Yes, K and I are finally back from Paris. And already wishing we were still there. But in any case, it was the perfect way to end 2012 – with some seriously quality time spent together, just the two of us, in the most romantic country in the world. Besides some spots of mild rain, the weather was a perfect 8-12 degrees so we could still dress up and not have to look like giant marshmallows each time we stepped out. 🙂
After several recommendations from friends and fellow foodies, we booked ourselves a table at the Les Ambassadeurs restaurant in one of Paris’ most iconic and beautiful hotels, the Hotel De Crillon.
Under Christopher Hache, Les Ambassadeurs has a Michelin star- but I never truly trust Michelin stars – what got us hooked and deciding on Les was hearing that the menu was fine French with a slight Japanese influence. These two cuisines are our favourite, and so a decision was speedily made, Restaurant Le Meurice (3 star, Hotel Le Meurice) and Le Cinq (2 star, George V) will have to wait for the next trip ! ^^
The weather was just lovely that evening, so we decided to take the very scenic walk from our hotel (next to the Arc De Triomphe) down the Champs Elysees, pass the Grand Palais to Hotel De Crillon on the Place De La Concorde. The air was fresh and bracing, the iconic buildings and boulevards imbued with a timeless beauty and romance and we reached our destination thoroughly hungry and in high spirits.
The Hotel was kitted out for Christmas – and it was beautiful – fluttery feather like leaves in pale silvery green twined around branches of pale pink roses and gold chandeliers. Dreamy and incandescent.
We were a little early, so we passed the staff our coats and hung out in the lobby for a bit, where an adorable old Frenchman in a full three piece suit pointed to K’s bowtie and said he loved it. Style transcends cultural barriers apparently!
I’m not sure why but K and I got many curious stares when we were in Paris. OK so did A and I when we were there during the summer, but even more so during winter. We speculated that it may be because we look like a pair of Asian vampires. In fact, K and I are fairer than many of the Parisians themselves and I think our red-black-white standard winter colour palette did nothing to soften our, ahem, otherworldly appearance.
The restaurant was, naturellement, absolutely breathtaking.
The photo below has no filter, and it was taken in just warm light by my semi-pro on auto mode (yes I’m a noob)
It really felt like we were dining in a fairytale banquet hall. I adored the old school Parisian glamour of Le Grand Vefour when I was there last summer but Les Ambassadeur’s was just breathtaking. The high ceilings, the elegant frescoes, ceiling to floor drapes, marble marquetry, ornate crystal chandeliers – just pure, opulent, Louis XV grandeur.
But the most important part, of course, is the gastronomical experience, so here’s ours!
We had sparkling water because we both don’t drink and we didn’t relish the thought of staggering in an inebriated state back to our hotel and running the risk of getting pickpocketed. Now the bread basket- K is a REAL big bread snob. Don’t judge his cheena-boy exterior, he has impeccable taste when it comes to his breads and has been seen to munch his way through a seed-studded cranberry loaf which I would dismiss as bourgeoisie and gladly replace with a soft slice of whitemeal. He spent morning after morning in Paris munching his way through buttery croissants, flaky pain au chocolats and fresh toasty baguettes.
So it was that we found Les’s bread basket rather disappointing. The mini white baguettes were clearly artisan and served warm (changed every 10 minutes so we wouldn’t have to eat cold ones!) but too hard for my liking and a bit dry. They were served with two kinds of butters – regular and smoked with Sel Gris. While K and I delighted in the salty, smoky tones of the latter, the former was rather ordinary. I was expecting the creamy, milky richness of hand-churned French butter but got a rather flat mouthful instead.
To be honest my memory fails me somewhat and I can’t remember the exact ingredients of each dish, but I will valiantly try my best !
On the left was a complimentary appetizer – some kind of stuffed vegetable roll which was fresh tasting but unremarkable and savoury profiteroles, with what I think was a truffle coating? These were really cute and tasty. The appetizer on the right came with K’s degustation menu – it was crazy good. Umami overload – the slightly slimy but so lip smackingly savoury eel/sardine sliver on a crunchy cracker on a bed of smooth, sticky potato puree. All humble supermarket ingredients but put together, elevated into a mix of conflicting tastes and textures in our mouths that were a curious mix of strange and comforting.
We had very high expectations after this.
Which were met, no, exceeded, by the Chef’s signature pot-roasted foie gras.
A generous slab of duck liver is placed on wild mushrooms, which are sitting in braising liquid in a pot. The pot is then “sealed” with pastry and roasted, then brought to your table where the dish is assembled with panache by a friendly waiter.
It was the best dish that night.
Mind-blowingly good, I kid you not. I had strong pangs of guilt about eating the foie gras – something I only succumb to perhaps once or twice a year – and I’m sorry if this offends you, but it was the foie gras of all foie gras I’ve ever tasted in any Michelin restaurant.
The liver was cooked to luscious, smooth, unctuous, quivering perfection – each slice of the knife brought a piece of that heaven sliding across my plate like silk – rich, ducky goodness. Paired with the earthy flavours of the braised wild mushrooms and cut through with the crunchiness of what appeared to be hazel? macadamia nuts and the acidity of onions, there was a symphony in our mouths. K and I were rendered speechless for long moments, interspersed with “Oh my God this is so good”.
I truly believe that I can never eat plebian foie gras again after this. When I think of the previous times I have sat in mid-priced French restaurants picking striated bits of liver not removed properly from between my teeth, I could cry.
This was the only tear-inducing dish of the night, but the rest were also pretty good and met our expectations of what we were paying for.
On the left is pork cheek in a pastry crust with gravy, and on the right is Abalone with a Cauliflower Puree
The pork cheek was tasty with traditional flavours – soft fork tender pork, I think some black truffle? But overall it was a very stodgy middle plate – our already bulging tummies could not deal with brown gravy and heavy meat – it did not help that it looked like a small beige toadstool – hardly what one would call appetizing.
The abalone was extremely fresh and sweet but just a touch overdone. However, the puree was just gorgeous. I hate cauliflower but it was smooth, fragrant and light and complemented the abalone’s sea-fresh taste and chewiness exactly right.
Then my mains:
I had the Sole glazed with a St. Maure cheese sauce and stuffed with pine nuts and vegetables, with curls of squid and potato on the side and dots of squid ink.
The sole was just perfect. It was firm but dissolved into cottony light shreds in the mouth yet still managed to taste like fish and not the bland white fillet inexperienced chefs usually turn it into. I was in wonder at how it was rolled into such a perfect cylinder – it didn’t even look like fish ! The light clean tasting fish paired with the creamy glaze, crunchy toasted pinenuts, chewy and fresh squid, and then a dash of umami squid ink was so fun to eat ! I’d never have imagined pairing fish, nuts and cheese together but golly it worked ! Very impressed indeed and I could see the Japanese influences in its pure flavours.
Next was the cheeseboard, groaning with a huge selection. K and I were stuffed, but we still tried two cheeses anyway
A seriously pungent but also mind bogglingly complex roquefort which should only be eaten on its own and not slapped on a burger, and a light, super creamy camembert. I enjoyed the cheeses at Le Grand Vefour better but these were still very good. Now if only I could appreciate wine! Maybe when I’m older.
And finally, desserts ! By this time, K was a bit puce. He looked like he was having trouble keeping his mouth closed from all the courses he had stuffed in. But he managed to smile weakly (and bravely) at me and say “I always have room for dessert, my dear”.
A lucky thing he did !
I chose the Les Chocolait Cookies because I’m a kid like that, and it was sooo good – and practically a work of art.
Mathematically perfect spheres of passionfruit sorbet on a biscuit (sort of mille feuille esque) base, with a layer of hazelnut mousse in between. The sorbet balls are interspersed with crispy chocomilk wafers. It’s like a very grown up dessert that kids would love too! The passionfruit sorbet was just the right mix of tangy and sweet and bursting with fruity intensity, the hazelnut mousse (Jivara) rich and satisfyingly chocolatey, and the base an obliging foil adding crunch to cut through the meltiness of the mousse.
K’s apple tart was less amazing, but still quite good. Cooked apples soft on the outside but slightly crunchy between caramelized pastry. I would have enjoyed it more if there were perhaps a vanilla bean custard accompanying it – it was too acidic and sharp just on its own with no mellow edges
We took our time eating, about 2 and a half hours in all. The service was polished and impeccable, the food the most refined and exquisite I have eaten (better than some 2 Michelin star places!) and the experience, unforgettable – just like the rest of Paris.
(located in Hotel De Crillon)
10, Place de la Concorde, 75008 Paris, France (Champs Elysees)
The maitre’d recommends reservations at least 2 months in advance during the summer and a month at the end of the year !
Hope you enjoyed my absolutely gluttony entry !