Hello Foodos and Foodettes!
I’ve returned from my massive wedding/honeymoon hiatus and you will be happy to know that I’ve come back with some great food stories to share! So let’s take a break from neighbourhood cheap eats and late-afternoon specials for some LEGIT world class fine dining.
I planned this honeymoon like a true food-obsessed cheap Asian. Many hours were spent trying to find out which Michelin starred restaurants gave me the best bang for my buck. Set lunch menus and pre-theatre dining became my friend. The task was a lot harder for Paris than for London, where fine dining commands up to 300 euros per person. Browsing the menus of upscale restaurants making the “Most Romantic” lists, I came across the beautiful Les Ambassadeurs and their very very reasonable 68 euro set lunch menu. Well done me!
But before we get to lunch, lets take a short stroll through Paris.
My first time in the city, I held no expectations because I’ve heard very mixed reviews of the city, and many have told me that it’s a disappointment when expecting the romanticised fantasy Paris you see in films. Well, I’m not sure what Paris they were talking about because the city I visited was a complete fairytale.
Every scene in Paris is a postcard. And any city where buskers’ main instrument of choice is the accordion easily has my heart.
We started off with breakfast at a Tabac (tobacconist/cafe/bar) next to the Sorbonne. A French breakfast consists of croissant, baguette, coffee, juice and jams. The cafes offer eggs and ham for Americanos (and Aussies) who need some meaty savouries at breakfast time – but you really don’t need them after you realise how good a fresh baguette slathered in buttered tastes.
We visited Notre Dame and walked through the Jardin Tuileries to Concorde, where the uber-luxury Hotel de Crillon is located.
I realise, as a country that started out as a penal colony, the Australian standard of “luxury” doesn’t even stand up next to the opulence that conquering nations with rich histories of royalty and aristocracy are capable of. Exhibit A:
Les Ambassadeurs. Chandeliers, painted ceilings and gold EVERYWHERE. The restaurant recently regained its 1 Michelin star in 2011, under the leadership of hot young chef Christopher Hache.
I thought I was pretty clever finding the best value fine dining in Paris, but when we arrived there were two other Asian couples with a food-photo-taking female. Way to make me feel like a stereotype!
To start, we were asked if we would like an apertif before our meal, which is not included in the set menu but at this point in our honeymoon (Day 1) we were just saying “Yes please!” to everything, and how can you resist a champagne cart! We learnt later on that it was probably best to skip the aperitif because a) it blows out the bill and b) combined with the 1-2 glasses of wine included in the lunch special, it pretty much knocks me out.
We were offered a selection of breads and TWO types of butter: seaweed and salted. Being breadlovers, we LOVED the fact that most restaurants would bring out a bread basket with 4-5 different types of bread and being able to choose and try every single type throughout the course of the meal. I don’t think we can go back to just having one dinner roll plonked on our plate. We’ve been spoilt.
Our Swedish waiter Nils was a sweetie and told me my “Merci” was almost perfect! I was super chuffed and spoke my gringo French with confidence after that. “Bonjour!” “Un baguette s’il vous plait!” “Ou sont les toilettes?”
The amuse bouche was served to us… on PLATES. You know you’re not in Kansas anymore when your amuse is PLATED.
I didn’t actually catch what the waiter said this was… all I remember was “cabbage”. To be honest it was pretty forgettable… and I actually don’t remember what it tasted like. I was just excited that it was on a plate and not in a shot glass!
My first taste of foie gras in France! They kindly gave us a double serving of crispy toast so we could share, and boy, there aren’t many things in this world better than foie gras spread on extra-crunchy bread.
Bourrata Cheese, artichoke cream and parmesan cheese
My better half took one for the team and ordered the less-appealing looking entrée, which he actually really enjoyed. The cheese was a bit too milky and bland for my liking, but he liked the freshness of it.
To return the favour, I ordered the fish course for main and let hubby order the guinea fowl. Well, I thought I was returning the favour.
This looked impressive, especially the generous portion of guinea fowl – but there wasn’t much to get excited about, it was simply nicely cooked poultry with some veg. And as much as the French love white asparagus… its not the most elegant vegetable.
And here started our love-affair with fish. Matt and I never order the fish course, because we’re both gluttons and fish never seems as satisfying as hearty red meat or poultry. But over our honeymoon our cave-man like eating habits learnt a valuable lesson: fish, when “cook to perfection” (as Manu would say), beats any other meat hands down.
The bite-sized portions of cod were marshmallowy soft, and the chorizo cream (poured at the table – love the theatricality of having a dish plated in front of me!) had a really rich almost cheese-like savouriness. Once of the best dishes we had on our trip.
As a pre-dessert we were given tiny sorbet balls wrapped in candy wrappers – so cute! And “cute” seemed to be the theme with the desserts – with sophisticated remakes of childhood classics.
Beautifully presented as you can see, but nothing spectacular flavour-wise. I preferred the sweet/tart combo of the chocolate and passionfruit – the strawberry “three ways” (mousse, sorbet and jam?) was pretty one-dimensional – the best part was the mushy banana surprise in the middle.
And finally, an adorable little array of petit fours.
Our long, luxurious lunch at Les Ambassadeurs delivered everything it promised. The food may not have been particularly creative or relevatory, but the dishes were all really enjoyable, with simple and very French flavours. Our enjoyment was obvious and Nils told us it was “An honour to take away such empty plates”. For a place so fancy, the staff were so friendly and completely unpretentious and we were treated like royalty. When service is this good, food almost takes a backseat to the overall experience. This is one we’ll be telling the grandkids about.
Les Ambassadeurs at the Hotel de Crillon
10 Place de la Concorde, 75008 Paris, France