When I was invited to dinner at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris in January 2016, I noticed that the legendary chef of the restaurant, Alain Ducasse, had a twinkle in his eye. It wasn’t due to any mischievousness but because he already knew that he was about to be awarded his third Michelin Star which was announced formally in Paris in February 2016
To be fair, the restaurant had previously held three stars but when it was re-launched in 2014 with a new, rather controversial “naturalness cuisine” menu consisting of vegetables, fish and grains, but no meat, the restaurant was demoted to two stars.
But that third star is back – and how it is back!
Restaurant Alain Ducasse Plaza Athenee Paris
Michelin dining is not just about the food. The famously picky inspectors take into account everything that makes not just a fine restaurant, but a place that leaves a lasting memory. From the décor to the food to the staff, absolutely everything is assessed for an entire experience.
The room of the Alain Ducasse restaurant at Plaza Athénée is dominated by the chandelier of individual Swarovski crystals whose reflection sparkle on the surface of huge silver bells recalling the service bells used in aristocratic households of yesteryear. Surprisingly the wooden tables are without linen, a stark contrast. The comfortable leather chairs are exquisite.
Staff are superbly informal, all smiles and nothing is too much trouble. They clearly have great knowledge on every dish served. It is a formal restaurant in that dinner jackets are required for male guests, and must be worn throughout.
After a warm welcome from our host, I enjoyed a glass of Louis Roderer Brut Champagne served with great panache from a magnum. This was followed by a delicious succession of amuse-bouches.
The breads were all produced in house, very dry and crisp, a change from the usual chunks of doughy baguette. Butter was served with panache, a smear on a wooden spatula.
The first course was an intriguingly named Vegetable Limonade. It seemed to be a typical French style glass full of lemonade but it had a frozen golf ball sized, very delicate vegetable consommé floating in it. It was an amazing sensation to start by drinking lemonade with the vegetable taste coming through as the ice melted.
Next were some lightly pickled roots served on a bed of aubergine caviar with a side of pumpkin seeds and delicate tuna on a seeded biscuit.
Each dish was delivered with precise instructions on how to eat them. We then enjoyed a delicate trio of really sweet mussels and a small dish of humus.
When it came to time for the main meal we were filled with anticipation. A small silver bowl of caviar, sat on a very delicate perfumed jelly beneath which was a layer of green puy lentils, was placed before me. No blinis but tiny buckwheat pancakes and a creamy spread, served with a pearl spoon. I was in decadent heaven.
Next up was a slice of sea bass, barely cooked; it was described on the menu as Bar de l’Antlantique Saigné which my crude translation meant bleeding bass. It was incredibly fresh and served with pungent Jerusalem artichokes and shavings of black truffle. Very nice but the dish is, I think, a bit of an acquired taste.
More fish followed. This time lobster from Brittany, served with smoked cabbage and miniature brussels sprouts, candied clementines and a very delicate broth.
My memory of this meal is so intense that I realise I have gabbled on without mentioning the wines! The first two courses came with a fabulous 2013 Santenay and a 2012 Chateauneauf du Pape with the lobster, served in a magnum (so I had loads).
Finally, a truly magnificent chocolate and coffee desert. It came with a buckwheat biscuit, and I can tell you that I ate more seeds that night than my pet parrot, though the ten year old Madeira we washed it down with was way too good for Polly.
Overall, this was a truly magnificent experience in a sensational setting with a veritable maestro of his profession, an iconic chef with a lifetime of experience preparing awesome dishes. But, without wishing to sound ungrateful, at more than 500 euros without the wine, that’s a lot of money in anyone’s book…
Read: Peter Jones interviews Raymond Blanc
Peter Jones is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the Good Life France. With a French mother and a Welsh father he brings a fresh insight to the world of travel writing, restaurant reviewing and celebrity interviews.