Ledoyen review date: July 8, 2015
Just at the bottom of the Champs Elysées in Paris, hidden behind Le Petit Palais museum, all is very well with the world at the Pavillon Ledoyen. To say that the location and venue has form is to master an understatement.
This is where Napoleon first met Josephine. Where Robespierre dined in 1794, two days before his execution. Ledoyen was also a favourite of artists and writers such as Degas, Monet, Zola, Flaubert and Guy de Maupassant. In the mid-19th-century it became the favourite haunt of duellists who, after shooting at each other in the Bois de Boulogne, would reconcile over breakfast.
But it’s no stuffy temple. You can rock up without a reservation and eat in the bar downstairs, where they’ll serve you a three Michelin star plat du jour.
The music playing as a faultless Kir Royale set the tone for lunch?
The main dining room is upstairs, overlooking the gardens. It is ridiculously, effortlessly elegant. Two and a half centuries of experience help in creating the perfect ambience, but still it manages to bridge the chasm of ultra fine dining with a genuinely relaxed feel. The staff are instrumental in this, of course, flitting effortlessly from French to English while keeping a constant but discrete eye on proceedings
There is a four course set lunch menu at 135 euros, but guests are generally invited to choose one key ingredient – vegetable, meat or fish – for their main dish. Then, guided by this choice, Chef Alléno and team construct the entire meal around the core dish. The result is nothing short of breathtaking, an affirmation over two hours why French cuisine still reigns supreme, despite the Nordic, Iberian and other challengers of the last fifteen years.
As the early July sunlight reflects off the trees outside into the dining room, and the room starts to fill with people easing into the green velvet chairs, the faint sound of sirens outside seem a world away.
The Champagne trolley glides over, a ying and yan of salt and pepper accompanies the two butters and picture-perfect breads, then the first plate is presented. A ravioli of yellow beetroot, carrot purée and intense sorrel juice on the right, peppered with cumin; a beetroot brioche stuffed with black rice, shallots, parsley with a sauce of seaweed jam, not unlike a Kewpie in mouthfeel; and finally a hibiscus tuile filled with a mousse of Cévennes onions and woodsorrel. This being Ledoyen, the trio are served immaculately on an edible slab of green sponge. (8/10)
Next come textures of cool jelly and silky cream, before crunch and then slippery, salty jamon iberico. The mousse is fermented from rye grain, the ensemble studded with nuggets of Kalamata black olives: (8.5/10)
A true Alléno signature, his ‘Improbable soup of fine fish’, follows. It’s here that his revolutionary mastery of sauces (described in my interview here) come to the fore. Sardines are marinated in a mayonnaise with Japanese style seaweed, before thin slices of red mullet in citrus oil are laid on top. An extraordinary, rich nautical wave. If I said taramasalata from the Gods, it’d barely begin to do it justice, but you get the idea. (9/10)
But Alléno isn’t done. This isn’t a soup, yet. For that, the waiter returns with a cream made from sole, that he whips and lathers up using a shaving brush. Seriously. He places tiny buttered ravioli into the bottom of the bowl that I’ve just finished and pours on the milky, fishy soup. Bizarre, but brilliant:
Japan makes another cameo appearance in the next dish, a brilliant and surreal crunchy ‘brioche’…made from pike. So perfectly executed, a uniform golden-brown crust outside, within a soft and light consistency, almost like a mousse, with undeniable fish notes. The picture is perfectly counterbalanced by another sauce, this time an extraction of celeriac so profound in flavour that it stops you in your tracks. Utter brilliance. (9.5/10)
The maritime marathon takes one final turn with tiny fillets of sole braised in a spring broth – mushrooms, petits pois and more – with micro sprigs of chervil. Just a beautiful celebration of produce, surprisingly simple in execution, utterly memorable: (8.5/10)
And so to the final stretch. Grade 4 Wagyu beef (from Gunma) with Noirmoutier potatoes and dots of sauce made from oyster and iodine reduction.
Where to start? After a lot of beef over the years, only Waku Ghin has done it justice in a similar way. The waiter was bang on when he said that it tastes and feels more like foie gras than beef. Of course it was perfectly seasoned and seared, of course the sauce was sublime. Meat and potatoes just doesn’t get any better than this. (9.5/10)
Desserts are almost – but not quite – a bridge too far. Even if they are numerous, the plates have been balanced and appropriate in scale. A perfect meringue comes with strawberries in black sesame and a shiso ‘chlorophyll’. It’s a magnificent combination, uprooting the Palais de Tokyo a few miles away and plating it. (8.5/10)
Then the lightest imaginable coconut mousse, the husk made from meringue, sitting on dessicated coconut that took me back briefly to desserts of the early 1980’s. (8/10)
The last hurrah of a glorious, epic lunch comes in the form of petits fours. Firstly a tiny sublime tart made from Guinness – oh yes – and truffled cubes of chocolate on a sort of cocoa gravel.
A quick word on the wines which accompanied – ‘Domaine Bouzereau’ the winner for the best name, the Vouvray the glass which lingered longest in the memory.
Corse Calvi, Clos Colombu 2014
Meursault ‘Les Grands Charrons’, Domaine Bouzereau 2013
Chambolle-Musigny, Domaine Duband 2012
Gevrey Chambertin ‘Aux Cambottes’, Domaine Arloud 2009
Chateaueneuf du Pape ‘Les trois sources’, La Vielle Julienne 2010
Vouvray ‘Grains d’or’, Domaine Gaudron 2009
Ledoyen is arguably the most accomplished French cooking I’ve come across – only Robuchon au Dome in Macau comes close, in Asia – and deserves its place as the highest ranking restaurant I’ve reviewed. It shows Yannick Alléno at the absolute top of his game, leading the way in innovative and disruptive techniques, all in a setting that defines elegance and true joie de vivre.
Alléno Paris, Le Pavillon Ledoyen, 1 Avenue Dutuit, 75008 Paris Tel:+33 1 53 05 10 00 http://www.yannick-alleno.com/restaurant/le-pavillon-ledoyen/