I've been lurking here for a while and have decided its time to get off my derriere and post on a few of our recent dining experiences throughout France.
So, there ought be a button that the waiting staff can press, that basically sends a client down a chute to the nearest Starbucks when they are just wrong or ‘outa’ line. Eric Briffard is cooking food and is backed up by a front of house team that will fast track their 2 Michelin stars to 3, I’ll bet my left macaroon on it, but as we settled in for a delightfully long lunch a nearby diner was drinking a red bull….push the button and off to Starbucks for you young lady. The chute may have also been employed on a deeply tanned American gent wearing sneakers and possessing a phone that rang incessantly with an annoying ringtone that was so loud it sounded like it was amplified through a Marshall stack that ‘Led Zep’ may have used in the 1970’s.
This place is posh, it’s the up-market dining room in the Four Seasons hotel and it just reeks of money and class. The service is warm, inviting and sets a couple of plebs like us at ease immediately. We took in a delightfully refreshing glass of 1999 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne whilst a bowl of fried calamari and prawns were placed on the table and some citrus oil sprayed over the top. The creaminess of the Champagne matched the sweet succulent flesh of the just cooked seafood perfectly and mineral notes on the finish worked with the saline seasoning. The selection of house bread was quite triumphant with a choice of brilliantly fresh Sicilian oil, standard butter and butter that had had seaweed churned through (tasted a bit like sardines).
We generally opt for the degustation menu at top end joints but decided a la carte may have been the way to go here. A bottle of 2004 Raveneau Chablis ‘Valmur’ was reasonably priced at 140 Euros and was absolutely singing. It has some cooler, green notes of fennel bulb and white flowers and was quite creamy in the mouth yet had the piercing mineral drive of both vineyard and vintage. Our sommelier brought out a sneaky little option that was ripe, creamy and relatively low in acid yet crammed full of minerals. It was rather simple next to and was totally blown away by the 04 Valmur, it happened to be the 2006 Raveneau Chablis ‘Clos’ out of magnum.
Complimentary amuse bouche consisted of fresh broad beans en gelee on a savoury biscuit, a morsel of eel that was coated in horseradish cream and had lime rind shaved on top and was sprinkled with black sesame (an outrageously good thing) and a bowl of foie gras topped with a pink grapefruit foam.
For entrée Heidi had a brilliant plate of colour in a combination of fresh white asparagus tips, a cross section of morilles that were stuffed with something green that we have no ****ing idea what it was, slices of baby carrots, flowers, radishes and some lovely dollops of vegetable emulsion. We were in raptures at how light the dish was and then part deux arrived, bouillon de morilles au foie gras…incredibly good but a little less light than part une. My ‘Ventreche de Thon Rouge de Mediterranee’ was also in two parts. The belly tuna was beautifully prepared, wrapped in seaweed and fried in a light tempura batter. Accompanying pickled vegetables were superb. The second part was an ice cold dome stack of tuna sashimi with a little black caviar on top, resting on a green apple gelee…yummo!.
We had a red on the go to accompany anything that may require aged red Burg. The 1990 Jean-Marc Boillot Volnay ‘Carelle Sous Chapelle’ is a good but not great wine, showing plenty of leathery development. It has some roasted fruit notes along with decaying leaves, coffee and earth on the nose. In the mouth it is relatively full, sweet and generous and it has good length of flavour. It was very good with Heidi’s ‘Cochon Basque des Aldudes’. This was perfectly teriyaki-grilled pork with the most wonderful shitake mushroom jus bursting with savoury goodness that the Japanese would term umami. The accompanying baby vegetables were excellent and Monsieur Briffard’s early training with Joel Robuchon is evident in the way he has learnt to pass mashed potatoes through a sieve with more butter than potato in the mix. My ‘Poulette de Bresse Mieral’ was just about best chicken of life. The flavour of the chook was incredibly intense and it had been baked en cocotte with vanilla and verbena. It was ok with the red but absolutely stepped up a gear with the Valmur.
Our waiter was an engaging chap, who took time to explain each dish and ensure that everything was perfect. We started conversing in our terrible ‘Franglaise’ but eventually settled on using his very good English so when he brought out a sorbet, pronounced to be ‘cheap cheese’ we were a bit miffed. I pulled out a ‘Repetez sil vous plait’ and ‘cheap cheese’ was what seemed to be emitting from his mouth. I then asked ‘why if you have so many great ingredients do you need to use ‘cheap cheese’ and do you just go down to the supermarket to buy it? It was at this juncture we realised it was ‘Sheep’s cheese’ sorbet and it was splendid. The actual cheese trolley here is a little beauty with highlights being a perfectly ripe piece of Beaufort and some wonderfully creamy Gorgonzola.
Desserts here are incredible and I can’t even begin to describe my ‘Omelette Norvegienne’ suffice to say that it was a pile of citrussy goodness. Heidi’s ‘Fraises d’Un Jardin de Provence’ was fabulous. There was heart of sorbet that was made from fromage blanc around which adorned fennel cream and the most delightful strawberries were studded.
What you don’t need at the end of such a meal is more bite sized desserts so as the ‘Mignardises’ cart came around we shooed it off like unwanted chicken’s feet at a yum cha gathering.
Le Cinq is expensive but it is quite brilliant. Briffard’s food is relatively light with definite Japanese influence yet intense, complex and cerebral. There are some who believe Eric Briffard is cooking the best food in Paris, based on the experience we had, we probably can’t disagree!
As we will be lunching at Le Cinq in September your excellent report has made us very excited.
It also made me think of a dinner in Tuscany where the waiter kept talking about Bistecca Fiorentina that we had ordered and the "white coals". Yes we knew it could be cooked on coals, but white coals? Then we realised that he was talking about the "white cows" which of course are the source of those fabulous steaks.
Interesting comment on the Japanese influence, we enjoyed a very good meal here approx 3 years ago and there was a Japanese theme in one dish but it wasn't well executed. It sounds like he has honed the technique. It is definately on trend in Europe at the moment to head east (we saw lots of it at El Bulli), an interesting contrast to Australia that seems to have moved on from the Japanese influence and has now gone French/Spanish.
Great report - love all the others as well - good to hear Le Conq is still delivering.
Not quite what I meant. Approx 10 years ago most top chefs in Aus (Perry et al) lent towards Japan with lots of influences - the mod Aus fusion trend. Now they lean towards France/Spain. Think of all the top restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne and the new openings in the mid market (Gastro Park, Distrcy Dining, Felix, Ad Lib, Cotton Duck, and Duke are good example in Sydney). That contrasts to France/Europe where I see the Japan (and China) trend is still gathering momentum with more and more eastern influences on the menus in Paris.
But I do agree classic and modern Japanese are still very strong