My year in France - Paris part 1 (Chateaubriand, Spring, Frenchie, Septime, Rino, L'Ami Jean & others)
I will be typing up all the reviews of my most notable dining experiences in France over the past year for those of you who are interested. My scoring system is completely subjective but in general: 4 = average, 5 = good, 6 = very good, 7 = impressive, 8 = very impressive, 9 = outstanding, 10 would be a flawless meal, of which there are none unfortunately. Note that when I list the dishes I ate, a semi-colon (;) indicates the end of a course. I am concentrating primarily on the food aspect of the meal, as opposed to wine.
I found this to be a enjoyable restaurant with a good atmosphere, if a little hectic and disorganised. I advise that you don’t take it too seriously, I would describe it more as an experience rather than a satisfying meal. The food was interesting and fun, but a little strange at times. There were some unusual flavour and texture combinations, some of which were more successful than others. The central piece of meat/fish was always cooked well, but the garnishes may not be to everybody’s taste (e.g. raw fruit and vegetables in savory courses and herbs in sweet courses). 5/10
[amuse bouche: parmesan puff, ceviche shot, duck heart rolled in spices, deep fried shrimp, bouillabaisse; octopus, white radish, ink, frozen raspberries; sea bass, raw mushrooms, cockles, pickled cucumber; lamb fillet with belly, kidney and brain, watercress, onion, burnt leek; dessert selection: frozen fermented milk with salted hazelnut caramel and herbs, chocolate mousse with beetroot and seeds, pineapple coated in fennel and mint]
This is a nice restaurant, if a little overpriced for what you actually get. Whilst cooked and presented well, I found the dishes in the no-choice tasting menu to be somewhat unimaginative (e.g. teaming scallops and apple, or venison with beetroot). There weren’t any dishes that made me think that this is an outstanding restaurant worthy of high praise. Regrettably I never tried the ‘old’ Spring for comparison. I also found the desserts to be overly simple (I like simple food, but frozen yoghurt with chocolate shavings is perhaps too simple). Not the innovative cooking I was expecting but a solid meal and a welcoming and friendly atmosphere.
[amuse bouche: raw radish, jamon iberico, curried chicken broth, crème fraiche with caviar and Roquefort shavings; scallops with shredded ham, grated granny smith apple, buckwheat crisp, butter and cider sauce; sea bass, oyster, seared cabbage, vinaigrette; venison, beetroot, girolles, watercress, red wine reduction; cheese selection; selection: pear rolled in nougatine with soft white cheese, frozen yoghurt with chocolate shavings, hazelnut cream with whipped cream, hazelnut crisps and clementine jelly; petit fours: lemon pie and walnut caramel]
This meal was fine, although I do not really feel the restaurant is worthy of the extraordinary hype surrounding it. I cannot understand why it would be so difficult to get a table here. I found the waiting staff to be rather unengaged (e.g. not describing the dish when it was placed on the table). The food was simple and good and the cooking competent, although both the bread and the pastry on my dessert were slightly burnt. Perhaps the oven was on too high. The head chef did not appear to be particularly involved with the cooking going on behind him. Bizarrely, there were a number of empty tables on a Saturday night.
[salted foie gras, poached pear and syrup, quince, toasted bread; baked pappardelle pasta with beef ragu, creamy white sauce, parsnip, swish chard and cubes of spiced marinated beetroot; roast wild duck with confit leg and cooking jus, compressed celery root, celery root puree, kumquat puree, aniseed and fresh herbs; tarte au chocolate with cream and diced bacon, caramel and passion fruit sauce]
This was one of my favourite meals in Paris. The five course menu flowed very well. A lot of thought had clearly been put into the menu’s composition and there was something very ‘Autumny’ about it (I visited during Autumn). It also provided me with one of my favourite dishes during my stay in Paris: baked potato gnocchi with parmesan, a butternut squash veloute and toasted walnts. This was a wonderful and comforting dish. I particularly liked the main and dessert, which were essentially refined versions of what I would each for Sunday lunch when I was a boy (roast chicken and apple crumble!). The wait staff spent time explaining the food and wine and I liked the open plan kitchen.
[raw scallop, sea urchin, diced clementine and grapefruit foam; baked potato gnocchi with parmesan shavings, butternut squash veloute and toasted walnuts; cod with green mustard, grilled spring onion, celery and cabbage; roast breast of volaille with cooking jus, roast Jerusalem artichoke, Chinese artichoke, thinly sliced artichoke, carrots and artichoke veloute; ‘apple crumble’: caramelised diced apple, caramel, apple puree, crumble and thyme ice cream]
This restaurant was fine, but again a little overpriced for what you get. One dish in particular was memorable: a ravioli of pecorino cheese with petit pois, lime and coriander. Very fresh and ‘Springy’ (I visited during Spring). The second dessert dish however was poor, involving a few misguided elements. I don’t know whose idea this was, and why the chef let it leave the kitchen. A solid meal nonetheless. The restaurant itself is rather cramped and the interior dull, but staff were very friendly and welcoming.
[tortellini of smoked fish with radish, porcini mushrooms, consommé, and cooked foie gras; monkfish with white asparagus and pine nut sauce; ravioli of pecorino cheese, petit pois, lime and coriander; pigeon breast and leg with cherries, fava beans, mange tout, mustard leaves; baba au rhum with diced strawberries, rhubarb, ricotta sorbet and rum; cashew nut ice cream with crushed cookie, fromage frais, satsuma, grapefruit and endive]
Chez L’Ami Jean 6/10
A hyped-up restaurant that does appear to live up to the hype. I went a la carte to avoid what I presumed to be the tourist menu being produced on a conveyor belt for the camera wielding maniacs surrounding me. My wild boar (during game season) was outstanding although at around €50 I felt it was a little overpriced. The infamous rice pudding was also rich and comforting. This is one restaurant that does exceptionally well to live up to the hype. As others have recommended, I suggest going with the specials, which will reflect the seasons.
[wild boar with herb butter, roast foie gras, wild boar lardons, cooking juices with diced ceps, pomme puree; rice pudding with vanilla, crème caramel, caramelised nuts and mini meringues]
Table D’Eugene 5/10
This is a nice restaurant and a good way to see another side of Paris for dinner. It appears to be the most highly recommended restaurant in Montmartre. The meal was good and staff were polite. A solid and good value meal.
[foie gras with madeira jelly, pear chutney and toasted bread; roast pigeon breast with almond crust, confit leg, cooked foie gras, cepe puree, enoki mushrooms, coconut foam and caramel; ‘Mont Blanc’: meringue, chantilly cream and chestnut puree with crumble, raisins and rum ice cream]
Fines Gueles 4/10
This is a nice place for a glass of wine and a light meal. The burrata dish and the steak tartare were both very good, in fact two of my favourite dishes in Paris, although dessert was highly disappointing and appeared to have been bought in and heated in a microwave.
[mozzarella and creamy burrata with crushed toasted almonds, San Daniele ham and olive oil; steak tartare with basil, parmesan and sun dried tomato, potatoes and salad; tarte tatin aux pommes with double cream]
Verre Volé 4/10
This place was fine, although I advise you ask to be seated in the ‘upstairs’ section, rather than ‘downstairs’, which is cramped even by Paris standards and does not have the charm of the ‘upstairs’ area with its wine racks on the walls. Food was unremarkable but satisfactory. My dessert confirmed for me that I do not enjoy French cheesecake.
[razor clams served in shell with sun dried tomatoes and coriander; escabeche of quail with walnuts, figs and black peppercorns; grilled black pudding with mashed potato; stewed rabbit with Chinese artichokes and pied blue mushrooms; baked lemon and ginger cheesecake]
Le Gaigne 4/10
I was rather disappointed by this restaurant. The food was very average. A partridge pie to start tasted like it could have been bought from a local pub in the UK, and a chewy breast of duck for main was rather poor and totally overpowered by the taste of juniper berries. Dessert was better, probably because it had been pre-prepared. I looked into the kitchen to see one chef alone trying to service a packed restaurant. Perhaps he had an off night as other reviews suggest this is a good restaurant.
[shot of cep velouté; partridge pie with cabbage and smoked bacon; breast of duckling roasted with juniper berry spice, red wine confit leg, root vegetables; mille feuille with diced pineapple flambéed in rum, whipped cream, coconut shavings]
This appears to be a pretty safe bet for tourists. I cannot fault its simple but enjoyable formula. Food that has clearly been pre-prepared is simply heated up in the kitchen. The soup starter and beef stew main were hearty and delicious. The bistro interior is also pleasant and the owner warm and welcoming. Very touristy, but so what. Good honest food and a nice atmosphere.
[leek and potato soup with bacon, leek, burnt onion, croutons, crème fraiche and chive; slow cooked beef stew with red wine, potatoes, carrots and mange tout; fig and blue cheese; pineapple pannacotta with diced pineapple and caramel foam]
Paul Bert 4/10
This meal was somewhat disappointing. Ordinary steak frites and an overly-eggy soufflé. Service was not particularly friendly either.
[fillet of beef with Sarawak pepper, béarnaise sauce and French fries; Grand Marnier soufflé]
Le Severo 5/10
A rather cold reception, don’t expect to be greeted with a smile. The meat was high quality and the fries were very tasty. Dessert was simple and presumably bought-in. I enjoyed seeing a young loudmouth sitting at the opposite table being told that he could not have tomato ketchup for his steak by the owner (although admittedly I did think it could have done with just a touch of sauce, but not ketchup).
[cote de boeuf with fries; crème caramel]
IMO, I don't like you rating numbers; a quick glance makes it look you really disliked all your meals.
5/10 should not be considered good, at best should be "passable"
and 6/10 for an outstanding dish ( Chez l'ami jean) seems quite reactionary. (and what looks to be a good meal altogether).
Thank you all for the comments and feedback.
Maximilien, I know what you mean, but how does one then distinguish between restaurants in the Ami Jean category and those in the Leodyen category? It is difficult to grade two such restaurants on the same scale as they are in different leagues, but one has to do so for the sake of comparison. The grading system is roughly in line with the UK Good Food guide (which in turn is in line with perhaps the world's best food blogger Andy Hayler, who in fact states that a 1 out of 10 mark is perfectably acceptable. The assumption is that anything below that would not even be worth rating). Cheers.
A good restaurant is a good restaurant whatever its "class", a small bistro can get a 8/10 rating, and a 3* michelin restaurant can have a 8/10 rating; but the expectation othe the 3* will be a lot higher than the simple neightbour bistro.
It does not mean the bistro is as good as the 3*, but that it is very good in its own "class" and will be better than the same kind of bistro that has been rated to 6/10.
One the other hand, a 3* michelin restaurant with a 5/10 or 6/10 rating will be much more criticized than a bistro getting a 6/10 rating (it goes with our expectation of the restaurant).
(random number) An analogy, some camera reviews web site will rate the new nikon D800 75% while they will rate the pentax k5 77%; it does not mean that the pentax is better than the D800, but in their _own classes_ they both get that rating and should be compared to cameras in their _own classes_ (for example the new canon 5d vs the d800, or the nikon 7000 vs. the k5).
BTW, thanks for the write-up... one should always read the text and not just look at the number.
Interesting points being made in response to this thread: rating restaurants of the same class, rating a restaurant in terms of how well it succeeds in terms of its goals, rating a restaurant in terms of personal preference.
Once again, precise description trumps the most measured evaluation, IMHO.
I am grateful that for your first input to Chowhound, you write out such detailed reviews to benefit all. You are the opposite of the teeming masses who ask all kinds of questions and never write back. I wish all hounds were like you.
My fave grading system is that of the French site linternaute.
After writing a short paragraph, the reviewer gives one to 5 stars to
But I understand this is too much to ask from hounds.
For example, the following is the linternaute review on Septîme. I don't always agree with the reviews, but I think that reading several such reviews with the 5-point grading system, I get a good idea about what I am getting into re a restaurant I have not tried and want to.
Your scale is just fine. IMO most numeric systems fail for not having enough separation at the top. Yours does not.
I also like them because they pretty closely parallel mine where they intersect
What I would also like to see are the ratings that were lower; even without comment. In a year I suspect you ate at many other places. The "not discussed" places can be of great interest especially if they represent solid value when expectations are realistic.
I am disappointed to say that I did not visit many other notable restaurants during my year in France. This was due to a combination of living alone in Paris, not making many friends that enjoyed dining out and working very hard at my job. I tended to wait until my girlfriend, or other friends and family, visited me; then I would go to a restaurant of my choice. I also consciously put money away so I could visit the likes of Ledoyen and Le Cinq, and therefore sacrificed eating out more often for this purpose.
Perhaps it is worth posting the review below for anyone thinking of visiting the Loire Valley, but I don't have any more for France. Sorry.
Auberge du Bon Labourer, Chenonceaux 4/10
This meal was rather disappointing, and for me confirmed my distrust of the Michelin star system. The restaurant has one Michelin star, but when I compare the food to, say, the Kitchin in Edinburgh, or Chez Bruce in London (both of which also have one Michelin star), the dishes were vastly inferior. I suspect the food served at this restaurant has not changed in many years. It was old-fashioned cuisine, and everything that’s bad about French gastronomy: heavy sauces, fatty meat, and old-school presentation, desperately trying to be modern.
In hindsight I should have sent the shoulder of lamb back to the kitchen, with there being more fat on the plate than meat. A garnish of diced potatos and carrots was rather amateur. The dessert was average, in that it presented the most basic of sweet ingredients (e.g. chocolate, caramel, vanilla) in various shapes and textures, and that was it. Perhaps this would have impressed diners in the 70s, but in 2012 it seemed rather dull. Quite a pleasant dining room with an older clientele who perhaps eat there to reminisce about the 70s.
[broccoli velouté, shrimps, shrimp jelly, diced carrot; cream of mushroom veloute with milk foam, salad of chestnuts and walnuts and cured beef; confit shoulder of lamb, diced carrot and potato, baked garlic sauce; baked ferme d’auberne cheese with diced pear and apricot, roquefort sorbet and toasted bread; vanilla pannacotta with diced pear; vanilla, caramel and chocolate mousse, chocolate biscuit, vanilla cream in wafer, coconut ice cream, mint tea]