It’s not very often you get an extra bank holiday, so when it was announced that we’d be getting one for the Queen’s Jubilee I was delighted. Don’t get me wrong, I’d have enjoyed a street party and watching the Royal Family on their flotilla as much as the next person but deep down, what I knew I would enjoy even more was a holiday. So I booked a trip to France. Two nights in Paris, four nights in Taurinya. Bliss.
Mr E and I came over on the Eurostar on Thursday afternoon. I do love the Eurostar, so much more civilised than flying with a budget airline. I took along a picnic of cheese (including my favourite, Comte), crackers, grapes, kettle chips, chocolates and a bottle of champagne. There may have been a couple of raised eyebrows as we unpacked our stash but it was a delightful way to pass the time.
At around the same time that we booked our trip, the World’s 50 Best restaurant awards were held in London. It all sounded very exciting and because the majority of the people I follow on Twitter are foodies my timeline was filled with talk of the awards ceremony. As a few of the winners were in Paris I couldn’t resist making some bookings for our trip.
We were staying in quite a nice hotel and my French is embarrassingly limited so I thought the best idea would be to ask the concierge to book for us. He was more than happy to oblige and booked us into Le Chateaubriand (no 15) on Thursday and L’Atalier de Joel Robuchon (no 12) on Friday – review to come soon.
Feeling rather tipsy after our Eurostar journey we made our way straight to Le Chateaubriand, suitcase in tow, for our 8:30pm reservation. I took a quick snap (below) and then we headed in to claim our table.
If you’ve read my previous posts you’ll realise that this all sounds a bit too good to be true, and so it was. There was no reservation in our name. The waiter suggested that the hotel may have booked the OTHER Le Chateaubriand and he sent us away, suggesting that we could come back at 9:30pm to try for a table as they don’t take reservations after this time.
As you can imagine I was pretty put out. I’d been planning this for months and was really excited. So off we went back to the hotel to drop off the case and give the concierge a piece of our mind. Perhaps we would get an upgrade for this debacle?!
Unfortunately, upon arrival at the hotel it quickly became apparent that the concierge was not to blame. He had very diligently booked the hotel that I had asked him to book. It just so happened that I had sent a link to the wrong one as the right one doesn’t have a website! Thankfully I had been nothing but polite so I didn’t feel too embarrassed when we headed back out with our tails between our legs.
The second bit of bad news came when we arrived back at Le Chateaubriand. The queue was massive! It was only about 9:40pm so I had hoped we’d be fine. However, given we’d come all the way back across Paris there was no way I was leaving this queue and so we waited.
In the queue the couple in front of us pointed out that there was a famous French actor dining at the bar, Mathieu Amalric who starred in The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. They also pointed out a trio of famous food critics who had come in for a table and been told that they had to wait like everyone else. I hadn’t noticed any of them, which made me think that perhaps I ought to pay more attention when dining in fancy restaurants, Wills and Kate could be on the table next to me and I wouldn’t even notice!
After about 40 minutes we got through the front door, which meant we could grab a glass of wine. Interestingly when looking at the wine list we realised that they only serve natural wines (made without chemical or technical intervention, which means no added sulphur or sugars). I’ve noticed that natural wines are a big thing at the moment and I’d never tried one before, so I was quite excited about it. However, having had three different versions on the night, all recommended by the sommelier, I am afraid that they are not for me. I found that there was a really unusual aftertaste which I didn’t enjoy at all and in the end I realised that I was pretty much forcing it down as opposed to enjoying the wine as I usually would.
At 10:45 we finally got a table. The restaurant is lovely. It has a really relaxed and bustling atmosphere. Certainly no white tablecloths or pomp and circumstance. The waiters were drinking shots behind the bar whilst conducting the most frenetic service of drinks I have ever witnessed, the place was absolutely jam packed, even at midnight and everybody seemed to be having a fantastic time.
When we sat down I was quite relieved to find that there was no choice. We were presented with a six course menu entirely in French, some of which I understood and some of which I didn’t. The waiters were absolutely great and as they brought each course they explained in English what it was that we were about to eat.
First were some lovely little cheesy choux pastry bites covered in poppy seeds.
Next up ceviche. A delicious shot to be taken in one go, fresh raw fish in a citrusy juice. It was absolutely delicious and I was entirely perked up by now.
(excuse the blurred photo)
This was followed by an equally awesome fresh fresh fresh cold pea soup with mint and goats curd. It was seriously good and we were only at the amuse-bouche stage!
Then we had this tasty little asparagus dish. Crunchy white and green asparagus with bone marrow in a fresh herby broth.
The final amuse-bouche was a fish bullion. Far too fishy for me (I wouldn’t usually go for a fish soup) but Mr E couldn’t get enough of it.
For €55 per person, this meal was already looking to be great value. Five items in and we hadn’t even got to the starter. I know people get upset about too many amuse-bouches but it really worked here, partly because they were all so interesting and tasty, not just a mouthful of something forgettable. Also, I think, because it was a set menu and we hadn’t made any selections, it wasn’t like we were chomping at the bit to get onto the main event, this was all part of it.
Our starter was red snapper with fennel and chicken liver mousse. This was good. Not my favourite things on a plate but they were really good contrasting flavours and it was all very delicate.
The fish course was an amazing turbot dish. It was served with thinly sliced potato, slices of pickled turnip, hazelnuts and a rich butter sauce. The turbot was perfectly cooked. Mr E said this was one of the best fish dishes he had ever eaten and he is a man who eats a lot of fish.
The main course was various cuts of lamb, including liver, belly and sweetbreads. This was served with a selection of really fantastic meaty mushrooms. I really tried with this dish and enjoyed most of it but I think I have to accept that, as unfashionable as it may be, I just aren’t an offal woman.
There was a choice between cheese and desert. I went for desert, Mr E went for cheese. This is a usual occurrence and means I can always have a taste of the cheese which is great. I have no idea what this cheese was, a goat and a cows I think. Whatever it was, it was absolutely delicious and for that reason I really did only get a taste!
The first desert was poached rhubarb and cherries under a fragrant foam with delicate little flowers placed on top. Ever so pretty.
Then a very interesting little desert, a candied egg yolk on a pastry base. I was firmly instructed that this was to be eaten all in one go and I must say it was delicious. I would certainly order one of those again if I got the chance.
Finally as the clock approached 1am, we were presented with our final course. Marinaded strawberries sprinkled with colourful Indian seeds.
By this time the restaurant was emptying out and most of the waiters and chefs were standing outside or at the bar drinking or smoking. I got the feeling that the party was likely to go on for hours and that this wasn’t unusual.
Le Chateaubriand was an excellent example of a traditional French bistro. For me, the amuse-bouche round was the best part. I’m not sure what this says, probably that in my view it’s not one of the best restaurants in the world. However, if you ignore the fact that it’s supposed to be, then it is a bloody good one, marvellous in fact. Excellent value, brilliant atmosphere, tasty food and one you should most certainly try if you are in Paris. Just make sure you go to the one at 129 Avenue Parmentier!