A Michelin Star Affair: Le Cinq, Four Seasons Hotel, Paris
Our love affair with the Michelin stars started 8 years ago when we celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary. It was the first time we could justify staying in a nice hotel and along with that came a fine dining restaurant with a single star. It was love at first site when we saw the starched linen dining room. The attention to detail was exquisite. I had never eaten anywhere that timed the presentation of the meal so that each plate was placed on the table at the exact same time even when there was a table of eight dining. We tried food that night that we had never tried before and rather than feeling like we didn’t belong we were made to feel like we were the only diners in the room.
I sometimes wonder whether the experience really was as good as we remember or whether we have put them on an over rated pedestal. We have been seeking to recreate the experience ever since and nothing has ever come close. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some amazing dinners in the last eight years. There has been Quay, Tetsuyas, The Royal Mail Hotel – the best Australia has to offer. These were all sensational dinners but Australia is known for its friendly, laid back attitude and it just can’t quite deliver when it comes to pomp and ceremony. Maybe it is the Pom in me, but I think a little spoiling every now and then goes a very long way.
Cue my trip to Paris, the home of the Michelin Star. If you can’t find silver service dining in Paris then there is no chance and my dinner at Whitley Ridge was a fantasy I created in my vivid imagination. On a side note, my first tip for Parisian dining is to not visit in August. Paris takes its annual summer holiday in August leaving you with very little to choose from but the tourist traps. I was sent a fabulous list of restaurant recommendations from the Francophile Mardi at eat. live. travel. write. All of which were tragically closed for their summer break. That meant we also experienced literally the worst meal of our dining history during this trip to Paris. So bad in fact that I can’t bring myself to write anything about it.
Thankfully a couple of top end restaurants have realised that people do still want fine dining in August. There were two prerequisites for choosing that special meal. 1: It had to be open on a Monday in August 2: It had to have the opulent, starched linen dining room.
Introducing Le Cinq, at The Four Seasons Hotel, Paris. Officially the most expensive meal I have ever eaten in my life. What more can I say? When making the booking I think I overlooked the price, but for a once in a lifetime experience (and a recent remortgage) we were going for it, no holds barred. I think they have the same attitude, not only did we get olives and smoked almonds with our aperitif, but we also got canapes and an amuse bouche, all before the meal had officially started.
We opted for the tasting menu which was simply divine. The only thing I can fault them on was portion size and not that the eleven courses were too small. Quite the opposite in fact. I can usually polish off a tasting menu no problem but I actually struggled to finish all courses.
The food was predominantly French with a hint of Asian thrown in for good measure. The diners were largely American and Japanese so I think this was reflected in the menu choices. There were all the expected elements of a fancy French dinner (crab, lobster, fois gras) dressed with soy, wasabi, lemongrass, ginger, to name but a few.
I would like to describe the standout dish of the day but quite frankly it is possible. It is much easier to describe the dish I didn’t care for: the one with the cucumber jelly. That wasn’t because it was a bad dish, I’m just not a fan of cucumber.
The staff in the restaurant were all very courteous, professional and friendly. They would slip in and out where necessary but were more than happy to have a conversation with you if you wanted it. Shamefully to us, they all spoke very good English and were happy to do so. Our waiter would also have conversed in Italian or French if we were skilled enough. This was to my great relief as it meant explaining my allergies a whole lot easier. The chef kindly arranged a different dish or me as leaving out the mussels was not advised and having never eaten clams I was unsure if they would affect me in the same way.
I know there is great debate as to whether Fois Gras is ethical, but there was no way I was going to turn it down. Unlike other places that often serve a pate like version or a thin sliver, this was a whole liver. I am a huge fan of offal in most of its forms and this really is one of the best. I know what has to happen to make it but I also know that it is going to be very difficult to stop the age old French tradition and me refusing one dish on the menu that has already been prepared is not going to make a difference. This was definitely a modern take on an old tradition served with strawberry and rhubarb. Sounds weird but the sharp, sweet flavours perfectly complimented the richness of the fois gras.
Another very French addition to the menu was the lobster. Not something I would usually seek out but I think that is probably because I’ve never had a really good lobster dish. This trip has certainly changed my opinion of lobster. There will certainly be some lobster inspired dishes appearing on the blog this spring.
By this point in the meal I was struggling. I really didn’t need the lamb, or the cheese, or the pre-dessert or indeed the dessert. I have to confess I left a little of the lamb not because it was bad (which I carefully had to explain to the waiter) I was just so full.
I’d like to tell you dear reader what I ate but I have no idea I was too busy enjoying it to care. All I do know is between the two of us we ate ten different cheeses and I just ate them with no worries about filling up on bread or crackers as they don’t serve them. That’s one happy customer as I never feel the need to pollute my cheese with anything else.
The other great thing about Paris fine dining is the people watching. You pay the extra Euros for the next level of people watching. There was the couple that walked in, were shown to their table and immediately stormed out. The gentleman diner declared that the table wasn’t good enough and he wanted an alternative. The waitress politely informed him that they were fully booked and it was not possible so he stormed out. Three minutes later he returned and got the table he requested. Talk about throwing the toys out of the pram!
I was most pleased with my desserts. Despite being full I discovered my dessert stomach and they were light enough for me to enjoy. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for my picky table neighbours. The table wasn’t good enough for them and neither was dessert. The quote of the day was “There’s nothing familiar on the menu and I don’t want to try anything new.” personally I thought tart, sorbets and chocolate mousse were fairly self explanatory but maybe I’ve just spent too long eating in fancy restaurants.
Ordinarily, I’m an independent woman but when on holiday you have to go with the flow. To my surprise this meant I enjoyed the fact that there was a his ‘n’ hers version of the menu. Mine did not contain a single price, which certainly helped with my enjoyment of the evening. This would usually lead me to assert my independence and pay the bill myself but to complete the evening I let the waiter present my husband with the bill. I didn’t want to burst their chauvinist French bubble.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Michelin Star experience and it absolutely lived up to all of our expectations. My only warning: don’t go if you are budget conscious. As one Trip Adviser reviewer wrote “Wine prices are amusingly high” and I would say that goes for the rest of the menu but hey ho, when in Paris…