The hashtag #jesuisenterrasse – adopted by many Parisians in the wake of the attacks on November 13 to show they were continuing to enjoy the capital’s bars and restaurants in the face of terrorist threats – is very much the spirit at Le Clarence, a magnificent 19th-century listed townhouse restaurant located within the Golden Triangle of Paris’ Avenues Montaigne, Champs-Elysées and Course-la-Reine, which was due to open on November 14 after three years of transformation. Slightly delayed, but no less resplendent, it remains one of the most joyous year’s end openings.
The Domaine Clarence Dillon president and CEO Prince Robert of Luxembourg acquired the property by “vente à la bougie”, a form of auction unique to France using candles to mark the length of bidding, and which has been in use since the 15th century. The Prince’s family also owns Château Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion, Quintus and Clarendelle, which come together under the Domaine Clarence Dillon name; Clarence Dillon, the Prince’s great-grandfather, a Texan banker, acquired Haut-Brion in 1935.
The concept of Le Clarence is to bring a little piece of Bordeaux to Paris and, walking through the heavy carved wooden doors with La Cave du Château wine boutique on the right, the sweeping elegant staircase to the left, this is indeed the impression.
Guests are guided to the second floor’s very private lounge (first picture), a grand salon with magnificent French windows overlooking the Grand Palais, for aperitifs (and post-dinner digestifs). Here there’s a beautiful fireplace, an antique backgammon table, striking artwork and a wonderful mix of furniture, all carefully chosen by the Prince from major auction houses and Paris flea markets, which nod to his Bordeaux château.
Below stairs, in the atmospheric stone wine cellar, Damien de Gironde, director of La Cave du Château, will give wine tastings and advise on buying; 2015, he says, will be an excellent year. Details of tastings will be sent on receipt of an email to email@example.com.
Taking the lift, or the staircase, to the first floor leads to a restaurant divided into three traditional but very differently decorated rooms (second, third and fourth pictures) and named in homage to Lestonnac, Pontac and Talleyrand – all former owners of the Château Haut-Brion. Outside the dining room and the private salon, two elegant handcrafted wooden consoles (fifth picture) contain eight bottles of Haut-Brion’s best red and white vintages. Designed using rare woods by Prince Robert and London-based furniture maker David Linley to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Clarence Dillon’s purchase of the winery, secret drawers contain silverware by Buccellati, the Italian jeweller.
Lunch (€90 plus wine) and dinner (€190 plus wine or à la carte from €150 to €250) are served from Tuesday to Saturday. Wearing whites in the state-of-the-art steel and glass kitchens that overlook a pretty interior courtyard where cocktails will be served in warm weather is Christophe Pelé, who won two Michelin stars at his bistro La Bigarrade, Paris, and has recently been in Hong Kong.
The restaurant manager and chef sommelier is Antoine Pétrus, the incredibly gifted Meilleur Ouvrier de France, also known as the young man with the golden palate, who is formerly of ElBulli, Lasserre and Hôtel de Crillon, Paris. There’s no doubt he will have one of the most exceptional wine books in the world, including the rare (only 10,000 bottles annually) white Haut-Brion Graves 1985 (€2,270) and Mission Haut-Brion 1990 (€2,455).
“In 2015, to mark the 80th anniversary of the creation of Domaine Clarence Dillon, we are following in the footsteps of the Pontac family, former owners of Haut-Brion,” explains Prince Robert. “In 1666, François-Auguste de Pontac travelled to London to promote his wine and opened Pontack’s Head on Abchurch Lane, in what would later become the City of London, showcasing French cuisine. It became very fashionable and fellows of the Royal Society – John Locke, Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift – were regular customers. We aim to continue this tradition by inviting guests to eat, taste our wines and even leave with a bottle of exception, to be enjoyed at home, with family or friends,” the Prince adds. “And by the way, there is one last legacy that François-Auguste left us – Pontack sauce, made from elderberries and spices and said to be the perfect accompaniment to rich game.”