L’Arpege, Paris

Ah Paris, a city rich with history and culture, home to the Eiffel tower, one of the world’s most recognizable and famous landmarks and the Louvre, the world’s largest single museum that has 16km of galleries including the wealthy Mona Lisa, worth a staggering £700 million. The city of lovers, the city of poets and writers, of artists and philosophers and once upon a time,  the culinary capital of the Western world – the crowning glory in French gastronomy, ruling the guides with 18 restaurants given 3 Michelin stars and an army of 2 and 1 stars. Paris with its seductive charm and reckless traffic is a foodie paradise. Whilst it may not be as culturally diverse in its offerings as London, there is no shortage of fine dining, with some restaurants taking it a step further into opulent dining.

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L’Arpege is a 3 star Michelin restaurant run by the very prominent Alain Passard who has been on the 50 best restaurants of the world list for many years from 9 to 44 and currently sitting at 19. 19th best restaurant in the world in 2011 means something special and I, for one, have had it on my radar for many years as the chef is renowned for being able to work wonders with vegetables, and had even cut red meat from his menus in 2oo1, according to 50 Best Restaurants, who also say that it is ” also hallowed ground for chefs and Passard’s light touch and flawless presentation has made him a true French master.”

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The restaurant itself is quite small and crowded, but charming and has a very comforting aura about it. Whilst the menus are only in French, the waiting staff are very helpful in translating them for you should you need assistance. As I had told my parents about the chefs reputation for meat free wonders, they decided to see what 3 star Michelin vegetarian would be like and the waitress confirmed that this indeed was the place for fish and vegetarian delights. What did catch me though, was my choice for main course: sweetbread or lamb! Lamb? Hmm. Apparently M. Passard decided that he didn’t want to continue keeping red meat off his menu. Nevermind. As for wines, I asked to have a few glasses to match the food.

Canapes
Gazpacho
Egg

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A few canapes to start: potato crisps filled various veggie toppings which weren’t really bursting with flavour, but nevermind.

Next came a Gazpacho with celery and mustard ice cream which was heavenly to taste, but a bit questionable to look at – as you can see, whoever’s done the quenelling for the ice cream isn’t quite up to scratch with the ‘perfection theory’ that a restaurant of this nature enforces. In other words, quite a ropey looking quenelle of ice cream – the one on my folks’ plate was fine. I didn’t think plates like this were allowed to leave the kitchen unless they all looked identical – the table next to us had even more sloppy quenelles of ice cream! Anyway, it was delicious soup and the ice cream was light and tasted refreshingly of celery, but not much mustard.

Next, the ubiquitous egg! Poached egg in its shell with 4 spice foam – um. Does this need a follow up? Liquid egg, creamy foam. Like something that should be had through a straw. If you try really hard you can make out the lightest, verging on non existent, presence of allspice.

Tomatoes
Onions
Tomato consomme

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Garden tomato salad with honey and orange blossom vinaigrette, raw young courgette. The restaurant has 3 of its own vegetable gardens from where a lot of produce makes its way to your table. These tomatoes were one of them. Rather flavourless I have to say. Just as well that the vinaigrette was stunning, even if it did border slightly on cloyingly perfume-like.

Onions with parmesan and preserved lemon looking very much like a creme brulee! But very very tasty, reminding me of the onion course at Noma, just not as good, but still very tasty..

Tomato, basil and celery consomme with creamed vegetable dumpling. Best tomato consomme in the world. Really! Intense with a light hint of toasted coriander seeds, giving it that Indian overtone. Definitely the best course of the evening!

Garden vegetables, cous-cous, merguez: A large plate of vegetables with cous-cous and homemade merguez is only nice for the first few bites then gets really boring!

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Cous cous
Turbot
Sweetbreads

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Turbot, clams, green tea dressing. Beautifully cooked piece of fish. Stunning! Nice accompaniments, but the green tea dressing was quite lost – guess it was there more for show than taste. My parents’ course was absolutely shocking though: A huge gross mound of spinach (blanched only) with a tiny quenelle of carrot and orange puree and a bit of preserved lemon. It looked elementary, it tasted elementary and was by no means worth serving.

Veal sweetbreads were thoroughly boring, not crisp, not seasoned and with the most anaemic  looking garnish of grilled aubergine and pear. My parents only had the aubergine and the pear. So much for being a “haven for vegetarians”!

At this point, I was also a bit annoyed as the sommelier had poured me a new glass of wine and then walked away without telling me what it was. When I called him to ask, he gave me a look of surprise as if to say ‘why do you need to know that for? Just bloody drink it!” and then very quickly rattled off the name and walked off. Charming!

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Apple tart
Petit fours
Icecream

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Mains cleared and we were looking forward to some dessert. Only problem being that they took 50 minutes to come at which point we all had lost interest and were really bored and bordering on frustration. Yes, the restaurant was full, but so what? 50 minutes is a joke. Then came the signature dessert of Apple pie and salted butter caramel. Ok. so it looked like a rose. Well done! 3 Michelin stars to you for that piece of skill. As for the rest, it tasted no different from any other apple pie or tart you can find anywhere. Next came our petit fours, very odd! But the funniest thing was that one one of the petit fours was the same apple pie we’d just finished but in miniature. And when I said this to the waitress, she just smiled and said ‘yes, but it’s smaller’. Well done! Other things were tasteless macaroons that had fancy names (smoked aubergine, lavender, beetroot) and an apple and cinnamon cake (apple again?) that was light (and that’s about all that it was!)

Following hot on its footsteps came a very messy plate containing a single scoop of mint and lemon balm ice cream. It looked messy and it tasted like cold talcum powder. Not sweet, a bit ‘soapy’ and with an almost indistinguishable flavour of mint, (but mint that tasted like it had been boiled for too long, giving it a grassy stale flavour). One little taste and none of us wanted another.

Then came the last dessert – it looked promising with the table set up and all that. Turns out it was going to be the restaurants version of Oeuf a la neige. This was verbena custard with coffee meringue and caramel sauce, all done at the table. No photo of this as I was in a bit of shock when it landed in front of me. It looked like the London sky after having rained on a cold February evening. Taste wise – lets just say it rated very high on the retch-ter scale. Baby food has more texture! Thick, room temperature, non-sweet custard that tasted like overcooked lemon balm with a slightly powdery feel is wrong on all accounts! Then the grossly enormous quenelle of coffee meringue that wasn’t cooked (like a meringue foam) and unsweetened and bitter and as time went by started to sweat and melt into the custard giving it the look of saliva. The drizzle of caramel sauce did nothing to the dish. We had to force ourselves to take a taste of it as the look was off putting enough and then promptly we asked for the bill. What a disgusting horrible nasty pretentious insult to food this was! And the few times we looked over at the table next to us, we all thought that their food too looked like re-plated leftovers.

To top it off, the sommelier decided not to give me any sweet wine, and I had, by this point, given up at what can only be described as a pathetic and pretentious excuse for food, to really care any more about whether or not I got my dessert wine.

I may just be cursed to having the worst experiences at most of the restaurants that I go to, but something tells me that Michelin needs to check the treads of their tyres! Arpege is just another one of the 3 star Michelin restaurants resting on its laurels.

Overall experience: 2
Recommend you go: 0
Wine: 4
Food: 2
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