Is this the most important restaurant in French cooking since 16th century? Very probably. Down the centuries, La Tour d’Argent (The Silver Tower), has been visited by many royal families and has often been used to host foreign politicians. With such a history, it’s hardly a surprise that the place inspired the movie Ratatouille. Today, although its 63 years of Michelin 3-star glory are long gone, it continues to deliver a high standard of cooking, showcasing some of the best French classics. La Tour d’Argent also has one of the most important wine cellars in the world, containing a staggering 450,000 bottles – valued at some 25 million Euro – including some that are extremely rare. If you fancy a bit of a work-out before dinner, try asking for the full version of the wine list. Why? Because, with over 400 pages, containing 15,000 wines, it weighs over 9Kg!
Pressed Duck is one of the most iconic and complex dishes in French cuisine. Raised on the restaurant’s own farm, the duck is first roasted before the breast and legs are removed, and the carcass is crushed using a specially designed press. The liquids that result from this process are then thickened and flavoured with liver, butter and Cognac to form a sauce. And all this happens with diners watching on, at a special counter in the restaurant dedicated to duck preparation.
And if that’s not different enough for you, consider the Duck’s certificate! At La Tour d’Argent, you see, every pressed duck comes with its own uniquely numbered certificate. Some of them are famous, such as Certificate 112,151, which went to President Roosevelt, and Certificate 253,652, which went to Charlie Chaplin. Our own certificate wasn’t that far behind – it’s number is 1,165,489! It’s worth noting that, if you’d like him to (which many did), Chef Philippe Labbé will personally sign your certificate as part of a photo opportunity. Oh, and one final word on the Pressed Duck – if it’s a course that takes your fancy, you need to pre-order it, at least two days in advance.
Despite the fame of the Pressed Duck, though, my favourite course of the evening was actually the grilled duck foie gras, which came topped with a layer of spiced apple crumbs and sorrel sauce. The foie gras itself had a nice crispy skin with a silky centre, a sign of perfect preparation. The best part was that it was served on a small piece of French toast and finished with a drizzle of maple syrup. And we’re not talking ordinary maple syrup, it was maple syrup from Quebec that had been aged in bourbon! Silky, crispy, buttery, rich, smoky, sweet – what a mixture! I really loved every single bite of this dish.
Mecca of French cuisine
Service-wise, the staff were undeniably friendly and attentive, but they were somewhat let down by their colleagues in the kitchen. No food arrived for a full 30 minutes after ordering – then the amuse bouche came together with the starters! This rather abject failure of timing was repeated at the end of the meal when, once again, there was a long wait, followed by the simultaneous arrival of the pre-dessert, dessert and petits fours. Also, I’d expected a longer and more detailed tableside demonstration of the duck preparation process, rather than just a quick explanation at the beginning.
On the other hand, the sommelier was a model of professionalism. We had ordered a bottle of 1990 Puligny Montrachet from Domaine Boillot, and – as expected in this standard of restaurant – she poured a small tasting sample for herself before serving us. What we hadn’t expected was for her to taste the wine herself and declare the bottle unacceptable. She then apologised to us and brought us a fresh bottle. She tasted this one, too, before giving it the thumbs-up.
In summary, this iconic restaurant has a historically acclaimed dining room with a wonderful view of the River Siene and Notre Dame, and is an excellent place for a special occasion. OK, so it’s a bit touristy, and yes, it’s rather old fashioned. And, for sure, the food didn’t strike me as mind-blowing. But hey – it’s the Mecca of French cuisine! I had to visit it once in my life.