Le Restaurant @ L’Hotel

L’Hotel, 13 Rue des Beaux-Arts, 75006 Paris |www.l-hotel.com | ingested 12th Mar 2010

Formerly a sous chef at the 3-Michelin-starred Ledoyen, Le Restaurant’s Head Chef Philippe Belissent is said to be one of the rising stars in the foodie capital of the world. It seemed the fitting place to have a post-Valentine’s day dinner with Jo given we missed out on celebrating the actual day again this year. Awarded 1 Michelin-star shortly after taking over the reigns at Le Restaurant, the food here is much more awe-inspiring than its rather uninspiring name would suggest. Based in the decadent yet chic L’Hotel in Paris’ 6th Arrondissement, this Left Bank institution has become a frequent haunt for hip-cum-artsy types. And its no wonder. Once you park your tush on one of their plush velvet chairs and take in the glamour which surrounds you, you will never want to leave.

Le Restaurant @ L’Hotel

Belissent’s A la Carte menu, despite its purposely stripped down descriptions, shouts seasonality, complexity and great ingredients. Its all a wee bit pricey though. With Starters costing €35-€40 each, most mains €40-€50, and desserts at €17, the Chef’s 4-course “Surprise” menu seemed much better value at €95 a head. Predictably, I used the savings to upgrade my set to include the accompanying wine flight (+€30). Shortly after ordering, the waiting staff, dressed in striking bright purple, brought out some warm bread canapes and amuse bouches for us to get down to work on. Black Sesame Puff Pastries were air-light… the crisp layers melting away with each passing bite. The Mini-Brioche slices were even better. Warm and buttery with the just-toasted feel and a dollop of earthy, black truffle puree spread on top, I was left wanting more… 5 more. The Veloute which followed (pumpkin if i remember correctly) had a nicely developed foam, but was otherwise very ordinary in comparison.

Black Sesame Puff Pastry and Black Truffle Brioche

Pumpkin Veloute

Now onto the first of our 4 surprises: Crystal Bay Prawns, served raw with a Soya and Shiso dressing, topped with gold leaf and edible flower petals of some sort. Not what I was expecting at all: I was sure we had come to Paris, not Tokyo. In any case, I’ve never eaten shrimp in such a pure, unadulterated form before. The first bite into the surreal, grey-blue flesh was like eating my very first prawn all over again… beautifully moist and juicy with a sweetness that was miles more intense than cooked prawn. Just as it started to get overly rich, the tangy Soya-Shiso dressing kicked in at just the right time to balance the dish out. An exquisite dish, that would make any Japanese Master Sushi Chef proud.

Crystal Bay Prawns

Next up, another fish course : Skate, roasted in beurre noisette, served with squid, razor clams and shell-fish foam. The aroma from the brown butter was wonderfully nutty, giving the skate a richness and depth of flavour like no other. Add to that meaty razor clams, plump squid, and an airy, citrus shell-fish foam that tasted like a lobster bisque from Planet Krypton, what you have here is a truly stellar celebration of seafood that is worthy of the Michelin stamp. Undoubtedly the best of the surprises that night, and probably the best dish I’ve had to date this year.

Skate roasted with beurre noisette, squid, razor-clams and shell-fish foam

The quality continued into the main course. Pigeon, cooked to pink-perfection in a small Casserole dish (“en cocotte”) was served with black olives, candied lemon and a Cigar of roasted-Agria Potato. The smoky demi-glaze sauce stood up well to the strong gamey flavours in the meat and every other bite was lit up by the sharp, citrus sweetness from the candied lemon and savouriness from the olives. An explosion of flavours.

Pigeon, cooked in “cocotte”, Agria potato, olives and candied lemon

After such a bold main course, the pre-dessert was more than welcome. Cue in Grapefruit, sliced and sorbet’d, served with lemon cream. A very simple combination, but the tangy, bitter-sweet flavours from the sorbet and fruit were very soothing indeed, cleansing the palate for the last surprise dessert course ahead.

Grapefruit, sliced and sorbet with lemon cream

The final Act was simply called: “Chocolate: creamy and crispy, Vanilla Ice-cream”. In truth, that’s exactly what it was. Once you were past the stunning plating and wow-factor from the gold-leaf, what you had was a very decent chocolate mouse, topped with caramelized hazelnuts and home-made vanilla ice-cream packed full of fresh pods. No complaints, but a little anti-climatic after the wonders of the Skate and Pigeon.

Chocolate, creamy and crispy, vanilla ice-cream

On the whole, we had a wonderful time here. Service was attentive and at times even cheeky (I was instructed by the sommelier to guess the grape in my 3rd wine, only to be told at the end of our meal that it was a complex blend of 5 different red grapes). The setting is magnificent. And most importantly, the food was definitely good enough to banish the bad memories of February 14th Heathrow Airport buffets forever. The fitting place for the Valentine’s day dinner we never had and worth a visit if you are ever in the City of Lights with a special someone.