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Selecting a 3 star Michelin Restaurant – How to Choose between Ledoyen, Le Meurice and L'Arpège

This is a lengthy post and I thank you for taking the time to read it!

I am following up to a separate thread that discussed selecting a 3 star Michelin restaurant in France (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/534285). I found that thread, along with several others, very useful. Those threads along with some other blogs I have read, particularly Souphie’s (http://www.julotlespinceaux.com/ ) have lead me to reduce the list of choices to Ledoyen, Le Meurice and L’Arpege at least for now.

A bit about us and our trip: This meal will be the centrepiece of our honeymoon which we will be taking to France in November (from about Nov 10/11-Nov 27). While we are doing reasonably well financially, we are not rich and neither of us makes 6 figures but we love food and try to do 1 or 2 great restaurants each year. So a meal such as this it is a significant expense for us and we always want to ensure that we do not regret a choice as it is not simply throw-away money.

A bit about our tastes: I am very open and adventurous to trying almost anything and will even eat, and sometimes like, food that I have not enjoyed previously. My fiancée is less like this. While she has some adventure, she is averse to mushrooms, foie gras (this I don’t get!), sweetbreads, legumes in general, olives, pickles, sea urchin and caviar (though she did like oyster and pearls at Per Se). We both have enjoyed great tasting/7-10 course meals together and Per Se was probably the best restaurant we have enjoyed. Because of my fiancée’s aversions we usually want a restaurant that will be flexible with us and Per Se was more than happy to change things around for her. In fact, the waiter said when discussing the menu that there are 30 people in the kitchen wanting to make her happy! We had one experience that was less accommodating (their solution to her aversion to the foie gras course of a 7 course meal was to serve the foie gras dish minus the foie gras and add nothing else (the charge for the meal stayed the same)).

How to get the information I need to choose: One of the issues I am facing is finding out what each restaurant charges and what I will be getting for it. While Le Meurice has their menus on their website along with the prices, there is nothing for Ledoyen and no prices for L’Arpege. Any suggestions as to what I would find there specifically in terms of the menu and cost. I realize I will not know what is exactly is on the menu but I am curious exactly how the menu will look. Some questions about Aperge and Ledoyen:

1) Will the choice be limited to a 3 course meal and the possibility of a cheese course as well? (I have read somewhere that Aperge is 360 Euro per person. Is a 3 course meal what I get for that?
)2) Are there many amuse bouche’s/unofficial mini courses/pre-desserts that come with the meals at Aperge or Ledoyen?
3) What are my choices at Ledoyen in general terms?

Ideally, I think I would like a meal similar in terms of pace to what I had a Per Se - 9 official courses along with 5-6 unofficial courses spread over 3.5-4 hours. The degustation meal at Le Meurice looks entice but I remain unsure. What do people think who have been to Le Meurice?

Souphie mentioned that the tasting menus are not necessarily the wisest bet as most restaurants don’t excel in that category. I guess I have a couple questions with regards to that.

1) Do any of the three restaurants that I have noted offer a good “degustation/tasting menu or 7-10 course meal.
2) Is there any other restaurant of the 3 star calibre I should consider, either in Paris or 2 hour train trip away, that would offer me that?
3) How open are they to changes, of the sort my future wife would want, as well as me wanting something off the ala carte menu (I have no problem if there is a reasonable extra charge for this)
4) Should I really just stop searching for a tasting meal and just go for a 3 course meal?

On the décor of the restaurants I am curious to know what they are like. Le Meurice looks spectacular. I have seen a few pictures of Ledoyen (at Souphie’s blog) and L’Arpege but I still wonder how spectacular they are in terms of the décor? Souphie describe Ledoyen as being really romantic and that is a consideration since it will be a honeymoon.

Are the 3 places I am thinking about consistent in terms of the food and service or are there wild swings in quality?

Questions of strategy:

1) What is the best day to go for dinner at one of these restaurants? Here I am interested in knowing when I am likely to get a reservation, when the kitchen will have all of its main players working, when they will not be totally over worked that their standards might slip? We are looking to go in November (preferably at the end of our trip (Thursday Nov 20-Wednesday November 27) Does anyone know if any restaurants will be closed then?

2) How should I go about booking my meal. Le Meurice and L’Aperge offer an online option – is that a good idea? Am I better to call, or have a francophone call on my behalf? When should I make the reservation – is now too soon?

3) I am Canadian. I have heard that many in Paris are not fond of my American friends. Should I try to find away of noting I am from Canada or this unlikely to make any difference?

4) Are the restaurants noted above photography friendly? In other words, will anyone mind if I am taking pictures of each course? (I promise share them here!)

A final note: Pierre Gagnaire interested me a great deal for the adventure it offers and I still could be convinced. However, I also read that meals swing from excellent to disaster. I must say that surprises me. While there were some courses at Per Se that were ok and certainly less inspired than others, the overall meal was great with moments of sublime perfection and the impression I have is that is the way it is most, if not all of the time. Are Gagnaire’s entire meals prone to disaster or just the odd course and is it true disasters or just particular plates that do not work as well as one might have hoped?

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  1. I can't speak for the other two places, but I'll tell you what I can about l'Arpege...
    The 360E dinner menu ar l'Arpege is 10 courses, as listed here: http://www.alain-passard.com/fr/19-di.... And there would some canapes to start.
    Lunch at l'Arpege, on the other hand, is 135E for 8 courses. Menu here: http://www.alain-passard.com/fr/18-de....
    A la carte options will be equally priced at lunch and dinner and are definitely worth exploring. Using the lunch tasting menu as a base and adding/substituting dishes from the a la carte choices is definitely my strongest piece of advice. You can put together one hell of a meal that way, and stay there all afternoon if you please. They will make a half-portion of anything on the menu to make it more conducive to fitting in to a longer tasting menu. This is definitely a multi-course, several hour experience.
    A few friends and I did this very thing back at the end of March, and we loved every minute. The staff was very open to changes in the menu based on what we felt like eating that day. You can read about it and see pictures here: http://www.alifewortheating.com/paris.... Crazy to think that we had all that food, plus champagne, plus wine for about 320E, still less than the starting price at dinner. Something to think about.
    It's a bit too early to make reservation at l'Arpege and I'd imagine that's the case with the others as well. Two months ahead is the max, I believe, unless you start looking at l'Astrance.
    The staff at l'Arpege won't mind one bit if you take pictures of every course. We certainly did and they were happy to help (holding the lobster platter so we could snap a photo before it was plated, etc).
    I've been to Per Se about 4 times now, and l'Arpege just once, but I'd say the service at the latter is just as great as (and I think a bit more natural than) the former.
    Oh, and lastly, don't worry about the Canadian thing. :
    )Congratulations to both of you. Enjoy!

    1. I also meant to ask is service included in the price at at each of these restaurants? If not, what is the % one would be expected to pay?

      tupac17616 thanks for your response. I went back and re-read your review of Arpège and enjoyed it immensely!

      cheers

      10 Replies
      1. re: medicinejar

        At both Arpege and Ledoyen, they are very, very accommodating. You can construct your own tasting menu from the a la carte menu. In fact, we ordered a la carte, with a great deal of help from the staff and did splits - one for two.

        I would not do Pierre Gagnaire - it can be a huge roller coaster ride.

        More photos for you to look at here:

        http://lizziee.wordpress.com/category...

        http://lizziee.wordpress.com/category...

        1. re: lizziee

          Medicinejar,
          Service is definitely included in the price at these restaurants. And a much more general piece of advice -- listen to lizziee, and to souphie if he chimes in. They both really know their stuff.

          Liz,
          You're affecting my productivity at work these days! I've been spending literally hours looking through both old and new content on your site. I'm a long-time reader but the new format has me literally hooked. Thanks for always sharing your many dining adventures.

          1. re: tupac17616

            tupac - many thanks. Please pm me on my site.

            1. re: lizziee

              Ledoyen is probably the most underrated of all the parisien three star restaurants. They offer a tasting menu matched with wines that is superb. They are also extremely generous with the wines, including a different one with each piece of cheese. The tasting menu with wines is about 280ish Euros. I have had four wonerful meals at L'arpege and is a must whenever i go to Paris.
              As good as the service is at Per Se, (perhaps the best in New York), nothing compare to the service at L'arpege, or the other temples of fine dining in Paris.
              Arpege is perhaps my favorite restaurant in Paris

              1. re: lizziee

                Lizziee 2 quick questions for you. I read your two reviews of Arpege at your site (BTW, great site!). I noticed in the 2007 review you wrote: "If I ignore the entire question of value and just focus on the food, there is no doubt that Arpege is a unique experience." So focussing on value, do you happen to know what the 7-10 course menu costs at Ledoyen (I believe at Arpege its around 360)? How would you compare the value of what you get at Ledoyen vs L'Arpège?

                Thanks to both you and Tupac for your responses and suggestions.... much appreciated!

                1. re: medicinejar

                  Unfortunately, no matter where you go, you are going to be "killed" by the exchange rate. Our total bill at Ledoyen was 787 euros; food alone was 551 euros. Arpege's total bill was 732 euros; food alone was 497 euros. Remember, we did splits on everything and there was plenty of food.

                  One place that is outside of Paris and is now about a 2 hour TGV train ride away, plus a 30 minute drive is L'Arnsbourg in Baerenthal. It is an absolutely magical place. Tasting menu was 280 euros for both of us - an absolute bargain when you look at the photos and see the amount of food. Also, the cake was a gift from the chef for my birthday.

                  See here:
                  http://lizziee.wordpress.com/category...

                  1. re: lizziee

                    That restaurant looks amazing and we will certainly consider it. Do you know a site/ or could suggest how to find one on renting a car at or near the train station to get there?)

                    I am going to think about that restaurant but I am also thinking what someone said in another thread: You should try a grand meal in Paris once. So if I can ask just a couple of more questions about Ledoyen and Arpege.

                    Do you by chance know what the cost, or about what it is, of the multi course meal/degustation menu is at Ledoyen? In your opinion is it worth it?

                    The cost of the tasting at Arpege is about 360 Euro as I understand it. How would you compare Arpege vs. Ledoyen in terms of what you get for a tasting/multi course meal, or in what your best guess is? I know Souphie as said the Arpege is among the unofficial 4 star restaurants and I am trying to decide whether to take the expensive plunge.

                    Lastly, I know you mentioned getting half courses. Are you able to do this at dinner time?

                    Thanks Lizziee for all of your help!

                    Cheers

                    1. re: medicinejar

                      Both were dinners and I highly recommend the splits. Actually, it depends what is on the tasting menu and if the dishes appeal to you. The one time we went with the cheaper anniversary meal at Arpege, I added in the lobster and was very happy I did. The service at both restaurants were extraordinary and they are more than happy to steer you in the right direction. Helen at Arpege and Frederick at Ledoyen basically orchestrated our dinners. Also, Guy Savoy has a very affordable lunch deal that you can get through the internet. Savoy has more drama than either Ledoyen or Arpege. Savoy's foie was not nearly the equal of Arpege's, but there were some stunning dishes.

                      From the internet:

                      The restaurant GUY SAVOY offers each day an exclusive tasting menu at lunch for guests who wish to discover the delights of a French gourmet restaurant.

                      From our entire menu guests can choose a half entrée, one main dish, and half-desert, for the price of 100 €. Our expert sommelier will propose wines by the glass starting from 10 €.

                      This special is only offered to web surfers!

                      Food pics of Savoy here:
                      http://lizziee.wordpress.com/category...

                      If you do go to l'Arnsbourg, the TGV has a car rental place at the station. You definitely want to spend the night and from what I understand, they serve a wonderful breakfast.

                      Why not do both Ledoyen and Arpege and Savoy for lunch.

                      1. re: lizziee

                        I think we will be taking your advice and going to L'Arnsbourgh for dinner and to spend the night and breakfast. It should be fun.

                        We are probably leaning to Savoy which sounds like the best deal. I was really struck by the pictures of the room for Le Meurice but from what I have read elsewhere on here, the lunch is not the greatest deal and you might even be hungry and need a full dinner. I get the impression that Savoy will fill us up and we can probably have either just a snack, or something quite small for dinner.

                        Any advice as to what days of the week are best to go? I have found at some high end restaurants in the States that Tuesday and Wednesday are often nice times to go as 1) its easier to get a reservation and 2) the place is not as insane.

                        Cheers and thanks for you suggestions! Very helpful.... now I get 4 months of anticipation!

                        1. re: medicinejar

                          Since these restaurants are all one sitting only restaurants, you will find they are usually full regardless of the day of the week or time of year. I haave had lunch at Guy Savoy twice and the restaurant was full. You will not find the hustle and bustle that are common in restaurants in the states at any of the three star restaurants in Paris.

        2. It looks as if you have lots of sound advice here already. I would summarise my thoughts on this by saying that all three are outstanding restaurants, and whichever you choose there is no "bad" choice here. Arpege is more expensive than the other two by some margin, and has the least attractive dinign room of the three, so I would choose between Meurice and Ledoyen. Meurice has a beautiful belle epoque dining room, Ledoyen an attractive leafy setting, each of which may appeal. I would say that on the food, while both are near perfect technically, Ledoyen had the more exciting desserts. Talking to a friend who regularly goes to both places, I would suggest Ledoyen may just have the edge. For reviews see:

          www.andyhayler.com

          1 Reply
          1. re: wyahaw

            L'Arpège is more expensive because it is better, it is that simple. Vegetable come with the hi-speed train twice a day from their own garden and have never been in a fridge when they are served. The skills and attention brought to every plate is higher. And, unlike palace restaurants, they need to make a profit. This all comes to a price. If it was for me -- if it was not for your picky fiancé, l'Arpège would definitely be my choice in your list. Even so, this might be the right call.

            The room at le Meurice, as you see from pictures, is nothing Belle Epoque but Grand Siècle, actually directly inpired from the Versailles castle. Ledoyen has a metal frame, and is incredibly romantic indeed, inside the parc while on the Champs Elysées.

            As far as price information is concerned, as well as opening days, just check www.viamichelin.com

          2. No offence but I wouldn't want to be around when you're buying a house.
            You're going to a restaurant run by human beings so things will vary from one day to the other.
            You have picked three fine places so just relax, go and enjoy and I am sure you'll have a good time!
            If you feel you haven't had a "top-class" or "amazing" meal then just call it an experience.

            9 Replies
            1. re: papillon0970

              Thread revival: rather than create a new thread, I wanted to add on to this very helpful one, since my question is so similar and it has a lot of good information on it.

              Like the original poster, I am looking to have a single tasting menu meal at a 3-star restaurant in Paris. I know that all the places discussed above are very good.

              My question is, which restaurants have a tasting menu for lunch, and which of the restaurants have a standard 3-course lunch?

              Like the original poster, I would like a tasting menu, but given the sinking dollar and my own preferences, I would prefer that this meal occur duing the day. I do not want to figure out shares from the a la carte menu, however.

              Does anyone know which of the following restaurants normally do a tasting menu during the day: Arpege, Ledoyen, L'Astrance, Le Cinq? I could be convinced to go elsewhere if none of them do.

              1. re: brownhound

                Prices vary dramatically, but all offer a tasting lunch menu. Le Cinq 78€, L'Arpege 135€, Astrance 120€, and Ledoyen 88€. Investigate the internet special at Guy Savoy at 100€.

                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                  Thanks DCM.

                  Based on the description on the Savoy website, the Savoy menu appears to not be a tasting menu, but a 3-course selection. Reviews on Simon Baker suggest the same for Ledoyen and Le Cinq.

                  Of course, I trust first-hand knowledge here a bit more.

                  1. re: brownhound

                    At GS you choose off the regular menu for 3 courses, At Ledoyen and Le Cinq you have 2 choices for each course plus a bunch of 'extras' regardless of choices; Believe same at Arpege. Do not understand why you would prefer no choice,please explain.

                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      It's not a matter of fewer choices, as with Medicinejar in the original post, I would like a longer leisurely meal of, say, 7 courses. That's one reason I am adding on to his thread that describes an interest very similar to my own.

                      In the US, it's common to get 3 courses with a handful of extras thrown in (e.g., 2 amuse buches, cookies with coffee), but that's not the same as a menu with a full 7 courses that are a bit more complex and interesting than an amuse buche -- i.e., something you can pair with a glass of wine.

                      From the descriptions of L'Astrance and Arpege, it sounded more like a full set of smaller courses, but things could be getting lost in translation.

                      1. re: brownhound

                        All top restaurants offer tasting menu for lunch. Le Cinq does not present you with it at lunch time (they only give you the ALC menu and the 78 and the 135 or so) but they'll make it if you ask.

                        Well, l'Ambroisie does not offer tasting menu, because they have no prixfixe whatsoever. Ducasse's tasting is not really a tasting because it tend to have two or three course + dessert. Same for Ledoyen's tasting.

                        At the same time, except for l'Ambroisie, you will be served seven to eight plates even with the three course lunch menu, counting all the little extras. With DCM at le Cinq last week we tasted, let me count, nine things before dessert. Maybe we got preferential treatment, though.

                        L'Arpège and Gagnaire will be the champs for the number of plates you'll get in the tasting menu. At l'Arpège in particular, they keep going until you call uncle.

                        1. re: souphie

                          While l'Ambroisie does not offer a tasting menu, they are still somewhat flexible; when I was there a couple of weeks ago, the maitre d' handed me the menu, but before I even looked at it we just discussed the day's arrivals from the market and decided on three courses + dessert and extras, making the courses smaller than normal. So I ended up with velouté de romaine, langoustines, sole in parmesan crust, fried foie gras, cheese, millefeuille au caramel, and sweets with coffee--7 different items, more than adequate quantity, and all delicious!

                      2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                        Just to clarify one thing, l'Arpege lunch menu is a real tasting menu (7 or 8 courses, mostly from the veggie part of the menu) with no choice. It's also more expensive, as you said a bit earlier.
                        See their website: http://www.alain-passard.com

                        1. re: olivierb

                          Went to Le Cinq for dinner, l'Arpege for lunch, Guy Savoy for dinner a couple months ago. They are unique and offer different advantages based on personal preferences.

                          Blog posts with bunch of pictures that will give you a sense of each place
                          http://www.foodnut.com/tag/paris/