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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La Fontaine de Mars

Finding a good restaurant in Paris should be easy. After all it is the home of fine dining. Every top chef tends to have some form of classic French training in their arsenal. It’s all Michel Roux Jnr harps on about on MasterChef. And yet my last 3 experiences of Paris have consisted of over-priced and extremely average meals. TimeOut Paris doesn’t offer much help, nor does TripAdvisor as ever is completely erratic in its ratings. And so unless you are going to stick to the established hotel and Michelin starred restaurants, you’re best bet is to stumble across somewhere yourself. But the problem with this is that when hunger kicks in, you almost always end up in one of those crappy tourist traps with the menu board outside in every language. As soon as you see spaghetti bolognese alongside snails, you know you’re in trouble.

But every now and then you find a real gem. A restaurant you don’t want to tell anybody about out of fear that next time you go it will be overrun. Well La Fontaine de Mars is a real find. It’s hardly unheard of given that no other than Barack and Michelle Obama ate there on their last visit to Paris. But tucked away in a quiet street in a chic French neighbourhood, it’s out of sight from the passing tourists. I feared that every American would be flocking there now, and that the walls would be plastered with photos of the President. But thankfully there was no sign of any photos. And even better, no Americans. Instead, all I could hear was the soothing sound of classy French diners knocking back red wine and good traditional cooking. The dining room is extremely homely, making it slightly strange to imagine somebody as important as Obama tucking into steak frites here.

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After a bottle of Billecart-Salmon rose (€95- half the price of the same bottle at Le Meurice) it was straight into the starters. The Escargot de Bourgogne were drowned in buttery garlic sauce. This is only the third time I’ve had snails, and my last experience was in Balthazar in Covent Garden, but they were no comparison to these. At Balthazar the snails were small and a little tough, these were much juicier, almost like they had only been cooked for a short time and this allowed the earthy flavour to come through.

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I had eggs poached in red wine with bacon and shallots. What could be more French that that? It was incredibly rich, so much so that I have no idea how the French haven’t all keeled over if this is the food they eat. The sauce was almost as rich as a Port and although it really complimented the creaminess of the egg yolks, it was a little too indulgent for me.

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The Blue Lobster salad was the special and given it was in season it was hard to resist. It was a simply put together salad, with the nice addition of grapefruit giving a sharpness. With lobster of this quality that’s all it needed.

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The cow’s head stew was another dish packed with big flavours. Again this was a big old starter. It was heavy on the vinegar and capers, something I love, but a little too sharp for my partner who forced me to swap with her.

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For main the steak frites was more fillet of beef with chips, and although it was fine, it was hardly a cut of steak I’ll remember.

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The daily special was lamb cutlet with potatoes gratin. Again the meat wasn’t the best I’ve had, but with the garlic creaminess of the potatoes, I really didn’t care. There’s just nothing better than potatoes gratin. Cheese, garlic, cream. Putting these together will make you like any plate clean.

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The black pudding with apple was a classic combination and was simply and effectively done. There was enough spice and depth in the black pudding so that the sweetness of the big mound of stewed apples didn’t overpower it.

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For dessert we shared 2, and I have no idea how one person would have managed them. The chestnut Mille-feuille was a gigantic slice. I always expect them to be dainty things, but this was a British sized slice. The chestnut cream worked really well as it wasn’t as sweet as the traditional custard or cream.

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The floating island dessert was again huge. It was really light and again not too sweet.

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The meal was just over €80 with a bottle of champagne and a good Malbec. Throughout the service was excellent, although given the language barrier the waiter couldn’t chat to us too much. I like this though. It made it feel even more authentic. The food wasn’t groundbreaking, but you don’t expect it to be at a neighbourhood bistro. It’s very much like L’Absinthe in Primrose Hill, one of my favourites, in that it just keeps things simple but uses good ingredients and serves good wine. This is a real gem, one that I only hope stays this way. It’s a 10 minute taxi ride away from the touristy areas, but well worth the trip.

Food: 7.5/10

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 9/10

Value: 8/10

Overall: 8/10

129 Rue Saint-Dominique, 75007 Paris

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Le Grand Colbert

I was looking for that perfect brasserie. The one that tourists hadn’t ruined yet, where I’d be taken back to the old world of Paris and drink far too much red wine and stumble out happy and drunk. The Paris from the movies. The one where everything is so perfectly French. Sadly Le Grand Colbert wasn’t that. Something just wasn’t right about the place. I felt it from the moment I walked in. It felt like it wasn’t really in France but instead was in Covent Garden. It has the feel of a restaurant that is trying to give off a French feeling, but just falls short and comes across as being false and soulless. I should have known that it was going to be overrun by tourists given that it was the setting for a scene between Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton from Something’s Gotta Give. Maybe before this Hollywood cameo, the restaurant really was a grand French establishment. But now it is just filled with American tourists. Lots and lots of annoying American tourists who couldn’t stop gasping at how good the food was. Which it really wasn’t.

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Then there was the service. It was somewhere between friendly and rude. Hints of both came out during the night, but overall it was just like they couldn’t be arsed. As if they knew that they don’t have to do anything to keep people coming. That cameo in the film has cemeneted their place in history. Even the menu which is crammed with French classics so that it overflows from the page managed to frustrate me. It was just too much, like it was trying to keep every tourist who wanders in there happy by making sure that no dish was excluded.

I settled for an artichoke salad to start. It was inoffensive, but just not that good. Just too much of that vinegar flavour that they’d been preserved in. But was it really worth €13? I’d complain about paying half this price in London for what I was given.

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The French onion soup was tepid and lacked any depth of flavour. I’ve made better myself, and I’m not a great cook. This should be a simple classic, one any French chef can churn out to a consistently high standard. This was a real half-arsed attempt.

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The same applies to the Fish Soup which was nothing more than a thin fish stock. Where was that flavour of the liqor and the rich shelffish juices?

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For main I had skate with mashed poato and a butter and lemon sauce. Once I’d got past the army of capers, it tasted fine, even if the fish wasn’t the freshest. The potato masher must have been the laziest in the world though, because these were as lumpy as you can get.

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The grilled chicken was overcooked but did have a lovely deep meaty gravy to go with it, and the skin was covered in salty goodness.

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The Veal stew with a creamy sauce was tender but the sauce just lacked flavour. It wasn’t creamy at all.

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To finish we had a baked Alaska that was flambéed in rum. Again it wasn’t bad in any way, just not something you’d remember. By this point I was so ready to leave and sick of French food that the drama of lighting the rum was lost on me.

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So once again trying to find that perfect French brasserie has eluded me. It was also another expensive meal at €60 a head, given we only had one vinegary bottle of Sancerre (€33 a bottle) and shared a dessert between 4 of us.

Food: 5/10

Service: 6/10

Atmosphere: 4/10

Value: 5/10

Overall: 5/10

2 Rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris, France
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Bar Boulud

Last time I was here too many White Cosmopolitans meant that the only thing to remind me of what I’d eaten were the stains on my shirt the next morning. Tonight I arrived in a slightly more sober state, determined to at least get past the starters before the drink got to work. I was immediately struck by the effortless class and charm of the restaurant, something alcohol had dulled my appreciation of last time around. The dining room has been cleverly designed so that it is split into several sections giving it a more intimate feel.

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The previous night I’d eaten at Balthazar, a grand brasserie that has tried incredibly hard to create a certain French mood and feeling. Bar Boulud has perfected this with ease and has the feel of a restaurant that has been running for years. That being said, there is still is something about it though that does make you feel like you are eating in an international chain of hotels, which of course you are given its location in the basement of the Mandarin Oriental. It just feels like a restaurant that is built for wealthy travellers who need somewhere comfortable and familiar to dine in. Everything here has a certain ease and grace to it, and reading between the lines on the menu, it is basically the best room-service menu you could wish for.

To start we shared the Degustation De Charcuterie (£18), which is made up a selection of pâtés, terrines and sliced meats. They were all perfectly enjoyable, but each lacked a distinctive flavour of its own. There was no obvious difference in taste between the Pork Head terrine and the Moroccan spiced one. The sliced Serrano ham again was fine, but wasn’t one I will remember. What will stick with me was the incredibly powerful French mustard, which was a real sinus cleaner and perhaps a little strong for the meats.

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We also shared two of the sausages for £18. The Tunisienne is a spicy lamb merguez served with a mint tabouleh and a couscous and pepper stew. This was a bit of a let down both in its size and taste. There really wasn’t much spice and the couscous was average. The other sausage was the ‘Morteau’, made from smoked-cumin spiced sausage and served on a bed of lentils. Again the size of the portion was a little disappointing, but this one tasted much better, mainly because the lentils had been soaked it a porky jus.

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For main I couldn’t resist the burger. The BB (£20) stood out from its rather long description- a beef patty, foie gras, red wine braised short ribs truffle, frisée horseradish mayonnaise confit tomato and a black onion seed bun. If ever there was a way to make a burger sound a lot more complicated than it actually was. With a side of fries (£5) this is an expensive burger. But it sure as hell was tasty. The patty was packed with flavour and perfectly cooked. A burger connoisseur might complain that the bun didn’t hold its shape, but tonight I was in the mood for something sloppy. There wasn’t enough of the foie gras though, as always seems to be the case in dishes where it makes a cameo appearance. And the horseradish mayo was lost in all that meaty juice. The side of fries were as good as you could wish for, really crispy and you got plenty for that fiver.

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My partner had the Piggie burger(£14), made up of a beef patty, bbq pulled pork, green chili mayonnaise and red cabbage slaw. It tastes as good as it sounds. Again with a side of fries for a fiver it creeps up towards the limit of what I’m willing to pay for a burger, but I’d say this trumps the B&L burger for £20. It’s definitely worth coming back for.

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With a White Cosmopolitan (£13.25) each to finish things off the bill came to £70 a head, which seemed a lot for some cold meats and a burger. Admittedly we did drink a bottle of the house white each, but what did catch my eye was the £4.10 for each bottle of soda water (we were drinking spritzers). We managed to spend nearly £35 on soda water alone! Overall it isn’t a restaurant I’d go to for the French food, but if I was in Knightsbridge and didn’t want to glam myself up and needed some simple comfort food like a good old burger, then this would be top of my list.

Food: 7.5/10

Service: 7/10

Value: 6.5/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Overall: 7.5/10

Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA

Bar Boulud on Urbanspoon

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Balthazar

When I tried to get a table a few weeks after Balthazar’s eagerly anticipated opening last year, I felt like Patrick Bateman trying to get a reservation at Dorsia. Not a chance was the response I got. Not this weekend, and not for any of the weekends in the foreseeable future. They might as well have let out that shrill laugh down the phone. Well almost a year later with the hype having cooled off, or rather people realising it really didn’t deserve half of that hype in the first place, my perseverance has paid off and I managed to land myself a table.

With it’s huge premises just off the central arcade in Covent Garden it has the feel of a destination restaurant, and so it was the ideal place to take visiting family from Newcastle who wanted a taste of somewhere grand in London. Inside it is easy to see just where that £14 million investment went. A lot of effort has gone into making this feel autentic. Whether that’s authentically French, or authentically New York’s imitation of French, it is difficult to say.

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The clientele reflects the location, as it seemed to be filled up predominantly with people attracted to the area rather than actually caring too much about the restaurant. This is obviously a wining formula given the endless stream of people who pass through Covent Garden, and given that the competition isn’t strong, it was no surprise to find the restaurant full on a Sunday night.

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Once we were seated in a booth with a great view of the dining room it was hard not to be seduced by the place. The warm glow of the lighting, the French jazz playing and the infectious buzz of diners really gives it an infectious and romantic atmosphere. Our waiter was quickly on hand to bring us wine, and throughout his service was professional, without ever really being personal. Many grand brasseries have a similarly impersonal approach, with the staff rushing between tables giving it the feel of a well-oiled machine. It is the top brasseries like The Delaunay that can work on this scale whilst still offering perfect service.

To start things off a plate of Langoustines (£24 for 6) served on ice with a Marie Rose dipping sauce, reminded me why I don’t usually go for langoustines. They are the Russian Dolls of the crustacean world- they seem so big to start with but as soon as you start to peel away the outer shell, you end up with a tiny little bite. And £4 a mouthful is a little on the steep side.

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The Onion Soup (£9) was as rich and fattening as you could ever wish for. It quite easily could have been labeled a cheese soup, which is only a good thing.

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The Escgarots (£10.50) were not overloaded with garlic butter and this allowed the lovely nutty earthiness of the snails to shine through.

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The Saffron Risotto with Scallops and Roasted Courgettes (£11) was cooked perfectly and a generous portion for this price. More saffron would have been appreciated though, as I was hoping for that lovely burnt red colouring in the rice.

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For main course, the Duck Shepherd’s Pie (£19) took French food being rich to the extreme. It was so rich that it was difficult to enjoy more than just a mouthful.  The sauce was had the darkness and sweetness of hoisin sauce. A side of Pommes Frites (£5) were criminally soggy and under-seasoned.

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The Beef Fillet Stroganoff (£19) was also incredibly rich, but there was enough saltiness from the bacon to cut through and give a balance to the dish. It was a good stroganoff, although admittedly there was a lot more sauce than beef.

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The Grilled Var Salmon with Spinach and a Walnut and Lentil Salad (£18) was easily the most disappointing of the mains. Firstly, it didn’t come pink as asked for and instead was cooked right through. The main problem was the sauce/salad dressing that it came with, which was far too sweet and didn’t work at all with the fish. It tasted like a sweet honey glaze and wasn’t at all pleasant.IMG_1943

The Moules Frites (£15) were another let down. A dish this simple and this much of a French classic should be routinely good. The fries were again soggy and the real disappointment was that the sauce which was in desperate need of some more garlic and white wine. The best part of this dish should always be mopping up the sauce at the bottom, but this was just too bland to even tempt me.

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For dessert, the Apple Tarte Tatin and Vanilla Ice Cream (£8) looked boring and flat sitting in the middle of the plate. The caramel had a lovely richness, but there just wasn’t enough apple or pastry to really call this as a Tarte Tatin.

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The Profiteroles (£7) had vanilla ice cream wedged in the middle instead of cream. The chocolate sauce came on the side and and there was no denying its dark intensity, but it was just a shame that it was cold, as a hot sauce here would have worked brilliantly with the ice cream.

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After eating here it is difficult to see just what all the hype was about. It certainly couldn’t be about the food, which after the strong starters, was all a bit of a let down. And it isn’t exactly the most impressive of grand brasseries in London, I’d leave that to The Delaunay which is only a few minutes walk away. I had expected this to be a really high-end meal, but instead I saw it for what it really is, a fairly solid restaurant in Covent Garden that is a step-up from the crap tourist traps surrounding it. This isn’t enough to merit going back, and at over £60 a head for three courses with wine, it rules out nipping in for a quick fix if you are in the area.

Food: 6/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 8.5/10

Value: 6.5/10

Overall: 6.5/10

4-6 Russell Street, London  WC2B 5HZ

Balthazar on Urbanspoon

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