s parmesan-crusted macaroni, stuffed with artichokes and more foie gras, sauced with truffle. With a glass of Chassagne-Montrachet, this dish would serve very well as my last meal on Earth – and my arteries might well concur. But should the tubes hold out long enough, a gallop around the cheeseboard is recommended: Anneau du Vic-Bilh, a doughnut-shaped goat’s milk cheese from Gascony, was particularly fine. Puddings, from chef-pâtissier Laurent Jeannin, included a stunning rhapsody on the brazil nut, details of which are far too complicated to pass on; suffice to say it left me with a feeling of deeply contented torpor.
It is thoughtful of the restaurant to provide rooms (ask for one of the new batch with a view of the Eiffel tower) for those laid low by the arts of the table. I am highly impressed that Monsieur Sarkozy manages to run France after lunch at Le Bristol: I could barely run my bath.