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Image 1: Plaza Athénée… ahh, memories! Lots of ‘firsts’ here for me: my first fine-dining experience in Paris, my first experience as a guest in a grand dining room, my first contact with gold-plated Christofle silverware, my first experience of being attended by a formally-dressed team of gloved waiters. It was also, I remember (with rather less fondness), that it was my first 4-digit Euro food bill! In case you’re wondering, this was 8-years ago.
Image 2: With plenty of staff standing by, ready to offer assistance, you certainly won’t get lost here! Just through the lobby is the restaurant entrance where the receptionist immediately opened the door for me and greeted me by my surname without me saying a word. Very slick service!
Image 3: After the dining room closed for month, in 2014, for refurbishment, Alain Ducasse decided on a complete revamp of his cuisine. Out went traditional French, and in came a natural interpretation of Haute Cuisine – but sans meat! The dining room was beautifully light, and – perhaps surprisingly - there were no table cloths! For French 3-star dining that’s simply unheard of! The team of young staff wore white uniforms with navy blue jackets, creating a very fresh ambience, in contrast to most French fine-dining establishments. Revolutionary France all over again!
Image 4: As soon as I arrived at my table, decorated with modern art, I was welcome by a cup of healthy pumpkin juice scented with vanilla and citrus…
Image 5: … and peanut cracker. It was sweet, crunchy and nutty - a delicious snack to whet my appetite.
Image 6: Quickly realising that I had to put my camera somewhere, the waitress brought me a stool. This was also accompanied by a book of hotels to keep me entertained while waiting for the menu! Incredible service – a different league!
Image 7: I didn’t even need to touch the menu as it had a menu holder. The menu was also printed with the date. Excellent!
Image 8: French restaurants love their trolleys! They have a trolley for everything, from aperitifs to cheeses to digestifs. Here, they even have a bread trolley. After the waiter had steered it to my table, he presented me with carefully sliced pieces of olive bread and rye bread, accompanied by a spoonful of butter.
Image 9: After leaving me for a few moments, he returned with some an interesting amuse bouche to help me enjoy my glass of champagne. First was Chilled Lentil soup, with drops of coffee.
Image 10: Followed by Red mullet sashimi with cured mullet roe on a seaweed cracker. Very intense flavour with just the merest hint of yuzu. Lovely!
Image 11: Next, covered by a nest of celeriac were …
Image 12: … a few tiny pieces of Octopus, marinated in a shellfish stock. Wow! Powerful!
Image 13: Finally, a cup of very airy hummus, which was perfect for bread. By now, I’d had enough time to read the menu and I couldn’t help noticing that the price of the three-course a-la-carte was similar to the price of the tasting menu. Since the tasting menu consisted of three courses plus cheese and dessert, it was a no-brainer - that’s the menu I went for.
Image 14: First course. Caviar!
Image 15: A layer of golden Osetra caviar on a bed of green lentil, surrounded by jelly of eel.
Image 16: On the side was fresh cream with a sizeable drop of pressed caviar. This was to be used on…
Image 17: … a warm and soft blinis
Image 18: Every part of this dish was very subtle – except, of course, for the caviar, as the idea of the course was to celebrate the pure sea-saltiness of this luxury ingredient. With a meal of this price, they can afford to be generous with the caviar – and, to be fair, they certainly were!
Image 19: Next was Scallop, from Chausey. Quite large, beautifully pan-fried, and with a touch of rawness in the centre.
Image 20: To establish it firmly as a luxury dish, it came lavishly dressed with freshly-shaved black truffle, giving it an attractive, earthy aroma. For me, the most interesting part was the cauliflower brioche – brioche with a whole cauliflower embedded inside! I simply loved the intense smell of the vegetable, which they had taken care not to overcook so that it retained a light crunchiness. A very expertly prepared dish, indeed!
Image 21: For the main course, Seabass. Flaky and moist, the fish was – needless to say – perfectly cooked.
Image 22: It was accompanied by Jerusalem artichoke, and covered with truffle - again. But hey - why not?! I really liked the fact that every course announced its arrival with a strong and appetizing aroma.
Image 23: For the cheese, a selection of cow products. For me, the 36-month old Comte was by far the best, with its superb balance of sweetness and nuttiness.
Image 24: To prepare for the sweet courses , they removed my serviette, cleaned the table, and laid out gold-plated cutlery.
Image 25: I was offered a variety of desserts. First, fruity Lemon sorbet, topped with iced grapefruit pulp and lemon peel. It was sitting on an original marmalade of lemon, seaweed, tarragon, and almond. A highly refreshing blend of sharp and bitter.
Image 26: Not only does Alain Ducasse have a few Michelin 3-star restaurants, he also has many casual restaurant and even his own chocolate line - and this is from his factory. Resting snugly in a whole cocoa bean was a combination of Chocolate and coffee with buckwheat crumbs at the bottom.
Image 27: It came with a small, warm soufflé on the side. Airy, eggy, comforting. Very good.
Image 28: And finally, a small portion of a French classic, and one of Ducasse’s signature desserts at his Louis XV restaurant: Rum baba.
Image 29: For petits fours, a whole chocolate bar. Unfortunately, I had to leave it untouched, as every spare corner of my stomach had been filled with unexpected desserts!
Image 30: Finally, an unusual healthy finish - kiwi, cleverly carved to be extremely “eater-friendly”!
Image 31: Judging by my experience at other Alain Ducasse’s restaurants (London and Monaco), I did expect this to be extravagant. The dining room was very spacious and the large team of staff were so attentive as if they were reading my mind! Fine, it wasn’t the most exciting food, but it was very ‘ingredient oriented’ where the chef had treated every ingredient with extreme care. And yes, they indulge you with champagne, caviar, and truffle - but why not? After all, every diner deserves to be pampered once in a while!