Sunday, 3 April 2016

Paris - Guy Savoy

It might sound a little indulgent but my recent short break to Paris was completely planned around visiting one restaurant - Guy Savoy.

Well, it's not unusual for a food blogger to plan their holidays around food, after all, I was chasing another Hong Kong food blogger around Paris for the week I was there (we'll meet up sometime Bianca!).  While it might seem natural for me to visit Paris, given my favourite cuisine is French, I'd actually been targeting another of the world's top restaurants, Massimo Bottura's Osteria Francescana, clearly the best Italian restaurant globally.  Boy is that place hard to get into, I couldn't even score a reservation three months out!

Thankfully, my second choice was available and I was able to secure a mid week sitting for Restaurant Guy Savoy, which in 2015 was voted as the number four restaurant in the world by La Liste.  If you're not aware of La Liste, it's France's alternative to the San Pellegrino top 50 restaurants and is sponsored by the French Government and takes a slightly more analytical view to ranking restaurants.  Using more than 200 food guides, review sites, gourmet blogs and major news publications on 48 countries, the list compiles a weighted aggregate score and then ranks the top 1,000 'Most Outstanding Restaurants'

Needless to say, I was pretty excited.

I won't bore you with details about how we got to Paris, but I will take a moment to reflect on how beautiful a city the heart of Paris is, simply breathtaking.  The buildings haven't changed in hundreds of years, and it's easy to imagine a time before motor vehicles, where horse and carriage were the only mode of transportation around the large and sprawling city.

Restaurant Guy Savoy is located in such a majestic building on the left bank of the River Seine, with nary a sign in sight confirming that our taxi had dropped us off at the right spot.  It wasn't until we were a little closer that we noticed the discreet sign letting us know we'd arrived at our destination.  Walking up a marble staircase, we came across a gilded door that was the entrance to culinary heaven.  

We were the first to arrive at the restaurant, and after we were seated at our table that afforded spectacular views of the Right Bank, we were given the spiel about the restaurant and the menus on offer.  With a number of choices that included a la carte and various iterations of a tasting menu, we explained that we'd come a long way and wanted the full experience, which meant the 18 course 'Innovations and Inspirations' tasting menu.  With a smile, we were informed to settle in for a the long haul and that the Inspirations menu would take the better part of five hours!

I was happily snapping away at the interior of our dining room, which was akin to a museum, walls laden with serious pieces of art, when our waiter for the evening asked if we wanted a tour of the restaurant.  Score!  We were taken through a series of interconnected dining rooms, each holding around four to five tables, through to the kitchen, which contained thirty five chefs busily preparing dinner.  In what was an 'oh shit' moment for me, Chef Guy Savoy himself walked over to say hello and wished us well for our dinner. 

Back at our table, it wasn't long before our culinary journey began, starting off with the simple elegance of an appetiser of quail egg sitting on a bed of fresh, smashed peas and a pea jelly. The bright green of the peas was offset by the stark white of the plate and the pale yellow of the quail egg.  There was a freshness to the dish that was invigorating, the fresh peas bursting with flavour. Cracking open the slow cooked quail egg spread the creamy and rich yolk throughout and once combined with the peas, enlivened the dish completely.  Accompanying the dish was a toasted 'soldier' that was covered with chives and was useful for mopping up the remainder of the dish.

My tastebuds barely had time to appreciate the clean flavours of the dish before our next course arrived and lifted the game somewhat!  A large and succulent Brittany oyster had been cubed as a tartare and topped with a lemon and seaweed granita at the table.  With instructions to start off with the 'oyster leaf', uncannily tasting exactly like oyster, then crack on with the tartare, my palate went into overdrive processing the wonderful flavours of the dish.  The potent flavour of the oyster and granita were in perfect harmony and I was left wanting more: oh-so-much-more!

I wouldn't have thought it possible, but the game was lifted again when the giant grilled Dublin Bay prawn and turnip 'net' was presented.  Presented as if the prawn had been 'caught' in a net, the head and tail were still lightly attached to the prawn flesh.  Now, I've had a lot of prawns in my life, but never anything as tasty as this bad boy.  There was a seriously amazing flavour grilled with the prawn, that was ever so slightly spicy, but very sweet.  The natural sweetness of the prawn was enhanced by the turnip 'net', which had been pickled to perfection in (perhaps) a sweet sherry, the combination of the two leading me to review my all time favourite dishes.... Yep, there was a new number one on my list!

It was around this time that we were given a huge, crusty loaf of bread to eat, along with some very sensible advice from our waiter that we were at Guy Savoy for the tasting menu and not the bread.  I've been guilty many times of filling up on bread, so I wisely took the advice and barely touched the crusty loaf.  

The deliciousness continued when our next dish of caviar and smoked sabayon egg was delivered.  There was a little bit of theatre with the dish, our sabayon eggs sitting amongst a tower of crisps then cracked open in front of us to be spooned onto our plate.  Our plates had already contained a stack   which consisted two different type of caviar sitting on a squid ink tuile and soft potato, and the sabayon was there to finish off the dish.  I loved the saltiness of the caviar in contrast to the velvety and buttery sabayon, as well as the texture from the crunchy tuile, but I wasn't completely sold on the soft potato, which texturally was a little wrong for me. 

I have to say we've been spoilt a little bit living in Hong Kong, especially since HK seems to be the razor clam capital of the world!  It was why I was a little underwhelmed by the razor clams with lemon and sweet garlic puree, topped with fried parsley.  The flavours were great, the lemon contrasting with the sweet flesh of the clams, but to be honest, the clams were a little on the small side and not as succulent as we've been eating in Honkers.  It was also the first dish that didn't look spectacular on the plate.

I was a little squeamish about our next dish, which was simply called 'sea bass from head to toe'. A trolly was wheeled up to our table with a couple of sea bass heads, where a chef proceeded to scrape the fish cheeks on to our plates.  With the dish largely prepared at our table, there was a ring of fried leek that was the centrepiece and the flesh from the cheek was mixed with toasted fish scales, with a sea bass jus added to finish off.  Adding the puffed scales did nothing to detract from my apprehension of the dish, but once I took my first bite, I quickly forgot about it's preparation and devoured the dish.  The fish cheek was so sweet and wonderful, but the jus was the star and once the flesh was soaked up in the jus, it was unbelievably delicious. Thankfully, a big copper pot of the jus had been left at the table, so once I'd devoured my fish, I started to spoon the jus into my mouth as if it was a soup, I couldn't get enough!

It was about this time that we realised what we'd signed up for, with the girl especially feeling the pressure, we were not even half way through the meal and SC was already full!

Continuing with the fish theme, our next course was red mullet, accompanied by a red mullet jus extracted from the liver, sautéed spinach and baby calamari tentacles, all of which was sitting on little spheres of pearly pasta.  The plate was designed so the jus spread around the plate, like a moat around a castle and the red mullet was the drawbridge allowing safe passage.  The fillet was impeccably cooked and was intensely flavoured, tasting as if it had been caught then cooked straight away.  I found the jus a little bit harsher than the sea bass jus and while it worked wonderfully with the mullet, I didn't have the same desire to feast of the jus the way I had previously.

Our next fish course was quite incredible.  Another trolly was wheeled to our table, this time with a different chef, and we were informed that our salmon would be cooked at the table on a packet of dry ice.  We were given a little square of the sashimi grade salmon up front, so we could do a direct comparison, and to be honest, I would have happily munched on the beautiful sweet salmon as it was!  Each piece of salmon was 'cooked' on the dry ice for a short while and seasoned with a slab of Himalayan  salt,  before being placed in a bowl that contained a vegetable consommé chervil jelly and lemon caviar (actually fingerlime spheres).  The 'cooking' of the salmon had changed the texture somewhat, but the beautiful fresh taste of the sea remained, enhanced with the slightly salty broth and the acidity from the fingerlime.  It was a very refreshing and delicious plate of food.

Last of our fish courses was the delightful roasted Brittany blue lobster, served with a lobster bisque that had subtle chicory undertones and 'coral' vegetables, essentially textures of carrot. Again, living in Hong Kong, we're spoilt for choice when it comes to lobster, but even so, the dish was quite spectacular.  The expertly cooked lobster was sweet and tender, paired beautifully with the slightly bitter bisque and the oh-so-sweet carrot puree.  The 'coral' was actually dehydrated carrot and while it didn't add any flavour to the dish, helped visually remind that lobster is of the sea (although carrot isn't).

The girl was very worried by this time, we well into the meal but she really felt as if she couldn't eat much more, which is why I'd started to help her with finishing off her courses.  I was particularly helpful with the next dish of pan seared foie gras, finished off with pickled turnip and radish, along with a small turnip that had been stuffed with confit duck leg.  I really loved the rich foie gras, especially with the pickled vegetables, but struggled a little with the confit stuffed turnip, finding the confit just a little dry.  I was really happy to polish off most of SC's foie gras, but she was on her own with the turnip!

My least favourite dish of the night, and probably the only plate of food I didn't like was the artichoke and mushroom soup, finished off with thick slices of truffle and a truffle infused brioche. I found the astringent flavour from the Jerusalem artichokes to be a little harsh, actually dominating the flavour of the soup such that I couldn't really taste the mushroom, or the truffle. On the other hand, SC loved the soup, which was a little respite from rich dishes to date and to her palate, really quite delicious.  I finished off the soup, but really couldn't get into the brioche.

It was at this point that the girl 'waived the white flag' and we asked our waiter to hold off on the remainder of her savoury dishes, including the fromage, with the desire to pick things up again once we reached the desserts.

As it turned out, there was only one major course left before the fromage and dessert courses started, the lamb with a saddle of lamb infused with razor clams, a rack of lamb, a confit of lamb shoulder and a chard of ribs and leaves.  It was no doubt meant to be the star of the meal, and in many respects it was, but there was also an element that I didn't love.  What I did love was the cutlets, saddle and confit of shoulder, each providing a powerful flavour of lamb, the cutlet being the highlight (especially because of the perfectly rendered lamb fat!).  What I didn't love so much was the 'leaves', which consisted of rolled turnip, made to look like a flower.  Look, there were some intense flavours on the plate, but I thought the turnip was just a step too far and pretty much left all of the rolls.

Phew - we were finally out of the savoury part of the meal and into sweets.  I'd already advised our waiter at the beginning of the meal that I'd skip the fromage, so instead had been given a substitute that consisted of a salted meringue shell, covering a milk sorbet, raspberries and a avocado puree.  I was quite pretty to look at, and once I cracked open the outer meringue shell, was quite lovely to eat, although I'm still not sure how I feel about the avocado puree!  The salted meringue was very salty and needed the quite savoury milk sorbet to balance out, but having said that, it was much preferable to a cheese course.

Our palate cleanser was quite interesting, a sweet pear sorbet mixed in with a very bitter berry coulis and a crunchy tuile of cocoa for texture.  The tartness of the coulis was actually quite refreshing and much needed after such a rich meal to that point.

The girl was back with me for desserts, which consisted of three interesting but subdued courses.  I say subdued because there was nothing that I'd have called spectacular.

First up was textures of strawberries, including a puree, dehydrated slivers that were sticking out of a strawberry encrusted sorbet, fresh slices and tiny little strawberry chips.  I can definitely say that the dessert showcased strawberries, but it was just a little boring and very similar to many strawberry desserts I've had in the past, it didn't feel 'unique' or a stretch for the kitchen.

There was a slight improvement on our next dessert of textures of rhubarb, which was definitely much more intriguing that the strawberries.  The was stewed rhubarb pieces, a coulis and a meringue, but the most interesting part of the dish I forgot to photograph!  We were also given candied rhubarb shaped like a huge candy wrapper and filled with a savoury rhubarb sorbet.  The sweet-sweet candied rhubarb was wonderful when combined with the sorbet.  It was a little difficult to eat, but definitely very interesting.

Our last dessert was probably the least impressive for me, especially coming from such a highly regarded restaurant.  There was a dark chocolate sorbet sitting atop a thick dark chocolate ganache, with shards of chocolate tuile spiking out of the top, finished off with lime and cardamon sprinkles.  There was nothing inherently wrong with the dessert, it was just quite boring and single dimensioned.  There wasn't enough of the lime zest to make a difference and apart from looking a little wrong, it just didn't wow me.  Yep, it was chocolate.

Our meal finished off with another trolly, containing petite four and different flavours of ice cream and sorbet.  I think we disappointed our hosts, we were completely stuffed and I only managed to have a tiny little quenelle of salted caramel ice cream and a macaroon.  I guess it was more than the girl was able to take!

As promised, our meal had taken almost five hours to complete.  We'd been the first in the dining room and we were just about the last to leave.  Throughout the eventing, we'd watched all manner of people coming in for dinner, including a solo diner and later on in the evening, a group of people in just for a round of desserts.  Throughout the evening, Guy Savoy had been greeting guests and generally being the perfect host.  It was particularly satisfying to know that the man himself was in the restaurant, overseeing the meal and hospitality of his guests, it doesn't always happen that way (stand by for my post on Pierre Gagniare).

When it was time for us to leave, our wait staff for the evening were all on hand to thank us for joining Restaurant Guy Savoy and to bid us adieu.  We were even given the restaurant's limo service to send us on our way back to our hotel.

Reflecting on our trip to Restaurant Guy Savoy, it was definitely one of the better meals we've had, but I couldn't say it was the best we've had.  It met my expectations as a Three Michelin Starred establishment, and those stars were well deserved.  Was it the 4th best restaurant in the world?  Well, that's pretty subjective, even though the La Liste is quite a scientific measure of quality.  There's no doubt that the first eight or nine courses were spectacular, tasty and inventive, but things fell away a little for me with the soup and the desserts.

While I can't say for certain that it was the best meal of my life, I can definitely say that it was one of the most memorable experiences, from the moment we stepped through the gilded doors, our tour of the restaurant which included bumping in to Chef Savoy, to the moment we were driven home.

I'd definitely go back the next time I'm in Paris, but perhaps I'd not stretch myself with the full 18 courses!

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