The 3 star that basically never gets a recommendation or review on this board as far as I have seen. Any recent (lets say past two years) visits by anyone who would like to share?
I had a very good (but not outstanding) meal here last year.
The surroundings are magic and service is exceptional. The wine list was also reasonably priced by top restaurant standards and is fairly deep.
If I'd had 2 or 3 courses I would probably have been more impressed - but I had the tasting menu and was disappointed with the repetition of techniques (e.g. 3 different dishes had foams). Nothing wrong with any of them individually, but it just seemed a bit lazy.
I wouldn't rush back - but would still recommend - especially for the winelist which had more mature vintages that cost less there than they would cost at retail in North America.
Le Pre Catelan (LPC), in the centre of the Bois de Boulogne (west side of Paris), is a respectable fine-dining restaurant with a rich history. It’s often associated with Gaston Lenotre, the guru of modern French patisserie. In 2007, Pre Catelan became increasingly popular in the gastronomy world when it, along with Barbot’s Astrance and Alleno’s Meurice, was elevated among the finest restaurants in France. However, despite having received 3-star michelin, Pre Catelan has not been considered to have the most delicious food in town. Probably for this reason, in addition to its location that’s a bit off from the Paris, LPC has not been under my radar. But this changed when last month, I finally had the opportunity to visit this grand pavilion located in the middle of lovely gardens.
There are not that many French chefs with more impressive ‘pedigree’ than Frederic Anton, the current head chef of Le Pre Catelan who recently has become a jury in the MasterChef France. He used to work for the legendary chefs such as Gerard Boyer (for a short stint) and Joel Robuchon for about 7 years. Some even have claimed that Frederic Anton was Robuchon’s most talented and capable protégé and he’s pretty much Robuchon’s right hand man during the peak of Jamin and avenue Raymond Poincare in the early 90’s. Ultimately, Anton was the recipient of prestigious Meilleur ouvrier de France and Chevalier the Legion of Honour. With these impressive CV’s, how would his creations be like when translated into dishes served at the splendid Pre Catelan’s dining room? I ordered the full menu of Le menu du Pre and let’s dive...
-The tasting menu began with crab serving 3 ways: the foamy and flavorful crab soup with crab meat inside; a container consisted of succulent crab meat mixed with cream fresh cream, sour lime and topped with the salty caviar – fresh and quite rich; the last part was a light salad (nutty & crunchy) with Asian sweet dressing and crab meat. A decent start
-Langoustine prepared 2 ways: the delicate ravioli of poached langoustine with olive oil & pepper mint foam. The big prawn was tender but surprisingly & sadly rather tasteless. The next preparation was better; fried langoustine (with seaweed) in ‘tempura’ style. The ‘wrapper’ was light and crisp; both romaine sauce and ‘Thai’ fish sauce were flavorful but a bit too intense for my palate. Good presentation but did not taste that great. My wife’s lunch special had 1 extra langoustine item, that’s served in basil curry – she said it’s good but nothing special
-The poached turbot, wrapped in seaweed, was meaty with good texture except it’s rather bland. Perhaps it’s cooked in fillet instead of troncon (prepared with bone-in). The savior for the turbot’s taste coming from reduced sauce of vinegar. The side dish of ‘mashed’ potato with seaweed was quite tasty but I was not too fond of its texture; it was not that smooth or creamy. Overall, it’s somewhat an ordinary dish even though turbot was usually my favorite fish species to eat in any high end places
-Finding good quality sweetbread outside France or Europe was very difficult, let alone eating a good dish executed flawlessly by an expert. Luckily, we’re in good hands here. The ris de veau, cooked in a casserole, served with its juice was tender, creamy and delicious. The veal stew with mushroom and onion was also good. A display of excellent old school preparation of French rustic dish. My favorite dish from this meal
-For the lunch menu, my wife’s main course was squid in 2 ways (the portion was big): one was served with tomato confit and herbs; the other one is fried in tempura style. It didn’t reflect a kind of highly cooking technique while the ingredients were alright. Taste wise was nothing special; we felt that we could get this kind of dishes at any restaurants even outside Europe. Quite disappointing that the restaurant at this caliber would prepare this dish, you’re welcome see the picture if in doubt
-My spouse didn’t like cheese so the kitchen gave her a pretty and colorful salad instead. For me, I decided to stick with the cheese course this time. I picked 36-month comte, saint-nectaire, coulommiers and vacherin mont d'or and they’re generally very good except the comte was a bit too “young” – yes, I have been spoiled by Anthony’s 4-year-old comte
-My menu had 2 desserts and she had one; the kitchen decided to bring all of them together and we’re overwhelmed. They all were pleasing to the eyes and served in ‘giant’ portions although they’re only part of the degustation menu. We appreciated this generosity
+Le citron happened to be my most acceptable dessert here. The combination of meringue, sorbet, mousse and biscuit were nice, but the issue was that the sweet flavor was very dominant; I had difficulties to savor the lemon mousse distinct sour flavor, moreover the basil sorbet was a bit weak. Instead of (lemon & basil) generating a balance and elegant taste, this dessert became a one-dimensional sweetness
+I really look forward to trying the famous Le pomme. The sphere looked perfectly round without any blemish. I found the sugar encasing thick (not too pleasant to eat) though brittle enough to be broken easily. Inside was really too much ‘sugar’ – I expected to taste more of apple (tangy) flavor for a lack of better word. The overall sweetness was even stronger than the one I had from the previous lemon dessert. I could barely able to taste the saltiness from the salted caramel ice cream and when the pop rock and the sugar sphere were bitten concurrently, it’s not a fun ‘texture’ to experience. Any combination I tried, sadly, it was not that enjoyable – better to see than to eat
+Lastly, my spouse’s dessert was the classic Le Paris-Brest with praline cream. The choux was not soft, but compensated by the thick and rich cream. I thought it would be nicer had they put more fig compote and/or salted praline with rather intense salt flavor to harmonize it
To be honest, despite the generous size given, I was quite disappointed with all the desserts. It’s just sweet flavor all the ways – I bet the chocolate dessert might be the same; I like chocolate (dark/milk) to have some recognizable bitter taste; not just a hint/subtle bitterness. The same would be expected when I eat lemon, apple or salted caramel that’s to be able to savor its respective unique flavors.
Having dined at all of Joel Robuchon (JR) restaurants (except the latest La Grande Maison, but have tried Tomonori Danzaki’s cooking), I could not help but notice some similar dishes at Robuchon’s vs Le Pre Catelan – it should not come as surprised I suppose. For instance,
-the crab and caviar – the presentation was very similar (https://picasaweb.google.com/11823790...) but Robuchon has superior (Oscietre) caviar quality and has more sweet flavor from the coral gelee whereas Antony’s more on the ‘sour’ note – let’s call it a tie
-another example will be langoustine ravioli. Robuchon’s version (https://picasaweb.google.com/11823790...) is head and shoulder above his disciples’ creations (this will include the one from Ramsay RHR) – JR’s was sweet and succulent, well-enhanced by the rich & creamy duck liver’s sauce; it’s been proven in more than 2 occasions. Initially, I thought it was not difficult to create it given Frederic’s and Gordon’s talents but it’s not the case in reality.
-lastly, Le pomme vs Le sphere (https://picasaweb.google.com/11823790...). The technique and complexity were similar, but the master won in the flavor. All the elements (flavor, texture and color contrast) at Le sphere worked well together
From this meal, my admiration towards Joel Robuchon has just grown – one of the world’s greatest chefs even in the 21st century. He’s capable of producing more superior dishes with similar concepts (to be fair, he probably created those dishes too) even when none of his top gastronomy restaurants is in Europe, thus often interpreted to have disadvantage on accessing the incredible (French) ingredients. Should I give benefit of the doubts since Antony was not in the kitchen during my lunch (He was in the meeting with the “big bosses” who own the restaurant in the suburb of Paris)? Maybe not since my meal at JR restaurants also took place without Robuchon himself present
The food at LPC was traditional and highly technical; from the artistic presentation with its details, we could see that Antony commands his brigade to be meticulous. Given his skills, I expected him to be more creative, yet we can see the Robuchon’s influence was all over the places – not really his distinguished style. Hence, I can conclude that Antony’s food rather lacks originality. In addition, I learned that the majority of dishes at Pre Catelan rarely changes over the years. The service was friendly and flexible; my maitre d’ Mr. Thierry was really hospitable - comical, kind and always made us feel comfortable. When we looked bored waiting for the food, he often came up some funny stuffs. The ambiance was without a doubt one of Paris’ finest – Belle epoque style with luxurious chandelier and marble fireplace. The tables were huge and generously spacesd. There were about 20+ guests showed up for lunch. I didn’t remember complain about anything, but the restaurant was very nice when it charged my full tasting menu at the price of my wife’s set lunch. In spite of this generosity, I have to honestly admit that, Pre Catelan is not a convincing 3-star place (more like 2 ½* level aka 94/100 – the same level as Guy Savoy and Epicure Bristol). My main reason to visit this famous institution is that by doing so, after 8 years of traveling for serious dining, I finally can say that I’ve been to all of Paris current 3-star Michelin restaurants. Yeah, more like for personal ‘achievement’. Here is the link for the pictures of this meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357...
Bu Pun Su is right on. Our experience was a couple of days later. I would add two comments. One is that service on our visit was lackadaisical, verging on non-professional for this class of restaurant. Water not filled, napkins not refolded, impersonal cold service. Not happy with that at all. Further, the staff was all talking among themselves near the entrance. Also not particularly happy with the food. Started out well, but slowly went downhill, ending with the merely sweet tasting desserts mentioned. Also, non optimal presentation, by which I don't mean plating. What I mean is that for a given "course", we were served two plates, which were essentially two courses, size/portion-wise. Thus, we ended up eating one while the other got cold. I will conclude by saying that LPC seems to be resting on its laurels and Michelin is going along for the ride.