Marcus

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Or rather, a chef is born free, and then they get a Michelin star. This tends to be my feeling whenever I come out of a two star restaurant. With the exception of Dinner by Heston, I’m yet to have a 2 star meal that was truly memorable. Fera, Sketch and The Square all blend into one memory. A memory of a certain type of cooking, one that was excellent at the time of eating, but forgettable soon afterwards. These restaurants sit in a purgatory. They lack that freshness and enthusiasm to push boundaries that many of the new 1 star restaurants do, and they aren’t the game changers at the top of their field like the 3 star restaurants. Instead it sits uncomfortably between- it is cooking that has earned its stripes over the years and honed in a style of its own, and will always deliver a fantastic meal. But it seems that many of these chefs, in search of that elusive third star, have forgotten what got them their first. They are focused on maintaining and perfecting what they have, not thinking outside of the box. The box here being the dining room filled with a predominantly wealthy, middle aged clientele, who are not here to be challenged by a new dining experience, but instead just want that dish they’ve seen the (no doubt now celebrity) chef cook on TV. There’s also the contracts these chefs have with the prestigious 5 star hotels, which no doubt are like getting a 5 year contract at Chelsea. The stand out performances that got them noticed in the first place stop, and instead they go into cruise control, producing the same high standard each time, without pushing on. They’re like a world class player earning their final big pay cheque. Fully deserved, but you know that they can still do better if they really try.

In the other camp, sit restaurants like The Typing Room and The Clove Club, that strive to try things new, and that for the moment are cooking without any chains. But then, they aren’t yet cooking to the standard of a restaurant like Marcus. So it’s a fine balance. Many of these up-and-coming chefs, just like you see on Great British Menu, are so determined to make their mark and get noticed that they will push to do more with new surprising flavour combinations or the latest cooking techniques. But this doesn’t always improve. A great chef knows that less is more. No doubt Marcus Wareing and all the other masters of high end cooking, were once just like that, but a point must come when the experimenting stops and the honing and perfecting becomes the focus. So really it comes down to what camp you prefer. A less perfect but more exciting and challenging meal, or a perfect but more familiar and safe meal.

Today it was the latter- as soon as you walk into the dining room you know the brand of cooking and type of experience you are in for. A library hush, more staff than diners, a decor made up of neutral colours (it’s duck-egg blue in Marcus) and a predominantly suited middle aged clientele. There was a choice of either the full Taster menu (£120) or the lighter Taste of Autumn lunch menu- 5 courses for £49, or £75 with wine pairing. The menu was refreshingly simplified, listing only the three primary ingredients of each dish. There was no aggrandising techniques, instead the cook disguises himself in the menu. The ingredients are king here.

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An amuse bouche of polenta cake with a black olive crumb and fresh basil and then Dorset crab with peach, were both strong indications of the cooking to come. Flavours that are familiar, but have been lifted to the best they can get.

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A starter of burrata, aubergine and sourdough was a superb demonstration of this. It was lifted by a little heat from paprika and a fresh crunch from spring onion, along with some excellent olive oil. Crispy Rhug Estate chicken with sweetcorn and tarragon, threatened to be a little on the sweet side, but the portion size was perfectly judged to prevent this.

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For mains, the lamb neck, with beetroot, runner beans and pearl barely was again a tried combination that was cooked to its full potential. I would have preferred to see the lamb pinker- if it hadn’t been so juicy (perhaps from being cooked sous vide) it would have come across as being over-done. The roasted bream with chorizo and tomato was again was playing it safe, and was the only dish where I felt the balance wasn’t quite right. The tomatoes were too sharp and combined with the smokiness of the chorizo the fish was overpowered and lost a little in the dish.

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Next a good Lancashire cheese with a smoky fig chutney and poppy seed crackers, followed by plum, vanilla and damson which was refreshing and light, with some perfect choux buns.

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Then the famous egg custard and nutmeg tart. A small square bite that summed up this brand of cooking. It looked simple, and of course is a flavour you’ve had many times. But not this good. The custard managed to be textureless, so that the only bite you get is from the crust of the pastry, and then the rich creamy flavour and hit of nutmeg washes over. If you asked any aspiring chef in the country who is making their name pushing new boundaries, to attempt to cook this custard tart, they would not come close to replicating it.

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Lunch here costs the best part of £90 a head (with a service and wine), but that’s to be expected, and the cooking and ingredients justify the price. It a three hour lunch, so either bring your iPhone or really like the person you are dining with, because three hours next to anybody will threaten to drag. My feeling after eating at Marcus, was that the cooking was precise and measured, that every single ingredient was taken to its full potential, and so each dish that was served was as good as it could be. But then, writing this, with the exception of the egg custard tart, I had to look over the menu again to recall exactly what it was I’d eaten. Perhaps it’s easier to remember a dish like Meat Fruit, which stands out primarily because of its technique and appearance. Still, it felt that with some of London’s best cooks and one of Britain’s finest chefs at the helm here, that there’s a feeling of taking what they have got and cooking within those 2 star parameters for the duck-egg blue dining room. I’d love to try the food if they took these chains off.

8.5/10 (££££)

The Berkeley, Wilton Pl, London SW1X 7RL

Marcus - The Berkeley Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Similar Restaurants:  Dinner by Heston

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Le Jules Verne

It is hard to imagine a more spectacular setting to dine than at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Rumour has it Kim and Kanye- sorry Kimye- are thinking about holding there pre-wedding meal here. That’s whether Kim’s huge arse can fit in the tiny lift that carries you half way up the tower. Or Kanye’s ego for that matter. The restaurant is Le Jules Verne, another in kind Ducasse’s crown, carrying another Michelin star for his collection.

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Inside is somewhere between a spaceship and a fine dining restaurant. But it’s not the decor you come for, it’s the views, and there’s no denying that they are spectacular. Admittedly Paris can’t boast a skyline like New York, but you can see all the way out to Sacre Coeur. This probably explains why the prices are so cripplingly high. There was nothing other than a 5 course tasting menu, with a main choice of either fish or meat, for €185. And this was the lunch menu.

To start lemon marinated sea bream, gold caviar, mimosa garnish.

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Then a lobster bique, served as a gazpacho, with orange and a stunning watercress mousse.

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The asparagus starter was cooked in the same tender way as Le Meurice, but I preferred this because it came with cheese and a truffled mousseline and was absolutely delicious.

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Then came either Blue lobster with sauteed vegetables, which was easily the best lobster dish I have ever tried.

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Or beef with souffleed potatoes (basically the best puffed up crisps in the world)and foie gras, which might well be the most rich and pleasing beef dish I have tried.

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Then came a wild strawberry and lime palet with passion fruit and ginger sorbet, that was simple and refreshing.

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Followed by the heavier praline and chocolate dessert, that was unbelievably rich and again faultless.

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The food didn’t stop here and with the coffee came an a selection of excellent petit-fours.

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The food was better than 3 Michelin star Le Meurice in my opinion and there wasn’t a dish that wasn’t of the highest standard. The view alone is worth coming for, even if that is going to cost you around £200 a head for lunch. If Kim and Kanye do choose this place, then it will inevitably be swamped by tourists for the rest of its days and you’ll never be able to give it a try. So get in while you can.

 

Food: 9.5/10

Service: 10/10

Atmosphere: 10/10

Value: 4/10

Overall: 9.5/10

Tour Eiffel, Avenue Gustave Eiffel, 75007 Paris, France

 

 

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Trishna

For most of us Indian food means a chicken tikka masala straight from the microwave or with plenty of pints of Cobra in the curry house next to the local pub on a Friday night. It has become one of our national foods. Something we stole, ruined and now churn out across the country in an array of fluorescent colours. This means Indian food and fine dining rarely go hand-in-hand. A few years ago I would have been one of these very people washing down bright orange masala sauce late at night, and if you’d told me I’d be sipping a cocktail and eating lightly spiced soft shell crab in a Michelin star Indian restaurant in Marleybone, I’d have laughed it off.  But tonight it was Trishna, the older sister of Gymkhana, and that is exactly what I was doing.

Set just off Marleybone High Street, Trishna has an unassuming frontage that is matched by the simple interior of painted white brick walls, warmed by a few touches of artwork and the dark wood furniture. It’s at once stylish and comfortable, and for Michelin star dining about as laid-back and unpretentious as you can get. We were one of the only tables in there at 6.30 on a Friday, but after a couple of excellent Indian spiced cocktails, we weren’t paying any attention to the lack of atmosphere.

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The waiters were excellent and it was nice for once not to be informed of the time they want you in and out. Instead they just let us take our time, bringing some moreish poppadoms and a great mango chutney to start things off. It was a strange experience having a sommelier recommend a wine to compliment my curry, but the bottle of Austrian Chardonnay (£30 for 500ml) was excellent.

To start I had the Gilafi Duck Seekh Kebab (£10) which was presented very neatly, with an interesting spiced pineapple chutney that worked brilliantly with it.

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My partner had the Nandu Varuval (£10.50)- soft shell crab, green chilli, garlic and white crab chutney. Again this was an excellent dish with a delicate balancing of flavours.

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For main the Seafood Biryani (£18) was again a lovely fragrant dish. My only complaint would be that whilst there was plenty of seafood minced in with the rice, I would have preferred some bigger chunks. The yoghurt dip that it came with was so good that I ordered another and spooned it into my mouth long after the biryani had finished.

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My partner went for the Andhra Lamb Masala (£20) which I feel could have done with a little bit more sauce. In the end we ended up lathering more of the yoghurt on it.

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The bread basket (around £9 for 3 naans) was fine, but I was hoping for more duck in the keema naan. This was the only minor complaint of a flawless meal.

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To finish we shared the Aam Malai (£7.50)- alphonso mango cream, raw mango chutney and mango jelly. This was a hit and miss dish- there were elements I loved like the mango jelly cubes and the pieces of dried mango, but it was all a bit sickly, and the green little shot glass combined with the mango chutney pushed this towards the savoury side of desserts, something I’m not a huge fan of.

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The bill came to £70 a head, but that included 2 cocktails each and a £30 bottle of wine. The food was certainly worthy of its Michelin star, and when compared to other Indian restaurants in London that hold a star, such as Tamarind and Amaya, this was considerably better, both in terms of price and the quality of the food. What made the meal was the surroundings, as it managed to maintain that causal feel but did so with flawless service and exciting food.

Food: 8.5/10

Service: 9/10

Atmosphere: 7.5/10

Value: 8.5/10

Overall: 8.5/10

15-17, Blandford St, W1U 3DG
Trishna on Urbanspoon

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Le Cinq

The Four Seasons George V takes luxury to the next level. We were staying in Le Meurice, which has a much more boutique feel and although it is still grand, it was like a Holiday Inn in comparison to this. The flower displays alone were enough to blow you away. We were greeted at the door and guided through to Le Cinq’s classy dining room.  It had a much more relaxed and warm feel than Le Meurice, and with plenty more diners having lunch there was a much better atmosphere as well.

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Immediately the champagne cart was wheeled over and we all started with an excellent light glass of rose. Then came the star of the show. Not the food. But the waiter. Julien he was called. He quite literally was the best waiter I have ever had. From the moment he came over and realised we were Geordies his chat started. Over the course of the meal we covered football, films, traveling and of course the food. It was the perfect blend of unbelievable charm with flawless professionalism. He quite literally made the meal.

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The Market menu was three courses for €110, which felt like a bargain after the previous two meals we’d had. There was a choice of two starters, mains and desserts, so if you didn’t like pigeon and liver you were pushed towards the fish choice of Whiting.

To start things off three little amuse bouches were all a little bit strange. The egg shell was filled with what tasted almost like a cappuccino cream. Then there was some fish with apple  I can’t remmeber the details). And the final one was a little pastry filled with ricotta and a fish paste that tasted a little bit like sweat but in the best way possible.

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Then came a choice of excellent breads came with a stunning Sicilian olive oil, and an even better seaweed butter from Brittany. I was happy with the new Lurpak slow churned butter, until I tried this.

A pumpkin and ginger soup followed, and it was a really refreshing way to prepare for the meal. The pumpkin seeds gave an added crunch, and served cold this really was a fitting dish for the warm Spring weather outside.

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The Octopus and Prawn starter was a thing of beauty and tasted as good as it looked. The seaweed crisp and vegetables gave it a pleasing variation of textures, and the flavour of the octopus, which had charred flesh, was stunning. The side of a thin anchovy, buratta and jalapeno pizza  slice was a delicious little treat. If only takeaways started doing a 12 inch version.

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The Watercress soup (served cold) came with a Muscadet jelly and a side pastry with Mediterranean vegetables on top. It was a beautifully light starter, with such a clean and fresh flavour. The jelly brought a sweetness that really worked with the watercress.

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For main I went for the Pigeon coated in sesame seeds and foie gras, with liver and spinach inside. It was kind of like a Pigeon Wellington, and was a good portion for a lunch menu. There was a lovely balance between the richness of the foie gras with the earthiness of the liver. The celery were coated in a cocoa crumb, which seemed a little bit random, but gave a nice hit of sweetness.

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The Whiting was perfectly cooked and had an almost butter like taste and texture. This was just a flawless main course, and easily the best fish dish I have tasted.

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A grapefruit sorbet with champagne and mascerpone was a lovely palate cleanser. The tang of the grapefruit was perfectly offset by the creaminess of the mascerpone. I would have been happy with this for dessert.

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I went for the Green Apple combination which had a light candy floss on top and a lovely sorbet. But the further I went down the sweeter it became, and I couldn’t finish it all. The liquid at the bottom was a bit like a shot of Apple Sourz and tasted almost artificial in its sweetness.

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My parents had the chocolate and cherry dessert with coconut ice cream. Hot chocolate sauce was poured over it to melt the dome of chocolate (a trick I’m a bit bored of) but this was much better than the Green Apple dessert and the plates were as good as licked clean by the end.

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Then came the petit-fours, which were all delicious, although again quite sweet. There was lemon meringue pie, an orange cream one and the last was something like a cherry profiterole.

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If that wasn’t enough, truffles, nougat and sweets followed with the coffee. The waiters then gave us a box of our choosing to take home. They also took a photo of us and gave us each a printed version before we left. It was these little touches that made it the best dining experience of my life.

The food was excellent, and definitely worthy of 2 Michelin stars. It felt much more deserving of a third star than Le Meurice. The dessert was the only course I wasn’t blown away by, and it was hard to find a fault with any of the other dishes. What made the meal though was the service. They made it a pleasure to be dining there, and also had great patter which made it into a surprisingly laid back and fun lunch. Something you don’t tend to associate with fine dining.

It cost just over €260 a head, but that included two excellent bottles of a vintage 2008 Chablis (€130) and a bottle of rose champagne. This is of course a lot for lunch, but it still managed to feel like great value (for Paris that is) as the lunch market menu at €110, gives you all of the extras, making it more of a 6 course meal. I promised the waiter that I’d return next year, and given just how good this meal was, I definitely intend to.

Food: 9/10

Service: 10/10

Atmosphere: 10/10

Value: 8.5/10

Overall: 9.5/10

31 Avenue George V, 75008 Paris, France

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Le Meurice

Restaurant Le Meurice. My first taste of 3 Michelin stars. With Alain Ducasse’s name stamped on it I was a little apprehensive about what to expect. After all he doesn’t cook here and instead spends his time collecting Michelin stars around the world. His restaurant in the Dorchester in London (Le Meurice is part of the Dorchester Collection) has had its fair share of critics questioning why it deserves that third Michelin star. All I knew about this restaurant, given just how tightly any information regarding the menu or price is kept, is that it was no doubt going to cost me an arm and a leg.

The dining room combines stunning French luxury with some modern touches and it is without a doubt the finest I have ever been in. Just to show off there was a somewhat pointless 300kg crystal slab right in the middle of the room. I of course mistook it for a ice sculpture and asked the waiter how long it takes to melt. Really showed my class there.

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The service was even better than I had expected. There was never a moment when you were left wanting anything. Even the little touches like giving the women a stool to rest their handbags on, or the bag of sea salt and chocolates at the end to take away, made that extra bit of difference. The waiters also managed to remove any of the stuffiness that I had been expecting, and instead it was a laid back three and a half hour feast. However, this service still isn’t for me. It is nice being pampered, but when you have a waiter topping up your water every time you have a sip it does feel like you are having dinner with them.

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The menu was in French, so we needed the waitress to walk us through it.  There were about 4 choices from each section of the menu, but we settled for the chef’s menu, at a whopping €380 for 5 courses. To think that Alain Ducasse in the Dorchester is 7 courses for around £180.

With an aperitif of rose champagne came a warm poached oyster wrapped in a butter crisp. It was a pleasant alternative to the mouthful of salt water you usually get, even though it did take the fun out of slurping them down. The subtle flavour lingered and worked perfectly with the champagne. I’m assuming this was intended?

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Then came an excellent selection of breads. One of them was sawed from a huge loaf that needed its own trolley to be pushed around on.

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For an amuse-bouche there was an assortment of vegetables that had been cooked inside a salt crust, served in a fondue-like pot. These were without doubt the best vegetables I have ever tasted. The salt had intensified their flavour and they were also all perfectly cooked . I didn’t realise a potato could be this good. There was a light sorrel cream to dip them in that worked brilliantly.

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To start we all had a dish quite simply named Asparagus (a whopping €90 if you go for it on its own). The asparagus had been cooked in a way that made it disintegrate from the touch of a fork, and it was the best I’ve ever tasted. With it came a charred cheese crumb (or something along those lines) and several other fancy techniques using the asparagus.

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Next up was the Blue Lobster with cooking juices. It had been poached for only a minute meaning that the flavour really did shine through. It did make the texture a little chewy though. As for the cooking juices, they lacked the depth of flavour I was expecting and didn’t really bring the dish together.

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For main, I went for the Chicken stuffed with black truffle. It was a little on tepid side (I have no idea if it was meant to, but after my ice sculpture mistake, I wanted to preserve some pride so I didn’t ask). The chicken skin must have been cooked separately as it was perfectly crisp, and the chicken beneath tasted as if it had been cooked in a water bath on a low temperature as it almost had a gelatine texture.

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The lamb dish just didn’t look appetising at all. The 4 tiny little slices of lamb just looked bland, and although there was a great taste of lamb, there was just nothing to get your teeth into. The side was a wheat or grain of some sort and was really heavy on the citrus and not really that pleasant. This was a miss of a dish. One that I wouldn’t be too pleased with in any top restaurant.

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Then came an excellent selection of French cheeses including the best Brie I have ever tried. A little black olive bread roll and some fruit bread were perfect accompaniments.

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For pudding I had what was essentially a chocolate sundae with coffee ice cream and a side of chocolate souffle. For me that souffle hasn’t risen enough. What made up for this was the most intense hot dark chocolate sauce I have ever tried.

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The passion fruit dessert had lots of different textures and the meringue was soft and sticky, but was this a little bit safe for a three Michelin starred dessert? It was a good sorbet and had an intense flavour, but it was hardly groundbreaking stuff.IMG_3114

My partner went for the Pear tart. Again this was a very simple dish executed perfectly. The pear was an appetising golden colour and was on a thin disc of pastry. But is this really three star cooking?

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Then came a selection of sorbets from a tray of exotic fruits. I wonder if all that fruit goes to waste? IMG_3120

With the coffee came little crispy shards with walnuts and a bag of dark chocolate each to take home. The coffee was also of the highest quality, with almost a dark chocolate richness to it.

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Maybe my taste-buds just aren’t refined enough to appreciate the quality of the ingredients. Maybe if I had tried every type of asparagus out there, then I could tell the difference. But I haven’t, and so the quality was lost on me a bit. I was looking for groundbreaking cooking, not great ingredients simply cooked. If you don’t dine at these types of places each week, and like me save it for a special occasion, then Le Meurice isn’t the place to go. This feels like a restaurant where people used to experiencing the high life can go for some solid and fairly safe cooking, and then don’t flinch when they see the bill for such simplicity. Although the service and the room were of the highest standard, the food itself was not what I expected of 3 Michelin stars. I couldn’t help but feel that nothing really pushed the boat out. Even the presentation didn’t blow me away.

As for the value it is without a doubt the most expensive meal I am ever likely to have. After going for the €380 taster menu (around £320), a bottle of Billecart-Salmon rose champagne (€250) and a couple of bottles of great white wine (€220 each) the bill came out at over €500 a head for dinner. There are no doubt plenty of other 2 and 3 Michelin star restaurants in the world that serve better food at fairer prices. But of course eating in one of Paris’ best hotels in a luxurious dining room, and with king Ducasse’s name attached to it, this of course can command just about what it wants. I wouldn’t go back, but I still loved every moment of it.

Food: 6/10

Service: 9/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Value: 2/10

Overall: 6/10

228 Rue de Rivoli, Paris, France

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