Event: Lunch at Restaurant Ledoyen, Paris
When: March 24th 2011, 12:30
Michelin Star: 3
Type of cuisine:  Haute French with a mix of classic and contemporary fares
Addr: 1 Avenue Dutuit,  Carré des Champs Elysees
Arrondissement: 8th
Phone:+33 01 53 05 10 01
Metro: Champs Elysees-Clemenceau

Overall Food rating: 6/10 would have rated this meal with a 5/10 based on the ordinary savoury dishes that I have sampled at  this lunch,  but the dessert and depth of refinement shown in  the work of the nibbles showed impressive skills worth of an extra point on the aspect of the  overall food rating. I felt as if I was eating at two different restaurants under the same roof, without moving from my chair: an ordinary  1 star Michelin for the savoury, then a genuine 3 star for the dessert and nibbles.
Service:  10/10 Maitre D’ Bertrand Pagnet offered a highly accomodating  service.
Overall dining experience: 7/10  Eventhough  the classic decor and classy service were of the sort that I am traditionally partial to, I did not find the overall dining experience to feature anything really particular on this lunch.

Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

…when I pay the full price for a signature dish at a  Michelin 3 star restaurant, I need to go past the “mundane” impression.  This is where I was not happy at all with Christian Lesquer and his  brigade. Here is a case where I do  sometimes part ways with Michelin: how come Ledoyen, under Christian, kept its 3 stars with dishes that would be just Ok at a 1 star Michelin restaurant (by your very own standards, Mr Michelin!). That is a lack of respect ..not only to…me, the diner…but also to the other 3 star Michelin restaurants that work hard to be genuine 3 star Michelin restaurants, night and day,  all year long….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We all dine at  3 Michelin star ventures for different personal reasons. Mine has nothing to do with its prestige, nothing to do neither with whatsoever gigantic expectations placed upon such dining events. For me, especially in Paris, it is the opportunity  for enjoying ingredients I do not get to oftently enjoy like the “poulet de bresse”, the “canard de challans”,  some exclusive cheese aged by Bernard Antony,  the Poujauran’s bread and many more (France has a soil that is blessed: their produces  are usually simply amazing, and this comes from someone who was born and raised on  a land of stunning poultry, meats, seafood, greens and fruits).  In the hands of a true 3* Chef, this can be worthy of high consideration. At the haute dining level, I have a personal yearly  (or every 2 years if Paris is too far, depending on where I live)  Parisian routine that does not cost that much (well, nothing compared to what you would pay for the menu degustation at those restaurants) and makes sense since it focuses on widly known strenghts o f those  places I’ll mention next:  I go  to L’Arpège only for their ‘Canard de Challans à l’hibiscus’ (à la carte,  with no wine; perhaps a starter and a dessert).  I do the same at Plaza Athénée (Ducasse) for their ‘Poultry Albufera’ when it is available.   Gerard Besson’s (now close) “tourte de  gibiers et foie gras” used to attract me to Paris too, on my (bi)-yearly gourmand trip.

Picking a 3* in Paris is a nightmare for me: there is no doubt that I will eat well at most of them,  but for the price I am afraid that the usual hype, sumptuous decor and nod to history won’t suffice to  impress me. Keeping my feet planted firmly on the ground, I refuse to expect fireworks (it is food,  not a Disney show) but food that needs to be deliciously superior. Whatever the reasons justifying a 3* dining experience,  food at such level needs to come from a Chef who is capable of pushing the limits of deliciousness to heights that are not commonly experienced. This is not about delusional expectations: if you are lucky enough to get  Michel Bras in person cooking for you at his stronghold of Laguiole, you will understand what I mean.    It doesn’t need to be Michel Bras or a 3* Chef, it just need to come from a cook with that magical touch where somehow an exceptional talent, passion and love for savourish food are transferred into your plate:  my lifetime most memorable meal was a simple spiny lobster grilled by an anonymous cook. When I told people how talented he was, most replied that grilling a lobster was no big deal and could not fail to be tasty.  Years have passed, that cook became one of the most acclaimed Chefs of his country and many of World’s most  respected Chefs have tried, albeit in vain, to  attract him to the Western world. Years have passed and not one  claw of lobster have been as impressive as that one…and  I’ve tried them in all variations, at bistros or 3* tables, on the street or by the sea, in different geographical areas. The name of that Chef is irrelevant here.  His magic touch
is. Could that magical touch be purely subjective? Part of it is of personal appreciation naturally, but the exceptional  talent of one Chef never lies: some may like his food, others not, but if seeking for great food is a passion for you, you will  notice the talent that’s behind the meal. That’s my only expectation for a 3* meal: that exceptional talent, that exceptional  touch not aiming to impress but that pulls the most out of the least.

I grew up in Paris and have already visited almost all its  current 3 Michelin star holders (PG, APDA, Arpege, Pré Catalan, L’Astrance, Guy Savoy, Le Bristol, Le Meurice, etc) except Ledoyen and L’Ambroisie.  Ledoyen seemed to be a match with what I’ve always encouraged:  a Chef, Christian Le Squer, mostly praised for his exceptional talent and who is found where he needs to shine: behind his stoves. The same applies to L’Ambroisie, although, in the case of the latest, the fact that it is one of the few last classic strongholds at the 3* dining level weighs a lot in the balance.

My Parisian friends who know both places well recommended that I start with Ledoyen.
”Save the pricier one for the last”, Jean-Luc commended to me. Not that it would make any difference:  I already knew that Parisian 3* restaurants are no bargain.  Anyways, I just need my food to be very delicious regardless of its price or creativity level. VERY delicious, I stressed! VERY DELICIOUS, was I assured.

Preparation is always the name of my game whenever I decide to dine at a 3* Michelin table. It has been like that the very first time I stepped foot in a 3* Michelin restaurant (1990, Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV); the  pattern has not changed more than two decades later.  Mine consisted of  in depth intelligence about Christian Lesquer’s (my readers know how I value true artisans working for real behind their stoves over cooks who serve as name bearers for celebrity-entrepreneur-chefs. Christian is found where he should be: behind his stoves) strengths and weaknesses, type of cuisine, culinary philosophy. At such prices, at such level of dining, I may as well indulge in what he is best known for. Daniel  — a  close friend (of mine)  who has followed Christian Lesquer’s career  since Christian was working at Le Divellec — was my most prolific info provider on Ledoyen restaurant’s strong man. Daniel is an admirer of Lesquer but was very honest about the Brittany’s Chef. He ensured that I was not expecting some kind of techno-revolutionary cuisine but a highly skilled cuisine that is classic with enough modern inspiration in style and creativity to   be worth of the highest accolades.

I first wanted to pick his five course ”spécialités‘ (signature dishes), but his prix fixe dejeuner menu is affordable. I chose the latest and added two ‘spécialités’:  the lobster + Toasts brulés d’anguilles.  If I had a second stomach, the sweetbreads skewer would be part of the plan.
FOOD

 

 

 

 

 

Today, the  menu déjeuner at Ledoyen consisted  of  a mise en bouche of  “tartare de dorade à la tahitienne”, a first choice of veggies in an emulsion of radish/or some langoustines with its own jus, a second  choice of chicken (supreme de volaille des Landes en croute de pain rassie), cheese, a choice of two desserts: one made of bananas (Transparence banane, fruits de la passion), the other from strawberries (Fraises “Gariguette” parfumées coriandre/Hibiscus).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tartare de dorade à la tahitienne: great ingredient as expected (the fish was of superb freshness, same could be said of the thin slices of scallops disposed atop the tartare ), perfect balance in taste and seasonings. Objectively, a  fine  tartare, but at this level of dining, I need this tartare to shine a bit more in  creativity or at least with surprising  flavors. The apple-lemon  gelée underneath was nice, but kept the tartare in a ‘pedestrian’ registry. Utterly  “mundane” and not worth of my time when I am eating at a  3 star Michelin restaurant (a dish that would be standard at a 1 star  Michelin…)  .  6 /10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jardins de légumes vert à l’émulsion de radis – peas (superb quality), green beans (good quality), onions, dried tomatoes in a radish emulsion.  Cute like a bug, that dish…enjoyable too…but not a dish that I am expecting at this level of cuisine neither. Do not get me wrong: I am not expecting fireworks here. Just a touch of next-level  daring-ness may it be in the taste or overall  enjoyment of the course. Seems like the recurrent impression, during this meal is going to be the impression that their  savoury recipes would be  uniformly “mundane”…  6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sole de petite cotière étuvée de petit pois – The sole was presented in the shape of a tube. Perfect moist consistency of the flesh. Fine enough taste, though not exciting. The green mini “rolls” were filled with a cream of peas and the truffle sauce, although not of memorable mention,  retained a   ‘smokey’ flavor that was Ok, nothing more.  This  lacked  palatability (just not ….exciting in mouth, which, I gather, should be expected from the sole as it has a mild taste by nature and the cooking technique they had to use for this can hardly lift up the natural mild taste of the sole, BUT they still had the opportunity of the  truffle sauce to make the point that I was eating at a restaurant which brigade can cook better food than at 1 star Michelin restaurant…exactly as what Pierre Gagnaire, L’Arpège, L’Ambroisie and many other 3 star Michelin — their category — are doing during  lunch time   ). Instead, the truffle sauce was underwhelming (it tasted of almost nothing, which, for the big fan of truffle sauce that I am, was hard to forgive). This is a proper 6/10 dish, as mundane in impression as the previous dishes.

As mentionned earlier on,  I also ordered two of their signature dishes, just in case the “excuse” of the previous dishes is that they were part of a cheap lunch special…which should NOT be an “excuse” at a 3 star Michelin restaurant (you are top or you are not..you are  a 3 star Michelin or you are not…Pierre Gagnaire, L’Arpège, L’Ambroisie and many other 3 star Michelin are using NO excuses ..during lunch time). Anyways, with their signature dishes I was hoping that I would finally get to know the real Ledoyen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grosses langoustines Bretonnes, émulsion d’agrumes:
Every time I try lobsters at a restaurant, it suffers from the inevitable comparison to the spiny lobster of the Indian Ocean, my all-time preferred marine crustacean. Even though I have spent years educating my palate to enjoy the various marine crustaceans that can be found across the globe, the spiny lobster of the Indian ocean (as well as its cousins of warm waters such as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean sea – I am a bit less taken by the lobster from cold waters) is the one that floats my boat. Langoustines are smaller with (to my palate), a more discrete flavour.  Here, Chef Christian Lesquer added a middle eastern touch to his signature Langoustine-based dish: kadaif (vermicelli-like pastry) balls filled with the crustacean meat, fried, then set atop the langoustine tail. The citrus fruit emulsion, emulsified with the usual olive oil, which basically turned out to be a citrus/olive oil based mayonnaise that was properly executed , indeed …but as far as in-mouth enjoyment goes, it was surprisingly discrete (where is the punch, Chef? …). It is no surprise that a citrus flavored emulsified concoction is meant to pair naturally well with lobster (mayo pairs well with lobster meat, citrus flavors too, etc), BUT I have tasted better variations (read more flavorful, more exciting, more memorable ) of this dish before at casual restaurants. So, an Ok dish at a 1 star Michelin, an utterly unremarkable one at a 3 star Michelin ..I mean, this is a SIGNATURE DISH, at a 3 STAR MICHELIN restaurant and yet it still left me with a “mundane” impression…………………………………….. 6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toast brûlé d’anguille, réduction de jus de raisin – A visual curiousity, that could pass as a cake.  The dark base is made of bread. The violet-colored topping is eel reduced by grape juice and wine. The lustrous exterior  inspired, obviously, by the lustrous texture of the skin of the eel. I guess all of that can pass as fun and creative for french fine dining, indeed, the “smoky” flavor of the  toast standing as a logical complement to the taste of the eel, but truth be told…it looked better than it tasted, albeit  tasty  enough).  What you see on the side is a cube of potato filled with “crème de raifort” , which  was really nothing to write home about (I am a huge fan of both potatoes and raifort, but NOT when they are barely noticeable and could have been anything else, which was the case here )  – Again, hardly a dish  that managed to showcase the level of superlative work of flavours and perfected textures you have come to expect from a signature dish at a 3 star Michelin 6.5/10

 

When I see written here and there that the pastry brigade at Ledoyen makes great desserts, all I can say is that this is an accurate statement:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fraise “guariguette” parfumées coriandre/hibiscus –   Excellent dessert where sublime taste and lots of creativity were  on display. The parade of  the superlative strawberry, coriander and hibiscus flavours in mouth was a true act of genius.  What I kept waiting for (in terms of superb complementing — or even contrasting — flavors, textures and delicious taste) in the savoury recipes … was finally unleashed in this successful dessert.  10/10

They offer lots of extras:

 

 

 

Several “mises en bouche”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many  “mignardises” (excellent licorice macarons, hibiscus gelée, delicious chips of caramel butter, pina colada lollipops)

And they also brought chocolates, some Brittany’s pastries  too.

 

The pastry team, during this lunch, was a genuine 3 star Michelin pastry team.

I know: the ratings of this specific meal  are not what we might expect at a 3 star Michelin level.  But still, at euros 88 (the menu dejeuner), and especially with the superb service I found on this lunch + all the extras that are offered to all patrons, I’d still highly recommend Ledoyen. It is a place where I truly felt good, and for once I’ll forgive the lack of gustatory amazement that was found — on this lunch — the exception being  the dessert (to some extent, the “toast brulé” was also appreciated).

SERVICE

Maitre D’ Bertrand Pagnet is a sociable gentleman, professional and yet extremely caring. This man knows what ‘accomodation’ means and his open mind (he travelled a lot around the world and worked for top restaurants like those of Boulud’s in Vancouver — now closed) is refreshing. The entire service was in line with what you do expect at such high level of dining: courteous, attentive.

 

 

 

 

 

DECOR
The exterior is marked by Ancient Greece inspired neoclassical facades of  blank walls, columns. The inside is in Second Empire style: ornamented, elegant surrounding moldings. As a non food related note, if – like me — you enjoy this style of architecture, pay a visit to Le Louvre and the Opera house.

LOCATION
Off Les Champs Élysées

PROS: The service on this lunch sets the bar for what hospitality should be about at this level of haute dining.  And this type of  classic decor appeals to me. Paris truly has an architectural  charm that others will spend their life mimicking,  just mimicking…

CONS:  The food I had on this lunch lacked interest, in my assessment. Not bad, not great neither. And a signature dish needs to shine!

CONCLUSION –  Their prix fixe Lunch menu is one ideal way to enjoy a  3 michelin star meal at  reasonable cost in Paris. I was harsh, I shall concede, but that was ONLY in the context of comparing Ledoyen, side by side, to what its direct competition is delivering during lunch time. TO BE FAIR,  its direct competition would probably offer to you the same mundane savoury recipes I have just talked about if you had to pay such a small price for a lunch special. My Problem is not there. My problem is that…when I pay the full price for a signature dish at a 3 star Michelin restaurant, I need to go past the “mundane” impression…

 

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