France

Pâtisseries in France (Pictorial)

Stohrer

 

Pistachio Eclair from random patisserie

 

La Maison Du Chocolat

 

Pierre Herme

 

La Patisserie Des Reves (My personal fav)

 

Laduree

 

Jacques Genin

 

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France

Guy Savoy, France (***)

We arrived at Guy Savoy’s eponymous restaurant in Paris, dressed in the most formal wear we had brought on the trip. They say that there is a new wave of French cuisine taking place in Paris, one that goes against the idea, the concept of Michelin stars and fine dining; the rise of the brasseries, the bistros, and the possible decline of the fine dining restaurants. If anything, Guy Savoy is part of the old guard that finds himself being attacked by this new wave of French Cuisine. Being the youngest chef in a group of reknowned chefs who pioneered “Nouvelle Cuisine” in France, where there was a shift away from the rich, heavy sauces, thickened with copious amounts of butter, towards a more balanced, delicate approach to a menu, it would be interesting to see how he reacted with his food. We were expecting to have the lunch menu at Guy Savoy, what we did not realize was that the lunch menu was only available to those who made reservations online. Once we were seated, the set menu(without the lunch) and a la carte menu was presented to us. I was starting to get a little worried because they had already served us an amuse bouche before the menu had even arrived, and it seemed impolite to walk into the restaurant, gobble up an amuse, and decide we didnt want to have the set menu. Plus we had already told them we were from singapore, and he had my name through the reservation, what if he hunted me down on facebook and publically shamed me for dining and dashing?

When I enquired about it, the maitre d was quick to explain to us the system of their menus, and asked if we had made online reservations. I honestly did not know, and a trip planner had made our reservation for us, which meant everyone had an ‘umm…. (looks around nervously)’ look on our face, the maitre’d quickly caught on to this, because he quickly explained that he was willing to make an exception for us, but not without giving us a mini lecture on how lucky we were(Very very uncomfortable at this point)

Toast with foie gras and truffle

Quite the epitome of luxury. The toast was thinly sliced and lightly toasted, leaving a nice nutty flavor that complemented the truffle, which in turn complemented the very very creamy foie gras. My description of the foie isn’t doing it much justice, because it was soft to the point where it was almost like a butter. A nice statement of intent by the restaurant. Good

 

 Pumpkin soup and crab tartlet (No Pic)

Another smart little amuse, the pumpkin was light but rich in flavor. Crab tartlet had some acidity to cut the richness of the soup but the tartlet itself wasn’t very good. Okay

At this point we were approached with a tray of about 8 different kinds of bread, along with recommendations for bread pairing with our respective appetizers. I’ve never had a bread pairing before, but it seems like quite a good idea, why don’t more restaurants do this?

 

Ice poached oysters & 2 new preparations (served w seaweed bread) 

The cold trio of oysters was plump and sweet, and it was encapsulated in sea water gelee(I personally believe fresh oysters should be eaten w it’s natural seawater and nothing else). The salt level of the gelee was toned down quite a bit to let the natural sweetness of the oyster shine. The acidity in the dish came from the salad, which drew its link to the trio of oysters when it was finished with an oyster vinagette. When both the salad and trio of oysters were finished, a single warm poached oyster was served, it had spherical crispy pops(not sure what they were) that added an interesting contrast to the oyster. The warm oyster had a much more meaty texture to it, and sitting below the oyster was an egg custard that I can only describe as being very close in texture to chawanmushi. Overall there was a lot going on in this one appetizer, possibly even too much, I enjoyed the oysters but the salad was quite pedestrian. Okay

 

 

Artichoke and black truffles soup served with buttered brioche (Served w traditional baguette)

One of Guy Savoys signature dishes, incidentally, artichokes are also his favourite ingredient, and it’s not difficult to see why. An artichoke soup with shaved black truffle and Parmigian cheese; I hate artichokes with a passion, but the sweetness of the artichokes and truffles came together to form a really warm, creamy, very earthy, almost rustic(with a tad bit of extravagance, just a tad) soup. It tastes and feels like a very rich soup in your mouth, but there is enough balance that you don’t get bloated from consuming a large bowl of this. The mushroom brioche was soft and buttery, reminds me a lot of my bread experience in Per Se, and to take things over the top, it is cut in half and buttered some more. As he was buttering the brioche, the maitre d commented, “do you know why we butter the brioche? Because butter makes everything better.” I have to say I agree. Very good

 

 

Line-caught whiting w salmon eggs, Dublin bay prawn tartar with lemon jelly (5 bran)

I’m sure this dish was a little lost on me, but I did not like it at all. It was very very intensely fishy, I’m not sure if this was the intention of the dish, but the tartar and lemon jelly were completely overpowered and unable to hold up to the taste of the whiting, and it left your mouth with a very unpleasant lingering fishiness. You can basically make this dish at home by poaching a piece of fish in Thai fish sauce (Sorry Guy Savoy :p, but I’m only kidding, not that you’re ever going to read this). Very bad

 

 

Salmon ‘frozen’ on ice, scalding hot consommé, lemon pearls

I choose this dish because it sounded the most interesting of the lot. And I was 90% sure that lemon pearls were spherification, which was a little surprising because spherification has seemed to lost it’s appeal among many restaurants. But I was completely wrong about the pearls. Anyway, back to the fish. It’s basically a salmon that has been ‘cooked’ on a piece of dry ice, during which you actually get to see the flesh of the salmon begin to turn whitish-pink, like how it would if you cooked it normally over heat. It’s served on a very hot plate with very hot vegetable bouillon, chervil agar agar, and the lemon pearls are actually from a tiny fruit with pulp that has the size of caviar, and a taste of a grapefruit but also very tart, almost as acidic as a lime. The ‘pulp’ had a membrane that had a bite to it, very similar to that of a pomegranate. I’m beginning to make this sound like some sort of genetically modified mutant fruit, but it really was quite interesting and pleasant, it was mixed with lemon pulp to reinforce the lemon portion of the dish. It felt a little gimmicky but the wide contrast in temperatures made the dish quite enjoyable, although when the entire dish came to an equilibrium temperature, the dish quickly lost its pizzazz. I really didn’t care fo the chervil agar, I dislike the consistency of agar in savory dishes, but everything eaten together really had a nice balance to it. It was actually the lemon pearls that really brought the fish to life and the whole dish together. Good

  

  

Steam baked Bresse chicken breast, lemongrass, ribb vegetables, Swiss chard glazed with poultry jus

It’s time for another installment of ‘Best things I ever ate’, and this was the best chicken I’ve ever eaten. Another of Savoy’s signature dishes, I’m a little happy that this wasn’t done sous vide, because if it was, my circulator would be turned on all day and I would be responsible for a lot of dead birds. The chicken was placed in a pouch and left in the oven to steam, it had the moisture similar to that of a sous vide chicken; I find that sous vide chicken tends to mash the fibers of the meat together quite a little, this had none of those issues, the meat was more ‘defined’ and firm, but maintained all of its wonderful tenderness. The lemongrass actually complimented the chicken very well, without overpowering its delicate flavours. Very good

 

 

‘Foie gras and radish’, just fried turnips and ‘roasted caramelized duck’

I didn’t have enough of this to make a fair assessment, but for all your drooling pleasure

 

 

‘multicolour’ 

A dessert whose primary ingredient was figs. Again, didn’t have enough of it to make a fair assessment, and there was a lot going on in the dish

 

 

Mille feuille pastry w vanilla pod made to order

Shouldn’t everything in Guy Savoy be a la minut? Regardless, the pastry in this was texturally so flaky and soft, it was like eating air, the vanilla cream wasn’t overly sweet and had a very strong vanilla taste. Okay

 

All black (Noir)

A very dense chocolate cake sitting below one of the darkest and most bitter chocolate ice creams I’ve had. It was refreshing to be able to taste bitterness in a chocolate ice cream, not the most complex dessert, but simple and very satisfying. Okay

 

 

Grapefruit terrine w tea sauce

Another of Savoy’s signature dishes. The tea sauce was beautiful, the level of sweetness was just about enough to bring out the aromas of the Earl grey tea, it also balanced the tartness of the grapefruit terrine. The vanilla wafers gave welcome crunch to the dish, and it was only then that you got the vanilla aromas, which didn’t overpower the taste and smell of the Earl Grey at all. I would have never thought that Earl grey and grapefruit works so well together, it’s hard to describe to describe how good this tastes, because it’s hard to imagine the two flavors combining. So just trust my word in this, it was delicious. Very good

 

Vanilla mousse. Didn’t particularly enjoy the texture. Bad

Raspberry, avocado puree was a little lost in the raspberry. Okay

Chestnut– intense chestnut mousse, crisp meringue played off the mousse beautifully. Good

 

 

Earl grey sorbet w custard sauce. Black pepper

Perfect end to the meal, the sorbet was the best sorbet I’ve had. I’m not even that crazy about tea, but this had the perfect amount of tartness that we really needed at this point of the meal. The custard added a creamyness back into the sorbet, but not in the context of a deconstructed ice cream, black pepper was pretty mild and provided very faint residual heat. Intensely refreshing, and the sorbet perfumed all your senses with the smell of Earl Grey, even after the sorbet was long gone. V good

 

Chocolate, hazelnut, raisin

Choc muffin w raisin

What had started out a slightly awkward lunch turned out to be a delightful experience. The food at Guy Savoy is excellent, but I am fairly certain that most 3 star restaurants in France would serve excellent food as well. It was the service that surprised me the most. The maitre’d was very chatty, charming, funny, witty, challenging but never to the point of coming off as rude. You could tell that he knew what he was doing, and he did his job brilliantly, it really goes to show how much front of house staff really adds to the experience of the meal. Im not entirely sure if  it is a conscious effort by the 3 star restaurants to want to shake off the image of being pompous and arrogant , by hiring friendlier and more engaging waiters and waitresses, but if it is, its a step in the right direction

France

L’Arpege, France (***)

3 Michelin stars, 19th best restaurant in the world (2011)

When I first brought up the idea of having a meal at L’Arpege to my sister, she quipped, “Whats so special about the place?”

My reply, “The chef, Alain Passard, cooks and dedicates the menu around vegetables” was met with a look that comprised of both disgust and confusion, she had assumed I was joking, but clearly I wasn’t. My justification that L’Arpege should be on my shortlist of restaurants to visit in Paris was based on the fact that any restaurant that has a menu constructed around the use of vegetables, by choice of Passard himself, and still maintains 3 Michelin stars, must be doing something right. To say that he doesn’t serve meat isn’t completely true, there are dishes with game, poultry, and seafood on the menu, but red meat seems to be completely eradicated.

The choice turned out to be a wise one, our copious consumption of meat in the Czech republic, Hungary, Austria and Germany was on the borderline of being gratuitous, at the end of every heavy meal, I looked forward to the fact that our first meal in France would be at L’Arpege.

We arrived in Paris at approximately 10am, with a reservation for lunch at 1230pm. Our driver gave us a quick tour of the sights in the area before dropping us off at the corner of a quiet street.

 

 

Tartlets from the garden: Turnip mousseline, carrot w oranges, beetroot

Perhaps a very accurate indicator of the direction Arpege takes with it’s food, very raw, earthy ingredients, simply but perfectly cooked to bring out their natural flavour. The turnip was a little bitter overall in taste, but when eaten in succession with the beetroot(intensely sweet without the overpowering earthiness that beet seems to have) and the carrot w oranges(sweet but you were able to discern between the citrusy sweetness and the more earthy sweetness of the carrots), it seemed to balance itself out.  Okay

 

Bread was had a nice stretchy texture to it, very moist and had a nice sour tang to it. Im not particularly crazy about bread/butter courses, but this butter was amazing, it was soft, with a very intense but pleasant creamy/milky taste to it, with a smoothness that I’ve never quite experienced before. Very good

 

 

“Soft boiled Egg”

I requested for the ‘famous L’Arpege egg dish’ the moment I noticed that I couldn’t seem to find the dish on the menu, the maitre’d immediately nodded with a smile and told me that it would not be a problem, like she had some sort of telepathic understanding for my need to make sure that we were going to have this. Sat at the bottom of the shell is an egg yolk(No white), very lightly poached till it has the consistency of the yolk in a soft boiled egg, then topped with chives, clove, nutmeg, white pepper, and ginger, then covered with some creme fraiche with aged Jerez Vinegar, maple syrup, and sea salt.

Flavour wise, it was one of the most complex dishes I have ever eaten, the creme fraiche had a lightness that carried the taste of the spices beautifully, the yolk was the foundation of the whole dish and added a creamyness and richness to the dish. The maple syrup seemed to cut through this richness very quickly and brought some balance to the nutty and smokyness from the nutmeg and clove. Towards the end of the dish when everything had amalgamated together into a cream, you could still taste the distinct components of the dish. The flavours seemed to work well separately, and then as you continued eating, it evolved, and even then, the flavours still worked well together. Very Good

 

 

Carpaccio of scallops, radishes, and horseradish

Scallops were in season when we were in France, and you could really taste how fresh these were. The sweetest scallops I’ve had; so sweet they would’ve been good on their own. Not wanting to alter the natural taste of the scallops, or introduce too much to the dish, the dressing was simply olive oil and lemon juice,  with radishes added a textural crunch, but sliced thinly enough so that it never intruded on the scallops. The horseradish gave the dish a nice peppery, spicy zing, but was grated fine enough that it never lingered for long. Green tea powder added a hint of bitterness to tone down the sweetness of the scallops, and gave the dish a slight umami boost. Very good

 

 

Onion confit, gratinated with Parmesan cheese, with candied lemon and a salad

This dish blew me away, it looks simple but tasted devastatingly good. The onion was sweet to the point of being indescribable,and had the taste of all the complex flavours brought about by the Maillard reaction, but the strange thing about the dish is that there was very little browning and no caramelization on the onions at all, it just carried those flavours, there was also no smokyness from onions at all, I can only assume that the onions were cooked on a very very low temperature for a long time. The candied lemon seemed to hide itself in the confit and would hit you when you least expected it, giving you a nice citrus burst, but it was candied at a very close sweetness level to the onions so it amalgamated itself perfectly into the onions, and didn’t intrude on the dish with any sudden jolt of sugar. The Parmesan was sparsely grated, which was good because any more would have taken away from the sweetness of the onion, it also gave the overall dish a luxurious,  rich, silky mouthfeel. It got very heavy from the intense sweetness towards the end, and the refreshing and well dressed salad cut the sweetness of the onions expertly. Superb

 

 

Red pepper veloute finished with an iberico foam

You could taste quite a lot of cream in the veloute but it never tasted heavy. The natural taste of the sweet grilled peppers complemented the intense, ham, smoky flavor of the foam amazingly. The foam was also served cold so it was the first thing that hit the roof of your mouth, then the foam collapsed and ‘melted’ into the warm veloute, but you could distinguish between the two different flavors, possibly because the taste of the iberico was bounded by fat(whipped cream?), which has slow flavour release properties, either way, the pairing was a good one. Good

 

 

Poached egg served with emulsification of parmesan and salsifis

Im gonna admit that this was the most perfectly cooked poached egg I have ever eaten, despite all the hoo-ha about sous vide eggs, I personally believe that SV poached eggs yield the perfect yolk, but not the perfect white(I like my whites more set). I know it probably had a lot to do with the quality of the egg, since many bakers swear by the superior quality of French eggs, but damn, the texture of this was surreal. The egg whites were firm enough to hold it’s shape, but when pierced, immediately showed how soft it was when the walls of it collapsed to leak out a perfect, creamy yolk. The parmesan foam was delightful and surprisingly intense, the lightness of the foam really emphasized the delicacy of the egg, but the root vegetable (salsifis) had a very pungent earthy, woody smell that threw everything off balance for me. Most at the table didn’t finish the roots that were on their plate. Okay

 

 

Vegetables from the garden, served with semolina, sausage made with vegetable

This looked almost like a garden on a plate, and in essence, thats what it was. A variety of vegetables, as fresh as produce gets, all very deftly cooked, either lightly blanched or grilled to maintain most of its bite, so as to showcase the quality of their natural flavours. It sounds cliche, but you could really taste the freshness and earthiness of the dish, the semolina had a similar consistency to ‘al dente cous cous'(is the such a thing? If not, dibs on the term), and gave the dish a nice slightly ‘chewy’ textural contrast when eaten with the vegetables. The faux sausage tasted quite surreal, it had all the flavors of a choritzo, but the consistency of stewed root vegetables. Good

 

 

Cod served with green tea, celeriac puree, sorrel(added later)

Remember I talked about a really nicely cooked piece of fish in my Steirereck post? Well this is it. The most perfectly cooked piece of fish I have ever eaten, hands down. I’m not sure if you can see this from the close up photo, but the meat of the fish was opalescent, almost translucent, flaking apart with just the slightest nudge with the back of your spoon. The fish was very nicely seasoned and the green tea added a nice meaty, rich mouthfeel, but did not overpower with bitterness. The sweetness of the celeriac puree toned down the overall saltyness of the fish, a classic combination of flavors, but it works. The onion was caramelized expertly, probably very quickly deep fried, but wasn’t burnt despite some very thin exposed layers of the onion. The sorrel tried to balance the overall dish with some  sharp acidity, but i felt it was a little too acidic for my liking. Very good

Next, the maitre d brought out a cheese course, and we opted to have a sampling of everything they had. I eat and appreciate cheese quite a bit, but I am by no means an expert, my sister knows her cheeses far more than I do. Most of the cheeses were nice, one of them was absolutely shite(my sister described it as ‘this is what horse piss would taste like if I drank horse piss’), I agree with her, not that I know what horse piss tastes like. And the end of all the cheeses(we were told to eat it in a specific order) was a 2-year old aged gruyere. I have to say from the bottom of my heart that tasting this was like a revelation, it was incredibly complex, sweet, nutty, salty, slightly bitter, a little acidic on the tongue, all these flavors came in waves and when all of it was melted in your mouth, every flavor came together to form the most intense and amazing taste, then it was quickly gone and you just kept wanting more. Yes, a lot of ‘this was the best ___ I ever ate’ in this meal, but this really was the best cheese I’ve ever tasted. The maitre d seemed to agree because she happily told us that it was her favorite as well

 

 

Apple tart with caramel sauce

The tart was as delicious as it was a thing of beauty. My sister just informed me that this tart is one of Passards signature dishes as I’m typing this(I’m not the pastry guru in the family), but even I could take appreciation to the amount of detail they put into it, rolling puff pastry to resemble a rose, with a single cashew nut at the center of each rose. The pastry was supremely crisp and separated into its ‘individual buds’ with ease. The caramel sauce lent moisture to the pastry without being too sweet, so you could taste the freshness of the apple. Very good

At this point we were rushed out of the restaurant by our tour guide/driver because we were already late for our tour at the Eiffel tower, a beautiful tray of petit fours consisting of a tomato macaron, quince macaron, dark chocolate bonbon with lavender, white chocolate bonbon with thyme, a nougat, were all quickly gobbled up by me. By gobbled, I really mean gobbled, it wasn’t surprising to see disapproving looks from surrounding Frenchmen in suits, but sorry guys, when you gotta bounce, you just gotta bounce.  I enjoyed the nougat and the macarons best, but it would’ve been nice so savor the desserts properly.

This was one of the best 3 star meals Ive had, the food is not overworked and there is an underlying philosophy behind the food cooked at L’Arpege. Letting the natural, raw flavours of the ingredients shine is a mantra that has been repeated over and over by many chefs, but at a 3 Michelin level, chefs constantly feel the need to raise the game, to elevate the ingredients to their maximum potential, and this can easily mean overworking a dish; L’Arpege does not fall into this trap

The food is pretty as it is delicious, intensely flavoured while maintaining a lightness about it, there is a lot of balance in each dish that most diners will find easy to appreciate, whether or not you choose to scrutinize each dish. Service is top notch and all servers, even the ones who weren’t fluent in English, were more than happy to answer our questions and requests(The driver had asked them to push out our last 2 courses quickly and they were happy to oblige). The Maitre’d walks around the restaurant, ensuring that any needs are swiftly attended to, all this being done with no air of pompousness about the place. There are many 3 star restaurants in Paris that I’m sure are worth visiting, and I haven’t visited them all, but I will definitely be revisiting L’Arpege the next time I’m in Paris again.