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Thoughts on Restaurant Helene Darroze?

Hi,

I'm traveling to Paris with my husband in the next couple weeks (i.e., mid Sept/early Oct), and we've already come up with a few restaurants that we're planning to make reservations for:

- Le Cinq
- Les Fines Gueules
- Aux Lyonais
- Les Papilles
- Josephine "Chez Dumonet"
- L'Atelier de Joel Rubochon
- Le Dome
- Au Petit Margueray
- Cristal Room Baccarat

I came up with this list after weeks of random research, so I forget exactly why each place made the cut... A number of these restaurants have been blogged about extensively in this board, but if any new (and/or old) bloggers have any additional comments on the restaurants listed, we'd love to hear from you--esp. if your last visit was within the recent months! (This board has been SUPER helpful, btw; I'm adding Guy Savoy to this list, after reading so many positive reviews here!)

Also, I recently heard about Restaurant Helene Darroze from Gwyeneth Paltrow's blog, GOOP. Any thoughts on this restaurant? I like the place already in theory, given how Helene's a female chef running a 2-star restaurant, but I haven't read much else about her...such as what to order, whether she's worth the trip, if prices are reasonable, etc.

Finally, can anyone recommend a restaurant in or near Montmartre for dinner? We plan to end one of our sightseeing days near the Basilica Sacre-Coeur, and haven't yet come up with any dining options. We don't mind taking a subway there, so long as it isn't too far...

Though we've mixed in a few suit-worthy experiences, my husband and I are pretty laid back and, for the most part, are looking for a 'local' experience...and we hope to taste the one or two key dishes for which a particular place is renowned.

Any tips or advice would be most welcome. Thanks very much! -- Marce

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  1. I ate there approx. 3 years ago so it may have changed. At the time Helene was being touted as a "the" hot chef, we thought the meal was lackluster, the service was quite poor, and we didn't like the attitude (we were residents of Paris at the time so this was extreme for us to notice), worryingly we have no memory of the food apart from the enormous petit fours cart....!

    Interestingly her London restaurant gained rave reviews when it opened 18 months ago, but is rumoured to be struggling to attract punters. Other London restaurants, despite the credit crunch, are still full so read into that what you wish.

    1. I haven't eaten there, but I have never heard anything positive about the food or service from those who have. I've often wondered who keeps this place in business: I guess it's Gwyneth Paltrow.

      1 Reply
      1. re: rswatkins

        She and Alain Ducasse. At least she's cute.

      2. Thanks very much! I'm scratching it off my list!

        How about suggestions for dining in Montmarte?

        5 Replies
        1. re: mtjandra38

          Depends what you are after. Basically, there is probably nothing in Montmartre people would travel to but there are plenty of places to get an OK meal. So it depends how fussy you want to be that night. If location takes precedence over food, then just drop down the hill to around Place des Abbesses and grab something there. The top of the hill near sacre coeur is pretty poor, but it is pretty - the ice cream shop though is brilliant.

          1. re: mr_gimlet

            Antoine Heerah, formerly Le Chamarré in the 7th, now has two restaurants in Montmartre, of which some foodies think highly (haven't tried myself) http://www.chamarre-montmartre.com/

            This seems to be the top food in Montmartre now. La Table d'Eugène, further North also has an excellent reputation and when John Talbott is here he should tell you great things about the place.

            1. re: souphie

              My opinion (as Soup says) is that the Table d'Eugene is the best thing that ever happened to Montmartre, others like Chamarre Montmartre, I don't and I hate Heleme Darroze. Sorry I've been absent so long,.
              John Talbott
              http://johntalbottsparis.typepad.com/...

              1. re: John Talbott

                That's right. Where have you been?

                1. re: souphie

                  Eating fried clams on Long Island.

                  John Talbott
                  http://johntalbottsparis.typepad.com/...

        2. What sort of food does the La Table d'Eugene serve? It seems Le Petrelle is close by as well... Would you recommend La Table d'Eugene or Le Petrelle? I've not been to either.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mtjandra38

            That's very different. First le Pétrelle is only open for dinner, which may take care of your problem. La Table d'Eugène is a modern impeccable bistronomique, light and tight. Le Pétrelle (see my pics -- http://picasaweb.google.fr/ZeJulot/Le...) is a "bohemian place" with lots of room, little light, a cat and a dog, and a very simple cooking which to my taste is close to perfection -- it's just the same few seasonal vegetables with every dish, and some excellent piece of meat or fish. Also le Pétrelle has out of this world bottles of wines at prices that are incredible bargains (including some three digit numbers). I just wouldn't recommend le Pétrelle to people I don't know, but I do go with my wife when we have a date.

          2. From the way you describe it, I really like how intimate and down-to-earth Le Petrelle sounds... the family pets give it an extra touch! Thanks to everyone for helping me solve our problem! It may take awhile, but I promise to post my experiences after my trip! Thanks again...

            2 Replies
            1. re: mtjandra38

              The chef also really takes an interest in what you like and think.
              Although I must also stand up for the gang at La Table, most sympa.

              John Talbott
              http://johntalbottsparis.typepad.com/...

              1. re: John Talbott

                My wife and I ate at La Table d'Eugène while on our honeymoon in May. It was our first meal in Paris and it ended up being one of our favorite meals ofthe trip as the food was wonderful and the service was very charming. We loved the tiny restaurant and if we had our way we'd eat there again when we return in December (it'll be around Christmas and per the Michelin guide they will be closed).

            2. La Table's on my list for another trip!

              1 Reply
              1. re: mtjandra38

                I don't want to be accused of hyperbole, this is no second coming of Escoffier, as I said it's "the best thing that ever happened to Montmartre" - at least since Hector Berlioz was buried here, and for me a few blocks away. Is it worth a trip from the deepest 15th? Probably not.

                John Talbott
                http://johntalbottsparis.typepad.com/...

              2. I wasn't impressed either, just wanted to bump this thread up with an update. STILL not cool. Here's a review I wrote for TripAdvisor.

                I thought long and hard where I wanted to take my new fiancee after I proposed to her. I'd have loved to be able to afford a three star restaurant but couldn't. Helene Darroze's dining room looked to be my best option: two stars, excellent reputation, a commitment to locally grown produce and a website with a very relaxed, on-the-farm aesthetic, good praise from Chow Hound.

                Upon arriving at our hotel in France I asked if the employee working the reception could squeeze a reservation in. Our reservation was for 10:30, the only one they had. A little late, but completely fine. The proposal went great, and we were off.

                First (and this isn't a complaint so much as an observation): The dining room is without a doubt an extremely formal affair. Nothing like the homey quality on the website. I don't fault them for this, after all a website is just a website. I expected one thing got something else, it's totally fine.

                Upon arriving (my fiancee in a beautiful dress, me in suit and tie) we were at first treated professionally and respectfully, we speak virtually no French but I don't think that was held against us at all. Once everything was set in order though and our meals started coming, things started to go downhill.

                First, and I totally understand that this might be customary in French fine dining, the waitress informed us there was a supplementary truffle course. As soon as she did, another server brought the truffles on a bed of rice over to have us smell them. I'm sure they're wonderful truffles but it came off as a little bit of a gimmick and at the same time a little bit high-pressure. No, thanks. Other features that came off as gimmicks: a giant leg of ham on a cart that was chopped fresh at each person's table (it was kind of fun but was it necessary?) and an enormous cart of what appeared to be port wines, at least 50 of them (I could be wrong about what they were, I have no way of knowing because they were never brought to us, we were kind of thankful for that).

                Our dinner was an 8 course meal we expected to last us the night. It didn't. Instead the meal was around an hour and a half. I think this was because we had a 10:30 reservation, had I known we would be rushed like that I would have gone with a back up choice. Our first four courses were brought out to us two at a time with "directions" on what order to eat them - it made each dish less unique and defining and we felt rushed to finish our first plate before the second got cold. The wine pairing was just three glasses (two white, one red) which is was completely OK with except for the fact that the server/sommelier FORGOT to bring the second white out until the very very end of our fish course, right before our meat course and (obviously) the next red. For a restaurant with two stars (and a price tag to match) I'm sort of shocked by that kind of unprofessional behavior (and the lack of an apology either in English or French wasn't spectacular, either). Because the occasion was so special and we were in such a good mood we didn't say anything, but the more I look back on it the more I feel like I should have said something.

                Altogether, our chief complaint is that we were rushed. If 10:30 is too late of a reservation, that's fine, I just as soon would have gone somewhere else. It could be that I'm misreading French fine dining altogether, if so I'm sorry. But I think my opinion still stands as valid because I'm sure I'm not the first foreigner to eat at Helene Darroze, and certainly won't be the last.

                5 Replies
                1. re: virtual balboa

                  I fear you mis-qoute us on Trip Advisor if you think it was 'good praise from Chow Hound.' This thread, plus others are not at all positive.

                  Sorry you didn't have a perfect experience but it sounds like it wasn't too bad. Hopefully the positive memories will last and the rushed service will fade.

                  Observation on the speed: this looks like an "El Bulli" style of service, the first set of courses are quite small and they come out quickly, often in waves of dishes (El Bulli has approx 34 courses), once these "tastes" have been served the meal then slows and the dishes get a bit bigger. Looks like Helene is following the trend, but to give her credit the menu on the website could be read to imply that the 'four small tapas" are one course and would arrive together.

                  When I first experienced this style of service it annoyed me as well, but I have got used to it and once you understand the pace slows and you won't be out of the out in under an hour it can be quite good. However, I won't be surprised if one day I am unlucky enough to find a place that does...!

                  1. re: PhilD

                    Yeah, I guess you guys weren't unanimous at all, and if you were it was anti-Helene. Count me in now! I mean, it wasn't awful at all, some of the dishes were amazing! But just totally not worth the money paid (around $465 not including tip). It didn't ruin the night at all (I don't know what could have) and most of the staff were incredibly gracious and nice. But we went to Cinc Sentits in Barcelona and it was 100x better, more personable and half the price. And the portions were definitely not El Bulli size, these were like sizable bowls of risotto up next to a crowded plate of sea bass with greens and coriander sauce. There were people who were on their meat course when we got in, and by the end of the night we were both on the same dessert course. I can't say with 100% certainty but I think we got the two courses at once because they "squeezed us in" and wanted us out. And the lobster was rubbery! Honestly it seems more like this was a bad management decision than anything else, I by no means had my heart set on Helene and if a resto is booked for the night, it's booked. That's totally fine.

                    Thank for chiming in though!

                  2. re: virtual balboa

                    You could totally go three stars for the price of Hélène Darroze -- that's the reason I never go. How much did you pay?

                    1. re: souphie

                      I tried finding a place and couldn't! Ah well. It was just south of $500 after the tip.

                      1. re: virtual balboa

                        It is very common at the multi star restaurants to have a cart containing a nice array of armagnacs, congacs, calvados, port, etc. to offer for after dinner drinks. This is not a gimmick at all, very common. Also, Helene Darroze's family is one of the better known producers of armagnac in France so no surprise they might have cart full of that.

                        I have also seen a number of restaurants that have a whole leg of pig to cut silices of ham from. It will usually be a jamon pata negra or some similar highly regarded ham so the customers can see what they are getting. I do not consider this a gimmick either. Since Helene Darroze is from the sw of France, an area known for jambon de bayonne, maybe that is what she was displaying, do not know. Au Trou Gascon is another place that does this that immediately comes to mind.

                        As for the truffles, maybe that was a little unusual to show you the product before you made a decision. My guess they were just showing that if you took the special you would know you were getting good product. When I was at Rostang a couple of weeks ago they had a huge basket of black truffles on display, most of them the size of lemons or clementines, really impressive, they were showing people that ordered certain truffle dishes. I am not sure if they showed the product before or after the order.

                        I have not been to Darroze since 2002 when it was a one star. After she got star #2 prices exploded and like Souphie says, given what she charges you can eat just about anywhere for the same money so no reason to return.