Ze Kitchen Gallerie [Paris]
I have been perplexed by the rave reviews Ze Kitchen Gallerie receives from so many posters. We ate there a few years ago and were distinctly unimpressed. Were we unlucky? Was it an off night? Has it changed? A quick day trip to Paris gave me the opportunity to give it another go and to try and reconcile my experience with other posters.
I started with a marinaded tuna sashimi, with artichokes, asparagus and a kumquat sauce. The tuna was good; nice and “fatty”, and the artichoke and asparagus were fine. However, I found the kumquat sauce dominated the dish, it sort of jumped off the plate and hit you around the head, as it was so strong in comparison to the rest of the dish.
Next I tried the young rabbit, with thai style sauce (the real name is a lot longer). The dish consisted of two tender pieces of rabbit with a classic mustard glaze; a ball of rabbit meat, deep fried like a croquet; and a thai green curry sauce with peas, a spring onion and (I think) another leafy vegetable. Oddly the flavour of the thai green curry was so subtle it had almost disappeared - almost analogous to a homeopathic remedy where the active ingredient is so diluted only a molecule or two is present. My guess is it that t is a short cut thai green curry sauce, without a lot of the key ingredients that give it depth and balance. The dish appears to be a a east/west fusion, deconstructed green thai curry with peas instead of pea eggplants, and spring onions instead of thai aromatics. It was OK, but bland. However , the main issue I had with the dish was that the mustard coated rabbit simply didn’t work with the thai style sauce. The tastes simply jarred.
Two things strike me. First, does the kitchen really taste the food before it leaves the kitchen? The flavours of my two dishes were so out of balance that I couldn’t believe they had tasted them. If they do then their palates are clearly quite different to mine and I really don’t think my is that bad (as it seems to work in most restaurants). Second, I wonder if the reason the food appeals is because it has such big simple flavours. The contrast to the subtleties of traditional French cooking is refreshing for those that live in Paris, and equally a novelty for people who have not tried this style of food before.
My overall conclusion has not changed from my first visit, I don’t really think the cooking is that good. To be frank Paris has many better places than this, both traditional and innovative. If this is the best of “east/west fusion” in Paris then give it a miss and take the opportunity to try this food elsewhere - although I also think the east/west fusion stye has evolved a lot from where still ZKG is today.
Finally why did Michelin award it a star this year? My suspicion is that Michelin is very strong on traditional cuisine's, but less so on Asian influenced ones - their ratings of London Indian restaurants proves this point.
It has received mixed reviews on several forums from real diners, not a Michelin Bibendum nebulous panel. I trust their reviews, maybe some good and bad nights. Maybe coasting on laurels?
I was unimpressed the one time I went.. Celebrity chef, heavily touristed location - not good places to start.
I think you and I have had contrasting opinions on this restaurant a few times in the past, and I just feel like I need to voice my support for it again.
I didn't have either of the two dishes you mentioned; the one absolute miss dish I had was a meyer lemon monkfish dish that was beyond bitter and without any hint of the (what would have been) delectable monkfish.
I had so many other hits, however, that it was incredibly easy to forget it. White chocolate and wasabi dessert, beet gaspacho with mango puree and shredded crab, duck ravioli, calamari and soft shell crab tempura, pigeon and foie gras, and an incredibly simple passion fruit and coconut milk "cappucino" were so good, that I have to recommend it.
Granted, having just spent the year studying at a French culinary school, more classic restaurants tend to interest me less; more modern restaurants like Ze Kitchen just naturally pique my interest. That's not to say I haven't had some absolutely fantastic classic meals here. However, what I found at Ze Kitchen was incredibly well executed. I don't know what to attribute it to, as you seem incredibly knowledgeable (different night? different dish?), but I didn't find any of the underseasoned/overseasoned problems I tend to find most anywhere else.
Even comparing it to the restaurant next door, Les Bouquinistes, which is in the same price range, I would say Ze Kitchen trumps it handily. I also don’t agree with Michelin oftentimes, but compared with the other starred restaurants I’ve tried in Paris, I have to agree that Ze Kitchen Galerie easily deserves its one star.
It is quite interesting that ZKG is one of those resuarants that polarises opinion. I revisited based on comments like yours as I like to keep an open mind - after all restaurants do have off nights, and so do the patrons.
I wonder if one of the factors in this is the food heritage of the diner. We come from Sydney and loved chefs like Tetsuya Wakuda, Haru Inukai (a Robuchon protege) and Cheong Liew who pionerred the east/west fusion in Australia and have evolved it over the last 15 or so years. There the fusion tends to be based more around the use of Asian herbs and spices with western cooking techniques rather than the more citrus/fruit driven direction of ZKG. As a result the ZKG take jars with our paletes but meshes better with others who have a different food heritage.
A couple of recomendations. The first is in Brugge (OK nor France but close), there is a good restaurant here callled "Den Gouden Harynck" where we had a really good meal a few years ago, and where we felt the fusion of east/west worked well.
In Paris I think the cooking of Mathew Ong at "Fish" (rue du Seine) often gets overlooked. It is fresh, light and often involves interesting flavour combinations along the fusion route.
It certainly is interesting how Ze Kitchen polarises, and I'm glad you gave it a shot, even if you didn't end up liking it, just to be fair. It is certainly possible that the experience has a great deal to do with one's food heritage. For one, as I alluded to in my post, the fact that I had been to restaurant after restaurant offering more classic fare, it was much more interesting to eat somewhere where my friends and I weren't automatically critiquing every element. My last meal at La Ferrandaise comes to mind, where we certainly enjoyed ourselves, but every course came with an evaluation of how it was made and how it was good or could have been better. From my experience in Paris, Ze Kitchen seems to fill a fusion void that is somewhat lacking in the city. Outside of the grand restaurants, I find that most restaurants seem to stick to more classic flavor profiles. Definitely could just be what I found. And yes, Ze Kitchen is expensive for what it is- a bistro. Souphie is totally right on both those fronts.
Having said all that, I still (for the record), wholeheartedly recommend Ze Kitchen Galerie.
It's also interesting you mention those chefs from Australia because they do seem to draw from different cultures than Ze Kitchen. If I understand correctly, they come from Japanese (for the two former) and Chinese (for the latter) backgrounds. Ze Kitchen tends to focus much more on Thai/Vietnamese ingredients and certainly has a heavy hand with many of them. I can certainly understand how they could be jarring on the palate. In fact, I'd now be very curious to see what my Japanese mother would think of Ze Kitchen and it's use of ginger and lemongrass.
With your recommendation, I'd be curious to check out Fish. I had heard good things about it, and didn't realize that the cuisine was more along the lines of what I was looking for. When I check it out, I'll report back.
Boy, am I glad I read your post. I had ZKG at the top of my list for my next trip to Paris, and aside from trusting your taste given previous recommendations, your descriptions are enough to scare me off. I don't get the rabbit thing at all. And dousing the tuna in kumquat sauce seems to miss the point of raw tuna. Even tiny Chapel Hill has a wonderful fusion restaurant (it's a fairly popular way to eat here), so it doesn't make sense to go to Paris to have something that could end up tasting sub-par to me. Thanks so much for the review.
My opinion is that ZKG is a fusion bistrot, not a gastronomic restaurant or a fine dining experience. The ambiance definitely does not conrtadict my point. I think that recipes are interesting and smart, not great. Execution is average, with ingredients and cooking OK. The overwhelming impression is that it is a food that is original and requires little manpower to send. As I said, bistrot food of an unconventional type. Accordingly, I find the place ridiculously expensive -- it should be 40eur meals, not 80 eur meals. I hear that the tasting menu, that said, has better value.
As far as the Michelin is concerned, my only explanation is that they want to show that they're in and modern, that they don't stay on the platform when the train of modern cuisine leaves the station. No matter how much you appreciate creativity and fusion, the quality level of that restaurant is inconsistent witha first star.
When we ate there last October, the 3-course prix-fixe was 36 euros, and had the choice of the full menu. This was at lunch, but my understanding from their website is that this is offered at all times (am I mistaken?). Being particularly price-conscious with the exchange rate what it is, I felt it was excellent value relative to others in its price range. As much as I enjoyed it, I do agree with you that the Michelin star is surprising. I see this as a good, upscale modern bistro, not haute cuisine.
I was only given the ALC menu which has a €70 or €80 euro "discovery menu". The ALC has entrees at arround €18+, mains at €30+, and desserts at €11. It seemed all the other tables only were given this menu so I think the €36 menu is only lunch. I also had two unremarkable glasses of wine; a Picpoul at €5.60, and a Riesling €12.60. My bill (for one) was €66 for only two courses.
"Does anyone know if this is still the setup,"
Yes; the other day, the springtime lunch "menu" was still 35 €. As I've said before, I once ate there before the lunch menus had been printed up (there had been a power outage in the quartier) and they gave us the dinner menus which nearly led me to have a stroke on the spot. The prices are very different - it's a one star now, he deserves it.