Couture cuisine in two fashion capitals

Two fashion-capital hotel hotspots, in London and Paris, serve couture on a plate in immaculately dressed surroundings, says Bill Knott

London’s Hélène Darroze at The Connaught has a smart clubby vibe
London’s Hélène Darroze at The Connaught has a smart clubby vibe

After a hard morning’s shopping at Balenciaga on Mount Street, weary fashionistas need only stride as far as The Connaught, a couple of doors away, for a reviving lunch. And, until mid-February, they might take advantage of the hotel’s Balenciaga package (from £795): tickets to the V&A’s Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion show, the accompanying book, a personal tour of the boutique arranged by one of the hotel’s butlers and a martini at the bar or in their deluxe king room. And a DVD of La Dolce Vita – Fellini apparently took inspiration from Balenciaga’s 1957 “sack dress” for his classic film. 

Lunch at Hélène Darroze’s splendid two-Michelin-starred restaurant is not included, but I strongly recommend it. Darroze first made a name for herself at her Paris restaurant in 1999, opening her dining room at The Connaught, with its handsome wood-panelled walls and immaculately dressed tables, nine years later. The room oozes smart clubbiness, while the cuisine is unashamedly opulent. Caviar is matched with silky cauliflower purée, smoked haddock, Cornish crab and blinis prickling with the heat of Espelette pepper. A perfect cylinder of foie gras is topped with a tuile dusted in powdered rhubarb; an impossibly plump langoustine sits alongside a similarly substantial spear of green asparagus, dressed at the table in an oyster and bergamot sauce. 

Chunks of flawless John Dory have white asparagus, razor clams, yuzu and samphire for company; tender rose-pink, richly flavoured Challans duck breast is served with a glorious little sausage made from the bird’s offal. This is classy, last-meal-on-earth food from a chef at the top of her game.

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Balenciaga’s Parisian aficionados, meanwhile, might happily start the morning at the fashion house’s store on Rue Saint-Honoré and wander westwards, taking in a host of luxury boutiques, before lunch at 114 Faubourg, Le Bristol Paris’s brasserie – although calling it a “brasserie” is akin to describing Krug as a “fizzy wine”. 

The lady at the table next to me was impeccably soignée, as indeed was Madame’s little dog. From the balcony, we all had a fine view of the open kitchen and the wrought-iron staircase, as elegant and sweeping as a Dior gown.

All is comme il faut. Silky 40-month-aged Parma ham, sweetly marbled with fat; a sublime pâté en croûte (declared the best in the world in 2011) made with foie gras; a sinfully rich artichoke soup with black truffle and more foie gras; a fricassée of plump morels in vin jaune; and a fine tranche of cod, lightly curried, with petits pois à la française alongside. 

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To finish, a ravishingly dressed vanilla millefeuille with salted butter caramel, the kind of supremely indulgent dessert that great Paris kitchens do so well. Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré is named after Honoratus, the patron saint of bakers, and there is no better place to venerate him than at 114, where haute couture is served on a plate.

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