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Le Cinq Review - Where the churl becomes prince

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When you go to Le Cinq, you dress to the nines, it's hard not feeling like a stain in this decor full of gold, mirrors, paintings, crushed by the sky-high ceilings. Thankfully a few palm trees help us feel less ridiculous. This touch of green, both decadent like its surroundings and absurd in this Palace landscape, sets the tone. At Le Cinq one doesn't take himself seriously, you don't come here to eat three olives with your butt cheeks hold tight and a stiff grin (or is it the opposite?), you come to relax, eat well (and much) with a reasonable and high-calibre cuisine.

What do the people want ?

You immediately feel the infectious joy of the staff who is fun, warm and courteous, in other words the exact opposite of what one might expect from the clichés of Palace service.
You don't want any champagne ? No problem.
You wish to change the desserts from the lunch menu ? I should be able to arrange that.
You want to try the white chocolate ? I knew you would surrender !
Everything said with a smile.

So you enter in the bath, the temperature is nice, today's destination will be the lunch menu... here we go...

<b>Breads</b>
With a Sicilian olive oil we are offered a slice of bread <i>"without salt to fully appreciate the complexity of the oil"</i>. If you say so. The olive oil wasn't bad, but it didn't deserve all this drama, a piece of bread "with" salt would have been just as good.
Two small towers of Bordier butter (natural and with Guérande salt and seaweed) were brought with a choice of small breads. I will only talk about the brioche with spices, a small butter roll both crisp and tender with a delicate Italian flair, excellent.

<b>First trio of amuse-bouches</b>
The olive tempura was nice and salty, contrasting with its light batter.
The parmesan chip wasn't much of a surprise.
And the salmon sashimi on its coin of melon was bland, with the fish too firm... serving something as delicate as a sashimi with flavors as intense as olives and parmesan sounds to me like a mistake.

<b>Second trio of amuse-bouches</b>
The small octopus salad with cantaloupe and watermelon balls was acidic, refreshing, tender and bright ! Unfortunately as its amuse-bouche status I had to satisfy myself with a few mouthfuls, but I would have happily promoted this dish to the "appetizer" rank in order to let it express its full potential in a bigger plate.
The melon cream with bell pepper mousse was original, both tastes worked well together but the textures made the dish a bit too rich.
The olive empanada's dough wriggled under one's teeth and gave in to a perfectly balanced and smooth stuffing.

<b>Pearled cuttlefish with chorizo – creamy fregola sarda with small fava beans and marjoram</b>
When the servers lifted the cloche (yes, here cloches are lifted) the range of colors and shapes danced like a Miró painting. Each bite was a new surprise, a cuttlefish finely scored to accentuate it's crunchiness which contrasted with its gelatinous mood, three different tomatoes full of flavor, a paper-thin chorizo grilled with love, the fregola sarda (small round pasta from Sardinia) were cooked like a creamy risotto but still kept there integrity, the parmesan mousse was maybe over the top, but who cares, it still melted away nicely with everything else. The only downside to this dish was its size which was a bit too copious for an appetizer.

<b>"Black angus premium" onglet – tartare, cherry chutney, swiss chard with black olive</b>
I had my fair share of black angus, charolaises, argentinian meats, each wearing proudly their soccer uniform but none of them delivering when it's time to actually kick the ball. This onglet was not a poser, it had a really meaty manly taste and was as tender as a filet, perfectly seasoned it shared the plate brilliantly with the tapenade, the cherry chutney and especially the little gift-wrapped present of confit swiss chard, melting time like a mellow Swiss man's accent.

What a shame that this champion dish was served with a bland beef tartare with olive oil pearls of no interest... I would have preferred one simple element of crunch to bring some texture rather than this dish inside of a dish which only managed to tarnish the painting.

<i>I also tasted:</i>
Whiting Meunière, with lime, braised zucchini and fresh almonds.
The fish was tender under its breadcrumb coating, a ginger sauce with a touch of acid and the small basket of crunchy zucchini balanced everything nicely. Hard to beat the onglet though...

<b>Apple and lemongrass sorbet – strawberry gelée</b>
Before the desserts, this great refreshing note, incredibly balanced, with the lemongrass barely showing up to enrich the apple, a strawberry gelée sweet enough to calm the acidity of the sorbet, and tiny "croutons" of dehydrated yogurt to add a bit of crunch, was served. It's rare that something as apparently simple delights me as much, I often fall victim of my taste for complexity, but this sorbet managed to break me.

<b>Caribbean chocolate feuillantine with blackberries – black tea whipped cream, blackberry sorbet</b>
This dessert was selected from the "A la Carte" Menu instead of the lunch deal, at no extra cost.
I feel it is hard in contemporary cuisine to do dessert. Wanting to be too creative, the chefs often loose the feeling of warmth and child-like satisfaction that every good dessert should recreate. However, behind its Queen of Spades name, this feuillantine took me in its arms, talked to me softly and... well... you know what I mean...

<i>I also tasted:</i>
Fraisier minute George V, strawberry granité, sheep's curd sorbet and olive tapenade.
The "fraisier" was actually a sort of crumble circled with razor-sharp strawberries. The granité didn't add much, but the sheep's curd sorbet brought a nice barnyard touch. The little "dropping" of tapenade stood there proudly as if to say "I dare you", and believe it or not but this impertinent fella, once mixed with the dessert, balanced everything in the most peculiar way! The saltiness of the olives disappeared and only the earthy tone remained which lowered the acidity and sweetness of the other ingredients. I wouldn't trade my feuillantine for this fraisier, but I'm really glad I could taste such an enlightening curiosity.

<b>Mignardises and coffee</b>
With an ordinary coffee (which could have made a bit of an effort at 10,50€) a cart of mignardises parked near our table. Of course by this point we were not hungry anymore, of course we indulged three times... The highlights were the chocolates both dark and milk which, apart from a weird encounter with a spices experiment, were all great ; a strawberry encased in marshmallow and small violet crystals (the whole thing served like a lollipop) which would make a boxer blush ; a small tartelette of intensely scented wild strawberries ; and finally two "mendiants" with dark and white chocolate, more rustic to help us transition into the real life outside the hotel George V.

If we only look at the food, everything wasn't top notch ; a same dish was truly fantastic (the onglet) and sad (the tartare). But if we look at the whole experience: the food of course, but also the service, the place, and dare we talk about more materialistic matters, the quality/price ratio, Le Cinq is amongst the restaurants I have enjoyed the most. Hats off.

(For the review in french and slightly improving pictures but still not as good as when I finally get my new camera, you can check out: http://www.chezfood.com/2012/07/28/le...)

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  1. Reasonable review, thanks. You have seen what the blind spots are, but came away happy.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

      Very happy.

    2. Your cinematically descriptive review is as enjoyable as your experience.

      However, I don't remember dining anywhere ever with my butt cheeks held tight and a stiff grin.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Parigi

        Thank you.

        I don't remember also, but I thought one could easily think Le Cinq could be such a place (ok maybe not on Chowhound...)...

      2. In a recent visit to London and Paris we ate at five three stars(The Fat Duck, l'Ambroisie, Gordon Ramsay, Pierre Gagnaire and le Meurice and one two star. Lunch at le Cinq, the two star was the meal we enjpoyed most.

        3 Replies
        1. re: porkpa

          I don't have as much experience in starred restaurants as you seem to have.
          I did feel that, if taking only the food into account, it was better at Pierre Gagnaire, however I will probably not return to PG before going to a bunch of other places (which means, not before a few years...), unlike Le Cinq where I may want to go back sooner.

          By the way, I'm sorry for all the <b> and <i> tags on my review... I just realized Chowhound doesn't allow html codes on the posts...

          1. re: Rio Yeti

            I was rather disappointed by Pierre Gagnaire. I found the food rather confusing and for lack of a better term I didn't find the ingredients simpatico with each other. Most of the time, I had no idea what I was eating. None of it was mind boggling except that it confused me. Perhaps I lacked the proper sophistication to appreciate it.

            1. re: porkpa

              It seems that a few people have had the same experience as you did... It's a shame, because he really can be astounding, I dined there one year ago and still remember vividly some of the dishes I ate.