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Jul 18, 2012 03:42 PM

My year in France - Paris part 2 (Ledoyen, Le Cinq, Pierre Gagnaire, L'Arpege)

Ledoyen 9/10
This was initially to be my one and only splurge (although see below…). I had researched thoroughly and deemed this to be my type of place. It was an excellent, almost perfect meal. I chose four dishes a la carte and each of these were outstanding. The only thing that prevented this from being ‘the’ elusive perfect meal were the amuse bouche and mignardises served before and after my main a la carte dishes. For me, these were unremarkable, and in fact there were a few that I didn't like.

It is worth going into a little detail plate by plate here. If one is going to serve two pieces of asparagus and charge a significant amount of money for it, they better be the best asparagus I’ve ever tasted. They were. Served with a hollandaise sauce and a wonderful ‘bubble’ of creamy black truffle sauce. This was an outstanding, simple dish that made me smile, but not as much as the next two dishes…

Biting into the langoustine from my second course was what I imagine it would be like to eat a cloud, in terms of texture. They had a slight natural sweetness brought out perfectly by the citrusy mousse that accompanied them. As with the asparagus dish above, this is ingredient sourcing of the highest quality and, rightly, the chef let the ingredients shine without adding any unecessary complications.

Enough has been said about the infamous spaghetti box, which formed my main plat. This one dish was the principal reason I chose Ledoyen for my splurge meal, and it exceeded my expectations. It was one of the best, if not the best thing I have ever eaten.

The 36 month compté was simply the best hard cheese I have ever tasted.

Desserts did not quite live up to the preceding savoury courses, but were still of a high standard. I went for the tasting of desserts as there wasn’t one on the menu that really stood out for me. I’m not a big fan of grapefruit, but the grapefruit 'millefeuille' was probably the most refreshing dessert I have ever eaten. Again, there are online bloggers who have described this dessert in detail better than I could.

The restaurant has a faded grandeur interior and rather stiff service, but I was made to feel very welcome despite dining alone. Exceptional.

[seeded brioche and olive bread; amuse bouche: ginger ‘bubble’, mushroom and parmesan puff, foie gras with raspberry, marinated vegetable spring roll, assorted crackers; razor clams with butter, ginger and coriander; asparagus spears with ‘egg’ (cream of black truffle sauce encased within egg white ‘bubble’) and hollandaise sauce; butterflied langoustine tail, ball of langoustine tail encased within light, crispy strings of pastry, mousse of lemon, coriander and olive oil; spaghetti ‘box’ with chunks of ham, creamy mushroom sauce, parmesan, morels, and black truffle; compte aged for 36 months, livarot, fig and raison bread and nut bread; yeast ice cream on sugarless marshmallow of whipped egg white covered in shavings of coconut, shards of white chocolate; grapefruit ‘millefeuille’: layer of candied grapefruit, raw marinated grapefruit, grapefruit sorbet, shard of sugared grapefruit, grapefruit zest and lime; mini strawberries with coriander sorbet, crème anglaise with vanilla, milk cream and strawberry meringue; soft meringue on soup of coffee and vanilla, crushed nuts; fingers of rich Valrhona chocolate and caramel, crushed chocolate and cream; petit fours: mini strawberry tart, basil truffle, caramel rice, dehydrated mango with raspberry jam and lime; fudge, chocolates and pastries]

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  1. Le Cinq 7/10
    I chose the lunch menu at this restaurant and therefore I cannot comment on the a la carte or tasting menus. The restaurant has an elegant interior and a lovely, genuinely classy atmosphere, somewhat spoiled by a few of the usual suspects obsessively photographing their food and sitting with large cameras on their tables.

    My fregola sarda starter was in fact a bit too large and filled me up for the rest of the meal. It was unusual to see such a rustic dish in such grand surroundings. If this dish had been cooked for me by an old lady in a lazy Sardinian fishing town, I would have proclaimed it to be one of the best dishes I had ever eaten. The fact that I was eating it in one of the world’s pre-eminent fine dining establishments reduced the romance of it a bit, but it was still a superb dish.

    My main of pigeon en croute was an exceptional piece of cooking, the pastry remaining crisp whilst the pigeon was pink and tender. The juices had been prevented from making the pastry soggy by a layer of spinach. The garnishes were not to my taste (e.g. red cabbage jelly, swiss chard with olive tapenade), but these were relatively small and did not really distract attention from the main event.

    The dessert was a bit messy and for some inexplicable reason presented in a cocktail glass. This would have been a lovely dessert if served simply on a plate. The chocolate fondant was wonderful, there was no need to hide it inside a mound of ice-cream.

    Overall this was a great experience. For me this is the place to go if you want a safe, but highly impressive luxury lunch in Paris.

    [soft country and cereal rolls, brioche and seaweed butter; crisp with avocado and radish, parmesan crisp, pickled mackerel and cucumber; fried prawn, butterflied curried prawn, pea soup with almond mousse; cuttlefish with chorizo and squid ink crisps, creamy fregola sarda and fava beans; pigeon breast and foie gras en croute with sesame seeds, cherry, red cabbage jelly, swiss chard and olive tapenade; goats milk sorbet, cucumber jelly, olive oil and citrus crisp; chocolate fondant with white coffee ice cream and whisky cream; petit fours: marshmallow lollipop, honey madeleines]

    13 Replies
    1. re: ggow_12

      Pierre Gagnaire - see below

      It appears one has to accept that it is a risk to dine at Pierre Gagnaire and those that have read the reviews will know that this is very much a ‘love it or hate it’ kind of place. With this in mind, I went. I hated it. I’m bitterly disappointed to say it was the worst, and most expensive, fine dining experience of my life.

      The main dishes of lobster to start followed by duck were just about adequate. They were not unpleasant, but neither were they particularly good. The real problem was with the 'satellite' dishes (as I will refer to them) that are presented alongside the main plats. First of all, I strongly disliked this concept, although others clearly love it. For me, it was just too much at one time. I found the other dishes distracting and I often didn’t feel there was any connection between the main and its satellites.

      My heart thudded with panic and disappointment on both occasions as I explored my lobster starter and then duck main. I tasted each side dish and did not find one that I enjoyed. I would go as far as describing some of these satellite dishes as unpleasant and a few as inedible (e.g. I really didn’t like a cold, gloopy lobster bisque with a peach sorbet, or pieces of crisp duck skin smeared with a tar-like sauce).

      I strongly disliked the sweet sorbets, heavy mousses and unusual jellies that were prevalent throughout the savoury courses. For the first time in my life, I left several dishes uneaten after a couple of bites, to the clear bemusement of the waiters. The atmosphere began to turn quite cold when it became clear that I was not enjoying my meal.

      A chocolate soufflé for dessert was good but not exceptional. I do like a chocolate soufflé, but at this point of the meal I was not in the mood. Again, the side dishes with the dessert were not to my taste.

      One of the front of house suggested, in a rather patronising manner, that the cuisine was perhaps too complex for me and that I simply didn't understand it. Maybe, but I disagree. I got the impression that the staff had been indoctrinated, with one in particular talking of M. Gagnaire like he was some sort of deity and incapable of any wrong. It was suggested by another member of the front of house that M. Gagnaire was ahead of his time and that in 10 years other chefs will be attempting to cook like him. Perhaps this was the case many years ago, but surely not anymore. This was tired, old French cuisine that, in my opinion, can no longer compete with the new wave of world class chefs emerging throughout the world. Personally I think things are heading in the opposite direction i.e. to clean, simple, light, fresh tastes, rather than heavy, complex, over-engineered cuisine.

      I’m devastated about the way this meal turned out, largely due to the cost involved. But I can’t leave Paris on a bad note, will Arpege save me?! I’ve just secured a table, I’ll find out next week.

      For the dishes, I have stripped out all of the satellites, leaving just the main elements. For these alone I would give a 5/10.

      [sliced lobster tail in emulsion of cider and butter with orange and purple carrots; slices of roast duck coated in blackcurrant liqueur with sea buckthorn sauce, cherries, sugar snap peas, and potatoes with citrus marmalade; chocolate soufflé with chocolate sauce and pistachio ice cream]

      1. re: ggow_12

        O goodie ! This is an installment.

        1. re: ggow_12

          As Parigi said in another post, this is a pretty good guide. Straightforward and without the "literary" flourishes that can be verbose.

          Great stuff! sorry, to hear you found the Gagnaire meal not up to scratch relatively speaking to the rest.

          It sounds like you spent some serious money.

          1. re: ggow_12

            "One of the front of house suggested, in a rather patronising manner, that the cuisine was perhaps too complex for me and that I simply didn't understand it."

            I find this attitude, much less the verbalizing of it, inexcusable.

            When I leave something uneaten and not complained about it, which suggests that there is simply a disconnect between the concept and my taste, I prefer that the house not editorialize on it.

            1. re: ggow_12

              First, I love your reviews. So matter-of-fact, direct, descriptive, and humble.
              Second: totally agree about Pierre Gagnaire. Fussy, undigestible, self-conscious, tired cuisine posing as avant-garde.
              However I do not think it is the worst haute-dining experience that you can have in Paris. Just try Thierry Marx at Sur Mesure and then please report back. Because of the meal I had there, Gagnaire was only my second-worst haute-dining experience in Paris.

              I'll gladly (and lightly) give ten meals at Gagnaire for one meal at Septime.

              1. re: Ptipois

                What o what has the OP done to you? What send him to Sur Mesure ?

                1. re: Parigi

                  Um, that incitation was purely rhetorical.

              2. re: ggow_12

                I'm surprised to read your review, and especially all the replies for it... as if everyone was waiting for that one guy who would dare to dismiss Gagnaire in order to jump onto the dismissal train !

                I can see how Gagnaire can not work, when I went there a few dishes hinted at the fact that if all of the dishes would have been the same, it would have been a disaster (ie. the little bowl of yogurt with apricot jam and beer jelly served as an amuse-bouche which was just bad). However nearly 90% of my meal there, was really outstanding, with dishes seasoned to perfection with a rich complexity that was in most cases really contrasted by the fresh and clean tastes of the "satellite dishes".

                I recently had lunch at Le Cinq (review coming soon), and although the overall experience was amazing, although I would probably return to Le Cinq sooner than to Gagnaire (but mostly because of the price), Miss Yeti and I both agreed that if we had to judge only the food, Gagnaire had way more winning dishes for us.

                1. re: Rio Yeti

                  Your initial paragraph is not true as far as I'm concerned, I always made it quite clear that I do not like Gagnaire's cooking. I am just not interested enough in that chef to mention him regularly.

                2. re: ggow_12

                  L’Apège 10/10

                  My lunch at L’Arpège was a wonderful, enlightening experience that restored my faith in French cuisine and reminded me just how good food, and in particular vegetables, can taste.

                  Often criticised for its high costs, it is worth noting that my 12 course lunch with two glasses of wine cost me EUR 147 and it was one of the best meals of my life. For comparison, my à la carte lunch at Pierre Gagnaire cost me EUR 327 (excluding two glasses of wine that were removed from my bill) and, well, you can read what I thought of that experience above.

                  There were four things that really struck me about the food at L’Apège:
                  - Simplicity: Most dishes involved just a few key ingredients, but these ingredients were of the highest quality.
                  - Purity: The cuisine was fresh and light, bordering on healthy at times.
                  - Taste: Each vegetable, whether beetroot or potato or tomato, had an intensely deep flavour.
                  - Texture: The texture of every element on every plate was superb due to the natural quality of the ingredients and exceptional cooking/preparation.

                  I ordered the lunch degustation menu, but was able to substitute in a few dishes from the EUR 320 menu that I was keen to try (at no extra cost). Each vegetable-only dish was flawless, with dish after dish of the most flavoursome vegetables I have ever tasted in various preparations (the most memorable being the ravioli in consommé).

                  I was then offered a fish and a meat dish (roast monkfish and chicken respectively) and I came to two conclusions, either:
                  (i) The flavour of the meat is deliberately kept very, very subtle to ensure that it does not dominate the vegetables (For example, in my dish of roast monkfish with smoked potatoes, it was the potatoes that stood out); Or
                  (ii) The meat could perhaps be accused of lacking in that deep flavour that the vegetables are blessed with.
                  I suspect the former is true. Both the monkfish and the chicken were cooked to perfection, but it was the vegetables that stood out.

                  The only slight disappointment was not being offered the famous compté, despite offering to pay a supplement for it. Either they didn’t have it, or they just didn’t want to give it to me. The cheese course was just fine though.

                  A dessert of tarte aux pommes carried on the themes of the preceding savoury courses with the main elements being a wonderful light pastry, pureed apple, powdered sugar, some raw almonds and a touch of caramel sauce. Nothing else was needed. A highly satisfying and light end to the meal.

                  So often I have come away from long tasting menus feeling overly full and uncomfortable. Today I strolled out of the restaurant feeling satisfied and relatively healthy (and astonished that I had managed to keep my bill at the most expensive restaurant in Paris under EUR 150). This meal completely changed my attitude to food, and vegetables in particular, in the most positive way possible. During a brief chat with M. Passard after my lunch, he referred to his style of cooking as ‘la plus belle cuisine’. I couldn’t agree more.

                  [mini diced-vegetable tartlets: beetroot, yellow carrot and parsley puree; lightly poached egg served in the shell with crème fraiche, vinegar, maple syrup, salt and chives; sliced red and yellow tomatoes with raspberry puree, balsamic vinegar and parmesan; vegetarian ‘sushi’ (thin slices of raw beetroot wrapped around rice with horseradish and soy sauce); gazpacho of yellow tomato with light mustard ice-cream; ravioli filled with diced and pureed vegetables (beetroot, parsley, sorrel, and yellow carrot) in vegetable consommé; vegetable mix (orange and yellow carrot, courgette, broccoli, peppers, beetroot, radish) with red vegetable ‘sausage’, semolina and argan nut oil; cream of courgette soup with whipped Chantilly cream of smoked herring; slow roasted monkfish with butter and white wine sauce, smoked potatoes and chives; chicken roasted in hay with roasting juices, roasted courgette stuffed with diced vegetables, spinach marinated in lemon and garlic, carrot and roast tomato; cheese selection; tarte aux pommes with almonds, powdered sugar and caramel sauce]

                  1. re: ggow_12

                    I'm glad you liked it! I doubt the Comté was withheld from you. There are only ever a few cheeses, sometimes including the Comté and sometimes not. I'm quite fond of the Salers anyhow, which can be just as good as the Comté.

                    Did you have a favourite course aside from the consommé? Your courgette soup sounds great! Quite jealous of that. (We loved the gazpacho last year.) Incidentally, the monkfish at l'Arpège is cooked by removing it from and then returning it to the oven, cooked "twice" as it were and giving it that remarkable texture.

                    Agree about the refreshing lightness of their menu. You don't say much about the service but I assume it was good.

                    Having now eaten at l'Arpège, how would you compare the overall experience to Ledoyen? We're thinking of going to Ledoyen for lunch on our next visit to Paris, having never been.

                    1. re: johannabanana

                      The strange thing about this meal was that there were not really any 'stand-out' dishes, that is, each course maintained an exceptional standard. If pushed, I would perhaps say the gazpacho, which was deeply flavoursome and wonderfully refreshing on a hot summer's day.

                      The service was, of course, outstanding. I was made to feel very welcome and, as I said, I was allowed multiple changes to the menu with no additional cost.

                      In comparison to Ledoyen, I preferred L'Arpege, and if I was to go back to Paris and I could choose only one restaurant, it would be L'Arpege. But, if you have never been to Ledoyen I would suggest you go and taste some of their signature dishes. Service is very professional but a bit 'stiff', and the restaurant has a 'faded grandeur' interior (I imagine this would be even more apparent during lunch when the room is filled with light). It is a completely different experience to L'Arpege, but it was an exceptional meal nonetheless.

                    2. re: ggow_12

                      If you want some fabulous Comte go to Pascal Trotte and get the 36 month. It is on Rue St Antoine It is tiny and easy to miss. Do not, repeat, do not mistake it for the one a few doors down that also has the name pascal. Make certain it is Trotte.

                3. Thanks for totally unemotional reviews, glad you called them as you saw them. How did you find the service at Ledoyen ?

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                    The service at Ledoyen was good, with my main waiter being professional and friendly and the maitre d' taking a significant amount of time to chat to me towards the end of the meal, even offering a complimentary glass of dessert wine with my desserts. As I said,the service was rather 'stiff', but this is to be expected in such an 'old school' establishment. It is worth mentioning that I was dining alone (I simply could not afford to take my girlfriend!). I find that this can go either of two ways: either the staff think you are weird, a loner, and treat you as such. Otherwise they pay a lot of attention to you, thinking you are someone important, perhaps a critic (I am neither). I always take hand written notes during my meals, which perhaps adds to this illusion.

                    1. re: ggow_12

                      I look forward to your review of l'Arpège! I don't know if you reserved or can make lunch there but it might be worth going then over going at dinner, as others (notably souphie) suggest. Then again, we have never eaten à la carte there or been for dinner because the carte blanche lunch menu is so good and reasonable by comparison. If you can throw in l'Ambroisie, you probably wouldn't regret it either I don't think -- bar the expense -- judging by your other reviews.

                      1. re: johannabanana

                        I will be going for lunch. Is the carte blanche lunch you refer to different to the lunch degustation menu listed on the website? I'm rather anxious about this meal, I'll be terribly disappointed if I have another Pierre Gagnaire experience.

                        Unfortunately I simply cannot afford another expensive meal in Paris, and I will be leaving towards the end of July anyway, so l'Ambroisie will have to wait for another time. I probably shouldn't even be going to l'Arpege to be honest, but I know I'll regret it if I don't. Fingers crossed.

                        1. re: ggow_12

                          And ours crossed for you. Good luck and enjoy!

                          1. re: ggow_12

                            What they serve you would certainly overlap with the lunch menu, but telling them that you give the chef "carte blanche" encourages them to throw other, possibly more interesting things at you at no extra cost. (Arrive early and say you have time for anything.) I wouldn't be anxious--seasonally, this is a fantastic time to go there:

                            Also, it's worth interacting with the lovely staff. One of the most enjoyable places you can go to (unlike l'Ambroisie, which is amazing but far less jubilant).

                            1. re: johannabanana

                              I think my heart is set on Ledoyen for my next trip. Do they still offer the EUR88 lunch menu? Is it possible to add the spaghetti to share for 2 to the prix-fixe menu?

                              1. re: theskyflyer

                                I went for dinner, but I'm positive they have a reasonably priced lunch menu, and I'm sure it wouldn't be a problem to add the spaghetti dish. It is a surprisingly small (but incredibly rich) serving though, so I'm not sure its appropriate to share. (It's also possible that you won't want to share given how good it is!). The price of this dish is more that the full lunch menu though...

                        2. re: ggow_12

                          " It is worth mentioning that I was dining alone (I simply could not afford to take my girlfriend!)."
                          You mean she waited outside?

                          1. re: Parigi

                            Haha! No she lives in the UK so I sneaked over to Ledoyen one evening when she wasn't in Paris. She wasn't impressed.

                      2. I am glad to see that you have enjoyed Ledoyen. This year, I'll visit them for the 3rd time in 2 years and your review really gives me the hope that my two past meals there were just some bad luck and that the 3rd visit will be a charm. I tried them twice, once for a lunch in summer of last year (I rated the overall food performance with an 7/10. It could have been a lower mark but I still found a 7/10 more accurate only because the dessert was stunning. On that lunch, the food was of course technically well executed, but not enoughly remarkable compared to what I do usually sample at most tables of this calibre, especially in France, my own country . Then I went there towards the end of last year, for a dinner this time, just to see if it would make a difference. This time, the overall food performance was no more than 6/10, and I am being generous. Largely what I,d have expected on most 1 star Michelin that I am used to, in France. Not 2 and certainly not 3. Not that the food was bad, but all savouries were just average for this standard, in my view (no sparks, not enoughly delicious, eventhough technically well conceived). But the dessert kept shining at high level, exactly as on the 1st visit. I'll give them a 3rd chance this year so that I can have a definite idea (and not permanent, I hope). As usual, a subjective matter (interestingly, you had a less impressive meal at Le Cinq, a place where all my meals have always ranged in between 9/10 to 10/10, which goes to confirm just that: a subjective matter ) but I thought it would be constructive to share about it. PS: On the 1st lunch, I took 2 signature dishes ( Grosses langoustines Bretonnes, émulsion d’agrumes + Toast Brulé d’Anguille ) along with le menu dejeuner.. The 2nd meal was a multiple course tasting comprising of their grand classics.