“Yes, you are allowed to take pictures” was the first surprise that caught us off guard when we took a seat in one of the most exclusive chairs in the world where fine dining is concerned. Alain Ducasse’s masterpiece located in the luxury hotel Plaza Athenée caters to those in the know. So see that as a little guide to first time visitors.
I am one of those people who don’t really feel comfortable when not knowing exactly what to expect in a new venue. When I visited Nobu in London for the first time I arrived alone for lunch where a lady greeted me and announced me to the room. All eyes were on me when I entered. I didn’t know that this was the usual procedure when guests arrived, so I spent the entire lunch thinking about this uncomfortable situation. So when we visited the iconic Ducasse restaurant, I expected there to be an equally disturbing moment, but I was proven wrong. It was nothing short of pleasant.
I assumed it would resemble Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, but turns out it is much more private than the pictures would have you believe. There is little as decadent as a visit to Alain Ducasse’s Plaza Athenée. Let me tell you that much. First, it is nearly impossible to get a table on short notice. Quel surprise. The intimate place hosts less than 20 tables. Pictures do not transport the atmosphere of the room. As it tries to be both, traditional and very contemporary at the same time. A mixture that very few restaurants actually manage to transport. No wonder that the small place is usually booked solid for months. But recent tragic events mean that Paris is currently 1 million tourists short leaving the grand hotels of the city with low occupation and restaurants with empty tables. Et voilà! We made the impossible happen and managed to reserve a table a week in advance. Mind you, the French being the French my husband, a French speaker, was necessary to seal the deal, but we’ll let bygones be bygones.
Visiting an icon of this scale the wardrobe choice is, of course, equally important as starving yourself during the day in preparation. I opted for my brilliant Dior dress, that comes with a matching jacket that I bought exactly for an occasion like this.
Though unlike most restaurants you visit, this place you truly visit for the food and not for the people spotting. A lady in a red evening gown picked us up from the entrance and guided us to the restaurant, where we were seated behind a silver rondo which gives you the impression of a little separée while still being part of the room. The dining room was designed by Patrick Jouin & Sanjit Manku, making chandeliers raining crystal from the ceiling. After a neverending supply of amuse bouches, we started with the first course and tried to stay away from the home baked bread which is a celebration in itself. The generous portions were equally surprising as the low key guests, who were dressed smart casual, well the French way. A simple, but expensive dress by Lanvin, Fendi shoes, a brilliant haircut, a little bag they carry with utter nonchalance and a chunky piece of jewelry. No drama, no loud words, just whispers and complete focus on the task at hand. The carpet absorbs everything you are not intended to hear, especially at a later stage as the place fills up from 9 onwards. First dish on the menu: Langoustine with Caviar. When we ordered the menu we settled in for an endless supply of decadent food. The rich starter made us feel like passing out already.
The hefty pricetag of €390 per person might be justified by the very generous portions. It almost looked like Ducasse poured an entire can of Beluga Caviar on an army of langoustines. Followed by lobster and tomatoes, seabass with cucumber and almond milk, the signature lemon sorbet with candied lemon pieces, peach and fig & cardamon icecream, baba au rhum. And if that wasn’t enough, chocolate and grapes come with the bill. To ease the bitterness off the large sum.
It might be a sacrilege to pass on wine in the holy cathedral of gourmet food, but you might also wantto try the berry blender that was served as an alternative. Spectacular. Ducasse gets his vegetables from the castle of Versailles, where else? The chef’s decision of altering the card and serving no meat still leaves plenty of room to choose from a brilliant selection. The service personnel was most attentive and extremely friendly – a rather uncommon experience for a tourist consuming haute cuisine in Paris.
And the box of chocolates one receives on the way out is a perfect souvenir for loved ones at home. When leaving we also received the card of the manager with her direct line so as to be sure to get a table next time we visit. À la prochaine!