In the former ballroom of an Eighteenth Century palace in the
heart of Paris, I ate foie gras and truffles. All around me was Louis XV
décor by Jacques-angel Gabriel – a confection of frescoes, marble marquetry and crystal chandeliers so rich and yet so harmonious that my
appetite was stimulated, not sated. And, as if all this were not enough
to make my cup floweth over, I was being looked after by a brilliant
young chef with the culinary talent of Auguste Escoffier and the looks
of Tom Cruise. Truly, I could only have been in one place: the
Restaurant Les Ambassadeurs at the famous Hôtel Crillon.
have eaten in this gorgeous dining room several times over the decades.
During that period its kitchens have been manned by some of the most
notable and distinguished of France’s chefs. Yet I
venture to say that I
have never had a better meal here than that into which I tucked on this
occasion. Indeed, I will go further: this was the best meal I have ever
eaten here. For this I pay tribute to
Christopher Hache (pictured), who took command in April, 2010. Mr Hache
is a Parisian and the son of a chef. He must have learned some profound
lessons in his father’s kitchen (and during his later experience at
Lucas Carton and at Le Bristol), for he now cooks with an assurance and
a skill which marks him out as a master of his profession. The dishes he
sent to my table were marked by such intelligence and such refinement of
palate that I have no doubt whatever that Mr Hache must already be
regarded as a star of La Cuisine Française.
Dear reader, allow me to take you through my meal. This will be a treat
for me, for it will permit me to relive some moments of intense
pleasure. I began with a substantial piece of organic salmon. It had
been braised slowly and was served cold, with parsnips (some poached and
some in the form of crisps) and zabaglione cream with spices. The word
‘spices’ always makes me recoil, but I need not have worried. This dish
was a triumph of subtlety and delicate combinations. As in a motet by
Bach, each element was so exactly right and so perfectly deployed, that
the whole achieved an almost divine harmony. This might well have been
the finest salmon dish I have ever eaten.
sat back at my corner table (number 6) and allowed my plate to be
cleared away by the waiters – smart in their dark suits and ties
(although how much better they would have looked in tails!), and
smoothly orchestrated by one of the supreme restaurant managers, the
suave Pierre Jung (pictured). The Riedel glassware (Vinum range)
sparkled in the light of the candle in the crystal candelabrum. My
companion left the table for a moment, and the discarded napkin was
immediately replaced. Then the foie gras was brought in its cooking pot,
which had been sealed by a pastry rim, and served by the table. Then
came a moment of astonishment.
foie gras (pictured) was even better than the salmon.
For a moment I was quite overcome. Its description, “Pot-roasted duck
liver served with wild mushrooms”, had not prepared me for the delicate
brilliance of what entered my mouth. This was a piece of liver of
handsome size and of the very highest quality, which had been removed
from the pot and sliced and arranged with mushrooms from the same pot.
Happy I was at that moment to allow such exquisite lusciousness to
caress my taste buds. There was near perfection in the precision with
which this foie gras had been cooked.
It is inevitable that, after reaching the peak of gastronomy’s Everest,
one has to come down. But I did not descend far, for next was the
chicken in half-mourning. Mr Hache likes to pay tribute to the tradition
of French cuisine, and I admire him for doing so. Traditionally, a
chicken cooked ‘demi-deuil’ would be poached, with black truffles under
the skin (hence the name) and served with a white sauce. Mr Hache’s
version is to roast a Jaune des Landes hen, and serve its breast with
‘risetto’ – minced pasta – and black truffles. I can report that it was
utterly delicious. I concluded with another, rather amusing, translation
of a classic dish – île flottante (pictured), with the floating island
in a gazpacho of pineapple, mango and passion fruit. (These four courses
were 202 euros.)
The one thousand offerings on the wine list – overseen by Chef Sommelier
David Biraud – include many of the greatest French wines from the
greatest vintages. You will find 1900 Latour (12,000€),
Cheval Blanc (5,260€), 1949 Margaux (3,310 ), 1961 Mouton Rothschild
(5,000€), 1961 Haut Brion (5,000€) and 1961 Romanée-Conti (10,000€). But
those with shallower pockets need not fear, for prices start at just 40€
(for a white from the Loire). For my own drinking, I relied upon the
expertise of the Assistant Sommelier, the wonderfully named Antoine
Pétrus. His recommendations were both from the Rhone, and both were
excellent. The white Crozes Hemitage (Christophe, Domaine des Remizières,
2009 - 75€) was possessed of a lovely smokiness, which made it a superb
partner for the foie gras. And the Cornas (Brise Cailloux, Domaine du
Coulet, Mattieu Barret, 2006 - 120€), once decanted, yielded a nose of
ripe damsons and a steely structure in the mouth.
It is my belief that everyone should aspire to eat in an Eighteenth
Century palace. But when the food, the service and the surroundings are
as heavenly as those to be found at the Restaurant Les Ambassadeurs,
such dining becomes a spiritual duty.
Hôtel Crillon, 10 place de la Concorde, 75008 Paris, France.
Telephone +33 (0)1 44 71 16 16
Fax +33 (0)1 44 71 15 02
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday
6 course tasting menu – 140 euros
© 2011 Francis Bown. Used by
permission. All rights reserved. For reviews of hotels and
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