A ficionados of what might crudely be described as 17th-century bling could find no more rewarding location than the Palace of Versailles: ornate gilded sculptures, intricate brocades and dazzling chandeliers, built by the finest craftsmen that Louis XIV could muster.
Appropriate, then, that the 78 members of Comité Colbert, the society that embodies French luxury, should convene at Versailles to celebrate the Comité’s 60th birthday: for one day, Versailles could – to name but a few – add the houses of Baccarat, Christofle, Yves Delormé, Bernardaud, Cartier, Saint-Louis and Boucheron to its rollcall of artists and artisans.
This being France, les arts de la table were not neglected. There was Pierre Hermé, whose sublime macarons – white truffle and hazelnut, foie gras and chocolate – I had enjoyed the previous day at his Saint-Germain pâtisserie; there was the luxury food emporium Dalloyau, which can trace its history back to Louis XIV; and, as if to wash it all down rather stylishly, there was Krug, Château Cheval Blanc and Château d’Yquem.
And there was Alain Ducasse, who has more connection than most with Versailles: the gardens at Le Trianon, built for Marie Antoinette, have been painstakingly restored and now supply fruit and vegetables to his newly refurbished restaurant at Le Plaza Athénée (pictured). This edible bijouterie forms the centrepiece of his menu, alongside cereals, pulses and grains and some particularly fine seafood.
The stunning white dining room, with its crystal chandeliers and extravagantly curved pods and chairs, brought to my untrained eye an unholy alliance of Louis XIV and Austin Powers.
It is a strikingly eclectic menu, too. Wafers of mixed seeds and a glass of vegetable water with ginger flower were an effective, if rather ascetic, palate cleanser; buckwheat and lentils may not immediately appeal, but cook the lentils perfectly, pair them with caviar and a smoked eel jelly, make the buckwheat into a light, flavoursome blini and finish with a spoonful of thick sour cream, and you have a pretty much perfect dish.
Red mullet is served with its scales attached, but delightfully crunchy, the fish matched with a sauce made from its liver; a smokily grilled sardine arrived with its spine deep-fried.
Pudding was startling, too: sorbet of Niçois lemon (très Ducasse) with kombu (Japanese seaweed) and tarragon. All the bells and whistles of fine dining are present and correct, including top-notch service, a stellar wine list and a groaning cheeseboard. Le Roi-Soleil, a famous gourmet as well as perhaps France’s greatest patron of the arts, would surely have approved.